UW escalator issues resolved, but DSTT repair costs mount

An out of service escalator at Westlake Station (image: Bruce Englehardt)

Escalators at UW station, after failing spectacularly on several occasions in 2018, are now working well. After a series of changes to improve maintenance, downtime has been greatly reduced and Sound Transit is now comfortable postponing a full replacement of the escalators. The good news at UW allows Sound Transit to turn its attention to the planned takeover of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel in 2021. There, the agency is anticipating an unexpectedly steep bill to replace nearly all of the elevators and escalators.

The opening of the back stairs at UW station in March 2019 relieved loads at peak times. There is a new contractor for maintenance, with technicians on-site weekdays. A pre-positioned inventory of spare parts is available to to quickly bring escalators back on line when an outage occurs. This year, work was completed on a public passage between the sub-mezzanines.

While Sound Transit acknowledges the upgrades have not been stress-tested with higher ridership, escalator availability at UW this year has been 98.5% and elevators at 99.5%. Availability has remained high even as Sound Transit took advantage of low traffic to accelerate repairs requiring planned outages.

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News roundup: coming soon

King County Metro 2011 New Flyer DE60LFR 6875, with 2016 XDE60 8016 and Sound Transit 2012 D60LFR 9812K

This is an open thread.

What’s left of Rainier RapidRide

RapidRide R Concept via Metro

Heidi Groover, The Seattle Times:

The 7 was essential before the outbreak, too. Riders boarded the route 11,000 times a day, making it one of Metro’s five busiest bus lines. But with crowded and late buses, Metro labeled the route as in need of improvements and planned to convert it to a RapidRide line with special stops and signals by 2024.

Now, those plans are on hold. 

As part of its latest budget proposal, Metro intends to pause work on the RapidRide R line to Rainier Valley and several other projects in the wake of financial losses from the pandemic. 

In a cruel twist of fate, given how important Rainier Valley transit continues to be during the pandemic, the Metro/SDOT outreach survey went out just as the lockdowns went into effect. In addition to branded buses and shelters, the RapidRide R would have consolidated several stops and extended trolley wire all the to Rainier Beach Station.

While the RapidRide branding is currently off the table (though federal funding may still be possible?), SDOT is still working on transit and pedestrian upgrades to Rainier Avenue. Many were completed this year and several more are due in 2021-22, though they may be pared back, as the Mayor’s recent budget states that “Levy reductions in 2022 will reduce the amount of elements in scope of work for Route 7 improvements.”

Metro plans for a lower ridership system

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.

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An explanation of Link frequency

Two weeks ago I criticized Sound Transit’s 2021 plans for another full year of substandard Link service. Now that I’m corresponding with someone who actually still works at Sound Transit, I was able to get a reply.

I had three concerns: (1) that a high-capacity trunk line should have high frequency even if ridership is low, (2) restoring most service to the peak is perverse if the problem is lower peak ridership, and (3) fears that ST would not be flexible enough to ramp up service as people returned to work in 2021.

The first is essentially unanswerable: it’s not a data-driven argument, but ST can simply choose to meet previous expectations of its customers, and the assumptions that underpin the bus network, or not. But the data they provided does provide reassurance on the other fronts.

Data for Sep 21-29, 2020.
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Comment policy reminder

From current trends it’s worth reminding everyone that STB has a comment policy. If the post is about a Queen Anne bus lane or the SDOT budget, and you’re deep into homeless policy or Thomas Piketty, you are off topic.

We don’t really encourage non-transit discussions here, but if you must have one, we provide two open threads a week where you’re likely to be left alone.

Commenters compulsively incapable of staying on topic (or routinely violating other aspects of the policy) will have their comments delayed in a moderation queue, and in extreme cases of ill intent will be banned.


The suspended all-day routes

Route 246, one of the few all-day routes suspended entirely

We’ve reported extensively on Metro’s darkest day, when the service reductions due to COVID-19 were refined, and the temporary service suspensions seemed less and less temporary. While the bulk of service reductions were applied peak-only service, there are a handful of all-day coverage routes that remain suspended: routes 22, 47, 71, 78, 200, 246, and 249. While many (if not all) of these routes were difficult to use or served areas where ridership is difficult to attract, some of the few people who rely on these routes are getting the shortest end of the stick. While everyone else gets their all-day service back in some form or another (albeit often with dramatic cuts to frequency and/or span of service), these riders have to wait for improved economic conditions to get their service back. Below I will describe these suspended routes, and suggest smarter ways to restore service that may make more sense than merely restoring service to how it was pre-COVID.

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SDOT takes a hit in Mayor’s budget proposal

Mayor Durkan announced her 2021 budget proposal on Tuesday, with cuts in many departments due to COVID-19 and, in the case of Seattle PD, a push from the council and the community to redirect spending elsewhere.

One of those elsewheres will be SDOT, which is inheriting SPD’s parking enforcement division along with its ~$15m annual budget. But even with parking enforcement moved over to the SDOT ledger, the department would still have an $85m funding gap on a $608m budget. Director Zimbabwe will present the new budget to council later today.

The Center City Connector is still on pause, but the Northgate pedestrian bridge over I-5 is still funded. Also new is a $100M bond(!) to help with West Seattle Bridge repairs. Madison BRT is also full steam ahead, having received a green light from the FTA’s project management oversight consultant as well as $35.8M in funds from Sound Transit (part of ST3).

What was once a bold vision for 7 multimodal corridors has unfortunately been pared back significantly. As Dan wrote last week, Metro’s deteriorating finances mean that the only in-city RapidRide routes currently funded are the G line (Madison), the H (Delridge) and the J (which we used to call Roosevelt-Eastlake but now won’t even reach Roosevelt).

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News roundup: fares are back

Two Swift Buses in the May 2018 Sun - Widescreen

This is an open thread.