Ballston Metro 208/365

Recently the DC Metro, which has had its share of challenges over the last few years, was closed for an entire day for an impromptu safety inspection. During the outage someone tweeted this article from The Washingtonian about how bad things have gotten at the agency. Once the shining example of postwar US rail, the system is starting to fall apart, for reasons mechanical and political.

As we contemplate expanding Link here in the Puget Sound, let’s make sure we’re not repeating all of DC’s mistakes. For example, replace WMATA with Sound Transit and see if any of this rings a bell:

The first [structural problem] was the power-sharing compact among DC, Maryland, and Virginia. The hastily designed agreement creating WMATA handed control of the agency to political appointees from three jurisdictions (four, once the feds were added). The board reps aren’t required to have a background in transit—they just need to use Metro.

This didn’t hinder the agency much in the beginning, when Metro’s main job was to build new stations. But the arrangement became unwieldy after 2001, once the original build-out was complete. At that point, the agency had to transition from what was a de facto construction company to a rail operator. Officials were now tasked with the more mundane challenges of providing reliable, timely service along 103 miles of tracks. And parts of the infrastructure were already more than 30 years old.

Fortunately, Sound Transit taxes include dedicated operations and maintenance funding, something DC lacks. Still, it’s not hard to imagine a future where maintenance gets shafted in favor of new service:

The board generously supported other parts of WMATA. According to a 2010 report by former Metro GM David Gunn, then a consultant, government funds for the buses doubled and for handicap transit tripled from 2000 to 2009. During the same period, rail funding increased by only 12 percent.

It came down to politics, Gunn says: A board rep might not be able to get a new Metro station in his district—too costly—but could certainly swing a bus stop. “They stripped [funding] out of the rail system, and they had it go to the handicap services or to buses,” he says. “And they did that because those are politically positive things.”

While all this is happening, Metro is trying to become more of a late-night subway and less of a commuter system:

At the same time, board reps began to press for longer service hours—another way to score points with constituents. In 2003, Metrorail pushed back its closing hours to 12 am on weeknights and 3 am on Fridays and Saturdays. That was good news for riders, businesses, and the environment. But it accelerated the infrastructure’s deterioration. The new schedule left less time when Metro was closed and maintenance crews could access the tracks. On weeknights, “you’re talking about three hours of actual work time,” says Aaron Wiggins, a maintenance manager who retired in August after 27 years. “Ain’t a lot you’re going to get done in three hours on a nightly basis. It’s impossible.”

Here in Seattle, a petition is circulating to extend Sound Transit’s operating hours, making exactly the same argument. Late night service is a good thing! But it absolutely does reduce the maintenance window for a system that doesn’t have redundant tracks on which to shift service.  And it won’t be long before political pressure builds to extend hours at the cost of maintenance. It’ll be especially easy now, since they system’s brand new and probably doesn’t need as much maintenance as it will when it’s 40 years old.

In the draft system plan presentation, Sound Transit explicitly compared the 108-mile ST1+2+3 system to BART and DC Metro. That’s a lot of track to maintain, and a lot of rail spikes:

To be sure, many of the problems highlighted by the article are due to a bad work culture inside the agency, not the inherent unsustainability of a suburb-heavy rail system. I just hope Seattle Magazine isn’t writing a similar article 50 years from now.

59 Replies to “A Cautionary Tale from DC Metro”

  1. I fully support the push for later hours, but mainly on Friday and Saturday nights. This would remove about 3-4 hours a week from the current maintenance window, though frequencies could be reduced to support single tracking at these hours of the night. Just sayin’

    1. Not to get all “Sam the assignment editor” about this, but it would be informative if someone at STB could do a FOIA request on maintenance hours worked on Friday and Saturday nights vs weeknights, since this seems to be the primary ST pushback against expanding night service during high drinking/partying nights.

      My gut feeling is that it’s strange that they’d have as much work scheduled on Fri/Sat as weeknights, but I’d love to see the facts either way.

      1. The advantage of weekend work windows is they can be longer, can creep into the am if need be, and work occurs around lower ridership demands.

        A thought experiment:
        If something breaks on a Friday afternoon, but not bad enough to modify service, ST may not be able to get to it until Sunday. That’s a couple extra days for something else to go wrong, which may require ST’s attention first. On a brand new, state-of-the-art system like Link, problems may not exist yet, but they’ll begin to turn up as time marches forward. At some point, preventative and minor maintenance morphs into chasing older, growing problems that became larger due to smaller maintenance windows and the need to get people home after the bars have closed. And for ST to change once late-night schedules have been established, such as needing a bigger weekend work windows, it’ll be more difficult politically for them to pull it off. This has been apparent with heavily-used systems like BART and Metro. On the flip side, LA Metro does have special Friday and Saturday hours on their newer and recently-refurbished system. But I’m less familiar with their maintenance regimen.

        While not as good as Link, an alternative is running Link 97 after hours when streets are free and clear. Or more subsidies to Lyft/Uber/etc.

      2. Good point on running Link 97 as an alternative. This would eliminate the need to pay for tunnel security and would probably only be ~10 min slower end-to-end. It should be pretty cheap to run some 60 foot buses from 12 – 2:30am every 15 – 20 min.

      3. What are the hours of the buses during those time periods? wouldn’t it make more sense to have the low volume traffic of drunk people be handled by buses? At that hour the time penalty to run a bus on surface streets would have to be pretty low, and then they could do the maintenance they want.

        If it’s an issue of no buses mimicing the Link route well enough, ST could run their own buses.

      4. Why not run later on Friday and Saturdays, and then just schedule earlier shutdowns when there’s actually maintenance that needs a longer window? Run until 2am normally, but every once in awhile announce “Next Friday and Saturday the last trains will run at midnight due to maintenance.”

      5. If the goal is to serve the late-night bar crowds on Capitol Hill, the last train would need to leave CHS after closing time at 2am. Trains would need to then travel back to the maintenance base, whether in or out of service. I don’t think the DSTT would be clear before 2:30am at the earliest, and if the SB train ran all the way to Angle Lake, it wouldn’t be back to base until ~3:30am. With that little amount of time, a work crew couldn’t accomplish very much at all.

        Eventually, however, we’ll have to get used to all-weekend partial or full shutdowns of segments of the line. That’s what happens in DC, NYC, and everywhere else – weekends are the preferred time to do heavy maintenance work, and so Friday/Saturday night service is sacrificed.

      6. Part of it is having the crew and materials. BNSF can make certain repairs in the gap between freight trains. With several thousand miles of track in the state, they can throw a decent sized crew at something if they need to because they have the staffing.

        Moscow Metro just got a new track geometry car. No single system on the USA west coast is big enough to justify that level of expense on maintenance equipment. BART is working on getting one, but it’s going to be a huge expense that will only be used on a relative rare basis.

    2. Instead of limiting the schedule and the usability of LINK service based on the idea that the system may need additional maintenance in the future, why not choose the later schedule all seven days a week with maintenance exceptions based on need. If sound transit needs maintenance hours, it should issue an alert and limit the night time hours and/or weekend hours to maintain the system. During that period, LINK could run buses like Brett suggested which could help people get where they need to go during a time when there is a lower time penalty for public roads.

      1. LA Metro operates until 3 am or so on Friday and Saturday nights, but punishes riders on the back end by running 20-24 minute service on random weekends and every Sunday-Thursday night after 8 pm on the subway (and now, sometimes from 11 pm to 9 am on Friday and Saturday nights, a headway cut from the normal 10-12 to 20).

  2. I hate to be pessimistic on this, but such a decline is the inevitable result at every mass transit system in the US. I’ve lived in Boston and NYC, and visited DC many times. Boston and NYC are literally falling apart as well. Just try to ride the subway on a weekend in NYC – massive construction closures are routine, and yet maintenance still seems to be a Sisyphean task.

    Some of this is the inherent nature of rail transit systems: with no or minimal redundancy, they are forced to operate until they fail. That is the political reality. The redundancy of our highway and road system is considerably higher. Roads also seem to wear much better than rail systems and are generally easier to repair and maintain.

    1. This sounds like a good reason to support a 2nd downtown tunnel or the CCC. Redundancy in the core downtown route will allow for maintainence closures when necessary… as long as folks can transfer to alternate routes…

    2. Roads definitely wear out more quickly, they’re replaced every 25 years or so at immense cost. Tail systems last much longer before requiring full rebuilds, but they do still need them after 100 years, and the bill is large when they do. There’s also significantly more subcomponents to a rail system than there is for a road. It’s not just the rails, but the signaling systems, the subgrade, the tunnels, and the electrical systems that all wear out over time.

      1. Roads built to modern standards are lasting a lot longer than 25 years. For instance, the new I-90 bridge and freeway over Mercer Island are 25 years old this year, and still in the early stage of their lives.

        But with either road or rail it’s backbreakingly expensive and inconvenient for users once they do need renovation.

      2. It should be noted that I-90 has been near totally closed for expansion joint replacement multiple times in recent years, along with numerous closures for tunnel refurbishment (not all related to Sound Transit) last year and this year. I wouldn’t say it’s in the early states of its life, although it was exceptionally well built when compared to say, 520, which was built on the cheap and is being completely replaced at age 53.

    3. Stations would inevitably have to close for refurbishment and service would have to be interrupted to replace spikes as in the tweet. The freeways close in sections every couple decades for the same reason. The problem is that this routine maintenance was not done and so things fail everywhere all at once. I’ve been in NYC more than once when a line or a tunnel is closed for a weekend, and the trains move to a different tunnel or to the express tracks or there’s a replacement shuttle bus. Occasional maintenance interruptions or reductions (when half of a track pair is closed) is better than no night owl service at all. And Friday and Saturday nights is the most important time, especially with Capitol Hill now on Link and the U-District coming on soon.

    4. Alex, I’d like to see comparative stats on long term maintenance comparison between road and rail. However, I do think that road freight, and passengers, will put up with worse conditions than rail users.

      But for any large endeavor in a democratic country, from railroads to a country, inevitable decline is the refuge of the tired and the lazy. Everybody dies, and weather and luck change. But for a country as rich and geographically defensible as ours, every major setback, past, present, and probably future is completely self inflicted.

      Our country’s present political reality is a few very rich people temporarily in a position to refuse to pay the taxes they owe in return for the utilities they have, and will, use. And a voting majority convinced it’s either impossible or too much hassle to collect the overdue bills to pay for deferred maintenance on much besides transit.

      But reality is also two major political parties with the locks rusted off the basement doors where major party machinery of Government itself has rusted unrepaired for decades. Waiting to be taken hold of, repaired, an restarted. Reality is also that what’s been done before, can be done again.

      Mark Dublin

  3. As a DC area native, I get daily updates from friends on Facebook about how Metro is screwing up– the blog DCist always seems to have daily updates that the metro is shut down.

    When metro first opened late night Friday and Saturday service,it was first closed at 1am (as opposed to midnight for weekdays). Then it became 2am (thanks to the nightlife businesses), now it is 3am. Only in the past few years did they charge more from 2-3am. If Seattle does offer late night service, it probably should charge rush hour fares and run fewer trains. Also, Metro fares were kept really low for the longest time, which harmed maintenance.

    As to whether Seattle Magazine complains in 50 years, you are making an awfully big assumption that ST3 passes. If you read Ben S. tweets , the Urbanist, Seattle Subway’s facebook page, a bunch of big changes have to be made to get North King votes.

    1. Whether ST3 passes or not is irrelevant, there will still be lots to maintain from ST 1 & 2.

  4. Are there even spikes on Link outside the shop complex? It looks to me like it is all slab track. Not even any concrete ties (which use pandrol clips rather than spikes).

    1. There are oncrete ties with clips along the busway and between Rainier Beach Station and where the track goes elevated at Boeing Access Road, maybe one and a half miles in total.

  5. I already get texts from sound transit about either the sounder train or the light rail having issues a few days each week..

    1. Nice catch. That is definitely a cautionary tale; too bad none of the “decision makers” look at stuff like that.

  6. I’m sure there are times when a maintenance window longer than 3-4 hours is necessary, but how often does this actually happen in practice? Why not have late night service be the default, with the understanding that maintenance will force single-track operation or full-scale closures some nights?

    1. That’s what we need Sound Transit to specify: how much of the maintenance window is actually used for maintenance and what they’re doing. ST has done semi-closures evenings before, where the frequency drops from 10 to 20 minutes. Why can’t it do that whenever it needs to but otherwise run until 3am, especially on Friday and Saturday.

      1. Safety is important, though. Even if one track is deenergized you have to be very cautious on the other track. This was a big issue at BART when a train struck a worker during the BART stirke a few years ago, because they thought the tracks would be clear of trains. I suppose you could create longer windows by flagging trains through, but in the case of shutting down both tracks now you have random bus bridges strewn throughout the system for passengers traveling at 1 am.

  7. It’s interesting this would appear today.

    Chicago’s Pink Line has had service to the loop suspended due to a relay box fire, and riders are instead being taken by Pink Line trains to a Blue Line station.

    1. You probably know this, but many others might not: the Pink Line, until a few years ago, was a branch of the Blue Line; the two west-side branches combined into the Dearborn Street Subway downtown and out toward O’Hare. The Pink Line was then split into a separate line, connected to the Loop Elevated via the Paulina Connector (which had been non-revenue track for decades and needed significant restoration work) and a mile or so of the Lake Street L.

      So there’s a junction above the Eisenhower Expressway where Pink- and Blue-Line trains can interchange, just as there’s a junction south of the Loop where Red- and Green-Line trains can interchange.

      1. There have been times that red line trains have been put on the surface due to tunnel issues.

        It’s nice to have a system that has some flexibility.

        Especially when the trains are so busy there is no way to move the passenger volume on buses.

      2. … and, of course “the surface” means “above the surface”, on the Loop Elevated tracks. I’ve been through that detour a few times.

        When the Dan Ryan line was first built it was through-routed with the Lake Street L via the Loop; the South Side L was through-routed with the North Side L via the State Street Subway. The south-side lines switched through-routing partners in the late 80s or early 90s to better match demand, resulting in the current arrangement. This was shortly before color-coded lines were introduced, which I think was a few years before the big Green Line shutdown…

  8. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/468137.The_Lunatic_Express

    Well, video did have one metric we need to watch for: According to Charles Miller, author of amazing first-hand round the world transit investigation, Mumbai commuter rail has its own morgue. So we have to make sure King County Medical Examiner isn’t covering something up.

    Still and all above comments trigger a “gimme a break” alert over matters on the scale of service over maintenance hours and use of buses for DSTT. Something we can only do until CPS closes, which will likely be long before real problems like DC’s develop.

    DC picture is massive system-wide collapse of a system that, like BART seems to be, fell out from under management designed in very good times, with no idea whatever how to handle inevitable future variations in revenue or other inevitable conditions.

    And no long-term view of anything, starting with matters like routine maintenance. And all elements out of sight, and therefore unattended ’til massive permanent disaster strikes. But much more important, of labor, supervision, and communication able to hold itself together over more than one generation of both operations and people themselves.

    “Lack of Leadership” is a cliche. Like definition of “Art”, hard to identify. Though results easy and early to see, and fear. A few weeks into the Downtown Seattle Transit Project, around, say 1983, a committee of project officials gave a presentation to Local 587. First question at “Q&A”: “Who is the leader of this project?”

    Answer (paraphrased)? “Well, no one person. The project is in the hands of all the officials in charge of it.” Now, admission: after 30 years, nowhere near expected disaster. However, a Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle was still very strong. And the Seattle was a much smaller place than DC, and, compared with just about everywhere else, a tradition of clean government. And luck hates deferred maintenance.

    A couple weeks of LINK passenger loads show future with very different face than last 30 years. So I’d like to see this posting’s comments handed over to every reader with direct operating experience with LINK since its 2009 opening. Including general morale and outlook on the future. What we learn, or don’t , from the last five years experience will reverberate the next fifty.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Could people in the 1970s have predicted the deregulation in the Reagan era, and the continuous movements since then to underfund government, treat both government and trains and all transit as unnecessary, and outsource or ignore infrastructure maintenance — the same infrastructure that the 1950s and 60s generations built? From Eisenhower to Carter both parties merged on the same values of good governance and infrastructure, and that was the era when the DC Metro and BART were designed and built, and Seattle’s Forward Thrust rapid transit would have been built.

      1. Many of us alive and voting in the 1968, 1972, 76 and 1980 elections saw all of this coming. The psychopathic POTUS RM Nixon and his advisers spawned much of it.

  9. “To be sure, many of the problems highlighted by the article are due to a bad work culture inside the agency, not the inherent unsustainability of a suburb-heavy rail system. I just hope Seattle Magazine isn’t writing a similar article 50 years from now.”

    Boy, I hate to be the last little :) in a parentheses! I’m seeing first-hand out of DSTT operations of both wheel-coverings is a workforce miserably excluded from either communication or information, inadequately trained, and insultingly not consulted in the planning of the operations they know best.

    Annoying in the bus-only past, barely tolerable under joint use, and from here on…see “DC Metro” and “BART” above. Also “Mumbai.” Medical Examiner’s already busy. So come, on, transit-workers! Defend your agency, and make a liar our of me! Same to ATU Local 587. Your members helped design this whole thing. Including me, which is makes these problems your fault!

    Mark Dublin

  10. The Wikipedia article you linked says that the train that wrecked had just left Takoma. I had no idea the DC Metro crossed the entire country. They sure don’t know how to spell, though.

    1. Hope editors got the part right about the author being on buses whose treadless-tired vehicles fell off mountains, boat lines frequently going down with all hands and hundreds of passengers, and airlines that often crashed.

      But also how many kindly passengers the author encountered, and fresh delicious curry meals ordered and telegraphed ahead to riders on trains in India. Word to AMTRAK: Montana and North Dakota have good home-cooked food too. And internet.

      However, greatest insight of all was that the only part of the trip where the writer encountered real misery was the coast to coast ride on Greyhound. Like an American magazine writer recently noticed, a trip used to mean freedom. Greyhound is like being in jail.

      Except that both drivers on my trip from Sacramento to Eugene would have been fired over passenger-handling skills first run for the California Department of Corrections. Hope my writer’s editor got “sucks” spelled right.

      Mark

    2. I always wondered how DC got a Takoma station. A similar-sounding word in another Indian language?

      1. There’s a town called Mount Rainier in one of those east coast states around there. Apparently it was named by someone from the more useful Washington and was a bit homesick.

      2. DC Metro Takoma Park Station is at 327 Cedar, straight north from Downtown DC out highway 29. Probably has something to do with Vader, Washington, which is either sole remains or future galactic destiny which either resulted from or was founded by Darth himself after he evolved from Henry Kissinger, who looked nothing like the kid who plays him in movies.

        Theory is that the after the civilization’s only product, which was pickup truck, tanked from overproduction, necessitating shutdown of plants in Tokyo, northern Washington DC and the city about an hour’s train-ride south of Vader, surplus was hastily stuffed through a time-warp onto present day linear planet of I-5.

        Unfortunately, market crash happened before Vaderia could solve their vehicle’s only remaining vulnerability. A theoretical space-time warp called an Overturned-Fish-Truck could take down a whole region of them.

        Solution: Have the company attorney who kept the fish truck spilled all day while arguing about costs forcibly situated in Vader until our regional freeways finally get rid of the blockage. (Vulcan finger-symbol for “Die Young in Wretched Poverty !”

        Mark

  11. It is an obvious truism that ST is still a builder more than an operator. With the overcrowding last week, this was made even more obvious; the debates on whether to add a third car were about eventual wear and tear calculations and not rider satisfaction and inducement! How silly is that?

    1. Al S, I really believe it was STB readership’s response statement promising insufficient LINK service that somewhat remedied the situation. But you do point out a really serious problem that turns many an early success into decades of disappointment.

      It takes a much different outlook to initiate than to administer. From several years in the seat of a Tunnel bus from September 1990 on, after seven years’ enthusiastic participation in the planning of the project, I can testify first-hand to a changed atmosphere I couldn’t to breathe.

      In the mud soon to become IDS staging, a foreman in a hard-hat told me: “People like us start to suffocate soon as we’re done with a project. Main thing is next job.” A mentality all the way to the top, leaving some of us without superiors we’d thought, and prayed, would always be around.

      Personally, and again from experience, I think serious permanent work-force participation would do a lot to keep the air fresh. But one way or another, how long something deserves to survive depends on how many people think it’s worth keeping alive.

      Mark Dublin

  12. Comparing Link to WMATA rail is comparing grapes to oranges. DC is fairly dense, has lots more underground, runs longer and more frequent trains, responds to Congressional desires, and other things. WMATA also had mostly a blank check from Congress to build much of the system in the 1970s and early 1980s – and the system was built at a time when there was not the attention to track maintenance decisions that we have today.

  13. It’s strange to me how operators in other countries, particularly Japan and Europe, don’t seem to run into these huge deferred maintenance backlogs. Maybe they have more of a rail culture (although given that rail is still relatively new, you’d think any agency can develop it.) In a nutshell it means defining and funding ourdinary maintenance and replacement. But yes, agency management and boards need to agree it’s a priority and fund it.

    The idea that a nightly shutdown is needed to maintain a rail system is absurd. There are all kinds of rail systems that run 24 hours/day without a nightly shutdown. Yes there may need to be an occasional shutdown, but not every night. I’d venture that most nights absolutely nothing is done on Link at night.

    1. “It’s strange to me how operators in other countries, particularly Japan and Europe, don’t seem to run into these huge deferred maintenance backlogs.”

      This perhaps overgeneralizes a tad; the London Underground has been deteriorating at a steady rate for decades; new lines were constructed and some old ones were modernized, but under Thatcherism, the attention to maintenance was judged too costly. In the past few years some new investments have been made, but signals and track need massive new investments. On the other hand, the new Crossrail project will be producing a new cross-London rail service that was needed only twenty years ago or so.

      Mention of the hours of operation–the pols were pushing the Underground to run 24×7, whereas traditionally there has always been a late night shutdown. The issue of premium pay for latenight work derailed the initiative for the moment, at least according to my latest information.

      1. And aside from the TGV lines, service and infra are deteriorating
        on SNCF from what I’ve read in various European transport magazines over the last several years.

      2. The Night Tube won’t be 24×7. It will only run 24 hours from Friday morning through Sunday night. And it will only run on the lines which have completed modernization. Still impressive that they will be able to operate a service never before offered on such old infrastructure.

    2. Do we know for a fact that Japanese systems really never shut down for maintenance. I remember reading that on some lines, if not all, tracks are walked every day before service begins. But it’s perfectly possible that lines have been built to allow for these closures without problems.

      Mark

      1. Which Japanese system?

        The Tokyo Metro generally has its last train at midnight, ending service around 1 am, and start of service around 5 am.

        JNR East operates a bunch of daytime expresses and commuter services, but there are also trains like the Nihonkai which are overnight services between cities. Many of those have been discontinued but the Nihonkai operates on a seasonal demand basis. Also, the Japan Freight Railway Company operates freight service on a bunch of lines that don’t necessarily work too well when all the passenger traffic is moving.

        Large railroad networks with hundreds of trains scattered across thousands of miles of track are by nature 24 hour operations because something (freight or passenger) always has to be moving somewhere. This is a bit different than a city metro system though.

      2. Likely because a national rail network, unlike a metro, doesn’t run trains every few minutes for 18 hours straight every day. That’s some really heavy use that needs daily care. The Shinkansen bullet train between Osaka and Tokyo runs at rapid transit frequency and begins operations at 6 am and shuts down completely by midnight. I think I posted a video about it on a Sunday open thread that showed the maintenance work they do at night.

        Look at the timetable. It’s amazing that they run express bullet trains every 10 minutes all day plus slower local and rapid bullet trains. All this without ever having fatalities due to derailment or collision since it opened over 50 years ago.

    3. The very idea of rail transit was neglected in the mid and late 20th century. Its only recently that people and businesses have seen the value of rail transit. They have finally realized that its a necessity to make a prosperous world class region function because they key to it is a concentration of people in a compact area. Rail transit allows for a high concentration of people to occur and with it high value high demand land. You cant fit millions of people in millions of cars without destroying your housing stock, job centers, tax base and economy and replacing it with more asphalt for more cars to get elsewhere.

    4. Most, if not all, Asian transit systems shut down overnight. There aren’t that many people traveling and/or taxi service is cheap enough for the types of trips normally made on the metro. I mean you have capsule hotels for the occasional long distance commuter who missed the last train, but those are primarily for people who don’t want to wake/face their spouses, not for people who missed the last trip. In Asian cities, nightlife destinations are generally distributed well enough so that there is a night market or bar/KTV/club zone within a few kilometers of where you are, with few housing-only zones for long distances that in the US

  14. The board reps aren’t required to have a background in transit—they just need to use Metro.

    That puts them one step ahead of the ST board. Maybe when they plan public comment meetings they are accessible by transit?

  15. I moved from Seattle to DC in 2008 and I echo all of this. It is critical to consider 1) politics and 2) maintenance. You must have politics involved as little as possible–a highly technical agency needs to be run by highly technical people, and to add a bus stop here and there is death by a thousand paper cuts. And while maintenance may not be glorious, it is essential. Far less expensive in the long run to keep what you have than to shut it down and rebuild. But it takes wisdom on many fronts–electorate, managers, riders–to see that. Be wise, Seattle.

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