This is the second of two Q&As drawing from Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff’s interview with STB.
This post has been edited for length and clarity. Find Part One here, and an unedited transcript of the conversation here.
STB: How is the takeover of the Downtown Transit Tunnel going, and what are the plans for implementing the changeover?
Rogoff: We are in careful and ongoing conversations with King County Metro. One of the things that we are most interested in doing and will be launching is an overall condition assessment, so we have a full, eyes wide open understanding of the condition of the asset that we’re taking ownership of.
We don’t doubt that there needs to be some important renovations and system improvements. We just need to know what those are, and what are the most critical.
We—as someone who goes through the tunnel every day, obviously they have escalator challenges that we hope will be rectified before we take ownership, but we are also having challenges with escalators enough—
I was about to ask about that.
Right, so we will be analyzing that carefully. We really want to provide a quality product when we take it over,
It’s going to be great in terms of being able to provide the promised throughput through the tunnel without risk of slowdowns, so it will be great for the ridership experience.
There’s some important things that we need to look at from the perspective of safety and security. I have some security concerns about what happens during very off-peak hours at all the multiple entrances to Westlake.
Maybe do we want to consider using our available security personnel to focus on maybe three or four entrances, so we can ensure better security for the passengers who are riding late at night or early in the morning.
Do you mean the entrances at 3rd and Pine?
Among others. I’ve got some security concerns about some of our entrances around Pioneer Square.
Folks aren’t going to ride the system, no matter what its benefits, if they don’t feel safe. And we, in concert with local law enforcement, need to attend to that.
That brings me to fare enforcement. I know there’s been Board discussions about studying Metro’s new policy and making changes. What’s going on with that process?
Well I think it’s important to—we are in some conversations with Board members about it. I think it’s important to make the point that a lot of this discussion started as a result of an audit that was done on King County Metro’s fare enforcement approach on the RapidRide lines. The King County Metro fare enforcement process back then was very different from how Sound Transit has done its fare enforcement.
We go to great pains to be very methodical and follow a very prescribed regimen of checking every passenger for fare with complete disregard for how they look, how they present themselves, who they are, what they are. It is a very methodical methodology that does not provide even an avenue for profiling.
When I’m on the system, periodically I’ll encounter the fare enforcement team. Some of them even recognize me and they say, “Good afternoon, Mr. Rogoff. Can we have your ORCA card?” I mean, no one gets a pass.
So some of the problems that gave rise to the changes at King County Metro quite frankly were problems that we had already solved. Now, there is a different process in terms of—I think it’s important, we’ve I think, better acquainted Board members over the fact that we don’t jump to criminal prosecution to people in their first or even their second violation.
We now have really high quality equipment that is hand held, much better than the equipment that they were using even a year ago, that identifies for us who may have had a fare issue in a past process when fare enforcement—we can give you better background on the details, but we right now are just in conversations with Board members about it.
I don’t know that we will or won’t be tweaking the system at this time.
It sounds like saying the Trump Administration is moving forward on all the projects they’d held up earlier this year. FTA grants are being executed, contracts are being signed, and so on and so forth?
You didn’t hear me say all—I think what we’re seeing is progress.
We actually got really encouraging support, on a bipartisan basis, from the House and the Senate, including from Congressman Diaz-Bilart, Republican of Florida, and Senator Collins, Republican of Maine.
There was also the extremely diligent efforts of our own delegation. Senator Murray, Senator Cantwell, Representatives Larsen, Jayapal, and Kilmer, who knows we need to get the Lynnwood grant first, so we can then move forward with our grant to get to Federal Way, and on to Tacoma.
The Administration hadn’t entertained or processed new full-funding grant agreements, but we are now seeing some movement. The concern was whether they would move forward, and they now have.
It’s extremely good news for the projects, and the taxpayers of the entire Puget Sound region. Absent these federal funds, not only could these projects be delayed, but those dollars would then need to be made up by local taxpayers.
It is, needless to say, quite reasonable for the taxpayers of Puget Sound to expect return on their federal contributions, especially for a region in as desperate need of transit expansion as this one is.
27 Replies to “Sound Transit CEO promises improved escalators for downtown tunnel, plus more security (Part 2 of 2)”
What about the late night Link rides from the Airport? Will those finally serve the tunnel and stop dropping folks in Beacon Hill? I’ve always heard the reasoning was that KCM didn’t want to keep the tunnels open at night.
No, because the train goes straight to the maintenance base for the night afterward. Beacon Hill is the northernmost station before that, so that’s why it is the last stop. If it kept going, they would need to reduce the maintenance window for Link.
The trains that end service at UW station, though, could take passengers downtown on the way to the maintenance base. The only cost would be security to man the tunnel stations
Welp, Mr. High & Mighty doesn’t think there’s a problem with fare enforcement at all. Good to know we’re all wrong people! I’m sure the extra security will be happy to remove us when we’re considered a problem!
I wonder when they’ll open the first ST-branded debtor’s prison for tapping fines.
I had proposed using the decommissioned Battery Street as the debtor’ prison, but for some reason the Recharge the Battery folks never got on board.
Ness, thanks for the information I’m not the only one ticked off like an over-wound watch about being charged for fare evasion with my pre-paid monthly pass in my hand, and my money in Sound Transit’s pocket.
But from conversations of my own with some of the inspectors, they hate the policy worse than I do, and for same reasons. Including my own worst: That regional transit’s whole intent was to completely flush “Separate Agencies” as an excuse for any damage to one single passenger.
You and I are getting fined a lot more than we can afford, Ness, because somebody signed a hairball of a contract that’ll cost a lot of cat food to undo . Hard to imagine Nordstrom’s turning people over to the law for paying for socks at the wrong register. Or Superior Court not splintering its gavel in negative response.
So Peter, how ’bout this for a one-phone-call temporary starters. Choice. Either I pay $124 and any ST Board Member pays $1,240 for a mis-tap.
Or I buy $12.40 worth of coffee for several of my favorite inspectors, while the Board makes a cautionary example out of itself by confessing they’re evaders and shaking their $124 out of a pants-pockets to buy cappucino for a judge their choice of judges.
Meantime, everybody here this morning is under Maximum Constraint to save Sound Transit and our whole region, from every nurse and welder writing in Donald Trump in 2020. And sliding scales are well-accepted long-past-practice. And after 10 shots of espresso…how long ’til I somebody gets me off this elevator?!
The problem is not a contract, nor state law, nor ORCA pod policy. Sound Transit has opted for a policy, as recommended by the guy in charge of its fare enforcement, that happens to fail basic business ethics. The guy in charge of fare enforcement could propose a cease-and-desist order for wrongful warnings and fines for passengers in possession of clear-and-obvious proof of payment tomorrow, and have it approved by the Board within two months. If they don’t want to make this de-escalation permanent, at least have it in place until the tap-off tone is made unique.
Better fare enforcement is also a matter of staff retention. If FEOs are being asked to do stuff they know is a violation of state or local law, or clearly unethical (such as warning and fining passengers who possess clear-and-obvious proof of payment), the only ones who will stick around are the ones willing to do illegal and unethical stuff.
Drat. I was hoping the CEO would know more about fare enforcement than the guy in charge of fare enforcement. No such luck.
Oh, he knows about fare enforcement. He chose to ignore the question about criminal prosecution. ST likes to pretend they don’t have the issues Metro does, but it is simply not true.
ST has issues that Metro does not.
Brent, my remark about contract language come from thirty second conversation with someone I know is in-the-know about why a Pass can’t be a Pass.
“Because change you want would cost so much money to reprogram the computers you don’t want to think about it.”
Be good if I made a mistake what he meant, because it would focus the blame so accurately that when it destroys our evil instruments, we’ll have to turn the work over to a crotchety old guy in England.
Who’d give the work to his poor but still loyal accountant who sits all day on a tall stool wearing sleeve protectors doing the books with a goose feather. Good time of year for it, what?
Could use a hint on actual chain of command that presented “Paid Doesn’t Mean Proven” to the Board. Because If we’re talking about first-line chief of Fare Enforcement operating on his own, I doubt he’d write a rule that’d make his own troops’ work so much harder.
The paper All-Day pass I always buy before day’s first boarding, inspector can leave his recorder holstered.”May I see your pass? Thank You.” End of story. Why complicate that unless….WARNED?
Have been told by other sources, including Mr. Rogoff, that desperate punitive attention over “Tap Off” owes to assuring that each of seven agencies (sounds spooky, doesn’t it?) gets its last copper electron of revenue. Hardly a policeman’s own area of knowledge.
Come on, after Dorothy dissolved the witch, didn’t all the winged monkeys thank her? Word to ST’s new deputy CEO, you’ll have a loyal constituency that can save aisle space by hanging on their tails from the overhead bar while they inspect ORCA cards.
Careful though. If they’ve been turned into vervets, they’ll screech your eardrums off for a warning, and bite two little holes in your ear second offense. Ear-rings will cost you one banana per punch.
But one piece of info I can really use, Brent. Since my own Close Encounter of the Worst Kind nine years ago, I’ve been looking for innocent people who’ve actually had to pay the fine. Nothing public from Transit Riders’ Union.
Even asked several times in these pages. Really sneaky-suspicious here: Somehow the system’s records can’t differentiate an unfortunate mistake from a real cheat. Maybe that’s what it takes to know one.
So my guess is that fines are paid by two groups: those too poor to fight, and those so rich they always leave a $124 tip for all their servants to warn the honest but erring.
So to paraphrase that guy who builds a ball park in the cornfield so all the unfortunate dead baseball heroes can come play….
“If I post it, will they comment?”
Your source is passing the buck. So Sound Transit wants to grab every penny it can get that is going to Metro, etc. Not a good enough excuse to engage in theft from passengers.
If they are worried about fare revenue, flatten the light rail fare, and the revenue should actually go up. Simple. Ethical. Easier for the rider. That extra fare revenue should make whatever extra they are eking out from passengers through unethical fare enforcement look like a rounding error.
If they are referring to the tap-off tone reprogramming, then fine. Don’t worry about fixing the tone. But then don’t warn or fine people who mess up on the tapping. Take your medicine for it being ST’s fault (not the passengers’ fault) that they didn’t think this process through. They aren’t making money in fine collection. They’ll keep more passengers just by being ethical to the passengers, and that still means more fare revenue in the long run.
Their unethical fare enforcement regime is costing ST money from me every month. I was buying a $117 monthly pass, as mis-tap insurance. Since ST refused to honor my clear-and-obvious proof of payment, and STPD did not bother to respond to my appeal, I just dropped my pass to $99. I’m sorry Metro is losing money due to ST’s unethical behavior toward passengers, but they, too, could pressure ST to cut it out.
I’ve saved up plenty now to pay the fine when it comes. Of course, I won’t pay it. I’ll go to court, and get a pay-out from ST. They should count themselves lucky if I don’t turn it into a class action, forcing them to cancel all fines and pay out to every other victim on record if they can’t produce the records of who had clear-and-obvious proof of payment and who did not.
ST is not being forced to refuse to honor clear-and-obvious proof of payment. ST is simply choosing to do so, and having their contractor rotate out fare enforcement officers unwilling to carry out illegal orders, and then new hires take awhile to figure out their orders are illegal.
Even with the old FEO fare readers, they could tell who has a pass, and what recent transactions happened with the card. The FEO who accused me of attempted theft, admitted as much. He saw my pass on record. He saw my taps, including which happened in the past two hours. But he still accused me of attempted theft. So, information access isn’t the issue. The issues are illegal orders to the FEOs, and perpetual lack of understanding from the FEOs because they are perpetually all newbies to the job. I don’t know if they have a quota, but that would be one more wrinkle to why they feel pressured to follow illegal orders.
As for actual victims forced to pay wrongful fines, how about Erica Barnett?
ST victimized the wrong person. Some day, they should see fit to pay her back for the wrongful fine, and multiply the amount of the check to her by four, as a triple-damages apology.
Nor was it a mere accident of history that multiple journalists got caught in the web of theft-by-unethical-fare-enforcement. It was a statistical inevitability with the system ST has in place.
And then there is the question of how much ST values its reputation as a reputable business. The damage ST has inflicted upon itself with the unethical fare enforcement, managing to rile up several journalists who cover their beat, probably far outweighs whatever pittance ST has collected in wrongful fines ST has managed to collect on.
When the car tabs debate flares up again, ST is going to need a good reputation for the lobby team to take to Olympia, and the help of some of the journalists who have been victimized by ST.
“Because change you want would cost so much money to reprogram the computers you don’t want to think about it.”
“Be good if I made a mistake what he meant, because it would focus the blame so accurately that when it destroys our evil instruments, we’ll have to turn the work over to a crotchety old guy in England.”
It’s the same reason they give for the DSTT displays not showing the next train arrival. “It’s a significant capital cost that wasn’t included in ST1.” It’s supposedly included in ST2 so it may be done in time for East Link.
“Of course, I won’t pay it. I’ll go to court, and get a pay-out from ST. They should count themselves lucky if I don’t turn it into a class action”
They’ll just say the pass is valid on Link only between tapin and tapout, and you didn’t follow the policy for riding the train. It’s despicable but I don’t see how you can prevail in a civil lawsuit. The proof of payment system is precarious because it depends on a smartcard functioning properly, and you can’t tell it’s current state without using a scanner, which aren’t available on the platforms or trains (except the DSTT platforms). But that doesn’t necessarily make it illegal or unethical in a legal sense.
One time I got harassed for nonpayment because the FEO’s scanner said I hadn’t tapped on or had any value on my pass at the time, just errored out, when I had done so 35 minutes before at TIBS. I got into it with them, them insisting that it was their scanners that determined whether a pass was valid, me responding that their scanners should be able to read what the station tap machines did. This continued to escalate until I said we’ll get off at SODO and you’ll see the machines can read my card, and they finally dropped it and just told me I had to go get a new card or else I’d be fined next time. Then the Metro office people tried to charge me $5 for a new card even though my current one had just been deemed unusable.
Oh, Brent would win his court case, easily. What’s the threshold for demanding a jury trial in Washington State? He’d win at a jury for sure. What Sound Transit is doing is both unethical and illegal.
I’m interested in learning more about how they intent to address security. Hopefully they don’t end up just shutting down certain entrances on late nights. The tunnel already closes pretty early, they should be able to handle it. Seattle isn’t a small town anymore – grow up.
Metro wanted to chose the southwest Westlake entrance in the evening. I was one of a handful who objected because it’s the closest entrance to the eastbound Pike Street buses, which are already an excessive distance away for transfers.
The interview doesn’t make it clear what the escalator improvements are. For example, will ST add escalators to have redundancy when one inevitably fails? Will ST raise the escalator performance standard to 98 percent for busy stations that get heavy activity? How many more riders are anticipated to use these stations in the future? Should ST3 expansion funds be used beyond the $100m setaside for access in the measure? Just like with the neighborhood tunnel local funding, is it up to Seattle to instead provide extra funds for better DSTT stations? This issue needs much more probing.
+1 Agreed. Sadly I learned very little from this 2-part post about the blog’s interview with ST’s CEO.
Where were the follow-up questions? Did Mr. Rogoff have a limited window for this interview opportunity? What was the deal?
One additional question I would’ve liked to have been asked of him: So, Peter, how are the coaching sessions going?
Seriously. This wasn’t a whole lot more than a Press Release in the form of a Q&A.
“Absent these federal funds, not only could these projects be delayed, but those dollars would then need to be made up by local taxpayers.”
I know Sound Transit has a long track record of rewriting history and moving the goal posts to fit its current narrative, but give me a break Mr. Rogoff.
When Lynnwood Link was sold to voters as part of the ST2 package it wasn’t a project so highly leveraged with federal funding. As a matter of fact, the ENTIRE Sound Transit 2 finance plan assumed just $895 million in federal matching grants in total.
I know your agency has been busy scrubbing your website, Mr. Rogoff, but we have the records/documents and there’s always the wayback machine. Geesh.
Thank god there’s a grownup running ST…I’ve wondered why they seem to excel in so many areas, compared to Metro (clean stations, clean vehicles, very few riffraff disruptions, and relatively quick responses to anti-social types). Fare enforcement is good, security is good, and more of both is even better. He’s absolutely right that people will stop using even good transit if it appears unsafe because of bad behavior, and when the average, middle class person from Des Moines/Juanita/Ballard/Burien/Northgate loses confidence in having a “normal” rider experience, the system will start to decline into irrelevance. I don’t know if most of you realize how super lucky (and rare) it is that we live in a region where transit (especially Link) is used by the symphony go-er and store clerk equally, and isn’t seen only as something the very poor use. If that coexistence ceases, so will our generous view of taxation.
I know there are some very vocal naysayers on this blog about fare enforcement and security, but the vast majority usually list these in the top 3 values for transit. Rogoff’s very sane approach reflects the mainstream.
Be dismissive about valid and documented concerns about the details of fare enforcement if you will, but consider this:
If you like what fare enforcement is doing, and want more of it, we don’t really need to hire more officers. We just have to free up the existing force to get to everyone on the train. Every time an FEO stops to lecture someone who happens to have clear-and-obvious proof of payment, there is usually someone sitting in the mid-section who is able to get out the door at the next station before the FEOs can finish checking the whole train.
For each warning and citation, there is also paperwork to do. Remove the false positives, and FEOs could spend a longer portion of their day catching real fare evaders and less time writing up paperwork that includes warnings and citations that shouldn’t have been given. I don’t know what portion of catches are false positives, since ST doesn’t track false positives or even admit they exist, but if I just use Metro’s reported fare evasion rates of 1 to 3% per route vs. Link’s nearly 4%, I’d have to guess that anywhere from 20% to 75% of Link’s fare evasion catches are false positives, or come up with other controlling factors that explain the difference. Even is it is at the low end (20%), that is both unacceptable for the passenger experience and a significant waste of FEO resources.
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