July 17 Sound Transit Ridership – Still going and going and going

Sound Transit has released their July Ridership Report and Link is still going strong, up 16.7% overall.

Average daily ridership for Link in July was:

  • Weekday: 77,081 (+16.8%)
  • Saturday: 57,037 (+15.2%)
  • Sunday: 45,017 (+17.7%)

Other weekday modal ridership stats:

  • Sounder: 17,355 (+6.7%)
  • Tacoma Link: 2,839 (+2.0%)
  • ST Express: 66,411 (+0.5%)
  • Sound Transit Systemwide, +8.3% Weekday, +9.2% Total Boardings

My charts below the fold. Continue reading “July 17 Sound Transit Ridership – Still going and going and going”

3-Car Midday Trains to Continue Indefinitely

Peter Lewis/Flickr

At the beginning of the summer, Sound Transit inverted the weekday Link schedule. Instead of two-car trains all day with a few three-car trains during rush hour, three-car trains would run all day and a few two-car trains would supplement peak capacity. This increased the proportion of three-car trains during rush hour from about one-third to two-thirds.

The initial story suggested this was a response to summer peak demand. Yesterday, ST’s Kimberly Reason confirmed that the higher capacity is here to stay:

Sound Transit is maintaining 3-car train operations on Link to accommodate increasing ridership, especially with Husky and Seahawks seasons underway. More people are relying on light rail to travel to the airport, attend games, and commute to work in region experiencing robust economic and population growth.

There are no plans at this time to return the old arrangement.

Metro Adds Service, Fixes Broken Stuff

A 3600 coach running RapidRide E.
I once drove an Americana on Route 358. Passengers were as confused as I was. Photo by LB Bryce.

It wasn’t so long ago that Metro service changes arrived in the dead of night, accompanied mainly by dread about whether your favorite route would be on the chopping block.  But it’s amazing what a few years of explosive economic growth will do.  County Executive Dow Constantine trumpeted Metro’s service changes starting next Saturday, September 23 in a press release, which noted that this will be the sixth consecutive service change in which Metro adds new service.  Between Seattle voters’ approval of Proposition 1 and increased Metro revenues, Metro will be running the most service it’s ever run.

The headline news with this service change is the welcome replacement of the last three “Night Owl” routes with expanded late-night service on selected regular Metro routes.  But there are other good changes too, including some real frequency improvements and an encouraging number of well-thought-out “bug fixes.”  Learn more about what’s happening below the jump.

Continue reading “Metro Adds Service, Fixes Broken Stuff”

News Roundup: You May Have Heard

Metro Transit Buses after a Seattle Friday Rush Hour and a night with the Seahawks playing against Kansas City

This is an open thread.

SDOT Aims To Prioritizes People in New Mobility Playbook

Proposed I-5 plan 
Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives//Item No: 61048

When cars began rolling off assembly lines a hundred years ago, cities were reshaped to accommodate the automobile. Sidewalks narrowed to widen streets, parking garages appeared, transit systems disappeared, and eventually Interstate 5 splintered downtown Seattle from neighborhoods to the east.

This resulted in a city that is unfriendly and at times a dangerous place to be a pedestrian, a lesson Seattle Department of Transportation highlights in its recently released “New Mobility Playbook”.

As rapidly evolving technology is once again transforming how people move around the city, SDOT released the Playbook, a set of goals for integrating new transportation choices into the system.

“With cars, we forced our city to adapt to the technology instead of shaping the technology to serve the people living and working in our city,” states the playbook. “This time around, we want to do things differently. Instead of allowing the technology to shape the city, we’re mobilizing the technology to serve the people’s needs.”

In the playbook, SDOT defines new mobility as a “technology-enabled, seamless, nearly door-to-door transportation system” which “allows Seattleites to treat urban transportation as a customizable, on-demand service.”

The New Mobility Playbook lays out two scenarios: actively shape the future or leave it to chance. In the first possibility, despite rapid growth congestion doesn’t increase as autonomous vehicles are shared rather than privately owned. Transit choice increases in underserved communities as the city leverages a data infrastructure system to manage the transportation system in real-time.

Continue reading “SDOT Aims To Prioritizes People in New Mobility Playbook”

For Link a Drawbridge is a Bridge to Nowhere

Photo: Jordan Stead/seattlepi.com

Sound Transit is currently developing a consulting contract to oversee the process for selection of West Seattle and Ballard route alignments as part of Sound Transit 3 (ST3) light rail expansion.  They’ve concluded that by selecting a preferred alternative prior to the technical work of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), they are able to simplify the study work and thus reduce the total planning time by as much as a year and a half. This means that a preferred alternative will be selected for these lines by the end of 2018.

After discussion and a vote of our board, in order to further our founding goal of building a subway system that is rapid, reliable, frequent, convenient, and useful to all, Seattle Subway is officially taking the following key positions regarding a preferred alternative for the Ballard to West Seattle corridor:

  1. We are concerned that drawbridges, regardless of frequency of openings, pose significant operational challenges. Not only would drawbridges open and delay trains (trains which will run very frequently in the future), but drawbridges may not close. That failure would cause catastrophic delays throughout the system. Therefore, Seattle Subway will only support a high static bridge or a tunnel across Salmon Bay and the Duwamish Waterway.
  2. Expansions from Ballard — northward to Crown Hill and eastward to the University District — are included in Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan. Seattle Subway’s position is that any proposed design solutions must include the potential to expand north and east, such as a wye junction. We will only support designs that provide for in-station transfers at the Market Street station and seamless system expansion beyond Ballard that doesn’t compromise future transit service.
  3. Likewise, an expansion from West Seattle to Burien is included in Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan. Sound Transit must design light rail to avoid a dead end in West Seattle and allow for future expansion that doesn’t interrupt transit service.
  4. With optimum efficiency in mind, any new additions to Sound Transit’s ST3 network must be designed to accommodate 90-second headways. Stations and track alignments must be 100% grade-separated from traffic with no rail-level crossings for passengers.

If you agree with these overarching principles, you can weigh in now by emailing the Sound Transit Board, your elected representatives at the City of Seattle, and the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). Continue reading “For Link a Drawbridge is a Bridge to Nowhere”

But “Luxury” Housing is Good

Insignia Towers (SounderBruce/Wikimedia)

The Mayoral Primary inspired more discussion between growth advocates and renters’ advocates. Renters’ advocates wonder why market urbanists* didn’t rally to Nikkita Oliver. Market urbanists wonder why Oliver didn’t embrace developers who can address the affordability crisis.

There are also some attempts to bridge this gap and form common cause against NIMBYs that oppose both density and public housing: Galen Herz’s essay is an outstanding example of this genre. Although I can’t endorse everything he recommends, it’s a useful starting point to not be outraged that other people are inspired by different issues than you are.

Nevertheless, it is common rhetoric that current policy is “just” resulting in “luxury” units, doing nothing to address the housing shortage. Leaving aside its factual validity, this assessment is philosophically bankrupt.

Instead, construction of market-rate units, provided it’s a large net increase on density on the site, has significant positive public policy impacts. For one thing, today’s fancy apartments are tomorrow’s “naturally occurring” affordable housing. That doesn’t solve the problem today, but it does prevent us from continually having to solve it in the future.

Moreover, there are two possible outcomes to blocking such housing. The market urbanist prediction is that would-be residents will instead enter the market for existing housing, thus driving up rents for current residents. Everyone agrees that this would be bad. For market skeptics, the alternative must be that would-be residents are living outside the city instead.

Even that outcome is bad. First, rents in the suburbs matter. Second, encouraging people to live farther from work is not good for congestion, productivity, or the environment. Affluent residents build the tax base to fund the city’s progressive dreams. Most importantly, the central rationale for subsidizing housing is to be inclusive and not deny people the opportunity to live here. Artificially limiting units fundamentally undercuts the entire philosophical foundation of progressive intervention in the housing market.

* Throughout this essay, “market urbanists” do not refer to people that believe that all housing problems can be addressed through the free market. This rhetorical position seems to be more common in the imagination of renters’ advocates than among actual people in the debate.

Challenges to Automatic Enforcement: Q&A with Mark Hallenbeck

Bus only lane clogged with cars
Image: SounderBruce

Automatic cameras have been approved by the state legislature to monitor speeds, discourage drivers from running red lights and penalize cars not yielding to stopped school buses. But so far, they are not authorized to keep cars out of transit-only lanes by consistently ticketing offending vehicles. (A previous STB post explored the path to using automatic cameras in Seattle.)

According to Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Center, using cameras to enforce transit-only lanes is a much more difficult undertaking than it might seem and complicated also by privacy concerns. Here’s what Hallenbeck had to say, transcribed and edited for clarity and length.

LG: What are some hurdles to using automatic cameras to ticket vehicles using transit-only lanes?

MH: Okay, so first the problem comes from the geographic problem of interweaving lanes. For example, look at Highway 99, which uses what’s called Business Access Transit (BAT) lanes to solve the problem of how to make right turns across the bus lane. You don’t want people to have to drive three blocks out of the way in order to come back around. The reality is, there’s no good way to make a right turn across the (transit-only) lane and be safe. So the solution is, you let cars in the (transit-only) lane, so they can make right turns into the shopping centers. Then, of course, you want people — as they come out of those shopping centers — to make a right turn onto the street.

Once you allow that, now you’ve given permission for cars to be in that lane to make the right turns. The problem is now, is how far are you allowed to really drive in the (BAT) lane and can I (the camera) watch you long enough to actually determine if you are in fact a violator? You can’t just say car bad, car fine. Determining what is a violation makes the technology much more difficult.

Unlike with school buses (with onboard cameras), where the technological opportunity to use a camera to catch (offending drivers) is really simple. The camera points in a particular place, and it’s only on when the (bus) stop sign switch is on, and then it’s triggered by something going by.

If you wanted to use the same kind of technology for the BAT lane, you need video versus photo.

Continue reading “Challenges to Automatic Enforcement: Q&A with Mark Hallenbeck”

Making it Easier to Get an ORCA Card

37% of ORCA sales from vending machines occurred at Westlake Station

As Metro evaluates fare simplification, one thing is clear: getting more riders to use ORCA would be a win.  ORCA speeds up boarding times and makes for more efficient bus service. Unlimited ORCA passes, such as PugetPass and the employer-provided Passport, make people more likely to use transit, by reducing the marginal cost of a trip to $0.

Yet 29% of Metro riders currently pay cash.  How might we reduce that number? Eliminating cash altogether, as London has done, is one option.  A cash surcharge, as Brent has discussed, is another.  Reducing the $5 card fee is a third, which we have long advocated for and which KC Exec Constantine is proposing as part of his overall fare-simplification scheme. Metro’s mobile ticketing app may also help.

But there’s a simple, proven way to get more ORCA cards out in the world, reducing cash payments: install more ticket vending machines (TVMs).

Currently the main ways to get an ORCA card – if you’re out and about downtown – is from a partner business (such as Bartell Drugs) or* from a TVM.  TVMs are located at Link and Sounder stations as well as a half-dozen suburban park-and-rides.

But there are no vending machines at the busy bus stops in greater downtown.  Aside from the Union Station / International District Station area there are no street-level TVMs downtown at all.   You have to know to go underground to a tunnel station (which soon won’t have any more buses) or across the street to the drug store (which entails leaving the bus stop and perhaps getting stuck in a checkout line). A vending machine at the bus stop would be a superior solution.

(Consider that just 35 TVM locations generate three times as much ORCA revenue as all 100+ retail locations).

Metro knows that vending machines are in short supply.  When the Ride Free Area was eliminated a few years ago, their mitigation report suggested adding vending machines to downtown bus stops as a time-saving measure.

According to Sound Transit, TVMs cost $58,000 each (not including maintenance).  Putting 20 of them downtown would cost just over a million dollars.  To put that in perspective, Metro estimates that buses spend over a million hours a year at the bus stop while passengers get on and off — an annual cost of $150 million.  If a couple dozen ORCA vending machines reduce dwell time by a single percentage point, they will have easily paid for themselves in the first year of use.

With ORCA2 on the horizon, it’s understandable that agencies are reluctant to invest big money in TVMs right now. And certainly street-level TVMs would be subject to substantial wear and tear.  But if One Center City is truly the all-hands-on-deck emergency that it’s being promoted as, then increasing TVM deployment ought to be part of the discussion.

Update 9:09PM: Upon re-reading the list of ORCA retail locations, it turns out you can’t even buy an ORCA card at a downtown retail establishment. Even more reason to add TVMs!

Modest service changes proposed for March 2018

Route 99 proposal Image: Metro

Tuesday Metro presented a list of proposed services changes slated for next March to members of King County Council’s Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee. The proposal includes adding over 50,000 hours of service and eliminating bus Route 99.

As the proposal added service to only one Eastside bus route, Councilmember Claudia Balducci criticized the proposed changes.

“The Eastside took the brunt of the hits during the downturn,” Balducci said during the committee meeting. “And we haven’t seen that service back, yet every time one of these maps comes through, I don’t see it. So where is it? Why don’t we get made whole?”

Balducci said there’s a tremendous amount of demand for bus service east of Lake Washington north and south, and “it seems like pulling teeth to get service.” Councilmember Kathy Lambert echoed Balducci’s remarks.

The proposed changes needing council approval are:

  • Route 74:  Additional trips added between University District and Sand Point portion of the route to provide every 30-minute midday service on weekdays
  • Route 99: Route deleted
  • Route 102/101: Reassigns eight peak Route 101 trips to Route 102, which will add five northbound AM peak period trips and three southbound PM peak period trips to Route 102
  • Route 153: Adding every 30-minute midday service (currently there is no midday service)
  • Route 183: Adding every 30-minute midday service and 60-minute weekday night service (currently there is no night service)
  • Route 930: Additional weekday hours so every 30-minute service extends later into the morning and begins earlier in the afternoon

Continue reading “Modest service changes proposed for March 2018”

News Roundup: Abomination

Seattle Monorail Perspective 1

This is an open thread.

High-Speed Rail Study Underway

Governor Inslee and Premier Clark at the Cascadia Conference in September 2016 (Microsoft Photo)

WSDOT has posted some new information about the high speed rail study funded by the legislature this session to the tune of $300,000. The final report is due on December 15, just three months from now.  Five “conceptual corridors” will be studied between Vancouver and Portland. The team of consultants is led by CH2M and includes EnviroIssues, AECOM and Deutsche Bahn International Engineering Consulting.  WSDOT’s site dryly notes that “Hyperloop technology also will be reviewed, but it currently lacks complete data needed for a full comparison.”

As part of the effort the agency has also unearthed a 28-page 1992 feasibility study. Read it and weep at the notion of HSR between Vancouver, Portland, Seattle and Spokane up and running by 2020.  Spoiler alert: the challenges to HSR in the region are not primarily technical in nature.

If you want to know more about the tradeoffs between various alignments between Vancouver and Seattle, check out our 4-part series on the subject.

What is Fare Policy Trying to Accomplish?

Atomic Taco/Flickr

After a long listening process, Metro settled on a flat $2.75 adult fare for all regular bus trips. Riders asked for a simpler system, and they got one. On Saturday Brent lamented the missed opportunity to accelerate ORCA adoption with a slightly more complicated fare system. But that’s only one example of how the fare restructuring process was a giant missed opportunity to change Metro for the better.

It turns out Henry Ford may never have said that asking his customers would have resulted in a faster horse, but there’s some truth in that cliché. In isolation, a simpler fare system is better. But a more complicated system could have achieved goals valuable to the region, not obviously connected to the fare schedule in a survey. The only goal this process achieved was to reduce direct reasons for customers to complain — an important goal at any public agency, but so much less ambitious than many other things.

It doesn’t appear that Metro had much else in its framework for thinking about how fares are structured. When discussing fares people often end up appealing to fairness, which doesn’t get you very far. I’d propose the following approach.

Revenue Impact

The most fundamental decision is whether the reform will be revenue-negative, revenue-neutral, or revenue-positive. Cutting fares increases demand while decreasing supply, as Metro can’t put as many buses on the road. Raising fares does the reverse. It might be especially desirable to raise fares when the system will have service cuts otherwise, or if the agency wants to show that riders are “paying their own way” before asking for a tax increase.*

In this case, King County appears to have decided to make things roughly revenue neutral. Raising fares might have made the restructure appear to be a money grab. Cutting fares, likely possible due to the ever-improving tax picture, might have sweetened the pot.

Differing Objectives

Continue reading “What is Fare Policy Trying to Accomplish?”

Bicyclist Deaths are on the Rise

Credit: NHTSA

After hitting an all-time low in 2010, bicycle deaths have risen 12 percent nationwide, the largest increase in two decades and outpacing the overall rise all traffic fatalities, according to a new report by the Governors Highway Safety Association. But contrary to four decades ago, adults rather than children are more likely to die in a bicyclist-vehicle crash today.

According to the report, which received funding from State Farm Insurance, in 1975 younger bicyclists accounted for almost 80 percent of fatalities, but in 2015 that number dropped to 11 percent. In 2015, 720 adults were killed bicycling, up from 212 in 1975. After steadily rising over the past four decades, today the average age of a bicyclist killed in traffic is now 45.

While bicycle deaths are often undercounted, the report contributes part of the decline in bike deaths among children and teen to a massive drop in biking and walking trips taken to and from school. It linked the tripling of adult bicyclists killed to low car ownership rates and rising bike ridership among millennials.

According to a press release accompanying the report, “A unifying theme in many of these crashes is that the motorist often fails to see the bicyclist, while the bicyclist expects the driver to give way and is unable to stop in time to avoid a crash. This illustrates the need for all people to pay attention to their surroundings whenever they take to the road.”

Continue reading “Bicyclist Deaths are on the Rise”

$3 Is Simpler and Faster Than $2.75 Cash Fare

A $3 Metro cash fare could make fishing for quarters while holding up a bus mostly go away.
Photo from Wikicommons

The $2.75 flat fare just proposed by County Executive Dow Constantine is a big step forward for the simplicity of King County Metro’s fare system.

But consider if the cash fare were $3 instead, with the electronic fare left at $2.75.

Paying $3 is simpler and faster than paying $2.75. You just pull out three dollars and slide it into the farebox. $2.75 involves either a two-step process of pulling out two dollar bills and then fishing for three quarters, or, fishing for eleven quarters.

The speed-up of paying in dollar bills only, in and of itself, should significantly reduce the time impact of cash fumbling, by removing the change element of the fumbling. That is before calculating the time savings from cash payers converting into ORCA tappers.

Having the two different fares doesn’t create complication. Those paying the regular fare with cash would pay $3, any time, on any Metro bus. The fare for those paying with ORCA would be $2.75, any time, on any Metro bus. The actual cost to the ORCA tapper would be somewhere less than $2.75 if the rider is using a pass or has an electronic transfer from another transit ride within the previous two hours.

Seven other US bus agencies with smart cards charge higher cash fares than smart card fares, and all of their smart cards are much cheaper than the ORCA Card, which costs $5 to get.

Continue reading “$3 Is Simpler and Faster Than $2.75 Cash Fare”