King County Metro bus onboard the M/V Cathlamet
LB Bryce/Flickr

This is an open thread.

59 Replies to “News roundup: someone had to say it”

  1. Any idea how that Kirkland / Bothell pilot is going to end successfully? I think metro might have just bought some expensive paper weights that will just sit at the city center for the length of the pilot.

    If they have money leftover (and it seems they do), could they take the highest trafficked kcm route and take the money they would have spent on those vans and pay for some red paint or a queue jump?

    1. I don’t see this working out at all. Volunteer drivers do not scale. And if they’re driving around all over the greater Seattle area, the number of trips that will be available per day will be very, very tiny. The only way you’d be able to get ride at all on a service like this is if you’re the only one who knows about it.

      1. I guess if there’s less than 12 passengers you don’t need a CDL but it seems unwise to allow “vollunteer” drivers… You get what you pay for. The most expensive part of this program might be the lawsuits.

  2. Raise the gas tax. And repeal the “electric vehicle” license fee.

    As more vehicles go electric, the state will gradually stop wasting money on highway boondoggles.

    1. The gas tax is hard to cheat and easy to collect. A MVT tax is the exact opposite. The gas tax encourages fuel efficiency and indirectly addresses the issue of heavy vehicles doing the most damage to roads. I’m all for keeping and expanding the toll system, including the variable tolling which addresses traffic demand which takes advantage of our huge excess road capacity.

      The only reason I can think legislators are considering an MVT is they are getting lobbied hard (bribe?) by the companies that will contract to enforce and collect this new tax.

      The gas tax is regressive but since lower wage earners tend to have longer commutes I think the MVT would be as bad or worse. And there’s no buying a used Prius to get around it.

      1. I don’t get why collecting a road use tax is so complicated. We have something built in to every car that tells you how many miles have been driven: an odometer. Modifying the odometer is generally accepted as fraud and would prevent you from selling or trading in the vehicle. Have people report the number of miles driven since last year’s tab renewal, and to prevent “cheating” either do random audits or have the odometer checked in person every few years. This also gets around the privacy concerns as every auto shop you’ve ever been to has your odometer reading.

      2. Brandon it’s complicated because what if you drive out of state? Should WA tax your use of roads they aren’t paying for? How about private roads, farm use, or off-roading?

      3. Maybe you’ve never relied on an old car for your transportation. The odometer/speedometer often brakes. There’s also no way on an old cable operated odometer to tell if it’s been disconnected on purpose or even run backward with a drill. New cars use a computer and have battery back-up but a tax on miles traveled will create a new cottage industry to hack the computer. All you’d have to do is program a different gear ration of tire size. People did that for emissions… er, well “people” like VW. Most people just hack the ECM to improve performance.

        Color me skeptic but I see this as an attempt to put tracking devices (i.e. Good2Go) in every vehicle. As I’ve said, I support tolling and the traffic demand capability. And if you’re on a public roadway your license plates can be tracked. But the idea of having Good2Go sensors deployed everywhere seems a bit Big Brother. It’s also hugely more expensive to collect than a gas tax.

      1. So what? Electric vehicles pay high tab related fees. If they want to talk about a system only for electric cars (as a way to lower the fees) that’s fine.

        But let’s not pretend that driving an electric car is as bad as driving a gasoline powered one. They aren’t even close, especially in this state. If anything, it should be free to use electric cars, and very expensive to use gasoline cars until gasoline powered cars are rare.

      2. But let’s not pretend that driving an electric car is as bad as driving a gasoline powered one.

        Let’s look at this. The electricity isn’t in surplus; it’s not being “flared off” somewhere. When you add demand you have to consider than demand being filled by the marginal source which in the PNW happens to be old, dirty coal fired plants in Montana. Then you have to consider the battery production and the associated environmental concerns with production and disposal. To a lesser extent one might look at the marginal cost of driving. That is, if you a getting equivalent of 100mpg in cost of energy people will drive more. That means more consumption of lane use, by products like tire and brake dust, and road wear of a heavy battery powered car (Tesla Model S 4647lb vs F-150 four-wheel-drive, six-seater SuperCrew at 4,696 lbs. ). The lower cost to commute probably even drives development farther out into the exurbs.

      3. Bernie, electric cars produce almost no brake dust because they do almost all of their braking with the motor.

      4. Regenerative braking is largely offset by the heavy load of the batteries and the additional tire wear. Some people claim 150k without replacing brakes. Others need front and Rear brake pads and rotors replaced at 39,005 miles (at $1597.00). If the battery is fully charged you get no regenerative braking.

        My point is that the advantages of electric cars are offset by some major disadvantages which most people tend to dismiss without thinking about. I think the major advantage is that it eliminates point source pollution which is a big deal in crowded cities. I think that’s also why the best implementation of electric vehicles is for transit and delivery vehicles rather than private automobiles.

      5. @Bernie — The Pacific Northwest actually does have periods of excess electricity (like in 2011 — https://www.nwcouncil.org/reports/effects-increasing-surplus-energy-generating-capability-pacific-northwest). This has reduced investment in alternative energy sources (like windmills in central Washington). You are also ignoring the fact that the grid is designed to handle peak demand. A plugin car can be designed to charge when overall demand is low.

        The point being that if electricity demand rose because we transitioned to more electric cars, we could handle it with more windmills, energy efficiency and a “smarter” grid. We certainly wouldn’t build new coal plants.

        Oh, and if a home owner uses a lot of electricity to power their car, they pay more. It is not quite a tax, but it functions in much the same way.

  3. The reduced link service link leads to the bike rack press release.

    Anyone have a sense for whether Connect 2020 is the type of project that could be finished earlier than expected? I really don’t like the idea of a ~30% reduction in peak service for 10 weeks, even if all the coordination goes off without a hitch.

    Might switch to the 106 or 7 for my commute.

    1. Well, they’re doing one side then the other so we’ll get a sense of it 3-5 weeks in.

      I normally hang up my bike for the winter, not trusting drivers looking through rainy windshields in the dark. But I think I’m going to pick up a few extra lights and go back to riding until this is complete.

    2. I fear this will nuke Link ridership. I’m really curious to see how the transfers work on the center platform on day 1. Anyone who rides Link knows just how slowly those cars empty out, and it just seems like a two seas of people will be so crowded on that platform, with everyone waiting for both trains to empty out before re-boarding begins. Add some wheelchairs or motorized scooters, dogs, and such. Good lord, what a nightmare.

      1. I think it will be fine. Many will work from home or drive. On weekends people will just choose other methods of getting around during the full shut downs.

      2. I think this will create a large amount of FUD that will make the reductions more manageable, and the FUD will probably dissipate over months, but I don’t think it will have a permanent negative impact on Link perceptions. Because at the end of the day, Link is a good service all things considered. And while reduced service for a few months will certainly cause some people to hate it, it’s worth noting that both driving and competing bus routes are all slower than Link at busy times, which is like a permanent reduction in service.

        What worries me more TBH is the reduction in ridership on the 550/554 due to Link construction, because that will last for *years*, and sets up East Link to be years behind in ridership on opening day. I really think that extra bus service hours during construction should have been built into ST2 specifically as a mitigation to East Link construction.

      3. I wonder if it would have been better , though, to have cut service early to avoid twelve minute headway. Perhaps, run Trains from 6am to 8pm, shutting the system down from 8pm daily for construction. Or maybe run trains 5am to 10pm with no Sunday service for a few months for construction.

      4. No, 12 minute headways are necessary due to single tracking. To avoid single tracking, you’d need to do a complete shutdown for several weeks.

      5. I’m hoping ST will have their schedules timed so that the connecting train is already there, waiting, at Pioneer Square, so passengers switching trains won’t actually have to stand and wait on the platform. With 12 minute headways, this feels like it should be possible to arrange.

      6. Given the ~5 minute time from the crossover at the old Pine Street Stub Tunnel to Pioneer Square (best case this can be done in 4 minutes with 1:30 from entering one station to the next and minimum dwell times, but not reliably), this leaves only 2 minutes to unload the train turn the driver around and load passengers in order to get back to the crossover by the 12 minute mark for the next inbound train. The only way to have an offset that allows for an already empty train to be waiting, is for the incoming train to dwell at Pioneer Square for 10 minutes (the time it takes for the other train to leave, and a new full train to replace it.) This nearly doubles the headway to 22 minutes.

      7. The connect 2020 concept of operations does state a 12-minute headway with timed transfers for every train at Pioneer Square. I’m not saying it’s not possible, I’m just saying I think it will be rather chaotic on that center platform. I imagine a two-minute dwell is probably just enough time to get the job done. The point I was making in my original post is that you’ll have two four-car trains emptied onto the same platform before anyone starts boarding either train, and the sea of people trying to maneuver through each other has the potential to be crazy. Due to the narrowness of the doors, I just don’t see that many boardings happening before the cars have nearly completely emptied out. But just imagine the people getting off one train and trying to shove themselves onto the other before everyone on that train has gotten off: “I HAVE TO GET ON THAT TRAIN BEFORE IT LEAVES!! LET ME ON!!” The crunch of people trying to board a train might slow alightings from the same train.

        Those northbound trains in the AM and southbound trains in the PM will be packed to the gills (given the overall 25% reduction in capacity) and will probably take more than 60 seconds to empty out. Additionally, passengers on northbound trains in the AM incrementally compress stop by stop. When that pressure is released at Pioneer Square, and that whole train of people moves into the connecting train, that incremental compression will have to occur again — all at once, though. People won’t immediately get as tightly-packed as they were. I imagine we’ll see about 80-90% of transferees make it onto the connecting train just fine, and then that last 10-20% will have to wait to board until the folks already in the train pack themselves tighter. That’ll take some time, and it won’t be terribly pleasant for anyone. Add to that the propensity for people getting off at the next stop to hang by the door, and passenger congestion will slow down the whole process.

        The one potential saving grace is that the southbound train arriving at Pioneer Square in the morning won’t have nearly as many people as the northbound train, and vice versa in the afternoon. Reverse-commute loads aren’t that high, so it’s not like we’ll ever see the theoretical maximum of 1,600 people transferring at once (and it’s not like you’d ever get 200 people in one car anyway).

        I do wonder if they’ll have an operator on each end of each train (2 operators per train), because it seems rather ridiculous to have an operator wait to deboard with the rest of the crowd, make their way all the down a packed platform, then fight through a sea of newly-boarded people in the opposite-end car to get to the operator cabin. With headways doubled from normal, it seems like they’d have enough operators on hand to do this. But if they still do operator changes over the rail yard, that’d mean two stops at the shelter shack, instead of just one.

        Overall, it probably is the best lemonade that can be made, given the lemon of the situation ST has to deal with. The likelihood of Link attracting new riders in this period is slim to none, and I imagine some existing riders will find alternatives if their experience during this time is negative. Perhaps 20% or so of those who do find alternatives will stick with those alternatives even after this crunch time is over.

  4. Why the f*** did OneBusAway switch their website to this slow, klunky UI that AFAICT is strictly inferior to the old one?

    http://pugetsound.onebusaway.org/#40

    I note that the title of the new page is “OneBusAway Enterprise,” in which I believe the word “Enterprise” is being used in the software engineering sense; viz. “enterprise software,” which means “overpriced, slow, bloated, buggy garbageware.”

    1. And how!

      With Metro combining an increasingly transfer-based system with deteriorating schedule reliability, I find it hard to determine which bus to take at the start of the trip in order to arrive at the end at the necessary time. With the old OneBusAway, I could do a pretty good assessment in about a minute. It now takes 10 minutes, if I’m lucky, by which time the assessment is likely out of date.

      In addition, the kiosk at 3rd and Pine northbound, which appears to have been switched to the new OneBusAway, requires you to stand meters closer to it in order to read the now in-much-smaller-type vital data (as well as replacing some previous useful data with new useless data).

      Aaarrrrggggghhh!!!

    2. I had to update my bookmark to recenter the map on N 6th & Park in Renton. If I wanted to check the F a few blocks to the west, I can click a link on the stop there. But then the map takes me to F street in Olympia. This is not a search for the F, this is an actual link on the site. Just, no.

    3. I tagged them in a frustrated tweet. At first I was convinced I didn’t like it because I’m getting old, but I sat down to use it with someone 15 years younger than me and she agreed that it is much less usable.

  5. The new interface for the “Trip Planner” at https://tripplanner.kingcounty.gov/#/app/tripplanning
    is atrocious.

    After you enter your origin and destination, it is very clumsy to change the date and time. Most frustratingly, the time can be changed only by up and down arrows that move 15 minutes at a time and require a re-load of the page between clicks. It is so clumsy to navigate that it is de facto useless except in cases where you are planning an imminent trip for which you have no need to change the date or time.

    I tried this on both Chrome and Edge browsers, same experience on both. So it’s not a matter of browser.

    I suppose I’ll revert to Google’s Transit planner; I just always wonder if an external site always has updated information on schedules and re-routes and such.

    1. No kidding. We pay people to do this? If you want to change days it’s one day at a time. So, 14 clicks and reloads later you can see if using transit for a trip 2 weeks from now is viable. Obviously too many staff with too little to do.

      1. And suppose that for that trip 14 days later, you also need to change the time by a factor of 6 hours. When the page first loads, it will default to current date and time. So if it’s 12:30 PM December 19 and you want to plan a trip for 8:30 PM December 27, you’ll need to click 8 times to change the date, and 32 times to change the time. With a several-second delay after each click while it reloads.

        How in the world do things like this “go live” without any testing first? Who thought this was a good “improvement” to the tool?

    2. Agreed, I tried this the other day. The old planner was fine, they made it way worse. I needed to research a time that was later in the day, so having to scroll slowly to get my time was annoying. Why bother upgrading to make it less user friendly?

      1. Copy and past the link you are using. It must point to the old system which is still up and running somewhere.

    3. Got to agree, the “new” trip planner sucks big time.
      Was it made by someone who has never planned a trip?
      On this day, 12/20, try making a plan for 12/25 with connections.
      I dare you Metro.
      Who did this and why, and how many bus service hours did it cost?

  6. RE Renton Transit Center safety: I recently made a transfer here after dark. It felt very unsafe. It would seem easy to rob somebody there. The lighting seemed ineffective and there were no eyes watching the bus stops.

    I realize that the center is planned to go away. Still, I wonder what bad design elements exist here that could be avoided as we add transfer points in the future. Lighting is one thing in my list. Blank walls are another; it makes a transit center look like a prison yard.

    1. Single-use zoning means few people live there. A large garage pushes them away. Large parking lots a couple blocks away means pedestrians drive or avoid the neighborhood.

  7. The Senate is voting today on two appropriations bills to fund federal departments for FY2020, for which we are already into by almost three months. The House moved the measures on Tuesday and the upper chamber is facing a midnight deadline on Friday, Dec 20 based on the last CR. I’ve been following the THUD portion which contains the funding for the FTA’s Capital Investment Grants Program under the FAST Act.

    The THUD appropriations subcommittee’s markup earlier this year resulted in the following funding strategy:

    “CAPITAL INVESTMENT GRANTS
    Appropriation, fiscal year 2019 $2,552,687,000
    Budget request, fiscal year 2020 $1,505,190,000
    Recommended in the bill $2,301,785,760
    Bill compared with:
    Appropriation, fiscal year 2019 $-250,901,240
    Budget request, fiscal year 2020 $+796,596,760

    “COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATION
    The Committee recommends $2,301,785,760 for Capital Invest-
    ment Grants, consistent with the levels authorized in the FAST
    Act. The following table provides funding levels for activities within
    this account:

    “New Starts Projects with a current FFGA –
    OMB Request $795,290,221 Recommendation $795,290,221
    New Starts Projects without a current FFGA –
    OMB Request $0
    Recommendation $702,709,779
    Core Capacity –
    OMB Request $200,000,000
    Recommendation $300,000,000
    Small Starts –
    OMB Request $0
    Recommendation $430,768,910
    Expedited Project Delivery –
    OMB Request $0
    Recommendation $50,000,000
    Oversight (1%) –
    OMB Request $15,051,900
    Recommendation $23,016,850
    Other –
    OMB Request $494,847,879
    Recommendation $0
    Total Appropriation –
    OMB Request $1,505,190,000
    Recommendation $2,301,785,760”

    As you can see, the current administration attempted to cut over $1B from the program compared to FY2019 actual appropriations, continuing its scheme of trying to not fund the FAST Act committment by not funding any New Starts projects without an existing FFGA in place as well as any new Small Starts projects. This has been the pattern of the Trump administration.

    Now here’s where things now stand with funding the CIG Program for the remainder of the fiscal year. The FY2020 omnibus bill passed in the House on Tuesday and awaiting a Senate vote today or tomorrow contains the following spending authorization for the CIG Program:

    “TEXT OF THE HOUSE AMENDMENT TO THE SENATE AMENDMENT TO H.R. 1865”

    ….

    “CAPITAL INVESTMENT GRANTS
    For necessary expenses to carry out fixed guideway capital investment grants under section 5309 of title 49, United States Code, and section 3005(b) of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, $1,978,000,000, to remain available until September 30, 2023: Provided,
    That of the amounts made available under this heading, $1,681,300,000 shall be allocated by December 31, 2021: Provided further, That of the amounts made available under this heading, $1,458,000,000 shall be available for projects authorized under section 5309(d) of title 49,
    United States Code, $300,000,000 shall be available for projects authorized under section 5309(e) of title 49, United States Code, $100,000,000 shall be available for
    projects authorized under section 5309(h) of title 49, United States Code, and $100,000,000 shall be available for projects authorized under section 3005(b) of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act: Provided further, That the Secretary shall continue to administer the capital investment grants program in accordance with the procedural and substantive requirements of section 5309 of title 49, United States Code, and of section 3005(b) of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act: Provided further, That projects that receive a grant agreement under the Expedited Project Delivery for Capital Investment Grants Pilot Program under section 3005(b) of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act shall be deemed eligible for funding provided for projects under section 5309 of title 49, United States Code, without further evaluation or rating under such section: Provided further, That such funding shall not exceed the Federal share under section 3005(b).”

    Thus the current funding measure is about $300M less than the recommendation made in the original THUD markup. This is also the first year, IIRC, that the CIG Program was funded with an annual appropriation under $2B.

    (Sorry in advance for any formatting issues.)

  8. Based on the headline and the cover photo, I thought there was going to be mention of the inefficiency of running the 118x and 119x onto the Vashon ferry, especially seeing that there is a 5-minute period in which both routes AND the 116 all serve the same corridor (Downtown, Sodo, W Sea Bridge, Fauntleroy Way, Vashon Ferry). There’s got to be a better way to use these funds to serve riders in Fauntleroy and Vashon.

  9. I spent many, many hours volunteering for Greg Nickels. While we would probably not have Link today if Sidran won, I still feel bitter about that stupid highway tunnel.

    That the toll is so low makes me want to punch a driver in the face.

  10. The Seatac Link elevator that was overhauled in September and October has already broken down again. Why did ST have Kone do the overhaul if they were the company that built the first substandard elevator?

      1. Meanwhile the mass transit users suffer the results of the insanity that is ST doing the same thing twice and expecting different results.

    1. For Pantograph
      “Regional transit data servers continue to suffer intermittent downtime, impacting King County Metro, Pierce Transit, the Sound Transit routes they operate, Seattle Streetcar, Intercity Transit, and Washington State Ferries. This affects all third-party transit apps.
      Updated 12/19/2019, 4:01:48 PM”

  11. Some links you guys at STB may have missed:

    1) New book out in part about the current climate in Sound Transit’s Ruth Fisher Boardroom as a prism to see the present and the future of public comment: http://bit.ly/TT1stEd

    2) Washington State Ferries has a wonderful spread starting at page 34 of the latest WSDOT Grey Notebook: https://www.wsdot.wa.gov/publications/fulltext/graynotebook/gray-notebook-Sep19.pdf

    I am also deeply concerned at the age of the state ferry fleet, staring out at readers in stark relief back on page 16. We have got to start considering a Sound Transit size ballot measure just to keep WSF around. With 50% of the fleet in fair condition, 18% in poor condition and a maintenance backlog of $206.5 million, WSF has to be protected from any 976 cuts. Period. Or we are going to do some serious, irreparable damage to our marine highways.

    More in a future open thread….

    3) TransLink has a new website: https://new.translink.ca/

  12. Hopefully if a major new tax is needed to support/replace the ferries people will consider building bridges or floating tunnels (which float below the surface) to replace them.

    I have seen an analysis that shows this would actually be more cost effective, and obviously faster for travelers, while also reducing marine noise pollution.

  13. Any time I see one of these articles about supposed disparities in fare enforcement on Link, I get extremely frustrated and wonder if the authors actually ride Link or just have some hidden agenda.

    Anyone who rides Link on a regular basis knows that the fare enforcement officers check everyone on the train. If you don’t have proof of payment, they give you a warning (if it’s the first time in some time period), or they issue you a citation. There are no exceptions.

    Therefore, if black riders get more citations and warnings, it must mean that they statistically are more likely to ride the train without proof of payment than the average rider. What is ST expected to do about that? Should they toss a coin every time they encounter a fare-evading black rider and only issue a citation on heads?

    Obviously not.

    1. Indeed. Enough already.

      We could just replace the fare revenue with a sales tax bump in a regional ST4. Problem is then folks would want new rail projects regionally, not just for Seattle. #SIGH

      Or we could grade separate the Rainier Valley and put in faregates at all stations. No racial disparity or racial injustice there.

      JOE

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