Sounder Departure

Last week I pointed to some data from Gene Balk that transit ridership was higher for lower income brackets than higher incomes, consistent with conventional wisdom but disproving the argument that transit improvements are an elite project.

But Monday’s column ($) draws the opposite conclusion:

Among Seattle-area residents with a salary of $75,000 or more, 11 percent typically took transit to get to work in 2017. That’s higher than any other income group. Less than 10 percent of workers with wages below $35,000 took transit.

I asked Mr. Balk if he could explain the discrepancy. He pointed out that the first result was 2012-2016 census data, while the latter is just for 2017. Furthermore, the scope changes from King County to the entire Metro area. The 2017 data set shows that within Seattle, poor people still use transit more than rich people.

The data doesn’t prove much more, but it’s easy to speculate. In Snohomish and Pierce Counties, intra-county commutes are easy drives and dicey transit rides. If you’re going all the way into Seattle, it’s probably both a higher-paying job and one better suited to transit.

* Just kidding.

12 Replies to “Correction: Transit Now a Hipster Plaything*”

  1. Thanks for the clarification. I read the Seattle Times article and didn’t think much about it, but now I think it was misleading. That isn’t the first time, either. Balk does a good job getting the data, but he seems to make misleading conclusions (such as when he suggested that the suburbs were growing faster than the city).

    Anyway, thanks for the clarification. It makes a lot of sense. Lots of people in the city take transit because they can’t afford to own a car. Others take it because they own a car, but taking transit is still cheaper. With pretty good transit in the city, this remains a good option for lots of people, including those that don’t work downtown.

    In the suburbs, it is a lot different. Of course some don’t own a car as well, but fewer. Getting around by transit is just a lot harder. I would guess that those who do commute by transit are headed to someplace where the jobs tend to better, like downtown Seattle. In other words, it is common for someone in the city to take the bus to a fast food restaurant, grocery store or department store to work. In the suburbs, this is a lot less common.

  2. The study in the article in the Times is bunk. It’s taking two arbiraritly defined groups that make up less than 20% of transit riders and purporting to draw some kind of conclusion for that. One could just change the income bracket definitions slightly and get vastly different results. It also doesn’t take into account any other factors, such a single person making $75K is going to be much better off than someone supporting a family on the same amount, or who has tens of thousands in student loans, and not as well off as a household with two $75K incomes. In short, it takes a small subset of arbitrarily defined categories, ignores the larger data set, ignores all other factors, and makes claims based on this limited and arbirary dataset. It’s garbage. It looks a lot like the data was cherry picked and defined in such a way as to reach a predetermined conclusion. If I tried to make this kind of claim based on this kind of data, I’d be fired, and rightfully so.

  3. ” He pointed out that the first result was 2012-2016 census data, while the latter is just for 2017. ”

    Although surely much smaller in effect than the change of geographic scope, this may be an interesting change. We’ve seen wages go up in Seattle (and the region), both because jobs are paying more but also because a lack of housing has been displacing lower income households. The Seattle metro median household income (ok, according to Seattle Times, so take with a grain of salt) is now $80k.

    1. It is also a much smaller data set. It is quite possible that the numbers go up and down (based on what is actually happening, or how people are filling out the forms). Putting too much emphasis on the smaller data set (even if it is more recent) seems like a bad idea.

  4. I guess I would be interested to know what “high income transit” looks like?

    Does this refer to the Microsoft buses, or actual public transit?

    There used to be a 5 passenger helicopter service from downtown Portland to someplace. I think it went to somewhere over in the Beaverton area or somewhere else over on the west side. Would those using this type of service mark it down as “transit” as it doesn’t fit in the “driving alone” box?

    For that matter, does being driven in a taxi (or even a limousine for that matter) count in the “transit” category since that isn’t exactly driving alone?

    So, it really depends on how this question was answered by those filling out the census form, and the answers are limited by the options available on the form.

  5. Speaking of high income riders, I actually struck up a conversation with Jeff Bezos while we were waiting for the 271. He told me he takes it to U Dist, then transfers to the 70 to get to work. When I asked him why he doesn’t just take one bus, the 545, all the way into work, he looked to his left, then to his right, then whispered to me that he has all of Metro’s transfer tickets saved-up.

  6. Balk’s articles focuses solely on income, but it also has to do with job location and schedule. Many people take transit when they work in downtown Seattle or Bellevue 9-5, but switch to driving when their job is in outlying areas or at odd hours. Tens of thousands of middle-class jobs are concentrated downtown 9-5, while working-class jobs are scattered at retail and industrial outlets all over the metropolitan area or at evening or night shifts. Large middle-class employers are also the most likely to offer free transit passes, so the employee isn’t paying the fare, while other workers pay the fare out of their own income.

    1. Good transit access makes locations more desirable, and people with higher incomes are presumably more likely to pay the premium for a better commute.

  7. Oh the fun of slicing demographics!

    Let’s take the data in context. Not all trips are for commuting, and lower income people probably make a higher percentage of non-commute trips (Seattle’s excellent school bus pass program notwithstanding).

    The data are also what we are doing now and not what we will be doing as rail projects open.

    I think a few new trends are driving this:

    1. Tech and higher income employers seem to be quickly moving away from the suburban campus model. Downtowns are where they want to now be!

    2. Transit investments are less focused on lower income people than in the recent past. Transit plans today leave off Belltown, the CD and Lake City — places that were considered important to serve 20-25 years ago. Politically, Issaquah gets into a shorter line with subarea equity while White Center doesn’t even get to look in the window!

    3. Working hours have a huge effect of commuting. Boeing aside, the hours that people can work and the distance that they travel are affected by what the jobs pay. A large number of warehouse jobs are still in very remote locations with limited and odd working hours. Office jobs move toDowntown Seattle while warehouse jobs move away from near Downtown Seattle.

    4. Higher income households are more vocal about complaining and attending public meetings. The meetings then ask about “what’s preferable to you?” rather than “what’s the best for the public — including others who make less money or have mobility challenges?” Lastly, more affluent people are more likely to be elected — or appointed to “stakeholder” committees. That affects the discussions significantly.

    So what to change (if anything)?

    1. Listen to drivers! Who would plan a hospital and not talk to doctors and buses? Who would plan a school building and schedule and not talk to teachers? Drivers see the nuances of all of these issues every working day! They will have more compassion and acumen to balance the needs of all of their customers.

    2. Pay better attention when working with less transit-convenient employers. It’s pretty straightforward for a Downtown employer to dole out Orca passes. The remote or off-hour employers need more coordination and solutions are harder

    3. Make walking issues more important than bicycling issues. Walk access, safety and security (lighting) issues affect lots more of the general population and can usually be addressed much more cheaply.

    4. Create a culture that shows transit maps and frequencies at different times of day. Our maps are overlaid with every service. We need maps that show what’s available each hour. Only then can we have the background to even begin to rationally approach other issues.

  8. I don’t know..

    Guess, that the guy playing Kramer, makes enough money to make it into the Hipster segment of doofuses.

    Though Kramer is probably in level of society that wouldn’t like Seattle even if they let it in. Anyhow, really does represent average Sounder or ST Express passenger really look more like 49 on Broadway and the 7 in Columbia City.

    Didn’t we just go through this hipster business a few days ago?


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