Late last year, pressure from Seattle Transit Blog leaders led the City to require a study on integrating the Seattle Center Monorail into the ORCA system. Last June, Seattle Center delivered its report, as discovered by alert reader Kevin Heim.
The bottom line is that there are three steps necessary for ORCA integration:
- The city must conduct a ridership study;
- One of the ORCA agencies (Metro or Sound Transit) must sponsor the monorail as an “affiliate transportation service.”
- The ORCA joint board must unanimously vote to accept it as an affiliate.
Here’s the budget math. Seattle Center receives 2/3 of Monorail revenues, or $550,000 per year, whichever is more. 2015 figures to generate about $900,000 this way. The monorail would have to pay about $51,000 annually as an ORCA participation fee to cover its share of original ORCA rollout costs and $143,000 for overhead, although the payment would go up or down with actual ridership.
Some costs aren’t knowable. A fee to the sponsoring agency is subject to negotiation with ST or Metro. Seattle would also have to pay for any monorail-specific setup costs for the ORCA consortium, in addition to its own equipment and installation costs. Interestingly, ORCA equipment production is already over in preparation for ORCA 2.0, so Seattle would have to borrow reserve equipment from the sponsoring agency.
Seattle would lose control over many aspects of monorail operation. In particular, it would have to adjust its fares into 25 cent increments and adopt the same fare categories — though not the same fares — as the rest of the system. Obviously, any change in the fare structure will affect the revenue position.
The report also has interesting statistics. 44% of the monorail’s total ridership occurs in the tourist and festival months of July and August. There are 2,600 monthly pass holders consistently over the year.
SDOT spokesman Norm Mah says that SDOT hasn’t yet done anything but “preliminary” sponsorship discussions with Metro and ST. They “hope” to hire a consultant in early 2016, and the study would likely complete late next year.
It appears that the costs associated with ORCA are not wildly out of line with the profits the line currently generates, although we don’t know all the costs. Seamless integration with ORCA can only increase ridership and bring a greater portion of ORCA revenue. Of course, any lost revenue comes out of the Seattle Center budget, with implications for the programs there. Here’s hoping that emphasis and goodwill at the highest levels can clear the bureaucratic obstacles and develop the details quickly.