Metro: Monday morning’s commute “fairly smooth”

A dispatcher at Metro’s Transit Control Center. Credit: Peter Johnson

King County officials, including Executive Dow Constantine, were cautiously optimistic on the first day of the Squeeze.

In a press conference yesterday afternoon at Metro’s Operations Center, Constantine and Metro officials said that Monday morning’s commute had gone as well as they’d hoped, but reiterated that commuters should pad their schedules by 30 to 60 minutes if possible.

“This morning was our first true test of these commute conditions,” said Metro’s deputy manager for operations, Terry White. “As we expected—or hoped—it went fairly smoothly.”

According to White, southbound Aurora Avenue was the most extreme bottleneck. Near Denny, Highway 99 now narrows to one lane, trapping high-ridership bus routes like the E Line and 5 in a long queue.

White said that the agency was prepared to adjust operations as needed—and quickly, if need be:

“The control center is adept at adjusting and calling the audibles that make the service actually work, and become as reliable as we expect.”

Metro has arranged to place 20 coaches on standby for the duration of the Highway 99 closure. According to White, Metro used those coaches for 23 trips, mainly on the E Line and 120, and carried about 350 riders.

White said that Metro can add or move stops “fairly quickly,” but added that “how we get that information out and communicated to customers is equally important. That’s the piece where we’ve got to make sure we’ve informed our customers of where we are. It doesn’t do us any good if we move a bus and nobody’s there.”

Constantine repeatedly encouraged West Seattle commuters to take advantage of expanded Water Taxi service. Constantine said that the Water Taxi carried more than 1,300 passengers this morning, three times more people than on January 13, 2018. Constantine also said that most taxi sailings were about half full; he spent the morning at the West Seattle dock.

“It was cold, and it was dark, but I’m here to report people were upbeat,” Constantine said. “They were eager after all the months and years of talk to get on with this. There’s no doubt that commute times will have lengthened today, and people’s patience will be stretched.”

Metro officials said that systemwide bus ridership figures for the morning were not available. In a separate conversation about ridership, Metro spokesperson Jeff Switzer explained that a more detailed view of Carpocalpyse Metro ridership will only be available in retrospect. Switzer said that, given Metro’s already-strong ridership growth and the unusual circumstances of the Squeeze, making meaningful comparisons to past ridership was difficult.

White and Constantine seemed pleased with the morning’s results, but they were worried about backsliding.

“Monday, Tuesday, we anticipated that there would be a lot of folks who held back,” White said. “Going forward, we think that can flip. We’re gonna be here for some weeks. So we need to be diligent and careful that we don’t react too quickly to what we think is happening in the moment.”

Constantine was blunter.

“People plan, or they get up really early, or they work from home, and then after a couple days they don’t see things being too bad, and they all pile back in their cars,” Constantine said. “Please don’t do that.”

Chariot Shuts Down, But Eastgate Ride2 Will Continue

A Ride2 shuttle in Bellevue

On Thursday, shuttle bus operator Chariot announced that it would cease all operations by March. The company has a contract to operate King County Metro’s pilot “Ride2” microtransit service around the Eastgate Park and Ride, which hoped to shuttle suburban residents and visitors to and from the park-and-ride without relying on the existing, meandering bus routes.

Chariot, one of several startups that aimed to reinvent “mobility”, was acquired by Ford two years ago and had partnered with transit agencies in Austin, Los Angeles, New York, and its native San Francisco. They also operate private shuttles for large companies, including a small fleet in Seattle.

While the shutdown might not affect a huge number of people—about 100 daily riders requested rides in its first months—the idea of a more effective suburban transit option will nonetheless persist. Metro has contracted Hopelink, the operator of West Seattle’s Ride2, to assume operations on February 25. Eastgate riders will have to download the separate West Seattle app, which will handle all Ride2 shuttles once a new update is pushed to phones.

According to Metro, the Eastgate Ride2 currently has an average wait time of about 9 minutes and an average travel time of about 14 minutes. These figures are not expected to change with the new operator, which uses a similar trip-deployment system.

Bye, Viaduct

At 10pm tonight, the main segment of the viaduct closes forever. The Battery Street Tunnel (and the corresponding Western Ave. ramps) will remain open for another 3 weeks. It’s part civic eyesore, part scenic drive, and part important piece of transit infrastructure. Seattle will never be the same.

A KCM Rapid Ride C climbs the Alaskan Way Viaduct

The SR99 tunnel is not a replacement on any of those counts, but we won’t even get that for three weeks. In the meantime, the car capacity of downtown plummets. Thanks to a lack of leadership for several years at many levels, transit will also suffer just as we ask it to do more in this entirely foreseeable ordeal.

The general advice is to stay away, but most transit service will continue to operate. Several new options may also help at the margins. And you still want to get around, so here’s a guide to service from least to most hosed.

The West Seattle Water Taxi and its feeder routes are getting higher frequency.

Biking is unlikely to get slower, although the City’s uneven interest in your safety remains. Generalized gridlock reduces unsafe auto speeds and will therefore make many bike rides more pleasant. There are some minor adjustments to bike paths around the viaduct.

Sound Transit rail is mostly immune to congestion. Link crowding will be a problem, as the agency bought barely enough railcars to handle a normal rushhour. There will be one additional train in reserve to relieve crowding. If station access usually keeps you off the train, in effect your transit fare now counts towards your Uber/Lyft/ReachNow fare if traveling to or from most Link stations. Regrettably, this promotion does not extend to parking-limited Sounder service that has additional capacity.

Continue reading “Bye, Viaduct”

Federal government shutdown adds uncertainty to ST3 planning

Waiting for the phone to ring

Sound Transit officials are the latest group to be hurt by the ongoing federal government shutdown—the Federal Transit Authority isn’t returning their calls. As a result, the agency’s environmental review process for the West Seattle-Ballard Link line could be delayed.

The shutdown, engineered by President Donald Trump, has required Federal Transit Agency (FTA) employees to go on furlough, according to Sound Transit officials. Sound Transit can’t proceed in the environmental review process—which is supposed to start with a 30 day public comment period in February—without FTA participation.

“We hope it will be in February, but we can’t give you a specific date yet, because we have to talk to the federal government, and they won’t return our calls,” said Sound Transit project lead Cathal Ridge, adding later that FTA officials have been furloughed due to the ongoing government shutdown.

Continue reading “Federal government shutdown adds uncertainty to ST3 planning”

News Roundup: Preconceived Opinions

SounderBruce (wkimedia)

Metro’s $89.5 million, 20 year plan to expand bus bases

Downtown, Link, South Base
South Base in Tukwila by Atomic Taco on Flickr

In recent years, Metro has said two problems prevent it from delivering asked-for levels of service: insufficient staffing and limited space in bus bases. According to Metro spokesperson Jeff Switzer, Metro has caught up with staffing demand (“Now Hiring” notices on vehicles notwithstanding) and will be able to keep pace. The main challenge now is basing.

As ridership has grown in recent years, Metro has struggled to meet the level of service it’s been asked to provide. Earlier this year, for example, the City of Seattle reappropriated bus service funding to projects including year-round free transit passes for public school students, because Metro couldn’t provide all the service Seattle was paying for.

In an interview with STB, Metro’s director of capital projects, Diane Carlson, and capital projects managing supervisor, Jeff Arbuckle, explained Metro’s plan to meet the basing needs of a growing vehicle fleet through 2030. Metro also provided STB with a planning document laying out the program.

The planning document does not include project costs. However, related requests in King County Executive Dow Constantine’s proposed 2019-20 budget, from September 2018, would add up to about $89.5 million in capital projects for the overall basing plan.

Continue reading “Metro’s $89.5 million, 20 year plan to expand bus bases”

Kuderer Proposes Low-Income MVET Discount

Sen. Patty Kuderer

On Friday, Sen. Patty Kuderer (D – Clyde Hill) submitted a bill that would offer a motor vehicle excise tax (MVET, or “car tab”) market-value adjustment to low-income car owners, for the portion of their car tabs going to Sound Transit. Senate Bill 5075 would offer a discount based on the difference between the MVET valuation formula used in 1996, when ST1 included an MVET as one of its revenue sources, and the formula devised by the Legislature in 2006 that won’t take effect until all ST1 bonds are paid off.

Since the older formula values newer cars at a higher rate than the newer formula does only for cars less than 10 years old, the bill specifies that only cars less than 10 years old would qualify for the discount. “Low-income” would be defined as less than 200% of the federal poverty level, the same level used for ORCA LIFT qualification.

The discount would only be retroactive to January 1 of this year. Discounts would start being offered at the time of payment starting July 1. Those paying before then would get to claim a credit on their next MVET payment starting September 1.

Continue reading “Kuderer Proposes Low-Income MVET Discount”

How to Predict 2-Car Link Trains Coming

.@SoundTransit Light Rail Pulling Into Westlake Station

photo by Joe Kunzler / flickr

Commenter “Alex” offered the following tip for finding out when 2-car and 3-car Link trains are coming:

“Actually, if you check the vehicle identifier at the front of the train, if the number is 1 through 40, it’s a 3-car consist. 41 and above are 2-car “trippers.” Do note that once the 3-cars begin to cycle out after the weekday evening peak, these numbers no longer are clear indicators. The vehicle id is also accessible in OneBusAway.”

On weekends and during the weekday mid-day period from 9 am to 3 pm, all Link trains are 3-car consists.

Continue reading “How to Predict 2-Car Link Trains Coming”

News Roundup: Big Plans

King County Metro - Water Taxi

Seattle’s most dangerous roads

Credit: WSDOT

Good news: traffic deaths in Seattle were down significantly in 2018, according to SDOT according to the latest available data from SDOT. But we’re still far from Vision Zero.

Please note that collision data for 2018 is incomplete, as reporting is still in progress. The data in this story was released on December 19, 2018 and downloaded on December 25, 2018. The City’s internal data collection is ongoing. 

Ten people were killed in collisions this last year, down from 19 the previous year, the 2010s annual average of 19, and a decade-high 27 in 2016.

Continue reading “Seattle’s most dangerous roads”

Who’s Supposed to Fix the Escalators?

Out of service escalators at Westlake Station.
Credit: Bruce Englehardt

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.

Continue reading “Who’s Supposed to Fix the Escalators?”