Metro and Sound Transit Debut Mobile Fare Payment

screen_2016_11_16_07_37_57 screen_2016_11_16_07_39_32

Whenever I visit Portland, about 10 minutes before arrival I always buy a Trimet Day Pass for $5 on my phone. This enables occasional users like me to use transit at will without giving a second thought to fare media.

Well, Seattle is finally catching up. On Thursday, King County Metro and Sound Transit will announce Puget Sound’s first mobile ticketing app, called TransitGoTicket. The app will allow Metro and (some) Sound Transit riders to purchase tickets and day passes on their phones without having to buy or use an ORCA card. The iOS app is already live, with Android and Windows to follow Thursday.

Of the 7 ORCA agencies, Metro and Sound Transit are the only initial partners, but Metro hopes a successful rollout will entice other agencies to join. The limited participation will lead to some awkward outcomes, especially pertaining to the goal of interagency integration. Whereas ORCA uses card taps to record trips and apportion funds between agencies, mobile tickets will function as flash passes, meaning there is no way to apportion revenue for multi-agency trips. Accordingly, all revenue from app-purchased tickets has to stay within each agency ‘bucket’, which means no interagency transfers for mobile payment. Riders wanting a true interagency day pass ($8) will still need to purchase one with an ORCA card at a Ticket Vending Machine.

Mobile payment will only be available on Metro, the King County Water Taxi, the First Hill and South Lake Union Streetcars, Link, and Sounder. Metro will offer all of its standard ticket types, while King County Water Taxi will offer single fare tickets at the cash price (ORCA users would still get a discount). Sound Transit will offer day passes only on Link ($6.50) and Sounder ($11.50), priced at 2x the maximum fare. Because ST Express routes are operated by 3 different agencies – Metro operates only 9 of the 28 routes – Sound Transit has decided not to extend mobile ticketing to ST Express until there is broader agency participation.

The complete list of available tickets is as follows: Continue reading “Metro and Sound Transit Debut Mobile Fare Payment”

ACTION ALERT: Last Day to Improve Link Service

Seattle Subway Logo

Comments on Sound Transit’s 2017 Service Implementation Plan are due TODAY. Sound Transit staff will then process the comments and submit the service plan to the Board later this month. Send an email to the board and to service planning now.

For maximum effect we suggest you keep your comments short and sweet. Here are what we consider the most important issues for 2017 service:

  1. Run ‘inverted peak‘ everyday. Until the new trains arrive in 2019 (we’ll have more later on how we can improve them) Sound Transit currently doesn’t have the fleet to run all 3 car trainsets. However they can run 3 car all day and then have the peak trains be two cars. Sound Transit already does this on special event days, but record setting ridership means they should operate this way everyday.
  2. Longer peak periods, especially in the morning.
  3. Later weekend service, including Sundays (Airport). With Link now connecting the two most popular nightlife destinations and serving the University late night service, especially on the weekends is needed. SeaTac/Airport station is currently serving double its projected ridership and it will only grow. Currently the last train to downtown and the UW leaves the airport at 11:19 p.m. This is unacceptable.

ST3 combined with ST2 and Sound Move means Sound Transit is building our region a world class subway system. They should start operating it like one.

A Waterfront Stroad is Regrettable, but Losing Transit Priority Would Be Worse

SDOT Photo
SDOT Photo

Sometimes the quest for narrower streets creates strange bedfellows. This is certainly the case with the future Alaskan Way, whose proposed 9-lane “stroad” (surface highway) has upset a conflicting array of local advocates. Walk, bike, and Vision Zero advocates rightly clamor for a smaller, safer, slower roadway (reduce the general purpose lanes!). The Alliance for Pioneer Square has appealed the Final EIS, wanting to narrow the roadway without losing general purpose capacity (kill the bus lanes!). Meanwhile, the Historic Seattle Waterfront Association wants the same footprint but fewer travel lanes (more parking!).

Last year, there was enough public comment against the wide roadway to trigger another round of environmental review. But given that 2 general purpose lanes and 2 ferry queue lanes were seen as the immutable baseline for the project, the city sought to study the only lane reduction it had available, axing the bus lanes. This occurred despite the city’s insistent reassurance that it had no intention of implementing what it was about to study.

A year later, despite significant public comment to narrow the roadway, little has changed in the Final EIS. Giving each interest what they wanted (GP lanes, ferry lanes, bus lanes) always favored a wide roadway, and transit priority seemed to be the only allocation ever really at risk. So where do we go from here?

Though I certainly share the frustration over a bloated surface highway, I also believe the fight to reduce general capacity is now lost, and that further attempts at appeal will only endanger transit priority.

But transit priority must remain, even at the cost of a wider roadway, because the near-term alternatives are either politically impossible or objectively inferior. Though the proposed Pioneer Square/Main Street pathway was promising, neighborhood groups flexed sufficient muscle to scare Metro off. And now that the Lander Street Overpass is funded, there has been some rumbling about shifting transit from the waterfront onto 4th Avenue South or the Sodo busway instead. But this would be a grave mistake, with Metro’s 2013 analysis showing an up to 5-10 minute travel time penalty for transit riders, with $2,500 per day in additional operating costs for Metro in perpetuity. Even with the Lander Overpass, a Sodo pathway would add up to 10 signalized intersections if using the Sodo Busway, or up to 13 if purely along 4th Avenue S.

Luckily, there is a deus ex machina in the room in the form of Sound Transit 3. High capacity light rail will create brand new right-of-way to West Seattle by 2030, or possibly sooner if permits are expedited, bonding limits are loosened, or unexpected federal assistance arrives. With the surface highway not proposed for construction until 2020, that means West Seattle could be dependent on waterfront surface transit for less than a decade. 

Metro’s Long Range Plan already shows no transit on Alaskan Way in 2040, with Link absorbing nearly all demand from West Seattle to Downtown. Only the Delridge RapidRide (via 4th Ave S) and a new West Seattle-SLU express route (via the Deep Bore Tunnel) would provide additional Downtown service.


I’d suggest two ways forward: 1) work hard to expedite Link to West Seattle to shorten the window in which the waterfront will be an anti-urban mess, and 2) agitate for explicit commitments from the City of Seattle to narrow the roadway upon Link’s opening. An MOU between Metro, the City of Seattle, and WSDOT should require designs amenable to narrowing and commit all parties to shaving 20-40′ off the width south of Yesler Way. Even though urbanists lost the battle for a narrower street, we can still win the war.

Sound Transit Gets Another $2B for ST2 Projects

Back in January 2015, Sound Transit announced a $1.3B federal loan for East Link, the largest single disbursement in the history of the “TIFIA” program. Taking advantage of the continuing low cost of capital in the wake of the 2008-2009 recession, the loan provided favorable repayment terms and a rock-bottom interest rate (2.38%).

Well, here comes Round 2. At Tuesday’s Sound Transit Board meeting, the Board will vote on a TIFIA Master Credit Agreement for another $2B in low-interest (3%) loans for remaining ST2 projects. Northgate Link would get $615m, Lynnwood $658m (this after getting a $1B grant), and $629m for Federal Way. As Mike Lindblom reports, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) notified Sound Transit of the offer the day after the election, with the FTA apparently impressed by ST3’s passage and the assurance of stable tax income.

Sound Transit’s financial modeling has consistently been conservative, assuming above-market interest rates for both ST2 and ST3. Positive financial surprises like this have tangible benefits for taxpayers and transit riders. Compared to traditional bonding, East Link’s TIFIA loan opened up $200-300m in agency capacity, and Sound Transit expects these new loans to do the same:

The TIFIA loans are expected to generate between $200-$400 million of additional financial capacity for Sound Transit compared to current assumptions for traditional fixed-rate tax exempt bonds at the current market rate. The current TIFIA borrowing rate is approximately 2.98% vs. the 5.25% rate assumed for the ST2 program.

But before you bust out the napkins and pens to armchair plan how to spend the windfall, Sound Transit cautions that the expected savings are in year of expenditure (YOE) dollars and would accrue gradually throughout the 25-year ST3 timeframe. But greater financial capacity is still great news, and with luck this is a harbinger of things to come for ST3. After all, with conservative planning you’re more likely to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed.

Kirkland in ST3, and Beyond

ST3 rail will terminate on the other side of this intersection in South Kirkland in 2041

The ST3 program is widely viewed as disappointing for Kirkland. The city wasn’t quite passed over: I-405 BRT will serve Totem Lake and NE 85th St in 2024, and rail will extend to South Kirkland in 2041. But most observers focus on the missed opportunity to connect Downtown Kirkland via the Eastside Rail Corridor. Why did this happen, and what are the implications?

It’s instructive to start at the beginning. In mid-2015, ST3 was anticipated as a 15-year package including rail to Redmond and BRT on I-405. Other Eastside rail investments would follow in ST4. Recognizing the risks of waiting, Kirkland developed a Bus Rapid Transit proposal with Sound Transit and Metro buses running in largely exclusive right-of-way along the ERC. The reduced capital costs, it was hoped, could fit within a 15-year program.

Destinations that can be reached via transit/walking in one hour from Downtown Kirkland. ST2 and early improvements to the Metro network deliver more than the ST3 program. Source: King County Metro

As a 25-year program came into view, the calculus shifted to potentially include a rail line between Kirkland and Issaquah. But Kirkland’s study highlighted several advantages of a busway. It could serve more destinations including Seattle (with four times the demand of a Bellevue-Kirkland service). It connected more activity centers within Kirkland, and eased the challenge of serving Downtown Kirkland. A busway might better balance trail uses, though not enough to appease South Kirkland neighbors who were determined not to have any transit passing their homes.

Kirkland was convinced of the advantages of BRT on the Corridor, but other stakeholders were less supportive. Sound Transit, improbably, estimated only about as many riders on the BRT in 2040 as the corresponding Metro routes today, emphasizing time penalties of deviating off the corridor to serve denser areas. The tortured history of BRT “alternatives” to rail on the Eastside ensured transit lobby groups would be skeptical. Issaquah worried about the implications of Kirkland BRT for its own rail plans. Even Bellevue placed a greater emphasis on I-405 BRT as a major north-south connection.

Continue reading “Kirkland in ST3, and Beyond”

Big Wins for Very Low-Income and Homeless Transit Riders

New Metro/Link Combo Ticket
New Metro/Link Combo Ticket


If you’re homeless or living on a bare-bones income, transportation is a challenge. With even reduced fares out of reach, chances are you rely on Metro’s Human Services Ticket Program.

This program was born of protest. Back in 1991, SHARE (Seattle Housing and Resource Effort) was spending most of their budget buying bus tickets so people could travel from their South Lake Union shelter to an overflow church on Capitol Hill. Nearly broke, they began meeting at the King County Administration Building before making the trek on foot. After weeks of this public demonstration of need the Metro Council relented: SHARE and other service providers could purchase tickets at a discount. The program has expanded steadily for twenty-five years, and last year 138 service providers distributed over 1.4 million tickets to homeless people, seniors, youth, students, veterans, refugees, and victims of domestic violence.

With housing costs and homelessness rising, the need for tickets has skyrocketed. The Transit Riders Union (TRU) learned from our members that tickets are a scarce resource; just procuring a few to get to appointments, meals, and shelter, let alone social activities, is time-consuming and stressful. Service providers confirmed this story. Queen Anne, West Seattle, and North Helplines can give people only a ticket or two per month. Often Compass Housing can’t get people to job and housing interviews. Casa Latina can help their day workers with transportation for only twenty days of each month. The King County Code caps the quantity of tickets available, and many organizations were not allocated nearly what they requested. For others, cost was prohibitive: providers pay 20% of face value, so the price per ticket doubled since 2008 due to fare increases.

The simple answer? Make more tickets available and cut the price. This summer TRU launched a campaign to do just that. We delivered hundreds of petitions and letters. Transit riders and service providers met with county officials and testified at public hearings.

This fall the King County Council and Executive responded. The council voted unanimously to raise the cap and then to halve the ticket price. Moreover, the Executive has promised to “direct Metro to engage other transit agencies, the state, other local jurisdictions, human services agencies and other potential partners in a discussion of transit’s role in contributing to the social safety net for the lowest income residents, and how to provide assistance while still being able to meet the growing demand for transit service throughout King County and the region.”

This last part is important, because ultimately we need to do better than tickets. As our regional transit system is increasingly integrated across modes and agencies, we need card-based solutions. Earlier this year TRU campaigned successfully to enable ticket-users to ride Link light rail, but Metro’s “combo-ticket” solution is clunky. An unlimited ORCA card that is very inexpensive or administered through a service provider would be liberating for many who rely on single-use tickets. King County should look to Calgary, Canada, where a sliding-scale transit pass will soon provide transportation for as little as $5.15 per month for people living in extreme poverty.

Homelessness and poverty are not going away any time soon. We hope King County and Sound Transit will start taking a more integrated approach to affordability and access so that activists can focus elsewhere. How about shifting the state legislature to win stable and progressive transit funding? Or building a multi-modal movement to make Seattle a place where few people need to own and drive cars? Many of the hundreds of low-income people who have participated in struggles for affordable transit would love to take on these broader transformative issues, if only they didn’t have to be more immediately concerned about getting from A to B.

Katie Wilson is General Secretary of the Transit Riders Union. TRU is hosting a Holiday Victory Celebration at Optimism Brewing Co. on Capitol Hill, 6-8 pm on Wednesday, November 30th. All are welcome.

Transit Report Card: Seoul

Last week I attended a conference in Seoul. After long days of, uh, conferring, I wandered the subways and streets of one of the largest Asian megacities.

For a great walking city, Seoul is a curiously bad walking city. Things are close together, and the side streets are narrow enough to be dominated by pedestrians (see above). But when there’s an arterial, you get something like this: Continue reading “Transit Report Card: Seoul”

News Roundup: Happy Thanksgiving

Sunrise Route 10

This is an open thread.

Thanksgiving Closures / Friday Sounder Service

Lakewood Station groundbreaking

Lakewood Station finally gets a reverse-peak commuter trip from Seattle … on Black Friday only.
Photo from Sound Transit on flickr

Many transit agencies close down for Thanksgiving, and a few reduce service the day after.

Sound Transit is continuing its tradition of providing at least some Sounder service the day after, with two morning runs from and one morning run to Lakewood, a morning run from Everett, and the reverse in the evening. That unusual reverse-peak trip to Lakewood results in the second morning run from Lakewood arriving after Macy’s Holiday Parade is over. Those who want to take the occasion to ride all the way from Everett to Lakewood are scheduled to miss the connection by 4 minutes in the morning and 23 minutes in the evening. Sorry.

UW routes are running their full schedule through Wednesday, as the University of Washington is in session. Continue reading “Thanksgiving Closures / Friday Sounder Service”

Frequency Where It Matters: Right-Sizing ST3

Tiffany Von Arnim (Flickr)
Tiffany Von Arnim (Flickr)

When Sound Transit decided to split the spine for the ST3 package – sending Everett trains to West Seattle and Tacoma trains to Ballard – it did so for a number of reasons. The unprecedented length of the spine corridor meant it was always infeasible to run trains end to end; and capacity concerns in the current downtown tunnel made adding a third line undesirable, leading Sound Transit to propose a fantastic second subway through downtown.

Now that ST3 has passed, it’s time to start making a good thing better. In particular, three operational disappointments lie ahead, all of which are fixable:

First, the still-quite-lengthy lines are planned to offer uniform frequency, meaning trains will cruise through Fife just as often as they do through SeaTac or South Lake Union. Even ardent defenders of the ‘light rail spine’ would have to admit both the asymmetry of demand between the city and outlying areas, and the need for additional urban frequency.

Second, the length of the lines and the nature of the radial commute mean that during peak hours passenger turnover will be relatively limited, leading to crushloads as early at Northgate or the UDistrict for the Red and Blue lines, leaving thousands of downstream passengers at UW or Capitol Hill with a consistently poor experience.

Third, this poor experience will occur while the brand new subway squanders its potential capacity, as the Ballard-Tacoma line cannot exceed 5 minute headways due to at-grade running on MLK Boulevard. With the same 400′ platform length constraints as the other tunnel, this means our brand new subway would be just half as utilized as the current tunnel.

What can be done? Expanding on an idea by Page 2 writer Devon Jenkins, I’d offer two possible solutions: turnback trains and point-to-point service. With regard to turnback trains, Sound Transit is already mulling the possibility of UW to Stadium trains as supplemental service to mitigate the likely 2018 closure of the tunnel to buses, so additional turnback options could potentially be considered under ST3, such as Ballard to SeaTac. Continue reading “Frequency Where It Matters: Right-Sizing ST3”

Déjà Vu: State Senator Pitches Direct Election for Sound Transit Board

Rep. Steve O'Ban, R-28
Rep. Steve O’Ban, R-28

As reported by Mike Lindblom over the weekend ($), State Senator Steve O’Ban (R – University Place) has signaled his intent to file a bill in the upcoming legislative session requiring the direct election of Sound Transit Boardmembers. Just two weeks after an election in which voters explicitly affirmed Sound Transit 3, O’Ban’s contention is that Sound Transit “does not answer to the voters,” and that after ST3’s passage, “It is more important than ever for the people to have a say in the agency’s management.”

We’ve been here before. O’Ban also proposed this last January, Federal Way legislators floated the idea in 2012, and Governor Locke suggested it in 2003 during in the dark days of Sound Transit. Given that 14 of the 18 members are appointed rather than required by statute, there has been a consistent perception of Sound Transit as an agency of secondary governance, one step removed from direct voter accountability.

O’Ban’s bill would create 19 separate districts within the Sound Transit tax boundary, with direct nonpartisan elections every 2 years for staggered 4-year terms. Anyone could run for the seats, irrespective of transportation industry knowledge or competence, and they would be prohibited from holding other political office. For the sake of two public meetings per month (committee and whole), a prospective board member would need to staff and fund both a primary and general election campaign. While current board members have significant staff support as an in-kind extension of their other political office, O’Ban would cap compensation at $10,000 and presumably have no staff budget at all, leaving board members alone to educate themselves.

Sound Transit projects are built within an incredibly complex web of jurisdictional authority: cities, counties, the state, the feds, and metropolitan planning organizations such as PSRC. Each of these jurisdictions has incredible power (through zoning and permitting) to create friction for the agency. With direct election of boardmembers, these jurisdictions would retain this power while no longer maintaining a direct connection to the board. It makes far more sense for the board to act as an extension of those jurisdictions’ desires rather than as a separate wild card.

Just 2 years after embarking on a 25-year, $54B capital program and 5 years before completing ST2, O’Ban would replace the entire board wholesale and erase the board’s accumulated knowledge, experience, and relationships. Obviously, no board member would resign their other elected office simply to run for the board, so the outcome would surely be the elevation of political neophytes. Continue reading “Déjà Vu: State Senator Pitches Direct Election for Sound Transit Board”

Sunday Open Thread: 24 hours of Metro in 2014

Mesmerizing visualization of 24 hours of bus service across King County circa 2014. You can see the huge influx of buses into downtown Seattle in the morning, the thinning of service later in the evening, and the pulses of buses departing transit centers among many activities. The buses move in straight line between stops, so don’t confuse West Seattle expresses for water taxis. Read the video description for more info.

Lynnwood Link Station Design Reaches 30 Percent

Aerial view of Lynnwood Station, looking southeast (Sound Transit)

Sound Transit has unveiled the first designs for its stations on the Lynnwood Link Extension, a 8.5-mile light rail project that will continue the current line north past Northgate to Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood. While there were several open houses this week where comments were taken, the public can also use an online open house to look at the stations and submit comments until November 30.

The extension has four stations planned to open in 2023, and two provisional stations that will have accommodations to be built at a later date as infill stations. One of the provisional stations, at NE 130th Street, was included in ST3 and could open in 2031 (or earlier), while the other at 220th Street SW in Mountlake Terrace has not been approved.

In addition to feedback on the station designs, the public is also encouraged to submit station names using the online form or written comment. Continue reading “Lynnwood Link Station Design Reaches 30 Percent”

Capitol Hill Parking Benefit District Coming in 2017

Parking checker at 5th and Cherry, 1961

On Wednesday, the Seattle City Council passed a budget that includes a small pilot project for a parking benefit district (PBD).  The PBD pilot is the result of several years’ work by the Capitol Hill Eco District and the City Council, and were a key recommendation of the HALA report.

The pilot project is notable because it passed despite objections from SDOT.  In a memo to council, SDOT Director Kubly argued that PBDs raise equity concerns (there’s no paid parking anywhere South of Jackson Street).  He also noted that SDOT’s performance- and data-driven approach to parking management has built up trust with residents and businesses, hinting that there could be a backlash if parking funds were seen as a kind of neighborhood slush fund.   Currently, parking rates are adjusted according to demand to meet a specific vacancy rate. Continue reading “Capitol Hill Parking Benefit District Coming in 2017”

News Roundup: Appealed

Oran (Flickr)
Oran (Flickr)
  • Two groups appeal the Waterfront EIS, joining the bike and pedestrian community in decrying the “8-lane highway”. But it’s mixed messaging at its best: the Alliance for Pioneer Square wants fewer buses, the Historic Seattle Waterfront Association wants more surface parking, the transit community wants bus lanes, and the bike/ped community wants a more human street. We’ll write up our thoughts soon.
  • ReachNow is looking to take on Uber and Lyft.
  • Mostly forgotten in the ST3 campaign, Tukwila talks up its future Boeing Access Road station.
  • “We owe you one”, says the Tacoma News Tribune’s Matt Driscoll to King and Snohomish Counties in the wake of ST3.
  • Sticky note therapy at Capitol Hill Station.
  • The final Federal Way EIS has been released. Read the full document here. The extension is slated to open in 2024.
  • Elizabeth Kiker out as Executive Director of Cascade Bicycle Club.
  • Rents are starting to fall in Seattle, if only slightly.

What’s Next for Seattle Subway

SounderBruce (Flickr)
SounderBruce (Flickr)


Unless you have been living under an automobile for the last nine days you are probably aware that last Tuesday, ST3 passed.  It’s been a long, winding road to get here, and we have yet to summit the mountaintop, but at the moment the view is great.  ST3 is a huge win, but it is just the next step in moving towards Seattle Subway’s ultimate goal (hint: It’s our name.) There is still a lot of work to do to make sure ST3 is as big and awesome as it can be, arrives as quickly as possible, and that Sound Transit deliver the high quality service in the process.  

Our hopes for getting lines like Ballard-UW and Alaska Junction-Burien as part of ST3 have always hinged on additional federal funding.  We will set that aside for now as the future of funding transit at the federal level is now extremely murky.  On the positive side – the federal process is so extensive that the incoming administration could be long gone before it matters for ST3 projects.  

There are still three ways we know of to very significantly speed up the timelines for ST3 projects, and this is where our attention will be focused:

1) Vote in 2018 to fund ST3 fully through bonds. This vote would NOT  propose any new taxes or extend existing ST3 taxes. Instead, it will essentially ask voters “Do you want it faster?” By allowing Sound Transit to bond against future tax collection for 100% of project cost, it would speed up project timelines by years. Such a vote requires 60% approval, but we expect that “years faster for the same money” is a winning proposition.
Continue reading “What’s Next for Seattle Subway”

Action Alert: Support the UDistrict Rezone Tonight

Rendering of the North Entrance of the future UDistrict Station (Sound Transit)
Rendering of the North Entrance of the future UDistrict Station (Sound Transit)

The only public hearing on the big UDistrict rezone is tonight at 5:30pm at the Hotel Deca (4507 Brooklyn Ave NE). If you believe abundant housing near transit is an unequivocal social good, please attend tonight and make your voice heard.

Since we last covered the rezone in September, the scope has been whittled away somewhat, including elimination of mid-rise zoning north of NE 50th St, a 25% height reduction south of NE 43rd St (from 320′ to 240′), and a contraction of the tallest zoning to just a few blocks northwest of UDistrict Station. Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) fees are also higher than first envisioned for commercial development. Continue reading “Action Alert: Support the UDistrict Rezone Tonight”

Tidbits from the ST3 Results

Maps by Oran and the Seattle Times
Maps by Oran and the Seattle Times

Any of you who saw the Seattle Times ST3 precinct map saw a very similar map to 2008, with North/Central Seattle and Downtown Tacoma doing the heavy lifting for passage. Seattle carried King County, and King County carried the region. More people voted Yes on ST3 in King County than voted at all in Snohomish and Pierce combined, easily outnumbering the 56% ‘Reject’ majority in Pierce County.

So I thought it’d be fun to offer nearly meaningless trivia for comment fodder, drilling down to the micro level and see which precincts voted most strongly for or against the measure.  (These are election night results, but the final totals would be similar). Continue reading “Tidbits from the ST3 Results”