The proposed budget for King County Metro released last month indicates an agency preparing for a prolonged and deep decline in ridership. Fare revenue projections have been lowered by at least one third through at least the middle of the decade. While the budget authorizes the restoration of most suspended service if ridership does return, capital investments are ramped sharply downwards and will constrain Metro’s capacity to serve more customers.

In a comparison of the current budget proposal with the adopted budget of two years ago, the decline in expected fare revenue is striking. The forecast for the 2021-22 biennium is reduced by half. Even in the 2023-24 biennium, fare revenue is anticipated to be 34% less than the earlier projection. It grows just 7% in the biennium after that. Metro’s view appears to be that, after an initial rebound as pandemic fears ease, bus ridership is on a permanently much lower path.*

The shortfalls in fare revenue over the next six years are larger than the loss of tax revenues. County sales tax revenues are expected to be off 10% in the 2021-22 biennium, and off 7% in 2023-24, relative to the projections of two years ago. That seems manageable, but because sales taxes make up more than half of Metro’s revenues, the dollar impact is nevertheless large; a $142 million shortfall in the next biennium, and $102 million in the biennium after that.

Despite the extraordinary decline in ridership, the budget authorizes slightly more bus operations spending than the previous budget. The Executive’s statement, however, clarified that while the budget includes appropriation authority to add back currently suspended service, the actual pace and scale of restored service will depend on demand. So the true spend rate may be much lower depending on decisions made in next year’s service changes.

For budget purposes, Metro’s working assumption is the STBD will expire without renewal. If, as is more likely, voters do approve STBD taxes this November, the effect will be on the order of a couple of percentage points more bus hours with corresponding funding from Seattle.

With large decreases in fare revenue and sales tax revenue, and perhaps a much lesser reduction in operations, what gives? The gap in the budget is made up with slower capital spending and leaning into reserves.

The capital spending plan is reduced dramatically. Just three RapidRide lines are now funded (G, H, and I lines). Metro is assisting but not funding SDOT work on a fourth (J line).

Metro is continuing work on expanding the South Base including construction of the South Annex Base by 2027. Efforts to acquire site in South King County for a new base are suspended indefinitely. That base was scheduled to open in 2030 with space for 250 buses, and would have relieved Metro’s persistent capacity constraints.

Metro is drawing down on reserves, particularly in the 2021-2022 biennium. The Executive has signaled how, without more revenue, the drawing down of reserves will constrain Metro’s financial position after 2024.

That could delay the planned recovery in Metro capital spending in 2025. Fully $494 million of the adjustment to capital spending in the 2019-2024 budgets comes out of fleet capital. Two-thirds of planned fleet investments through 2024 are deferred, but Metro targets a return to normal fleet investments in 2025.

Are we also setting Metro up for a capacity crunch? In recent years, the low capital investments through the last recession constrained Metro’s ability to provide more service in good times. Even with the ample budgets of the recent past, it simply takes years to build bases. Slow-rolling base expansion is consistent with the planned slowing of fleet purchases. But what if high ridership does return? The base capacity issues of recent years may extend into the 2030’s.

On earlier fleet projections, Metro fleet plans would have run up against ‘efficient’ base capacity until a new South King County base opened in 2030. (image: King County Metro)

* This understates the decline in Metro fare revenues somewhat. The more recent budget incorporates the Marine Division beginning 2021. If those fare revenues were excluded, the anticipated loss of legacy Metro fare revenues would be larger.

58 Replies to “Metro plans for a lower ridership system”

  1. I guess King County is going to need to rewrite its climate plan, as reaching the short-term (2025-2030) goals depended on a massive increase in transit ridership.

    Or perhaps with remote work people will simply drive less moving forward. Even so, I think a massive expansion in protected bike lanes would be the only way to come near the 25% reduction in vehicle miles that the plan anticipates.

    1. Even full electrification does not actually turn the county into a net CO2 absorber (or CH4 absorber, for that matter). That gets into the wierdness of buying carbon indulgences on the international market, and planting lots of trees that won’t grow fast enough, but on paper treating them as if the CO2 they are converting into O2 is happening now rather than 50 years from now. There is no plan that actually eliminates the county’s CO2 or CH4 footprint.

  2. If we have budgeted more service level than what metro thinks demand will be, I hope there are no more excuses not to add more buses on trips that continuously face overload and pass-up with the passenger limit.

    1. Does anybody know if Metro keeps records of how many passengers get “passed up” by a fully-loaded bus on every run? Seems like it would be important to know.

      Could drivers have a quick radio code to Control like “Code-P, Rainier and Othello, Pass Six” for the system to record and file?

      Would, as radio people can verify, also give drivers good practice in knowing exactly where their coach is at any given time, which in turn can save a lot of radio time.

      And also get police on-scene a lot faster.

      Mark Dublin

      1. Metro doesn’t count the number of passengers passed by a full coach. They do, however, have a log of when a bus reaches it’s limit of passengers, a list of stops that it passes in those mode, and then the time when it resumes picking up. A driver presses a button on the OBS to notify the TCC they are full, and the same notification begins to record the skipped stops and times.

        As for what Metro has done with that information, it’s not entirely clear to me. There have been extra trips for routes that I commonly see are full (7, 36), and anecdotally those extra buses seem to operate as a “shadow” of sorts to a commonly full trip.

  3. I don’t know how Metro will train new operators fast enough to fulfill staffing needs after the pandemic. This has all happened before, and will happen again. A plan to double classroom capacity and staffing ought to be relatively straightforward (hire and lease, if necessary) without waiting for a new classroom in the cancelled base.

    Many of the suspended services ought to be rethought before being restored, especially the very-expensive-per-run expresses that have Link or Sounder connection alternatives.

    Oh, and “fare revenue” is still the wrong measurement. They need to be measuring net fare revenue, not gross fare revenue. Lowering collection costs through simple things like disincentivizing cash payment through an electronic payment discount ought to help on the net measurement significantly. And they really, really should be disincentivizing cash payment during the pandemic. It’s not as if anyone can easily acquire quarters these days anyway.

    1. I agree with all of your points. Metro should plan on being flexible. This means being prepared for additional funding, as well as big cutbacks. Every attempt should be made to keep drivers — hiring more after the fact is expensive.

      Running long distance express service is a bad idea when we have the opportunity to connect to Link or Sounder. This is where we could have the worst of both worlds. It is unlikely that we will have crowding in the middle of the day — service is just too poor. But rush-hour express service is just handy enough to see a big increase after the pandemic. Metro would be struggling to hire more part time (rush hour) drivers, and more buses. This is a terrible value, especially if you are focused on fare revenue. If Metro gets more money, most of it would go for trips that are a very bad value. If Metro doesn’t get more money, then it would be forced to shift money away from midday service. That means that you could actually see overall fare revenue go down, even though there is more crowding.

      In good times or bad, it doesn’t make sense to have these express buses.

      1. I agree that most Metro express buses should be eliminated. The Renton / Kent area is probably the biggest exception since Link misses the heart of King County’s third and fourth most populous cities and Sounder can’t run service to meet their all-day demand.

        I’ll also point out that many new Link stations opening by 2025 are designed with large areas set aside for both bus loading and layovers.

        The missing system gap is the horrible Link frequencies that ST promises in the midday.

        It seems to be a much better taxpayer investment to pay for a few more electric train drivers rather than The same number of diesel bus drivers. Unfortunately, this requires the two agencies to think as one — and that relationship appears quite dysfunctional (and I’ll go as far to name ST the main cause of the dysfunction).

      2. I agree — there are areas where express buses will still be required. But it is crazy, for example, to send express buses on I-5 from Northgate or Roosevelt to First Hill or South Lake Union after we have Northgate Link.

        Likewise, there are areas in the South Sound where we should just send the buses to Sounder. In the middle of the day there should be an express, but not during peak.

        The same is true for Kirkland and Redmond. As soon as it is easy to get off the 520 Bridge and cross the Montlake Bridge, all rush-hour buses should do that (252, 257, 311).

        If we minimize express service, then you don’t have to spend a fortune buying extra buses, or building places to put them. I understand why Metro runs the express buses. People love them. But people also love it when their bus runs more often. We can’t have everything, and it makes sense to reduce the number of express buses, especially in these unusual and unpredictable times.

      3. “It is unlikely that we will have crowding in the middle of the day — service is just too poor.”

        We’ve been having overcrowding in the early afternoon for months. I’ve experienced buses getting full en route, going over the limit, and/or passing people up on the 7, 11, 49, 124, 131, and 132 between 2-6pm, and I’ve seen “Bus Full” signs on the 124 and 150 southbound in Pioneer Square during that time. Metro announced increasing frequency or extra runs on the 7, 36, D, E, and a few others, but not on these routes. So we have a situation where Metro may or may not do something someday. But it seems to wait until it gets really bad for months before doing anything, and then only on the highest-profile routes.

    2. Brent, one extremely positive possibility for transit operations:

      In addition to inaugurating manufacture our own trains and buses, transit driving could provide a major part of the employment upon which survival will depend, let alone “Recovery.”

      More or less worked for Metro in 1982, as witness the drivers honored in yesterday’s Seattle Times. True, unfortunately resulting in me, but mainly giving our country’s organized labor movement its finest generation of leadership.

      Warning, though. To more of us than not, by the time we realized that the gigs we hired on for had become careers, not only was it too late to quit but we were hopelessly addicted. Hiring papers should at least carry the same label as a pirate flag.

      Mark Dublin

    3. Hundred percent agreement on cash, Brent. Since the “Onset”, though, it seems like the whole commercial economy is already moving in the cashless direction. My espresso and my tip come off the same card. “Keep Fifty Cents” is a mantra.

      Since its inception, my ORCA card has always had the right “feel” for me, though would really like to see them colorfully reflectorized to hold up into the headlights and signal an approaching bus as the days shorten.

      Serving a fare policy as simple as combined human and digital ingenuity can make it. Since the old adage is right about Time being Money, a wall-full of RCW’s is a swift chute to Poverty, for system and passenger alike.

      Mark Dublin

  4. We’re seven months into a worldwide epidemic of a highly-contagious disease, accompanied by the collapse of an economy that was already having serious problems providing an ever greater number of our people with wages they could live on. With residence someplace besides The Street.

    We’re not only unable to predict how long it’ll take to return to normality, but nobody’s got any idea at all of that term’s definition. No cause for hopelessness. At so many levels, able people are “working on it” at this minute.

    But one transit-wise thing it suggests to me is that it might be a good idea to concentrate as much on the quality of our service as its quantity.

    Starting with giving passengers the ability to know when trains, buses, and streetcars will depart from where. Fast, accurate, and most especially without complications.

    Skilled operating personnel not needed for drivers could be perfect “Ambassadors.” Is that still the job title? With “Embassies” to include Link stations, bus stops, and aboard vehicles. Human DNA’s got a lot more “Releases” than does Windows(tm).

    From some recent Link experience, heading into a winter generally agreed to be a bad one, it could prevent a lot of hypothermia to put headways a lot closer to ten minutes than thirty.

    Though if there’s a budgetary conflict, systemwide I’d assign priority to human-delivered advice and information across all modes.

    Mark Dublin

  5. Ridership has been hammered by the pandemic. At some point (hopefully within a year) we will come out of it. We would expect ridership to recover after that point. Unfortunately, it won’t because of these cutbacks in service. Metro is caught in a classic frequency-ridership-funding spiral. They cut service because they don’t have the money. This leads to less ridership, which leads to less fare revenue. (https://pedestrianobservations.com/2019/02/25/frequency-ridership-spirals/).

    Hopefully the cycle will be broken soon after we recover from the pandemic. It doesn’t require a financial recovery (which likely won’t occur for a few years) but it does require people feeling comfortable riding transit, and the political will to pay for it.

    1. “At some point (hopefully within a year) we will come out of it.”

      Doubtful. At least locally. I can attest that we’ve changed a lot of habits. We have simply stopped “consuming,” and are driving a lot less as well. Our favorite restaurants have permanently closed their doors, and we aren’t excited about “what’s left” which is mostly chain $h!+, at least where we live. Work from home seems to be working. Why would I go back to 75 minutes stuck in my car each day? Given the decline in dining options, why would we go out to eat when we make better food in our own kitchen? Now, Boeing is moving more production to South Carolina. I’m pretty pessimistic about the local economy, quite frankly, pushing me further into the “hoard cash” category, after having barely survived the last recession. The current trend of people consolidating households (as we’ve seen from a few neighbors with kids or parents moving in with them), mandatory mortgage or rent deferrals, and an unemployed service industry, isn’t sustainable. If people can’t afford their payments, housing values will, again, collapse, just like in 2007-10. Remember, we’re in a country with barely any safety nets, everybody is on their own, looking out for their own families. This will turn into a spiral. We’re only 6 months into a pandemic, nobody has the will to enforce any best practices (masks, social distancing, business closures, appropriate distribution of PPE, etc), and a tested vaccine is still 12 to 18 months away. I am waiting for a loud crash.
      Even if there is political will to raise taxes and improve service, there is going to be such a drastic shift in consumption (and tax revenue) that it will be difficult for transit to even tread water.

  6. I think it’s hard for anyone to know what happens to transit this time next year. A smart agency would be promoting flexibility, as Metro does.

    There are also underlying technology changes. Slow-moving driverless mini-vehicles were touted by many a few years ago, and 4-6 vendors have rolled out vehicles. A zero-emission fleet has also been promised by Metro, and that technology will change maintenance and vehicle requirements.

    Finally, Link and Stride openings will be extensive and that should result in some fewer buses unless Metro ultimately maintains and stores Stride vehicles.

    Outside of 2021, Metro needs appear pretty difficult to define. We may have to wait another full year to make sense of it all.

    1. Al S., considering the length of time present conditions have been brewing pre-COVID, we shouldn’t feel guilty if the time-frame is more like ten years. Hope you’re right, though, so good to be ready. One thing, though:

      Out in the world, since a computer program is only as smart as the dumbest second-by-second input just received, The Road swarms with variables like bees, wasps, and vultures.

      But for driverless vehicles, for Skytrain and regular passenger elevators, there’s no problem with their being fast as long as they’re confined to their own horizontal shaft impenetrable to intrusion. Every tool to its use.

      Mark Dublin

  7. Even in the 2023-24 biennium, fare revenue is anticipated to be 34% less than the earlier projection.

    That seems needlessly pessimistic. Not only is it much worse than what they had predicted earlier, it is much worse than the last few years. Fair revenue goes from $350 million (2017/2018) to less than $300 million (2023-2024). Ridership over the last 15 years never saw that kind of dip (https://tinyurl.com/y2bs8etc).

    The only way you can assume such bad fare revenues is if you have bad service (after the pandemic). That seems contradictory (if I read the text right). If Metro is willing to bump up service after the pandemic to previous levels (but defer some capital projects indefinitely) then they should see much better fare revenue than projected. If nothing else they should see numbers rebound to what they were.

    I suppose Link complicates things. The train will poach a few rides, but not that many. I suppose the revenue sharing will take a bigger hit. Still, I don’t think that is enough to hammer the ridership numbers (otherwise they would have been baked into the previous estimates).

    1. I agree, RossB. Given that the state initially predicted a $9 billion hole in its budget (mostly because of a collapse in sales tax collection), and that’s recovered to “only” a $4.5 billion hole over the course of six months, I would imagine that Metro can expect a similar recovery. It won’t be great, but this seems far too dire of a prediction.

      As for Link, it seems that if Metro can produce a good network around Link, it won’t have to worry about poached riders: people will take a (hopefully frequent) Metro bus to a (hopefully frequent) ST train. Metro, ST, and the public at large benefit in that scenario.

      1. When I think of “poaching”, I’m mainly only concerned with fare revenue. If a trip involves just Metro or ST, that agency gets all the money. If it involves a combination, then they share. There are three categories that would alter Metro’s finances:

        1) Trips that used to take place with a only a bus now take place with only a train. There will be some of these (in places like downtown Bellevue) but I don’t think they will dominate.

        2) Trips that used to take place with a only a bus now involve a combination. I think there will be a lot of these. Trips like the 41, 522/312 and the Issaquah express buses get replaced with combinations.

        3) Trips that used to involve a combination that now involve just the train. There may be a few of these from the U-District and Roosevelt, but not that many.

        The first and third might lead to an overall shift in ridership, but I think that will be counter-acted by the second group. But they all could cost Metro revenue.

        I don’t think that is the biggest issue, though. The biggest cut in fare revenue is likely to come from a drop in overall ridership caused by reduced frequency. If they find the money (and reverse the type of service cuts we’ve seen recently) then I would expect fare revenue to rebound. Whether it would counter-act the shift in fare revenue from Metro to Sound Transit is tough to say.

  8. Probably this morning’s greatest Unknown of all, Dan, so I’m leaving the [TOPICALITY] call to my editors here.

    Back in our country’s own brief romances with Normality, this Fall’s events would make massive assistance from the Federal Government a given.

    Though in such connections, guess it’s also a given that the better the condition we’ve gotten ourselves into, the faster and farther any Federal help will go.

    This morning’s difficulty pulling my new Boots on definitely makes me wish they even had Straps. Like the old ones did before they fell apart.

    Mark Dublin

  9. This is a long-term and pessimistic projection, during the middle of the pandemic.

    First I wonder how much of this is to politic for a tax increase, this year or next year, or just more general fund revenue when local governments are weighing priorities and cuts. I didn’t see a lot of modelling or data behind the ridership assumptions 4-5 years out.

    Second I have to think, or hope, Metro is looking at models and talking to experts to draft such long-term ridership reductions.

    My guess is Metro is looking at the lease negotiations and lease renegotiations in Seattle. This is probably the best tool to estimate future commuter ridership, and working from home, which of course affects restaurants and retail.

    Lease renegotiations right now definitely suggest a reduction of commuters in the future, and most leases are for a minimum of five years with options for 5 or 10 additional years since it is expensive to move. Plus I have a hard time not thinking more Seattle businesses will move east, or south to Tacoma, along with more shoppers, certainly until downtown Seattle can get some kind of retail core up and running, and address its homeless and street population. Losing Macy’s was huge. Several other downtown retail stores have announced they will not be reopening.

    Next I would look at tourism. Tourists tend to use transit, if it is safe and pleasant. It is hard to predict long-term. During the 2010-2018 Seattle was a hot spot for conventions because the weather is pleasant in the summer, plus the cruise ships.

    But Seattle received terrible national news over the last 6 months (after all who plans to travel to Portland for a convention), including Seattle is dying, CHOP, and Seattle Times’ columnists saying they no longer find Seattle safe at night.

    Then there is talk among some cruise lines of moving passengers to Bellevue for stays on both sides of the cruise (most high end cruise passengers like to make it a 10 day trip with three days onshore, especially if they are going to fly all the way to Seattle, and cruises to Alaska are a little slow entertainment wise). Tourism is a cash cow for any city, both tax revenue and the retail and restaurant scene it supports.

    Finally, and maybe most importantly, is any vaccine will have a much slower effect than hoped for. It may require two injections to become effective. Up to 30% to 40% say they won’t take the vaccine — not unlike the seasonal flu vaccine that this year is brutal — and few want to the be the first in line. This means essentially it will be herd immunity that eliminates Covid-19, with the vaccine providing perhaps 50% of the herd immunity. That could take 3-5 years to truly eliminate Covid-19, and right now the riskiest place is seen as on a bus.
    This would mean transit and crowded buses will continue to be seen as unsafe for several years.

    If I had to guess Metro’s biggest concern is the loss of the commuter. Even without the risk of Covid-19, working from home saves lease payments for businesses, allows the employee to take the home office deduction, eliminates transit passes for employees that are no longer deductible, and employees get to skip the commute and save an hour or 1.5 hours/day. It’s just that getting the systems up and running was such a huge undertaking inertia prevented it. Plus Seattle was no longer an attractive to place to meet for a drink or shop after work, and female staff did not like waiting outside in the dark for a bus back home, especially after peak commute hours, so there went happy hour.

    I find it ironic that some are still using global warming to support transit, when working from home reduces emissions to zero, along with transit use. Over the next decade the electric vehicle is the best method to maintain mobility and reduce carbon emissions, which is why Amazon is converting to electric trucks, rather than abandoning one day service.

    I also hope I see less advocacy for transit oriented development, at least on the eastside, if there isn’t going to be decent transit. For those on the eastside it might be a good idea to fix Seattle before exporting new urbanism east.

    So goes Metro so goes ST. ST is really predicated on the commute. I think the run from Bellevue to Redmond will be popular on East Link, but not so much the run into Seattle, although East Link was originally envisioned as a Bellevue-Seattle connection. The hub and spoke rail system transit works if the hub is attractive as a work and retail/restaurant destination, which Bellevue is and Seattle no longer is.

    This takes us back to the original public good from transit: mobility for those who cannot afford another form of transportation, especially the car. If Metro is going to cut this deep it needs to prioritize those routes. Of course if we are predicting out to 2025 that could be the beginning of driverless vehicles, which will ideally provide door to door service for poor transit users, but will be devastating on employment for men with a H.S. degree including transit drivers.

    IMO own opinion it is a little early for any agency like Metro to be predicting out to 2025 (although ST’s approach in which is basically denies the reality of Covid-19 isn’t good either), so there could be a little politicking going on for a transit tax or more general fund tax revenue.

    1. Lease renegotiations right now definitely suggest a reduction of commuters in the future,

      Everything I’ve read about companies having trouble with their leases is due to the pandemic. A restaurant with no customers doesn’t want to pay the rent. This should clear itself up in a couple of years. The same thing happened during the last recession, and transit didn’t take that big of a hit. Businesses recover.

      Plus I have a hard time not thinking more Seattle businesses will move east, or south to Tacoma, along with more shoppers, certainly until downtown Seattle can get some kind of retail core up and running, and address its homeless and street population.

      Every retail center is suffering right now. Bellevue isn’t in better shape than Seattle, and certainly Tacoma isn’t.

      During the 2010-2018 Seattle was a hot spot for conventions because the weather is pleasant in the summer, plus the cruise ships.

      But Seattle received terrible national news over the last 6 months (after all who plans to travel to Portland for a convention), including Seattle is dying, CHOP, and Seattle Times’ columnists saying they no longer find Seattle safe at night.

      You need to stop watching Fox News. Seattle isn’t dying. CHOP barely made the national news (why would it?). Yeah, Seattle has homeless people on the street. So does New York City, Chicago, San Fransisco, and every other fun, exciting city people like to visit (and in just about every case, the situation is much better than it used to be, despite inflammatory, reactionary rhetoric).

      I find it ironic that some are still using global warming to support transit, when working from home reduces emissions to zero, along with transit use. .

      Most trips aren’t for work. I don’t know how many times people have to write that. Let me put it another way. Less than half the trips involve work. Oh, and many of the work related trips can’t be performed at home. The trips that can be eliminated represent a subset of a subset or those that can be done via transit.

      Then there is talk among some cruise lines of moving passengers to Bellevue for stays on both sides of the cruise

      Yeah, right. Sorry, tourists who fly to Seattle want to stay in Seattle (just like tourists who visit the Bay Area want to visit Sand Fransisco). It might cost a bit more, but they want to see people through the fish around at Pike Place Market. Speaking of fish, the revamped aquarium and new Pike Place promenade should be grand. It will be popular with tourists and locals alike. (https://seattle.curbed.com/2017/7/12/15959930/seattle-aquarium-expansion-ocean-pavillion and https://waterfrontseattle.org/waterfront-projects/overlook-walk).

      1. RossB, the comparison I’d least like Seattle to follow would be Detroit. After the riots of 1967, which like a lot of other bad stuff would not have happened without the Viet Nam War, everybody who could afford to move fled to suburbs all the way up to Lake Superior, especially if they were not Afro-American.

        Leaving Detroit City Limits surrounding a wasteland with some really good infrastructure underneath the empty streets, and a fair number of fine old homes in dreadful condition. Whose home-owners’ income was on the side of Permanently Low.

        But a decade or so later, especially on the really scenic shores of the Detroit River, which is wide as a lake itself, some extremely wealthy Communities started arising with the River for a Gate. Other three sides, regular walls.

        In a State with an out-State political right wing that’d make the Proud Boys proud they’re too far left to live there. The Republican Governor poisoned everybody’s drinking water in Flint as a budget item.

        So knowing what I’m looking at, the whole ST service area is too small for that to happen, and the wealth too sparsely concentrated.

        Good try, Jeff, but Bellevue’s no Gross Pointe Shores. With a climate that’s basically Detroit’s temperamental opposite- Seattle doesn’t even get thunderstorms, and just a few blizzards-“Detroit-Alki” it’ll never be.
        Politics annoying but clean.

        My COVID-consciousness cut my recent car-trip short, so somebody tell me. As a possible model for the rest of Seattle, would present-day Columbia City be a decent place to live and a livable place to work?

        Especially if the Route 7 gets wired to Renton. Which I definitely advocate somebody opposing just to finally make it twittertweetie-REAL.

        Mark Dublin

      2. The riots in Detroit had very little to do with the downturn in Detroit. The short summary as this article (https://www.urbanophile.com/2012/02/21/the-reasons-behind-detroits-decline-by-pete-saunders/) put it:

        the auto industry faced stiff competition, moved jobs to the suburbs, moved jobs down south, and later moved jobs out of the country. And all that happened with fewer jobs at each stop.

        The same thing could happen to Seattle. Wait, the same thing did happen to Seattle. We were way too dependent on one industry. Not only that, we were way too dependent on one company (Boeing). Those jobs went away. But we rebuilt ourselves. That is likely because we don’t have all the other problems that Detroit has (that were mentioned in that article). We didn’t expand our freeways (https://www.seattlepi.com/local/seattle-history/article/Seattle-s-freeway-revolt-traffic-transit-housing-12717651.php#photo-7009888). We did invest in transit (first with the bus tunnel, later with Link and expanded bus service). Downtown has remained strong — if anything, it is stronger than ever. It is much more of a neighborhood now, with plenty of people living there. There is a nightlife (at least up towards Belltown) — something unheard of back in the day. The local political establishment has been strong, and prevented the inner city area from becoming rundown. There is plenty of neighborhood identity.

        Theoretically all of that could change. The tech companies could decide — in one big group — to leave Seattle. I seriously doubt that would happen. There is little reason for them to. Even if they did, there is enough commercial momentum in Seattle to keep going. San Fransisco has survived despite most development occurring outside of it (in Silicon Valley). Seattle will be fine.

    2. I think the run from Bellevue to Redmond will be popular on East Link, but not so much the run into Seattle

      I’ll take that bet. You are saying there will be more riders between Bellevue and Redmond than over the I-90 bridge? I’ll make the opposite prediction. East Link won’t be done by 2023, and by then the pandemic should be over. Either way, I’ll take that bet.

      Finally, and maybe most importantly, is any vaccine will have a much slower effect than hoped for. It may require two injections to become effective. Up to 30% to 40% say they won’t take the vaccine — not unlike the seasonal flu vaccine that this year is brutal — and few want to the be the first in line. This means essentially it will be herd immunity that eliminates Covid-19, with the vaccine providing perhaps 50% of the herd immunity.

      All vaccines work that way. They all provide part of the herd immunity. To quote https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herd_immunity:

      Herd immunity (also called herd effect, community immunity, population immunity, or social immunity) is a form of indirect protection from infectious disease that occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population has become immune to an infection, whether through vaccination or previous infections, thereby reducing the likelihood of infection for individuals who lack immunity.[1][2] Immune individuals are unlikely to contribute to disease transmission, disrupting chains of infection, which stops or slows the spread of disease.[3] The greater the proportion of immune individuals in a community, the smaller the probability that non-immune individuals will come into contact with an infectious individual.[1]

      From that same article, you can see that Covid-19 has a herd immunity threshold of 60-75%, much better than, say, measles at 92–95% (measles is much more contagious). The point being that while the disease may not be wiped out, it will be rare (just as measles, and many other horrible diseases are not wiped out, but rare in the U. S.).

      That could take 3-5 years to truly eliminate Covid-19, and right now the riskiest place is seen as on a bus. This would mean transit and crowded buses will continue to be seen as unsafe for several years.

      Covid-19 may not be wiped out for decades. If you go down that list (of diseases), very few of them have been completely wiped out. We keep coming close to wiping out polio, but keep falling short. That never stopped people from going to Sounder games and it won’t keep people from going to a Kraken match.

      But if the predictions are right, then by the end of 2021, Covid will longer be a pandemic in the United States. There may be an occasional outbreak (like measles) but it won’t be like today.

      As far buses being particularly scary, I disagree. The air in buses is particularly good. With any luck, everyone is wearing a mask. In contrast, any indoor area that involves eating or drinking is likely to have times when there is no mask. Indoor sporting events (like a hockey game) would be extremely dangerous.

      No one knows the exact timing on the vaccine. But based on everything I’ve read, I expect numbers to plummet by the end of next year. Given the fact that we are engaging in dangerous activity now — during the height of the pandemic — I expect things to be more or less back to normal by the end of next year, especially in a more well educated region (which is likely to have more people immunized).

      Maybe that doesn’t happen. Maybe all of the vaccine trials that have reached stage 3 fail, and fail miserably. Maybe there will be a vaccine, but people will forever be afraid to interact with other people, and we become a society of hermits. I doubt it.

      1. You’re working too hard, RossB. Because here’s the absolutely unarguable question that’ll settle the whole thing:

        Between those two suburbs themselves, the numbers should pretty much balance. But since they’ve got Seattle for a choice of destinations, how many Redmond and Bellevue teenagers will gladly pay a $124 fine for a one way Link ride to the station they know is really gonna be BROOKLYN?

        Though since “Alki” means “In A Little While”, its name in New York will be “In Ya Dreams!”

        Mark Dublin

      2. Ross is working hard. What he hasn’t explained is why Metro is estimating a 1/3 reduction in ridership. Those are not my estimates. I gave my hypotheses; maybe I am wrong. I assume Metro is doing some kind of analysis. There are many data sources to draw from. All I know is when our lease is up in two years we are moving out of Seattle, and I use to love Seattle.

        On the other hand, although I seldom take transit I have continued to go to restaurants and bars, mostly on Mercer Island and in Bellevue, although I have been to the Market a couple of times.

        In the past, Mercer Island restaurants couldn’t compete with restaurants in Seattle or Bellevue for quality, but they are good for convenience, especially if you want to have a martini and can walk to the town center like I can. The one interesting difference is Mercer Island’s bars and restaurants (there are like three of each that are not geared towards take out) are doing better than ever. Probably the desire to stay near home, and those working from home wanting to get out.

        Mercer Island has struggled for many years with a town center that is the worst of TOD but with anemic retail and restaurants despite having a fairly affluent population of 26,000. Plus if you commuted to Bellevue or Seattle for work you would normally meet someone in Bellevue or Seattle for drinks or dinner out or happy hour after work, or to shop. With Seattle and especially Bellevue/Issaquah/Kirkland ten minutes by car Islanders would go off Island as the congestion is gone by 6 (at least on I-90 with R8A these days. Now they are staying home for some reason, and the bars and restaurants are jammed on the weekend, and pretty busy most evenings until around 8.

        Maybe working from home will finally lure a few more restaurants and bars to Mercer Island, although I won’t hold my breath for Carmine’s.

      3. “The air in buses is particularly good.”

        What is Metro’s air circulation quality again? How often is the air replaced with outside air?

      4. Mike, my strategy when riding buses is to open the window I’m sitting next to if possible. A number of studies have shown that introducing even a little bit of outside air circulating improves safety. This has made me notice that there’s a small subset of articulated buses (it seems with serial numbers in the 6800s) that don’t have windows that open – I wonder if this is easy for Metro to address?

      5. What he hasn’t explained is why Metro is estimating a 1/3 reduction in ridership.

        BULLSHIT. Come on man — just stop writing for a second, and read. It was in my first open comment on this post (https://seattletransitblog.com/2020/10/06/metro-plans-for-a-lower-ridership-system/#comment-859038). Here, let me repeat it for you:

        Ridership has been hammered by the pandemic. At some point (hopefully within a year) we will come out of it. We would expect ridership to recover after that point. Unfortunately, it won’t because of these cutbacks in service. Metro is caught in a classic frequency-ridership-funding spiral. They cut service because they don’t have the money. This leads to less ridership, which leads to less fare revenue. (https://pedestrianobservations.com/2019/02/25/frequency-ridership-spirals/).

        (I added the emphasis).

        Got it? The only logical explanation for the reduced fare revenue is reduced service. This makes sense. This is not something I pulled out of my ass (“Seattle is dying — Rush Limbaugh told me” — or “No one will ever take transit again, because all bus trips were to work in an office, and those will be empty, forever”). No, it is based on scientific studies, many of which were listed in that link I referenced.

        The predicted lower ridership is based on the prediction for lower funding. All of it. My point is that if the funding reverses, so will the ridership. It always does (unless you are in the middle of a pandemic — then all bets are off)

    3. I finally made it to downtown Seattle last weekend, and it was not dead. There were people on the streets. Businesses were not boarded up. The downtown Target had plenty of customers.

      All that’s missing is the return of the office workers.

  10. Let me flip the post headline around, and ask commenters, are you a less frequent or former rider that is causing Metro to plan for a lower ridership system? Are you going to be part of the prolonged and deep decline in ridership that Dan referenced? If so, I’d like to hear why.

    1. I personally have been using significantly less transit than before. I now take the bus once or twice a month. I’ve ridden Link once since March. I used to be a frequent rider. I don’t plan , at least in the short term, to be increasing my transit usage. My partner hasn’t been on public transit since February. That also seems unlikely to change any time soon.

      I’m also type two diabetic – so for me, I’m trying to minimize exposure as much as possible. I’d rather walk to miles, which is healthier, than ride the bus.

      1. I have been already, and will be in the near future, going to ride Metro much less due to several reasons. This is in no particular order.

        1, Regardless of what the signs say, masks are optional on public transit. 2, I’m not transit dependent. I have other options. 3, My neighborhood has crappy bus service, anyway, and it’s not hard to stay away from something that’s crappy. 4, I want to save bus space for those who truly need it.

    2. Sam, when I got Econo-victed out of Ballard six years ago, Olympia’s local “IT” service literally from the end of my driveway started me off on a two-hour express bus ride to Seattle, finalized by a half hour on Link.

      World-class “Anthem” coffee break included at my exact transfer from Intercity to Tacoma Link, headed for either ST 574 or Sounder at Freighthouse Square.

      Other Seattle locations I checked out before moving would’ve meant a longer ride downtown, with rents already venting vapor on the launch pad.

      Chief curtailment of my bus-travel now is the chance that I could either catch or spread a fatal disease. A Presidential Prerogative that this week I would NEVER infringe on!

      Also, the universally distracted state of mind of the average motorist inclines them make a lot of big trucks crash while avoiding them. Sooner or later, my State Farm premium is gonna reflect the resulting losses.

      So my word to Metro is, whatever service you’ve got left, make sure you’ve got it right. Though especially on the Interstates, the Middle of the Road really is the most dangerous place to drive anything. Especially a country.

      Mark Dublin

    3. I have not ridden any public transit since late February and will probably continue to do so. Similar story to the post above, family members with health reasons so we are not traveling anywhere outside the neighborhood except by car (and even then just for medical appointments). And I say this as someone who has never owned a motorized personal use vehicle ever – all my solo past trips were on transit. Now they will all be on foot if at all, but very likely not at all.

    4. I’m in the same boat. I don’t take transit. I also spend very little time inside. I buy practically everything online (including groceries). I don’t go to bars or restaurants, although I’ve occasionally ordered food for delivery.

      In general, it sucks. I can’t wait for this to be over. I’ll be back to taking the bus (if the service is decent), eating at restaurants, buying my own groceries, drinking at bars, and generally interacting with people. So I’m part of the temporary loss of ridership, but not the long term. For the long term my ridership will be based on whether the system is good or not (just like ridership overall has typically been based on that).

      1. Right, yes, I meant to make it clear that my behavior change is hopefully temporary. The one downside (and related to what you very aptly brought up in an earlier post) – like Sam, I live in an area with particularly coverage and other not great routes, so the more cuts Metro makes, the harder it will be for me to use transit actively again when the outbreak is over. This is not unreasonable, we moved here knowing that the situation could get worse, and now it did. Areas with higher usage should get more transit back faster, and I hope they will, even if it is personally inconvenient. But I do hope that eventually (on the order of a few years) the old normal will be back.

    5. I rode the bus about 4 trips a week before Covid, non commuter hours. Rode mostly the 2, 13 and 8. Haven’t ridden a bus since March.

    6. After spending a few months not riding transit (combination of stay-at-home orders, not having any “essential” trips, and a worry about asthma that’s now not considered a COVID19 risk factor), my partner and I are taking transit a few times a week, both for “essential” reasons (groceries, doctor’s appointments, etc.) and recreation (going to a park, or just somewhere different). For me, it’s about the same as before (I would rotate biking, walking, and busing to work at UW) while for my partner it’s still quite a bit less (she bused every day to work).

      I don’t begrudge anyone who feels uncomfortable on transit right now (especially those with health conditions placing them at risk of COVID19), but I can say that transit is safe. I’ve been on a few crowded coaches (none recently, but a couple E-Line rides back in August) but people are generally good about masking and distance. I think the return to fares has helped a bit since people actually have to walk past the driver now.

      1. Even if sharing a restaurant table with someone outside your household is officially legal, I still think it’s a dumb idea.

        I have eaten with people during COVID, but only outside, sitting a minimum of 6 feet apart. A standard restaurant table is small enough that two people sharing a table cannot possibly be 6 feet apart.

        Movies are probably safe enough if everybody wears masks. The issue is whether people will actually keep them on in a dark movie theater without the peer pressure to encourage it. However, if the theater isn’t crowded and you wear an N95 to compensate for others unofficially de-masking, it’s probably safe enough.

        Allowing public libraries to open is probably overdue, given that bookstores have been open for months now, hadn’t had any issues, and browsing through a library is compatible with wearing masks.

    7. I’ve mostly stuck to eastside bus routes which tend to be good for social distancing, although I have ridden Link a few times.

      I haven’t ridden as much as before, partly because there’s fewer activities to ride too, partly because the weather has been nice and I’ve been riding my bike.

      I generally feel safe enough with my mask on and the windows open, especially if the ride only lasts 15 minutes or so.

    8. So, in Sam’s informal poll, we have lots of people who have temporarily stopped taking transit (but not everyone). No one has said there will be a permanent change in their transit habits, but several (including me) have said that cutbacks in service could reduce the amount of transit they use.

      Pretty much what I expected (although obviously this isn’t a complete or scientific poll).

      1. One observation on the cutbacks reducing amount of transit used…

        I was thinking about this again as I was rereading this thread. It is worth noting that there is a difference between cutting frequency and cutting entire routes. Yes, even when cutting entire routes, there may be other routes that people can take. But I believe the reason we see frequency drops resulting in reduced trips is because the casual trips people take will no longer be taken. Like, I might go get a haircut and just catch the next bus because it’s frequent, but if it’s no longer frequent, I might drive instead. On the other hand, removing entire routes causes _all_ my trips to shift to other modes – if I can never get to work in a reasonable amount of time, I’ll walk every day or drive. I say this as someone who (in the Before Times) had a flexible start time, of course – so even with frequency of once an hour, I could arrange my schedule to match those bus route times. And this is not an exaggeration, my current coverage route ends up with hourly frequency in the evening and early mornings. But it’s still better than nothing – nothing means I just won’t ride at all.

        Another observation in the context of revenue: I have an ORCA pass, so I take unlimited rides for the same price. Thus, as long as I continue to use this, reducing frequency does not reduce revenue. On the other hand, reducing route coverage does reduce revenue because I will potentially stop buying the pass altogether. So it’s not a continuous (or even step continuous) function – there will be potentially significant discontinuities as people’s passes do not get renewed. I don’t have a sense of how much revenue comes from passes vs. E-purse or cash, so I am curious if others here have any insight on this topic.

        Thanks a lot in advance.

  11. Daniel, the reason for “CHOP’s” whole existence is thousands of people fed up with living in a place, like a country, for instance, where female emergency room technicians get shot six times in their own bed over a Departmental Screwup. With the DA calling her death “Justified.” Bad enough how many decent Blue Lives are forced into Black Uniforms these days.

    But having lived in more than one collapsed industrial economy turned “Meth-And-Corrections,” I know an addiction on sight. As a fear-driven painkiller for the scared and lazy, pessimism beats opioids all hollow.

    Damn. Know the ‘Sixties left me a “Just Say No!” bumper-sticker around here someplace.

    Mark Dublin

  12. The capacity chart excludes the impact of Sound Transit investments. East Link will cause the 550 to disappear (bus hours will be converted to Link hours, not reinvested elsewhere), and then once the Stride bus base opens there may be an opportunity to shift more buses out of KCM. In March 2019, ST has 119 buses in KCM bases. Removing those buses creates effectively the same capacity as the South Base annex and would allow Metro Connect level of service well into the 2030s.

    The blog post says “as demand returns— we will consider reactivating the acquisition process for the south King County base” which I read as we still get an additional KCM bus base, but perhaps in 2035 rather than 2030. Given KCM’s long range plans assume flat rather than decreasing amount of STX buses in KCM bases, I do not think KCM will run into capacity issues like it has had in recent years.

    https://www.soundtransit.org/st_sharepoint/download/sites/PRDA/ActiveDocuments/Presentation%20-%20Regional%20Bus%20Base%20Capacity%20-%20Maintaining%20Service%20as%20Congestion%20Increases%20190404.pdf

  13. I heard a news item today about the large increase in demand for used cars~ the theory being that people are returning to work and avoiding transit due to COVID. That could be a significant depressant of transit ridership for quite a while, until widespread vaccination has quelled the COVID fears.

    1. RDPence, you know what you’re looking at, so I’d like you to tell us. What’s your assessment of general service quality? Is the reported revulsion ONLY due to the virus?

      From here on, the days will only get shorter, darker, colder, and wetter. Hypothermia and pneumonia kill people too. If transit is in a condition where every trip is going to necessitate a wait of un-knowable time for a bus or train….

      Isn’t avoidance of these things exactly what cars are for?

      Mark Dublin

    2. At least locally, I don’t know that competition with used cars is a big deal for transit. I have a friend who’s looking at getting a car due to a new job that requires a bit of travel, and she said that there’s basically no used cars fitting her requirements to buy. On top of the supply issue, there’s still the costs of insurance, parking, maintenance, dealing with traffic, etc., so while some people who don’t have cars might buy them, on the whole I don’t know that it’ll make a big difference (we still have two friends without cars who have no intention of buying one, along with ourselves).

    3. Until they find out/remember why they didn’t have the car in the first place, the cost and hassle of repairing it. The only real value in a used car is one from way back when, when proprietary software wasn’t controlling everything, and shutting things down for some minor OBD code.

    4. In every recession or oil-price spike demand switches from new cars to used cars, and from gas-guzzlers to compacts. Then when things get better it switches back. So how has the market for new cars changed during this period, and is it possible that most of increase is people who would have bought a new car in better times?

  14. Could we look at those used cars- which come to think of it is what my every single car lifelong has been- as indefinite-term rentals?

    For the burgeoning “gig” economy, like my years of tutoring and part-time teaching used to be, it’s not unusual for workplaces like clients’ homes to lack direct line-haul service.

    And rented or owned, those cars can always be left at the end of a transit line, or at its most convenient station. This isn’t Either/Or,

    Mark Dublin

  15. I think things will be back to normal by early 2022 at the latest. A number of vaccines should be out by mid 2021, and I’m guessing it will take about 6 months to vaccinate most of the population.

    The vaccines won’t be perfect, but I think it will be good enough to make COVID manageable along with other measures. Probably people will be encouraged to wear masks in public permanently, as they have for years in East Asia. Really, that’s something we should have always done during the flu season anyway.

    These transit projections basically just seem to be extrapolating from the first derivative. Probably reasonable in 2021, but completely off for 2025.

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