Sound Transit Express

This is an open thread.

43 Replies to “News roundup: dropping”

  1. Throwing this out to the horde:. Head tax in Seattle to pay for 976 cuts) increases to bus service only to be in effect if/when 976 is in effect (no headtax if a stay is granted by lower court or struck down by state supreme court

    1. Or, god forbid, ST starts allowing concessions in their light rail stations. Pick-Quick would be perfect to kickstart that.

      Also, the state really needs to rewrite the rules to allow ST to be landlords. Currently, when ST buys property, they are required to kick out tenants and close the business/residences which sit vacant until they start construction, a gap which can be several years.

      Pick-Quick is slated to be purchased in 2022, at which time ST will likely close it, but nothing will likely happen there for a few years.

  2. To indulge in some rank speculation, how likely is it that I-976 will be struck down as unconstitutional, and how much of it?

    1. I think it is highly likely the whole thing will be thrown out. He has a terrible record (https://www.permanentdefense.org/research/failurechart/) and doesn’t care. It will fail the “one issue” test. It is likely other parts will fail as well, but that won’t matter, because it fails the other test. This has happened before but I can’t find the initiative where that happened (I’ll keep looking).

      1. OK, I found it. I-1366 was the one I was looking for. Quoting the Seattle Times (https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/tim-eymans-tax-initiative-unconstitutional-state-supreme-court-agrees/):

        Three of the justices, writing in a separate concurrence opinion, wrote they believed the initiative also violated the Constitution in another way: by essentially proposing a constitutional amendment, which can’t be done by initiative in Washington. However, once constitutionality was determined on the single-subject argument, Madsen wrote, “Because it is unnecessary to reach opponents’ additional arguments, we decline to do so.”

        I think this will fail in much the same way. The part that cuts taxes for previously issues bonds would likely be thrown out, but it won’t matter, because the whole thing will be thrown out because there is more than one subject.

      2. I-695 was also deemed unconstitutional for this reason but the main pieces were enacted by the legislature anyway. This gutted WSFerries and my mom lost her job.

      3. I’ve always been confused by the single subject test. What exactly is a “subject” in a legal sense? There have been some really complex initiatives in the past couple of years – did I-1631 and I-1639 count as the subjects “environment” and “guns” respectively? Is the “subject” of I-976 “transportation” or “vehicle taxes” or something else?

      4. There is only one sentence in the state constitution:

        No bill shall embrace more than one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title

        So, yeah, that does seem fairly vague.

        As far as this initiative, this is the title:

        This measure would repeal, reduce, or remove authority to impose certain vehicle taxes and fees; limit annual motor-vehicle-license fees to $30, except voter-approved charges; and base vehicle taxes on Kelley Blue Book value. Should this measure be enacted into law?

        This is the summary:

        This measure would repeal or remove authority to impose certain vehicle taxes and fees; limit state and local license fees to $30 for motor vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less, except charges approved by voters after the measure’s effective date; base vehicle taxes on Kelley Blue Book value; require regional transit authorities to retire bonds early where allowed; and either reduce or repeal taxes pledged to bonds depending on whether bonds are retired by 2020.

        That is a judgement call, but I think it is multiple subjects. Current car tabs (which he wants to set to $30) is one subject. Future (voter-approved) car tabs using Blue Book is another. Another is the part about bonds (which isn’t in the ballot title). If nothing else the fact that it calls for “retiring bonds early where allowed” seems quite different than car tabs.

      5. Ah, nice find, Ross B.

        I did find it peculiar when I read my ballot and noticed the Kelley Blue Book portion. I think it though some might try to argue that they both are regarding car tabs, it is pretty clear that the law has two separate intents, which could be considered subjects (first: put a cap on car tabs, second: base value of the car on Kelley Blue Book). The second is also probably not acceptable on its own because KBB is a private company. I think we have a lot to owe to the fact that Tim Eyman sloppily put this together like this!

        The next hurdle is whether the legislature will make the law themselves. This seems less like than it probably was in 1999, but still a concern. Though I could see a bargain where the legislature affirms the $30 car tabs while securing state funds for missing revenue from Sound Transit and other agencies. Though that gets really tricky with Move Seattle.

      6. “the main pieces were enacted by the legislature anyway.”

        That’s less likely this time around. In 1998 the tax-slashing movement was in its initial ascendency and nobody knew where it would peak. The legislators were scared of being swept out of office if they didn’t enact the cuts. Since then several Eyman initatives have lost, and when the legislature re-authorized MVETs in limited cases there was no political blowback. Plus people have experienced the impacts of initiative-forced transit cuts in the early 2000s, the population is significantly larger and more urban, traffic is worse, 30-mile commutes are a thing now, and both the state and cities realize they can’t solve mobility with SOVs alone. So the legislature will be sympathetic to calls to not implement it or to backfill the funding. The state may implement more modest restrictions to appease the proponents, like switching to the Kelly Blue Book value.

      7. What do car tabs above $30 pay for in the most rural, pro-976 areas? Were they voter approved, and imposed by the state or by local or county governments? That could point to what the legislature might do to adhere to the “spirit” of the initiative.

      8. One potential scenario that scares me is that the whole initiative does get thrown out, but Metro still ends up having to make big service cuts to Seattle for however long it takes for the courts to hear arguments, make rulings, and those rulings to be appealed all the way up the state Supreme Court. Even if the final ruling is favorable, bus drivers have already been laid off, and hiring and training new ones takes time. Assuming the service ramp-up happens at the same pace as 2015-2019, we wouldn’t see the 2019 level of service in Seattle again, all the way until, at least, 2024.

        Even if a judge ultimately issues a stay, whether that allows service to continue uninterrupted depends on whether or not SDOT becomes liable for refunds, should the final ruling end up going against it. If the answer to that question is yes, SDOT can still collect car tab revenues in 2020, but it would be useless because they wouldn’t be able to responsibly spend it – they would have to set it aside, in the bank, just in case, it loses the court fight, however unlikely, that may be.

        So, even if I-976 is blocked by the courts from ever taking effect, bus service may still lose and lose big (at least, for the next 5 years). Is there some legal analysis I am missing here.

      9. Fun fact: The Seattle Squeeze continues until 2021 when Northgate Link starts and whenever the waterfront rebuild is finished. Part of the reason for the extra service is to get us through the squeeze, and now that will be yanked out from under us.

      10. @asdf2 — I think that is highly unlikely. If a judge rules against the initiative, there is a 99.99% chance that it will include a stay. There is no harm with the status quo, yet there would be great harm (as you explain) if it goes into effect but is then ruled unconstitutional later. Even if a lower court rules in favor of Eyman, the state supreme court can issue a stay, while it waits appeal (by the same reasoning). This means that the only way this could be implemented is if a lower court rules in favor of Eyman and the state supreme court refuses to hear the case.

        It is possible that Eyman will win. But I am pretty sure that an agency would not be required to give refunds if there is a delay. The law goes into effect when it goes into effect.

        The only question for Seattle is what the next proposal is going to look like. This may be in the courts while they are drafting the next proposal (to put on the ballot in 2020). You could include a car tab tax, but you would have no idea what is allowed for it (e. g. whether you have to follow Kelley Blue Book). For that reason, they may just avoid a car tab tax completely, and go with something else. Personally I do like the tax on Uber/Lift you mentioned — I think it is better than a head tax, for example. But it is also possible they will simply raise the sales tax.

    2. I think it will likely get thrown out. The big question mark is what happens to our bus service during however long it takes for the lawyers to fight it out. If we have to make cuts now, the service won’t be restored overnight, even when the court ruling cones in.

      Worst case, of course, is for the courts to not only uphold it, but delay the ruling until it’s too late to get replacement funding on the November 2020 ballot.

      1. Well, its potentially a waste of money, but you can put it on the ballot and just setup the law so that the pre-existing funding stream overrides it, should it survive.

      2. My last comment addressed this. The main thing, if this is being fought in the courts, then all agencies just keep taxing like they’ve been taxing. It could delay the implementation date — and that is assuming it is upheld.

        As far as replacing funding is concerned, this is likely to happen in 2020 anyway. The tricky part is dealing with the county/city disconnect. The city is willing to pay extra for more transit, the county may not be. That problem exists outside of this issue, but questions about future car tab taxing only complicate matters.

  3. Intercity Transit information tells me that starting Monday, a new Route 1 will connect Capitol Mall on the west side of Olympia with Martin Way Park and Ride to the east. Six stops.

    Also, large new building on site at the Olympia Transit Center will house the new Greyhound station. Behind huge amount of this activity is the fact that I’m not the only person forced out of a long-time home, in my case Ballard, whose best feature was its transit system.

    But chief encouragement, I’m not going to brag about, but just let it be fact: compounding traffic jams are rendering ever larger parts of the Olympia area immobile through ever longer parts of the day.

    Not going to call the year. But if I don’t get forced out of Olympia by same forces that forced me in here, I know I’ll be able to ride Sounder out of Olympia’s Lacey station. And the 574 Express from Olympia Transit Center and the Capitol to Sea-Tac Airport for Link connections just about everywhere. As interim measures.

    Mark Dublin

      1. The landlord who for over ten years found my rent suitable sold the property to a speculator who didn’t. Quick check (all I had time for) showed me that solid majority of rental property in Seattle was in the hands of people who thought like the speculator. Luckily on first or second try, found landlord in Olympia who agreed with my first one.

        No bets on how long I’ll get to stay here. So best I can say is that present arrangement has worked for me for going on six years. Noticing that crossed fingers are hard to count on quickly.

        Mark

    1. I’m guessing a lot of talk and no action.

      Meanwhile, Talgo is working hard to prevent WSDOT from kneecapping Cascades service. They are petitioning to revise the NTSB findings, and I think they have a strong case.

      https://trn.trains.com/news/news-wire/2019/11/01-talgo-challenges-ntsb-finding-in-cascade-accident-report

      It looks like WSDOT tried to deflect some of the blame by highlighting the NTSBs flawed narrative that the railcars contributed to the injuries and fatalities. Remember how WSDOT immediately publicized that they would be removing the Talgo VI cars from service? Here we are months later, and they haven’t presented a plan of any kind to actually do this. I’m concerned that they are going to use the flawed NTSB conclusions to stick standard rolling stock on the Cascades route, resulting in slower service.

    2. California made the mistake of spending too much money on intercity rail, when transportation within the major cities was still lacking. In Washington, we should focus first and foremost on trips within the Puget Sound region. It is not the end of the world if getting to Portland involves riding a bus.

      1. Especially when riding the bus is so much cheaper and easier. I take Cascades far less than I used to since BoltBus came around. Unless you catch a great deal on train tickets (which requires planning way ahead of time) the bus is almost always going to be worth it.

      2. If traffic in the city center is a concern, you can always truncate the inner city bus to a suburban rail station with fast, frequent service to the center of town. For Portland, this doesn’t work all that well because Link isn’t fast enough and the Sounder schedule, not comprehensive enough, but truncating Vancouver service at Lynnwood TC, once Link makes it there would make a lot of sense. The same applies on the Canadian side too. My ideal Seattle->Vancouver service would be a nonstop bus from Lynnwood to Surrey, Link->SkyTrain.

      3. Maybe during peak but I’d really hate that. The Portland BoltBus stop recently moved from Chinatown to Lloyd Center which is fine but not ideal. I think it was the city that made them do it.

      4. The train is a better option for couples and families, because you get more space (the bock of 4 seats is great) and can walk the train, use the bathroom, get food, etc. I wouldn’t do Bolt Bus with my small kids. If the bus is the only option, we’d probably just drive.

        Also, as I-5 continues to become more congested, we will see bus travel times increase. It’s already really bad if you try to leave in either direction in the afternoon/evening.

        What are your thoughts on the new Bolt Bus drop point in Portland, at the sketchy park next to Lloyd Center? Not great for people trying to get to the west side of Portland. It would also add another 10mins or so on MAX if your destination is downtown Portland.

      5. Lloyd center is not the kind of truncation I was referring to when I was suggesting Lynnwood->Surrey for Seattle to Vancouver. Seattle->Lloyd Center requires essentially the same amount of driving down congested highways and congested surface streets as just unloading the passengers downtown. Once the bus crosses the Columbia River, there is no better option than to just drop people off downtown. Lloyd Center sounds more like a city shoving the bus out of the way, due to unfounded sterotypes about the bus attracting “undesirables” and the need for a clean downtown.

        But, let’s pretend we lived in a faerie land where the MAX did cross the Columbia River and served Vancouver, WA, and traveled between Vancouver and Portland in 10-15 minutes, rather than the 30+ minutes the only proposal I’ve seen would actually take. In that faerie land, having the Seattle bus drop everyone off at the Vancouver MAX station, rather than fight traffic over the Columbia River and into downtown would make for faster trips, avoid backtracing for those headed to the Portland suburbs, and reduce the number of service-hours per trip, which should, theoretically, translate into lower fares.

        Come 2024, Lynnwood->Seattle in reality will be like Vancouver->Portland in fantasy land. That’s the difference.

      6. Would metro fare be included in the bus ticket? Would people have to buy smartcards just to finish their trip to downtown? If people have to pay $3.75 extra each way and buy a city-specific smartcard, plus carry their luggage off the bus and transfer to the metro, it would go down like a lead balloon.

      7. The assumption is that people are going to end up on the local/regional transit system after getting off the bus anyway. Whether that’s riding a bus, riding Link one stop, or riding Link 10 stops – either way, you still need the farecard, and you still need to pay the fare. At worst, switching to the train a few stops further back means you have to pay an extra 25 cents. Big deal.

        What you get for this? 1) Avoiding traffic on I-5 in congested areas. 2) Avoiding the need to backtrack when not going all the way downtown. Pretty much any destination north of the ship canal, switching to Link at Lynnwood would save you a lot of time. Even middle of downtown, the ability to get off Link at Westlake, rather than go through the International District, may still save you some time. 3) Lower fares – you don’t have to pay for the crawling-in-traffic part of the long-distance bus. As to the transit fare – unless your hotel is within walking distance of the bus stop, you’re going to be paying it anyway. And, a lot of people will have passes in their home city, making the transit fare immaterial on at least one end. 4) Reliable travel times. By avoiding the congested areas, the bus will depart on time and arrive on time.

        The concern about luggage, I think, is overblown. People take luggage on Link all the time, going to and from the airport. If you can take luggage on Link when catching a plane, you can take luggage on Link when catching a bus.

        Finally, I would like to emphasize that I’m not suggesting doing this now. With only the 512, the transit between Lynnwood and downtown just isn’t good enough to make a good user experience. But, when Lynnwood has Link service, that will change. The train runs every 10 minutes, so you won’t be waiting long. Once you’re on it, travel time to downtown is about the same as a bus, and many will win back the overhead of the switch, and then some, by being able to get off at an earlier stop downtown, if not, before downtown altogether. Riding the bus to Vancouver from places such as Green Lake or Northgate now becomes something reasonable, rather than something ridiculous. Even from Bellevue or Kirkland, riding I-405 BRT to connect to the Vancouver bus in Lynnwood would save considerable time over riding a bus or train downtown, in the wrong direction, and getting on the long-distance bus there.

        The assumption that long-distance buses must go downtown is based on implicit assumptions that local and regional transit systems suck, and that the bulk of the riders will be either walking to hotels very close to the bus stop, or switching to taxis. When the transit doesn’t suck anymore, the assumption isn’t true anymore.

        Of course, another way to avoid the fighting-traffic-into-the-city problem is the long-distance train approach (e.g. Amtrak Cascades). But the operational costs of trains are much higher, and need 40% operating subsidy to compete with buses run by private companies that don’t get any subsidies. Plus, you have track that is shared with freight, limited in how many trains it can support per day, and has various stretches of tight curves and poorly-maintained sections, making train travel considerably slower than bus travel. Upgrading the Seattle->Vancouver track to make Amtrak Cascades time competitive with Link->nonstop bus->SkyTrain would cost billions, if not tens of billions. Even more if you want service that runs as many times per day as Bolt does, rather than just one morning trip and one evening trip.

        I would rather see those tens of billions of dollars go to rail *within* the urbanized regions, since those are the trips that people make every day, rather than once every few years. Make the regional rail fast and reliable on each end, and run it far enough to get past the worst of the freeway traffic snarls. To get between the end of one system and the start of the other system 100 miles down the road, we’re talking about rural, wide-open freeway, which presents a perfect, cheap solution – just ride a bus.

  4. https://www.intercitytransit.com/news/intercity-transit-launches-local-express-route-one

    And some more interesting details on Olympia’s new Route 1:

    “In addition to limited stops, the route features other design elements to keep buses moving including in lane stops and a transit only lane and traffic queue jump in downtown Olympia. Riders can also enter and exit buses using both front and rear doors. There is no fare to ride The One, eliminating that extra time it takes for passengers to find correct change or present a bus pass to the Operator. ”

    But: “Similar to the DASH, The One will also be a bike-free route, improving schedule reliability. Bicycle riders will still have frequent access on other existing routes that will continue to serve the busy corridor.”

    Still and all, quite a lot of progress.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Holy cow, that’s a nice find!

      That looks like they are trying to emulate RapidRide, with off-board payment and all door boarding. The way they do it? Make it fare free. How innovative. And I think it could be as fast as RapidRide as well.

  5. Seattle can afford and should be building sidewalks. With the amount of money thrown at other “programs,” there’s plenty of money for sidewalks, something that will actually be beneficial.

    It comes down to priorities and safe pedestrians are not a priority. Simple as that.

    1. Seattle is building sidewalks. The problem is that it is very expensive to add them. They could raise taxes, except they are limited in that respect. They could shift money from other programs, but in terms of pedestrian safety, it isn’t that great a value. If you cut money going to the police, for example, then you would have fewer traffic cops, which would increase speeding and other dangerous behavour.

    1. There’s nothing actually threatening the business, they can relocate a few blocks away and be fine. And ST is bound to cover the costs of that, so.

  6. If you look at the graphic on the cover of the 2018 text book, by Bern Grush (from Toronto) and John Niles (that’s me, from Seattle), The End of Driving: Transportation Systems and Public Policy Planning for Autonomous Vehicles (Elsevier, 2018) visible at http://endofdriving.org, you’ll see an illustration of one of its important themes: the expansion of public transit with new kinds of technology-enabled, right-sized vehicles. This long-run potential is suggested in a number of developments around the world, including Waymo’s robotaxis in Chandler, Arizona, and the efforts of Keolis and Transdev, all three examples visible via Google search. Chapter summaries from my text book are linked on the web page noted. Of further potential interest to readers of this blog is a free one-hour webinar that extends ideas in the book, to be delivered by co-author Bern Grush on Thursday November 14 at 1:30 PM Pacific Time. Title of the webinar is “7 Ways to Future-Proof Your City for Autonomous Vehicles.” Direct access to registration is https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/webinar-7-ways-to-future-proof-your-city-for-autonomous-vehicles-tickets-80102297127

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