Photo by Oran (Flickr)
Photo by Oran (Flickr)

This morning at the County Council’s committee meeting on the ULink Restructure (separate from tonight’s public hearing), Metro will respond to a question posed by Councilmember Dembowski: Does Metro have the capacity to enact the restructure and save routes such as the 43 and the 71?

Metro’s response is a fascinating look into an agency struggling to cope with the whiplash of recession-era cuts quickly evolving into unprecedented boomtime demands. In their letter to the Council, Metro admits that, yes, they have the money to run more buses but neither enough buses nor enough drivers. Metro has hired or promoted to full-time 350 new operators to fulfill Prop 1 commitments as well as its own recent service additions, but the ongoing driver shortage has caused an increasing number of trip cancellations. I suppose recruitment is one challenge of a 3.6% unemployment rate.

Metro states that on a temporary basis they could use revive 14 buses that are past their useful lives for continued service on Routes 43 and 71, far short of the 32 buses necessary to operate them as they exist today. So there are two options that could potentially satisfy Dembowski’s request: the full restructure with less frequent variants of Routes 43 and 71 retained, or paying for their full retention by making cuts elsewhere in the restructure proposal. The former is strongly preferable to the latter.

If the fleet and operator issues can be solved, Metro’s letter seems structured to achieve some sort of compromise that would stretch Metro a bit but also satisfy Dembowski and his constituents. Speculatively, the 43 and 71 could be retained as peak-only, or the 43 could be shortened to run from UW Link Station to Capitol Hill Station only. The discussion at this morning’s committee should give us more insight into their current thinking.

104 Replies to “Metro: We Have Money, But No Drivers or Buses”

  1. Metro will respond to a question posed by Councilmember Dembowski: Does Metro have the capacity to enact the restructure and save routes such as the 43 and the 71?

    In other words, “can Metro simultaneously engage in and not engage in a restructure?”

      1. Watch out, if ridership goes up with the restructure, Sam will claim it’s a “dead cat bounce”.

  2. Metro is hiring literally as fast as it can, consistent with ensuring the new drivers will be safe and reliable, and yet it can’t even quite deal with the newly expanded schedule today. A few trips are being canceled around the system every single peak hour.

    This is not the first time this has happened, either. Metro canceled a planned round of service expansion in late 2004 because it couldn’t hire and train drivers fast enough.

    There are two issues causing this. One is that the pay rate (yes, that rate that is absurdly high according to Dori Monson) isn’t good enough to attract the caliber of person Metro wants in a strong labor market, given the working conditions, hours, and bad vacation schedules. The other is that new drivers start part-time and will be challenged to put together a lot of hours for at least a few months and possibly for years.

    There’s not a lot Metro can do about the former, but fresh thinking at the union could help to some extent with the latter. Expect to hear more about this in a few weeks.

    1. Vacation is a union seniority thing, right? Metro doesn’t care which weeks you take off so long as it has enough drivers.

      With Seattle’s minimum wage increasing rapidly, there’s less incentive to switch to a higher-paying job with fewer hours. Your income might actually go down. A McDonald’s burger flipper is getting $11/hour in Seattle today, going to $13 in January and in 15 months, it will be $15/hour for large employers that don’t provide insurance. That’s only ~$6/hour less than a bus driver, which is not full time to start, requires a CDL, and has more stress and responsibility than a lot of minimum wage jobs. Sure, the benefits are different, but a lot of workers want and need cash.

      1. Vacation is a union seniority thing, but that means vacation times will be terrible for new drivers for a decade or more. And there’s not much anyone can do about that. You have to distribute vacations at least somewhat evenly throughout the year or you will have too many drivers during the times when no one wants vacation.

        I was a Metro driver for five years. Every vacation I took was in mid- to late January, except that the last year I got one week in February. Every vacation pick I was either handed vacation times or got just two lousy choices.

      2. David, thanks for the insight. That is brutal, unless you enjoy skiing and hate sunshine.

        A more equitable leave policy would guarantee all drivers at least some vacation time (maybe 1 week) during the more desirable periods. To compensate, senior drivers would have to take an equivalent amount of time off during the less desirable periods. Winter vs. summer, “A” weeks vs. “B” weeks, etc. Anything to reserve some time for the junior drivers in desirable times of the year.

        Unfortunately I doubt the senior drivers would go for it, even though it would be a thoughtful gesture to their more junior colleagues. They’d still get more of the best times, but they wouldn’t monopolize all of them. Interesting how the unintended consequences of a union work rule end up curtailing transit service.

      3. Er, metro drivers have been making well more than minimum wage. As long ago as 1999, they were making >$20 hour.

      4. Seems to me that full-time drivers is what the goal should be: working part time is painful, very painful.

        But I imagine benefits are much easier to pay for for part-time workers….

    2. Looking back to 1978 when I was hired as a part time transit operator…..I have been through the ups and downs of hiring many times. What is the cure? I am sorry no matter what you do when you have service expansion the service always seems to be ahead of human resources ability to hire operators
      Here are some the things I have seen down through the many years…..
      1. Shorten Training period – Good HR Looks Good/Bad Attrition pretty high due to lack of training
      2. Hire All the time….surplus of operator will occur labor cost go up without enough work
      3.This is no silver bullet for the current crisis
      4. School Districts compete for the same employment group pays more starting out with lots of time off
      5.The training program cannot produce or turn out 100% of the new employees…because some will drop out, others will be unreliable(Dropped Because They Don’t Show Up)
      6. Employee Forecasters in 1980s predicted that a Driver Shortage of all types would occur in 1st part of the 21st Century

      Reflections from 1979 Promoted to Full Time May 1979 that Summer 1000 + operators hired
      by December 50% no longer employed on account accidents, attendance and health related Issues
      This has happen each time a service expansion was planned …..we told you we would not have enough
      Buses but you wouldn’t listen….then we told you we don’t have enough operators
      Other Words same problem different year
      This time the cause had more to do with reduction in revenues due to the economic melt down
      i.e. poor business climate……then the Grim Reaper had orders to cut service, cut expenses and the big one stop hiring! Then along comes the City Of Seattle with a ballet issue that passes….then Sound Transit was already talking about service change for North Seattle can you say perfect Storm?
      And this too shall pass……. Mo’ Service for the masses

      1. Shorter training time = more accidents = lower retention rate = need more trainees = repeat process. It’s actually amazing that transit can find qualified individuals as transit operators in such an expensive city to live in like Seattle. Personally I have to wonder how MUNI does it as well.

    3. Thanks, David, and Frank. Here’s my “take” on our trade- which basically doesn’t change much, good times or bad. First-line transit, including driving and supervising, is more of a “calling” than a job. And especially, full-time moreso, part-time less, an average well-balanced family life isn’t part of the package.

      One thought from my own days: If agency and Union could develop a working arrangement where whole workforce could think of themselves as members of a cooperative, with planning and policy privileges and responsibilities, it might attract the exact people transit needs.

      Mark Dublin

  3. I find it fascinating to hear arguments FOR higher capacity transit service using rail or BRT because fewer drivers and vehicles can carry many more riders at lower cost per person. Except it doesn’t work that way in actual deployment.
    The same arguments are made FOR keeping all the same buses and drivers, to feed and grow the system – even keeping the very routes that the HCT was supposed to do better and cheaper.
    In fact, after LINK was deployed to Seatac Airport, even more bus hours were added to the system, in addition to all the costs associated with running Link (ST Before and After Study).
    A larger and more robust transit system is a great goal if all the new resources deployed, added to the existing ones re-deployed, meant that transit got more efficient and served many more riders.
    According to the PSRC, transit mode share will only see a small bump after all the building and operations are put in place by 2040.

    1. If transit mode share is constant but population increases, you need more service. How much did the PSRC say population would increase by 2040?

      1. Read Danny Westneat’s piece from last weekend, then follow the links.
        Then the comment by former CM Maggie Fimia
        “The most sobering facts are that even by 2040 with full build out of light rail, (called light because of capacity not weight) Tacoma to Everett and Seattle to the Redmond and a doubling of bus service, we only increase percentage of trips on transit from people3.1% to 4.3.% This is best case scenario – tolling, lots of density in urban centers, etc.
        Ninety percent of those transit trips will still be on buses. Total trips in the Region go from about 16 million per day to 19 million. Fewer than 1% will be on light rail. Yet we are funneling almost 20% of our transportation dollars into it.”
        and finally follow the link here: the Data Shows 5.20.15.pdf
        Moving the transit meter 1.2% is a ‘Bump’ IMHO.

      2. Wow, what an interesting paragraph by Ms. Fimia. To begin with, a “full build out” of light rail is crap, if by “full build out” you mean a single line from Tacoma to Everett. Perhaps that should give spine fans a pause. Maybe their vision will not work (just as it hasn’t worked anywhere else). Second, the percentage of people taking the bus is meaningless. A really good transit system of this nature has lots of people taking both. Vancouver BC is a great example. Lots of people taking rail, while lots of people take the bus. The two work together really well. The rail covers the areas that would be very difficult to cover with a bus (because of capacity or congestion concerns) while the buses run fairly quickly and quite often. The result is mind blowing numbers (third in North America in per capita transit ridership and more that triple our ridership).

        So maybe Fimia has a point — if we build crap, we will get crappy results. I’m not sure if that is her point, though. I’m not sure she understands what a good light rail line can do. Vancouver does not run their rail out to North Vancouver. That would be like Seattle running a subway to West Seattle (except that North Vancouver has way more jobs and higher concentrations of people). It doesn’t run all the way out to Abbotsford, despite the fact that Abbotsford is bigger than Everett and just about as far away from Vancouver as Everett is to Seattle. Their system follows the standard, boring, ordinary recipe for success: Lots of rail in the city, with good nodes for the suburbs to feed into. It is designed so that you can go anywhere from anywhere fairly quickly.

        Does anyone think that after ST2, when we will have *more* miles of light rail than Vancouver, we will come close to their success? If we add another twenty or thirty miles (out to Everett and Tacoma) will we then become as successful? Do we need to double, triple or quadruple the cost and mileage of our light rail line becomes as successful as Vancouver’s?

      3. I don’t know that you can say that a single line from Everett to Tacoma hasn’t worked anywhere else because I can’t think of a single transit operator anywhere that has tried anything like that.

        BART? Their cars are good for 80 mph, not 55 mph like Link. The Bay Area has loads of population.

        MAX? Sure, it goes to the edge of the continuous urbanized area. In Portland that is only about 15 miles out. If Everett to Tacoma were built here, such a line would stretch from Kalama to Woodburn and what would be outside the window would be somewhere around 60% farmland.

        In Japan or Europe or operations like the Long Island Rail Road in New York, this type of suburban distance is handled by higher speed trains than what Link currently has.

        The line will move people even if it is built, but it won’t be the most cost effective and important segments first.

    2. I like the idea of a “43 shuttle”, though I’m sure the people along 23rd/24th north of John won’t be thrilled that it no longer would go downtown. However, that would mean running it with diesels because there’s no turnback wire around Broadway. I’m sure Councilor Dembowski doesn’t think about such technical issues, but it’s not a small one. The 43 has been primarily wired since the 1970’s expansion.

      Of course, even with diesels you’d have a problem where to put the turnback loop. There aren’t any wide north-south streets west of Broadway on which to make a loop. I guess a diesel could go south on Broadway to First Hill and turn around somewhere near Swedish. That might be a service enhancement that would make up for dieselizing the route.

      1. You could have a wired 43 if it ended at Broadway Aloha where the 9 currently lays over. All you have to do is add a turning switch from Broadway John

      2. The question is what’s the goal it’s trying to accomplish. The council has to say that before we can determine whether a peak-only 43, or a half-hourly 43, or a U-District – Broadway shuttle would fulfill it. Alternative 2 had a half-hourly 43. To me that’s so bad it’s useless, because I don’t want to tie my schedule around a half-hourly route. A daytime-only 15-minute 43 might have merit because that’s when it’s most highly used and when people go to the university. But of course, Alternative 2 was a half-hourly 43 over a status-quo network, whereas this would be a half-hourly 43 over an improved network, so they’re not quite the same thing.

    3. Not up to your usual quality, mic. Link carries more passengers per driver than a bus; that’s a fact you can see every day. Link has lower fares and operating costs for trips up to 5 miles, and that will get better as more segments open and ridership reaches its maximum. Re BRT, I’ve never heard anybody claim it has fewer drivers or costs less than regular buses. The argument for BRT is maximum passenger mobility and convenience, which is transit’s mission.

      As for routes “HCT was supposed to do better and cheaper”, you have to distinguish between routes Link was designed for like the 71/72/73, and routes it wasn’t designed for like the 43. All indications are it will fulfill its goal on the 71/72/73, and later 41, 550, and 512. Claiming Link is a bad 43 is like claiming that a dog doesn’t meow: that was never its goal. It may be your goal but it was never ST’s, and ST’s goal was approved by the voters. But Link does serve as an express to Broadway, which has no bus equivalent, so in that aspect it’s better than the 43, and some people who are a stop or two away from the station will take Link and walk and rejoice that they can.

      I don’t know what you mean by more bus hours were added. ST hours, Metro hours, or both? There’s no bus like the 194. The 124 is a coverage route. The Rainier Valley restructure was throttled by the council’s zeal to reprieve the 42 for a year and keep an unused Beacon-Rainier shuttle: those hours came out of the promised Othello crosstown route. Rainier was different than SeaTac or the U-District or Northgate because there were no existing all-day expresses to repurpose, partly because there are no freeways in the valley. In any case, Metro’s service hours were so minimal that they had to go up, we had to get away from half-hourly routes even in major corridors.

      The small mode share is because most people drive. Why? Because they’re Americans, their houses aren’t very close to bus stops, and their destinations are sprawled around. We can’t help most of those people except to encourage better land use so that they’ll be closer to transit — and their destinations will be closer to transit. But we can install HCT and RapidRide as an incremental improvement, and that will take us step by step toward our long-term goal.

      1. The article cited by Westneat isn’t exactly an undocumented hit piece by transit trolls. Former Sec. of Transportation McDonald is well versed in costs of transit and transportation, and CM Fimia continues to make the same case she did years ago, as the unfolding reality of her warnings continue tocome true.
        The simple fact that this restructure is the result of bringing a multi billion dollar transit extension on-line next year, and in the same breath, digging into ways to preserve the 71 and 43 routes going between the same station pairs.
        Driver shortages are but one thing about this picture that is nuts.
        The before and after study combined all services within the Seattle-Seatac corridor, noting there were NO savings in operational costs after the line opened. Link drivers carry more riders, but the cost per vehicle hour cancels out those minimul savings, and then some.

      2. And Link runs every 10 minutes, 7 minutes peak. The 194 never did. You’ll soon have a one-seat ride to the airport from the U-District and other places. That also means you can transfer outside downtown where there’s not as many delays or people to walk around. The 194 never did that either.

        You’re presenting the restructure and the 71/43 preservation as if they’re the same kind of thing and equally likely. One is a restructure proposal Metro spent a year on and got a lot of public input on. The other is just a question. Metro may say, “We don’t have enough drivers,” and Dembrowski might say, “OK, never mind.” The question is a way of ascertaining how feasable it is and what the impact would be. You’re assuming the question means it will be in the final council action. They haven’t made a decision yet, and the other councilmembers probably haven’t even given their opinion on it yet.

        I don’t have much comment on Westneat’s piece. The most important question is, what kind of total transit network do we want and need? The agencies aren’t answering it, but Westneat isn’t answering it either. He’s just putting the price tags side by side as if that in itself is a reason to vote against them. There is one official opinion of the totality: Seattle’s Transit Master Plan. Metro’s Long Range Plan when it’s finished will be a second. ST’s LRP is more of a wishlist than a concrete plan, so it’s not in the same league, especially since ST hasn’t even studied the non-ST3 corridors yet. You may think the TMP should have more of something or less of something else or it should move a corridor, but as a high-level view it’s pretty good about the extent and implied cost of the needed network.

        The other thing Westneat says is, “But the congestion is on I-5!” That’s the common complaint of drivers who think we just need more highway capacity, and cars will lead the way out of this problem. But the past forty years have shown that that’s false. And Link will be an alternative to the freeway once ST2 is finished, so it’s not like we’re doing nothing.


        KCM cost per passenger mile for regular buses: $0.90
        KCM cost per vehicle revenue hour: $159.43

        Link cost per passenger mile: $0.70
        Link cost per vehicle revenue hour: $375.20

        If the higher cost for Link were to cancel out the lower cost per passenger, then you wouldn’t have a lower cost per Link passenger mile.

        Link shows up as having 75,562,813 revenue passenger miles.

        That means if those passengers were to be transported by King County Metro bus, they would have cost $68,006,000 to transport rather than $52,903,000.

      4. Not sure you want to go there Glenn. Spending 3 Bil to save $15m/yr is a lousy amortization rate – like 200 years. That gets better over time, but wouldn’t be my poster child just yet.

      5. The 1996 proposal was a $3.9 billion transit package, including $1.7 billion in light rail, including Tacoma Link. I’ve not seen anything that indicates Link’s actual construction cost was $3 billion total, but I’m willing to consider whatever source you have.

        What’s a reasonable payback time for a freeway, or any other expensive works project? Especially considering a freeway pays no property taxes and probably reduces the revenue from gasoline taxes due to the faster movement of vehicles, so it would generate less income than having cars sit in traffic.

      6. The reality is that downtown Seattle — including South Lake Union — must have high capacity, grade separated transit serving it. There’s no alternative. In the Seattle hourglass, there simply is insufficient road space to accommodate everyone who wants to come via bus, forget about the idiots in cars.

        Now maybe with some engineering at the north and south ends of the DSTT and a completely dedicated Third Avenue perhaps buses could have held the fort for another decade or so. But you wouldn’t have “Seattle’s Tallest Skyscraper” coming online. You wouldn’t have the explosion of development in the Denny Triangle. Businesses would go elsewhere. Most would stay in the Puget Sound region but they’d just exacerbate sprawl. Others would leave completely.

        If Seattle is to accommodate the masses of people who want to move to it, it must have grade separated rail lines — or grade separated bus tunnels, which aren’t all that much cheaper — to Ballard, between Ballard and the U District and in an inner arc around downtown. Nothing less will serve the coming loads.

    4. Mic, Maggie, and Danny: Look at a transit system like a building. Elevators, escalators, and staircases. Whatever their relative costs, leave one our and the rest don’t work either. Same with the building.

      Human circulatory system same-same. Arteries, veins, and capillaries, clot in one breaks off an hits the heart or brain…death same level of seriousness. Gangrene doesn’t care where it’s born either.

      Danny, give it a break about “real” mass transit. If you won’t pay for what we’ve been doing since Forward Thrust didn’t pass, you won’t pay for BART North either.

      What’s more likely is you’d rather we’d continue last 45 years of talking about rapid transit, rather than make the actual start we have.

      But I think the four of us, and a good many more, could agree about this. If every wheel in the fleet, rubber-covered or steel, only had to stop in service to board or deboard passengers, we’d could carry many more passengers with many fewer additional vehicles.

      Every inch of right of way we can build, buy, or eminently domain for transit only. Max percent signal pre-empt. Signals that never stop us a street-cross short of a zone. Between end of pm and beginning of am rush, every intersection arterial flashing yellow, cross streets flashing red.

      On subject of this posting, include chance even to work to build the above system, and transit will have a lot less trouble finding people to drive it.

      Mark Dublin

    5. Hypothetically speaking, suppose the car was never invented and we evolved a transportation system of buses and trains first and they became maxed out and there was no cheap and easy way to expand. Then an alternative revealed itself that could theoretically carry more people but cost were also exorbant for what you got. Point being there are no easy and cheap solutions anymore.

  4. They could lease or purchase unused buses from Pierce Transit, since they have cut so many routes in the past few years and probably have unused buses sitting around their base. Or, better yet, they could have Pierce Transit operate them on a contract basis. The labor cost of paying somebody a Puyallup or Tacoma salary versus a Seattle or Bellevue salary should offset the higher cost of operating out of a far-off base. I’ll bet some of the laid off PT drivers would welcome a call-back if they haven’t found work elsewhere.

    1. And what makes you think PT has extra equipment and personnel around? They have been restoring service back as well. In fact I don’t know of any agency’s in the area with large fleets of extra equipment. Time to call in contractors. I’m sure they can come up with extra equipment and operators for the added service

    2. And I forgot to mention Sound Transit realized a cost savings by changing contractors from Metro to PT for the 560 566 577 service.

  5. So… the council is asking to do the restructure… but keep cut routes by stretching existing resources?

    Sounds like a recipe for unreliable service.

      1. True, but sometimes questions imply motive. I await to see where this goes and hope we don’t pick a solution that means more daily bus runs.

  6. Metro is a joke of an organization, I am sad to say. So much bloat and bureaucracy. Their job isn’t easy, but neither are most things. Seattle should reconsider the giant checks we are sending them if they can’t deliver.

    1. Until a few minutes ago, I used to think they were paying too much – but if they legitimately can’t attract enough drivers, they probably aren’t.

      And remember, this letter wasn’t asking them to deliver on promises; it was asking them to deliver over and above promises.

    2. What bloat and bureaucracy? Specifics, please. Metro is delivering a lot of frequent bus routes every day; it’s just having some trouble at the margins.

      1. Maybe Metro should have it’s planners drive the buses too since they are in need of drivers, but could they drive the bus better than they do route planning? Scary isn’t it?

      2. Maybe Metro should have it’s planners drive the buses too since they are in need of drivers

        What reason is there to believe the planners have the requisite licences and training? It would be a waste of labor to pay to put them through it, when they wouldn’t drive much anyway. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Unless, of course, you’re just passive-aggressively snarking about a restructure that might make some people walk two blocks, which is obnoxious and off-topic.

    3. Mark, since I made it to Olympia before the Hungarians put their razor-wire across I-5, my King County Councilman Larry Phillips has been missing an important source of detailed and demanding communications to help and motivate him to make Metro less funny for the rest of his term.

      So if you’ve got a King County address, you’re not completely powerless. And since you’re certainly not in the minority in your take on KCM, you’ve already got one thing you can do to the positive. While you’re openly looking and raising money and volunteers to get current Council’s replacements hired.

      Mark Dublin

    4. More bus lanes would make a more efficient Metro and allow them to get by with fewer buses and drivers. Now the packed buses sit stuck behind a few SOV hogs clogging up the streets.

    5. Pretty much any large organization can be described as a bloated bureaucracy. How much worse is Metro than anyone else?

      According to the National Transit Database, Region 10:

      Metro costs $159 per vehicle revenue hour.

      Intercity Transit costs about $115 per vehicle revenue hour.

      Community Transit costs $168 per vehicle revenue hour.

      Everett Transit is $134 per vehicle revenue hour.

      Pierce Transit costs $131 per vehicle revenue hour.

      So, there are certainly agencies in the area that are doing better in terms of cost per hour of bus service, but at the same time the one agency in the area that is more expensive per vehicle revenue hour is also operated by a “lean and efficient” (or however you want to describe the opposite of a bloated bureaucracy) private contractor.

      So, it isn’t obvious to me that the high cost of bus service from King County Metro is something that can be changed by simply “cutting the fat” or however you want to describe what you think Metro should do to change its structure. A private operator shouldn’t have much bloat or bureaucracy if it wants to survive as a private organization. However, it doesn’t appear that it is saving Community Transit much money compared to Everett Transit – though a lot could depend on the vast area Community Transit needs to cover between riders due to the suburban sprawl in Snohomish County. It could have absolutely nothing to do with the operation of the service by a private contractor.

      Oh, yeah, and King County Metro is faced with that same sort of sprawl in some pretty wide areas.

      Pierce Transit, Intercity Transit and Everett Transit have condensed their networks to serve the most populated areas, and don’t serve the entire county in which they operate.

      This response isn’t intended to be a detailed analysis of numbers that aren’t released to the public and thus throws a bunch of speculation around. All I want to point out is that at least one far smaller agency in the Puget Sound region is slightly more expensive, and thus maybe King County Metro isn’t necessarily doing so badly, given all the political constraints that it must work with.

      1. Also both Metro and CT operate lots of peak freeway express service. Again something the other agencies don’t do a lot of.

      2. That’s true, and those involve a lot of deadheading under the current scheme, which would show up as lots of expense for an actual hour of service.

  7. The talk of “saving” routes and “solving” problems presupposes that Dembowski’s position makes sense, that the replacement of old routes with new is a problem. We don’t need to dig up more service hours, buses, and drivers to preserve routes from an inferior service plan that don’t make sense with the new one.

    If Metro has some spare money at the moment, they should keep the money for a rainy day – those tend to happen in Seattle – or they should look at the map and say “what do we most need?” and buy that.

  8. More and more it seems transit service is engaged in a feast or famine mode. Truly unfortunate. I understand the need for some sort of 43 service along the corridor. The 43 in this structure has a sort of “middle mile” problem. Link does no real service to portions south of Boyer very well at all. Anyone headed towards downtown will hop a 48 and then an 11, which while both more frequent are a degradation in service due in part to mismatched headways. And no one will want to transfer to a third service unless it’s necessary to travel past the Rainier Valley no matter how much more frequent.

  9. This gets back to something I’ve mentioned before. When there’s a drought or water shortage, we’re asked to cut back on water usage. Especially, the frivolous type of usage like watering the lawn. Public transit is a limited resource, just like water, so when there aren’t enough buses or drivers, Metro should ask riders to conserve, just like other agencies do with their resources. “Wait just a minute there, Sam! Are you saying people should stop going to their jobs?!?” No, of course not. But I am saying, just like a water agency that asks people to conserve, Metro should publicize its shortage and ask the public to cut back on unnecessary trips, to help out in this time of bus and driver drought. There’s a good percentage of the public that rides the bus unnecessarily. Maybe it’s 5, 10, or even as high as 20% who don’t HAVE to ride the bus on any given day. If those people conserved on riding on buses until Metro’s drought was over, this would go a long way in helping with: crowding, cancelled bus trips, bus bunching, slowing down the routes, behind schedule buses, Metro’s employee shortage, and more.

      1. No, asking people to conserve waste is never counter-productive. It’s just asking people to help out. It’s not a requirement. It’s not a demand. Metro could include “also don’t drive your car wastefully” in their messages. Examples of wasteful trips: Man with operable bicycle waiting for bus to go one short stop. Woman waiting for bus to go one stop. Taking a bus or two to go take pictures of fall leaves. Taking buses to a mall, not to shop, but to people watch. Elderly or homeless people who ride on buses to be around other people and feel less alone. Taking bus to downtown to hang out around 3rd and Pine. Taking bus to library to take a nap. And the list could go on and on. Now that I think about it, I bet as much as 30% of bus riders are riding unnecessarily and wastefully.

      2. Sam,

        If the photographer “taking a bus or two to go take pictures of fall leaves.” goes at ANY time except the peak hours, she or he is completely without impact on the system. His or her weight is insignificant to the consumption of fuel by the vehicle s/he is riding, stopping twice to pick her or him up and let him or her off does nothing to affect the schedule keeping of the bus. It’s action without a reaction.

    1. This is nonsense; bus service is not fungible in that way. It cannot just be rescheduled on a whim because of scarce resources. Asking someone to not ride a bus that’s going to come anyway is absurd.

      Bus service is a public good; those who choose to ride do not have to justify doing so.

      I also don’t follow how paying existing drivers to drive emptier buses is an efficient use of tax dollars.

      1. This is nonsense; bus service is not fungible in that way.

        Sam’s perfectly aware of that, he’s trolling. He’d probably troll less if everyone didn’t respond so earnestly to it.

      2. Correction. “Asking someone to not ride a bus (WASTEFULLY) that’s going to come anyway is absurd.” I’m not suggesting Metro ask people to not ride the bus. I’m saying that they should ask people to conserve their trips to only necessary one’s. Please don’t ride the bus unnecessarily until the drive and bus drought is over. Example, going to ride 4 different buses to examine the price of miniature combs for your doll collection? You’re being wasteful. Can it please wait?

    2. Anandakos, and one person watering their lawn during a drought is completely without impact. But 20% of a city’s population watering their lawn does have an impact, doesn’t it? It adds up. For example, did you know if you doubled a penny every day for a month, on day 30 you’d have $5,368,709.12. Something to think about.

    3. “Metro should publicize its shortage and ask the public to cut back on unnecessary trips, to help out in this time of bus and driver drought.”

      That would only help a problem of overcrowded buses. That’s not what this problem is. If I don’t ride a 12, it doesn’t help somebody who wants to take a 28 or a 301. Metro can’t predict when I won’t be on the 12, and it can’t move the bus or it would disrupt all the other 12 passengers (who are more numerous than the ones who would benefit by the move).

  10. I sort of get why this has occurred with the Seattle Prop 1 expansion. Metro couldn’t be sure it would pass, and Seattle was eager to start expansion as quickly as possible, so hiring/training and finding buses was an issue.

    This past service change though, Metro added service on non-Seattle routes, meaning they were 100% in control of the situation. Why they would do that when they clearly lacked the resources is beyond me. I’d rather wait a service change or two and know that the bus will actually show up, than to have a schedule that’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.

    My own route the combined 216/218/219, had a couple of runs added each way, but Metro has had to cancel 1-2 runs daily since the service change. So sometimes the frequency is 6 minutes, and sometimes it’s 12, which causes delays in the buses that follow due to crowding.

    It’s a situation that was completely avoidable.

  11. It’s unfortunate to see Mr. Dembowski pushing Metro toward ad hoc solutions to squeaky-wheel problems. His (eventually successful) opposition to Metro’s very conservative financial reserve policy last year was about an overall governance issue, and even if you disagreed with his position, it was an appropriate topic for council oversight. But this looks like micro-managing and encouraging inefficient operation on the basis of constituent complaints. Hardly surprising, but not a good development.

  12. It seems like Rod could gain a ton more votes by supporting the restructure than he could preserve by saving half of these bus routes.

  13. Wait, they have money but no buses or drivers? How about this: Build the CH-SLU-QA gondola and pull out some L8 buses and drivers to other routes.

    1. Yeah how many buses and drivers are wasted being thrown at the Denny SOV congestion? Solve this shortage problem, and get a more efficient Metro, through bus lanes… every f-ing where.

  14. “Speculatively, the 43 and 71 could be retained as peak-only”

    If the 71 is run peak only, wouldn’t that make it a slower version of the 76? People on 65th would take the 76. People on the Ave would take the 45/67–>Link.

    1. On 65th, yes. But it would answer those upset about losing a one-seat ride from Wedgwood to the Ave, which the 76 doesn’t serve.

    2. I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would want to keep the 71 when there will be so many options available. I lived in Wedgwood for ten years and had to ride this route by necessity, dreading what I thought of as the ‘Dumb View Ridge Detour’ where the bus had to maneuver through some very narrow streets, so narrow that often the bus drivers had to leave the bus and re-adjust parked cars’ mirrors in order to be able to pass. I rode this route at all times of day and did not see many passengers on the tail end from 35th and 65th onward.

  15. There is another solution and that is drop some of the routes that went from 30 minute service to 20 minute instead of 15. One of these routes is the 11 and I’m sure there are others.Three runs per hour is better that two or one and would work for most riders if it still allowed then to get to their destinations!

    In other words, this is a problem created by Metro and it could have been solved by them too if hey didn’t play games with routes as in the restructure on Capitol Hill. Having the 11 take over part of the 43 route was stupid at best!

  16. Not enough labor for the buses? Sounds like a good argument for making ST3 projects automated. That way you can increase or decrease service without having to worry as much about a labor shortage/surplus.

    1. You can’t compare a dozen train operators to thousands of bus drivers, or corridors that will never be eligible for HCT.

      1. Not comparing them directly. A labor shortage is a reason to consider automation though. Can’t just magic drivers into existance. Its a long term investment that pays off in dividends of ease of scalability.

  17. I truly believe that the elimination of the 43 is the hardest “swallow” of the whole restructure.

    I think both the arguments for and against the 43 are compelling.

    What I would like to see Metro’s staff do in this situation is sit down and explain how the elimination of the 43 fits within the service guidelines approved by the council a few years back. Remember those? All route planning decisions are supposed to be made within that framework. They should also make the case for how retaining the 43 and 71 does not fit within that framework.

    If they do that and the Council still overrides them, then where are we?

  18. Interesting how pendulum swings.
    Perhaps Metro can start a training program for unemployed, homeless, but well-balanced individuals.

  19. What’s the pay for bus drivers in Seattle? In New York it’s $63,000 a year, as far as I remember. If Seattle has difficulty attracting drivers, and the pay isn’t very high, then it’s an indication it’s paying too little and should raise salaries. (If the pay is high, then I’d look for the work conditions mentioned by various other commenters, like the seniority system for vacation time.)

    1. Per a thread last year, the top of the base pay scale was (coincidentally) ~$63,000 for a full-time operator. Full-timers have priority for overtime assignments, so it is possible to make more than that.

      Metro is hiring at about $21/hour for new part-time drivers but the guarantee is only 12.5 hours per week. That’s not a lot of money on an annual basis. The only good aspect of part-time work is that you can hold a fairly predictable AM or PM peak Monday-Friday schedule, since that’s where the need for drivers is highest.

      Allowing part-timers to get overtime would reduce expenses and make part-time status more attractive, but I don’t think it would get support from the full-time drivers.

    2. Part time drivers start out at $21.81 an hour. No idea what entry level full time wages are, or how long you’re stuck part-timing before you can expect to get a full time job.

      I wonder if the rule that you must be a part-timer first, for an unknown length of time with uncertain hours, before you can get a full time position hurts recruitment. Do other transit agencies have such a policy?

      1. New York has no part-time drivers; Amalgamated has successfully fought any and all attempts by NYC Transit to hire part-timers.

        Also, 12.5 hours at $21 an hour (with a split shift, no less) is shit pay, and in this particular case, running buses more frequently off-peak might be cost-free in that Metro could find drivers somewhat more easily if it were 35 hours at $21 an hour.

      2. So, in the case of New York, do they have every peak-hour bus run midday, or do they pay peak-only drivers to sit there and twiddle their thumbs for a few hours after they finish each run?

      3. They have full-time drivers with split shifts. The number of service hours per driver (1,200 per year, cf. 500 on the subway and commuter rail) is far too high for there to be that much downtime.

  20. We are delivering far more buses and bus trips per weekday now (11,500) than we were prior to last June’s implementation of Seattle funded service (about 10,900 each weekday Feb-June), and along with our own investments will grow the system by 10% by about March 2016. The operator issue is one of timing and we are on track to be reduce the number of cancellations over the few weeks and continuing to hire for future service implementation.

    1. Glad to hear it.

      Still, I would rather we delay about trying to add additional new routes to the restructure (i.e. keeping routes we were going to cancel) until at a minimum staffing has caught up to fill the current network needs.

      1. I agree with that principle, but don’t forget that the restructure won’t be instituted until next March. From what Mr. Switzer says, staffing will probably have caught up by then.

  21. Are bus drivers ever asked for their input whenever there are proposed changes/restructuring?
    Those who do the driving would most likely have some good common sense ideas as to the practicality of routing, scheduling, etc.

  22. Someone might check to see if TriMet is willing to part with some of their early low floor buses now that the Orange Line is running.

    1. Why would you do that?

      Metro has buses, that they own, that are “retired” but still on property. As noted, some of these could be returned to service.

      Additionally, there is a healthy used transit bus market already out there. If you want a used bus, you can buy one, on the market.

      Finally, getting into specifics, the early TriMet low floors have Detroit Diesel Series 50 engines, a powertrain that Metro is decidedly against ever having to maintain, again.

      1. Obviously a buyer has to be careful when considering used equipment but:

        1. If an FTA funded agency buys used equipment from another FTA funded agency the rules of the transaction are kind of strange, and sometimes lead to a huge advantage to the buying agency in terms of the cost of the equipment. It’s not a for sale to highest bidder transaction as would happen if the buses were sold as a public notice.

        2. Based on what I have ridden, it seems like King County Metro’s older buses are high floor buses. Furthermore they would have been in very occasional use. The stuff TriMet is pulling out of service due to the arrival of the new Gilligs and the opening of the Orange Line would have been in service a month ago, and quite a number of them would be low floors. I think TriMet is actually retiring some of these earlier than their total useful life because they really like the new Gilligs. i believe the majority of them are the same 2003 D40LF New Flyers that Metro is currently operating, complete with Cummins engines.

        Obviously, if there isn’t any advantage in it then the transaction shouldn’t be done.

    2. One has to be careful about buying used equipment. There is a reason the seller is selling it to begin with, generally its at the end of its useful life and nearing time for major component overhaul in addition to other more routine work. It would be ideal if someone were selling some used 1996-2000’s Gillig Phantoms with Cummins engines and Allison transmissions, there would be enough commonality to make it a good purchase. However buying a fleet of used coaches, with drastically different drivetrains, axles, and other parts would make for a one-off fleet that would be costly to keep on the road as you would have to stock parts for this sub fleet, provide different training for operators and mechanics, etc.. Also, does Metro have enough equipment to outfit additional coaches? Do they have enough Radios, Fare boxes, and ORCA equipment on-hand to place these buses in service. Remember, what has been sold so far is nearly a 1:1 replacement as equipment taken out of service was replaced with Rapid Ride buses, or newer coaches, and even than some of it was returned back to service after being decommissioned. I’m not even sure the ORCA equipment is available new anymore as one of the Northern California properties that is joining their Clipper card is using newer equipment than everyone else on Clipper.

      1. I could well be wrong, but the 1900s replaced the 1200s, which were than replaced by gilligs and 3700s. The 1100s were replaced by the 3700s, The Gilligs were replaced by 7000s, 7300s, and many are still in service. The 2300s got replaced by 6000s, 68/6900s, almost on a 1:1 ratio.

  23. Can someone outline the hiring process at Metro? Seems like the union has successfully negotiated some barriers into what could otherwise be a straightforward proposition. Does a new driver really have to work part-time for years? Please tell me this isn’t the case. And are targeting lateral hires from other agencies who may need little training, but can come in hopefully at a higher wage rate? Does Metro bring in new “classes” of trainees monthly at least to keep the talent pool stocked?

    Any insight here might help explain the labor shortage.

    1. 1. Fill Out Application For Part Time Transit Operator
      2. Attend Mass Interview Process – Face to Face
      3. Take Video Exam Pass/Fail
      4. Physical Exam DOT Type must Pass
      5. Sign In For Class – 28 Days Seniority Determined By Sign In Time
      6. Complete Classroom With Passing Score in all Areas 90% on all Test/Qualify Diesel Coaches
      7. Must Pass CDL Written Test by 2nd week
      8. Must Pass CDL Skill /”Road Test”
      9. Assigned to Base Training Assignments + Train on Assigned Work
      10. Qualify – Fitted for Uniform Etc Join ATU 587 on that Day (Friday)
      11. Drive Assignment – Monday
      12. Probation for 1 Year??
      13. Promotion to full time requires records review
      14. Additional Training Equipment/Policies and Procedures
      15. Satisfactory Completion + Will be added to Extra Board at Picked Base

  24. Transit could theoretically offer generous vacation plans with two policy changes; hiring school bus drivers over breaks, and returning to a “Reduced Weekday” schedule.

    School bus drivers could be hired as they already possess the correct Class B CDL with Passenger and Air Brake endorsements needed by the DOT to operate a transit bus; all the transit firm would have to do is train them on routes and transit-specific policies.

    I’ll use a napkin level estimate for hiring school bus drivers. Assume that 100 transit drivers and 100 school bus drivers are needed for a given school-year weekday. More extra-board employees are needed than listed, but I am assuming that non-vacation extra-board needs do not change. During the summer, 95 transit drivers (some service is reduced, see below) and 5 school bus drivers (for the few, specialized year-round programs) are needed. In other words, 100 drivers are not needed.

    Over a 10-week summer, the transit firm would like to offer all employees a guaranteed two weeks of vacation. Summer has five two-week periods, which means that if employee vacation is evenly distributed that 80 transit drivers are available. A shortage of 15 drivers (95-80) would be present, which would be backfilled by temporarily hiring 15 school bus drivers to replace them. If, hypothetically, the transit firm offered four weeks of vacation (every driver is assumed to take full vacation time), leaving 60 drivers, 35 school bus drivers would need to be hired.

    But wait, there’s more! With transit operator vacation clumped during the summer, if vacation opportunities were reduced during the other parts of the year fewer extra-board operators would be needed. The transit firm would be able to reduce its extra-board requirements, saving on full-time wages and benefits.

    Service reductions on “Reduced Weekday” or “Saturday Plus” days could allow the transit firm to offer more operators days off on holidays. While the former practice of Metro cutting blocks in a seemingly random way, with 30-minute headway routes dropping to hourly during rush hour should definitely be avoided, some room for service cuts on low headway routes could be made. For instance, any route with a better headway than every 10 minutes could be adjusted to every 10 minutes or as often as necessary to meet demand, with minimal impact to customers. Peak-only routes could have their headways adjusted, with the first and last trips kept, but trips in the middle adjusted; for instance, a route with a 3:30, 4:10, 4:30, 4:50, and 5:30 departure could have the 4:10 and 4:50 departures cancelled. A slight reduction in weekday service, or a Saturday schedule with a few extra peak trips, could adequately meet demand while allowing operators more time off during holidays.

    1. I know of school bus drivers with the necessary CDL certifications who have repeatedly failed Metro training. One of the school bus drivers who failed was an instructor for the school bus agency he worked at. Obviously they operate different equipment but a 40 foot bus is a 40 foot bus regardless if it is yellow or green. Pivot points, turn ratios, lane positioning, following distance and basic driving techniques are incredibly similar.

      Bringing on school bus drivers in the summer is not a viable option even if they have the Metro skill sets. The logistics of having them only available during certain times of the year would actually make planning more difficult and less reliable.

      Sorry, school has started, your bus has been cancelled. Maybe we will have it available during the winter or spring break. Or as they say in baseball, ‘There’s always next year.’

  25. But we lose 7 drivers a day during peak time because they have to be loaders in the tunnel. What’s more important: Delayed trains and buses in the tunnel, or canceling commuter routes daily like the 74,76,77 etc

    1. Delayed trains are actually more important.

      But the solution shouldn’t be to have loaders, the solution should be to have fewer buses in the tunnel. If Metro can’t operate the bus side of Joint Ops without having to cancel commuter routes, then some serous changes in how Metro operates in the tunnel are in order — and long overdue.

  26. I went through the hiring process in August, but was dropped right before training started because my previous two employers would not respond to Metro’s job performance reference, nor would they respond to my requests either. Subsequently I ended up unemployed and not able to collect unemployment because it happened after I gave my two week notice. Not only did I pass security checks, drivers physical and drug screening , I also have a spotless complete driving record. I found the whole process dissappointing and now work for a building supply store.

    1. Geez. Your previous employers were jerks!

      There really ought to be some way to force employers to answer such enquiries. Barring that, Metro should assume good performance.

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