News roundup: this is why

A Final Look Back at Ze MV Tokitae

This is an open thread.

How important is Link to the network?

Souls Boarding & Deboarding at International District Station

Like many transit agencies, Sound Transit predicts a constrained financial future and has cut transit service. Under Sound Transit’s initial 2021 Service Plan, Link would have continued its current operational pattern of 8 minute peak frequencies—stepping down to 15 minute and 30 minute frequencies—through 2021. In that document, the agency blames reduced peak hour demand for this proposal. Sound Transit has since backed away from this plan after collecting feedback. Nevertheless, a sole focus on reduced demand ignores the other consequences of infrequent service on Link. These consequences are not abstract; they are quantifiable. Ignoring them significantly and disproportionately reduces the value of the Link in Seattle. We should expect more effort to analyze the consequences of these reductions in much greater detail.

While ridership-based measurements, like Sound Transit’s citation of peak hour demand, are pervasive, they are quite limited. They are subject to errors and bias from sampling. More concerning, they tightly couple observed demand for transit with actual desire for transit. In doing so, they assert that demand for a transit route is a consequence of the area the route serves. They fail to consider that the underlying quality of transit service also drives use. Ridership-based measurements are logical to use when adding service: a crowded bus is a clear sign that more capacity is warranted. When used in reverse, they create cycles where low ridership drives a reduction in frequencies, making transit less practical and dissuading potential riders further. In reality, adoption of transit depends on both the needs of people served by transit and the qualities of the transit network that serves them. Unfortunately Sound Transit’s explanation of its service reductions only guesses at the future of the former while saying nothing of the latter.

Continue reading “How important is Link to the network?”

Metro celebrates an all-hybrid/electric fleet

A 30′ Gillig Phantom seen on route 331 in 2009, photo by the author

On Friday Metro celebrated the retirement of the last diesel bus—part of the fleet dubbed “the 1100s”. Metro’s fleet is now comprised only of diesel-electric hybrids, battery-powered buses, and electric trolleys. To celebrate, a “Gold Tire” retirement ceremony was held to recognize the last bus, which will be preserved by the Metro Employee Historic Vehicle Association (MEHVA) which you might be able to ride some day.

The ceremony comes several months after the last trip operated by an 1100 series bus, which last saw service in late March 2020, when route 200 was suspended. The first of the 1100s entered service in 1999. A more recent addition–the D40LF or “3600s” made by New Flyer, were added to the fleet in 2003 and last saw service in April 2020.

Continue reading “Metro celebrates an all-hybrid/electric fleet”

Streetcar service may be cut again, as Center City Connector remains on hold

Streetcar in South Lake Union (image: SounderBruce)

The Mayor’s budget proposal funds streetcar service in 2021 at current levels, with about 10% fewer service hours than before COVID. The Seattle Council however appears to be looking at further reductions, eyeing about $700,000 in operating savings for every 10% further reduction in service. Prospects for restarting the paused Center City Connector appear dim.

Overall, the City’s streetcar operations budget for 2021 is flat vs the original enacted 2020 budget. Cost increases nearly offset the 10% reduction in service.

Continue reading “Streetcar service may be cut again, as Center City Connector remains on hold”

ST draft service plan revised for better Link frequency

“Just a pinky promise” / photo by SounderBruce

On Thursday, Sound Transit staff presented a revised draft 2021 service plan, which the ST Board will vote on in November.

Three routes have changes in the revised draft, vs. the original draft:

  • Link Light Rail would be upgraded to 10-minutes off-peak headway, as compared to the long-term continuation of 15-minute headway in the first draft. Late evening headway would be 15 minutes instead of the originally-proposed (and current) 30 minutes. These upgrades would take place as part of King County Metro’s March service change.
  • Route 555 (Northgate to Bellevue), currently suspended, would continue to be suspended after Northgate Link opens. Metro route 271 would be expected to handle the reverse-peak ridership on the corridor.
  • Route 586 (Tacoma – UW), originally slated for elimination with the opening of Northgate Link, would continue on, with a stop added at Federal Way Transit Center. The presentation did not specify whether the new stop would be added in March or September of 2021.
Continue reading “ST draft service plan revised for better Link frequency”

15-Minute Link/bus network

Metro route 255, cursed by 7 months of bad luck since being diverted to UW
photo by Spencer Thomas

While there is a lot of lost service in the King County Metro network due to COVID-19 and its economic impacts, Metro has nevertheless managed to make lemonade out of lemons by assembling an increasingly robust network of buses connecting to Link Light Rail stations at frequencies that match Link’s temporary off-peak frequency of every 15 minutes. Link’s frequency is planned to be every 15 minutes during off-peak hours, until late evening, likely through 2021. Sound Transit is preparing for a long pandemic. The recent spike in new cases and deaths backs up their pessimism.

The following routes that serve Link stations outside of, or just on the periphery of, downtown have 15-minute off-peak weekday headway. (Link now runs every 8 minutes during the peak period on weekdays.) Unless otherwise noted, they also have 15-minute headway during the day on weekends.

Continue reading “15-Minute Link/bus network”

News roundup: returning

Inside Seattle's King Street Station

This is an open thread.

Challenges, more closures for East Link construction

Bellevue Downtown Station (Sound Transit)

On October 8th System Expansion Committee received briefings on various capital projects. The centerpiece was a detailed review of East Link. The system is 85% complete, within the budget set in 2015, and on schedule for opening in July 2023. But there’s also some bad news.

Major civil engineering should be done in early 2021, and systems work by early 2022. Most of 2022 will be “pre-revenue” testing, and from September 2022 is 9 months of “float”. But some things are not going well.

Continue reading “Challenges, more closures for East Link construction”

Less-accessible voting sites and other easier ways to vote

Dempsey Indoor Center, one of two accessible voting sites in Seattle, starting Halloween

For most of us, voting could not be easier. Every registered voter with their address of record up-to-date gets a ballot in the mail. Return postage is pre-paid. There are also plenty of ballot drop boxes open. Ones close to light rail stations include the Beacon Hill Library, Uwajimaya, the King County Administration Building, and the northeast corner of the Edison Building at Seattle Central College,

The King County Elections Department recommends that you mail your ballot by Friday, October 30, in order to make sure it gets postmarked by election day, the following Tuesday. After that, it is recommended that you use one of the many drop boxes that are available 24/7 now through 8 pm on November 3.

You can also vote online.

You can register to vote online, or by snail mail, up until October 26.

UPDATE: In-person voting registration is available through Election Day at the accessible voting sites, but the County urges everyone to use the voting centers only if they have to. Wearing a face covering over the nose and mouth will be required.

Continue reading “Less-accessible voting sites and other easier ways to vote”

Sound Transit shares latest NE 130th St Station designs

Rendering of the station viewed from NE 130th Street over I-5 (courtesy of Sound Transit)

Sound Transit recently started its virtual open house for the NE 130th St infill station, where you can see the latest designs. As part of this open house, there is a survey where you can provide feedback on the proposed designs. In addition to the blue and green station-wide color scheme options, you can weigh in on the available plaza-level seating and bollard options. In addition to the station design, Sound Transit has provided an update the status of the project.

Continue reading “Sound Transit shares latest NE 130th St Station designs”

Shuttles replace Link north of SODO Station this weekend

construction banner in International District / Chinatown Station – photo by Busologist

Link Light Rail service will be partially disrupted this weekend, per an annoucement from Sound Transit:

Link light rail service will temporarily stop running between the UW and SODO stations Saturday, October 17, and Sunday, October 18 to allow for system upgrades.

During the service interruption, free bus service will be available between UW station and SODO station. Light rail riders will need to switch between trains and buses at SODO station stations [sic] to complete their journeys. Sound Transit will provide shuttle buses every ten minutes between the affected stations, and Sound Transit personnel will be available to help passengers with transfers. Trains will run every 15 minutes on the weekend. Light rail trains will return to their regular schedule Monday morning.

Other alternatives to get to or between the northern station areas include:

  • Route 7 between Mt Baker Station and downtown.
  • Route 36 between Beacon Hill Station and downtown.
  • Route 48 between Mt Baker Station and UW.
  • Route 10, 11, or 49 between Westlake and Capitol Hill.
  • Route 49 between Capitol Hill and the U-District.
  • Route 60 between Beacon Hill Station and Capitol Hill.
  • Route 70 between downtown and the U-District.
  • Route 101, 150, or ST Express 594 between SODO Station, Stadium Station, and downtown.

Any work Sound Transit has to do on Link is certainly best to do on weekends during the pandemic, while there are the fewest riders to be impacted.

Metro prepares for end of cash fares

Riders line up to pay (image: Lizz Giordano)

King County Metro is embarking on a process to phase out on-board cash payments.

Details are so far limited, pending discusssions with stakeholders. A briefing to the King County Council Budget and Fiscal Management Committee noted the discontinuation of on-board cash fares would happen in concert with the launch of the subsidized annual pass program and the planned launch of Next Generation ORCA by early 2023. Metro will engage with community stakeholders later this year and early next year to develop a plan.

The subsidized annual pass program offers free fares on all Metro services but Vanpool, and is available to recipients of several means-tested programs. The full launch of that program was announced yesterday. (Sound Transit is running a similar program on a pilot basis). It’s favorable to reducing cash use because lower income riders have historically preferred not to prepay for ORCA media.

Continue reading “Metro prepares for end of cash fares”

I-976 struck down

Temple of Justice, Washington

No details as of yet, but who needs the details:

The immediate practical importance is that various transit and transportation agencies will not have to refund the money they have been collecting since I-976 passed, easing pressure on budgets statewide.

All justices but Barbara Madsen, who found only one reason to reject it instead of two, signed the ruling. Story here ($).

Vote Yes on Prop. 1

A King County Metro Route 8 Working on 10 July 2019

Seattle loves its bus service. As pandemic measures temporarily reduce demand, new challenges like the West Seattle Bridge closure arise. It would be irresponsible to reject a measure that doesn’t even fully replace the tax that it succeeds.

In 2014, Seattle approved a $60 vehicle license fee and 0.1% sales tax to fund increases in bus service that greatly increased the number of Seattle residents within walking distance of bus routes that run every 10 minutes all day. That tax expires on December 31st, and Metro has already cut some service in anticipation of losing that revenue.

Booming tax revenues, and a lack of bus capacity at Metro, led Seattle to find other worthy transit-related goals. Notably, Mayor Durkan introduced the “ORCA Opportunity” program, providing free passes to Seattle Public School students and therefore nearly eliminating youth fares in the City of Seattle.

Continue reading “Vote Yes on Prop. 1”

News roundup: pivoting

King County Metro NFI XDE35 at Vashon ferry terminal

This is an open thread.

Last-mile alternatives to legacy First Hill express service

First Hill Streetcar at Capitol Hill Station / photo by SounderBruce

Correction: In Metro’s Phase 3 proposal, route 64 goes to South Lake Union. (New route 361 from Bothell will also go to South Lake Union via Northgate Station.) Also, route 309 is renumbered as 322 to reflect the detour to Roosevelt Station.

One of the most notable features of King County Metro’s North King County bus route restructure proposed for September 2021, when Northgate Link is scheduled to open for service, is the continued use of north-end and Shoreline express bus service for First Hill. The rest of the express bus service from the north end and Shoreline to the Central Business District will go away.

Metro plans to have four First Hill express routes in operation after Northgate Link opens, three of them competing with Link Light Rail:

  • Route 193 serves Federal Way Park & Ride (S 320th St), Federal Way Transit Center, Star Lake Freeway Station, Kent – Des Moines Freeway Station, and Tukwila Park & Ride before expressing to First Hill.
  • New route 302 would replace some 301 and 304 service, but going to First Hill, with a stop at Northgate Station.
  • Route 303 serves Shoreline Park & Ride, Aurora Village, Northgate Transit Center, and then expresses to First Hill. Routes 302 and 303 are planned to provide alternating service between Northgate Station and First Hill.
  • New Route 322 would essentially be a renumbering of route 309 (Bothell to First Hill), but with a detour to Roosevelt Station before jumping on I-5 to get to First Hill.

The First Hill expresses only operate during peak hours, and only in the peak direction. Given the 24/7 nature of all the medical buildings, this specialty service is mostly irrelevant to a large chunk of First Hill employees, unless they are the lucky ones working the latte shift.

Continue reading “Last-mile alternatives to legacy First Hill express service”

Sound Transit’s boardings struggle to recover

Monthly boardings on Sound Transit (data: Sound Transit)

Second quarter ridership data from Sound Transit shows, as expected, a collapse in ridership after COVID. There was a meaningful recovery in June as the lockdown eased, but ridership more recently seems to have stabilized at just under one-fourth of normal levels.

Pre-pandemic system ridership was about 4 million riders per month. At the bottom, in April, Link and ST Express ridership were at 18% of normal. There was some slight recovery in May, and more in June.

Ridership on ST Express and on Link has hovered around 22% of normal since June. (‘Normal’ here being the 2019 average). The commuter-heavy Sounder trains are carrying just 10% of their regular passenger loads. Tacoma Link is a relative bright spot, with 35% of normal ridership in August because it’s ridership is less commute-oriented. Overall system ridership remains just short of 900,000 monthly.

Continue reading “Sound Transit’s boardings struggle to recover”