In last week’s article on Via, I was pleasantly surprised by a projected cost per rider of $16, and early results suggesting a rate of $13. This rate is certainly not as good as the best bus routes, but competitive with some less effective ones and way better than other services like paratransit. Classifying Via as “coverage service,” I proclaimed the results “decent.”

Some commenters pointed out, rightly, that I stretched the meaning of “coverage” service. The term is usually understood to mean service to an area not dense enough to serve efficiently, for the sole purpose of providing some connectivity for those that needed it. That is not what is happening here. Indeed, most Southeast Seattle residents can walk to at least one of multiple north-south frequent transit corridors in a fairly narrow space, and at its widest point route 50 provides a connection to all 4.

However, while most everyone has a connection point into the system, there is likely unmet demand for access to Light Rail. The lack of east/west connectivity is by now a Seattle cliché. Along MLK, the 106 has theoretical 15 minute headways, though often worse. Service is excellent in the Rainier Corridor, but for the most part users there that want to get to Link face a very long ride to a poor transfer at Mt. Baker. As elsewhere in Seattle, topology sometimes cuts off otherwise obvious routes. Broadly speaking, Rainier Valley residents lack a short hop to rapid transit that is tantalizingly close.

This is not an accident: through two separate restructures since Link opened, providing access to it has not been a priority. Each time, existing riders demanding their one-seat rides downtown had their way. In the first restructure, service hours went to improving connections to and through the Central District and West Seattle, as well as the Streetcar, rather than within Southeast Seattle. And that’s fine, though it does leave an unmet demand.

Via critics are right, though, that the optimal way to provide this connectivity would likely be through fixed bus routes. Unfortunately, Metro can’t run more buses at peak times today. Even if existing routes downtown must remain at current frequencies, there are plenty of good targets for additional investment: more buses on the 50, 60, 106, and 107. Better yet, entirely new concepts to plug some of the Link access gaps (some old brainstorms here and here) are much more palatable as an add-on to the existing network than as a substitute.

When Metro’s new bus base capacity comes online, we can have an interesting discussion about Via, the Transportation Benefit District, and new and improved routes in the Southeast. But until then, Via is probably the best option in this area.

53 Replies to “Is Via Coverage Service?”

  1. Has there ever been a density study that shows different modes efficiencies and different densities. It would be very useful.

    1. Not that I know of. But in general this is operating close to the max for this type of service ( and well below routes that provide some of the same type of service in the area (like the 50 and 107, neither of which go to downtown). Therefore, this is not an area appropriate for micro-transit, but an area suited for additional bus service (which would scale a lot better, as asdf2 explains below).

  2. There is one big difference between Via and a real coverage-oriented bus service. With the bus, the total operating cost divided by the total riders might be $13, but if more people decide to ride, the total operating cost remains essentially the same, and the cost per rider will go down. Only in an extreme case – where ridership increases so much that Metro needs to run additional buses – does the total operating cost increase, but by that point, the ridership has also increased to the point where, even with the extra bus, the cost per rider would be far less than $13.

    With taxi-oriented service, however, each additional ride costs the system an additional $13. So, when word gets around and more people use it, the cost per rider can never decrease. Instead, either the total budget to subsidize the service needs to keep increasing without limit, or some sort of rules will have to be imposed to ration it.

    Potential rationing options could include any of following: 1) restricting pick ups and drop offs within 1/4 mile of regular bus service, except for those with disabilities. 2) Raising fares and limiting the transfer credit to low-income Orca Lift riders only. 3) Capping the number of subsidized rides an individual is allowed to take per week and per month. 4) Capping the number of vehicles allowed on the road at one time for each hour of service to stay within the budget.

    Each of these items involve some sort of value judgement as to who deserves the service the most. 1) favors those who don’t have alternative bus options. 2) favors those willing and able to pay the most. 3) favors those that don’t need to travel all that often. 4) favors those willing to wait the longest.

    I’m guessing, the default rationing option will probably end up being 4), although it will likely only end up being an issue during peak hours.

  3. Via is essentially a 21st century dollar van. There are large swaths of Queens that are too far from a subway to walk and the bus routes to the train are slow and circuitous. Dollar vans can get you there much faster.

    The difference is they don’t require a subsidy. But they’re a popular and necessary service for a lot of people, even in NYC.

    1. a projected cost per rider of $16, and early results suggesting a rate of $13.

      What would the Uber/Lyft out of pocket cost be for a comparable ride? Keep in mind of course that these private rideshare services currently operate at a loss.

      1. asdf2 pointed out ” there should be obvious ridematching opportunities to group together multiple pool trips with people coming off the same train. ” and another commenter noted “the driver was talking about how he prefers short trips. They get the maximum of the per/mile +per/time charge or $3 so he prefers to string together lot’s of shorter trips. Also, long trips tend to be associated with a dead-head back to the pick-up area.”

        But my question was simply, what would the cost be to use a rideshare, more or less than the $13-16 per trip by via. I guess another way to look at it that avoids Lyft/Uber being just the last mile provider. What would be cost of rideshare from home to destination vs the total subsidized cost of via+link? And what would the time comparison look like?

  4. I view Via as an ultimately unsustainable pilot. However, it’s still likely cheaper than building a large parking garage at each Link station would have been (if such a thing was added over Seattle’s objections).

    In other words, Via demonstrates what can be done instead of expensive, large parking garages at stations.

    1. If it’s cheaper than P&Rs, how is it unsustainable? It might not be scalable, but the cost is only a few million, which is a small a share of Seattle’s Transportation Benefit District, so I’d consider it sustainable.

      1. It’s only “sustainable” if only the Rainier Valley gets it, while the whole city pays for it. If you try to replicate it all over the city, the costs start to become unsustainable.

  5. “The lack of east/west connectivity is by now a Seattle cliché…. This is not an accident: through two separate restructures since Link opened, providing access to it has not been a priority. Each time, existing riders demanding their one-seat rides downtown had their way.”

    There’s your problem. I’d love a one-seat ride anywhere. You want a one-seat ride downtown? Drive your car and pay for parking. Some of us are tired of subsidizing gold service in Seattle while we get scraps.

    1. >There’s your problem. I’d love a one-seat ride anywhere. You want a one-seat ride downtown? Drive your car and pay for parking. Some of us are tired of subsidizing gold service in Seattle while we get scraps.

      Car ownership is not universal along Rainier Avenue. Your subregional pride is fine, but “you’ are not subsidizing this service. Seattle is funding it on its own because King County voters can’t be bothered to adequately fund buses.

      1. Why does southeast Seattle have all these buses contnuing slowly through downtown when northeast seattle got most of their service truncated? The transfer environment isnt great at uw. These via shuttles seem gold plated.

    2. The only Seattle “subsidy” suburbanites are paying is the service hours Metro inherited from Seattle Transit in 1979. From then until 2012, Seattle subsidized the suburbs because the 40/40/20 formula required Seattle to take the smallest proportional share in expansions and the biggest share in cuts. Since the mid 2000s there has been no countywide Metro tax measure that has passed (two have failed), so the only additional hours are those that Seattle voters and the Seattle city council have funded. (The city propped up night owl in 2014, and Prop 1 passed in 2016. Move Seattle passed too but I think it’s all capital projects.)

      1. Seattle subsidized the suburbs because the 40/40/20 formula required Seattle to take the smallest proportional share in expansions
        Mike that’s wrong and you know it. Metro expanded the tax base to include the entire County to bail out Seattle Transit that was failing and would have defaulted on pension obligations. 40/40/20 was designed to slowly bring the system into parity.

      2. I’ve heard contradictory things about whether Metro’s creation was to bail out Seattle Transit, or to bail out rural service that the private bus companies were withdrawing from, or just that the region was growing and the powers-that-be thought it needed a metro-wide transit agency. (The metro area at the time being part of King County and commutes to Boeing.) I was in seventh grade then and had no experience with transit or understanding of regional growth. So I assume the third explanation, the county just thought a metro-wide transit agency was better.

        40/40/20 was designed to gradually equalize the service level between Seattle and the other subareas as you said. However, that runs into the same kinds of problems as Via: it’s not cost-efficient and it ends up running buses in areas where people are less likely to ride them and underserving urban areas where more people would ride them . The Eastside was really lopsided in this regard. South King County has never gotten the bus service its population size and lower-income status would suggest, so there’s a marked underservice there, but there was also a marked underservice in Seattle relative to the latent demand.

        The routes everywhere were long slow milk runs and downtown peak expresses, with half-hourly service in most of Seattle and hourly service in the suburbs, so that exacerbated the problem. Just as asdf2 said about walking instead of waiting for the 50, that’s what people thought about the 15 and 48 and evening 49 (then 7).

  6. For distances less than a mile or so, the most efficient way to get people where they need to go is to just walk. Here is a random house I picked in the Rainier Valley, to serve as an example.

    The bus options are not great. You can walk to the 7 and ride it all the way downtown, or transfer to Link at Mt. Baker, but the 7 is very slow. Or, you can walk to Link (about 20 minutes), and it will take you downtown quickly. With Via, the ride to Link would theoretically be 6 minutes, but by the time you wait for it, and possibly detour to pick up another passenger, the time advantage of the shuttle over walking is all but gone. At best, the Via shuttle saves you some effort, but it doesn’t save you any time, and unlike walking, which is free, Via costs money to subsidize, and if you had to pay the full price of it, you would probably conclude it’s not worth it and just walk.

    It’s also worth noting that for the random house I chose, it’s hard to imagine any reasonable bus restructure making the commute any faster than the existing walk->Link option. The direct route to Link consists of mostly narrow residential streets, not the kind of streets you’d ever imagine Metro running a bus on. And, even if a bus did go down those streets – even with 10 minute frequency, you’d still end up with the same problem as Via – by the time you wait for it, you may as well walk.

    Walking also has the advantage that when you need to get where you’re going faster, you have the ability to pick up the pace. If OneTrainAway says you need to run the last block to avoid missing the train, then you can run the last block. With any kind of bus or shuttle, it’s going to do what it’s going to do, and if some random delay forces you to miss the train and wait for the next one, it’s just too bad.

    All that said, I do still see a Via-like service as making sense for people with physical limitations who can’t do the walk, but running up the bill providing door to door service for able-bodied people who are simply lazy, has problems. However, you slice and dice it, running shuttles of any sort to carry people for trips within walking distance – especially of the scattered variety – is very expensive.

    1. Exactly. This is not a low-density area. Some of the neighborhoods are lower density than others in the city, but most of it is well above a typical suburb. Since all pilots of similar systems* have been in the 0-3 riders per hour range, this is maxing out right where you would expect it to (at around 3 people per hour). This is about as good as this is going to get, while even existing, low frequency buses in the area (which also don’t go downtown) perform much better. This may be the only cost-effective service for some remote, low density town like Maltby, but it really isn’t a good value for inside a city.


    2. Your random house is only about 5-7 minutes (walking) from the 50 stops at Dawson & Wilson. Nevertheless, there are plenty of neighborhood in SE Seattle that are hard to serve with transit, often due to the hills.

      1. It is. But, many a transit trip, the quickest way to get where going starts with something other than walking to the closest bus stop, and this one is no exception. If you take the 50 to Link, it’s 5-7 minutes to walk to the bus, 10 minutes to ride to MLK, then 2 minutes to wait for the light to cross MLK at the end. Total: about 20 minutes, not including however long it takes to wait for a bus which runs only every half hour. Or, you can just walk 20 minutes directly to the train and be done with it. If I were making the trip, I would almost certainly walk.

        If you look at virtually everywhere else the 50 goes, it’s again almost never worth waiting for. Seward Park – by the time you walk to the #50 stop, it’s only 3/4 mile more to the park entrance – you may as well just keep walking. Going the other direction – Columbia City business district – may as well walk. SODO – the 50 is circuitious enough, you may as well just walk to Columbia City and ride Link – especially since the 50 doesn’t stop anywhere in SODO except right where the Link station is, anyway. West Seattle, the 50 offers almost no time savings over taking Link to downtown and riding the C-line (but let’s face it, for a trip that’s 15 minutes by car, 50 minutes by transit, and has ample free parking, in practice, you’re probably going to drive). In fact, just about the only destination the 50 goes where it’s reliably faster than both walking and other transit options is the VA hospital. Which, if you don’t work there or have regular appointments there, is completely useless.

        All that said, the utility of the 50 as a Link shuttle does increase as the point of origin gets further east, closer to Seward Park, so I definitely believe the 50 does deserve running. Seward Park itself, while I’ve done the 40-minute walk over there from Columbia City Station many times, it should definitely not be the only option (although it is a scenic walk with multiple staircases and views of the lake, and one I highly recommend).

        But, it illustrates one of the core weaknesses that the 50 – or any Link shuttle route, for that matter faces, in trying to attract riders. Except for the VA hospital, the 50 really isn’t useful for much besides accessing Link (a small number of people along the 50 might find it useful to reach the Columbia City business district, but most of the route would find it quicker to either walk or ride the #7 bus, depending on where they’re coming from). And, even for accessing Link, about 1/3 of the #50’s walkshed can access Link more reliably and arguably more quickly, by simply walking there.

        At the end of the day, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that, in spite of all our new 21st century technology, the most efficient way for a large percentage of the Rainier Valley population to reach Link is, and remains, simply walking.

      2. I fully agree about the utility of walking when I’m a solo traveler, but there are plenty of times when walking isn’t the best option for everyone: traveling with kids, carrying packages, foul weather, very early mornings or late at night. Bus service in the Seward Park area has been pretty limited over the decades and people who move into that neighborhood usually accept the fact that mobility will require a car. Metro has made significant improvements to the 50 since Link opened and Seward Park isn’t as car dependent as it used to be.

        One thing that surprises me about the 50 is that so few people access it at Othello Station. The transfers are much better compared to Columbia City and it runs to the same places with the same frequency.

      3. Some folks think that because they will walk or bike it, everybody can or will, and that speed/timing is the ne plus ultra of everyone’s travel patterns to the exclusion of all other factors. Yet we have miserable weather as often as not half of the year, people do have to carry things at times, or they have kids, or aren’t as young as they used to be, or…

        The comment below that since it’s faster to walk, the only real use of this shuttle would be as a “handicapped shuttle” is a perfect example of this black-and-white thought process: you can (probably) walk as fast or faster, and anybody who chooses not to is “lazy” (see above)or “handicapped” (see below) so there’s no need for a shuttle. I’ve seen it before in other comments on this board, and it shows a lack of understanding of how and why people decide to make travel decisions. Even the vaunted cyclists of this town don’t ride nearly as much in typical miserable fall/winter weather despite probably taking longer to get where they are going by using a more comfortable mode.

        I walk 20+ minutes to and from work, each way, every day, all year long, weather be damned. Probably 80% of my other trips are also walking – transit covers almost all of the rest. I love to walk and have happily roamed all around this city on foot. I’ll tell you this – I see far, far more people walking in June than in November, and far, far fewer cyclists in November as well. Clearly they are making a judgment that walking/riding in inclement weather just isn’t worth it. Why would people in this neighborhood be any different? And, once you come to the obvious conclusion that they aren’t, you see that if there’s not an alternative for them they will drive just as they always have.

        I don’t know if this shuttle is worth it; I tend to see the point about the inadequacies of the 50 and the difficulty of serving this particular neighborhood and I don’t think that based on the numbers shown here that this shuttle is actually viable. There are areas of this city that will always be difficult to serve by transit. But a “let them walk!” attitude is unlikely to get people out of their cars. They’d already be walking if so.

      4. “Fully agree about the utility of walking when I’m a solo traveler, but there are plenty of times when walking isn’t the best option for everyone: traveling with kids, carrying packages, foul weather, very early mornings or late at night.”

        Totally understand, and that’s why I agree that, for all the problems of a shuttle route, something that connects Link to Seward Park needs to exist. I’m simply pointing out that ridership is going to be inherently limited due to one of the inherent problems with short-haul shuttle routes – that a non-trivial portion of the route is within the walkshed of the Link station the route is supposed to connect to, and it is usually faster, door to door, to walk 10 minutes, 15 minutes, even 20 minutes, directly to Link, than to wait for a connecting bus.

        Yes, there are a few cases where waiting for a bus to go half a mile may make sense, but the majority of times, it doesn’t. Even if it’s cold outside, it’s usually easier to keep warm moving your body than standing at a bus stop.

      5. It looks different when you live there and ride Link five or seven days a week. Then it’s not just one 30-minute walk, it’s 10-12 hours a week, and that can get pretty annoying. You keep saying walking is a fine substitute, but you walk more than 90% of Americans are willing to, so what you think is fine is not what we can expect average people to do.

    1. Another good idea buried in the long term plan is extending the 7 wire to Rainier Beach Station.

      1. Yes, absolutely. That is a plan that was also part of the Move Seattle projects (the 7 would be converted to RapidRide+). Speaking of which, I wonder how much money it would cost to add off-board payment. Doing so would speed up the 7. That in itself is a better value, I’m guessing, but it would also save service hours during rush hour. That in turn could mean an extra bus for the 50.

        This whole notion that we can’t do anything to improve the system because until we get a new bus barn is ridiculous. Worse yet is the notion that this is a cost-effective solution for the area.

      2. Bruce and RossB, pretty sure the two agencies are attempting that connection again. it is long overdue.

        the TBD funds going to Via could be spent on transit capital or off-peak service. improving off-peak frequency would probably make it more likely that peak trips would be made on transit; the market is not nine-to-five any longer.

        Martin, Via still seems like wasteful expenditure given the opportunity cost. A risk is that it will be too popular to cancel. Will its duplication degrade the productivity of the existing network? its deviation mean that it will not attract good loads.

      3. Metro seems to like to do one restructure instead of two, and to only do it when it can roll out a major service improvement so that more people will see it as a net plus rather than a net minus. I think that’s why the 7 reroute is being delayed until Lynnwood Link or Northgate Link. At first I thought the concern was withdrawing service from Prentice Street before a restructured route could take it over, as is happening in several other restructured corridors, but both Metro’s 2025 and 2040 plans have no Prentice service at all so they’re already planning to withdraw it. So I suspect it’s waiting until it can say, “Here’s a bunch more frequency on the surrounding routes and more Link extensions to make up for it.”

    2. The shortcomings of Route 3996 are:

      – The transfers at MBS and RBS are horrible.

      – Judkins Park Station is not served even though it’s slightly less than a mile away. Extending to Judkins Park would mean only one transfer — not only to the Eastside but also Northgate and UW after 2035. Of course, no agency has attempted to explain how to turn a bus around at the Judkins Park Station.

      1. Sure. you could certainly make the argument for extending to Judkins, although I might prefer to see the hours put into increased frequency.

        In terms of the transfer environments, yes, neither is ideal. The question is, relative to what? It’s not clear to me that transferring from a bus at RBS is much worse than Columbia City or Othello.

      2. Judkins should be a great transfer. It’s faster downtown (zero stops to ID vs 3 for MB to ID), and for someone going to Bellevue, Msft, or UW, that would be ideal. Providing a better connection to East King might merit the lower frequency (or higher costs).

        For turnaround, if it went up 23rd rather than Rainier, seems like it would be straightforward to make Judkins the last stop and just use the local streets to turnaround. It would duplicate the 23rd RR for a few stops, though.

      3. An interlining with Route 1997 (the MLK segment of Route 8) to this route seems like a reasonable adjustment. That route extends to Beacon Hill in the current plan — so that connecting to Route 3996 is certainly an efficient option. That would create a SE Seattle route from Madison BRT to Rainier Beach and provide the easterly north-south route that weaves well with the Link system and the elusive bus grid.

        Then Route 1083 (Burien-South Park-Georgetown-Beacon Hill) could extend further to Judkins Park, providing an additional transfer option in that corridor. That provides on more weave in the severed grid hampered by stopping so many buse routes at Mt Baker or Beacon Hill.

        I’ve observed before that serving Judkins Park is mostly ignored except with current routes. However, the current Link service plan to split today’s routes will add a level-change transfer beyond what SE Seattle residents have today. Surely, a person with vision can see how not serving the Judkins Park station better is a wasted opportunity as well as a major hassle for riders from South Park to the CD.

  7. Another problem with east-west bus connections is the horrible transfer bus environments at each Link station. Waiting 20 minutes for Route 50 is bad enough; having to take up to another 4-5 minutes just to transfer (crossing two streets on foot and a third sitting on a bus because the stop is across MLK) adds to the inconvenience.

  8. What are Via users going to do if their ultimate destination has similar transit characteristics to Via’s Rainier Valley and Tukwila service area? In other words, Via is on one end of their trip, but not the other. Won’t they be stuck?

    “Don’t be an ass, Sam. Of course they won’t be stuck. They can walk to their final destination. Or hire a rideshare. Or take a bike with them.”

    Then why couldn’t they do this to begin with?

    1. They won’t take transit if both ends are as inconvenient as that random house asdf2 cited above. But a lot of trips don’t require that. Many people travel to downtown, the U-District, Greenlake, downtown Rednond, the airport, and the like that have a regional transfer point or frequent bus stop at the other end. If you’re going to a farmer’s market in Seattle, they’re in neighborhood centers and thus have frequent transit. So the remaining trips that are a long walk from frequent transit or any transit are other people’s houses, isolated office parks, and areas like Sammamish or your favorite Newcastle. Those trips are hard on transit, but they’re also a small percentage of trips (both because they’re difficult trips and because people doing them choose non-transit modes or give up on the trip).

    2. Yes, Sam, that is one of the big weaknesses of the system. It only gives people a ride to Link. Even compared to the relatively weak bus network this is a bad value. If you increase trips on the 50, then people from Seward Park can easily get to Columbia City, the V. A., SoDo and various parts of West Seattle. But with this service, you can get to the nearest Link Station, and that’s it. Maybe you are headed downtown, or along the line somewhere, but if you are headed to any of those other places, this does nothing for you.

    3. Sam is not talking about taking a bus/taxi to Columbia City, but taking it to some place that’s a long walk from their ultimate destination.

      1. I’m basically asking what is the person who takes Via to go, let’s say, 7 blocks, to catch a train or bus, going to do at the other end of their trip, if, let’s say again, they have 7 blocks to go, but there’s no Via or other public transit to take them there? And whatever that answer is, I’m asking why couldn’t they have done that instead of Via at the beginning of their trip?

      2. They could. That’s not the target market for Via. Via’s target market is people who would take transit if it were more convenient to get to Link. Those who wouldn’t take transit anyway even with Via are another group.

      3. Yes Mike, but both Sam and I are saying that the target market is way too small. Link simply doesn’t go to very many places. This isn’t like connecting to the New York Subway, or for that matter, to the DC Metro. This connects to a subway system that connects to around 20% of the ridership of the Metro bus system (which itself doesn’t go everywhere). It is attempting to solve a “last mile” problem, as if that problem — in this particular area — is the biggest weakness with transit in the region. It isn’t. By far the biggest weakness in our system is that trips that are not to downtown — i. e. not where Link is going — are way too difficult. Wasting our money on low ridership, very expensive boutique service instead of improving routes like the 50 (one of the few routes that actually doesn’t go downtown) is not helping things in the least.

  9. Via is only the best option because the powers that be love “modern” libertarian ideas. I can just imagine someone talking about the “disruptive” nature of this new service. They also proclaim this is the future, with Nostradamus type confidence. Taxis will eventually be automated, but they can’t imagine buses (on fixed routes) doing the same. Nor are they capable of doing the math or the research necessary to determine that the latter is obviously far more cost effective.

    In terms of ridership per hour, these services are terrible. The 107 gets 26 riders per hour during rush hour, and 21 outside of it. The 50 gets 24 and 19 respectively. Neither goes to downtown, and both can be considered in the same category as this service (loosely considered coverage). Even when you account for the different size of the vehicle, ridership per hour on these buses (which max out at 3) is terrible. These vehicles aren’t magic — they, like the buses, need to be stored. They are smaller, obviously, but they aren’t that small.

    No, the only significant savings come from good old-fashioned union busting (Charles Pratt would be proud). Pay people a pittance, provide no health care or pension, and you save a bundle. Of course taxpayers eventually pay for that, but no one is bothering to do the long term analysis. What they see is temporary savings, like when the government cuts a job training program and then finds a few years later that they spend twice as much putting people in prison. Paying people a low wage and asking the state to provide them with health care is not a bargain. In this case, it can’t even compete with buses in the same area. That is the magic of a public-private partnership. You can exploit the workers and the taxpayer by providing an inefficient service. Wonderful.

    Of course there are alternatives, even in the short run. One would be to improve service outside of rush hour (when buses are infrequent). If you are only concerned about rush hour, then pay a little extra to store the buses (just as we are paying a little extra to store these vans). Another option would be to add express overlays, or modified versions of the 50. Likewise making even small fixes to the 7 (some paint, essentially) to speed it up would free up service for the 50. Of course a big fix would be to add the Graham Street Station sooner, so that more riders could walk to the station (and Metro could add another bus route).

    1. “Via is only the best option because the powers that be love “modern” libertarian ideas. I can just imagine someone talking about the “disruptive” nature of this new service. They also proclaim this is the future, with Nostradamus type confidence. Taxis will eventually be automated, but they can’t imagine buses (on fixed routes) doing the same”

      It’s not the powers that be, it’s tekkies. It’s the San Francisco tech-libertarian mindset that started Uber as a way to solve their particular transportation problems, and assumed it would somehow scale to everybody everywhere. Right-wing libertarians have somewhat different ideas, and some of them see Via/Uber as models for the future and others don’t. Some politicians who were already anti-transit have seen subsidized app-taxis as a way to get rid of unionized transit or prevent it from spreading, but only a few have adopted subsidized Uber. In Pugetopolis there are pracitically zero politicians pushing for this. The demand comes from rideshare activists, and it’s intersecting with the long-time complaint in Rainier Valley that there are insufficient feeders to Link, insufficient east-west service, and an insufficient number of P&Rs. (Martin will point out there are private lots with empty spaces near the Rainer Valley Link stations, but people want something that’s either free or charges much less than those private lots do.) Metro has been experimenting with different models for “alternative service delivery”, meaning in corridors too low-volume for traditional bus service, and this is one of those experiments. Another is Ride 2, and another is the Snoqualmie Valley shuttle.

      1. It’s not the powers that be, it’s tekkies.

        You are saying that techies don’t have power? Seriously? In this town? Holy cow, man, this sort of thing is perfectly inline with the current thinking around here. It is practically begging for its own Ted Talk. It has just enough “newness” to appeal to those who can’t spend the time to consider the alternative, along with just enough “progressiveness” to appeal to the same audience. Who wants boring old buses, with their boring old unions, driving down the same streets, day after day. We want snazzy new cars, with “smart” systems, that will figure out “in real time” where they should be, at every moment. It is like Uber for transit. You know, Uber. The company that magically figured out a way to make taxi-cabs cheap. Ignore the fact that Uber is losing money, with no realistic plans for profitability. Or the fact that their main cost savings (other than having no interest in making money) come from employing the pizza delivery model as a means of bypassing long standing and sensible regulation. The point is they are new, they are high tech, and can never be accused of looking like a giant Ponzi scheme. Likewise this isn’t a giant give away to a private corporation, it is instead solving a problem that can’t possibly be solved with more transit. It has just enough jargon (don’t forget “last mile”) to appeal to people who know just enough to be dangerous. But the final result will be a system that is a horrible value, while simultaneously driving wages down.

      2. “You are saying that techies don’t have power? Seriously? In this town?”

        How many tekkies are in the mayor’s seat or city council or county council or ST board?

        “It has just enough “newness” to appeal to those who can’t spend the time to consider the alternative, along with just enough “progressiveness” to appeal to the same audience. Who wants boring old buses, with their boring old unions, driving down the same streets, day after day. We want snazzy new cars, with “smart” systems, that will figure out “in real time” where they should be, at every moment”

        We’re not replacing transit with on-demand taxis. Metro is expanding. Prop 1, Move Seattle, and ST3 all passed. Metro is doing a few small pilots with on-demand taxis. It hasn’t said it will replace the 50, 27, 14, and eastern 3 with them. Some cities really are getting hysterical about Uber and autonomous cars and using that as an excuse to slash transit service or not expand it. Seattle is not one of those places, fortunately.

      3. “How many tekkies are in the mayor’s seat or city council or county council or ST board?”

        C’mon, you’re better than this. How many oil company and defense contractor lobbyists hold elected positions in the federal government? They don’t need to, because they have well-funded lobbying arms. Look at what happened to the head tax. As much as I dislike Mayor Durkan, I don’t think she’d have killed it without intense pressure from the tech industry.

      4. Although now that I think of it, the Secretaries of the Interior and Defense are literally oil company and defense industry guys now.

  10. to the headline re coverage. could Via be applied in areas of the county without local service?

    1. It could. I’ve always envisioned it as good for the outer parts of Issaquah, or to supplement service between the Highlands and central Issaquah. But there’s also Sammamish and Skykomish. Other than that, well, which areas don’t have Metro service. Even Enumclaw and Duvall have some kind of all-day transit, either an hourly route or DART van. Or do you mean the outer parts of areas like the land between Newcastle and Somerset? However, you have to compare its cost to other underserved transit needs, and King County has a lot of them. The Human Transit articles linked above talk about the cost and productivity of on-demand taxis vs fixed routes: the taxis are ten times less productive.

    2. If Via’s business model is actually sustainable, then $40/hr is pretty hard to beat.

      1. It is sustainable as long as nothing crazy happens, like the workers forming a union and asking for decent wages or benefits.

  11. I’ve often wondered if a better way to do this is would to take a page from Vancouver’s Translink and have more of like community shuttle services for areas like this. i.e. circulars or short distance bus routes that connect between two arterials with the use of mini passenger buses (similar to DART or Metro’s other community shuttle routes) which are smaller, can traverse residential areas better than a traditional 40′ bus and fill a niche inbetween a traditional bus route and a DART route.

    1. I alluded to this in my other comment. But, the basic idea is that, while such a shuttle may look appealing a first, when it comes time to plan an actual trip, almost anywhere a short-distance loopy shuttle goes, it’s going to be faster to just walk there than to wait for the shuttle. That leaves the role of the shuttle as mostly a handicapped shuttle, and there just aren’t enough people who are both handicapped *and* don’t have their own car to make the shuttle reasonably productive. And, due to the topography of the area, the 50 may not be all that usable to the handicapped anyway.

      Basically, at the end of the day, there is no good option for coverage service. But, I think the least bad is option is mostly what RossB has been advocating – run the 50 more often and call it a day. But, I would also split the 50 up so that the Rainier Valley segment and West Seattle segment are separate routes to try to make it more reliable; by the time you ride the grand tours of SODO and the VA hospital parking lot, I’m not convinced it offers thru-riders enough time savings over the ride-Link-downtown-and-transfer-to-the-C-line option to be worth the impact on reliability the route has to everyone else.

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