The “recovery fare”

On June 1st, Sound Transit instituted a “recovery fare” of $1 on Link and $2 on Sounder through June 30th, after a period of not collecting fares at all. ORCA is still charged at the normal rate; cheaper fares are only available through ticket machines or the TransitGO App. Early reports say 19% of Link boardings are using this fare. Thanks to social distance measures, mere possession of a ORCA card will satisfy enforcement.

This will make a little money. However, this is clearly intended to also deter a growing hygeine and security problem. ECB discussed this purpose at length and pointed out that the collateral damage includes people who are homeless seeking a warm and dry place.

An internal Sound Transit chart obtained by STB indicates a legitimate problem:

HW = headways
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Swift picks a Link extension

Community Transit

After almost four months of consideration, Community Transit announced that it has picked the route to extend the Swift Blue Line to intersect with Link. It will maintain a stop at Aurora Village Transit Center, as shown above. Alternatives would have continued on Aurora, skipping the transit center.

Meridian is a residential street less likely to experience traffic. Survey respondents prioritized “maintaining bus-to-bus connections at Aurora Village Transit Center.” However, most, but not all, routes that serve the Transit Center would still have had easy transfer points had Swift continued on Aurora. It’s ultimately hard to gauge the transfer opportunities until Metro chooses a service plan after Lynnwood Link.

Moreover, an Aurora Avenue/185th routing would have been more direct, used existing and planned BAT lanes, served a wider variety of land uses, and conveniently connected them to the Link station. Some of these benefits assume that CT would place relatively expensive Swift stations to serve riders to which it is not accountable.

While the relative travel times with 2024 traffic patterns are uncertain, it appears the speed advantages of an Aurora alignment are more likely to be more important for future CT riders than the transfer opportunities, despite the survey conclusion. While by no means a catastrophe for anyone, most future riders are likely to regret this decision.

Photo Tour: Lynnwood Link, quarantine edition

The state’s message to motorists on Interstate 5

It’s been 9 months since Sound Transit broke ground on Lynnwood Link, the first step towards a light rail spine in Snohomish County. While the past few months have gone in an unexpected direction, there has still been visible progress along the I-5 corridor from Northgate to Lynnwood.

As with past photo tours, these shots were taken in the past few weeks from areas that are open to the public, but such access may be changed as construction continues. As we are still under stay home, stay healthy orders, please follow health guidance and limit trips to essential journeys. For the record, this photo tour was completed using a personal vehicle instead of short bus rides between the future stations.

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News roundup: disconcerting

King County Metro

This is an open thread.

Sound Transit faces $8-12 billion revenue shortfall

Most savings will require extending the construction window over several more years than originally planned (slide: Sound Transit)

Over the lifetime of the ST3 program, Sound Transit now expects a revenue shortfall on the order of $8-12 billion. Without adjusting expenditures, the agency will run out of available debt capacity by 2028. On Wednesday afternoon, a Board workshop learned more about the depth of the financial crisis and began to review options for responding. On average, according to one board member, the financial outlook suggests a five-year delay to projects not already in construction.

Generally, staff are suggesting extended project timelines. (They were careful not to couch this as a recommendation). In this scenario, environmental and preliminary engineering (E/PE) work might begin on the original schedule, but detailed design and construction work would follow over a longer window than currently projected. E/PE work is relatively inexpensive, typically about 10% of project costs. Getting it done on schedule preserves flexibility in case new revenue or grant options present themselves.

A number of board members raised the possibility of asking voters to raise the debt limit. Similar to municipalities, Sound Transit can borrow up to 1.5% of the assessed value of properties within the RTA. That could be raised to 5% of assessed value with the approval of 60% of voters. There was interest too among some board members in raising taxes or changing the mix of taxes supporting the agency. For now it would be unsafe to rely on that. Any such ballot measure is further in the future than Sound Transit should wait before acting.

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The ever-present allure of capital funds

West Seattle Bridge construction, 1981

The simplicity of the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) is a big part of its appeal: two straightforward taxes used to purchase Metro service hours. Back when it was first proposed, then-councilmember Nick Licata insisted that the money not go to what he considered wasteful capital projects (a.k.a. streetcars).

But several years ago, with Metro unable to sell as many hours as Seattle wanted to buy, City Council added some flexibility to allow for some of the money to be diverted to capital expenses. With bus hours exhausted, we and other advocates generally supported this idea. After all, capital spent to get buses out of traffic, either via queue jumps, dedicated lanes or signal timing fixes typically pays for itself many times over in reduced operating costs.

Now, with transit demand in a slump, that capital carve out could fund… the West Seattle Bridge?

It’s just a single offhand comment, so I wouldn’t read too much into it, but it reminds us that dedicated pots of transit money are in short supply right now and with ridership down, politicians may be eager to raid the kitty for other, tangentially related projects.

To be clear, the West Seattle Bridge will cost on the order of half a billion dollars to fix, and the TBD only brings in $50m/year. A diminished TBD (sans car tabs) might bring in half that, as Dan recently noted.

Still, the city doesn’t have any clear path to getting the money for the West Seattle Bridge or the Magnolia Bridge (or any of the other structurally deficient bridges for that matter). Whether it’s the STBD or Sound Transit funds, that money will have to be guarded vigilantly.

Another passenger ferry study

Kitsap Transit fast ferry (image: Zach Heistand)

The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) has a survey of potential passenger ferry routes on Lake Washington and Puget Sound. It’s part of a study commissioned by the Legislature earlier this year and due to be complete by January.

List of routes in the PSRC survey

The rather generously scoped study is to examine ferry opportunities across the twelve-county Puget Sound region. Apart from the usual ridership and economic metrics, it will emphasize preserving useful waterfront properties in public ownership and to seek opportunities for partnerships with the state.

There are some peculiar candidates for ferry service. Three of the routes are on Lake Washington. King County studied cross-lake service in 2015 and found costs much higher, and ridership much lower, than competing bus services. (The 2015 study followed another Lake Washington ferry study in 2008 and preceded yet another that is now underway).

Some other options in the survey are long north-south routes, connecting Seattle to Des Moines, Tacoma, and Olympia. With prevailing travel patterns and the long distances, those routes are certain to be even higher cost and lower ridership than the hapless Lake Washington routes.

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Tacoma Dome Link reduces the options

The Tacoma Dome Link Extension (TDLE) delivers rail from Federal Way to the Tacoma Dome, not to be confused with the “Tacoma Link” streetcar running today. It will offer a 35 minute ride from the Tacoma Dome to Seatac in 2030, compared to 37 to 74 minutes, less frequently and reliably, scheduled on ST 574 in 2020.

Last week’s board meeting provided a progress update (video, at the 2:00:00 mark). The last glimpse was a July 2019 motion to reduce the options under consideration. As the Draft EIS grinds on, ST has revised and refined these options.

The track is all elevated [1] except for a few sections along I-5. While track alignments are often what cities care about, because of “impacts,” I’ll focus on the station locations, as that’s what will affect riders most. Moving south from the Federal Way TC:

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