When Sound Transit takes over the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) later this year, it will take over the DSTT’s escalators. It’s not yet clear whether Sound Transit will be responsible for making them work better.
Sound Transit has had some trouble with escalators. Dramatic system failures crippled Sound Transit’s Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium stations in recent years. Sound Transit has also managed chronic, extended escalator and elevator outages in older Link stations, to the frustration of riders with disabilities. King County Metro, which presently operates the DSTT, has also had escalator struggles.
This fall, Sound Transit announced that they terminated their original escalator maintenance contract for the escalators it currently operates, and committed to replacing the escalators it already operates at Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium by 2021.
All of this failure probably goes a long way to explain why Sound Transit is touchy about out of service escalators. It was heartening that, when we interviewed Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff a couple weeks ago, he said that the agency wanted to improve escalator performance in the DSTT:
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.
…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… 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.
In a followup, Sound Transit spokesperson Geoff Patrick said that the DSTT’s escalator performance may or may not demand improvements, pending an Sound Transit audit of current escalator systems.
Patrick insisted that Rogoff didn’t commit to making any changes—all this despite the fact Rogoff himself identified “[DSTT] escalator challenges that we hope will be rectified before we take ownership.”
So we asked Patrick: does Sound Transit think that the DSTT’s escalators work well?
Patrick declined to say whether Sound Transit considers the DSTT’s present escalator performance satisfactory. Patrick said that escalator maintenance is currently Metro’s responsibility, and they were the ones to ask about DSTT operations and improvements.
So we asked Metro—do the DSTT’s escalators work to their satisfaction?
Metro spokesperson Jeff Switzer wrote:
Since 2011, Metro has been engaged in the process of refurbishing these conveyances with the goal of extending their life and improving reliability. Escalator refurbishment was 2011-2014 and elevator refurbishment started in 2016 and we anticipate completing these projects in 2019.
The escalators are considered heavy duty and able to safely convey the volumes of customers we see on a regular basis.
However on any given day an escalator or elevator may be taken out of service and returned to service following spills or cleanups, or taken out of service for several days due to an injury and required state inspection, or taken out of service for several weeks due to broken equipment and the required time to order, install and inspect repairs.
Metro is in the process of discussing the transfer of oversight and ownership of the DSTT with Sound Transit. We will continue to [maintain the escalators] until such time as there is an agreement between the agencies to do otherwise.
In short: the escalators weren’t working, but they’re being fixed, and keeping them running is hard.
The decision of how to proceed—i.e. whether to keep plugging along with refurbishments, or replace the escalators with new ones—will be made after the systems audit Rogoff described. Switzer and Patrick both said that Sound Transit and Metro are negotiating who will pay for whatever course of action is decided on after the audit.
So, until the handover—and probably for a while after—expect the status quo.