The Seattle TBD funds additional service hours on Metro route 120 since 2019 (image: Zack Heistand)

In 2014, Seattle voters approved a six-year tax package for Metro transit via the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD). It included a 0.1% sales tax and a $60 vehicle license fee, and the taxes expire this December. In recent weeks, there have been hints that the expected renewal may not be on the Fall ballot. Via the Seattle Times on Friday evening comes a report confirming that regional leaders are focused on a bond measure for Harborview, with other tax measures taking a back seat. The STBD taxes may be allowed to expire or the sales tax be extended at its current rate only, roughly halving the revenues of the Seattle TBD.

Meanwhile, a meeting of regional transportation boards heard last Tuesday that Metro is preparing a 20% service reduction in response to a projected budget shortfall of $2 billion over the next decade. The worsening projections include both the expiration of STBD funding and an extended period of lower sales tax revenues countywide.

With the COVID crisis, the Harborview bond measure is viewed as more imperative than ever. It’s a $1.7 billion bond measure and requires 60% approval to pass. Other tax measures have been falling by the wayside. A planned August libraries levy was withdrawn and a contemplated countywide transit measure was cancelled before the measure had been finalized. A levy lift for rural roads may be withdrawn from the November ballot. That mostly clears the table for the Harborview measure, leaving the Seattle TBD and a fire services levy in Kirkland as the only potentially competing tax measures for voters attention in November.

Any ballot measure to extend Seattle TBD taxes must be filed by early August to appear on the November ballot. The deadline for an August measure passed on May 8. Because of I-976, a renewal of the vehicle license fee is not being considered. That removes about half the TBD revenues, but those could be made up with a sales tax increase to O.2%.

According to the Times, Seattle Council Transportation Chair Alex Pedersen thinks voters would agree to at least the 0.1% sales tax renewal, but the Council is still waiting on direction from the Mayor’s office. Before the COVID crisis, the Mayor had been committed to a Seattle TBD renewal if the County tax proposal wasn’t on the August ballot.

Even in a recession, it’s likely Seattle voters would renew the TBD taxes. The 2014 measure passed handily. An increase in the sales tax rate would complicate that a little, even though it’s roughly revenue neutral with the expired vehicle license fee. Whether the presence of a TBD tax measure on the ballot makes a Harborview measure less likely to pass is harder to assess.

The STBD funds 350,000 service hours, 8% of Metro’s service. It has contributed to 70% of Seattle households being served by transit every 10-minutes or better. STBD funds transit spot improvements and the ORCA opportunity cards for students. STBD also funded the pilot low-income fare program. Metro capacity constraints have meant most STBD-supported service has been directed into off-peak and weekend service. Evening and weekend Metro service has become much more readily usable than before, yet it has yielded only ambiguous benefits for ridership. With Metro facing peak service reductions as its own tax revenues fall, however, future STBD could replace some of the lost operational funds in peak service for Seattle in 2021.

88 Replies to “Will the Seattle TBD be renewed?”

  1. “An increase in the sales tax rate would complicate that a little, even though it’s roughly revenue neutral with the expired vehicle license fee.”

    Ouch for the households that don’t own a car though.

    I agree that any measure no matter the tax structure will likely pass. Seattle hasn’t voted against a tax increase for any reason in a long, long time.

    The main concern I see is whether the “transit is for essential workers only” message can be modified / softened before the election. Exclusive services are harder to campaign for – people like to know that they can take the bus if desired, even if they don’t very often. Parks and libraries are for all, not just those without yards or books.

    To be clear, I’m not advocating for a relaxation of the Phase 2 guidelines even though it seems like King County will be a ways behind the rest of the state. If that risks support for the TBD election so be it.

    1. Seattle voters should be able to look past the current situation as well as their own self interest to pass a transit proposal in November. It would pass easily, even with current restrictions.

  2. Wouldn’t it make sense to wait until the state Supreme Court rules on I-976 (assuming it does so before the filing deadline)? If so, they just propose the same thing as before. If not, then go with the O.2% sales tax. Either way, renewed funding for transit should win easily in Seattle.

    The county is a different story. A car tab tax might upset a lot of voters. Still, with the increased urbanization in the county, a November proposal would stand a very good chance of passing.

    1. Up to a point, but if the court doen’t rule in time for the August deadline, the city’s got to pick something and go with it. The combination of declining sales tax revenues and loss of Seattle TBD revenue would be brutal. As the pandemic has tarnished transit’s image, the margin of passage will probably be less than last time. But, I think a Seattle-only electorate has enough of a cushion that it would still pass, especially if it’s voted on in the November ballot at the same time everyone is casting their symbolic vote to oust Donald Trump.

      County-wide, I think a transit measure would be doomed to failure. In 2014, it failed by 9 points, and I haven’t seen evidence that people outside Seattle are more willing to tax themselves to fund transit than they were 6 years ago. Sure, Seattle has grown. But, suburban sprawl has also grown, and, I believe, grown faster. And I would expect pandemic to have the strongest effect of pushing people into the “no” column out in suburbia.

      1. Yeah, that is why I added that parenthetical. There should be a backup plan (all sales tax) if the court doesn’t rule in time, or if the court rules against car tab taxes.

      2. asdf2, general agreement sadly. There are too few up to the task of making suburbanites pro-transit voters, and too many transit advocates throwing shade at the suburbs & exurbs as if everyone can afford to live in Seattle City Limits.

        Especially as it may be a long time and maybe never before a vaccine before King County gets to Phase III of Governor Inslee’s reopening plan.

      3. Seattle pop grew 83,566 in the 5 years from 2014 to 2019.

        King County grew 167,557.

        So, kind of amazingly, the county’s growth has been almost exactly 50% in Seattle, 50% outside Seattle.

        But since Seattle was much less than half of King County population in 2014, that equal pop growth means Seattle has increased its share of King County population slightly, from 32.1% to 33.5%, over those 5 years.

        Obviously doesn’t tell whether this ballot measure is more or less likely to pass, since that depends most on trends in public opinion, but your comment just made me really curious exactly what the breakdown in King County growth has been, and I was surprised by what I found, so I thought I’d share.

        Source: Census population estimates program. https://www.census.gov/data/datasets/time-series/demo/popest/2010s-counties-total.html#par_textimage_739801612

      4. Interesting numbers, JTinWS. I would add that most of the increase in Seattle was in areas that are already fairly urban. Also, many of the areas that increased outside Seattle are urban (e. g. parts of Bellevue and Kirkland). Thus a majority of the increase is in areas that are likely to support more transit spending.

        That might not be enough — even in a November election — but the trend is a positive one.

      5. April v. November and a Presidential year mean turnout will be much higher; that is good for a transit measure. the key kicker is that social distancing may not have ended; the virus has its own schedule; we need testing, tracing, and a vaccine.

    2. Wouldn’t it make sense to wait until the state Supreme Court rules on I-976 (assuming it does so before the filing deadline)?

      I’m pretty sure this is what the city is doing because there is a lot of sense in waiting. But, as asdf2 points out, at some point you have to go ahead. I don’t know if it’s possible to write the ballot proposition such that the outcomes are conditional on what the Supreme Court does and writing it like that gives an additional wrinkle for opposition advertising. But I’m also pretty confident that Seattle voters will pass a renewed TBD tax. Yes, relying so heavily on sales tax sucks but we have no other options as of yet and we can’t simply say “well, we will pass nothing and let everything expire until we get progressive income and capital gains taxes.”

      The county is a different story. A car tab tax might upset a lot of voters. Still, with the increased urbanization in the county, a November proposal would stand a very good chance of passing.

      I, sadly, disagree. Once East Link opens and all-day-but-not-yet-very-frequent bus service feeds it, I think you’re spot-on but I don’t think the bulk of the county is there yet.

      Remember that the 2014 measure passed inside Seattle–twice, I might add, once at the county and a second at the city measures–because Seattle voters were initially voting to make sure we kept the service we had at the time. Then by mid-2015, sales tax revenue had come roaring back and look where we are now (well, were in February). A renewal this year would be another “keep what we have and stave off cuts” inside the city. The rest of the county has largely shied away from voting yes on transit taxes that focus on bus service because the urgency to keep (and, maybe, improve) what exists is not yet prevalent because, I think, in the view of many county voters, there’s not much “there” there.

    3. Even if I-976 is upheld, the “except voter approved changes” clause seems to suggest that new car tabs could be implemented, as long as they use Kelley Blue Book valuations. Of course, it probably means that a flat rate regardless of vehicle value could not be used.

      1. If the courts uphold that interpretation. Eyman is trying to argue that I-976 revoked state authority to use car tabs for transit or local road maintenance, so the voters wouldn’t have authorization to reenact them. It’s a strange argument because what changes could voters approve then, and if the answer is nothing, then isn’t this clause misleading? But it all depends on how the judges rule.

      2. When he was asked about this particular issue, he said voters could still use sales tax for them, implying that they couldn’t use car tabs even with another vote.

      3. It’s a strange argument because what changes could voters approve then, and if the answer is nothing, then isn’t this clause misleading?

        The stance of the proponents of the initiative is that future voter-approved levies against car tab taxes would be permitted under the initiative. This is, obviously, the most charitable interpretation of that clause. I do not have any doubts that the proponents wrote it like that so that people who did not read the entire text of the initiative, with all of its cross-references to twenty-plus sections of the RCW (often by number only, not by description or title), would read the ballot summary and, not without reason, conclude “oh, so the transit taxes I voted on are fine and I can vote yes on this initiative to give myself a break in other ways.”

        I am still a little baffled that the Superior Court found that this is not confusing. Reading the two sentences together, absent the word “future”–which, if I remember correctly, was in the Attorney General’s initial draft of the ballot title to which proponents objected, as is their right–means precisely what we think it does. (The Superior Court left itself some wiggle room by pointing out that the ballot title must be “liberally construed in favor of the initiative,” but the Supreme Court is not bound by that.)

        (Incidentally, this is why I loathe initiatives. The general voting public are not the legislature. We do not have the time, expertise, or–let’s be blunt here–motivation to read a dense thicket of laws and make an informed up-or-down choice, especially on taxation initiatives. This is why we elect representatives.)

      4. “The stance of the proponents of the initiative is that future voter-approved levies against car tab taxes would be permitted under the initiative.”

        That’s the opposite of what Eyman is saying. He’s the principle drafter of the initiative, so if the courts look at the initiative equivalent of “Congressional intent” they’ll look at what the drafters of the initiative say they intended. The argument is that I-976 revoked the authority under which those previous levies were enacted, so any future similar levy would run afoul of state law, which this initiative sets.

        The proponents in counties like King would say they need it to avoid the tyranny of their county majority, by passing a state policy that pre-empts it. It’s not unlike the municipal-Internet issue in other states, where state laws pre-empt cities from offering municipal Internet because it creates competition for the AT&Ts and Comcasts of the world who bought the state pre-emption. In this case instead of freedom for private corporations, it’s freedom for residents from excessive car-tab taxes even if their cities want it.

      5. A charitable interpretation of the clause is it was just an unenforceable addition to gain votes. It’s legal because the plain reading of the provision is clear: local voters can enact car-tab levies which are permissible under state law. If there’s no specific levy that would be permissible due to other provisions and laws, that’s not their problem, levies need to follow the law.

      6. “(The Superior Court left itself some wiggle room by pointing out that the ballot title must be “liberally construed in favor of the initiative,” but the Supreme Court is not bound by that.)”

        You’re mistaken about this assertion. Judge Ferguson was simply stating existing precedent here. The quote from the King County Superior Court case you’re referencing is found in section V. “Discussion”, Part C, in the ruling from Feb 2020. Notice the citation here is given as WASAVP, 174 Wn.2d at 655. This is a reference to Washington Association for Substance Abuse & Violence Prevention v. State, decided by the WA Supreme Court back in 2012:

        “27 Article II, section 19 provides, “No bill shall embrace more than one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title.” This provision is to be liberally construed in favor of the legislation. Amalgamated Transit, 142 Wash.2d at 206, 11 P.3d 762, 27 P.3d 608; Wash. Fed’n of State Emps., 127 Wash.2d at 555, 901 P.2d 1028.”

        Accordingly, the citation in the WASAVP case here is to the well-known Amalgamated Transit Union case that ultimately overturned I-695 on state constitutional grounds back in 2000.

        Thus, Judge Ferguson was simply stating existing WASC precedent here and the current high court will affirm this particular point.

        Here are the relevant references:

        https://casetext.com/case/washington-assn-for-substance-abuse-violence-prevention-v-state

        https://caselaw.findlaw.com/wa-supreme-court/1023737.html

  3. Has anybody reading this ever actually seen an intending passenger being denied service over the matter of “Essentiality” or Destinationality? Let alone being turned away oneself?

    Mark Dublin

  4. note that the mayor is not on the Seattle Transportation Benefit Board, only the nine councilmembers. note the several reasons that ridership declined in 2019: low gas prices, congestion, slower and less reliable transit in downtown Seattle, and Uber and Lyft. the current regime of social distancing will probably end with science: testing, tracing, and vaccines. the time is unknown. congestion on the unpriced limited access highways may rebound faster than transit ridership, but the SOV cannot scale well due to scarce and costly pricing and limited lane space in the peak periods.

    1. Exactly. This is a fight worth having and shameful on those shivering under their desks. They are Tim Eyman’s dear friends and Democrats In Name Only as far as I am personally concerned.

      1. If recent presidential, senate, and governor election results mean anything, as do Biden vs. Trump polls for this election, they are definitely Democrats. The problem is that not all Democrats support transit, while nearly all Republicans strongly oppose it.

        If you do the math, winning over 70% of Democrats in a county where Democrats have 70% of the vote results in a pass rate of 70%*70%=49%=failure.

      2. asdf2, it isn’t just the Democrats who don’t support transit… it’s those who do and then cower from the fights that need having.

        Quoting “The West Wing”, “It’s not the ones we lose that bother me, Leo, it’s the ones we don’t suit up for.”

        I have a list of Seattle people who I don’t wanna hear from if they don’t suit up after the way a certain definitely pro-transit, anti-Eyman candidate for Seattle City Council was treated unfairly last fall… Suit up!

        One last thing, there was a time of the Transit Republican. Both in rural counties – e.g. Island – and in urban counties. Not anymore. A bunch of loudmouths were allowed to use that as a new wedge issue. Pathetic.

  5. Do the Transit Riders’ Union and the Transportation Choices Coalition come anywhere near being lobbies for the electoral politics that’ll be necessary to keep transit alive in Seattle?

    Mark Dublin

      1. Thanks, Joe. That’s very good to hear. Now, another question. Do your share my “take” on the political importance of the people who would have been “The Class of 2020” in high schools, universities, and community colleges?

        Considering the condition of the country they’re being handed, if we want them even to pay our Social Security, we might best treat them with a great deal of respect, as well as pass along any assistance, support, and advice we can.

        Question for anybody at the wheel or train-controller of a transit vehicle this morning: How many of your passengers belong to this age group?

        Mark Dublin

      2. Would’ve said that awhile ago, Joe, but in any kind of a real fight, depending on circumstances and also fighting experience and training, a lot of decent people will legitimately duck under a table and hide.

        And also carefully drag a lot of wounded “Good Guys”, majority of whom could be the women who threw the first punch, out of the action to apply tourniquets to get the bleeding stopped.

        And Tim, that chair you just stole, “Floor It!” and drive it away. The one you’re reaching for now, I saw it first.

        Mark Dublin

  6. When voting for continued funding, I would want to look at how the initial funds were used and whether the outcomes were significant.

    The additional funding has greatly improved bus frequencies. Much more of the city is reachable with frequent service these past few years.

    Unfortunately, all those additional service hours haven’t substantially increased annual boardings. It’s been stuck at 120m to 123m for a decade across King County for the past several years. (Many major urban transit systems have lost annual ridership this past decade, so holding steady is notable to Metro’s credit — but not so much when population growth is factored in.)

    So as a taxpayer, it seems to have been benefitting existing riders or trips but not generating new ones.

    Moving forward, I think Metro has to present a strategy to significantly improve boardings. Existing rider benefits through better frequency are compelling but not to the point of changing behaviors of even these riders. Conversely, saying “you will lose your frequency” is not going to be a very convincing fear when the added frequency has not appeared to be used in the first place.

    Now with the unanticipated impacts of the pandemic, revenues and ridership — and the image of transit — has been fundamentally undermined. It’s so changed that I’m not sure if the public will be more hopeful about Metro for quite awhile — at least not until 2021.

    At that point, once the memory of the pandemic era fades and Northgate Link opens, I expect the public to be more hopeful.

    I’m reminded of a lesson I learned from a wise public policy professor years ago: Many great public policy changes in history occurred only after things got bad enough to require reform. It may actually be more strategic in the long-run to have a period of less frequent bus service to create enough impetus to rethink how our subsidized transit can be more successful in the next decade. That’s especially true if a ballot measure fails in 2020 because support would seem to be harder the second time around.

    1. Why is your goal increased ridership?

      Putting aside the coverage vs ridership debate, it’s also important to judge Metro’s ridership relative to a benchmark, not to history. There are multiple structural trends pushing against transit ridership in the US (TNCs, lower cost of car ownership, gentrification of urban neighborhoods, etc.), which suggests KCM’s flat ridership is a major achievement relative to falling ridership at most major American transit systems. So I think saying the increased frequency is “not used” is incorrect because you are assuming all-else-equal during the time period.

    2. It may actually be more strategic in the long-run to have a period of less frequent bus service to create enough impetus to rethink how our subsidized transit can be more successful in the next decade.

      We did have “a period of less frequent bus service.” It was called “the beginning of King County Metro through more or less 2012.” I don’t know if you’ve forgotten or didn’t live through the absolute tragedy that was Metro’s frequency as late as the first part of the 2010s. There were almost no routes that ran more frequently than 15 minutes and, as far as I can remember, zero routes that ran at sub-15-minute frequency for a majority of the day.

      Service was very downtown-centric, and I mean “downtown south of Denny and north of King Street,” not including Belltown or SLU or most of the ID in that definition. I still remember taking the 72 from Lake City to the U-District and on to downtown that dropped to hourly just after the evening peak and stopped running entirely at 11pm as late as 2015.

      The massive increase in bus service starting in late-2015 was an absolute game changer. I would also point out that Metro bus ridership has stayed in the mid-120 millions range even though more Link stations were added and bus service redirected to carrying people to and from the spine. Link ridership skyrocketed once Capitol Hill and UW stations were added and Metro’s bus ridership remained consistent even after “losing” those formerly-bus trips to light rail. That’s an improvement, in my eyes.

      1. The issue here is the specific role of the STBD, which was voted in 2014 and didn’t kick in until 2015. The annual ridership is essentially flat since it was adopted, as shown here:

        https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1DmStN_58qR6j2w4DkO2B_RTaRgG9JUVw90FRTmevRk8/pubhtml?gid=3&single=true

        I’m sure U-Link took some riders away — but 2018 didn’t show much change from 2017 and U-Link opened in 2016. To be fair, the cost of parking including on-street has grown, parking hours and metered zones have been significantly expanded and many spaces have been removed for protected bicycle lanes these past few years yet ridership didn’t grow for that reason.

        The ugly truth is that merely adding additional service didn’t significantly increase system ridership these past few years. The open-ended question is this: Why not?

        More importantly, we should ask: What would work better? How much of the flat ridership growth is a time-of-day issue, an overcrowding issue, a bus route speed issue, a stop experience or a bus ride experience issue?

        Asking for more money seems rather unconvincing unless there is a new strategy on how to use the funds more strategically.

      2. I’m sure U-Link took some riders away …

        Of course it did! Come on. We have seen a huge increase in Link ridership — do you think those are all new riders? Don’t be ridiculous.

        Link took a lot of Metro ridership, while improvements in the Metro system prevented a big loss in Metro ridership. The result is a significant overall increase in ridership.

        You seem to be crediting Link exclusively for the increase, with little data to support that theory. If you want to go through individual bus service, be my guest. Pick some area unrelated to the changes (e. g. Ballard) and see whether ridership is the same, or improved. My guess it was improved — enough to compensate for the loss to do Link.

      3. Ross, how do you account for the fact that U-Link and it’s related Metro restructure just turned one boarding into two because of adding a new Link transfer? Just because two stations opened doesn’t mean that all riders were cannibalized from Metro. Further, there was no increase between 2017 and 2018, which had nothing directly to do with Link opening. Heck, elevator issues at UW probably drive riders off of Link.

        If your logic is carried through, that would suggest that the extra STBD funds are not effectively used, as Metro failed to allocate service in the Link corridors versus other corridors correctly. That’s saying that the funds aren’t optimized — not that they are useless.

        There is no shame in a transit agency to admit that they added service hours incorrectly, and that there are other places where the hours can be better assigned. Buses are routinely reassigned a few times a year as normal practice among any sizable bus transit operator.

        Moving forward, I am repeatedly asking this basic question: How could a renewed STBD be better used to attract riders? Should the funds go to advance RapidRide corridors? Should Metro have guidance on when to pull the plug on ineffective extra service?

        While it’s great to look at frequent buses running through a single-family district, repeatedly seeing those buses empty two years after the better frequency was started really does give a taxpayer hesitancy to keep supporting its better frequency.

      4. Ross, how do you account for the fact that U-Link and it’s related Metro restructure just turned one boarding into two because of adding a new Link transfer?

        Not all of them! If I’m going to the hospital, or the campus itself, then I take the train. Without question — it isn’t even close. That is the point — that is poaching. That is taking a huge chunk of the ridership right there. Likewise with Capitol Hill. The Capitol Hill stop is fantastic, but largely useless from a feeder-bus perspective. But please, enlighten me on the hoards who now take a two seat ride via the Capitol Hill station — the station that accounts for over 10% of Link’s entire ridership. Good luck with that.

        There are trips that don’t involve a transfer north of downtown, and still don’t. Oh, and by the way, Link extends beyond downtown, and those buses never did. That means someone from say, Beacon Hill, just takes a train directly to the UW — instead of a two seat ride. This is poaching.

        Just to be clear — this is good. You want this. You want lots and lots of this. But it means that the underlying bus system loses ridership.

        If your logic is carried through, that would suggest that the extra STBD funds are not effectively used, as Metro failed to allocate service in the Link corridors versus other corridors correctly.

        Nonsense, and I have no idea how you came to that conclusion. I’m saying there was a switch. Here, let me suggest an analogy. Take the most popular bus routes, and assign them to Sound Transit. Wow! Suddenly Sound Transit is doing everything right. There ridership is way up, while Metro’s ridership is way down. But now have Metro spend a bunch of money, and regain that ridership. Get it now?

        There is no shame in a transit agency to admit that they added service hours incorrectly, and that there are other places where the hours can be better assigned. Buses are routinely reassigned a few times a year as normal practice among any sizable bus transit operator.

        Of course, yet you have yet to provide any evidence that such is the case! Seriously — I’ve asked repeatedly — do the analysis. Show me the examples. Show me areas — away from the various influences that have been mentioned — and show ridership hasn’t improved. Also show how a similar area — that didn’t get the same level of improvement — compares. I’m waiting.

        You are assuming that everything is static, while clearly it isn’t. Cities have been losing ridership, but Seattle hasn’t (https://cdn.geekwire.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Pasted-image-at-2017_12_18-09_44-AM-630×458.png). You want to attribute 100% of that to Sound Transit, but don’t want to do the work to support your case. I’m saying it is more complicated than that, and while Link’s expansion is responsible for *some* of the increase, so too is Metro’s improvement in service.

        While it’s great to look at frequent buses running through a single-family district, repeatedly seeing those buses empty two years after the better frequency was started really does give a taxpayer hesitancy to keep supporting its better frequency.

        What empty buses? Seriously — the data is all available — make your case. It ain’t that hard. Tell me what bus service you would cut, and what you would increase, and why. Feel free to write a Page 2 about it. Otherwise, you are sounding like an Eyman fan, complaining about “empty buses”, while ignoring the fact that even empty buses have value, and most likely, the bus won’t be empty for long. (I would cite something from Human Transit, but I have to ask, really? Really Al? How long have you been on this blog, and you don’t understand these fairly simple concepts?).

      5. I feel like the Al S. argument basically comes down to the old discussion about captive riders vs. choice riders. The argument says that, essentially, the choice riders are only riding during rush hour and the remaining riders will continue to ride no matter how bad the service gets, so spending taxpayer money to make the service better for them is a waste.

        That argument feels very defeatist, and it is impossible to grow our ridership base, ever, if we have that kind of attitude. Also, as many have said, you can’t just look at the TBD service improvements as if they are in a vacuum. Simultaneously, Uber has cut into bus ridership, as has new Link extensions, as has construction work rendering many bus routes (temporarily) less attractive. For all the way, the TBD improvements are the reason why ridership has stayed flat and not decreased.

        Also, many of the “buses through single family neighborhoods” are actually connecting Seattle’s urban villages and just happen to pass through single-family neighborhoods along the way. The single-family neighborhoods were never intended to be the main ridership generator – they get frequent service simply because they’re on the way. For routes like the 65, the real ridership comes from the urban villages on the ends.

    3. For all the providers, at what level is frequency decided now? Because it seems to me that, of all the variables, schedule frequency should be the easiest to adjust in the face of fluctuating demand.

      Mark Dublin

    4. Unfortunately, all those additional service hours haven’t substantially increased annual boardings.

      Says who? Ridership per capita has gone up overall (https://tinyurl.com/ycqr38yj). There are a lot of things going on, and you aren’t necessarily going to see a steady upward trend. Given the large, disruptive, and negative transit actions that occurred the last couple years, I would expect transit ridership to go down — not stay flat. Commuting to or from Bellevue is terrible (and ridership shows it). West Seattle transit was a mess while the viaduct was being worked on. Kicking the buses out of the tunnel hurt the buses, and didn’t do anything for the train (they didn’t increase frequency). All of these things occurred *before* the virus (and before the problems with the West Seattle Bridge).

      Meanwhile, walking to work is up. So was working from home (before the pandemic). Not hugely, but it is quite likely these bit into transit ridership. What is important is the numbers for driving alone, and they are much lower. Driving alone to work is now at 44% in Seattle, likely the lowest its been since they’ve kept records (https://tinyurl.com/ycy3crtc). That is about 10% less than what it was 7 years ago. Carpooling is also down — the fact that transit is actually up in comparison is a very good sign.

      The extra transit funding is working. It needs to be continued.

      1. “Kicking the buses out of the tunnel hurt the buses, and didn’t do anything for the train (they didn’t increase frequency)”

        The train is more reliable. It’s no longer stuck behind buses that open their wheelchair ramps at random times, or take a long time to cram people in, or get bunched.

      2. Ross: Since the STBD funds don’t go to ST, that graph suggests that funding additional ST service could be more productive than funding Metro service if it’s renewed. The ridership growth appears to be driven by ST and not the STBD Metro service.

      3. The ridership growth appears to be driven by ST and not the STBD Metro service.

        Yes, but ST poached Metro’s best routes. If not for the improved service on Metro, there would have been a substantial decrease in Metro ridership, as a lot of riders simply switched to Sound Transit. The point is, even though Sound Transit’s changes were largely ridership neutral, overall ridership went up. Remember, all those big changes that went with U-Link did not lead to a huge increase in people going from the UW to downtown. That’s because for many, it isn’t better — in fact it is worse. But overall changes — many made by Metro due to increased funding — resulted in overall increases.

      4. “Kicking the buses out of the tunnel hurt the buses, and didn’t do anything for the train (they didn’t increase frequency)”

        The train is more reliable. It’s no longer stuck behind buses that open their wheelchair ramps at random times, or take a long time to cram people in, or get bunched.

        But ridership on the train actually went down! Not down per capita, but down overall. That’s because the train was fast enough, and reliable enough. But it isn’t that frequent, especially in the middle of the day. This means that it is no longer a viable option for service within downtown. Before kicking the buses out, people would go down into the tunnel, and catch a vehicle from one end of downtown to the other. It didn’t matter which one. Often it was Link.

        Now those riders avoid the tunnel. They stay on the surface and catch a bus.

        Once frequency improves, it will be a different story. The ability to run more often is huge. It is just that as of now, Sound Transit hasn’t taken advantage of it.

      5. The following things can all be true:
        1. In the relevant time frame, kicking the buses out of the tunnel was bad for transit ridership.
        2. Replacing the bus tunnel with Northgate + East Link and 4 minute Link frequency will be much better for the region long term and is worth the disruption & short term loss of ridership
        3. The buses were kicked out of the tunnel too early due to Dow’s insistence on accelerating the Convention Center expansion, which hurt ridership more than necessary.
        4. The buses needed to be kicked out of the tunnel eventually, likely with Connect 2020.

      6. “This means that it is no longer a viable option for service within downtown.”

        You’re looking only at the number of people who get on/off downtown. Removing buses from the tunnel made the entire Link network more reliable. That affects people waiting for a train in Beacon Hill as much as it does people waiting for a train in Westlake. And you’re also counting just butts in seats and ignoring the quality of service. Yes, Link is less frequent than Link+buses for intra-downtown trips so riders switched to 3rd Avenue buses. But Link is primarily for trips beyond downtown, not within it. And Link’s frequency downtown will reach 3 minutes when Lynnwood Link opens in 4-5 years. Sorry it’s less frequent now, but ST made a design decision for an East Link maintenance track that precludes buses in the tunnel.

      7. And you’re also counting just butts in seats and ignoring the quality of service.

        Yes, as is Al (who started this thread). His whole premise is that because ridership didn’t go up that much (despite spending a lot of money) the money was not well spent. I’m simply pointing out that not only did ridership go up (system wide) but it went up *despite* things that caused some rides to go down. As I said, Link ridership went down. Not down per capita (which would be disappointing) but down, overall.

        I think that can be attributed to one of two things:

        1) The loss of service exclusively within downtown was more than the gain elsewhere. Or …

        2) Overall transit ridership is down, for reasons that have nothing to do with quality.

        Either way, it bolsters my case. Seattle transit was swimming against the tide, for many reasons. The fact that ridership was doing OK was largely because of improvements in the system, in the form of increased frequency on Metro buses.

      8. @AJ
        The following things can all be true: …

        Yes, and it is likely they all are. The main benefit from kicking the buses out of the tunnel has not been felt, and won’t be felt until frequency can be increased.

    5. “It may actually be more strategic in the long-run to have a period of less frequent bus service to create enough impetus to rethink how our subsidized transit can be more successful in the next decade.”

      What would happen is transit riders would suffer with less mobility flexibility, while the majority of voters wouldn’t notice because they drive. The only things non-riders understand are the number of butts in seats, poor people getting to work, and avoiding increasing congestion.

      “merely adding additional service didn’t significantly increase system ridership these past few years…. Why not?” “Metro has to present a strategy to significantly improve boardings.”

      Those are important questions that should be answered in the next few years, but making a TBD renewal this year dependent on it is like holding a gun to Metro’s head and making an impossible demand. Metro has been doing the right things since 2012: consolidating corridors, full-time frequent corridors, stop diets, wise restructuring plans, off-board payment on 3rd Avenue, etc. Certainly it could do more and better, but that doesn’t negate its major achievements already. Metro’s planners seem to be the best in the region: better than SDOT’s or ST’s proposals. It’s doing many of the right things to increase ridership. If ridership isn’t increasing beyond a moderate level, it may be because of things outside Metro’s control. Notably: land use, lack of transit-priority lanes, too much street parking, people’s travel choices, housing prices, cheap gas, and the lack of a TBD equivalent outside Seattle. (This affects people who would ride to Renton or Kent or Kirkland if bus service were better there.)

      1. Also: the nature of the destinations. If a wonderful restaurant or a unique shop or a superior yoga studio or a community center opens, it will attract people from outside the neighborhood who come on transit. If instead a Chase Bank opens, those same people will go to other Chase Banks closer to them, or patronize a non-corporate credit union instead. This gets multiplied by all the storefronts in the neighborhood. There’s a record shop near 11th & Pike that’s like the ones I used to go to in the U-District taking the bus from Bellevue. If that shop weren’t there I wouldn’t make that trip or go to that neighborhood. Likewise, I used to go to the Vogue nightclub which closed in 2000, and none of the current clubs are comparable so I don’t go to them. Metro has no control over how unique the shops are or where they locate.

      2. I’m not generally trashing many good Metro services and decisions here. I’m just pointing out that the 14 percent increase in Metro service hours (mostly from STBD) from 2015 to 2018 only created about a half of 1 percent increase in annual riders systemwide. There’s clearly an effectiveness problem with how our STBD funds have been used. That’s not “doing things right” in this specific instance.

        Could the money be better spent on faster buses, enabling better frequencies while using the same service hours? Could the money be better spent on real-time arrival signs at lots more bus stops? Could the money be better spent on cleaning and upkeep of vehicles? Adding vehicle hours is not the only way to attract riders — particularly when just going from 12 minutes to 8 minutes requires 50 percent more service hours (assuming there is no overcrowding to justify the increase).

        The ineffectiveness of the current STBD could easily be considered a City problem rather than a Metro problem, by the way.

      3. I’m just pointing out that the 14 percent increase in Metro service hours (mostly from STBD) from 2015 to 2018 only created about a half of 1 percent increase in annual riders system wide.

        Driving Alone Commute Share Seattle:
        2015 — 48.5%
        2018 — 44.4%

        The overall numbers are favorable. You are just trying to tease out the specific value of various changes, while ignoring the fact that they all go together. Truncating Metro buses at the UW Station is bound to hurt Metro ridership, but overall ridership should be higher (and it is). We know for a fast that ridership to and from Bellevue has dropped considerably. Likewise, I imagine that ridership from West Seattle dropped a ton when the buses were stuck in traffic. The Capitol Hill restructure was botched (and we saw that with the post restructure numbers). If the system were truly flat in terms of service (no changes) then you would see an overall drop in ridership. But you don’t — we’ve seen increases *despite* that. A big reason why is because the system is better. Perhaps not as good as possible, but still better.

      4. Al, I don’t think you are acknowledging that transit spending needs to increase simply to maintain ridership. Particularly in a rapidly growing city, issues like congestion mean not only the same dollar yields less service, the same service hours delivers less mobility. The reasons many transit agencies are in decline because politicians make the mistake of holding transit funding flat (like road maintenance) and less transit service slowly decay as the same dollars/service buys less mobility.

        This isn’t to say that monies could be re-directed to better uses. I’d tend to prefer a dollar spent on transit priority over a dollar spent on schedule padding in the face of congestion. But simply saying “ridership was flat so money poorly spent” is incorrect because it is completely devoid of context.

        https://humantransit.org/2015/01/basics-should-i-vote-for-a-transit-tax.html

      5. Sorry Ross, but a decrease in drive-alone can be attributed to work from home, bicycling, walking and of course better transit service by CT, ST or WSF. That’s not proof for Metro service; Metro’s own ridership reports are by far the best source of evidence.

        And AJ, the data I’ve presented is in service hours — not dollars. Increased costs are mostly irrelevant. Even increased congestion can hurt frequency but not service hours. Sure, if traffic worsens enough, the result is the need to add a bus and service hours to maintain frequency — but if that’s the case, has someone reported the negative impact to transit of doing things like converting traffic lanes to bicycle lanes? Would that really be an average 14 percent reduction in system transit speeds in three years?

      6. “Sure, if traffic worsens enough, the result is the need to add a bus and service hours to maintain frequency ” – I’d hazard to guess that a large chunk of the increase in service hours has gone to simply maintain service. At ST, our service hours budget grew 3~5% a year simply to maintain service.

        It’s not the full 14%, because many trips were added to alleviate crowding, but it could be a material amount.

        And finally, you completely disregard quality of service. Just because an improvement, like better Sunday frequency, doesn’t appreciably improve ridership doesn’t mean it has no value. You are valuing the incremental rider far more than the average rider.

      7. Sorry Ross, but a decrease in drive-alone can be attributed to work from home, bicycling, walking …

        Come on man, read the report. Do you think everyone who works from home used to drive? Transit went up 2%, despite increases in working from home and walking. You have it backwards. If not for the increase in working from home and walking, transit ridership increases would be even higher. Biking is essentially flat, and carpooling has actually seen a steady decrease. Think about that for a second. The form of transportation most like transit — carpooling — has seen a steady decrease, yet transit ridership is actually up.

        a decrease in drive-alone can be attributed to better transit service by CT, ST or WSF.

        Theoretically, sure. So what? You are basically making the claim that overall transit ridership is completely, 100% due to improvements in every other agency but Metro? You think that improvements in Community Transit results in higher overall transit ridership in King County — and Seattle — but not Metro? Seriously? Come on.

        It is pretty simple. Sound Transit finally built the section they should have stated with (UW to downtown). But they built it in a half-ass manner. Metro responded aggressively, and truncated routes that lots of people — including transit experts — said they shouldn’t. They also experimented with significant, and highly controversial changes on Capitol Hill (changes that most would now consider a failure). The result was that overall, transit ridership did not take a huge leap despite the dramatic improvement in speed and reliability. The awkward transfer at the UW, along with the lack of stations (only two) lead to a minimal increase in ridership. Yet the truncation lead to a major shift in ridership, from Metro to Sound Transit.

        But at the same time, Metro spent a bunch more money on service. So Metro did not see a huge loss in ridership, as expected. Ridership gains in say, Ballard, compensated for ridership losses in Roosevelt, the U-District and Capitol Hill. All the while, the same sort of larger forces that have caused transit ridership to go down in *every other city* in the United States were occurring here. Yet despite all that, ridership actually went up — because of the improvement in service.

        Look, dude, imagine you run a brewpub, and you opened five years ago. If you are breaking even right now, you are thrilled! Every other brewpub is losing money hand over fist. But your beer happens to be pretty damn good — good enough that people line up for growlers and crowlers. Yet you are complaining, and saying we should fire the brewmaster. That is ridiculous. Give that brewmaster a raise, and call one of the beers “Ceteris Paribus”.

        You are making a claim without sufficient data. Go ahead, tease out the various routes. You could even focus on a region (again, Ballard is cool) and see if you can attribute an increase in ridership (or lack thereof) to increased service. Don’t forget to include all the other factors at work, and compare it to service outside the coverage area (e. g. Kirkland). My guess is, what you’ll find is that ridership within Seattle did much better than it would have otherwise, which is the whole point.

        Metro ridership is up — and if all other things were equal — — it would be way up.

      8. @AJ quibbles:
        1. true
        2. East Link is expected in 2023, four years after 2019; the proponents wanted joint operation to end in 2018.
        3. true. in addition, too little consideration was given to expanding the convention center elsewhere and not on a block crucial to transit; the cost to transit was higher than the proponents suggested.
        4. buses could have left the DSTT when Link headway was short, say with East Link in 2023. connection 2020 was redesigned, could have been done later, and buses could have temporarily left the DSTT and returned. as north routes were removed from the DSTT, routes to and from the south could have been inserted.
        the several agencies have too many routes and trips going through downtown Seattle at the same time. Riders could be getting to Link and South Sounder much earlier. Link should be run more often at off-peak times.

      9. Metro ridership is up for the period in question (from 2015).

        Although that misses the point. Transit ridership is up *per capita* from 2015 to 2018, bucking the nationwide trend.

      10. “buses could have left the DSTT when Link headway was short, say with East Link in 2023”

        Only if East Link were designed differently. ST installed a maintenance turn track so eastern buses could get to the SODO base, and it’s incompatible with buses in the tunnel, ST says. The Convention Center construction started in March 2019. The East Link changes were going to start September 2019 but got postponed to December. So delaying the Convention Center or building it elsewhere would have kept buses in the tunnel for only nine more months.

      11. @AJ
        “I’d hazard to guess that a large chunk of the increase in service hours has gone to simply maintain service. At ST, our service hours budget grew 3~5% a year simply to maintain service.”

        Interesting. Can you perhaps expand on your explanation here? Is there something else at work here other than congestion? Thanks in advance for your reply. :)

      12. Congestion in general, though recently much of that is driven by construction impacts redirecting the buses into congestion. For example, the 550 has been significantly impact by the East Link construction, losing access to the tunnel, the D2 roadway, the HOV ramps between MI and Seattle, etc. To maintain the same level of service, ST needs to spend a lot more service hours. So looking at just service hours, it looks like ST is providing “more” service, but in reality the 550 is making the same number of (slower) trips.

        Of course, this can go both ways. The flyover ramp now open between 167 and 405 has presumably allowed ST & KCM to reduce service hours for routes running between S and E King. But in general, congestion is getting worse everywhere, so ST (and I assume KCM) needs to spend more and more service hours to maintain the same level of service.

      13. A few points I’d like to add to that.

        1) Since schedules are drawn in advance, Metro is effectively paying the cost for its drivers to sit in traffic every single rush-hour trip – including days when traffic is light. Light traffic means the driver gets a longer break time at the time, but it doesn’t allow the next trip to begin any sooner, nor the driver to get paid any less. It does save Metro a little bit of diesel fuel, but that’s a small cost relative to labor.

        2) When you drive your own car, you get to choose the route to avoid traffic snarls. For example, if 520 is congested, you can take I-90. Transit isn’t like that. To avoid missing stops, they must usually stick exactly to the posted route, no matter what, absent something very extreme (like an outright road closure).

        3) The cost of health care has been going up faster than inflation. In a labor-intensive field with a heavily-unionized work force, that gets very expensive, very fast. This shows up in the cost-per-service-hour as more hours means hiring more bus drivers and paying higher health insurance premiums for them.

        Short of either universal health care or automated buses, I don’t know how this problem can ever get fixed.

      14. Agreed. Making dramatic cuts to bus frequency is not a way to motivate future bus service increases. It is however a good way to trigger a death spiral. Tweaks on individual routes however can and should be considered. Additionally, some routes may benefit more in the long term from capital investments (e.g., red paint, walk/bike safety improvements) over frequency.

    6. It may actually be more strategic in the long-run to have a period of less frequent bus service to create enough impetus to rethink how our subsidized transit can be more successful in the next decade.

      What do you suggest?

      That’s especially true if a ballot measure fails in 2020 because support would seem to be harder the second time around.

      There is no way a transit ballot measure is going to fail in Seattle in 2020. The last measure passed by 59%, and the city has become more urban. The areas where it passed by high numbers have more people, while the places where it lost have fewer. A transit measure will pass, just like Biden will take Seattle.

    7. I’ve read through all of the comments and I keep coming back to the population growth factor. The last data I saw looking at ridership (unlinked trips) on a per capita basis had Seattle ranked 11th or 12th among metros at around 65 trips per capita*. But I think that data was based on 2015 data or sometime around then. Has anyone seen more recent per capita data (that accounts for all transit trips and then breaks it down by mode)?

      I suppose if there’s no such source readily available, one could use the APTA data and the population estimate surveys for the 2015-2019 period to get to these numbers. That’s the same methodology that fivethirtyeight.com used in their piece on comparing transit systems in various metros across the US, but that report is outdated now. I linked it here only to illustrate the methodology employed.

      I do think that Al S. raises a valid point regarding his concern about ridership being flat for the last couple of years despite the increased frequency on Seattle routes from STB funding. It seems like a reasonable expectation to see ridership trend upward from such improvements to the system. Otherwise, isn’t the additional funding simply creating what some cynics would call a premium bus system where the rider has more flexibility but the cost per rider overall has increased? (RQ) Of course there are a number of other factors at play here, such as folks living closer to the city center and being able to walk or bike to work, the poaching of riders by ST Link, employees working remotely, as well as several other factors some of which have already been mentioned here. The significant population increases seen in the city and the county over the last several years need to be considered in this whole discussion and hence why I’m more interested in the per capita data.

      https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-your-citys-public-transit-stacks-up/

      *this seems to vary from the data shown on RossB’s tinyurl link

      1. Per capita transit ridership is up: https://s3.amazonaws.com/stb-wp/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/07212159/20191120_RTC_Ridership.pdf. It did not go up last year, but during the period in question, it went up.

        As has been mentioned many times now, this is during a period when you would expect ridership to go down. As:

        1) Ridership nationwide went down. There are various reasons for that — all of which apply to Seattle.

        2) Traffic increased.

        3) Non-automotive modes (walking and working from home) continued to increase.

        4) There was a major set of disruptions downtown (the so called Seattle Squeeze). This mainly effected 2018, and could explain why the graph plateaued, rather than continued up.

        Again — Ceteris paribus. All other things being equal, the numbers are disappointing. But they aren’t equal.

        I find it bizarre that people are focused on transit ridership being relatively flat, and then proclaiming that Metro has failed. Why not point the finger at Sound Transit? They have spent a fortune, and continue to spend a fortune, and ridership overall has barely moved. Oh, it has switched from Metro to Sound Transit, but I could accomplish the same thing by simply taking over those bus routes. So, using the same logic, should we panic, and call Sound Transit a complete failure?

        Of course not. It has its failings, certainly, but it has done some good as well. It has likely increased overall ridership, and will likely increase overall ridership. Especially compared to doing nothing.

      2. @RossB
        First off, thanks for the link to Appendix A of that report (Somehow I overlooked it. I’ll blame that on the dog needing to go out at the time. Lol.) The data presented here is very interesting. However, I think it actually weakens your argument somewhat, which I’ll try to explain in a separate comment that isn’t nested so that I have more room.

        “Why not point the finger at Sound Transit?”
        Oh, I don’t think you’ll find Al S. or myself letting Sound Transit off the hook either in this regard. They have missed their own ridership benchmarks over the last two years, with modest growth noted in 2018 and 2019.

  7. Does this require only 50% to pass within Seattle? That seems like an easy bar to pass for a Seattle only measure.

    And the only option available is sales tax up to 0.2%, correct? Other options like payroll or property taxes are off the table under the current TBD?

    Can the TBD be used for capital improvements? Some of the current TBD monies were being used for spot improvements … if this current period of depressed demand continues through 2021, it would be great to initially invest ‘excess’ TBD revenues into permanent improvements, and then redeploy to O&M once demand returns.

    1. Yes, passage requires 50%+1; yes, the only option is the sales tax up to 0.2% unless the state Supreme Court overturns I-976. Payroll and property taxes are not authorized to be imposed by Transportation Benefit Districts under RCW 36.73.040. (There is a provision for a one-year property tax but only for certain bonds.) A TBD may impose tolls but only after approval from the state.

      TBD funds can be used for capital improvements. You can see some of the projects here. The TBD was limited in the number of hours it could buy because Metro was trying to ramp up hiring, bus purchases, and maintenance base space and was, largely, succeeding before all of this hit.

      1. The TBD’s constraint was bus-base capacity. The driver shortage was earlier when the economy sharply recovered in 2015 and 2016 and Metro had just laid off 20% of its drivers. It had only a short-term effect on the TBD at the beginning. Likewise, if there had been bus-base space, the procurement time for buses would have only been a short-term delay of a year or two.

    2. Does this require only 50% to pass within Seattle? That seems like an easy bar to pass for a Seattle only measure.

      Yes! This. 100% this. A measure — any measure — will pass in Seattle. It will pass in an off year election. It will pass with idle speculation. It will pass here and there — it will pass everywhere. (Apologies to Dr. Seuss, but come on, it will pass).

  8. Since the TBD couldn’t spend the entirety of its expansion plans because of bus-base capacity limitations, and diverted some of it to free passes for public-school students and low-income fares, it follows that eliminating one of the tax sources would have a less than 100% effect on service hours if those secondary programs are discontinued. What percent of the expansion hours was unspent? How does that compare to the revenue from MVET and the school program?

    As a reminder, if bus service returns to its pre-MVET level, the 5, 8, 10, 40, 41, and 120 would revert to half-hourly evenings and Sundays. The 11 would revert to half-hourly Saturdays and maybe even weekdays. The 49 would have gaps in its 15-minute evening service. Those are only the routes I’m most familiar with. The night owls would be gone; Metro stopped funding them in 2014. Fill-in buses peak hours to address overcrowding and congestion reliability would be reduced.

    Of course, Metro could reorganize things somewhat differently. The 10 underperformed while the 11 overperformed, so hours could be shifted to the 11. The 49’s ridership has been less than the 11, and part of its expansion was a stopgap until U-District Station opens next year, so hours could be shifted from it too. The 41 will be truncated in less than a year, freeing up a lot of service hours. (Assuming Northgate Link opens on time. The 49 will probably remain until RapidRide G (Madison) opens.)

    I can see a case for a small renewal in 2020 and a follow-up expansion in 2021 or 2022. It’s unclear when offices will reopen, travel will return to something resembling normal, how much telecommuting will affect commuting, and how much fear of transit cooties will increase non-transit mode share. It may make sense to have a small replacement now that we’ll certainly need, and follow-up expansion next year when longer-term ridership is more clear and the solution can be more tailored to then-current conditions.

    I would support a full replacement with MVET too of course. But if the city proposes less than that; I would support it. And if it does I’d urge the city to make preliminary plans for a follow-up measure rather than just treating it as finished for five years.

    Seattle has voted heavily for transit in recent years, but there are several new factors.

    1. Covid impacts: telecommuting and fear of transit. How much will those affect ridership in phase 4? We don’t really know. If a significant number of riders become non-riders, their yes votes may become no votes. Some would still support transit anyway, but others may think it’s a less relevant solution.

    2. The TBD and ST3 increased MVET bills to unprecedented levels and caused unprecedented grumbling and worries about how to afford a $100-200 bill per vehicle. Even if you say that’s the cost of 2-3 gas tanks or one month out of total annual car expenses, people get sticker shock and low-income people struggle to come up with that amount in one month. ST3’s MVET will continue because of pledged bonds, so the TBD would be on top of that. This is the first transit measure since both were enacted in 2016, so we haven’t seen how much the sticker shock translates to no votes. Also, Eyman is running for governor this year and will blast the media with campaign ads over it. Even if most grumbling voters in Seattle can’t bring themselves to vote for Eyman, it might weaken their resolve to support the TBD.

    3. Ridership growth on the expanded routes was weaker than expected. Less than the twice as many you might expect from doubling service. There’s still an argument for having 15-minute service anyway, because that makes the network more convenient and useful. But many voters won’t see it that way. And even I have sometimes questioned the value of an off-peak run with only ten people on it. (Although that’s our general threshold for a cost-effective route.)

    4. The Northgate Link restructure in 2021 will upend things again, and it’s hard to predict ahead of time what future ridership patterns will be. As I said, in the U-Link restructure it was assumed that Link ridership would increase moderately, the 49 would be the highest-ridership route on Capitol Hill, Olive/John would continue to need all-day frequent service, and the 10’s segment at 15th & Pine was not very important. What actually happened was Link ridership increased dramatically, especially in Capitol Hill-UW. It diverted riders from the 49, and new riders only partly replaced them. Former 10 riders switched to the 11 and overcrowded it. The 10 eastbound has only two or three people on it east of Bellevue Avenue. So post-Link travel patterns aren’t completely predictable.

    1. Regarding point 2. Is that really unprecedented? I seem to recall pre 695 MVET bills commonly being 200-300 dollars, not adjusted for inflation.

    2. As to 4, I would argue the need for buses – and for CM Strauss to deliver his bus lane network – is more as folks will want rapid connections from the light rail spine to where they need to go. I got faith in public transit to pull thru this.

      Some CMs and activists who don’t wanna get fired up to win… not so much.

    3. Maybe. I was younger then and didn’t know as much about people’s specific bills, and there was no STB to analyze that. In any case, many people have hazy memories of the 1990s or moved here after that time. What they notice is the highest bill in 15 years.

    4. If a significant number of riders become non-riders, their yes votes may become no votes.

      Probably not. When it comes to transit (or most issues), people don’t vote their self interest. For example, Fremont supported ST3 overwhelmingly, and it is unlikely that very many people in Fremont will benefit. But Fremont is progressive, and votes accordingly.

      Furthermore, it is similar to running transit to the airport — people support it because they could see themselves using it once in a while. So someone in Fremont may work from home, but still take the bus to Ballard.

      Ridership growth on the expanded routes was weaker than expected. Less than the twice as many you might expect from doubling service.

      I don’t see where you get that. Besides, it is meaningless. What people notice is that service has improved. Whether that translates into increased ridership or not is meaningless to the average voter.

      Seattle has voted heavily for transit in recent years and there is no reason to assume otherwise now. Transit is popular in the city — especially something as basic and understandable as more frequent service. Of course things change. Lots of things have changed. But Trump will lose in California, and win in Wyoming (unless it is a landslide).

    5. Also, Eyman is running for governor this year and will blast the media with campaign ads over it. Even if most grumbling voters in Seattle can’t bring themselves to vote for Eyman, it might weaken their resolve to support the TBD.

      Nonsense. If anything it will harden their resolve. People in Seattle hate Eyman, and hate his proposals. I-976 (passed statewide) but was crushed in Seattle. 85,000 people opposed it, only 31,000 people voted for it. This was in an off year election. The numbers would be even bigger in a general election.

    6. You bring up a lot of good points in your thoughtful post that I’m still digesting. I agree with the overall message though, that being that there are a bunch of unknowns at this point and Seattle moving forward with some sort of half measure is a reasonable approach.

      One minor quibble. I think you use the term “MVET bill” as a shorthand for annual car tab/registration fees and that’s a little misleading as there is no MVET bill per se. Obviously, the RTA tax imposed by Sound Transit on vehicle licenses as well as the $60 vehicle license fee imposed by theSeattle TBD are authorized to be collected by the WA DOL through the car tab/registration issuance and annual renewal process. They are just two components of the total “bill”. MVET has a very specific meaning in our state’s lengthy excise tax chapter of the RCW. Sound Transit is the sole taxing authority utilizing the MVET depreciation schedule, a repealed one at that.

    7. Really great post, Mike.

      One thing though, is this assertion:
      “ The 10 eastbound has only two or three people on it east of Bellevue Avenue.”

      Pre COVID, that was not my experience at all. I live on the 10 route and used it frequently. Even on nights and weekends, it had good ridership until 15th and Harrison.

    8. The 10 is a very slow bus that follows the same general corridor as Link. In practice, most trips that could be accomplished with the 10 can be done in equal or less time by either walking to Link (if headed all the way to downtown) or walking all the way (if just traveling within Capitol Hill).

      As an example, before the pandemic I something had stuff going on in Capitol Hill near Denny and Olive. to get home to Kirkland, the trip planner said to ride the 10 downtown and catch the 255. But, in practice, I never did that – I just walked down the hill to Olive and Boren and caught the 255 there, saving a lot of time. I hadn’t yet needed to go there since the 255’s restructure, but if I did, I would expect to be walking to Capitol Hill Station and riding Link to UW Station and catching the 255 there. Again, no need for the 10.

      That’s not to say the 10 isn’t useful though. The reason why it’s so slow is that it’s constantly stopping for passengers. In other words, people are riding it. I mostly see it as a kind of handicapped shuttle for those unable to walk up or down a hill. I’m not sure what should be done to make the 10 better. One option is to move it back to the old routing, but I’m somewhat skeptical of that approach between the frequent 11 and 49 already running down Pine St. and the fact that the 43 is gone, leaving the 10 as the only route available to downtown via Olive. Ultimately, I think the simple reality is that the need for short-haul bus trips between Capitol Hill and downtown is less than it was, since many are choosing to walk to Link rather than ride the bus. There’s nothing wrong with that. As long as they’re getting where they’re going without cars, that’s all that matters.

  9. Am I wrong in saying that the main danger we have to allow for, regarding transit and much else, is that the United States Federal Government is now an active enemy whose control of the Courts assures it will never lose an election in my lifetime?

    Mark Dublin

    1. Indirectly, but the effect is more diffuse, higher-level, and speculative. The federal government can zero out transit grants, but they’re already at a minimal level. And every time it has tried, Congress including when Republicans are in majority has refused to zero it out grants eliminate Amtrak funding because their constituents want it. The federal courts affect larger issues like voting rights, but how would they affect the trajectory of Sound Transit and the local agencies here? I suppose it would be mostly in de-funding unions.

  10. In the post it says that the Harborview tax measure and a Kirkland tax proposal could be only tax proposals on the November ballot along with the possible Seattle transit tax.

    But there is the possibility of the “Amazon” tax proposal also being on the ballot in November. This is the measure that Savant is pushing but is in limbo right now because she declared it an emergency measure. But the council has put a pause on the measure because it may not be possible for the council to consider it under Inslee’s emergency orders.

    Savant is continuing to hold hearings on the measure claiming that Inslee’s orders are illegal. She has also said if the council does not pass the measure or if it is vetoed by the mayor she will collect the 18 to 19 thousand signatures on an initiative to place it on the ballot.

    A lot has to happen between now and August for the possibility of having the “Amazon” tax measure on the November ballot so it may not occur but knowing Savant’s determination on this issue I would not put it past her to get it on the November ballot and if it does what affect could that have on the Seattle transit tax proposal.

    1. Seems very difficult to gather signatures with the social distancing requirements that will continue through Phase 4. I can’t imagine there is much appetite to talk to a signature gatherer outside a grocery store and there are far fewer people out and about than normal.

      King County isn’t even going to make it to Phase 2 for a while at current rates.

    2. what affect could [the “tax Amazon” proposal] have on the Seattle transit tax proposal.

      Not much. I doubt people will vote for to tax Amazon, but then feel like we have taxed things enough, and vote against needed bus service. If there is any tax proposal that will fail, it is the one that Sawant wants.

  11. West Seattle may want frequent transit on the lower bridge while the high level bridge is out. The STBD purchased trips on the peninsula.

    1. Depends completely on operating conditions literally yard by yard, but I wonder if there’s an outside chance that for this location, we’ll be looking for light rail vehicles whose strongpoint is to be able to handle curves with streetcar radius? Probably not preferred, but still legitimately “in the breed.”

      Mark Dublin

  12. I’m only staying with this thankfully-bygone piece of history in honor of Bruce Englehart’s wonderful posting, but very shortly after DSTT’s opening, KCM permanently ruined every subsequent attempt at joint-operations by defining success as no entering vehicle failing to eventually come out the other end.

    Definitely One Man’s Opinion, but both the Die and the “Just Let It Die” were cast when Ron Tober left his job as Metro Transit Director and moved on to his next challenge, as people with his outlook on project development generally do.

    For someone like Ron and the engineers on the project, being forced to stay and forever run something they build, as one world-experienced excavation man told me, “We start to suffocate.” Shame, but in real life, very often the only “Happy Medium” is a Romany (AKA “Gypsy”) woman who’s just told a bride she’s going to marry a real sweetheart.

    My own measure to “make good” Convention Center interference with Link? Get those MLK main intersections undercut so neither passengers nor trains require a “Beg Button.” Which regardless of breed, from toy poodle to Doberman, and especially malamutes, no well-trained dog ever demands either.

    Mark Dublin

  13. Damn. Tim Eyman’s only 54, meaning that for our new emerging voters and candidates, there’s a clear and present danger he’ll live out the rest of his days making the same kind of mess out of their generation’s transit world as he did ours. Maybe the rest of our State’s politics while he’s at it.

    Making it top priority for us who consider good transit vital to get our system on the good side of the exact demographic whom a certain piece of prescribed punishment insults and offends the most. An age group, that most definitely includes the Fare Inspectors.

    Since they’re so importantly Ours, if we know what’s good for us, we equally need to be Theirs.

    Mark Dublin

  14. @RossB As promised in my earlier comment, here’s my follow-up response. You stated:

    “Metro ridership is up for the period in question (from 2015).

    Fair enough. In my previous comments I was thinking along the lines of what has happened in the last two years, similar to what Al S. had highlighted in his original comment that kicked off this whole discussion.

    You then stated:

    “Although that misses the point. Transit ridership is up *per capita* from 2015 to 2018, bucking the nationwide trend.”

    So let’s look at the detail in that report you linked to. These were the highlights from the Appendix A data and accompanying narrative that most caught my attention:

    “Overall, annual rides on Metro service (fixed-route bus, Vanpool, and Access) have
    increased from 113.4 million in 2010 to almost 126.7 million by 2018. Most of this growth occurred before 2015. Metro services realized a decrease in ridership in 2016, likely associated with the expansion of Link light rail to the University of
    Washington, which realized a dramatic increase in ridership that same year. Since 2016:
    •All Metro ridership has only increased 0.65 percent (816,000 annual rides)
    •Metro fixed-route ridership increased 1.0 percent
    •Several services (ST Express, Vanpool, and Access) had declines in ridership”

    And,

    “While overall fixed-route ridership has increased since 2016, a slight majority (51
    percent) of routes had a decline in ridership over that period. All types of routes realized ridership declines, including RapidRide, frequent and less frequent services. To understand changes affecting the leveling of Metro ridership, specifically fixed-
    route ridership, the analysis looked at changes in ridership by day, period of the day, and frequency of service since 2016. The analysis found ridership in off-peak periods, and particularly weekends, declined countywide.”

    Correct me if I’m mistaken, but didn’t the STB funding go toward increasing frequencies on Seattle routes during off-peak periods? So is the above-noted trend not present among such routes, i.e., the decline is coming from other routes in King County?

    Also,

    “While transit boardings from 2010 to 2018 have grown year over year, the growth in boardings has not kept pace with population growth starting in 2015.
    •King County’s population has grown considerably since 2010 with the largestannual increases in 2016, 2017, and 2018.
    •Ridership per capita (including Sound Transit service) increased from 2010 to 2014 and then started to decline after 2015.
    •Metro ridership per capita has fallen consistently from 2014 through 2018.”

    This is the part of the report that appears to most contradict your earlier assertions (and thus weakening your argument as I’ve understood it). As I stated in my earlier comment, the population growth in the city and county is a factor that can’t be ignored. It may indeed be the factor having the most influence in Metro bucking the national trend for the last few years.

    One final question that came to mind reading through the commentary started by Al S.’ thread concerns the issue of double counting in boardings data. What I’m referring to is the commuter who used to take say a north end Metro bus all the way to downtown and who now has a two-seat ride (Metro bus plus Link). Doesn’t such a rider get tallied as two boardings now if the ridership numbers are derived from the door counters? Is this accounted for in some way?

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