King County Unanimously Passes $11B Biennial Budget

Atomic Taco (Flickr)
Atomic Taco (Flickr)

A bit lost in the tornado of Trump and ST3, King County unanimously passed its $11B 2017-2018 budget yesterday. As we wrote about in September, the budget restores Metro’s capital program, provides 300,000 new bus service hours, hires 213 new bus drivers, and prepares Metro to implement the Metro Connects Long Range Plan. The Metro portion of the budget is $1.6B for the 2017-2018 biennium.

The 300,000 service hours will be broken into buckets as follows:

  • 160,000 hours for Metro investment according to Service Guidelines priorities
  • 33,400 hours added to routes for Comfort Station (restroom) access for drivers
  • 39,710 hours available for City of Seattle reinvestment under Proposition 1
  • 68,300 hours ‘to preserve existing bus service levels when buses leave the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel’, which the documents estimate will occur in Fall 2018

Dow’s budget (unusually) included specific route allocations for the non-Prop 1 service hours, and in a welcome departure from past meddling, the Council mostly left them alone. Any increase in service hours greater than 25% would require Council approval by ordinance, but Metro is free to add fewer hours ‘administratively’ as it deems appropriate.

As we wrote about in October 2015, Metro may struggle to actually deploy the budgeted hours. As Council Legislative Analyst Paul Carlson wrote in a memo to Councilmembers:

Transit’s operational capacity to add 323,000 hours of service is affected by several limits.  Prior staff reports discussed how base capacity constrains the addition of buses to about 100, the number identified with the proposed 323,000 hour addition.  Other factors include the risk that trips might be cancelled because vehicles or operators are unavailable; the need to fill 100 operator vacancies and recruit 1,000 trainees to meet attrition and support new service; limits on available fareboxes and ORCA equipment for additional buses; and a backlog of vehicle service preparation that is projected to last through the biennium.

Council-led changes to the budget were mostly additive, and they included:

  • A quadrupling of Alternative Services funding (from $1m to $4m) for service in low density areas
  • A reduction in the required nonprofit match for Human Services Bus Ticket costs, from 20% to 10% (a policy win for the Transit Riders Union)
  • Increased funding for the King County Marine Division, which operates the West Seattle, Vashon, and (soon) Bremerton Water Taxis. Ridership and performance will also now be analyzed like any other route through the Service Guidelines process.
  • A proviso requiring King County to study either eliminating the $5 ORCA card fee, or adding $5 in value to all newly purchased cards. A report to Council will be due in February 2017.

Tables of route investments after the jump… Continue reading “King County Unanimously Passes $11B Biennial Budget”

The 3-Car Train Schedule

average weekday schedule for 3-car Link trainsReader Greg Briggs wonders “if there is a way to just get the full low level schedule” for 3-car Link trains, because they’re much more comfortable to ride than the 2-car trains during rushhour.

There is, although it’s important to remember that Sound Transit will change the schedules on days of big events. Furthermore, if there’s a disruption, operations will try to maintain 6-minute headways rather than adhere to the schedule.

Regardless, at right are the 35 trips from UW and 31 trips from Angle Lake that have 3-cars in them on a typical weekday (thanks to Oran) [Correction: the original schedule had the directions swapped. It has been fixed.].

Sound Transit Light Rail Stations Need (Visual) Payment Barriers

How many times a day does this happen at Sound Transit’s new UW Station? Someone arrives at the station from street level, hops on the elevator, and gets to the platform. As they’re about to board the waiting train, they realize that they forgot to pay. There’s no ORCA card reader on the platform, so they curse and take the elevator all the way back up to the street to swipe their card (or they get on the train and take their chances without paying if the train is about to leave). Continue reading “Sound Transit Light Rail Stations Need (Visual) Payment Barriers”

Cities in the Age of Trump

Joe Wolf (Flickr)
Joe Wolf (Flickr)

Tuesday’s election was an existential whiplash in a number of ways, but it was a particular disaster for our cities. As Erica Barnett wrote in The C is for Crank this morning, Trump has promised to withhold all federal funds from Sanctuary Cities, of which Seattle is one. If enacted, human services, parks, housing, and transportation projects could take the hardest hit, including local projects such as the Center City Connector, Madison BRT, all Move Seattle bus corridors, the bike share relaunch, and Sound Transit 3. At the federal level, Trump’s has hinted that “ranch/farm-to-market” are as important as “crowded subways”, he has chosen a highway-industry lobbyist to lead transportation policy, and he will almost surely undo our already halting efforts at addressing climate change.

This is all happening not because of our cities, but despite them. Hardly the ‘hell’ Mr. Trump described, our thriving cities nonetheless received a stunning rebuke from rural America. Rural Obama voters who believed in “Yes We Can” in 2008 turned out in 2016 to say “Well, We Didn’t“, especially in the upper Midwest. Continue reading “Cities in the Age of Trump”

Across the Nation, Transit Wins on Election Night

Map of city-level transit measures during the November 8, 2016 elections (CFTE)

While we celebrate a huge victory for transit here in Seattle and lament the result of the presidential race, one must not forget about the plethora of other transportation ballot measures put on by other cities across the country Tuesday night. Out of a total of 48 local and state transit measures, 33 were approved as of Tuesday night (including ST3 and the Kitsap fast ferries measure), a success rate of 71%, and representing over $200 billion in transit investments (the lion’s share of which is taken by Seattle and Los Angeles).

The Transport Politic has an excellent list of measures, results, and a basic summary of what is required for each to pass (and what is in each package). Streetsblog USA has also been going around the country and looking into the measure during the run-up to the election, and each piece is worth a read.

For now, let’s review some of the major measures and others of regional significance here in the Northwest. Continue reading “Across the Nation, Transit Wins on Election Night”

Moving Forward on ST3 – Press Conference & Live Thread

(Sound Transit)

Beginning at 4 p.m. today, Sound Transit will hold a press conference in the wake of ST3 passing and what next steps the agency will take to expand mass transit in the region. ST will have a Facebook Live stream to watch, and we will be live blogging and live tweeting comments made by Sound Transit Board members, CEO Peter Rogoff, and other officials. Continue reading “Moving Forward on ST3 – Press Conference & Live Thread”

Friday is Veterans Day, with a Little Less Transit Service

Jefferson Transit: The only rural transit agency in the region that shuts down on Veterans Day
Jefferson Transit: The only rural transit agency in the region that shuts down on Veterans Day

Friday, November 11 is Veterans Day, a day most rural transit agencies treat as just another day, while agencies like King County Metro have traditional painfully reduced service. Thanks to SDOT funding, the only Seattle-only routes cut back on Veterans Day are those cut back due to the University of Washington not being in session for the day, and the West Seattle Water Taxi.

As Zach pointed out, transit still suffers deteriorated bus service on Veterans Day thanks to SDOT’s free parking days.

Here are the service levels for transit agencies around the region Friday: Continue reading “Friday is Veterans Day, with a Little Less Transit Service”

Local Election Results Roundup

These are the preliminary results for races in which STB endorsed a candidate. STB endorsees were 16-6 in first results last night, and are bolded below. Despite the national results, it was a good night for progressive and urbanist local government, and especially good for transit and streets measures.

Local/State Measures 

We endorsed all 8 of these local or state measures, and all except I-732 and Issaquah Proposition 1 are passing.

  • Sound Transit 3: Passing, 55-45%
  • Spokane Transit Proposition 1: Passing, 55-45%.
  • I-732 (Carbon Tax): With opposition from the right and half the left, I-732 is failing 42%-58%., down in all counties except King and San Juan..
  • Bellevue Proposition 2Passing, 55%-45%.
  • Issaquah Proposition 1Failing, 55%-45% (needs 60%).
  • YES on Kenmore Proposition 1Passing, 64%-36%.
  • YES on Bothell Proposition 1Passing, 55%-45%.
  • YES on Kitsap Transit Proposition 1: Passing, 51%-49%.

State/Federal Offices

Puget Sound Votes Yes on ST3, Federal Funding Now Uncertain

David Cole (Twitter)
David Cole (Twitter)

On what can only be described as a destabilizing, contradictory night, Puget Sound said Yes to ST3 just as the country elected Donald Trump. At the subdued victory party at The Crocodile, Dow Constantine did his best to sieze the moment, successfully rallying the crowd and thanking them for a vote of visionary generational impact. Mayor Murray followed Dow, and he was clearly rattled by Trump’s apparent victory. Speaking to the crowd’s unease at the national results, Murray promised that “we will wake up the same city tomorrow” and that “Seattle will not turn its back on Muslims, immigrants, etc.”

Once the results for ST3 came in, there was little suspense. Pierce County rejected ST3 45%-55% in early returns, Snohomish County approved it 51.5%-48.5%, and King County (East, South, and North subareas combined) approved it 58%-42%. The aggregate tally for the first ballot drop was 55%-45, a lead of over 75,000 votes. ST3 will pass.

Other transit measures across the country did well too, with Los Angeles Measure M slightly leading in its supermajority-required vote, with 68% in favor. But Trump’s victory cast not only a psychological (existential?) shadow over the evening’s festivities, but also a fiscal one. With a Republican sweep in both houses of Congress accompanying a Trump Presidency, federal funding programs and formulas are likely to change over the next four years, and very likely in a way that favors rural roads over  urban transit.

But while the wind was taken out of many of our sails, ST3’s victory has enormous impact for Puget Sound. We now have the authority to build high-capacity transit region wide, and 20 years to fight every step of the way to make ST3 projects more urban, housing more abundant and affordable, and access less vehicular. We look forward to being there every step of the way.

Election Open Thread

Local results won’t come in for another hour, but this is your open thread to discuss local results as they arrive.

If you still haven’t voted, you have until 8 pm to deposit your completed ballot at a ballot drop box, or to get in line at a walk-in voting site, such as Union Station.

206-296-VOTE by 8 PM


So you lost your ballot or left it at home and don’t have time to grab it. You can still vote in person at Union Station, or several other sites, as long as you are registered and in line by 8 pm.

If you still have questions about how you can cast a ballot, the King County Elections Department has a hotline at 206-296-VOTE.

The Pierce County Elections Department can be reached at 253-798-7430.

The Snohomish County Elections Department can be reached at 425-388-3444.

Thank you to everyone who has voted! If you haven’t voted, all the ballot drop boxes are open until 8 pm, with no postage requirement. Follow the directions on your ballot envelope. Sign, date, and put contact info on your outer return envelope.

Putting your ballot in US mail is probably no longer a good idea for this election. I talked to a co-worker last night who mailed his ballot on election day in a previous election, and it didn’t get postmarked in time.

Check out our election night open thread this evening for coverage of results.

Passenger Rail and Central Washington

Amtrak Charter in the Yakima River Canyon

For all the technical merits of transportation projects, there’s nothing like a personal stake in the outcome to elevate your interest level. Recently, STB veterans like us have been pulled towards Central or Southeast Washington for various personal reasons. For Zach, it is the possibility that his partner may be taking a job in Yakima three days a week. For Bruce, it was scouting in the Tri-Cities for a place for his Phoenix-dwelling mother to retire a bit closer to her son.

When it comes to transportation options between Seattle, Yakima, and the Tri-Cities, it’s safe to say we have found them wanting. Pasco hosts the region’s only Amtrak station, with daily service west to Portland, and east to Spokane and eventually Chicago, on the Empire Builder. Pasco and Yakima haven’t seen a direct rail connection to Seattle since October 1981, when the Empire Builder switched to a service pattern which splits trains in Spokane, serving Seattle via Stevens Pass, and Portland via the Columbia Gorge. (Somewhat famously, the Yakima alignment was instrumental in helping stranded motorists in the wake of the Mount St Helens eruption.)

Intercity buses from Seattle are limited to twice-daily Greyhound service and the Bellair Airporter shuttles. By air, Pasco Airport is the fourth-busiest in Washington, following SeaTac, Spokane, and Bellingham; the next busiest, Yakima, has about a sixth of Pasco’s traffic and only one destination (Seattle). High base fares on regional flights from Seattle — for example, $97 for the 30-minute flight to Yakima — testify both to robust demand and undersupplied service.

Relative to the rest of interior Washington and the unpopulated expanses of Eastern Oregon, Central/Southeast Washington has a lot of people. After Puget Sound, the Willamette Valley, and Spokane, Yakima and the Tri-Cities are the largest conurbations in the Northwest, with 500,000 people between them. The typical mix of nostalgic railfans and local economic boosters occasionally make noise about restoring rail service, most recently in May:

Economic development, increased tourism, safer passage over the mountains — advocates of train travel have a host of reasons why passenger rail service should be restored to the Yakima Valley after more than 30 years without it.[…]

The goal is to someday re-open passenger service from Auburn to Pasco, going over Stampede Pass south of Snoqualmie. Trains would stop along the way in Cle Elum, Ellensburg, Yakima and Toppenish.

This article doesn’t appear to have made it to the Seattle blogosphere, but the idea seems worthy of west-side discussion, because as potential customers and likely financiers of such a service, it needs to be as valuable to us as it would be to them. The idea of Central/Southeast Washington rail service has some very serious challenges, but it has some things things in its favor, not least among them that the organizers of the recent meeting managed to get state Senator Curtis King to show up:

“I think it’s a relative — I won’t call it a long shot, but it’s going to take a lot of things to line up to make that happen in the near future[…] If it takes you six hours to get over there from Yakima, I don’t think a lot of people are going to do it,” King said. “It’s gotta be timely, it’s gotta be efficient, and it’s gotta be at a cost that people can afford, so there’s lots of challenges.”

Those of us who’ve been around the block a time or two know only too well that getting a transportation project funded has less to do with technical merit, and more to do with which influential politicians you can hook on to your cause; and there’s no bigger fish in our sea than the Senate Transportation Committee Chair. So while the idea has even a smidge of oxygen, let’s give it a hearing. What would it take to get trains from Seattle to Yakima and Pasco?

Continue reading “Passenger Rail and Central Washington”

Asset Rich and Cash Poor


We’ve written about almost every big angle in the ST3 debate, but a smaller one hasn’t really come up outside comment threads. The property tax component raises howls from “fixed-income” retirees who state that the property tax bill will overwhelm their incomes, presumably forcing them to move. The ensuing comment war is not a credit to either side.

The basic contour is that someone says their tax bill will be too high given their income, generally implying a fairly lofty home valuation. Some other commenter offers “helpful” advice about how they can come up with the cash by downsizing, moving out of Seattle, etc., if not tarring the original commenter as, essentially, a rich person trying to avoid taxes. Then a senior accuses his counterpart of being a rich techie trying to force out others, shortsighted young people ignorant of their future status as a retiree, etc.

It gets unproductive quickly. But let’s extract some common points that I’d hope we can agree on. First, that anyone with a little empathy can understand voting against a measure with as large as impact as forcing one to move. Indeed, I can’t say that in their place I would do otherwise. At the same time, I’d like to have the decency to be apologetic that my circumstances were blocking much-needed improvements in transportation, education, or housing supply. But there’s a natural, and not entirely unhealthy, prejudice towards avoiding disruption in people’s lives, even if it means a slightly worse future.

And perhaps some people simply comment because they want their anxiety to be heard. But are there broader policy implications? King County and Pierce County have special property tax exemptions for seniors that make less than $40,000 or meet other criteria. Snohomish has a somewhat more complicated framework. As a political matter, these are almost certainly a vote-maximizing strategy, shielding the costs of new programs from the most likely voters.

On the other hand, property taxes on seniors don’t make the measure any less progressive. The owner of a million-dollar home in Seattle today pays no more than 26% of a $40,000 income, well below the 33% threshold for affordable housing if the mortgage is paid off. ST3’s property tax component costs the owner of that million-dollar home no more than a further 0.625% of their income. It’s hard to tell a 30-something with a similar income but a young child, student debt, shaky health coverage, a horrible commute, and no real prospect of owning a conveniently located home* that only they should bear a burden, because someone else with none of those problems doesn’t want to monetize even part of their extensive net worth.

* If you’re wondering, this does not come particularly close to describing me.

No Seahawks Shuttles Tonight; Vote by 8 PM Tuesday

I-5 traffic

High-capacity grade-separated transit doesn’t make traffic jams go away. It just adds capacity and gets transit riders out of them. Photo by SounderBruce / flickr

On the eve of what is likely the most important election of this decade, expect one last really, really busy evening rush hour on the newly-expanded Link Light Rail system, as the Seahawks host the Buffalo Bills at 5:30 pm Pacific Standard Time. For this game, there are no shuttles and no special Sounder service. Expect more congestion than usual on the buses and jump on the third (rear) car of the train if there happens to be one (and there probably will be as Sound Transit will be running all 3-car trains all day, including the extra trains after the game, and a few 2-car trains during peak to maintain headway, per Bruce Gray at Sound Transit). There will also be extra ST Express 550 and 554 buses after the game to help clear the crowd.

Your ballot should be in the mail today to be postmarked tomorrow. If using the postal service, don’t forget the first-class postage of 47 cents, or 68 cents if returning the heavy Snohomish County ballot.

Lots of ballot drop boxes and a few walk-in voting sites including Union Station remain open until 8 pm Tuesday.

Once again, here are STB’s endorsements, and everything you need to know about Regional Transit Proposition 1 / Sound Transit 3, at the very end of the ballot, if you are still undecided.

Sound Transit Releases 2017 Service Implementation Plan

32 more of these coming to Snohomish County routes (AvgeekJoe/Flickr)
32 more of these coming to Snohomish County routes (AvgeekJoe/Flickr)

2017 will be a relatively quiet year for Sound Transit in terms of service delivery. The agency released its annual Service Implementation Plan (SIP) (Executive Summary, Complete) last Wednesday, combining 5-year service planning with in-depth route and corridor performance data. Here are some highlights:

Sounder and Amtrak

The biggest service addition in 2017 will be September launch of the final two new Sounder roundtrips funded by ST2, which will bring peak service frequencies closer to 15 minutes, compared to 20-30 minutes today. Further Sounder trips, lengthened platforms, and longer trains await a successful ST3 vote before their formal planning could begin. The final schedule will be released sometime next year, pending negotiations with BNSF, Amtrak, and WSDOT, as Cascades trains will begin using Tacoma’s Freighthouse Square in September 2017 also.


Facing worsening congestion, and like Community Transit did last year, Sound Transit will sink 15,000 bus hours into schedule padding to make timetables more realistic for ST Express. That’s over $2M a year in direct congestion costs, borne by us the taxpayers, due to our inability to effectively prioritize transit on our highways and surface arterials.


During the ULink restructure process, many Eastside changes were proposed but scrapped at the last minute, as a lack of overall response from the public spooked ST and Metro into backing off. The 2017 SIP promises Eastsiders a redo (page 69):

In the spring of 2017, Sound Transit and King County Metro plan to re-engage key stakeholders and the public in East King County to review key outcomes of the changes completed for the opening of the University Link extension.

Ridership Growth

ST expects Link ridership to grow another 24% next year as ULink matures and Angle Lake catches on, with annual ridership exceeding 20M for the first time. With continued organic growth and the two new roundtrips, Sounder is expected to grow by 10%. Meanwhile, ST Express is projected to grow 1% and Tacoma Link will continue to be flat or decline slightly.

Corridor Planning

  • The I-5 North corridor (Route 510/511/512/513) will be adding more double-decker buses in Spring 2017.
  • The I-405 North corridor (Routes 532/535) will also add double-decker buses, but only once those routes are redesigned to avoid entering Bellevue Transit Center, whose overhangs are too low for the Double Talls.
  • The I-90 corridor will see intensive East Link construction begin in spring 2017, with the express lanes permanently closed to buses beginning in June. At that time, 2-way HOV lanes will be in place from Mercer Island to Seattle, speeding the reverse-peak commute significantly while slightly worsening the peak-direction trip. The Rainier Freeway Station will remain open until the closure of the D-2 roadway in Fall 2018 for the construction of Judkins Park Station.
  • The I-5 South corridor will remain largely the same, though Sound Transit will consider deleting Route 586 and rerouting ST Express 574 to serve both Angle Lake and SeaTac/Airport Stations. In addition, the state grant to extend some Route 592 trips to Olympia ends in June 2017, and ST will review the extension’s performance to decide whether to continue funding it (hint: it’s carrying less than 100 boardings per day).

Corridor and Route Performance Data

The 2017 SIP has a fantastic new presentation format, offering ridership, reliability, and crowding data for every trip on every route. A deeper dive will have to await future posts, but the new format is intuitive and compact. Check it out.

Northbound Link Boardings by Time of Day
Northbound Link Boardings by Time of Day
Northbound Sounder Boardings By Trip
Northbound Sounder Boardings By Trip
Route 511 Boardings Per Northbound Trip
Route 511 Boardings Per Northbound Trip

September Sound Transit Ridership: Summer Hangs On

SounderBruce (Flickr)
SounderBruce (Flickr)

Sound Transit released its September ridership numbers yesterday, and it was another impressive month for Link and Sounder. Average weekday Link boardings held steady at 68,358 (+76% YOY), average Saturday boardings were 51,799 (+100%, thanks Huskies!), and average Sunday boardings were 39,919 (+116%, thanks Seahawks!).

As usual, weekday Link ridership dropped slightly from August to September, but September still bested July for Link’s second-best month to date. The total drop was a mere 767 weekday riders, or about 1.1%. Last year the August-September drop was 888 (and against a much smaller baseline), or 2.2%. The U-Link  extension is flattening Link’s traditional seasonal curve, with summer-like numbers extending into autumn. With Angle Lake’s first numbers expected next month, October could be another summer-like month.

As ticket-buying tourists were replaced with UPass riding students, Link’s farebox recovery fell from 60% to 37%. Sound Transit also says the “timing of outbound payments” affected the large drop as well.

Sounder ridership was up another 6% YOY, with a record-setting 16,261 weekday boardings. As we predicted back in August, the new mid-day service is performing better southbound, with 115 weekday riders on the 10:18am northbound train, and 300 riders on the 2:32pm southbound train. With 2-car trains and 150 seats per car, that means the northbound midday train is 38% full, while on the southbound train every seat is taken. Sound Transit has appropriately right-sized the capacity of the trip so far.

ST Express was up 5.1%, and for the first time in months Tacoma Link ridership didn’t fall, instead edging up by 0.2%. Sometime in October, Link likely exceeded total ST Express boardings for the year, despite having nearly 3 months without ULink.