RapidRide expansions may be delayed (image: Kris Leisten)

Last week, King County Metro General Manager Rob Gannon delivered a sobering assessment of Metro’s challenges in returning to normal service. Funding from the CARES Act has back-filled most of the revenue declines for 2020, but massive shortfalls in fare and tax revenue lie ahead after that once-off money runs out.

Between foregone fares and lowered tax revenues, Metro expects a revenue shortfall this year between $240 and $265 million. That is mostly replaced by $243 million in CARES Act money that is being disbursed through the FTA. There are strings attached to what kind of spending can be supported through CARES Act dollars, but Metro anticipates the money will be completely or very nearly completely spent down in 2020.

Beyond that, the prospects for further federal aid are uncertain, and certainly will not be sustained at the rates in recent stimulus legislation. The revenue forecast from the King County budget office is for a reduction in sales tax alone of $397 million between 2020 and 2022, though budget director Dwight Dively indicated on May 5 that he expects the actual deficit to be somewhat worse.

Current forecasts are for a recession much deeper than those in 2001 or 2008, with economic output remaining before pre-recession trends for many years (data: Congressional Budget Office & Federal Reserve. Graph by author)

Metro’s operating budget for the 2021-2022 biennium was estimated at $2.05 billion before the COVID crisis. $950 million of that was to come from sales taxes, $411 million from fares, and another $409 million from service contracts with Sound Transit and Seattle.

So a revenue shortfall of several hundreds of millions, perhaps extending beyond 2022, will mean substantial service reductions.

Unlike the last recession, it’s better offset by healthy reserves. The revenue stabilization reserve was created in 2011 to moderate swings in revenues and now stands at about $250 million, though it’s not clear how far Metro would countenance spending that down. As then Metro GM Kevin Desmond described on this blog in 2014, the revenue stabilization targets were set to allow Metro to ride out “a moderate recession lasting three to four years”. It wasn’t designed to fill shortfalls as deep or sustained as those now expected.

Metro’s robust reserves put the agency in a better position than it faced going into the last recession (table: Metro Transit Budget 2019-2020)

76 Replies to “Metro faces steep challenges in 2021”

  1. Let’s make smart reasonable transit cuts beginning this fall that allows us to ride out a prolonged period of depressed ridership. I’d retire the older vehicles in the fleet, reducing operation and maintenance costs. Delay procurement of new buses until after 2025 , should also be considered.

    1. Some amount of service cuts this fall seem inevitable, it’s just a question of what, when, and where. It’s not going to be pretty.

  2. Behind it all, let’s accept that this morning, every one of us is living through the very circumstances that from its deepest paleontology, our species is constitutionally least able to endure: Present danger that could not be farther from clear.
    I’ve watched it drive a pet monkey insane, screeching and crying and eating his tail.

    Our transit system isn’t running itself. Minute to minute, power and brakes, arrival and departure, men and women are operating our machinery and assisting our passengers at the risk of both their health and their lives. And worse, the chance of catching an infection they’ll bring home.

    But most devastating of all, the degree to which all of us must live through the worst of it alone. By official stricture and basic “feel”, our every interaction with other people is on a time limit bordering on a criminal charge.

    In a little while I’ll drive out for coffee- raining, too far to walk, with the bus I’ve always used, long canceled. Have a machine at home and barista experience, but this interaction is about my friends and whatever living I can help them earn. And for the sake of THEIR lives, very, very short.

    Anything called “Authority”, or an “Agency” little-mentioned truth comes clear: At the operations level, every decision, rule, and order is the work of a person who if they’re not sick, can swiftly get that way, or be told a loved-one has.

    From the limited world I’m seeing these days, probably the most powerful survival trait in our nature is that we’re all doing the best we can to be good to each other. Do we have buses and trains in service this morning? We do. Can the wealth we’ve accumulated over good years get the fleet out tomorrow morning? Well…at least our operators can.

    Of course it’s more than right to accurately report conditions and prospects. Like commercial flying in the days when every week, those wonderful DC 3’s were lost with all aboard in thunderstorms, survival now depends on knowledge of hardship-up-close.

    But finally, I doubt it’s either inflammatory, biased, or any surprise to point out that on many fronts, we are already well into a revolution which, as revolutions always are, is long overdue.

    So much that for years was, at heart, just barely working, now just isn’t. With the onset of geared machinery, those family tails were progressively less of a loss.

    Our move? Today’s share of the day’s work in front of us, give it our best. For which, Dan and everybody writing in today, thanks for the kickoff. And everybody operating anything, blessings on you for just being there.

    Mark Dublin

  3. Metro’s near term fare future is bleak. A skeleton service must be geared toward the low-income, who are the most dependent on public transit. But they are also a group that pays a reduced fare. So when Metro begins collecting the fare again, I think they’ll be collecting so little that it won’t be of much help.

  4. Let me volunteer one reduction that we can make right away that will save wasted operating hours and make service better.

    Run route 255 and half the frequency and send it back to downtown Seattle. There’s no traffic jams on I-5. It’s pretty pointless running the 255 and frequencies of 10-15 minutes all day long to UW, which is closed, and with Link running every 30 minutes. (Yes, Link will increase to every 20 minutes.) The route 255 buses are literally running empty. Run them half as often and send them downtown. That will save service hours and provide more useful service. Connections available downtown to Link and most all other Metro and Sound Transit service.

    1. The 255 is my bus, although I haven’t ridden it since mid-march due to the pandemic. Peeking in windows, the 255 is mostly empty right now, but so is every bus on the entire Eastside. I’m hesitant of losing the only 15 minute corridor in the area as, once it’s gone, it might be hard to get back, even when the economy improves. I used the 255 a lot before the pandemic, and the restructure would have made my life easier had I gotten to try it.

      Even if service gets reduced on the 255, I don’t like the idea of spending those hours sending it to and through downtown in the middle of a budget crisis when there isn’t much there downtown to ride to. If we have to make cuts, I would rather see it be in the form of nibbling at the margins at the span of frequent service. To keep transfer times small, Link should be prioritized for getting back up to regular service as soon as possible.

      1. I haven’t ridden it since then either, but every single 255 I have seen has been totally empty, not a single passenger. I think the frequency will be gone when the budget reality hits, so it will be 30 minute service and worse evenings. Given that we can’t afford to keep it at high frequency, let’s restore its usefulness. Worst of all worlds will be if it has low frequency and a forced transfer to get to most of the system. And what purpose does it serve to run high frequency buses with little patronage?

      2. If Metro has to reduce it to 30 minutes due to budget limitations, it won’t have money to send it downtown.

      3. It’s also not a given that because nobody is riding the 255 now, that nobody will be 6 months from now. For instance, is the UW resuming classes this fall? If so, there will almost certainly be riders.

      4. We already know that UW traffic is not much off peak and weekends. The 255 is essentially the 540 which started as a 7 day per week all day route. After years of empty buses ST progressively reduced it, dropping weekends and evenings and finally midday. There isn’t the traffic from UW to justify service off peak. And if the 255 can’t be frequent, then the transfer to downtown is a huge penalty and disincentive. A less frequent direct service is more useful and efficient. Until traffic resumes to a congested level there’s not much service hour difference in terminating downtown vs U district. The U district endpoint doesn’t make sense for 7 day per week 18 hours per day service with the reduced funding and ridership. And we have no way to know whether there will be on campus classes this year. In any event continuing to run buses that literally no one is riding is insane

      5. Light traffic on I-5 doesn’t make the downtown streets any faster. You’ve still got lights every block. Plus, the schedules have to be written conservatively, which means Metro has to assume that traffic on I-5 will back up again as people return to work and plan the schedules accordingly. Since the schedules are written in advance, Metro pays the cost of traffic delays every single trip, whether traffic is actually bad or not. If traffic is light, that means the bus driver gets a longer break, but either way, the bus driver still gets paid and the bus is tied up.

        I also haven’t seen any evidence that more people today would ride a 255 that went directly downtown in exchange for less frequency. The 545 also goes downtown, and its post-coronavirus ridership is terrible too.

        Also worth mentioning that the same number of service hours that support a 255 to the U-district every 30 minutes would support a 255 to downtown only every hour. That’s a lot to swallow.

        To fix the transfer, we need to get Link back on its original schedule, running every 10 minutes. So far, Link has gotten big service cuts while the cuts to buses have been relatively minor. The priorities should change. The 255 is far from the only bus route that depends on a quick Link connection to be able to function.

      6. The statement that the service hours would support route 255 30-minute service to U-District would only support route 255 hourly service downtown is false. In the current 255 schedule Metro allows around 55 minutes each way in travel time. Based on the Saturday reduced schedule, where they drop one bus from the rotation, the cancellation is every 2:15, so they are running 9 buses to maintain 15 minute headway. (Of course running 15 minute headway with occasional 30 minute gaps is worse for riders than running 20 minute headway would be, but hey, we can’t let common sense override labor inflexibility or creativity.)

        In the previous schedule, weekdays midday, the route 255 trips were scheduled at 1:04 inbound and 1:02 outbound to/from Totem Lake Transit Center. The time listed from Evergreen Point to 5th/Jackson is 24 minutes. In the new schedule to the time from Evergreen Point to NE Pacific and 15th Ave is 12 minutes. Both schedules need recovery time and operator rest.

        It’s nowhere close to halving the frequency to go to downtown, especially since traffic on both I-5 and in downtown is far lighter than before. I’d estimate that 30 minute headway service downtown can be provided with five coaches operating (vs. the nine currently needed for 15 minute headway). It’s a more time-efficient and useful solution than 30 minute headways with the forced transfer we have today.

      7. The statement that the service hours would support route 255 30-minute service to U-District would only support route 255 hourly service downtown is false.

        I agree. By my calculation, you could run them every 45 minutes to downtown. Here is my math:

        The part of the route that is shared takes about 40 minutes. Going to the UW takes about 10 minutes, while going to the other end of downtown takes 25. That means 50 versus 65 minutes. 50/65 = .76. That means you can only run the buses 0.76 as often. Instead of 2 times an hour (every half hour), you run it 2 *0.76 = 1.52. So, a little less than 1.5 buses an hour. 1.5 buses an hour works out to 3 buses in two hours, or every 40 minutes. Rounding up, that gets you 45 minutes.

        Is it better to have a bus running every 45 minutes to downtown, or every 30 minutes to the UW? Hard to say, really.

        One thing is clear, though — neither actually saves Metro any money. To actually save money, you need to cut service. So that is where you get the one hour idea. Running the buses every hour to downtown would save service hours. Running the buses to downtown about every 40-45 minutes would be revenue neutral, and running the buses to downtown every half hour would cost money that Metro doesn’t have.

      8. @RossB – I think your math is right. But, for the sake of clock facing schedules, 45 minutes still rounds up to one hour.

        Connections between 45-minute rounds and 30-60 routes are guarenteed awful; however you set up the schedule, you get about one well-aligned connection every few hours. That’s crap.

      9. We can give Metro significant cost savings compared to today’s 15 minute service to the U-District (15 minutes until 10pm at night, more like 8-10 minutes in the peak) by having 30 minute service downtown. If that saves 44% of the service hours instead of 50%, so be it, but it is still more useful than that we have today. And social distancing is going to be the norm for the foreseeable future since there is not an effective treatment or vaccine on the horizon in 2020.

        The 15 minute service to the U-District currently connects to 30 minute Link service, so that’s not much use, but since connections don’t seem to be time, two 30 minute services would be even worse. And once Link improves to 20 minutes, that’s weekday daytime only, not evening and weekend, and the imbalance is just as unproductive.

  5. Funding is going to be a fluid situation. Rather than set up specific actions, I think that the thing to do now is to set up a framework to define what’s important. That’s going to require balancing geography, productivity, essential versus premium service, frequency versus hours of operation for each route, and lots of other considerations. By deciding on a framework, decisions for reductions will likely be easier as inevitable public whining (or silence when it’s actually needed) emerges.

  6. One project that will help is the opening of three new Link stations in north Seattle next year! Metro has rolled out a draft restructure already. This could save some hours but not enough. Still, I expect that Metro will increasingly look to rail transfers as a service allocation strategy — especially when two lines begin running in 2023. I expect that long-distance routes through Downtown to have service reduced and they may even disappear after 2025.

    Having four-car trains every few minutes that will go from Northgate to Westlake in 14 minutes is a major service improvement for riders. When service hopefully doubles in 2023, the draw will be more powerful.

    I understand how riders are attached to some long-time routes that run all the way through Downtown Seattle — but a budget crisis combined with new frequent and faster light rail will mean that those route segments will be perceived as redundant and maybe even lightly used.

    1. Concur 100%. The opening of Northgate Link is about the only positive transit event to look forward to in the next 2 to 3 years.

      NG Link will allow ST to restore some Link frequencies, and will allow Metro to cut downtown routes in favor more cost effective transfers to rail.

    2. I think folks are conflating two different problems: decreased ridership and decreased funding. The two go together when an agency is dependent on ridership. But that is clearly not the case with Metro. Metro only gets 15% of its funding from fare revenue. If ridership is cut by a third — an enormous drop — it would lead to a 5% drop in funding. Significant, but not huge.

      In contrast, a recession hurts the agency much more. A 10% drop in sales tax is fairly common. At that point, it doesn’t matter how popular the buses are. Whatever increase in fare revenue occurs at that point is unlikely to help much at all.

      During the pandemic, we are hit with both. Ridership is down, as is tax revenue. After the pandemic, both should pick up, but it is likely the bigger problem will be tax revenue. Northgate Link will help improve the quality of the transit system, but it won’t generate additional money for Metro.

      At best it will allow for savings from truncations, but without much improvement to frequency.

      1. Ross, I think that you are correct that tax revenue hits will affect Metro transit service more. Still, when it comes time to look to save hundreds of hours of service, agencies will consider if any routes can have service reductions for any plausible reason. If the reason includes a shiny new parallel fast light rail connection (operated on another agency’s dime), there will be great temptation to cut back on the parallel bus. Those riders will have a new transit choice so a cutback will not be as impactful to those riders as it will in other places.

      2. Outside of rush hour, there won’t be a parallel bus once Link gets to Northgate. But at the same time, any cutback in feeder service will hit riders hard. For example, it sucks if the 41 runs every half hour, but it is even worse if the feeder that replaces the 41 runs every half hour.

        So, yeah, I could see some of the rush hour express buses being truncated. Maybe Community Transit will send more buses to Northgate. Metro was leaning towards running more 309s. That probably won’t happen.

        It is all up in the there. If the pandemic is still going on, service will be poor (as it is now). If the pandemic is over, then it depends in part on how comfortable Sound Transit feels in running the train often, and whether Metro can find the funding necessary to have something resembling today’s service levels.

      3. “If the reason includes a shiny new parallel fast light rail connection (operated on another agency’s dime), there will be great temptation to cut back on the parallel bus.”

        That’s the same thing as truncating routes for feeders. Metro has already said which routes it intends to truncate, at least in the first round of proposals. Link is a limited-stop service so it requires local shadows. I used to live on 56th and visited a friend’s pizza place at 80th and went to Northgate for shopping and work. Link doesn’t serve those so the 67 will have to continue. Metro prepared for this in the U-Link restructure and TBD additions by increasing the 67 to 10 minutes and adding night owl. The routes that are most redundant with Link are the peak expresses — 74 and those north of it. Those are already targeted for elimination.

        The Northgate Link restructure will be revenue neutral because there’s no additional taxes associated with them. So the only hour gained are from truncations and consolidations. Some of the consolidations already occurred in the U-Link restructure.

      4. The U-Link restructure deleted all northeast peak expresses south of 65th Street. The Northgate Link restructure proposal deletes the remaining ones except a couple going to SLU and/or Boren Ave/First Hill/Cherry Hill. There are mixed opinions on those, whether they’re justified and whether they’re fast enough over Link to be worth it. If you’re looking for additional truncations, those are ones to consider.

      5. Uh…. guys. “Revenue neutral “ is a pre-pandemic concept. Tax revenue Is going to drop by 10-30 percent and that means there will be 10-30 percent fewer bus hours on the street. Massive cuts are coming everywhere.

        What’s going to be politically easier: Dropping service hours in parts of West Seattle (that relies totally on Metro), or dropping service hours in North Seattle (where some riders will be newly able to get to Link)?

    1. Every tool to its use, Sam. Ever think how many of us are willing to pay a fortune for good transit because it’s a guarantee that our insurance will stay low and our car will last forever?

      But Al, one sound-effect I haven’t been hearing lately is whining. Only exception lost the 2016 Election by three million votes and if the lying news media had only told him about what happened to Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Jack Kennedy, would have refused the job over how mean people can be to Presidents.

      Really wish MY disgruntled employees would grunt more and whine less. We the People right now, except for expression of gratitude to people risking their own health and lives to serve us, seem to be keeping our thoughts to ourselves.

      Like Paul Simon puts it, “But tomorrow’s gonna be another working day and I’m trying to get some rest, that’s all, I’m just tryin’ to get some rest!” Tune so American right now it really should be the National Anthem.

      Mark Dublin

  7. Two obvious places to start (bit probably won’t be near enough):
    1) Adjust running times to meet the new reality of less traffic. Look for ways to run the same schedule with fewer buses.
    2) Kill the downtown Seattle streetcar and redirect the city’s portion of the money into keeping the buses running for the next couple years until tax revenues go back up. Yes, it means throwing away the money from the feds, but a white elephant that’s 70% off is still a white elephant.

    1. Different budget, asdf2. Local and tourists, the business that streetcar can create and attract will raise a lot of both tax money and commercial revenue. As well as some serious manufacturing employment.

      Among wildlife, in addition to being among the wildlife game wardens fear most because if you act stupid they’ll make sure they kill you instead of just chase you off, elephants have a wide and deep sense of experience (the memory thing is no joke).

      Memory fails ME as to who’s supplying the streetcars now in question. But the technology’s rugged and simple enough there’s no excuse for any problems.

      Resurgent post- COVID economy should be tailor-made to give Seattle a permanent plant building PCC streetcars from scratch. Permanent supply of something that’s tough, and always works could sweep the international market just by being such a total relief.

      Mark Dublin

    2. ” Local and tourists, the business that streetcar can create and attract will raise a lot of both tax money and commercial revenue. As well as some serious manufacturing employment.”

      I think we know that that argument is simply not true. Not when the number of people that ride the existing streetcar lines is such a tiny fraction of those that love or work in the area. Unless of course, people just love to look at streetcars out the window withy actually riding them.

      The fed money may a separate budget, but city money is always fungible. I know we’ve beaten this to death in other posts, but the funding crisis means it is all that more important that what transit money is left get spent on real transit that actually moves people – not toy transit that people look at out their window, but don’t actually ride.

    1. AM, can you give me some specifics about what the training that’s being demanded might look like? Has anybody reading this actually had training, Metro or otherwise, that you think would “fill the bill?”

      One thing could really be pertinent: State Police, Sheriff’s Deputies, MP’s…how many law enforcement agencies ever allow, let alone encourage, any officer to face down trouble alone? In my observation, transit driving and otherwise, response is usually four patrol-cars, let alone number of officers.

      So while you’re checking it out, AM, for starters you might want to get with your State Representative and inform them that if they want to be re-elected, they’ll get Western State its accreditation back.

      Couple years back, a judge threatened to send the hospital’s Director to jail if she didn’t violate her own priority list and admit the perpetrator the judge ordered. Could be informative to know who’s got worse chance of being sent from duty to the Emergency Room, hospital personnel or Corrections.

      Remember also, both threatened sets of employees are trained.

      Mark Dublin

      1. @Mark Dublin

        Actually, since you were a driver for Metro in the past, I would greatly appreciate (and generally do appreciate) your insight into the issue. For example, what you suggested that conflicts should not be faced alone by drivers would make a lot of sense to me. How can we achieve that?

        From what I have seen (particularly when riding the 271), drivers are given the option to stop the coach and call dispatch when an incident occurs. And in some areas (e.g. the U District) there are supervisors in mobile units available for help. I see that at Bellevue TC sometimes as well. Do either of those sound like useful things to you? What else could be done?

        Thanks a lot in advance for the advice.

  8. Unfortunately the positive feedback loop goes in both directions. Less service -> less ridership -> less service.

    As a West Seattleite this is especially terrifying. The hope of getting more than a couple additional buses to offset the bridge closure are essentially zero. All of the big companies will likely ramp up private shuttle service, which will further depress ridership. Personally our household has purchased an e-bike and has no intention on returning to riding the bus at anywhere near our previous levels, even when COVID is gone. Plus there will never be a reason for us to go to the office 5 days/week again. Spending 45 minutes each way commuting now feels like an incredible waste of time.

    1. Another loop: Less going into the office = less need for office space = less commercial property taxes = less county revenue = and so on, and so on.

      1. 1. KC Metro’s funding comes mostly from sales taxes and purchased transportation contracts. Property tax revenues are a small part of the sources pie.
        2. A couple of your “equations” above are dubious:
        a. “less need for office space = less commercial property taxes”. So how does this work? Do the existing parcels just vanish from the tax rolls? Of course not. Now anticipated new commercial developments may indeed not happen due to a lack of demand but that alone would not result in a decline in property tax revenues. There would need to be significant decreases in the valuations of said commercial properties and even then the taxing jurisdictions have the ability to adjust the levy rate* to stabilize revenues.
        b. “less commercial property taxes = less county revenue”. Maybe, but maybe not. All one can really conclude is that the “less commercial property taxes assessed, then the less county revenue from said source can be collected”. Do you happen to know what the county’s tax base mix currently is? In other words, how much is coming the residential, commercial and industrial sectors respectively? Again, even with a decline in the total real property assessment due to valuation decreases, the levy rate can offset the fiscal impact.

        Additionally, fwiw, King County has collected more property tax revenues (from the county portion) in each successive year dating back at least until 2008**. Yes, that even includes the down years during the Great Recession.

        *subject to the statutory 1% limit without a lid lift vote

        **reference the annual tax statistics reporting section for details

      2. My understanding (although I can’t seem to find data to back that up) is that property taxes tend to be more resilient than sales taxes . Even after the last recession — when property values plummeted and construction halted — the bigger hit was in the sales tax. (Again, I wish I could find a chart somewhere to confirm this. I’ve found data that suggests this, but nothing definitive).

      3. Tslgwm, even though you are in denial about what’s going on with our economy, I like your optimism. As classmates write in each other’s yearbooks, don’t ever change.

      4. “I didn’t mention Metro in my loop comment.”

        You didn’t need to as it was implied. The post of the day is about Metro service and the comment you were replying to was about bus service for West Seattle. But if it makes you feel better to tell us now that you were actually talking about unrelated, i.e. non-transit-related, King County services, knock yourself out.

      5. “Tslgwm, even though you are in denial about what’s going on with our economy,…”

        Lol. More nonsense. Sorry, Sam, I was just pointing out your faulty logic* and it seems like that must’ve hit a nerve as your reply above certainly doesn’t qualify as a rebuttal argument. It’s just another baseless assertion.

        *(P.S. That was a polite way of saying “calling out your bs”.)

      6. @RossB
        “My understanding (although I can’t seem to find data to back that up) is that property taxes tend to be more resilient than sales taxes .”

        That is very true. There is a ton of material out there (from partisan/nonpartisan think tanks, academic studies, state revenue departments, etc.) that clearly demonstrate this relationship. (I’ve provided a couple of links below which I think you’ll find worth the read. They’re not terribly long either.) There are several reasons for the phenomenon we see with regard to these two tax sources, the principal ones being:

        1. Timing. Sales tax revenues are obviously dependent upon general spending and consumption patterns, which typically decline during recessionary periods. The impact to state and local coffers is pretty immediate. Conversely, property tax collections are by their nature laggards. Real property valuations are based on the prior year’s assessment in WA state, which is actually one of the better states at keeping assessments “current”. On top of this, collections are typically conducted over an extended period. So, in other words, there are actually two types of lags at play here: the lag in the actual valuation process and the lag between property assessment and property tax payment. Regarding the latter, in WA we pay property taxes in April and October (normally) for the prior year’s June valuation notice which itself is based on the assessed value as of January 1st of that year. Thus, the end result is that even in a period of declining property values it takes a while before the system catches up and any potential drop in revenues may be felt. As I noted in my earlier comment, the county portion of King County property tax collections never declined in the economic downturn of the Great Recession and the declining property valuation environment that followed.

        2. Flexibility. This essentially comes down to the “magic” of levy rates. Excise tax rates, i.e., sales taxes, are locked in and almost always require a legislative maneuver and public vote to amend. Additionally, new sales taxes or implementation of a higher rate don’t address the underlying issue of depressed spending and consumption. (If the taxpayer/consumer isn’t spending that $10 for a beer at T-Mobile Park, it doesn’t matter if the sales tax is 10% or 10.5%.) Furthermore, some studies actually conclude that such increases further depress spending. Conversely, property tax levies are much more flexible and can be modified, subject to the statutory limits, to stabilize tax revenues for the underlying taxing jurisdiction even in a period of declining property valuations.

        There are other factors at play here as well, but I don’t want this reply to become a treatise on the subject matter. Lol. Anyway, here are the links I promised:



    2. When and if Inslee lifts the stay at home order at the end of May, I will have to leave the safety of my remote working environment and physically show up in an office as per usual – presumably until pandemic wave 2.0. As long as the low bridge is working, I hope that when the stay at home order is lifted that metro takes into consideration the reality that not everybody has the privilege of working at Amazon, Expedia, or Microsoft and actually attempts to run more buses in a timely fashion for the proles that have to be physically present at their place of employment.

      I suspect that riding will be a little depressed but not as most observers think and we will see a bit of a deluge on the buses, without sufficient social distancing.

    3. I am also concerned how commuting to downtown will happen once this is over. If the buses aren’t able to run at capacity due to social distancing, how are enough people going to be able to get to work without a considerable increase in the number of buses?

      People might theoretically bike – but that probably isn’t going to happen for more than 20% of commuters. There isn’t the parking capacity or the street capacity downtown. If the employees can’t use the transit and can’t park what are the options? Also, will business continue to buy passes in bulk if the employees can’t or won’t use them?

      It’s going to be interesting to see how this all shakes out.

      1. Once this is over, there will be no concern about social distancing. Until that happens — until this is really over — you can expect just as many people riding the bus as eating at a restaurant, or hanging out at a bar: very few.

      2. There’s a huge gap between when businesses reopen and when bus capacity caps might be lifted. The politicians and agencies haven’t said how they’ll address this. If businesses reopen, workers will be expected to show up at least some days. That will collide with the bus caps. You’d need three times more buses to serve commuters with a maximum of sixteen people per bus. We don’t have three times more buses or base spaces for them.

        Employers where only 10% of their take transit may be less sympathetic than those where 50% of workers do. They may open up based on the majority commute situation (most workers driving), and tell transit commuters to drive or lose their jobs. If they can’t drive or don’t want to get a car or bike, they’ll have to pack into the buses if the driver allows them, or wait possibly an hour or two for a sufficiently-empty bus. The politicians really need to address this.

        However, Alon Levy argues that social distancing on transit is unnecessary as long as everybody wears masks, and cites Taiwan and Germany as places where trains and buses are busy but infection rates are low. American politicians and transit agencies believe the opposite, and it’s unclear when they might lift the 16-passenger cap. As the title of Alon’s article says, Americans may be giving up on public transit.

      3. @Mike Orr

        Not disagreeing with your comment (or Alon Levy’s) but I would perhaps rephrase the following: “Americans may be giving up on public transit.” with the more general but also more pointed comment “Americans do not trust each other”.

        What I mean by this: as you said, studies suggest that as long as everyone wears masks, public transit is likely to be quite safe. The problem is, about 40% of the country will not trust this, and the other 60% therefore cannot trust the first 40% to do what they (justifiedly, IMHO) believe to be the right thing. And therefore everyone loses.

        This, to me, is the fundamental issue of today’s society, and one that I do not see any simple solution to. Everything else is a symptom of this lack of trust, or one-off, if still major, challenges like the current outbreak. But we could, as a society, navigate such challenges more easily if we could trust each other to work towards a common goal.

      4. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when we get to phase 4 of our reopening. At that point, only “high risk” individuals will have a recommendation for unspecified “physical distancing” – does that mean that bus capacity goes back to normal, presumably with a continued requirement/strong recommendation for mask wearing? I doubt we would see many standing-room-only buses but it would at least make transit available for lower-risk people.

    4. I also have an e-bike and been riding it a lot lately, as it’s replaced all of my bus trips. Fortunately, the weather has warmed up, and thank god the bike path on the 520 has finally opened, allowing me to ride it to Seattle, rather than have to depend on the 255.

      1. Just curious, as I’ve never tried to ride my leg-powered bike across the lake….how is that ride on your e-bike on 520?

      2. Reliable 10 minutes from one end of the bridge to the other, regardless of headwinds. The effort level is like riding a pedal bike at 15 mph on at ground with no wind. So, you’re still getting exercise, you just get more miles out of each unit of exercise.

        Pedal only bike takes 10-20 minutes, depending on which way the wind is blowing. I’ve also jogged across the bridge in 30 minutes. One end to the other is very close to 5k, so it’s a great way to train for a 5k or 10k run.

      3. Since traffic on our main street (semi arterial) has diminished to levels not seen since the mid 60’s I’ve seen many modes of alternate transportation that I can’t even explain. For example a skateboard with no visible motor or battery pack defying gravity on a hill that all but the road racer roadies struggle on. I’ve also seen some single wheel “gyro” devices that seem to have a lot of new variants. Ease of carry makes these an ideal last mile “toy” albeit I understand rather expensive. Being close to Mickysoft I’m waiting for a vintage Segway run :+)

    5. What Tlsgwm said. Metro is not dependent on fare revenue. So basically it isn’t a loop. It is simply: Less Funding -> less service -> less ridership

  9. However many years and light-years, a comet’s path is a loop. Number of them left in nature over the milleniums is proof they’re really tough, useful, and persistent. Also, in hands that understand them, both economical and easy to work with.

    Ask Link’s rail division, from computers to track curves, how many loops they deal with in the course of a day. Most pertinent here, though, is the loop representing the trajectory of a bus or train around a curve. Speed, weight, direction and….control.

    Question for you, Joe, is who, if anybody, is in the driver’s seat? Reason, incidentally, why Supervision would always write you up for forgetting to place your wheel block. And also loop-related: there’s a “throw” in a certain Russian martial art whose mechanism is to swing your opponent in the trajectory of an oval.

    Putting their eventual destination on the other side of the wall you just threw them through. All in the skill and the control, isn’t it? But no question that with the basic training in martial arts that should be graduation requirement nationwide let alone State, a loop would be more than just
    French for a wolf.


  10. AM, the one piece of training I think drivers most need is the skill of sensing in advance that trouble is coming, and or inconspicuously getting into action to get it dealt with it.

    Best before it’s even completely decided to be trouble. Which itself starts with the ingrained habit of being constantly aware what’s going on aboard your vehicle, and everything in sight of it.

    Always ready to quietly deliver to a police operator vehicle number, location, direction of travel, nature of the problem, number and capability-description of the people involved, and before anything else, do you see a gun? Other weapons, next sentence.

    Hope Control has long since disposed of its former habit of ordering you to put flashers on and wait for the police. Better goal is to keep driving smoothly and safely directly up to the back bumper of the police car pulled over where you requested.

    Whereupon you open all doors, stay in your seat by the radio, and until the police tell you different, keep the radio in your hand, your delivery coherent, and your eyes wide open. Police called don’t mean show’s over.

    Have had a citizen gun-owner add a beat-up Colt the size of a howitzer to a back-seat fight between seventh graders. Grip plumber’s-taped. “Bluing” knocked off every corner. Second Amendment drafter with the rank of sergeant would’ve made him bury it and clean it.

    With me sitting precisely where the plain-clothes police I’d been told were coming, would concentrate their fire when he threw down on them because they fit his Gangbanger profile. First teenage insult to final arrest, thirty seconds.

    So before anything else, however long it takes, from first day in training, every driver must become absolutely comfortable and competent in the use of the microphone.

    Should be an employment requirement. Mike-shy, you don’t drive ’til it gets better. Same with self-enamorement. That system gives you more control over your machine and everybody on it than you’d ever have with a gun. Word-choice. Tone of voice. Clarity. Don’t worry. These things can be taught and learned in a system that sees no choice about it.

    Automatic messages, not wrong, though they really should pronounce street names the way the locals do. And realize that Queen Anne Avenue is more important than Second.

    But they carry nowhere near the emphatic authority of not only a transit employee, but the one at the controls. Person matters. Train-cabs, maybe less urgent, but I’d still look at it as the only instrument of defense you’re allowed to carry. David Lawson or anybody else still driving….how’re they doing?

    Mark Dublin

    1. Thank you, Mark. I think what you describe generally makes a lot of sense. The emphasis on de-escalation and observation seems critical to transit employees, as much as (if not even more than) other service employees who also see people at both their best and their worst. My experience is more with librarians (as I have family members and close friends who have manned the library front desks for some number of decades each) and they describe similar things.

      In terms of an actionable item, I guess what would make sense, then, is to emphasize pair training between a senior driver with a proven track record of de-escalation and good people skills, and a more junior one, on some of the routes perceived as “difficult” from that perspective? Like, I know that before each shake-up drivers buddy up to learn their route – perhaps a similar process, but focused on safety and de-escalation of conflicts?

      Do you think that additional support staff along the way (either in the form of supervisory personnel, or – for lack of a better term – “customer service” who ride the routes and switch coaches every few stops, to provide assistance as needed to both passengers and drivers) could help? I am explicitly not calling them “fare inspectors” because – and I think you would agree – the emphasis would be not on checking fares but on providing assistance to all. And yes, I know this would be clearly at odds with providing additional service hours as it would cost more, but perhaps it would be a useful compromise on some routes where drivers feel there are problems.

  11. The economy won’t recover until people feel safe. That isn’t likely to happen in the United States for a long time. In many ways, transit is in the same boat as restaurants, bars, barbers, nail salons, and a lot of other businesses. Demand has dropped, and funding has dropped.

    When this over, many of those private businesses will simply be bankrupt. They couldn’t afford to pay the rent, the government didn’t step up, so they collapsed. Those that do survive will deal with a typical recession, in that it is entirely up to the U. S. government and the federal reserve as to whether they recover quickly or not. If the government operates as poorly as last time — and perpetuates a politically minded austerity program geared towards harming the Democratic president — then a recovery will take a long time. If, on the other hand, they act like responsible adults — or Democrats manage to convince them to act that way — we should recover very quickly, as should the money.

    But until then, transit will limp along, serving very few, but not costing that much. Not that different than a lot of businesses right now.

    1. Factor in one more thing, Ross. Along with some pre-existing pathogens, the virus epidemic has wiped out the ability of the American people to engage in the exact behavior national Salvation demands:

      Get together in person, not bandwidth, with each other in very large numbers, rejuvenate one demoralized party and rebuild the other one to the morals it used to have in the last Civil War, and get our politics back!

      Does change of approach mean either Liberty or Death? It’s not going to be a Decree that does it. Anybody remember the Boston Marathon Bombing? First pressure-cooker blew up spewing nails. People fell flat and started crawling toward the victims. Second bomb- all motion toward rescue-assist, none away. Probably at the World Trade Center too.

      Reason we’re holding 330 million of us together without an interior ministry police is when the hammer comes down, we do the right thing without orders. Being Transit, let’s shift our attention to the West Seattle Bridge. If not that one, very likely some other large thing in the same condition- or two- will let gravity help everything broken fall apart from a considerable height.

      Only normal that a lot else built at the same time will come apart on schedule too. Rendering it swiftly Essential for everybody who can get into motion to do it. What we die of or survive will be out of our hands, but at least it’ll be concussion, pathogens, or trauma and no longer an evil spell.

      And while transit instruction is on conflict-resolution, any spare class-time for First Aid?

      Mark Dublin

    2. There’s a large and growing contingent that would hit the bars, restaurants, gyms and nail salons tomorrow if the stay home stay closed order was lifted. Of course the consequence is an increase in Covid19 cases but we know that in large part the people getting infected will be producing herd immunity and the deaths will be the people that know they are high risk, try to self quarantine the best they can but still contract the disease. Remember, the reason given for the over reach of power was to prevent overwhelming the heath care system. A little early to unfurl the “Mission Accomplished” banner but waiting too long to end marshal law also has dire consequences. FWIW, I think Inslee is doing a good job of walking the tightrope.

      “When this over, many of those private businesses will simply be bankrupt.”
      Yep, and that’s the tough decision. How many more lives do you ruin to save those that will likely fall to this disease because they have one foot in the grave already? I know it’s not entirely that cut and dried but that’s part of what makes it a tough decision.

      The economics are fundamentally different than the Great Recession which was caused by predatory lending largely bankrolled by the Federal Government in the form of Freddy and Fannie. The Obama administrations approach was caution in the extreme. It did get us out of a really bad situation and yeah, you can lay that one on George II. We had 8 years of steady growth. Slow to be sure but steady; steady is good.

      1. There’s a large and growing contingent that would hit the bars, restaurants, gyms and nail salons tomorrow if the stay home stay closed order was lifted.

        Yeah, but it is nowhere near “normal”. Just to be clear, people have less money in their pocket; that is the nature of a recession. But there are lots and lots of people (myself included) that have money, but won’t spend it in the usual places until this is over. Going to a grocery store freaks me out — I can see every obvious danger. This is the drawback of marrying a wife and being an engineer, I suppose. I can see how the bridge could fall, while even my wife says it will probably be OK.

        The point is, I’m not alone. There are plenty of people who will avoid all unnecessary contact until this is over. The economy can not fully recover until people feel safe, and that will be a while in this country (oh, to be in a civilized nation, like New Zealand).

        But once this is over, all bets are off. There will be so much pent up desire for social contact, it might get crazy. I’m talking orgies in the street. OK, maybe not, but there will certainly be people visiting bars, riding the buses, and otherwise just getting “out” because, Good God, they can.

        That is, if they have money. Last go round, they didn’t. Yes, the Obama administration was too cautious. But more than anything, the Republicans did everything they could to make sure that the government didn’t overspend. Then, only a few years later — with the economy pretty much fully recovered with full employment — they had no qualms whatsoever in blowing a gigantic hole in the deficit to give very wealthy people a big tax cut. It was the absolute worst time to do that, but they did it anyway (and simultaneously screwed over the small-business/professional-medical class at the same time).

        There is only one responsible party in the United States. Whether they can overcome the hypocritical bullshit party will determine how we recover economically from this pandemic.

      2. I, like you haven’t been thrown on the rocks by this situation. By nature I’ve always been conservative in spending and kept a reserve. Going to a grocery store doesn’t freak me out. I wear a cloth mask because I know it helps other people (not me) but I’m getting annoyed at helping people that can’t figure out one way isles. Haven’t blown up yet but started blocking with my cart and looking down quizeatively at the big red sign on the floor when encountering wrong way shoppers.

        I’m in civil engineering and my wife works for a hospital. The concern is with our parents generation. And obviously a hospital employee has many hoops to jump through if it’s a day they need to be on campus. But word is the number of Covid beds is down to 50% of peak.

        As FDR said, “We have nothing to fear except fear itself”.

      3. As FDR said, “We have nothing to fear except fear itself”.

        If you are standing in the river bed surrounded by crocodiles, I don’t think it is fear itself you should be concerned about. It is the damn crocodiles.

        The point being, the pandemic is still going on. People are being more responsible than they were, but there is still a high risk that lots more people will die, and yes, I’m afraid of that. The odds that I, as an individual will die is low, but that doesn’t matter. I don’t want to see lots of other people die, nor do I want to be one of the unlucky ones. This is not an irrational fear, or a negative economic cycle (which is what FDR was referring to) but a sensible, rational approach to a pandemic.

        Keep in mind that Sweden had no lock down. Yet the economy there is as bad as the rest of Europe. Open everything up and we will have that. A depression, but with the ability to get your hair cut. The economy won’t recover until the pandemic is over (locally or globally).

        Even then, it may take a while, depending on the actions taken by the federal government (now and then). The government needs to step in, and keep small businesses from failing, even if all the workers are on unemployment. After the pandemic, the government needs to get money into the hands of the people, so the economy can recover. That will determine the recovery — but there will be no recovery without an end to the pandemic.

    3. This is a strange recession. I can only imagine it will be a strange recovery. Cities will be shut down for a while based on current criteria while rural areas come back relatively strongly, albeit not back to prior levels.

      King County is unlikely to exit Phase 1 for a long, long time. My rough math says the 14-day new case total has to be under ~225 to proceed to Phase 2 for King County. We had 53 new cases just yesterday, which is more than 3x the max rate to proceed.

      Even in Phase 4, social distancing must be maintained, which prevents transit (and society) functioning as before.

      1. I’m not sure it’ll be this bad. Some of this is increased testing, and I’m hoping that realization drives the governor to use or at least consider positive test ratios, which have been steadily declining and are in the 2-5% range, down from around 14% at least for the UW Virology lab. The last few days have been around 35-40 new cases/day, which isn’t that far from the 22/day that we need to be at anyways.

        As for distancing, I don’t know that phase 4 actually has requirements beyond high-risk populations. I think mask-wearing counts as “distancing” so maybe that’s all we’ll be left with on transit.

  12. AM, my hat is off in deepest respect for the courage and fortitude of your family members whose profession in my school days personified order unquestioned.

    Considering the COVID-dwarfing mentality now on the loose, survival of knowledge itself depends on the assembly and training of a cadre of women- sexist , maybe, but I just heard God herself say DO-IT!- that through sheer source of concentrated concentration, able to fry a hate-website and its every server from all the way across the room with a single glare of their glasses.

    Definite recommendation: Posture that would make a ramrod look like a garter-snake. And most important: Ability to deliver “SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” with a report that’d blow out the chip on that once-in-a-lifetime-investment bargain scam all the way back to Nigeria.

    For passenger-handling personnel, though, I think our answer already has a still valuable place in transit history. I would really like to have somebody thin with glasses and a pencil behind his ear, who can balance a sheet on a razor-edged needle to give me this calculation:

    With ALL costs considered, did transit ever recover from its disastrous decision to load conductors’ work onto drivers? Because for exactly the tenor of authority jointly demanded by fare collection, information, and respect for rules whose very presence enforced itself….

    It wasn’t fear of being whacked by one of those regulation chain-linked watches that did the convincing. What the conductor said, went, and Chicago-area steam railroad ties didn’t lend themselves to walking.

    And think about it…”TheDoorsAreClosingTheDoorsAre Closing” or “BOOOOOOOOO-RORT!” Which one would get you in your seat faster so the train could depart?


    1. I will have to let my grandmother know of your thoughts on her profession. She (or other librarians) never scared me but I guess I did grow up in libraries as a result of her profession, so the sternness seemed normal to me :) And I got to see the behind-the-scenes stuff, like all the underground book repositories they had at her particular library. One of the coolest parts of my childhood, really.

      I also agree with the thoughts on conductors’ call-outs (is that the right term?) I certainly have memories of dashing onto trains at the last minute due to exactly that. Generally during childhood, on longer trips and loaded with luggage… often with the same grandmother yanking me by the arm.

      Thank you for rekindling those memories :)

  13. And by the way, AM, never meant to confine conductors to steam-rail only. Every single streetcar had one, too! Same uniform and demeanor that gave them their real power. Brass buttons too, to go with the watch.


    See? It even shows the off the key figure at work. “Second CREWMEMBER? Maybe in Toronto, mate, but Chicago knew a CONDUCTOR when it saw one! By then, the pretty green ones were all sleek PCC’s.

    But on the Clark Street Line, everybody knew how much paint-money the stockyards saved the CTA every time a car went by there. Also, you can see why it would be forty years before anybody called a streetcar “Light Rail.”

    Mark Dublin

  14. As then Metro GM Kevin Desmond described on this blog in 2014, the revenue stabilization targets were set to allow Metro to ride out “a moderate recession lasting three to four years”. It wasn’t designed to fill shortfalls as deep or sustained as those now expected.

    Is Desmond still running transit in Vancouver BC? He was an outstanding GM/CEO/Manager. You can’t plan for an unknown pandemic but Desmond put Metro Transit on solid footing. Did they not listen to his wisdom in the great white north?

    1. Yes, there was an update from Vancouver recently about their severe revenue loss during the pandemic, and Desmond is still heading it. TransLink is expected to run out of money in June, and the federal government isn’t interested in backfilling transit and I’m not sure if the province is doing anything. So the network has to be drastically reduced. Before the coronavirus it was busy opening center-lane BRT in Surrey and being pulled back and forth by cities over whether extensions in Broadway and in Surrey should be skytrain, light rail, or BRT.

  15. A glimpse into metro service , January 2021

    Proposed Route 8 schedule:
    6am-9am: Service every 30 minutes
    9am-3pm: Service every 20 minutes
    3pm-7pm: Service every 24 minutes
    7pm-10pm: Hourly service
    Route ends weekdays, approximately 10pm

    7am to 9pm: Hourly Service

    No Sunday or Holiday Service

  16. Hello, West Seattle resident here. Seattle better have plans to buy lots of bus service for the next few years. Our high bridge handled something like 20,000 transit riders and 100,000 non-transit users on a weekday. Someone better have a plan for double or triple the number of bus seats at peak or the suggestion of “take transit” is about as valid as “swim across the lake” is when the floating bridge sank. Even if people adopt bikes en masse, ten times as many bikes in and out of West Seattle would only cover about 15,000 of those trips…. so bikes can help but aren’t going to do the majority of the work here.

    1. Metro’s bus bases are full, and the next base won’t open until the mid 2020s. Seattle’s transit benefit district has money for bus service it can’t spend because of this.

    2. I guess there may be a solution in that if ridership is low during the recovery, buses that would normally be doing rush-hour service would be available for additional West Seattle service.

    3. There is no conceivable way that all of those trips are going to be replaced. We’re simply not going to leave West Seattle as often and people who have to leave West Seattle frequently and are not on an existing bus route will relocate.

      The traffic on the detour route hasn’t been that bad yet. I’m still able to drive to I-5 in under 20 minutes which is comparable to rush hour on the high bridge.

      I doubt many people will take drastic measures until the verdict is out on the future of the high bridge. If they need money they should toll the detour routes to subsidize more bus service.

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