Summer school. Credit: David Seater

Thursday’s Sound Transit Board meeting didn’t have any Earth-shattering news, but it did feel a lot like summer school. Agency staff presented some updates on ongoing projects, but the board didn’t do much: too many elected officials cut class to move along the day’s most substantial agenda item.

Fare enforcement

Metro rolled out a new fare enforcement policy a few weeks ago. (Expect an in-depth look soon.) The transit and social justice activists who worked with Metro are excited about the Metro policy, which will reduce fines and hopefully prevent escalation.

The same coalition approached Sound Transit to make similar changes, but the agency is moving more slowly; on Thursday, the board approved a staff proposal to study fare enforcement policy and come up with recommendations.

Capitol Hill affordable housing

The board formalized ST staff’s laudable work on several affordable housing projects on Broadway, which we covered in depth here. The board approved the requisite land transfers with Seattle Central College and affordable housing developers.

Seattle Mayor and ST board member Jenny Durkan praised the projects, and said that the city would try to get the buildings open sooner by expediting permitting and construction.

Northgate Link construction update

The Northgate extension is humming along. ST staff said that construction is on schedule. Most of the major structural work on the stations is done, and the right of way is nearly ready for guideway system installation.

Northgate Link’s budget allocated about $223 million to handle contingencies and cost overruns. The board voted on Thursday to allocate $3.7 million from that pool to complete final design work.

Federal Way Link land transfers

After ST builds the Federal Way Link extension, the agency will have some leftover land. The agency needs to hold staging sites and the land under the future guideway during construction, but not after. When the project is finished, ST plans to transfer some of the surplus land to WSDOT, which will build an extension of SR 509.

The board was supposed to approve the baseline budget for the project on Thursday, but needed a supermajority vote to do it. However, the board didn’t have a the votes necessary for the supermajority, so the vote couldn’t go ahead. (The board did approve the land transfer.) Early in the meeting, the board stalled votes because a quorum of members was not present.

Claudia Balducci compounded the embarrassment by pointing out that the project’s baseline budget had not yet been studied by the ST Board’s capital committee.

“Because we’re not going to take action on this, can this go through capital committee like it should have in the first place?” Balducci said.

The board sent the land transfer back to committee, after a wisecrack by Durkan (who skipped the last board meeting):

“Who knew so much could be done by people not showing up?”

This post has been corrected. According to ST spokesperson Scott Thompson, the board approved the eventual land transfer, but not the Federal Way baseline budget. An earlier version of the post said that the land transfer was not approved.

33 Replies to “Sound Transit Board plays hooky, plans to study fare enforcement”

  1. Hopefully, Metro and ST don’t water down fare enforcement, as that may increase the level of violence and crime on transit. There’s an overlap between criminals on transit and fare evaders.

    1. Fare evaders ARE criminals. Minor ones, perhaps, but they are nevertheless stealing something of value without permission.

      I do not lump inadvertant nonpayers or mis-payers into this lot, and this is where fare enforcement should be managing its trickier situations.

      To cut down on fare evasion crime, fares should be examined once again so that we can manage the costs of providing reduced fare (even if just a dime or a quarter) to those who can’t even afford a buck and a half. An RRFP-type photo ID card that allows a paper Link ticket to be purchased at a TVM for perhaps a quarter, and valid when presented together, emphasizes the value of both the ride being given AND the willingness of taxpayers to help those who seek and justify it.

      1. Thanks for the link, Sam. That string of murders on BART is chilling.

        BART has both turnstiles and random fare checks. They’ve also used camera footage to track down most of the perpetrators, and couldn’t track down one because they used to have some fake cameras, and hence no footage.

        Before Metro had a don’t-be-pushy policy on operator fare enforcement on buses, a driver and deranged attacker both died, and only a miraculous landing saved the lives of all the other passengers on the bus. The biggest link between fare enforcement and violent crime is that fare disputes are the primary source of operator assaults.

        It sound like, it this case, the missing link was the failure to get BART police involved in tracking down known violent criminals. If someone is known to have committed a violent crime, the various wings of law enforcement need to work together. That even means sharing information about the whereabouts of undocumented residents with ICE, should ICE reveal that said persons are wanted for violent offenses, not merely for being here illegally.

        And, no, tracking fare cards won’t catch them, unless the criminal is being really stupid, like the guy who tried to use an ORCA card that was reported stolen. And then doubled down on his stupid decision by pulling out a gun in front of armed police officers.

        One ST policy I really like is that law enforcement officers in uniform get to ride for free. They are providing free crime deterrence by their presence. I don’t recall if that extends to members of the military. But I would also suggest that law-enforcement officers and members of the military not in uniform also be allowed to ride for free. Just be ready to present your badge when asked. All law enforcement officers, whether plain-clothed or in uniform, serve the community. Free transit is a job benefit the community can provide for them, that ends up being a savings for taxpayers.

      2. One totally off-topic point on ICE involvement: The desired outcome is not deportation, but protecting the innocent in both countries from the future threat of violence from those so caught.

      3. I have a better idea, Brent. Make transit fare-free for everybody and close the regional ICE office.

      4. Military isn’t law enforcement unless specifically trained to be (MPs/SPs and the like). Other members of the military trained to shoot first, ask questions later – as they should be since ostensibly they are facing an enemy, not those they are sworn to “serve and protect” – which is exactly the opposite of what law enforcement -should- be trained to do.

        Allowing uniformed law enforcement officers to ride free does make some sense as a visual deterrent. Non-uniformed personnel do not create that deterrence. Lots of people “serve the community” but unless they are actually trained as LEOs the argument becomes a social one of who gets the perk and who doesn’t. I’d prefer to leave that argument off of transit – if there is such a compelling need for law enforcement, then put uniformed officers on more trains and buses.

    2. Metro has already watered down fare enforcement to the point where it’s a defacto fareless system. The result is some truly disturbing characters riding late evening buses. I had a super insane rider tell me he was going to carve his initials into my forehead because of something to do with satan (I’m a mild mannered quiet dude who does everything to not attract attention) . That was a 10 pm -ish EB 8 at Westlake and Denny, which used to be a not so harrowing section of that route. It starting to feel like anarchy at times.

      1. Felsen, you are correct. I’m not sure what transit and social justice activists are complaining about.

        ST and Metro already don’t enforce the fare as a matter of policy. Drivers are told to ask once for the fare (if they feel safe to do so), then let it go and let the person ride. Translation, not only can anyone just walk on the bus without paying, but some people who are boarding are so intimidating that the driver doesn’t even feel safe stating the fare to them!

        King County prosecutors dropped 1500 misdemeanor cases in 2017, many of which were for things like bus fare evasion and shoplifting, so they could concentrate on bigger crimes.

        And in 2016, of 3,911 citations issued on all six Rapidride lines, only 94 people actually paid the fines.

        So if you connect the dots, even if people are getting fined, when they are finally called in to court for non-payment, the case is dropped because it’s too minor for the prosecutor to bother with.

        So I guess we’re going to let the pendulum swing further toward non-enforcement until we have a couple of tragedies like the Bay Area had.

      2. Felsen, go click on the link Sam gave us. And then both of you, try to visualize any of our fare inspectors dutifully registering his violation as the last act of their lives. Same could’ve happened to police going on scene if any less than five had him either cuffed or dead.

        You might also google up the condition of our State’s mental health system- which is now our criminal justice system, and sharing its miserable financial support from our legislature. Which itself suffers worse from deferred maintenance than BART. Only national entity in a worse state of repair is The United States of America.

        We’ve got the worst social mobility in the industrial world, and a division of wealth that would’ve made the Robber Barons look like penniless child workers in their own factories. And also befooled liberals in comparison with the people whose trade is betting on exchanges of money. True, they are generous with their support of our political system at all levels.

        I share their distaste with taxes. Whose chief offensiveness is not predation in their bracket, but aggravation with a boring pest. So might provoke less resistance if we just gave it its right name. A bill.

        Mark Dublin

  2. “When the project is finished, ST plans to transfer some of the surplus land to WSDOT, which will build an extension of SR 509.”

    Sign, I wish it were going to affordable housing. But perhaps the land is not in a location conducive to housing or near anything.

    “Extending SR 509 will ease congestion on I-5 near Tukwila, add a southern access point to Sea-Tac International Airport, and improve service between industrial districts by allowing general purpose traffic and trucks to bypass I-5, SR 99 and local streets. When finished, SR 509 will become a key component of the Seattle and south King County transportation network. When considered in conjunction with the planned Alaskan Way Viaduct improvements, the project provides a critical north-south corridor alternative to I-5 through Seattle and South King County.”

    Well, it will keep 509 from sticking out like a sore thumb. (“Why does it exist?”) It will serve the important purpose of a freeway from S 272nd & I-5 to Winona Ave N & Aurora. I’m sure there lots of south enders who want quick access to the Greenwood antique shops and the Zoo. Maybe even out-of-staters.

    1. Yes I too am pretty shocked that more investment is going into freeway construction when it’s pretty clear by now it doesn’t ease congestion and actually makes it worse.

      I hope Sound Transit is getting land or money from WSDOT for the land, I certainly didn’t vote to fund ST so they could subsidize freeway construction.

      Anyone know what percentage of ST revenue comes from the fare box?

    2. If we get this, there will be no more complaints about freight access?

      I try to think of a silver lining. What bus route could run along it? Des Moines to West Seattle? Could we build dense housing in the corridor? But it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that it’s in the middle of nowhere and redundant. South King County has a pletnora of north-south highways: 509, 99, 599, I-5, the West Valley Highway, the Valley Freeway, the East Valley Road, the Maple valley Highway, the Auburn-Echo Lake Cutoff. Does it really need that many?

    3. The ST-WSDOT property arrangement needs some clearer explanation. Most of the Federal Way Link segment will be built along I-5 and ST will need WSDOT land. It appears that WSDOT will need some ST land for SR-509.

      Is this a two-way land swap? Is ST giving land to WSDOT but WSDOT not giving land to ST, or is the 509 transfer part of a bigger strategy where ST still gets the bulk of the land transfers?

      I’m sure the answer is there, but I’m asking with legitimate naiveté here. It’s a complex situation. Most future ST extensions and projects directly involve WSDOT land for many miles of track. The transfer methods have significant accounting and funding implications.

    4. Whatever land swap is happening seems like somewhat of an afterthought since it couldn’t even get a vote. But since both projects have been a sure thing for a while, what I wonder is why they couldn’t go farther and coordinate construction and joint land acquisition with WSDOT so that construction of Link and 509 happen simultaneously, and just design the freeway with the light rail guideway down the median between the freeway directions?

      Especially when ST seems to be fine with giving away 40% of the I-405 BRT bank for the DOT’s dream interchange in Kirkland, in exchange for a pretty bad “downtownish” Kirkland stop.

      It seems like in the case of FW Link, they can consolidate construction, land acquisition, process and administrative costs and save both agencies money. Why does the transfer of resources always have to go one way, from ST to WSDOT?

      1. Alex, Link will be placed on the south edge of the right-of-way because it will be running on the west edge of the I-5 ROW down to Midway. Putting Link in the middle of the SR 509 connection would necessitate the construction of two bridges, one over the northbound lanes just south of Angle Lake Station and another across the southbound lanes just before the freeway interchange. It’s cheaper to build one bridge and be done with it.

        Also, the freeway will probably underpass SR 99 in a trench since I-5 is at a lower grade than PHS. That makes crossing the freeway and SR 99 in one structure easier.

    5. It’s a land swap. WSDOT has land ST needs to build Federal Way Link. ST has some land WSDOT might or might not need to complete the white elephant that is SR 509. Freeways and transit or no freeway and no transit. Take your pick.

      I wish we could finish Federal Way Link while tearing up the empty portions of SR 509 to build lots of mid-rise apartments. Building lots of useful stuff on that land would create a lot more jobs.

      At this point, I don’t know if even the Lege can make WSDOT stop.

    6. Mike,

      South enders already have access to a bougie Greenwood-style shopping district in Burien, right off of SR 509. All they need is to eliminate the at-grade intersections to save a few minutes.

    7. The right of way wouldn’t have been preserved if it were headed for affordable housing. Anyway, Angle Lake Station is a half mile north of where Link will cross 99 to head over to I-5. Not really walking distance for most people.

  3. I wish fare enforcement was ***much*** more aggressive. The people who bluster onto Metro buses tend to be super unpleasant. I want them out of public space. If broke people need to ride free, we should give orca cards out.

  4. Horrible that the girl was killed, Sam. But equally true our system would be safer if enforcement cost of punishing a mis-delivered card-tap went to felony murder prevention instead. Remember, about four dollars of fine money goes to Sound Transit. The other one twenty goes to the court, to compensate them for the waste of their time and taxpayers’ money.

    Has the coalition for fare justice ever singled out this particular piece of passenger-abuse? Because ‘m not hearing any mention of the fare system’s cheapest, easiest, and fairest possible policy change:

    Make “One ORCA Card for All” mean what it says. One ORCA card (itself, free). Loaded with a pass, monthly encouraged, but variations for visitors and single trips, and e-purse. Income, age, and special needs-adjusted. Whose possession will be ironclad Proof that the holder has Paid to ride the whole system.

    “Taps”? Please and Thank You. One-sentence posted explanation why. Maybe give the cute “Seat-Hog” a little “Tapmunk” for a cousin. Which brings us to why Sound Transit is putting up such an embarrassing fight over a policy as easily fixed as it is abusive.

    It’s because instead of the integrated regional transit system the voters approved two decades ago, the region is left with the same seven separate agencies as before, except now able to take paying passengers to court if they don’t each get their exact share of fare revenue to the penny.

    The colleagues I most respect have pleaded with me to drop this whole subject. Two “warnings” in nine years probably don’t give me the “standing” to sit in the back of the courtroom. But to me, this is an old, deep matter of personal honor, and for Sound Transit, of its existence. Or leave it begging to be put out of its misery.

    An agency that fines its passengers for mis-handling the accounting department’s job…apology to John Cleese in Fawlty Towers, but this is EXACTLY the attitude out of liberals that got the present Administration started. Up the White House stairs on former Democratic votes. Could cost a lot if one too many of Bob Hasegawa’s constituents gets nailed for an illegal “Tap On.”

    Mark Dublin

    One-sentence explanation of reason should persuade as much cooperation as present system seeks to do through intimidation.

    Will also save the system from having to clearly explain the present one in location and language anybody can comprehend it.

  5. For the love of everything good, please ST, don’t water down your fare enforcement policies. The ST passenger experience is FAR superior to Metro due to its much more visible fare enforcement (I suspect). ST’s products are generally free of the dodgy characters who now take advantage of Metro’s permissiveness. It has become a not infrequent mini MadMax experience on some late evening routes.

    1. If Metro were to give out monthly passes on ORCA to those with no income, those cards would be registered to the recipients. Drivers could report misbehavior quickly, and Metro could look up who tapped in to ride. This wouldn’t stop bad behavior from farepayers with anonymous cards or those who didn’t tap in, but it would be a vast improvement over all the paper day passes that are given out, and then used anonymously.

      People have a right to privacy. People should have a right to access public transit. People shouldn’t have an expectation to privacy on public transit.

      1. If I didn’t read your comment earlier about giving free-rides to the gestapo I’d think this was a joke.

  6. Excellent reference, Felsen, and not by accident. Your ORCA fare system is now handled by Vix Technology, offices in Melbourne.

    In hopes of a fare collection contract with a soon-to-be-reinstated service on Seattle’s Waterfront, the latest municipal bus in the Melbourne system is now on the boat as we speak as a replacement for our former equipment for that city.

    The new company colors, with a blue green and white variant for Sound Transit will doubtless save a lot of scarce water to wash. And preventive maintenance assured by familiarity with operating conditions shown in all the famous Mel Gibson movies. Will also definitely clear its own transit lanes and reset traffic lights along its route.

    Also, observe that your complaints about lax fare inspection have been noted and addressed. And an arrangement with King County Superior Court will result in Quantas Airways re-classifying westbound flights to “Transportation”, ticket price $124. In addition, without extra cost, Australia’s most illustrative national song will be loaded on LINK’s entire passenger information system.

    And tell that bludgering wombat Mark Dublin that if he doesn’t stop calling it the Australian National Anthem…..that shed’s got a lot of extra space on its walls.

    Yours truly, Securitas Australia CEO Edward Kelly

  7. Hope that they are finally smart enough to buy escalators that actually work. I’ve moved from being a huge fan of system to a disgruntled rider because of the ludicrously awful escalator situation

    1. They said a few months ago that they were removing escalators (without public discussion) from Lynnwood Link to save a few million even though they need to find several hundred million. Federal Way escalator cuts are next!

      In other words, ST has not yet learned that escalators are important and need to be redundant and go both up and down inside any station.

      ST also has official 95 percent standard that allows for escalators to be out of service 1.5 days a month – regardless if they have an adjacent escalator or not.

      When ST asks for comments, let’s just keep complaining. It’s not just the model they buy but the number they build that really matters.

      1. Down escalators are very important for many arthritis sufferers. That’s half of all seniors and one-forth of all adult women. An arthritis sufferer will tell you that going down stairs is harder than going up stairs. That’s also lots more people than can practically rely on a slow hydraulic elevator in a busy station. Keep in mind it’s usually at least 40 steps to get down to a platform, which is 2.5 floors of steps in a normal house.

        Then there is the issue I mentioned above: redundancy. When escalators fail (not if but when), having an adjacent one is very crucial to moving riders off a platform.

        The recent UW escalator issue is a shining example of the impacts of going cheap on the number of escalators in stations.

      2. You don’t need escalators. But if you do have escalators (and no stairs) then they better work.

        This is basic common sense that ST somehow failed to grasp. If there were stairs at the UW Station, there would be some whining about the failed escalators, but it would be no big deal. It would be like most subway systems throughout the world (no escalators, just stairs). If the escalators worked almost of the time, then the lack of stairs would hardly be noticed. Once every five years or so, when they failed unexpectedly, there would be complaints, but those would soon be forgotten. But the combination of lack of stairs and really cheap escalators is terrible.

  8. All I know is it is extremely annoying to be shaken out of my sleep my the fare warriors just to make sure I paid. Leave people alone!

  9. So I’ve heard the argument that fare evaders also commit other anti-social acts. I would think that there are a lot more fare evaders than people committing anti-social acts, so presumably the anti-social percentage is small. That’s not say that anti-social acts on transit are OK, just trying to sense of proportion and scale.

    I’d be interested in responses to the fare evaders commit anti-social acts argument. I’d be particularly interested in what transit agencies and advocates for the poor have to say.

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