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.