A route identified for investment by the Service Guidelines. Photo by Joe A. Kunzler.
A route targeted for investment under the Service Guidelines. Photo by Joe A. Kunzler.

Last week, County Executive Dow Constantine transmitted an ordinance to the King County Council containing proposed changes to Metro’s Strategic Plan and Service Guidelines.  These are a big deal for King County bus riders; they will shape how Metro service evolves over the next decade or so.  There is a lot to digest in the documents.  We have spent the usual quality time reviewing them, and I spoke last week with Metro Deputy General Manager Victor Obeso and Supervisor of Strategic Planning Chris O’Claire about some of the most important proposals.

We have covered the history of the Service Guidelines and Strategic Plan on a few occasions.  In short, their 2011 adoption by the King County Council replaced an ad hoc planning process often driven by individual Councilmembers’ wishes with public, verifiable criteria for planning service additions, reductions, and restructures.  Executive Constantine rightly wrote in his transmittal letter that the Guidelines helped “make the transit system more efficient and better focused on the county’s most important public transportation needs.”  The Plan and Guidelines represent exactly the type of political guidance that the Council and Executive should be providing to Metro’s professional staff.  This sort of guidance is entirely different from interference with micro-level planning decisions.  It’s essential to ensure that the Metro system reflects the values and preferences of King County’s voters and taxpayers and remains accountable.

A bit more about the process underlying the recommendations is after the jump.  First, the major headline recommendations:

Revise the categories of routes used for Service Guidelines analysis.  Currently, routes are divided into two categories: “serves Seattle core” and “does not serve Seattle core.”  All routes that touch downtown, the U-District, SLU, Ballard, or certain other dense neighborhoods are in “serves Seattle core,” regardless of whether they are core all-day routes, suburban peak expresses, or infrequent coverage routes.  The proposal would scrap these two categories and replace them with “urban,” “suburban,” and “alternative service” categories, based on the areas the routes primarily serve.

Provide special protection for peak-only services.  Service Guidelines Task Force members felt that Metro’s September 2014 cuts, and proposed further cuts that did not occur, exacted too heavy a toll on peak-only services.  The proposed changes would protect peak-only services that enjoy either a travel time or ridership advantage over all-day alternatives from the first round of future reductions.

Revise criteria used in corridor analysis.  There are a number of different changes included in this bucket, with the most significant being 1) a change in the definition of “low-income” used in setting target service levels from 100% to 200% of the federal poverty level (for a family of three $20,090 annually), and 2) inclusion of park-and-rides together with other types of ridership generators.  Metro’s Ms. O’Claire estimated that all of the corridor-analysis changes would significantly increase the amount of new service recommended under the Guidelines, by approximately 250,000 hours over today’s recommendation of 471,650 additional hours.

More below the jump.

service types map
Rough draft map showing the new service type classifications. Blue = urban; orange = suburban; green = alternative.  From the Service Guidelines Task Force report.

Informed readers may have noticed a common thread in these recommendations: they tend to favor peak express service patterns, particularly over long distances.  First, the shift of some (but not all) peak-only routes from the “serves Seattle core” category to the “suburban” category will tend to make those routes look more attractive in performance reporting, because thresholds for both top- and bottom-performing status are considerably higher in the current “serves Seattle core” and (almost certainly) new “urban” categories.  Second, special peak-service protection will favor long, fast, but expensive-to-run peak express service from the farthest suburbs, which enjoys the greatest time and ridership advantages over local service — such as one-seat routes to Seattle from Duvall, North Bend, Black Diamond, Enumclaw, and Twin Lakes, all of which were fully or partly cut for low productivity under the current Service Guidelines.  Finally, inclusion of park-and-rides as a ridership generator will result in higher target service levels on both peak and all-day routes that serve them, most of which are major suburban routes.  The process behind the proposed changes helps to explain this tendency.

The Executive’s recommendations were heavily based on input from the Council’s Regional Transit Committee, the full Council, and two advisory processes set up by the Council: the Service Guidelines Task Force, which met regularly during much of 2015 and produced a detailed report that closely tracks the final proposed changes, and the Access to Transit study.

The membership of both the Regional Transit Committee and the Service Guidelines Task Force is weighted toward suburban areas.  The Regional Transit Committee includes two suburban county councilmembers and seven suburban city officials, but just one Seattle county councilmember and two Seattle city councilmembers.  This 75%/25% split favors the suburbs more than the split of population between the rest of King County and Seattle (68%/32%), let alone the split in Metro ridership (which can be counted in different ways but has a clear Seattle majority).  Similarly, the Service Guidelines Task Force has just 8 of 29 members (28%) that are Seattle officials or represent clearly Seattle-centric organizations.

This heavy suburban representation may be an unavoidable consequence of the fact that only three of the nine council districts have Seattle majorities.  And, again, this is the way the planning process is designed to work, with the Council setting the criteria under which Metro evaluates and designs service, and seeking stakeholder feedback and advice as it sees fit.  Nevertheless, neglect of Seattle service could have undesired consequences for the county as a whole, and the Council should be careful to avoid it.  Ridership on Seattle core services is growing sharply, according to Metro’s 2015 Service Guidelines Report, based on data from before the City of Seattle added even more service through Prop 1.  Seattle routes comprise about half of the needed investments identified in the 2015 report after Prop 1 additions.  Almost all of the severe capacity problems in Metro’s system are in Seattle, with a few Seattle routes (C, D, 5X, 33, 40, 65, 72, 76) together including a majority of needed overcrowding investments throughout the system, and just two suburban routes (219, 255) needing major investment to solve overcrowding.  For the most part, Metro’s own corridor analysis indicates that Seattle routes are the most productive in the system today and have more short-term ridership growth potential as well.

I should emphasize that the final effects of the new Guidelines criteria are far from clear at this point in the process.  The income-level change and other minor changes to the corridor analysis criteria may be beneficial for Seattle service, and the greater identified investment need is a welcome sign.  Metro’s Ms. O’Claire told us that she expects tentative corridor-level analysis using the new criteria to be available later in the process, perhaps after the ordinance is referred to committee.  We are eagerly looking forward to that analysis, and I am glad to see the Executive and the Council giving the Strategic Plan and Service Guidelines — the basis for professional, data-based transit planning in the county — this level of attention and thoughtful treatment.

101 Replies to “Changes to Metro’s Strategic Plan and Service Guidelines”

  1. This sounds like a bunch of bad news… if going forward the major changes are to strengthen the express network and favor park and rides its going to sap service from the reliable walk up ridership for a new rider base that could never replace it.

    This at a time when we are seeing a population boom in the city and more new residential units clustering near transit lines… it seems like exactly the wrong time to put a new focus on express routes. It goes against everything we have worked on for the last several years with the rapid ride network.

    Additionally, why should we invest in suburban rail if we’re going to start placing more emphasis on express routes to Seattle? These compete with suburban rail, and are useless for trying to get riders to the local train stations.

    1. Maybe it’s time to bring back Seattle Transit, operated and owned by the City of Seattle.

      This would solve the political problem.

      1. I have been saying this for a long time. Metro has two very different shoes to fill, Urban transportation in a high ridership urban environment, that favors all day two way service and is very efficient for use of service hours and dollars. The other, is a suburban network featuring longer distance and peak express routes, that have longer deadhead times, generally lower ridership and less service making them more expensive to operate service hours and dollars wise. Now that we have ORCA handing inter-agency transfers I think it would be worth exploring having the city of Seattle split from metro, much like Everett and CT. The City would form its own Transit agency under the same auspices of Everett Transit and operate their own service collecting the tax dollars that would have otherwise gone to Metro. While laws should not cover service planning, I would add a provision that would require any service to be integrated with other regional transportation partners, example jointly sharing transit centers and transfer points, coordinating service to the best of their ability, interagency orca transfers, etc.

    2. I agree. I’m especially surprised to hear this considering the city of Seattle recently approved Proposition 1. I’m confused about why King County Metro is suddenly shifting its focus and definitions to the more suburban routes. Maybe I’m missing some crucial information and making too many assumptions.

  2. So 40/40/20 is dead, but by adjusting the “service guidelines” they can still pretty much accomplish the same suburban bias? Just not in as overt a fashion?

    I’d much prefer some sort of planning layer that at least considers economic efficiency and/or demand. But this is Metro…..

    1. Does this mean Seattle’s willingness to pay for its own will be used in a backdoor way to allow the suburbs to redirect future metro dollars?

      Basically worming around the agreement that prevents metro from offsetting metro dollars with Seattle dollars by exempting suburban routes from future cuts when the next economic downturn happens…

      1. That’s been my worry since this whole process started. Seattle’s agreement with Metro specifies that the way we will judge if they are supplanting funds is if they follow the Service Guidelines. Now, conveniently, they’re changing the service guidelines!

      2. Hmm… Exactly how is the agreement phrased? Because maybe, as soon as Metro breaks the old service guidelines (to follow the new ones), Seattle can sue them for breaking the agreement.

        I’m not convinced this’d be worth it; maybe the new Service Guidelines won’t be too bad. But Seattle should be reserving this option as it works with Metro to improve the new Guidelines.

      3. I’m under the impression that SDOT is quite aware of these issues and of the option to take legal action to enforce the agreement.

      4. That does seem to be where Metro is going. I wonder how easy it would be to take all of the Prop 1 money plus the existing sales tax receipts going to Metro and reform Seattle Transit as a SDOT agency? It’s kind of the nuclear option and SDOT is no angel when it comes to transit, but they do seem to be more responsive to urban needs than Metro at this point. In any event, it will be useful as a bargaining chip if nothing else.

      5. From my limited perspective, it looks that way.

        I’m starting to feelore strongly that the city of Seattle could use a dedicated transit agency, because the needs of the city riders and those of the suburban riders are very different. I’m not sure how effectively one transit agency can actually focus on both.

    2. This is all spitballing until we get some corridor-level data, but I think the bias here is likely to be different from 40/40/20, and not nearly as bad. 40/40/20 starved all Seattle service, no matter how productive, and favored investments in suburban local routes whether they were productive or not. This probably won’t disadvantage the most productive Seattle service, and won’t encourage investment in unproductive suburban local service. It will just put a thumb on the scale in favor of long-distance peak express services, which can attract good ridership but at very high cost.

      1. David,

        Suburban expresses — heck, ANY express service headed to Downtown Seattle — competes to some degree with “post-ST3” Link. Link has distance-based fares. So should peak expresses; that at least would help pay for the deadhead hours.

      2. I can agree with the idea that express services should charge a premium.

        They come at the opportunity cost of local servolice, both in the city and the suburbs.

      3. The recommendation puts its thumb on the scale in favor of existing local peak express routes, not creating new ones. It is just one recommendation rather than a repeated emphasis.

        The biggest losers from that recommendation may be suburban riders who want new connections to the expanding light rail network, or new direct express service from their neighborhood. However, some of the other recommendations may mitigate this problem.

      4. Anandakos, I agree 100% with raising fares for peak express service. I’d do it on a route-by-route basis for simplicity’s sake, but given the high operational cost of that service it’s completely appropriate.

        Brent, I think that local suburban connector routes that are already well-used will be fine, but moving some peak services into the suburban category may hurt marginal routes and those trying to push into new areas.

      5. There are other recommendations geared toward reaching new markets.

        As with most public guidance documents. Contradictions pervade.

      6. “but moving some peak services into the suburban category may hurt marginal routes and those trying to push into new areas”

        Which routes are you concerned about?

      7. Peak-only routes often can be divided into three categories.

        Case 1: If the peak-only route were eliminated, riders could be accommodated within the capacity of existing parallel routes. Example: route 157, competing with Sounder.

        In this case, the entire cost of operating the route, including all the deadheading, becomes purely a matter of saving time for the people who ride it. In this case, the peak express routes, if it exists at all, should have a higher fare, since it is, effectively, a premium service.

        Case 2: If the peak-only route were eliminated, competing parallel routes are already full, so additional buses would need to be deployed to those routes to provide sufficient capacity. Example: 15X competing with the D-line.

        In this case, having the peak-only route may actually save Metro money. The theory being that if eliminating n buses from the 15X meant adding n peak-period-peak-direction buses to the D-line, all the costs associated with operating peak-hour buses are still there, only with each trip on the D-line costing more than a trip on the 15X (because it takes longer), Metro is actually spending more money on the corridor, not less.

        In this category, the peak express route should have the same fare as the all-day route, not a higher fare, because the route exists for Metro’s convenience, as much as the passengers’. In other words, if price-sensitive people switched from the 15X do the D, to save on fares, forcing Metro to replace some 15X trips with D trips, costs would go up, not down.

        Case 3: The corridor in question has no all-day service at all. The peak-only route is it.

        Yes, there are still some residential neighborhoods that are deemed important enough to deserve peak-hour expresses to downtown Seattle, but unimportant enough to to not warrant any service at all, outside of the peak period. (Example: route 201, Mercer Island->downtown Seattle).

        In this case, the primary utility of the route is about alleviating parking pressure at overcrowded P&R lots. (The assumption being that a local shuttle to the P&R would be too unattractive for people to use it, so the only way to get people downtown without taking up space at the P&R lot is to offer direct service from their local neighborhood).

      8. David,

        Down here in Vanhoover we have C-Tran Express services which currently charge $3.85 per trip with no transfer credit from feeder lines unless the rider is knowledgeable enough to pay the express fare on the feeder and request an express transfer. They do charge “C-Zone” fares to ride within Clark County, so the 105 (the only route which matters for that) is like very glorified BRT if you want to go to downtown Vancouver from the I-5 corridor.

        Base “Two-Zone” fares are $2.25. They give a two hour transfer good on Tri-Met.

        Nobody I know bats an eye at the fare discrepancy because the service is great. It would be “greater” if there were some southbound priority in the morning and OSP gave a rodent’s hindquarters about the egregious lane violations in the afternoon northbound.

      9. asdf2,

        Those are excellent categories you’ve defined, so I’ll agree that my blanket statement about “all express service” was over-broad. You’re right that people who ride the 5X from 83rd shouldn’t have to pay extra because the bus can be filled by 55th in the peaks.

        I guess that’s where David’s “route-by-route basis” determination would come in. Making a comprehensive but fair rule about it will be difficult, though.

      10. Yes, it all has be be route by route as there is a huge difference between Seattle to Overlake vs Olympia. Running a bus all the way from Olympia to Seattle makes no sense to begin with. Why not run it to Lakewood and transfer to the train? Lakewood back to Oly might make sense if they can work out a decent transfer point with Joint Base Lewis/McChord. There actually is a decent sized job base in Dupont and none of that involves slogging though DT streets.

        It seems like there are other routes that could be made into a loop rather than point to point. I don’t know the system outside my little bubble to suggest a specific route but I’m thinking north and south ends of the Lake; Seattle Renton Factoria I-90 and Seattle Bothell Kirkland 520.

        Buses shouldn’t be spending a 1/2 hour slogging through DT Seattle. Since the trains have all but taken over the Bus Tunnel it’s time to get serious about transfers to Link. This will require some extensive road work. We’re rebuilding the west approach to the Evergreen Pt bridge so now is the window where something can get done. At the south end I don’t know if the existing P&R lots are ready for prime time but I’d think any investment that improves freight and transit mobility between I-5 and KSEA would be a winner.

      11. Is there any hope of tossing zone based fares in exchange for “local/urban” and “express” fares? The higher operating costs and generally lower price sensitivity of express customers (due to higher % of employer provided ORCA) makes this an obvious choice.

      12. Bernie, the reason people take a bus from Olympia to Seattle is because it’s faster and cheaper than taking a bus to Lakewood and transferring to Sounder.

      13. A bus from Olympia is only cheaper for the user because of distorted subsidies. It would be cheaper for ST, since they are running the train anyway to force a transfer. As far as faster, scheduled run times are pretty close to even. The I-5 commute is less reliable and is only going to get worse. I don’t think we should be incentivizing a Oly-Sea commute in the first place. But since we are it’s easy for ST to just include the Sounder transfer with the cost of the fare from Olympia. There’s still a transfer penalty but someone traveling that far for that cheap from outside the ST taxing district really shouldn’t be entitled to a one seat ride.

      14. I’ll settle for a two-seat transfer that’s smooth and easy.

        Now there just might be a funding option here… in the 2016 State Legislature, the transit advocacy community will bravely request against long odds, “A Dedicated State Source of Operating Funding for Regional Service Provided by Rural and Small Urban Transit Districts” as “Many of the Rural and Small Urban Transit systems around the State provide regional service outside of their own boundaries that provides benefits to the state highway system at a modest cost. In many cases, this regional service provides the only public transportation connection between communities. Dedicated state support of these regional services would provide reliable access to jobs, education and medical services for citizens across the State.”

        More details at https://www.scribd.com/doc/288172909/Regional-Transit-Funding-Proposal-for-WSTA-Approval-October-2015

        I suggest you STB folks start supporting it. Joe over and out

      15. Intercity Transit pays for the Olympia extension on buses that otherwise would go just to Lakewood. It’s a pilot project with a state grant to see if more Seattle-Olympia service will be used. I don’t understand why the 590/592/594 run at all when Sounder is running, but there’s your express problem, not the Olympia extension. And that route is a very outlying case: 80% of the peak expresses don’t go half that far.or less.

        asdf2 has a good analysis of the peak express routes. I noticed this when I took the 218 once. I expected it to be mostly empty but it was 100% full. If it didn’t exist the 554 would have to make another run. The 216 and 218 are really a variation of an A/B stop pattern that subways sometimes use peak hours: one train stops at the A stops and the next one stops at the B stops. The 590 and 592 are like that too compared to the 594.

  3. Once again, Seattle transit riders get the shaft. If there is a movement to blow up regionalism, count me in.

    Terrible week for Seattle transit.

    1. I think a professional blaster would specify “gelatin and time-delay caps, not fertilizer.” Meaning “split stone, don’t throw sharp pebbles.” I think that given the way most of fuse live now, urban and suburban service ARE regional transit.

      But in addition to being divisive, preference for part time service means that somebody making decisions is greedy and lazy. Fewer routes, fewer passengers, meaning also fewer employees.

      Doubt that the County Council would have much sympathy for drivers and supervisors demanding demanding full-time wages for part-time work.

      But I also underneath it all, there’s an agenda and a mind-set that really argues for Seattle pulling out of the whole system and running its own transit system. Which should never come close to happening.

      Either a transit system is a solid unit or a temporary fair-weather collection of localities or an integrated system- amputated body-parts stitched together- or a living unity.

      Terrible damage if anybody pulls out of present system. But preference by city lines, themselves as obsolete as the grand duchy, anybody and everybody ought to fight.

      Mark Dublin

      1. Seattle Transit existed until 1973. It may exist again.

        Metro was formed specifically to bail out the suburban buses run by the Metropolitan Transit Corportation by merging them with the successful Seattle system. It appears to have been done by a vote of King County, regardless of what Seattle itself wanted.

        Even then, Metro didn’t include super-rural areas in King County; that didn’t happen until 1992.

        (1) bus routes within Seattle should be restored to Seattle Transit
        (2) bus routes outside Seattle should be relocated to Sound Transit
        (3) bus routes to super-rural areas outside the Sound Transit district should be transferred to direct county operation; they exist for essentially political reasons.

        “Good fences make good neighbors”.
        Metro has a bad boundary because King County has a terrible boundary

      2. Metro was formed specifically to bail out the suburban buses run by the Metropolitan Transit Corportation by merging them with the successful Seattle system.

        You’ve got that completely bassackward. Seattle Transit was broke. They were going to default on pension payments. There were no suburban buses except a private company I believe was called Overlake Transit that ran one route. The suburbs bailed out Seattle and for years the cash flowed from the suburbs into Seattle service.

      3. Metropolitan Transit corp bought out Overlake Transit in the late 60s IIRC. There were also a couple other smaller operators in the county as well which were merged into Metro.

        As for division of Metro, Without a change of law. Sound Transit has a responsibility for operating regional express bus service, not county wide local buses. This being said, some of the peak routes would probably be better as Sound Transit routes (177, 179, etc.) however Sound Transit’s intention used to be to run all-day two way service. It would also be curious how the funding would work out, would King County pay ST for those routes? What’s left of Metro would continue to operate the local service in the county as they are more politically situated to operate the service.

        It would be interesting to run the math and perform a table top exercise to see how well splitting the City of Seattle out of Metro would work. Does the city generate enough tax revenue on its own to cover 100% of cost? How much would it cost to operate the service directly, or via contractor? The other bit question is how do you split/redesign the service to keep the City of Seattle within the city, and Metro more or less out of the city and how much does THAT cost?

  4. Before I dive into this, I have a question: Does Metro examine the higher cost of peak express service well enough? Peak buses require more vehicles and drivers than at other times so they cost more per hour to operate. One-way express services also by definition have 50% non-revenue time for return trips, so their productivity is weaker than two-way service. They can group routes all sorts of ways, but how they estimate costs is more important when it comes to route usefulness.

  5. I’ll take a glass-will-be-fuller approach to analyzing what this does for suburban service.

    First, there will be “greater protection” of peak expresses. Creating new peak expresses is not a recommendation. That does not need to be coded into policy. It is already a natural sociopolitical reality, as we have seen amply demonstrated in recent restructure processes.

    Second, there will be more “management” of park & rides, including charging for parking.

    Third, the analysis process will be based more on real ridership measurement, including ORCA LIFT use (hence the shift to 200% of the federal poverty level for definition of low-income), and to a lesser extent youth, senior, and disabilities boardings, rather than outdated tract analysis from the last census.

    Fourth, there is a heavy push for new alternative service, which will help protect suburban neighborhoods from losing service entirely, while reducing the cost of providing this service. The alternative service has to start going through an open public bidding process. And then, the hurdles for converting alternative service back to regular fixed-route are nearly insurmountable, as the fixed-route service proposal would have to demonstrate it is no more expensive than the alternative service.

    Fifth, local governments are encouraged to do their part. Page 36 part 3)
    b) Local governments may also demonstrate commitment to partnership by enacting transit-supportive
    land use policy or by making infrastructure investments that support transit, including but not limited to:
    i) Transit signal and lane priority measures.
    ii) Zoning measures that support increased density and mixed-uses within Urban Growth Areas.
    iii) Investments in cycling and pedestrian facilities that significantly enhance access to transit service.
    iv) Developing urban design guidelines that support transit and active transportation.
    v) Prioritizing in-fill over greenfield development.
    vi) Improving street network connectivity.
    vii) Other land use measures that contribute to higher concentrations of potential transit riders.

    Sadly, my fifth point only applies to alternative service. It would be nice to see incentives for local governments to engage in activities i) – vii) if they want to improve their fixed-route service as well.

  6. The elephant in the room is where Metro’s money comes from. This old post , while having outdated numbers now, still captures the general concept that Seattle receives more service from Metro than it is paying for. This is not necessarily a bad thing; land use patterns clearly show that service in Seattle is likely to be more productive than service almost anywhere else, and from a social justice standpoint Seattle has plenty of areas where more service is justified.

    That doesn’t change the political reality that the suburbs (the Eastside especially) simply aren’t getting as much service as they are paying for. And in the context of what kind of bus service people in the suburbs generally “want,” pushing for more peak expresses versus more local service is a pretty obvious good political move; the bus is perceived as a way to get to/from work, not to live your daily life.

    1. Keep in mind that 40/40/20 only applied to new service hours committed withing the 3 King Co subareas to ‘right the wrong’ of Seattle having so many hours of service, but only paying for half of them, with East and South paying for the rest. Add that to the injustice of Seattle paying for zero for all the suburban routes roaming around downtown during the peak hours, including routes that run full in both directions, and you have the makings of revolt – ala mid 90’s.
      That rightfully went away a decade ago, but let’s not get to high and mighty about productivity being the gold standard.

      1. Its worth pointing out that favoring express routes as the highest priority also robs the suburbs of local service. Maybe they won’t use it, but I’d like to give local frequent buses a try in the more urbanized part of the suburbs before prioritizing getting to and from Seattle as the greatest good.

      2. Yeah, 40/40/20 is rightly dead and buried. I’m just trying to say that we need to keep the politics in mind and that this is not necessarily a win for the suburbs/loss for Seattle. In addition, the Eastside has historically been sensitive about the amount of money they contribute relative to the amount of service they receive; Seattle is big, but not that big.

      3. As someone who lives in a more urbanized suburb, I completely agree with you, Charles. I love my local frequent buses; I especially love the B-Line since it’s the only one that’s still frequent on weekends. It’d be great if there were other all-week-frequent routes – they’d draw a different constituency than peak expresses, and they’d probably take time to build ridership, but I think they’d be popular.

    2. One upshot of the Alternative Service emphasis could be contracting with Microsoft to have their Connector service replace a lot of low-ridership local eastside routes, and potentially getting more service hours for the same cost.

      1. The routes that serve Microsoft don’t tend to be low-ridership, but there are a couple (244, 269) that are and could be replaced by Connector without much damage.

      2. I don’t think so. The 269 has decent ridership between Issaquah and Sammamish, and even the 244 has a few boardings along 148th. That wouldn’t happen on Connector routes; they can only be ridden by Microsoft employees.

        Frankly, I’d like to see a lot of the Connectors replaced by Metro routes.

      3. Most of those 244 boardings along 148th are RedWest-based Microsoft employees. The 244 really is a Microsoft commuter route.

        The 269 does have a fair proportion of non-Microsoft ridership — but only in the context of abysmal overall productivity. I think the ideal replacement for it would be a more direct all-day local route serving Sammamish; as designed today, it works much better for Microsoft commuters than other riders.

      4. You’re probably right about the 244.

        I’d still want to keep the Sammamish-Redmond connection on the 269 (is there any data on how many people get off at Bear Creek P&R?), but if deleting that is what it takes to get all-day Sammamish-Issaquah service, it’d be well worth it. The current Sammamish Connector can expand to fill in the gaps.

      5. I can chime in on the 244. I’ve used it occasionally to fill in service of the 255 along 124th Ave NE. There’s a good percentage of riders coming from Kenmore that get off in Totem Lake. Judging from the laptops I’d guesstimate maybe 70-80% Microsoft. But the bus is full and some percentage of the folks headed to Microsoft are contractors which can’t use the Connector Microsoft service. The 249 used to be a one way service to Microsoft like the 244. When they changed that to revenue service in both directions the “reverse” commute had almost nobody on it at first but it’s built decent (by eastside standards) ridership. I expect the same would happen with the 244. I know one person that would switch from drive alone to taking Metro if this happened. Based on the size of my employer and the number of jobs in the immediate area I’d guess people getting off in Totem Lake on a reverse 244 would be in the 4-6 people per run. Pipsqueak numbers compared to Seattle but over the course of the route, given time I think it would be revenue positive running revenue service both directions. I mean, the only reason to run buses backwards and not pick up passengers is to save time. If nobody rides it then you loss little time. If they do then isn’t that a good thing? That said I’m guessing the 244 takes 405 north in the AM with the reader board saying terminal. That’s a little faster than the reverse route but I doubt it’s more than a 5-10 minute saving.

    3. Seattle does get more service hours per dollar generated, but the service hours Seattle gets are also the most cost effective in the Metro systems. So it is far from clear that Seattle isn’t pulling it’s weight.

      A more nuanced look at the economics and Metro cost structure are required before the veracity of that old post can be determined. Unfortunately the Metro cost/economic structure is about as clear as mud.

      And at the end of the day, if you believe in cost effective government you really need to consider economics in your spending decisions….

      1. All I’m trying to say is that the proposed changes to the Service Guidelines aren’t necessarily a clear-cut win for the suburbs/loss for Seattle. There are many factors that go into this, and it is important to keep the politics in mind. A shift in focus for suburban routes from local and all-day service to peak expresses may be fine, and peak express routes are certainly what suburban politics generally favors.

      2. That doesn’t change the political reality that the suburbs (the Eastside especially) simply aren’t getting as much service as they are paying for.

        This seems important. If (I’m making up numbers here, I have no idea what the real ones are) the Eastside provides (say) 40% of Metro’s tax revenue, but only gets 30% of the ridership, how much closer together do those numbers get when we adjust for differential farebox recovery rates? Should our regional accounting treat routes that have 40%+ farebox recovery be treated the same as routes that have 15%- farebox recovery? Why, when that changes the subsidy required?

      3. I read the summary. I think it needs to be pointed out how farebox recovery is not a performance metric mentioned here. It’s all about riders per platform hour or rider miles per platform mile. Most agencies publish this information — like Sound Transit does monthly!

        The issue with that is that it is always more expensive to operate a platform hour or platform mile at peak hours. Why? Because either Metro would have to pay drivers for full shifts rather than for only a few hours, or Metro must pay drivers for more non-platform time related to the sign-in and sight-out time card cushions at the beginning and ending of a shift day. That’s in addition to the fact that more buses at peak hours means more vehicles and more storage space.

        This method amounts to implying peak and non-peak service as equal costs, rather than present the fact that it is technically more expensive to operate an hour of peak service than non-peak service.

    4. John Jensen’s post and the comment thread leave me uncertain about the actual extent of cross-lake subsidy even then; if I get bored I may dig out my old GIS tools and whatever funding and ridership data I can find and attempt a decent model of the current situation.

      More interesting, though, is the question that Prop 1 raises – and ST3 project selection too. The crude version: should Seattle secede? That probably doesn’t make sense for lots of reasons, even if it were politically feasible. The more useful version: Seattle, much more than any other city in the region, has a critical mass of neighborhoods that are (becoming) dense enough that a good-enough-for-daily-life Frequent Network “makes sense” The other cities have needs more related to commuting, and can’t realistically aspire to broad coverage with a Frequent Network. (Yes this oversimplifies but bear with me). Given this fairly sharp divergence of needs, and sharp difference in solutions, that is pretty long-term, should there be a governance structure that’s more explicit and fundamental along these lines than the current ad hoc SDOT-Metro agreement? Whatever the subsidy is, can we make it more explicit and then let Seattle (and the rest of the area) plan more directly for their own needs?

    5. That doesn’t change the political reality that the suburbs (the Eastside especially) simply aren’t getting as much service as they are paying for.

      I’d love to see a wonky data post on this. How true does this hold under different assumptions and accounting methods? How big is the gap?

  7. I often choose to walk 8 minutes to the E instead of the peak express that serves my front door, because unless I’m heading in very early, the dedicated lanes make the E faster – even with its lightweight BRT status. Just think if we gave the E better BRT treatments, we could really use feeder buses to feed the trunk.

    I’m really afraid that this revision is creating official process to freeze inefficient routes in amber (hello, 71).

  8. Worst result recent hungry decades: that first order of business is to decide which equally-necessary parts of our system are going to die first the next time money gets short.

    First order of business in any emergency planning should preventing the emergency from happening.

    Whose first requirement is that National, State, county, regional, local, neighborhood, or human body, the system reacts as a unit. Meaning that we and our friends know that hostile forces understand that we fight united.

    Instead of deciding how different divisions can be separately protected, first order of business is planning to live out the next financial famine together. And best-organized creatures eat best and get eaten last.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I now understand why you moved to Olympia, knowing all cash goes directly there, is buried in the ground, then pumped to the provinces on an as-need basis. You’re sitting on a gold mine, my friend. Maybe King County needs a 60/40 rule – 60 for us, and 40 for the rest of the state – or there about.

      1. Interesting finding other day, Mic. Even though city of Olympia technically owns the water and sewage system of the State Capitol complex, legally we can’t shut it down. Wanna bet somebody can’t pay Tim Eyman for an Initiative to correct this?

        And also if it passed, that the side that lost could ever get united enough that they wouldn’t have to dig latrines and carry buckets of water up the hill from the Capitol Lake?

        Let alone agree on budget for shovels and buckets. Or which corners of hallways and staircases will serve as temporary substitutes. Term “as needed”….Don’t want to go there! Starting with subcommittee hearings on the definitions!

        Any dipstick reading (like for a motor, not public officials!) for a stuck gold-supply pump, would reveal that everything outside of the whole King County Metro service area wouldn’t even show on the wipe-off cloth.

        So local, suburban, and regional voters would fill every bus all three categories, including trolleybuses pushed by new battery-powered ones, and barricade the Capitol to protest being cut back to a ruinous 60%.

        But..”Province”. Hey, check the figures. If cost pencils out, bet the county police would love suddenly serving both Kirkland and Alberta in red uniforms and high shiny boots. And maybe the Sheriff have a sled dog named “King” For service manual, just get hold of all remaining “Rocky and Bullwinkle” tapes.


    2. I still contend metro should have gone through with the proposed cuts and streamlines, and than using the uptick in tax revenue started to rebuild based on that.

      1. You must have a car then and can easily afford to drive and park it. Some of the routes were zombies, and they disappeared in the first round of cuts. In the later rounds, some of the restructures were beneficial both others were just a desperate attempt to stretch inadequate resources — the difference between “good” restructures and “bad” restructures. We need to make transit more comprehensive and get more people to use it. You can’t do that by making it even more skeletal. That just reinforces people’s impression that “There won’t be a bus when I need it”, so they turn away from using transit at all. That impression lasts for years, even if the network gets better. One reason people don’t take transit now is it wasn’t there for them in the 70s, 80s, and 90s so they grew accustomed to not using it, depending on it, or making their housing choices based on it.

      2. The restructures vs just simply cutting service is what needed to get done. It was a tiny tip of the iceberg but we just left the whole system drifting toward the inevitable shipwreck.

        zombies… disappeared in the first round of cuts.

        Can only comment on the eastside but we’ve still got routes like the 201 ad 236 that are doing more for the advancement of global warming than providing transit to people that need it. Unless you think there’s a huge impoverished population living on Mercer Island and North Kirkland that depend on Metro to get them to kidney dialyses.

        Bottom line, cutting the fat never happened. You can have a lot of muscle but if it’s marbled with fat it’s still not a healthy system. The key is cutting the fat and building the muscle. The Great Recession was an opportunity lost. If you can’t cut the fat when times are perceived as tough then it’s never going to happen. You stay on the burger and fries diet and it only gets worse.

  9. May I remind people that this is “King County Metro”and serves King County, not just Seattle. Seattle population is. 600k, KC population is 3M.

    1. Seattle: 668,342
      King County: 2,079,967
      (Census 2014 estimates)
      That’s 1 out of every 3 people, not 1 out of every 5.

      1. Oh, my bad. Anyway, my point still stands. Although I’m biased because I live in Federal Way, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be a little bit appalled at people complaining that they can’t have every route in Seattle running every 10 minutes because Metro is putting “a ton” of service into the suburbs.

      2. @AlexKven

        Many of us are unhappy that the service is favoring express routes not that its serving the suburbs. This means that local frequent routes will be deemphasized both in the city and in the suburbs.

        This is bad for transit use and for transit as an alternative to driving. How will folks who don’t live near the train stations get there reliably if they don’t have a bus that comes every 15 minutes or less? You can’t possibly build enough parking spaces to bring as many folks to the train as could fit on it.

      3. local frequent routes will be deemphasized both in the city and in the suburbs.

        This is bad for transit use and for transit as an alternative to driving. How will folks who don’t live near the train stations get there reliably if they don’t have a bus that comes every 15 minutes or less? You can’t possibly build enough parking spaces to bring as many folks to the train as could fit on it.

        For the most part frequent routes in the suburbs, as in outside of commute hours, are the big waste. The suburbs are almost by definition car centric. You use the bus during peak because of congestion and the cost of parking. Secondarily would be the ability to reduce by one the number of cars a household owns. The meme of “frequent routes in the suburbs” just needs to end. Yes there are places where it makes sense like RR B that connects Crossroads with employment centers in Redmond and Bellevue. But for the most part mid day buses on the eastside need to be pruned hard. Don’t sell the idea that you can move out into an area that has density < 1k/sq.mi and expect transit to ferry you around. That will concentrate the ridership to nodes that, with time, can actually work.

      4. The suburbs are 2/3 of the county’s population and the only place where rents are relatively low, so it’s long obsolete to consider them a niche option for the well-off to drive around in all day. They are the county for the most part. It’s unconscionable to price people out of the dense areas and then say “But you can’t have all-day transit” in the undense areas. That forces them to have a car, which negates much of the advantage of lower housing costs.

      5. Mike – Remember, though, that less-dense areas are inherently less efficient for transit to serve. We can run it there anyway – and we should, to some degree – but the actual best solution is to build more dense areas.

      6. I’m thinking of apartments in the forgotten parts of Des Moines, Kent, Renton, etc. That’s where people go to find the lowest prices. Des Moines used to have all-day extremely slow milk runs to Seattle but those were reorganized a few years ago to local routes to Burien and Southcenter and other surrounding transit centers. That’s the kind of service we should keep, and eventually upgrade it from half-hourly daytime, hourly evenings/Sundays.

      7. Isn’t rent relatively cheap in the Rainier Valley where we spent billions of dollars to install a light rail line? Georgetown is less expensive than Bellevue. Lake City? How is it that Metro’s mission has become to move sprawl out to the fringes of King County where developers can build cheap apartments; or cheap housing with a garage for the F150.

      8. Yeah, some people on this blog do not see transit less frequent than every fifteen minutes as existent. But the hourly (half-hourly in the peak) route that serves my house works well for me. Infrequent service is actually not that bad if you are OK with reading a schedule. The killer with infrequent routes are bad connections and limited span of service.

        I think downtown expresses should be in addition to regular baseline service, and do have the potential to get people out of park-and-ride lots and onto transit the whole time. I do think that for example the 111 should probably be replaced with all-day local service from lake Kathleen to Renton TC (you would still be able to do the Seattle trip, but with a transfer, hence one of the tradeoffs).

        In response to this:
        “How will folks who don’t live near the train stations get there reliably if they don’t have a bus that comes every 15 minutes or less?”

        First, there are things called Sounder connectors, and other routes that make timed connections to Sounder trains. The nice thing about Sounder connectors like the 497 and 596 is that they wait for the train before leaving. That’s how.

        Second, I will (if I may) point out that the Sounder never runs every 15 minutes. It’s 20-30 minutes. So you should stop arguing that the only transit that matters is transit that runs every 15 minutes or less.

        My bus runs every hour and I like it.

      9. Yeah, some people on this blog do not see transit less frequent than every fifteen minutes as existent. But the hourly (half-hourly in the peak) route that serves my house works well for me. Infrequent service is actually not that bad if you are OK with reading a schedule. The killer with infrequent routes are bad connections and limited span of service.


        I’m doing a 1 hr nominal commute with transit vs a 17 minute drive alone commute. And I have a car that sits idle begging me to sleep in and drive. What has me considering throwing in the towel is buses leaving time points early (249 I’m looking at you). I do everything I can to meet the schedule and when my first bus is on time or ahead and I miss my transfer because a bus is leaving 3 min ahead of it’s T time at S. Kirkland P&R I’m about ready to give up. If you publish a schedule, keep to it. If you can’t keep to a schedule, and there’s traffic situations where it’s impossible, then just say “a bus, or two, will get there every ~15 minutes but we don’t have a clue as to when.”

        It’s not rocket surgery and airlines either do it or go out of business. Metro is like the old AT&T company slogan “we don’t care, we don’t have to”.

      10. There’s a big difference in what people are willing to put with for an occasional trip vs. a daily commute. A trip you make once a month or once every few months, 1 hour isn’t that big of deal. Lots of people, including myself, take transit to the airport, even if the trip is too long to be acceptable for a daily commute.

      11. @AlexKven

        I’m one of those Seattlites that sees less than 15 minute service as mostly pointless. I live in NE Seattle and don’t own a car. So it’s either bus or walking for all my daily activities – work, grocery shopping, night out.

        Schedules are fine, except when they don’t allow flexibility. What if I can’t control the exact minute I leave work? Or I choose the checkout line with a trainee cashier? Or halfway from my house to the bus stop I realize I forgot my ORCA card? Or my baby (I actually don’t have kids) needs an impromptu diaper change? Not to mention factors even less beyond my control like inconvenient schedules, delayed buses, and traffic.

        30 minute frequency means if I just barely miss my bus, I either have a long walk ahead of me or a long wait. Or it might mean that the ice cream in my shopping bag is in danger and I get to drag heavy shopping bags up a hill. Or I have to do something to entertain small kids for a while. All of which it less desirable to even consider using the bus system. True story, one time at QFC I ordered some meat at the deli counter. They accidentally gave me the wrong kind of meat. I realized I had so little time to catch my every-30-minute bus that I apologized and told them I couldn’t wait for them to fix the mistake, handed them back the package and just walked away. I was embarrassed, but did what I had to do to not miss my bus.

        In contrast, 10 minute frequency means if I just barely miss my bus, no biggie since another bus is coming soon. I don’t need to be afraid of missing a bus and that makes it much less stressful for me to go about my daily routine.

      12. I lived in a similar situation near the end of the 255 in Bothell, which ran half hourly during the day and hourly at night directly to downtown Seattle. It’s not enough to live a car free life but it was enough for this six-person household with four UW-attending people to stay a two-car household instead of having six cars like some of our neighbors. As soon as they graduated and found jobs, they moved to Seattle because they wanted a car free life. Frequency matters. 30-minute service is on the threshold of usefulness. Hourly service is useless to people who could hop in a car; only people who have no other choice would take it.

  10. Question: What percentage of the costs we’re talking about do fares cover? Because I don’t think the County’s preference has to do with fare revenue as much as shifting service to individual council members’ districts.

    Pretty much what Metro’s original concept was designed to prevent. Current state of Capitol Hill bus reorganization is another excellent example of there results of above thinking.

    As a former coach operator and current ORCA monthly pass holder whose card will automatically charge any fare necessary and exempt me from any hassle:

    Different fares for different rides are going to waste more time in fare discussions and arguments than they’ll collect in revenue. The way I look at distance-based fares in general, smallest distance for them should be Seattle to Spokane.

    To me, standard fare should be a day pass, with monthly most common, and yearly brought back. Pay for a key to the system, rather than a coin-slot on every stairway.

    Mark Dublin

    1. What’s so special about distance v. time anyway. Buses cost about the same going 5 or 50 mph when all the costs are factored in, not just fuel. Buses and trains are generally discussed in cost per hour, not cost per mile.
      So suddenly, when it comes to charging customers for the use of the vehicle, we kneejerk into cost per mile mode?
      A ride on the 3/4 takes longer to make the full run than a bus from Issaquah Highlands to Seattle. So now, who should pay more?

      1. Long express routes have less turnover, so you are carrying fewer people in the same time. This effect is multiplied by the need to deadhead over long distances to make only one or two revenue trips, further increasing the number of platform hours to carry only one busload of passengers.

        For my money, riders per hour is far and away the most important productivity measure, and good local routes and short-distance express routes maximize it. No long-distance express route gets remotely close to the 70+ riders/hour that the best local services, and short-distance peak expresses, can achieve — even if the bus is packed to the gills. It’s about serving the most people for the buck, not driving the most miles for the buck.

      2. The trolleybuses cost less per hour, but more per mile, than the diesel buses do. (National Transit Database Region 10 statistics for King County Metro)

        Apparently, the real issue on the 3/4 (and other trolleybus routes) is the number of service hours spent stuck in traffic.

      3. “The trolleybuses cost less per hour, but more per mile, than the diesel buses do. (National Transit Database Region 10 statistics for King County Metro)

        Apparently, the real issue on the 3/4 (and other trolleybus routes) is the number of service hours spent stuck in traffic.”

        Which should not be any surprise to anyone.

      4. Long express routes have less turnover, so you are carrying fewer people in the same time.

        Stopping, starting, paying fare (even if it’s a transfer as in not paying) take time. You pack a bus full. Go somewhere. Let them off. The number of individual people, that is “turnover” works in the reverse of the way you imagine.

        This effect is multiplied by the need to deadhead over long distances to make only one or two revenue trips, further increasing the number of platform hours to carry only one busload of passengers.

        Enough already. How many of these buses deadhead? For the express buses that aren’t just totally stupid they run revenue service in both directions. The 255 is packed to the gills taking people into Seattle in the AM but it’s not empty, by a long shot, going the other direction. Not Metro but ST Express from Bellevue to Lynnwood and Everett also are bi-directional. Why Metro doesn’t run the 277 in revenue service in both directions I really don’t understand.

      5. From what I understand “Deadhead hours” don’t count for “service hours” instead the cost of the deadhead is calculated into the service hour cost which in metro’s case raises it by a fair degree. Also, by placing those vehicles into revenue service instead of taking a more direct route from the garage it adds to the time the vehicle is on the road, which counts as service hours. You also need to add enough recovery time at the end of the route to account for the typically bad traffic. And besides, some routes do not need the same level of reverse peak direction service as they are putting out in the peak direction. that’s a LOT of empty buses getting stuck in even worse traffic.

      6. Running in-service in the reverse direction does increase the amount of time for the bus to get back to the other end. At a minimum, it means an extra slog through the streets of downtown, which can take a close to a half-hour in and of itself. Then, there’s the layover. All in all, you’re looking at about 30-40 minutes of additional time to get the bus back to the other end by being in service.

        Now, consider the fact that the peak period only lasts a couple hours or so, and the even sharper peak-of-the-peak is around half an hour. In many cases, running in-service in the reverse direction would mean missing the peak-of-the-peak for the next peak direction run, which, is often more important, in terms of ridership, than the load carried on the reverse-direction runs. In some cases, the peak period may be so sharp that even deadheading in the reverse direction is not fast enough to have the same bus do multiple peak trips – in that case, Metro has no choice but to operate every single trip with a separate bus and a separate driver that simply goes right back to the base after completing just one run.

        One good example of this is the 592, as several people have asked if there are peak-direction runs to/from Olympia, could we not have reverse-direction runs too at nearly zero marginal costs. With traffic and stops, the 592 takes about 2 hours each way, not including layover. Which means in order for a second peak-direction run to arrive in downtown Seattle at 9:30, it must leave Olympia at 7:30. For that bus to also provide reverse-commute service, it would have to leave downtown Seattle around 5 AM, which would mean leaving Olympia for its first peak-direction at about 2:30 AM. A schedule that, of course, would make zero sense. Instead, each 592 run has to be a separate bus going from base to Olympia to Seattle and back to base again. And any reverse-direction trips running during the same time period would also have to be separate buses going from base to Seattle to Oympia and back to base again. Which means reverse-direction trips on the 592 would actually cost just as much as additional peak-direction trips on the 592! Which means it probably won’t happen anytime soon.

        By contrast, one route where reverse-direction service works exceptionally well is the 545. Not only are there major employment centers at both ends, but the two employment centers also have staggered commute hours, with the average downtown Seattle worker arriving an hour or so before the average Microsoft worker. This allows the same bus to efficiently carry full loads at high frequency in both directions.

  11. Right about the real cost issue, Glenn. Motionless transit is expensive, however powered.

    Especially now, when our entire freeway system and much else is paved with motionless metal every single weekday rush hour. Though now, at least diesels and trolleybuses now cost the same to operate, by hours and miles.

    Nothing to do with local-suburban stresses and strains. The thing packing our highways is the very workings of our own basic economy.

    Good jobs an affordable housing still exist. But the increasing distance between them is creating the very jam-up which is the most clear and present threat to our economy. A daily traffic jam. Not in one “pinch-point, but along over a hundred miles of all-lane-packed highway.

    In the face of this situation, city-suburban service allocation just about disappears from the problem chart. Worst thing to me is that absolutely nobody at any level seems to be even discussing even what we’re going to start doing about it. Anybody knowing anything to the contrary: please post.


  12. Metro used to publish really good reports that broke down costs by route.There was a set format so you could compare the same metrics from one year to the next. When the Great Recession put a squeeze on Metro’s budget accountability was one of the first things axed. They did increase the percentage of fare recovery; albeit it at the expense of running even more expensive service by raising fares. It’s the biggest line item in the King County budget so no surprise it’s raided by the politicians directing it to fund their re-election. The more obscure the better.

      1. Here’s an example, The 2009 Route Performance Report

        I don’t know if there are still links directly from Metro’s website or not. They started to downplay it when they changed the rules to make claims of increased efficiency. As someone else already mentioned, Metro really should have gone through with many of their proposed restructures when they had the political cover of a budget squeeze. But now all planning is subject to the golden rule of “No stops shall ever be deleted no matter what.” And it’s corollary, “If anyone complains preserve the status quo at all cost.”

      2. How would you go about calculating farebox recovery?

        I’ll bet at least half the trips, even on Skagit Transit, require at least two bus routes, so you get one route with lots of fares paid, and one with fewer fares paid.

        A busy route with fewer fares paid could wind up looking terrible on paper because fewer people pay their fare there, but instead pay their fare on less busy feeder routes where the actual cost per rider is higher.

      3. Glenn;

        That’s a great question. One of the problems/good things of Skagit Transit fares is for only $2, one can buy an all-day pass and ride every bus within Skagit County if the passenger so desired. I publicly think it should go up to $5 if and only if Skagit County could buy service hours with it.

      4. Good point Glenn, which is why we shouldn’t be so fixated on route level farebox recovery. More transparency is good and perhaps there would be a benchmark by category of route. Cross subsidy is a good thing when it supports feeder service that makes the network as a whole more attractive. You can trim the fat but once you start cutting the muscle, the downward spiral begins.

      5. How would you go about calculating farebox recovery?

        There’s lots of ways to apportion the fares for transfers and monthly pass use. The important thing is that you do it the same way if you are going to compare results. Metro abandon their pretty darn good report when it became necessary to white wash the side of the barn and rewrite the rules. The political porkers have become accustomed to the comforts of home; but maybe they deserve to be living in the big house.

        What stands out in this old report is that contrary to the meme that Express/Commuter routes are a burdon on the system, when compared to all the other East Subarea routes they own the top 10 list. No wonder this post brought out the drones that claim Metro was formed at the expense of Seattle Transit to bail out the Eastside. What the commenters with their pitch forks calling for higher fares on the “expensive to operate” (take in on faith, no data but it has to be so) are saying is that every thing outside of Seattle should be charged a higher fare. If you really want to be fair then those people riding empty buses mid-day should really pay a premium because those are the most expensive premium service routes in the system.

      6. Bernie,

        Just because the suburban expresses “own the top ten list” does not mean they’re efficient. You can be a better baseball player if you’re comparing yourself to a midget but you’re not going to get a call from the Yankees.

        So, you’ll be surprised to find that I agree with parts of your indignant right wing rant. People who ride empty buses in the middle of the day should be charged more. They’re getting a cheap alternative form of cab ride, albeit a slow and infrequent one.

        But that would really come down hard on the ‘burbs, because that’s where most of those lonely hours are being racked up. The only people on local buses in the ‘burbs are students and DUI repeaters.

        Sure there are a few routes in the city which aren’t patronized in the middle of the day either: But they aren’t the “social services” buses; those have plenty of people. So, I say whack the Magnolia, Laurelhurst, and Alki buses mid-day and let the wealthy folks along them working downtown who have to get home for the occasional emergency Uber it.

        If you really want to save money of empty bus hours, search first in Autoland, not in Busville.

      7. Just because the suburban expresses “own the top ten list” does not mean they’re efficient.

        I was expecting this response. Fact is, none of the best eastside routes even stack up as marginal when compared to Seattle (West Subarea in the old reports). This speaks strongly to Seattle reestablishing it’s own transit system. I’m guessing but at this point in the economy it would be close to revenue neutral (i.e. the eastside is pretty close to getting what they pay for). I think it’s a great idea because it would force Seattle to “get real”. Likewise, it would force the eastside and ST to start making some hard decisions. The way it is now everybody can just point fingers.

        You can be a better baseball player if you’re comparing yourself to a midget

        You can’t fly with just a right or a left wing. Metro has been in a downward spiral for years because the right and the left have been treated to a free lunch.

        I’ll conclude with this bombshell. The real premium service is free parking. I’d been trying to circle back to this most basic of basic points but the old memes kept surfacing. When you’re talking structured parking like they built at S. Kirkland to provide subsidized housing “because it was free” the cost of “free” parking exceeds the cost of running the bus. Really, run a mortgage payment analysis over the 30K cost of each stall. As unpopular as it is, charge for parking. The bitching will be loud and proud but people will pay it; and they should.

        No way the tolling on 405 is going away. Too many people (a landslide) have voted with their dollars to embrace it. Of course they are whining like a stuck pig but they are voting yes with their dollars.

      8. Charging more to ride empty buses in the middle of the day accomplishes little except to make them emptier. As in 5 people on the bus at a time, rather than 10.

        Midday service does more than simply provide last-resort travel options. For people that work part-time, decent midday service is the only way to get them out of their cars during rush hour. Similarly, evening service is the only way to get them out of their cars if the want to grab dinner or watch a ball game after work before heading home.

        Also, once buses are already operating during the morning and afternoon peak periods, the marginal cost of keeping them running during the midday is less than one might think. Minimum work shift requirements embedded in union contracts often mean that the driver has to get paid for at least some of the midday period anyway, whether he actually drives or not. Also, keeping the bus in service during the midday saves an extra round trip to and from the base.

        Whether the marginal cost of keeping the bus running during the day (which is still not zero) is worth it ultimately depends on just how empty the bus is. But the threshold for how many riders are necessary to justify running the bus should be less during the midday than during the peak.

      9. I understand the reason for having mid-day and evening service. But currently Metro’s emphasis on geographic coverage leads to some pretty egregious routes. But looking at some of the old metrics it appears that the really bad routes are really bad regardless of whether it’s peak or mid-day. The 208 to North Bend is one. The 236 is another with the majority of it’s ridership getting on/off at stops that are shared with other routes. While it’s noble to want to provide service to the few that use these routes the fact is those hours could be put into higher demand corridors and benefit more people. For example the 255 at peak is crush loaded and I’m will to bet more people would ride it if they weren’t squashed in like sardines or worse, get passed by by a full bus.

        I talked with a driver today about the holiday schedule because the 249 eliminates some runs. He told me he works his regular shift and the cancelled runs are operated by what he called “three hour trippers” or part time drivers. So if you cut mid-day service on a run then you could switch from full time to part time drivers. Alternately, a full time driver could finish out his shift providing more frequent, like 20 minute instead of 30 minute service on routes that serve what on the eastside passes as dense areas. Another thing to consider is doubling the peak frequency on marginal routes like the 208 making it hourly during peak instead of every two hours all day. The eastside is largely in that “no mans land” of not having enough demand to warrant frequent service and without frequent service it can’t build ridership. Spreading the service like peanut butter on a piece of bread doesn’t help.

      10. It’s easy to bash the 208. But if you look at it a little bit more closely, the 208 is operated with just one bus, and in the scheme of things, the cost of operating one bus is negligible on the scale of Metro’s annual budget. And, unlike some of the coverage routes, which are simply there to save people a few blocks of walking, the 208 is the only bus around for miles and miles. To eliminate the 208 completely is basically saying that the communities of Snoqualmie and North Bend deserve exactly zero value for the tax dollars they pay into the Metro system, which, while not huge, is almost certainly greater than the cost to operate one measly bus 6 days a week. Another thing to think about – while Lyft and Uber exist, and are fairly decent in the route 236 area, there are absolutely no reliable private sector transportation options in the route 208 area – for any price – at least as far as I know. Maybe it’s theoretically possible to beg a taxi driver over the phone to come all the way over from Seattle or Bellevue to pick you up, but, when push comes to shove, I wouldn’t count on it.

        Your suggestion to operate additional peak service on route 208 has effectively already happened. It just operates under a different route label, route 628.

        One big problem with today’s midday and Saturday service on the 208 is that it’s schedule doesn’t line up well with the 554, requiring long waits in at least one, if not both directions. If carrying more than 1-2 people per trip is desired, treating the 208 like the extension of the 554 it effectively is, would be a good place to start. This means implementing schedules that line up with the 554 – even if it means reducing frequency even further by artificially increasing layovers, and, even more crucially, it means that eastbound 208 buses have to wait if the 554 bus they are connecting with is running late. Simply leaving people stranded for 2 hours because the clock says it’s time to go is simply not going to cut it.

        Another thing about the 208 is that, rather than looping around all the way through Issaquah, it could simply do a loop around 1st Ave. and Sunset, using the existing bus stop by the Issaquah Community Center as its layover point. This would shave about 20 minutes off the round trip cycle time, allowing the minimum level of service of one bus to provide slightly better frequency, while still connecting to the 554. This option would also provide its passengers slightly more direct service to Seattle, compared to Issaquah Highlands P&R, when the 216/218/219 aren’t running.

        The eastside definitely has plenty of fat that can be cut, but I think we’ve already squeezed about as much service out of the far east that we possibly can without cutting it entirely. For instance, most of the route 226, I would consider cuttable fat, due to its proximity with other routes.

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