Simple Fixes for Airport Station Queues

Waiting at SeaTac/Airport Station
Riders wait for a Link train at SeaTac/Airport Station (SounderBruce)

We are just one week from the opening of Angle Lake Station, completing a heady year of progress for Sound Transit. I hope to see y’all there!

With the disappearance of waiting trains laying over at SeaTac Airport Station, since they are continuing on to Angle Lake Station out of service for pre-revenue testing, the station now has three ways in which queues are forming, but could be handled better:

Photo by Oran, back in 2010
Photo by Oran, back in 2010

1. Riders getting ready to board the train are still lining up at just the three Ticket Vending Machines immediately visible from the airport concourse. There are three more TVMs at the north end of the station, but they are hidden behind a pillar and often going unused while long lines form at the southern TVMs. If nothing else works, then deploy trifold signs pointing to the other three TVMs.

2. There are still long queues to get down from the platform on the escalators. This problem is exacerbated when one of the escalators is broken, and only one down escalator is running (as has been the case every time I’ve been there for the past three weeks). This station should always have at least as many down escalators running as there are up escalators running. We know the escalators can be reversed. We also know that there are surges to use the down escalators (right after a train arrives), while riders preparing to board show up sporadically, and really need only one up escalator.

3. Riders are not expecting 3-car trains, so they don’t make full use of the platform length, and take longer to board than necessary, cramming into the front two cars. Floor arrows or trifolds pointing to the boarding zone for the third car, and announcing that 3-car trains will be running all day (when that happens), should be efficacious in spreading out the passengers. Airport riders especially love to be able to spread out. Let riders know when 3-car trains are coming all day, and point the way with physical signs. This goes for other stations, too.

I’ve been told by ST in the past that passengers are already shifting to the third cars. In my months of observations, I haven’t seen that, except for the mad rush to the third car when passengers don’t see as much space as they would like on the second car, and at UW Station, where the train is sitting and laying over. To the extent that SeaTac Airport station passengers were taking advantage of seeing the third car sitting there, that just went away.

More good micro-news:

Continue reading “Simple Fixes for Airport Station Queues”

Cash Ban vs. Virtual Cashlessness

Transport for London: Metro's model for banning cash boardings (Wikicommons)
Transport for London: Metro’s model for banning cash boardings (Wikicommons)

Author’s Note: The underlined clarifications below are from Scott Gutierrez, Metro spokesperson.

Policies that nudge bus passengers away from paying cash while boarding the bus remain low-hanging fruit for system-wide service improvements via travel time reductions. King County measurements in 2012 measured it as 4.6 to 6.9 seconds per boarding, with another 1.5 seconds saved per boarding if passengers board at all doors without paying on the way in.

Various Metro reports over the years, including the recently-released Metro Connects, have looked forward to a day when cash is no longer accepted at the front of the bus while boarding (See page 37 of the report.). For Metro, cashlessness would bring savings in the elimination of farebox maintenance and replacement, substantial reduction in cash handling, and travel time reductions.

Even without a cash ban, most of the travel time and cost reduction should happen if Metro’s fare policies properly discourage cash payment into virtual nonexistence. That’s a good thing, since the marginal cost for converting cash payers to non-cash payers goes way up as non-cash boardings approaches 100%, per Metro’s 2013 Cashless Fare Collection Business Plan.

What makes the potential cash ban feel like a step toward a long walk home is where Metro is getting its model Metro is aware of only one system that has moved to cashless boardings: Transport for London, which went cashless in 2014, with much angst. King County Metro and Transport for London are clearly not peer agencies. London is a sea of density, with abundant places to access fare media 24/7. King County Metro’s service area is largely suburban, with limited options for obtaining or revaluing ORCA cards if one isn’t near a train station.

The main difference for Metro between a cash ban and virtual cashlessness is the cost of farebox replacement. According to the 2013 report, Metro’s fareboxes will reach the end of their useful life in 2018. That doesn’t mean Metro has to procure new fareboxes by then, but maintenance problems will increase. Regardless, cashlessness can’t happen until smart-phone payment and private bankcard payment get rolled out as part of ORCA 2.0 in 2021. But if Metro decides for virtual cashlessness over a cash ban, expect farebox replacement to start happening well before 2021.

More off-board fare payment and more on-board security is coming, pending county council approval, and this should be welcome news for the vast majority of riders. But what policies to discourage cash can Metro deploy in the near term?

Continue reading “Cash Ban vs. Virtual Cashlessness”

How Do Public Agency Employees Commute?

Link at Stadium Station, flanked by one of Metro's employee parking garages (SounderBruce - Flickr)
Link at Stadium Station, flanked by one of Metro’s employee parking garages (SounderBruce – Flickr)

When commuters get frustrated with transit in greater Seattle – be it cars hogging bus lanes with impunity, lack of transit priority altogether, or bafflement at specific planning decisions – a common refrain is “None of this would happen if only our agencies rode their own services!” Our politicians and executives like to tout their transit-riding cred, like Joe McDermott or Dow on the C-Line, or Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff apologizing for being late to a recent interview on account of his bus being late. But there remains a perception that elites plan our systems for the rest of us, while driving to work themselves. How true is this perception in the Seattle area?

To find out, I made a public records request for Commute Trip Reduction (CTR) data for the last 5 years for all Seattle worksites for King County (including Metro), Sound Transit, WSDOT, the City of Seattle, Seattle Police Department, Seattle Fire Department, and the EPA Region X offices. Our unique state Commute Trip Reduction law requires any employer with 100 or more full time, benefits-eligible employees who begin work between 6-9am to implement a demand management program with progressive annual goals for reducing their Drive-Alone Rate (DAR). It also makes such data a matter of public record.

So what did I find? With few exceptions, agencies walk the walk, with very low drive-alone rates for their urban worksites. Only 11% of employees at Metro’s King Street Center headquarters drive to work, and only 14% at the County’s Chinook Building. Sound Transit’s drive-alone rate has held steady between 14-17% for the past 5 years, while city employees who work Downtown have held steady between 15-20% driving alone. WSDOT’s Pioneer Square offices perform well at around 15% driving alone, though the data is incomplete for the last two survey cycles, while ferry workers at Colman Dock or Fauntleroy drive alone nearly 40% of the time.

Outside the central city where transit services are more sparse and transfers more frequent, drive-alone rates rise rapidly. At WSDOT’s Northwest Region offices in Shoreline – where snarky tweets and traffic-related memes are generated by the fistful – the drive-alone rate is 74%. Same goes for Seattle worksites outside the central city, such as Haller Lake or Charles Street, where nearly 75% drive alone.

The highest drive-alone rates of all? Metro’s Seattle bus bases (Atlantic/Center and Ryerson), where between 70-80% drive alone.  Though we must admit that these are a special case, with many workers driving to work before the transit they themselves drive is available, there does seem to be a strong drive-alone culture among transit operators. And indeed, though owning a car isn’t an explicit requirement for driving for Metro, current and former drivers have told STB that it is very difficult to be hired without one. New drivers are all part-time, and most work during peak only, which requires getting to places like South or North base where transit is mostly nonexistent. But if the central base operators are still driving most of the time, it’s a cultural thing too.

And what of Seattle Police or Fire? As corroborated by a recent exchange between Lorena Gonzalez, Mike O’Brien, and Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole when discussing the controversial North Precinct rebuild, both agencies are exempt from Commute Trip Reduction. Though there is no statutory exemption, SPD and SFD are exempt because the CTR law treats individual worksites separately, and because no precincts or fire stations meet the requirements of >100 or more employees with predictable shift start times between 6-9am. Asked to comment, SDOT’s Cristina VanValkenburgh and Eric Mamroth said:

SFD and SPD won’t show up because none of their sites are CTR-affected.  SPD precincts outside of center city are also not CTR affected, and most officers wherever they report are subject to 3-month shift changes…It is the usual and customary CTR law language (as stated in your original query) regarding site count and shift times that dictate who, and which sites are included in the statewide survey.

So there you have it, a rather predictable result really. Agency employees are much like the rest of us. They take transit where it is plentiful, and drive where it isn’t. Though politicians and executive-level staff may drive more often, the rank-and-file walk the walk.

Charts below the jump. Continue reading “How Do Public Agency Employees Commute?”

Announcing STB’S ST3 Page

Alert readers may have noticed the new “ST3” item on the menu bar at the top of this page. It’s intended to be a single, simple URL ( for a useful reference to November’s ballot measure.

You’ll find our endorsement there, of course, but also answer basic question like “What is in the package?” and “How is it funded?” We’ll also try to add more about the “why:” how ST3 came to be the way it is.

If you’re reading this, not much of this information will be completely new to you. But our hope is that it will be a useful handle for you to share with friends and acquaintances who haven’t been following along as religiously as you.

News Roundup: 68 Cents

Line of buses on 3rd Avenue

This is an open thread.

Pronto vs Biketown: The Northwest Bike Share Showdown


I recently had the opportunity to check out Portland’s new-launched bike share system, Biketown. While the bikes are similar, the rest of the system is quite different and there are many things Seattle could learn while mulling Pronto’s expansion. I joined Pronto earlier this year and use it several times a week. The two systems are similar but have one very distinct and important difference.

Biketown is operated by Social Bicycles, who operate bikes share systems in 25 other cities in 3 countries. Unlike Pronto’s system operated by Motivate, Biketown does not require users to return bikes to specific stations. At the end of the trip, riders can simply lock up the bike to any public bicycle rack, albeit for a $2 fee. Rescuing a bike from a non-Biketown rack will net the next rider a $1 credit. Riders locking bikes up to racks outside the home area are hit with a $20 fee. By not forcing riders to start and end their trips at specific stations this effectively solves the full or “dead” docks that Pronto users experience. It also enables an additional layer of convenience.I recently had the opportunity to check out Portland’s new-launched bike share system, Biketown. While the bikes are similar, the rest of the system is quite different and there are many things Seattle could learn while mulling Pronto’s expansion. I joined Pronto earlier this year and use it several times a week. The two systems are similar but have one very distinct and important difference.


Pronto Biketown
Single ride N/A $2.50
24 hours $8 $12
3 days $16 N/A
Annual $95.40* $144

*$85 if paid up front.
Pronto’s prices do not include sales tax.

All Biketown plans include a set number of minutes per day with overage at 10¢ per minute. Pronto’s prices are capped per-trip (45 minutes for annual members, 30 minutes all others) with overage at $2.00 for the first 30 minutes and $5 for each additional 30 minutes. Each Pronto trip comes with unlimited trips, so you could theoretically keep a bike for 24 hours straight for just $8 if you made sure to visit a dock every 30 minutes.


Biketown has a mobile app and riders can sign up for any plan through the app. I attempted to do this but the Android app simply displayed an empty screen so I was unable to complete registration through the app and had to do so through the mobile-friendly website. Riders can also purchase any plan at stations that have a kiosk (about half of them). Pronto sells 24-Hour and 3-Day Passes only at stations. Annual passes are only sold online. Pronto does not have a mobile app, but directs to third-party apps that show bike/dock status.


I won’t pretend to be an expert on Portland’s geography, but with a semi free-floating system the station siting is less important. With Pronto, I often find that bikes are a few blocks away from my origin or destination. Pronto’s station footprint is large enough that it is useful for many short trips in and near Downtown but small enough to not be useful for a majority of Seattle.


Both systems use bikes with a step through frame (AKA “girl” bikes). This makes it for riders of all heights easy to start the right way. Both bikes are built with internal hubs. Most bike riders will be familiar with the more popular derailleur design for shifting gears where a chain slides on to differently sized sprockets. In stark contrast internal hubs allow the bike to be shifted while stopped and generally can’t be shifted while pedaling. Shifting is accomplished by twisting a grip on the handlebar near the rider’s thumb. Pronto’s bikes use a 7 speed hub connected to a chain (with a chain guard) whereas Biketown uses an 8 speed hub with a shaft drive. I sometimes experience issues with slipping gears on Pronto, but this wasn’t (yet) an issue on Biketown’s two month old bikes.

I’d need to see the spec sheets or ride both bikes on the same terrain to be certain, but my anecdotal observations were than the first 7 gears had nearly the same ratios. This means that Biketown’s eighth gear is meant for higher speeds on nearly flat terrain. I’d prefer to trade this for a lower gear at the opposite end.

Both feature a front basket. The Biketown basket is larger and fully enclosed and is great for hauling small items whereas the Pronto basket is U shaped with a bungee cord and better for hauling larger items (such as a yoga mat). Both have built-in front and rear lights that turn on automatically. The handlebars on the Biketown bikes feel very narrow; I imagine that those with broad shoulders will be riding with their elbows pressed in to their sides. I found the rubber grips on Biketown’s brake levers to be a nice touch.


Unlike King County’s all-ages helmet law, Oregon’s law stipulates that riders 16 and over are not required to wear a helmet. Thus, Biketown encourages the use of but does not offer helmet rentals. Pronto charges $2 for helmet rental except for annual members for which it is free. Helmets are available at every station.

Rental Experience

With Biketown, all interaction takes place on the bike’s built in computer which sits over the rear wheel. Riders can start a trip by entering their 6 digit account number followed by a 4 digit rider-assigned PIN.

With Pronto, 24 hour and 3 day pass holders need to swipe their credit card at the station’s kiosk and then enter a four digit bicycle number to check out a bike. Strangely, this option is not available for annual members, necessitating the use of a Pronto-provided keyfob in order to check out a bike. Non-annual members can purchase a keyfob for $2.50 and enjoy similar convenience.

Biketown also provides a RFID card for annual members and sells them to non-annual members. Checking out a bike still requires entering a PIN, essentially trading the convenience of not having to memorize and type a 6 digit number for yet another card in the rider’s wallet. The account number can also be viewed through the mobile app.

Starting a Pronto trip with a Pronto keyfob usually takes under 5 seconds. Biketown’s on-board computers are laggy and it takes approximately one second to enter each number. Additionally, the displays have poor contrast and I found it to be difficult to read even in the shade. Docking is similar; Pronto trips end nearly instantaneously after rolling the bike in to the dock, whereas Biketown requires sliding the U lock in to place before the trip completes (but requires no other user interaction).

Having a built-in lock is a huge benefit for Biketown. Any trip that requires a stop between stations is easy—riders can simply lock the bike up with the lock they undid to begin the trip. With Pronto, a similar feat would require riders to bring their own lock with them or ensure all their destinations are near Pronto stations. Coupled with Pronto’s small footprint, this has made some trips so inconvenient to the point where I consider them impossible.

After a trip, Pronto members can log in to an online portal to see their rental history which shows the start and end stations as well as start/end times and duration down to the second. The Biketown app and website show all that plus a GPS trail of the trip.

Despite only using the system for a day, I see tremendous advantages in a semi free-floating system compared to Pronto’s forced station-to-station system. While I would definitely welcome the addition of electric pedal assist, I feel that a more successful system could be realized by placing bikes in places where people can access them.

Biketown bikes photo by the author.
Pronto at Capitol Hill Station by SounderBruce CC BY-SA on Flickr

The UDistrict Rezone Needs Your Support

The Ave in 2014 (Google Maps)
The Ave in 2014 (Google Maps)

[Update 12:41pm. I neglected to mention any specific advocacy opportunities, but your first opportunity to have an impact is to attend the Planning, Land Use, and Zoning (PLUZ) Committee hearing on Tuesday, September 20th at 9:30am in Council Chambers. Supportive public comment would be most welcome.]

[Update x2 2:58pm. Corrected numbers for Seattle’s population and housing growth rates.]

Yesterday Mayor Murray held a press conference to announce the penultimate move in the big UDistrict Rezone. After half a decade and nearly 100 meetings, it’s finally time to send it to the City Council. And make no mistake, this is the big one.

To date, Link-related zoning changes within Seattle have been meager and disappointing, while many suburban jurisdictions have done relatively better. Lynnwood has created a Center City zone around its future Link station, with heights up to 125′ permitted. And in Kent near Highline College, the height limit is 200′ and there are minimum densities required by code.

By contrast, the most-lauded rezones, at Capitol Hill, Roosevelt, Mount Baker, and Othello, still cap development at 85′. Other residential Link stations are still waiting for their first big rezone, with single-family or lowrise zoning still predominating around Beacon Hill, Columbia City, and Rainier Beach. And of course there are several stations with industrial or institutional uses that inhibit either commercial or residential growth, at Sodo, Stadium, UW, and to a lesser extent Northgate.

Chart by the author

So the UDistrict Station rezone is a big deal; it’s our only crack at creating another true urban center, or even a second downtown. If the Council approves, we will create 5,000 new housing units and build the dense high-rise neighborhood that the state’s largest major institution deserves. An entire generation will be able to live in or near the UDistrict, instead of making the commute from Snohomish or South King Counties. It needs to happen, and it will need your support.

The proposal seeks a core density of 320′ buildings immediately around the station, stepping down progressively into 240′, 85′, and 75′ zones, all mixed use. The broader urban design includes provisions for protected bike lanes, green space, community-oriented commercial uses such as daycare, and more. It largely eschews the misguided windswept plazas that had earlier momentum, and most of the aggressive height increases have made it through the 5-year process relatively unscathed. Let’s help take it across the finish line.

The Council appears to be softly supportive at this time, but potential amendments (particularly by Herbold and O’Brien) have the potential to jam the gears a bit. In a joint press release, Herbold and O’Brien announced their intent to encumber developers with requirements beyond the newly-enacted Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) regulations,

Because this upzone increases zoning capacity beyond what was anticipated in the MHA-R bill, we look forward to working together to ensure increased affordability requirements for the neighborhood. From the MHA-R legislation: ‘The Council intends to consider whether to include higher [affordability] performance and payment amounts … (b) [in] areas where the increment of increased development capacity is greater than the standard MHA-implementing zone change; and (c) … to increase affordable units sufficient to offset the affordable units at risk of demolition as a result of the increase in development capacity due to MHA. (emphasis mine)

We’ll have to see the numbers, but it would be ironic and unfortunate for the Council to seek even higher developer fees because they fear the production of too much housing. The Mayor’s own release estimated that MHA in conjunction with the rezone would produce 620-910 affordable units, more than offsetting the older affordable units at risk of demolition whether the rezone passes or not. So the appropriate question is not if those units will be replaced, but what will replace them. In that context, more units means less competitive pressure on housing prices.

Seattle is gaining 15,000 new people per year, and we’re only building housing for 12,000 of them, so population growth is outpacing construction by 25%. Even if it were true that stopping upzones would keep newcomers from coming in the first place, you would be actively advocating for a local recession, urban decay, and the impoverishment of your friends and neighbors. But in all likelihood slowing housing production only means that the newcomers will outbid those of us already here with the only leverage they have: their wallets. Let’s give them lots of places to live, shall we?

Reminder: Service Change Started Saturday

Happy first weekday of the service change everyone. Let us know in the comments if you’re riding any changed routes and how it’s going for you.

As a reminder, here’s what’s new either over the past weekend or today:

  • Link is in full simulated service for Angle Lake. Set to open in just 12 days, all trains are now running out of service to Angle Lake. This means that all SeaTac/Airport passengers will now deboard from the southbound platform, and all Seattle-bound passengers will board from the northbound platform. No more tourist confusion about which train to board.
  • Mid-Day Sounder is live. A cute 2-car train left Lakewood this morning at 10:18am with just 10 people aboard. The train picked up another 7 in South Tacoma, and another 20 in Tacoma, where I left the train. These loads are roughly what you’d expect on a standard reverse-peak trip. Though the train will surely get more popular as time passes and awareness builds, the new 2:30pm return trip will likely always be much busier than the late-morning trip.

    Inaugural mid-day (10:18am) trip from Lakewood.
  • Route 106 is live on MLK, Rainier, and Jackson. The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel is now slightly less congested (2 fewer buses per hour), MLK maintains roughly the same frequency, and Rainier now has 10 buses per hour instead of 6 (though they will always be unevenly staggered due to mixing a 15-minute and 10-minute route). And happily, Skyway residents now have frequent service. It will interesting to follow to see if the new MLK-Little Saigon connection is successful in attracting ridership compared to a (faster AND cheaper) Link ride.img_2846
  • Route 107 now serves Georgetown and Beacon Hill. Route 107 has been extended from Rainier Beach to Beacon Hill via a (likely not so quick) out-and-back to Georgetown. The real benefit to this corridor is that 15th Avenue S now has 66% more service, with 5 buses per hour instead of 3 between Georgetown and Beacon Hill Station. That’s a huge win for Cleveland High students, VA riders, and others.
  • Route 124 is now frequent all-day. Thanks to a somewhat controversial but ultimately successful use of  Prop 1 funds, Route 124 is now frequent all-day. Though Georgetown doesn’t see any additional service (as Routes 124 and Routes 106 formerly combined for an approximation of frequent service), the new service pattern is much more legible. Southbound riders headed for Georgetown no longer need to choose between 3rd Avenue and the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, and having a single route allows even headway spacing. And not to mention the doubling of service for those along East Marginal Way, International Boulevard, and Tukwila.  

Lots of other minor changes were made also, including a needed boost to weekend frequency on routes serving ULink. Check out Metro’s service change page, Sound Transit’s, or our previous overview.

League of Women Voters Hosting ST3 Forums

Snohomish Co. Executive John Lovick at ST3 Open House

The League of Women Voters is hosting a series of free public forums on Sound Transit 3 at five locations around the region. Each forum will feature pro and con speakers, including Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff, Transportation Choices Coalition’s Shefali Ranganathan, and Smarter Transit’s Maggie Fimia.

  • Tacoma – Monday, Sept. 12 at 7 pm (tonight): Phillips Hall, UW Tacoma Campus, 1918 Pacific Ave. (use Tacoma Link)
  • Bellevue – Tuesday, Sept. 13 at 6:30 pm: St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall, 2650 148th Ave. SE (use Metro routes 221, 226, 245, and 271 from Eastgate P&R)
  • Auburn – Saturday, Sept. 17 at 10 am: All Saints’ Lutheran Church, 27225 Military Road S (use Metro route 183 or ST Express route 574)
  • Lynnwood – Monday, Sept. 19 at 7 pm: Lynnwood Library, 19200 44th Ave. W (use CT route 112)
  • Seattle – Tuesday, Sept. 20 at 7 pm: Seattle First Baptist Church, 1111 Harvard Ave. (use Metro route 2)

ST3 Campaign Kickoffs In Everett, Seattle, Bellevue & Tacoma This Week


Mass Transit Now, the campaign to pass Regional Proposition 1, also known as Sound Transit 3, which this blog has wholeheartedly endorsed, is holding a series of campaign kickoff events around the region this week.

Everett: Monday, September 12 (tonight!) 5-7 pm, The Anchor Pub, 1001 Hewitt Ave.
The Anchor Pub is at the west end of Hewitt Ave, and in short walking distance of many Everett Transit buses, as well as Swift. Only three ET routes (2, 12, 70) don’t serve Everett Station, and those three also go nowhere near the Anchor Pub.

Seattle: Tuesday, September 13, 6-8 pm, Neumos, 925 E Pike St.
Neomos is four blocks south of Capitol Hill Station, at the southwest corner of Pike and 10th Ave.

Bellevue: Wednesday, September 14, 5:30-7:30 pm, Lunch Box Laboratories, 989 112th Ave. NE
Lunch Box Laboratories is four blocks north and a block and a half east of Bellevue Transit Center, on the south side of NE 10th St.

Tacoma: Thursday, September 18, 6-8 pm, 7 Seas Brewing, 2101 Jefferson Ave.
7 Seas is on the east side of Jefferson, halfway between S 21st and 23rd St, four blocks west and uphill from Pacific Ave (where the streetcar and most buses run), and a couple blocks south of UW Tacoma. Half-hourly Pierce Transit route 48 serves the nearest bus stops on Jefferson, connecting to other bus routes north of 17th on Pacific Ave.

Pierce Transit Restoring Midday and Night Service

PT 224 on Pacific Avenue

Beginning tomorrow, September 11, Pierce Transit will improve midday frequency and expand weeknight service on 13 of its routes. This is the second major expansion of the system since the Great Recession, during which the agency cut much of its service, withdrew from several cities, and failed to pass two ballot measures. Pierce Transit joins Metro, Sound Transit and Community Transit in adding service this weekend, during a coordinated region-wide schedule change.

The system’s busiest corridor, route 1 on Pacific Avenue and 6th Avenue, will see midday frequency restored to 15 minutes. Route 2, serving Lakewood and University Place, will see midday frequency boosted to 20 minutes. Route 51 will be revised to terminate in the Springbrook area of Lakewood instead of the Lakewood Sounder station. Other routes are receiving additional trips to extend service later on weeknights.

A full list of changes is available after the jump.

Continue reading “Pierce Transit Restoring Midday and Night Service”

Study: Car2Go Reduces Vehicle Ownership, Driving

Car2Go and Metro Rt 67 on Campus Parkway

The idea that carsharing membership would reduce vehicle ownership is intuitive.  However, the overall impact on Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) is less obvious. While an explicit per-mile charge discourages marginal driving, carsharing can also avoid an inconvenient transit trip for travelers who would not have purchased a car, or would have been deterred by the expense of parking.

A new study by UC Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC) is based on Car2Go vehicle data and a customer survey. It examines these tradeoffs in five cities, in increasing order of density: San Diego, Calgary, Seattle, Washington, and Vancouver. Seattle’s results are broadly in line with the other four. The core finding is that most Car2Go users keep their cars,  and Car2Go use simply increases their driving. However, a minority sells a car (or neglects to purchase one) due to their membership, and their effect is large enough to make Car2Go’s impact a net reduction in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) and Greenhouse gas emissions.

A study that determines why people are selling cars inevitably introduces the imprecision of survey data, but the finding holds up against very conservative assumptions about how much those unbought cars would have traveled. Car2Go provided trip data, and survey access to its customers. The study’s funding came from several different governments and Car2Go itself.

The study estimates that each Car2Go in the Seattle fleet leads to the sale of 3 private cars, suppression of 7 would-be car purchases, and a net reduction of between 19,000 and 59,000 miles of driving annually. (The high uncertainty is due to the difficulty of figuring the amount that a car not purchased would be driven). That comes out to between 6 and 14 metric tons of greenhouse gases per vehicle. Cumulatively, that’s between 12m and 34m miles of driving eliminated from Seattle in one year. Continue reading “Study: Car2Go Reduces Vehicle Ownership, Driving”

County Budget to Boost Metro Service and Security

Route 106 at Rainier Beach Station. Photo by Oran Viriyincy.
Route 106 at Rainier Beach Station. Photo by Oran Viriyincy.

Yesterday County Executive Dow Constantine launched the official Long Range Plan process, moving it from a (very good) draft to an actionable item of legislation. Now called “Metro Connects“, the County Council will tinker with and debate it through the autumn, with expected adoption in early 2017. As a reminder, the plan would a number of good things: commit Metro to a full alphabet of Rapid Ride routes, double ridership by 2040, comprehensively restructure Metro’s system to feed a Sound Transit 3 buildout, move toward a cashless system, and enact a de facto ban on new transit parking with Seattle and other inner-suburb activity centers.

Though yesterday’s launch was a process milestone, the plan’s formal release doesn’t add much to what we already know. But more newsworthy, Dow also took the opportunity to preview the next biennial budget, and it contains a number of substantive improvements independent of Metro Connects.

Boosted by a continued strong economy and solid wage growth in King County, Metro will be in expansion mode:

  • Dow’s budget proposes $30 million in new service hours, including overcrowding relief on 27 routes, reliability improvements to 60 routes, and frequency boosts on a further 18 routes.
  • Metro’s capital program is back, with a 6-year capital spending plan.
  • There will be $215m set aside for bus base capacity, including a new South King County Metro base.
  • Responding to legitimate concerns over operator safety and comfort, the plan will put cameras on 100% of Metro’s fleet ($8m) and expand Metro’s operator comfort stations ($7m)

We’ll have to wait until late September to see the list of routes proposed for improvements. Though the non-supplantation clause in Seattle’s Prop 1 agreement should ensure that Seattle gets its full proportional share of improvements, we’ll be there to analyze it along the way. And as the Metro Connects process moves through council, it will be interesting to see the degree to which council meddling alters the plan. So stay tuned and engaged throughout the fall, but things are generally looking up for Metro.

SPONSORED: Top 5 Benefits of Using Public Transit


Most people who have a vehicle choose to use that vehicle to get to and fro rather than opting for travel via public transportation. However, using public transportation is often the smarter choice; using public transportation is better for the environment, can be more cost effective, and is often safer. The following highlights the top five benefits of using public transit in Seattle:

1. Using Public Transit Is Better for Your Health

Studies show that users of public transit are more active than those who choose to drive their own vehicles. This may be explained by the fact that using public transit often requires a fair amount of walking, too, as people are forced to walk from the area of transit to their final destination. Being more active and moving more frequently can extend your life.

2. The Environment Needs It

An environmental crisis is looming. Not only should we be concerned about our reliance on fossil fuels, but also on the fact that transportation sources like vehicles emit approximately 26 percent of total greenhouse gases in the U.S. By taking public transportation, you are doing the environment a big favor, which could very much impact you and your children in years to come.

3. It May Be Safer

There are thousands of car accidents in the United States each year. In the year 2014 alone, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that there were 32,675 people who died in traffic crashes. The number of people who died in public transportation accident is much smaller. For example, a 2013 study found that the bus occupant fatality rate was 45 deaths per 100,000 accidents, compared with 251 deaths per 100,000 accidents for passenger vehicles.

4. Public Transportation Is Cheaper than Owning a Car

Another reason to choose public transportation over driving is that public transportation is almost always a much cheaper option than is owning a car. Cars not only require money to purchase, but also money to fuel, to park, and to maintain. Further, employers and other organizations may subsidize some of the costs of public transportation for employees. reports that public transportation saves a household around $6,251 annually.

5. Helps Foster a Sense of Community

Another major benefit of public transportation is that it helps to foster a sense of community – people who travel together are more likely to feel connected to one another than are those who drive alone. Further, public transportation is available for all people, providing accessible transport to individuals regardless of age, demographics, income, and more.

Consider Using Public Transportation More

If you don’t already use public transportation on a routine basis, consider making this important lifestyle change. Using public transportation can save you money, improve your health, reduce your risk of injury, foster a sense of community, and help the environment.

In the event that you are in an accident – via public transportation or personal vehicle – a talented Seattle car accident lawyer can help you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a skilled legal professional for immediate assistance.

News Roundup: Busking

King Street Station and Union Station at night

This is an open thread.

Uber Discovers the Necessity of Subsidies

IMG_2800At the end of August, transportation and tech writers seized on the news that not only is Uber losing money, it’s hemorrhaging cash faster than any startup in history. In the first half of this year, Uber’s losses totaled $1.27B, and subsidies for Uber ‘driver-partners’ accounted for a majority of the losses.

Though purposefully losing money is customary to gain market share, and though some of Uber’s losses are attributable to competitive pressure, a majority of the red ink is coming from driver subsidies.

Think about this for a moment. Uber loses money hand over fist because it can’t charge prices high enough to retain both drivers and customers. Just like transit, its farebox recovery is less than 100%. Raising prices will drive off customers, while lowering them will cause driver losses.

These losses are occurring despite remarkable competitive advantage: Uber has few fixed assets beyond human and intellectual capital, it places all capital risk and depreciation on each individual contractor, it avoids nearly all employer taxes, and it is able to soak customers during periods of high demand (via surge pricing) and soak its drivers in periods of heavy traffic (by lacking a minimum wage guarantee). But it’s still losing tons of money, with venture capital playing the role of the subsidizing taxpayer and taking up the slack.

Many tech-minded transportation folks see Uber as the inevitable triumph of private-sector innovation over government ineptitude, and an eventual replacement for transit. But while many have shown that geometric facts ensure that this will never be the case in medium or high density cities, it’s also becoming clear that pesky arithmetic is tagging along.

As fast as the technology will allow, Uber and others are racing to eliminate human operators with the (plausible) expectation that massive profits will come when Uber owns assets that don’t demand wages rather than functionally leasing assets from contractors who do. If driverless technology stalls in its maturation and/or cannot function at scale, Uber and its competitors may be in for a rough ride. Well-financed startups can fund growth from revenue, debt, or venture capital, taking a decade or more to turn real profits (e.g. Amazon). But if the success of Uber and its peers depends on the rapid removal of humans from the equation, even the best-financed startup in history might eventually be on shaky ground.

None of this is to denigrate these (truly revolutionary) services. Rather, I think it’s important to set appropriate expectations for the role they can play in our lives. They will add value, not supplant it.

At the very least, we should see that not only is the current financial model unsustainable, but that even in a fully realized driverless era, urban geometry will set a hard cap on Uber’s potential economies of scale. In any real city, traditional public transit isn’t going anywhere. If anyone tells you otherwise, duck lest you be hit by all the handwaving.

Getting a Handle on $54 Billion


ST3 opponents are wearing the $54 billion figure like armor. It’s doubtful that a 25-year program expressed in year of expenditure (YOE) dollars results in a figure that people can meaningfully evaluate, but that’s the number the press has settled on. There’s the median $169 per adult estimate, which hides a lot of variation, or the online tax calculator that’s a bit more complicated. But anyway, $54 billion is a lot of money.

On the other hand, there’s this:

( The story is here, and says that the median single family home went up 14.3%, to $642,000. If there are 138,000 detached homes in Seattle, that comes out to $11.1 billion if you assume the median is the same as the mean. That means that $11 billion is an underestimate. Be advised that median home prices have their own problems. Mike used somewhat different inputs to get the $10.8 billion figure, but it’s really beside the point.)

For comparison, the entire Seattle portion of ST3 — light rail from Ballard to West Seattle, two infill stations, plus interim bus improvements — costs $6.8 billion in 2014 dollars at the high end of the estimates.

Some homeowners have earned the past year’s valuation gain through investment or sweat equity. But most others, including me, have seen a hefty boost to our net worth, passively, thanks to robust job creation and regulations that create artificial scarcity. If Seattle would simply capture about 60% of the single family home windfall in one year, it could fund the entire 20-year program for Seattle to transform transportation in several of the city’s most important corridors. That’s without touching the majority of residents that don’t live in detached homes at all. Moreover, not only would federal grants cover some of the projects, but income tax deductions mean that the Federal Government would effective cover up to a third of the project simply through the tax code.

Of course, this isn’t a real proposal. It’s not easy for the government to monetize that much of the capital gain in property, it would be hideously unpopular, arguably unfair, and in any case the legislature hasn’t granted the necessary taxing authority. But the point is that Seattle is a wealthy city that can easily afford this investment, scare numbers aside.