150 to Seattle off I-5

After an eventful 2020, Metro has been taking a look at how it prioritizes routes. As first reported by Stephen Fesler, On January 27th it briefed King County’s Mobility and Environment committee on its progress and revealed a bit about the staff’s thinking.

It appears Metro’s top two investment priorities will remain reducing crowding and improving reliability.

The current service guidelines describe how the third priority works: each corridor has a score based on the corridor’s ridership potential (“corridor productivity”, 50%), service to low income and minority neighborhoods (“social equity”, 25%), and connecting key nodes in the county (“geographic value”, 25%). The point total puts the corridor into one of four frequency levels. Metro invests in the list of routes that fall below these target levels, not in order of combined score, but instead first the highest geographic values, followed by the highest corridor productivities, and then the remainder that presumably had high social equity scores.

Finally, routes that carry lots of rides per hour and/or passenger-miles per mile get whatever new money remains.

This system is quite subtle, but broadly speaking routes with high residential and job density but lowish frequency are likely to dominate the list, but of those the ones in sparsely-served areas are likely to be boosted first.

What might change?

As the staff memo describes, Metro staff is currently considering several changes to the third priority algorithm. There are some tweaks to the metrics I’m consigning to endnotes [1] because there are two that really stand out.

Routes that need investment to meet Metro Connects objectives (i.e. all of them)

Adding Metro Connects corridors, using Metro Connects proposed service levels as a service minimum, and using the Service Guidelines to establish service levels appropriate above and beyond Metro Connects.” Metro Connects is a 2040 (now 2050) goal with service levels far in excess of what current metrics would justify, meaning that nearly every major route would be “underserved” (see map) and the composite scores don’t actually mean much. Since almost all the routes go in the bin, the priorities with which they’re drawn becomes very important. And speaking of that…

Potentially changing the priority order of the geographic value, productivity, and equity scores (using different priority order would prioritize different areas of the county for additional transit service).” Taken with the Metro Connects change, these priorities are the whole game. After overcrowding and reliability problems are resolved, further investments would essentially be ranked in order of whichever score was priority one.

Show me maps!

Enough analysis. Maps of the possibilities:

Geographic Value, as one would expect, prioritizes routes scattered about the County. Equity emphasizes areas south of Downtown Seattle, and productivity is heavily focused where the density is (Seattle). See more of these maps here.

For what it’s worth, Metro’s “preferred alternative” is the second one from the left (Equity, Productivity, Geographic Value).

The maps help to understand the implications of each change. Unfortunately, they also devolve a high-minded discussion of principle into a round of “what’s in it for me” or “what’s in it for my district?”

Next Steps

This will also move through the Regional Transit Committee before going to full council in July. Obviously, there will be many opportunities for public comment, but subtle changes in the criteria can have huge impacts that may be hard to follow and intelligently comment on.

It’s futile to argue about the relative merits of Geographic Value, Productivity, and Equity, as they go to the very heart of what transit is for. Is it a social service for the poor? A tool to get as many cars off the road as possible? Or a service that should be available to everyone at some level? All three, of course. But the relative values are a deeply personal question.

The proposed weight of the Metro Connects network is both interesting and potentially dangerous. Funding a high-priority route to an aggressive 2025 or 2040 or 2050 service level will tend to focus investment in fewer corridors. If you’re a rail fan, that ought to excite you. On the other hand, there is a real risk of empty buses when current metrics say that today’s service levels are adequate.

[1] Here are the other four proposed changes:

Broadening the definition of social equity from including race and income only to including race, income, disability, foreign-born, and limited English speaker.”

Adding consideration of low- and medium-income job locations to the productivity score.” The productivity score already counts jobs, so evidently this would overweight occupations that have some sensitivity to the costs of driving.

Adding target service levels for weekend service to cost estimates.” This will presumably mean fewer routes get funding, but will make sure weekend service gets attention.

Using population data (how many people live in an area) rather than boarding data (how many people ride a route).” This is how the productivity score already works, so by making the equity score work this way, it ought to increase the weight of low-income but car-intensive neighborhoods in South King County.

53 Replies to “Metro unveils new service criteria”

  1. There is no sugarcoating the fact that prioritizing anything other than productivity means that Metro will carry fewer riders and incur a higher taxpayer subsidy per rider carried. Years from now, when everybody forgets the current discussion about productivity vs. equity, people will simply look at the high cost per boarding, and argue that Metro cannot use taxpayer money effectively, justifying future service cuts.

    Despite what the names say, the productivity metric is already “equitable” in that it treats all riders equally – whether a rider is black, white, male, female, US-born, foreign-born, it makes no difference. A rider is a rider. An “equity” focus, on the other hand, is not equitable at all – it’s saying that riders who live in a neighborhood where most of the people fall into a politically important group, you are more important, even if there are fewer overall transit riders there because the walkability and land use is terrible and overall population density is lower. Even then, the moment you need to ride a bus outside your own neighborhood, to somewhere with different demographics, you’re not privileged anymore.

    To me, the so-called “equity” focus indicates a county council that is more concerned about being politically correct and making symbolic gestures to show that they care about the black community after George Floyd, than actually moving riders. I can only hope that, on a micro level, so-called equity doesn’t lead to more bus routes like the 345 that detour into parking lots because there’s a concentration of “priority people” there.

    1. Hi there! I think you might be talking about Equality (providing the same to everyone) rather than Equity (bringing everyone up to the same level). I completely agree that attempting to provide the same amount of service to all potential Metro users isn’t a very effective way to support our communities, since people with more access to private transit aren’t going to make as much use of Metro services, but I think what Metro is trying to do by the “Equity” measure is figure out which parts of our communities are the least served by transit of any type and bring their access up.

    2. While I would not mind at all if productivity was #1, I appreciate all sides of the argument and will make a few observations:

      1) The current priority 1 is geographic value, so the preferred alternative has no effect on the importance of productivity (although the Metro Connects thing does)

      2) “Productivity” is a simple measure of residents and jobs in the walkshed: it does not account for propensity to ride, which clearly has a relationship to income and disability, and possibly other criteria. Incorporating equity corrects for that to an extent.

      3) Jarrett Walker is fond of saying that agencies should be explicit about what part of their service is dedicated to productivity and how much is not (i.e. coverage service). Although this doesn’t literally divide up the hours, it is firmly in that tradition. It’s true that “empty buses” can feed into bad-faith right wing talking points, but there’s only so much you can contort your policy to counteract that.

      4) Since Overcrowding still trumps all of these criteria, almost by definition the highest priority remains productive routes.

      1. 1) “Geographic value” is basically what Jarrett Walker refers to as coverage service. It’s fine to have some, but it shouldn’t be most of the budget. It certainly shouldn’t take priority over productivity.

        2) Ideally, the definition of productivity would be refined to reflect in part actual ridership, so it would automatically reflect the impact of socioeconomic status on propensity to ride, rather than a separate “equity” category. Also, in looking at actual ridership, we need to be careful not to overweight temporary changes due to the pandemic as if they’re permanent.

        3) Agree, but I feel like the council is moving too much towards coverage vs. ridership.

        4) Overcrowding only kicks in when a bus is leaving people behind, or least making people stand for long periods of time. In practice, overcrowding seldomly kicks in outside of rush hour, so it’s largely irrelevant to all day service (except when capacity is temporarily reduced due to the pandemic).

      2. I did not realize overcrowding came first. That makes me feel better about where this is going. I tend to think that current demand (which I guess would be overcrowding) and potential demand (which I guess is productivity) should be the first and second priorities.

        I do not see that considering income, race, or language ability is really necessary. Those factors should naturally be reflected in the demand criteria anyway. If they aren’t reflected (which I agree is entirely possible), then we need to fix how we’re measuring demand.

      3. From the old document:


        Productivity is a primary value for transit service in King County. It means making the most efficient use of resources and targeting transit service to the areas of the county with the most potential for use. Metro uses the term productivity in two important ways in the service guidelines:

        1. Corridor productivity is the potential market for transit based on the number of households, jobs, students, and park-and-rides along the corridor. Higher concentrations of people support higher use of transit.

        2. Route productivity is the actual use of transit, determined using two performance measures of ridership—rides per platform hour and passenger miles per platform mile.

        The first seems like an important idea when it comes to new routes. The second seems key for prioritizing existing routes. Even when looking at new routes it makes sense to look at the old ones, since chances are, there is some bus service on there at for parts of it.

        The latter seems to be driving a lot of these decisions, and it seems flawed. For example, which corridor includes Lake City? More specifically, which corridor is the one for Lake city to the UW. There are four direct routes taken by existing buses (522, 372, 65, 75) — each of these can be considered a corridor, but only the last two are. Why not Lake City Way/Roosevelt/University Way, which would likely be the preferred route and pass by the most people (i. e. be the most productive corridor)? This is all before you have a Link station at 130th, which completely changes the dynamic. The Lake City to Sand Point to UW corridor is still decent after the Link station at 130th, but many of the riders (from Lake City to Sand Point) will simply take the bus to 130th and transfer there. The old corridors are largely based on the existing transit system. For example it includes routes like the 41, which is not a natural corridor, but simply in there because it is the way the bus gets to downtown.

        I think the “corridor” concept is given too much weight in this document, when it really should only be part of a restructure. Even then we should consider speed as part of the process. For example, there are two existing ways to get from Lake City — the 41 or the 75. The 41 goes by more destinations (although the difference is slight) but the 75 is faster. If you focus too much on the “potential productivity” of a route, it becomes very slow, and is not productive in the real world. (To be clear, that segment of the 41 is productive — but I’m not convinced it is more productive than the segment of the 75).

      4. 1) That is not the same thing. Geographic Value mostly measures connectivity between activity centers, which has very little to do with making sure a rural household has some sort of service.

        2) Sure, but this is harder than you think.

      5. 1) The current priority 1 is geographic value, so the preferred alternative has no effect on the importance of productivity (although the Metro Connects thing does)

        Huh? From the old service guideline:

        Indicators of productivity make up 50 percent of the total score, while geographic value and social equity indicators each comprise 25 percent of the total score in this step. [Step 1]

      6. I agree with all of your points, asdf2. I will quibble and say that “Geographic value” is not what I would call “coverage”. In my opinion, coverage is about minimizing walking distance. Running the 24 to West Magnolia is coverage. “Geographic value” is about focusing on an arbitrarily designated handful of places (as I wrote down below — https://seattletransitblog.com/2021/02/25/metro-unveils-new-service-criteria/#comment-869750).

        I think in general the thing is messed up. I should have done more research but I think I’ll write another comment summarizing my opinions.

      7. 2) Sure, but this is harder than you think.

        No one said it would be easy. But better no metric, than one that is clearly broken. I’m going to reserve my critique of that metric to a different comment thread.

      8. I tend to think of coverage service as falling into three different categories:

        One, as you said, is about minimizing walking in an area that already has service nearby. You could put the 71 and 78 in that category.

        Another is about routes that represent the only service to a large area. This category includes the 208 and 269, as you cannot reasonably expect anyone to walk to Issaquah from North Bend or Sammamish.

        The third category is what I call “directional coverage”. This is when you have service going one direction, but not the other, and time it would otherwise take to follow three sides of a rectangle would be particularly eggregious, to the point where you have to run a crosstown route, even with light ridership. Community Transit recently added a route connecting Marysville->Lake Stevens->Snohomish, which I consider in that category. Yes, you could detour to Everett, switch buses, and get there eventually, but the travel times are excessive enough that a direct bus -even if just hourly – is a huge improvement. If a Bothell->Monroe route existed, that would also be directional coverage. Yes, you can spend 2.5 hours on what, in a car, is a 15 minute drive, but that’s excessive. 5 round trip commuting hours per day doesn’t leave much time to actually do anything once you get there.

  2. Strong transit service should be viewed as a community asset. An equity focus allows Metro to allocate transit service to communities that are lacking in other valuable community assets. Just because a neighborhood has a low walk score doesn’t mean that the community wouldn’t value better transit service.

    Productivity of bus routes doesn’t adequately show the value of transit to a community. Dividing the cost of service by the number of riders is essentially a profit and loss statement for each route. What the productivity number misses is the value created by transit service for individual neighborhoods and the community as a whole.

    Metro shouldn’t have to go fishing for riders by drawing route paths with inefficient deviations. Communities should be built (or rebuilt) with strong transit service as a focus.

  3. These equity metrics can get glitchy – for example I was shocked to see my old office zip code of 98104 as an example of an underprivileged area in another context. That was my office zip code; turns out how the zip code boundary is drawn it includes a lot of shelters and not so many rich residents.

    But does that give equity credit for basically all downtown Seattle routes?

    1. The equity metric is percentage of boardings that occur in census tracts that meet the criteria, so to the extent downtown meets those criteria those routes will benefit. But the 7 will benefit more than the D, as boardings at both ends meet the criteria.

      1. Thanks (I should have done that earlier). Yeah, anyway, it’s messed up. Pretty much all these metrics are messed up.

  4. Ridership would seem to me to determine productivity and equity. Metro simply thinks counting ridership during a pandemic truly reflects those who must take transit, even at the risk of death, because obviously they don’t own a car.

    That might make sense depending on the return of the commuter post pandemic; otherwise a clerical worker on the eastside who works in downtown Seattle has to take transit too, because he/she cannot afford to drive and park, but must still work. If that commuter worker can now work at home, reallocating transit for equity purposes could make sense based on ridership, but we won’t know until around 2024, and if the commuter does not return in full force Metro has huge funding issues that will dwarf “equity”.

    The other consideration is ST just built a zillion dollar spine that adds a transfer and seat to many trips, especially for commuters who have to take transit to work. According to ST today the N. King Co. subarea is $11.5 billion short for ST 3, and some kind of HB1304 levy will be necessary. So Seattle citizens will be asked to pay for ST 3 twice. It is obvious to me Metro can not serve the truncation walkshed for light rail from county to county line without a lot more money, and will also be looking at some kind of levy.

    If rail and bus truncation add a seat and transfer to most trips, and the new trip is longer than the trip before rail and truncation, and the rider has to be someplace by a time certain every day (work), rail will be seen as a failure. You don’t spend billions to make trips take longer. Even if the trip takes the same amount of time adding a transfer is always a negative, especially if you have to be someplace by a time certain.

    I know there are committed transit users who prefer the lifestyle, but at last count there are something like 467,000 cars in Seattle alone. All things being equal, most people prefer to drive, depending on congestion and the cost of parking, and that is what they are doing now because parking is cheaper and there is little congestion. They take the bus because they have to, even if just to commute to work, which is the definition of equity.

    The folks who are getting additional transit service are the folks who tend to vote no on levies in Seattle, and the folks losing transit usually vote yes, so maybe ST and Metro hope this will encourage voters in N. Seattle to not only vote for ST 3 twice, but to vote for their Metro service twice, although that is a very risky strategy IMO with working from home, because I just don’t see the revenue under existing levies to fund ST 3 or the necessary Metro service no matter where it is. “Equity” is a slave to funding.

    So if the vast majority of transit riders, especially buses, are taking transit because they have to, ridership measures equity, but we won’t know true ridership for several years although additional transit levies will be on the ballot before then.

    1. “Metro simply thinks counting ridership during a pandemic truly reflects those who must take transit, even at the risk of death, because obviously they don’t own a car.”

      I think the phrase “risk of death” is an exaggeration. The actual exposure on a typical bus route isn’t anymore than what people who drive everywhere experience all the time at the grocery store. You wear a mask. You space out. You avoid the most crowded routes during the most crowded times. You open the windows. It’s not rocket science.

      I’d also like to push back on the notion that discretionary trips “don’t count”. There are plenty of people during the pandemic that have work-from-home jobs and don’t own cars. Are you saying that, on weekends, they should just sit at home all day and never get out? Discretionary trips certainly count in the car planning world, when justifying highway widening projects around the state. It’s only fair that they count in the transit-planning world too. When COVID ends, we’ll have people going to Mariners games, Sounders Games, Seahawks games, Husky games, Bumbershoot, etc. None of that is essential jobs, but transit still needs to be there to serve the event crowds, or the traffic will create gridlock.

      1. asdf2, I think the risk of death or serious illness from Covid-19 is the reason for the steep decline in transit ridership, which includes closing offices. You address another issue: whether that fear is rational on transit.

        Each person has to determine their own risk. Personally, I think the Governor’s closure orders have been too extreme, as well as the closure of many offices. I have travelled, and gone out to restaurants and bars during the pandemic, but everyone makes their own determination of risk.

        Considering the complications from Covid-19 can be serious, even if one lives, I can understand those not wanting to ride transit — even IF the other riders are really practicing social distancing and wearing masks.

        In the past these same riders were comfortable riding transit without masks during flu season, although I wonder if that will change after the pandemic leaves, and masks will be required on all transit all the time to encourage as many riders as possible to return, because even the vaccines are not 100% effective, and the complications including death in some cases so serious. The irony is some in the beginning thought sign on buses saying masks were mandatory would scare off riders.

        I never said discretionary trips don’t count towards ridership or “equity”. All trips count towards ridership by definition. I simply said ridership — both during and after a pandemic — is the best measure of equity, because most people taking transit are doing it because they have to, even if they have a car.

        If someone is taking a discretionary trip on transit I think it is fair to assume they don’t have another form of transportation they can afford for the trip (and where are bikes during the pandemic), so the ride really isn’t discretionary.

        My issue with Metro is using ridership during a pandemic as the main measure of equity, because many commuter workers take transit to work — especially downtown Seattle — because they have to because they can’t afford to drive and park, and to me that is equity too. People have to work.
        Plus no one will be hurt more than Metro and ST if those commuters don’t return in full force, which is why ST is now floating its new $9 billion in new revenue plan (hint: HB 1304).

        If the commuters convert to working from home that will be reflected in ridership numbers and that would be the time to adjust routes and service based on “equity”, except the loss of fare revenue and probably general fund revenue for Metro is dwarf reallocation of transit services, which of course is why Metro dreams of a big levy, but with ST asking for $9 billion from the N. King Co. subarea to pay for ST 3 (twice) and more suburban workers working from home what are the chances a country wide Metro levy will pass?

      2. The vaccines are more than 99% effective in preventing “serious illness”. Neither Pfizer nor ModeRNA had a single hospitalization of vaccinated participants during the trials., but that of course can’t be interpreted as “100%”.

        The 90%+ results are for “symptomatic illness”.

        Add that to the much lower incidence of circulating virus when “herd immunity” has been achieved and one will encounter an extremely low probability of dying from the disease whether by bus ride or boisterous MAGA rally. Yes, we’ll probably need “boosters” to handle the variants and the refuseniks and unvaccinated poor who will give rise to them.

        Maybe we will have the foresight with Europe to pay for vaccinating all those billions of poor and near-poor around the world and force the virus to become non-lethal to survive.

        Nobody has identified the pathogen which caused “sweating sickness” during the Renaissance, but it may have been a Coronavirus. If so, either it burned through the population susceptible to it and went extinct or it is now one of the “common cold” Coronaviruses.

        And this has been rankling me for a while. Why do you think Metro’s funding will be harmed permanently by lower ridership? Fares are only about 1/5 of its budgeted income, while commuter expresses and one-way “peak trippers” are some of the most costly transit services to provide.

        If sales and tab tax revenues were to return to baseline but farebox revenues and pass sales fell by 30% because of a decrease in CBD commuting that would mean that operating revenues would be reduced only six percent. Please believe me when I say that getting rid of six percent of bus hours to and from Downtown Seattle during peak commuter hours would be a welcome “problem” for Metro planners.

    2. hey Dan, have you considered just copypasting your old comments and putting an incrementing counter on them? Because it’s getting tiring just reading you tread the same ground over and over no matter how many times your assumptions have been proven fallacious.

      1. Well Ness, I don’t think that is a fair comment.

        I was only agreeing with comments Tom Terrific and Ross raised.

        A lawyer is a sceptic. If you hire a lawyer to write your will they will assume you will die in the elevator from their office.

        Another disappointing thing about a good lawyer is they just follow the money, and the experts. I am not a transit expert but I follow those who are, which is why I follow this blog. I might come across as arrogant, except I am on this blog because I am not so arrogant that I am not going to accept free transit expertise from others. It really is about my community Mercer Island for me — which will always be disfavored on a Seattle blog about transit simply because of property values — but free experts are very rare in my field.

        The experts I follow said before ST 3 passed the cost estimates for the N. King Co. subarea were lowballed to sell ST 3. So no surprise if you are not an idealist. Did any of the transit experts on this blog believe the cost estimates for ST 3 in Seattle?

        Is this region going to eliminate cars? Seattle alone has the second highest car ownership percentage in the U.S. Are we going to build a series of cities of 300,000 from here to Portland as part of Cascadia? No.

        I am sorry but an $11.5 billion shortfall for one subarea — not including the biggest cost fraud of all, a second transit tunnel under 5th Ave. hundreds of feet deep — is way beyond a bunch of amateurs called Seattle Subway and HB1304.

        If your issue is downtown Seattle I have worked there for 30 years. I hate to break it to you but everything comes down to revenue. I was a law school classmate with Dow Constantine and he understands this. If general fund tax revenue for downtown Seattle declines — and forget about farebox recovery — transit is dead. If transit declines transit is dead. Most tourists are old fat white people, but they find this disorganized city, and the cruise lines are looking at shifting them to Bellevue.

        No one relishes the disintegration of Seattle more than Bellevue.

        I hope I am wrong about the future of downtown Seattle, which was the cash cow. I hoped I (or the experts) was wrong about ST 3, although I always knew ST ridership estimates on East Link were a fraud. Rogoff is a pathological liar and will be gone by years end.

        If I tend to repeat myself I apologize, except idealists and progressives have a very hard time understanding the MONETARY truth until you repeat it like I do to clients over and over, because God bless them they are idealists, which means they are probably young like when I was an idealist.

        Let’s hope I am wrong and the elevators lands in the lobby and your will is for another day.

      2. What makes you think commuters are “cash cows” of the system?

        Commuter traffic uses the system only during peak periods, requires quite a lot of empty service hours to operate reverse trips, and expect a discount monthly price be charged for the service.

        One of the counties near where I live says each new house represents 7 car trips per day. If you are wanting transit ridership to increase, you don’t go after the two trips per day that are the most expensive to provide. You go after the five others that are local, daily life type trips.

        Link will make some trips more inconvenient for some, but less inconvenient for others. If the goal, as you say, should be to maximize farebox revenue while reducing operating expenses, that means chasing away some of the expensive to provide commuter trips.

      3. OMG, Daniel! Do you honestly believe that cruise ships are going to pass through the Montlake Cut, Lake Union, Shilshole and the Ballard Locks? Cruise ships!?!?!?!?!?! Ginormous floating mergers of the hotel and entertainment industries?

        They might move to gritty Tacoma, scenic Bellingham or even hidden Everett, but they’re NOT gonna’ berth in Bellevue.

        I have no idea who your “experts” might be, but they don’t understand the the nautical meanings of the words “draft” and “beam”. They’re verbally challenged on “length” in any context.


        Thank you. I tried to explain this to him yesterday a bit down the comments, but you said it more clearly. As we all know several very informed posters have explained how commuter service is extremely expensive, even when the bus is full. That’s not a reason not to provide it; of course not. But it means that if two busloads of riders go away, one whole bus that sits 20 hours a day goes away, because they only exist to provide “peak tripper” service. Yeah, they’re old and less than elegant, but they each haul 40 people and up to work.

        When fifteen of them go away, one mechanic goes away. When three hundred of them go away an entire base goes away.

        When a base goes away, a couple score managers, HR folks and schedulers go away and any remaining mechanics.

        So losing peak-oriented CBD commuters is a fairly good problem for Metro to have operationally.

        Now you’re certainly right that if enough of that happens support for transit from the middle class may wane and that would be a catastrophe.

      4. The last paragraph should say “Now he’s certainly right”. “He’s refers to Daniel who has prophesied it.

        And, Daniel, good for you for coming here to the Lions’ Den.

      5. Buses from deleted peak routes don’t “go away”, they’re available for the almost-endless demand for off-peak frequency. Metro can’t expand its bus fleet because all the bases are full and the next one won’t open until the late 2020s. Any spare bus that’s not needed for peak-only routes would ease the pressure on all-day service “for free”.

    3. There are so many moving parts here that generalities are quite speculative.

      I’m just one example topic, it’s the time people go to and from work that determines how many vehicles are needed at a particular hour — traditional 9 to 5 or not. Many “night shift” jobs pay lower wages and are harder to do remotely than traditional 9-5 office jobs. It’s also true that driver work rules make it harder to employ a driver for just two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon so commute express buses are expensive to supply with vehicles and drivers . Finally, when commuters go in primarily one direction the other direction has lots of mostly empty buses. There are loads of productivity and equity issues just in the time of day issue.

      On the other hand, it’s often better politically to serve more people with two trips a day than it is to serve four to six trips a day but to a lower proportion of the population. It’s why much of the typical referendum campaign literature tries to show benefit for as many as possible.

      I expect the lingering effect of the pandemic will be to shift work hours as much as work locations. I don’t see work from home or even meet from home as a yes/no decision. Even going to a 4-40 schedule decreases traditional commute demand by 20 percent.

      What does it mean for traffic and transit and parking?

      – For traffic, it means longer congestion periods. Congestion has largely returned to the regional bottlenecks already and it’s pretty likely that it will return to 2019 by 2022. It may be a tad less congested at 8 am but congestion will occur for more hours a day.

      – For parking, it’s a more complex issue. Maybe monthly parking will not be of value if people don’t commute 22 days a month. Maybe early bird pricing will be less attractive. Parking management for Downtown and for park and rides for transit will likely go through various market adjustments.

      – For transit, I think that traditional peak surges will subside but not disappear. First off, in-person university classes will return and that’s a share of peak demand. The Link opening actually dovetails nicely with spending the demand times as express bus routes get removed and Link (along with RapidRide) offers trains frequent enough to be attractive for 14-16 hours a day. Then the issue shifts to issues of getting to and from Link even more than how overcrowded trains might get.

      As for Mercer Island, the irony is that these trends coupled with technology could make the city a new model of how to serve a lower density area. (A hardcore urbanist would suggest that Mercer Island should house 100K people as a centrally located piece of land but no one is suggesting that — even here on STB.) Rather than fight and sue Metro and ST, Mercer Island could create a system that embraces these changing time of day behaviors. If Mercer Island was visionary and strategic, they could build upon the arrival of Link to trigger a new round of restaurant and experience options that would make daily life more interesting without ever having to leave the island. There will always be citizens that are curmudgeons against inevitable change, and citizens that see the change as an opportunity to make life better and increase business activity or property values. Daniel, you and your neighbors have a choice of how much of these two perspectives you people want to embrace.

      1. No Tom, cruise ships won’t enter Lake Washington to pick up passengers. Passengers will shuttle from the eastside to the cruise ships.

        My practice intersects with the cruise ships. Since Seattle is pretty remote for most of the country, and the clientele for these cruises is older and more affluent, and the cruise itself fairly sedate, the average passenger in the past spent three days in Seattle on either side of the cruise. However pre-pandemic that pre and post stay was beginning to decline.

        Due to complaints about Seattle (remember these are older passengers) some cruise lines are looking at steering their passengers to Bellevue for their stay, even though Seattle has the more dramatic scenery and reputation, but now it looks like Bellevue has better retail and restaurant density, and ironically is more walkable downtown. As you can imagine, Bellevue is lobbying for more cruise passengers. Whether a passenger stays in a Bellevue or Seattle hotel they still take a shuttle to the ship, one across 520 and the other along Interlake.

        I agree Seattle residents have lived in the neighborhoods for decades (and I grew up in one), but they commuted to work downtown, several hundred thousand per day if I am not mistaken. Downtown is the tax revenue cash cow, and that is my point overall. Fewer commuters, more office vacancies, fewer conventions and hotel stays, less commercial development, less retail shopping and dining (I read today where there has been an 83% drop in waitressing jobs), less B&O tax, less tourism, means less general tax revenue that supports a pretty progressive and expensive city to run.

        Personally as someone who works in downtown Seattle and lives close by I would like to see a very vibrant Seattle, with great retail and restaurant density. I think Seattle made a big mistake to create such a sterile office core from James to Union. As long as there is someplace to park, if some want to ban cars to some parts, especially in the evening, like Pike and Pioneer Square, and it was safe to walk around, I wouldn’t mind — if there was anything to see or do.

        But if I were on the Seattle council or was a resident of Seattle the loss of general tax revenue would worry me. A small city like Mercer Island has few social costs and relies on the property tax levy that doesn’t go down (except of the loss of new construction).

        There are only so many head taxes you can implement, or other taxes, or cuts to transit you can make, to keep your head above water. The term I have seen is the “deurbanization of the wealthy”, and I just don’t see West Seattle or Ballard or most Seattle neighborhoods as really urban. A major city like Seattle needs a vibrant core.

        When it comes to Mercer Island, working from home might help a little with the town center, but with Amazon, and Bellevue/Issaquah/Kirkland to the east, and Seattle to the west, the shopping and restaurant scene will always be small scale suburban, and that is how citizens want it.

        No one moved to Mercer Island for the great shopping or restaurants (because there is none). They don’t want density, crime, urbanism, concrete, and are not all that thrilled with transit (and receive almost no transit).

        The mistake Al makes is thinking eastside suburbanites want what he wants, probably the biggest misunderstanding I see on this blog, or that they think his concept of “change” is good. It isn’t as if property values on Mercer Island are hurting. Someone wants to live there.

        It also doesn’t help that on the eastside Seattle is seen as a failed experiment in urbanism and progressive policies (even though Islanders donated to Biden 10 to 1 over Trump), and Bellevue’s concept of urbanism and density is totally different than Seattle’s. I loved the post in which someone noted there are no Bellevue buses with a banner saying Seattle is getting closer.

        Mercer Island wants to stay a small, very safe town with rural neighborhoods and great schools, with great dining and shopping just off Island. Multi-family housing in the neighborhoods is the number one taboo. If you look at Bellevue zoning it is the same: rural neighborhoods like Clyde Hill, Yarrow Point, Medina et al, with a very dense, mostly commercial, core with some very expensive, new condos. Hardly the vision of The Urbanist, but good shopping and restaurants.

        What makes Mercer Island interesting is it sit between the eastside and Seattle, the residents have money to shop and dine out, and so they can go east or west just as easily. In the past they chose Seattle; now they choose the eastside, for the obvious reasons. Mercer Island is only 26,000 residents, but they reflect the rest of the eastside, and I don’t think that is a good sign for Seattle, work or play. It took a very short time for Carmines in Bellevue to become the flagship, even though the Carmines in Seattle had been one of Seattle’s top restaurants since 1984.

      2. “A hardcore urbanist would suggest that Mercer Island should house 100K people as a centrally located piece of land”

        Not necessarily. Putting major density on a small island with only one bridge and one light rail line for access is questionable. And the island is small and the edges limit the walkshed near the shoreline.

        Likewise, in Seattle I don’t see it as a priority to upzone Magnolia or Laurelhurst or the Lake Washington shore. We should focus on the area inside the ring of urban villages, to make the villages larger and meet each other.

        There’s more reason to upzone Medina, Clyde Hill, Yarrow Point, Beaux Arts, etc. They’re very close to downtown Bellevue, and they’re not islands.

  5. To begin with, the “Geographic Value” criteria should be tossed out. The definition is arbitrary, and any sensible one would automatically be part of the other definitions. There are several categories of “Centers” listed in Appendix 1 (in the old service guidelines). For the most part it is something that someone pulled out of their … um … hat. You have Regional Growth Centers and Manufacturing/Industrial Centers. You also have “Transit Activity Centers”, which sounds a lot like a circular definition (we should run more transit to the transit activity center). So far as I can tell, there is no ranking of these. They are all on the same level. So a bus to, say, Duvall, is treated the same as a bus to Fremont. South Mercer Island is the same as the Central District. The same is true for the “centers”. Downtown Seattle is the same as Kent (although maybe Kent is more valuable because it is listed in an industrial center as well). Tukwila is in the same league as Downtown Bellevue.

    Even if that is addressed, there are other problems. It ignores the overall network. A bus that connects to Link is not as valuable as a bus that goes directly downtown.

    It doesn’t make sense, when you consider there already is a definition that completely encapsulates it: Productivity. If the bus to Covington doesn’t carry that many riders, then maybe it isn’t much of a “transit activity center”. Maybe it is time to add “Phinney Ridge” to that list instead (since it has a lot more housing density, employment density, retail density, etc.). This is true of all centers. The definition of “centers” should come from looking at existing stop data. It is interesting, but it shouldn’t drive routing decisions.

    Then there is equity. Again, this should be part of productivity. There is a very strong correspondence with poverty, lack of car ownership, and transit ridership. Buses like the 7 have always punched above their weight (given the density there) for this very reason. That being said, it is quite reasonable to strike a balance towards more low income riders. But this should be done as part of productivity. What is the point of serving a dozen riders in Kent if you can serve a hundred riders in Rainier Valley for the same amount of money?

    The “Geographic Value” criteria should be tossed out, and a balance should be made between equity based productivity and productivity in general.

    1. It is the reduction of general taxes like sales taxes from working from home that is the major concern, because as you note ST has a 40% farebox recovery target and Metro only 20%. Working from home will reduce sales taxes and other general taxes in the one subarea that needs additional transit revenue the most, N. King Co. This is what is really driving ST’s $11.5 billion shortfall and Metro’s decision to reduce levels of service 25% through 2040, because both had banked on increased general tax revenues, and ST has a bad habit of overestimating ridership and farebox recovery.

      However I have previously posted a link to an article from Publico first posted on The Urbanist in which transit operators stated just a 5% reduction in commuter ridership would have very negative transit consequences system wide.

      I have no idea how confident transit riders — or commuters to offices — will be in the vaccine, and when, especially if most of them get the J&J vaccine, and whether this pandemic will make citizens and riders more aware of the general risk of spreading viruses in any contained area like a bus or train or office. Asia for example has many people who wear masks all the time, pre-pandemic, and more and more I wonder if that is not a bad idea.

      1. I can only assume this is a response to what Tom wrote up above (https://seattletransitblog.com/2021/02/25/metro-unveils-new-service-criteria/#comment-869798) not my comment.

        In any event, I don’t buy your argument. The relatively slight increase in working from home will result in a very slight decrease in sales. People will still buy things downtown; they will go out to restaurants; they will drink at bars. Even if some of this consumption occurs in Seattle neighborhoods instead of downtown, it will still happen. Oh, and when they do buy things online, they are buying from a local company (Amazon) which means they still pay sales tax.

        I don’t have the numbers, but my guess is the vast majority of people who work in Seattle also live in Seattle. The biggest set of riders outside of this is likely the East Side. But many people commute from Seattle to Bellevue (which is why the “reverse commute” is just as bad as the “normal commute”). My guess is that it all roughly balances out, and even if it doesn’t, we are talking tiny numbers here. Work time consumption probably doesn’t represent a big portion of the sales purchases, and most people won’t work from home.

        The estimates are simply the reflection of the fact that we are in a major recession right now. The assumption is that the recession will continue for a while. Even if it doesn’t, and we make a quick recovery, we have to deal with a very bad year or two when tax revenue was way down. But that doesn’t mean it will be a long term problem, as Tom explained.

      2. I expect that you’re correct that WFH will lead to a real decrease in food service sales in Downtown Seattle, but Ross is right that a good portion — not all but most — live within the City.

        They have the option to move to neighborhood restaurants. Take-out has become a significant “saviour” for them and if WFH continues at a high rate will grow as a means to get away from the desk in future years.

        Seattle has a LOT more interesting neighborhood restaurants than the surrounding communities, where they’re restricted to islands within car lots. Most Seattleites have at least two non-chain neighborhood eateries within a ten minute walk. With online ordering and it’s ready to the minute, that’s a perfect replacement for “lunch out” downtown.

        Yes, it’s probably a bit cheaper, reducing the sales tax take on the same meal, but people will just eat a bit higher in the menu.

        Of course that’s not true for View Ridge, Broadmoor and Laurelhurst where suburban segregation between “sleeping” and “everything else” is strictly enforced. But that’s not true of most of the City which was built before such distinctions became strict.

      3. “They have the option to move to neighborhood restaurants.”

        Neighborhood Seattlites weren’t eating in downtown restaurants. Maybe before or after a night at the symphony, or a group gathering from a wide area at a bar, or a Pike Place restaurant because they’re at Pike Place Market anyway. But downtown restaurants either (A) have equivalents in the neighborhoods, (B) are so expensive people only go once or twice a year if that, or (C) close at 5pm.

  6. Metro has a restoration survey to get feedback on post-covid priorities. It’s focused on which suspended routes and runs to restore first, and doesn’t have a general text field for other things (an increasing problem in transit surveys), although there are a few “other” boxes for specific questions. I emailed Metro afterward with what I wanted to put in the survey that didn’t fit the questions:

    1. Overcrowding on the 131/132. It has spread from 11:30am to 6pm, making the routes practically unusable. This corridor needs more than 15-minute daytime service, and none of Metro’s plans have any increase. On Sundays before covid it needed an articulated bus to avoid standees. Metro didn’t provide it for years, then finally did.

    2. Reverse the plan to reduce Lake City-Northgate service to 30 minutes with Northgate Link, in order to send hours to South King County for equity. Link needs full-time frequent feeders from large/dense/nearby urban villages. This was an implicit promise of truncating the 41 and 522.

    3. A plug for restoring evening/weekend frequency on at least some of the 10, 11, and 49.

    1. It really isn’t my argument Ross. Only time will tell. Smart folks like Bill Gates and McKinsey consultants think there will be a pretty steep decline in everything from commuting to business airline travel post-pandemic, and not just in Seattle.

      Working from home saves businesses on office space, and is certainly kinder to the commuter who doesn’t have to spend so much of their life commuting to an office, in either direction across the lake. ST and Metro are also predicting some significant revenue declines for the N. King Co. area. Who knows. My real comment was I think Metro should wait until the pandemic is over to determine coverage and routes when ridership is better known, and actual funding.

      I would like Seattle to work harder on its two urban retail centers, Pioneer Square and Westlake Center, that sit on opposite ends of an office tower desert, and I would love to see more citizens live downtown because a vibrant urban center needs residents living in the core to create retail and street vibrancy. Seattle’s zoning is almost the opposite of that concept. In the future more trips to urban centers will be discretionary, and that means whether someone wants to take the time and spend the money to park to go downtown to shop or dine.

    2. I agree with a lot of what TT writes. I think Seattle is moving to a collection of autonomous neighborhoods with their own retail and restaurants and more multi-family housing, at the expense of the downtown core, and working from home will likely accelerate that.

      One real concern for this is the tremendous amount of tourism revenue the downtown core brings in — for Seattle and King Co. — including the cruise ships, over $7 billion/year, and a lot of that depends on a vibrant restaurant and retail street scene, and an open convention center. Seattle has some tremendous advantages, especially moderate weather in the summer when much of the country is unbearable.

      Personally I prefer the European model of urbanism that has a true retail and housing dense city center with lots of tourists and people on the street, but much less dense surrounding neighborhoods, which is what Seattle used to be. The neighborhoods are still mostly single family houses today and those are the most charming IMO, but the difference is the lack of retail and restaurant vibrancy in the downtown core.

      It is also important to note most of the profit for a restaurant comes from alcohol, which I imagine will increase with in person dining.

      The other concern is the amount of revenue office leases and commercial development bring into Seattle in sales and B&O taxes, and new construction is exempt from the property levy cap. Sales taxes from restaurants are not a huge part of the budget.

      Ross raises an interesting point too, and that is the eastside could lose the reverse commuter. But my guess is the vast percentage of commuters are into Seattle’s downtown, and in the future a big part of whether a worker goes into the office is whether they want to, which will come down to the atmosphere of the city, and after work attractions.

      Either way ridership on transit, and car congestion, should go down.

      I would disagree with TT that somehow a parking lot or accessing a restaurant by foot makes it a better or worse restaurant, or that many of the eastside suburbs don’t have excellent ethnic restaurants, especially Indian and Asian (and I am not sure there is a really good Mexican restaurant on either side). Living on the north end of Mercer Island I am equal distance between Seattle (including the residential restaurants) and the eastside and so frequent both sides, and there is no difference in quality between the good restaurants on either side (and I drive to the restaurant whether Seattle or the eastside anyway, and either park on the street or in a lot), although MI is not in either league but is close to home.

      1. Daniel, I agree that the B&O and decreases in property taxes from reduced valuation is a big potential problem if WFH really does eviscerate downtown Seattle. However, I would challenge you to consider that other businesses may choose Downtown if rents really do fall. Did Expedia choose Smith Cove because of the view? Rainier is GREAT, but Magnolia obscures the Olympics. Perhaps they’d really prefer to be in one of the Amazon towers should Andy Jassy choose less iconic digs.

        And Texas isn’t the only state with no income tax. Elon, are you listening?

      2. Daniel,

        Sure, for evening meals drive and park restaurants in malls are roughly as attractive as are local walkable ones. Walking in the evening in the wintertime is no fun, and once you’re inside the experience is up to the chef and owner.

        But I was specifically speaking to lunchtime and how being able to walk to a local place and pick-up — or eat in — without having to get the car out of the lot drive and find a place along with all those other folks doing the same PLUS the normal shoppers and then put the car back is darned attractive. That is blunting the sales tax revenue loss from WFH even now and once dine-in becomes more available and safer it will boom.

      3. “I think Seattle is moving to a collection of autonomous neighborhoods with their own retail and restaurants and more multi-family housing, at the expense of the downtown core”

        That trend happened sixty years ago. Seattlites haven’t gone downtown for everyday needs since before Jenny Durkin was born. Seattlites go downtown for the same reasons suburbanites do, and for the big library and the closest department stores. When I lived in the U-District, Ballard, and First Hill, I went to downtown once or twice a month for any reason other than transferring buses. Now I go downtown mainly to buy food at Pike Place Market or H-Mart but I don’t have to.

        Seattle’s urbanism can get along fine without people living downtown. In Seattle it’s the neighborhoods where we’ve built a better balance of housing and commercial, and where there’s not “too much concrete”. We could saturate the housing demand without more highrises if we build enough seven-story buildings. Then downtown could evolve as it wants, probably into a slightly better residential/commercial mix, but that doesn’t mean we need to build all the new housing downtown. I’ve long given up on downtown becoming ideal, because that would require among other things retrofitting the office-only ghetto between Westlake and Pioneer Square.

  7. Does Metro look at the numbers before or after Seattle kicks in its extra money? I could easily see how that would skew things.

    1. That depends on the new agreement between Metro and Seattle, but the expiring agreement requires Metro to allocate service to allocate service without it (giving Seattle the share it would normally receive), and then add STBD additions on top of it.

      We must remember that before the STBD in 2016, the 5, 8, 10, 40, 41, 49, 75, etc had half-hourly evenings; the 120 may still have had hourly evenings, the 11 had half-hourly Saturdays, and the 8 may have had half-hourly Sundays. The Northgate Link restructure assumed no STBD money because it hadn’t been renewed yet. So I’m cautiously optimistic that the STBD will fill in Lake City-Northgate 15-minute evening service and restore some Capitol Hill frequent evening/weekend service. Seattle reduced its TBD spending to 50% to make the money stretch to March, to give the renewal time to come in without a total gap if it passed. There’s also unspent car-tab money which had been held pending the resolution of I-976, which can now be spent on the TBD.

      Both Metro and the TBD have threatened to prioritize equity, so all the additions may be south of downtown. But I hope not. The south end certainly needs more service (viz. my overcrowding complaints on the 7, 124, 131, 132) but dense urban villages in the north end also need urban-level service. And some of them have concentrations of lower-income/minority riders as you’ve mentioned.

  8. This is positive, but remember the fiscal crisis. Without new service subsidy, the Metro Connects is not affordable. (Link stations are opening in 2021, 2023, and 2024). Without new service subsidy, there will be very few new hours and the first two priorities may consume all of them. So, the argument of how to allocate the third priority will not come to bear for a while. New service subsidy may be attempted in 2025; that is 16 years after the 2009 agreement between the three executives on the SR-99 deep bore replacement for the AWV. The work “productivity” is being used in at least two ways: the ridership attracted relative to operating cost of current routes; and, the transit potential of routes being measured. The former looks backward; the latter looks forward; both are important. Adding employment to population will help.

    To the asdf2 concern, the difference in ridership attracted by the shift in priority three measurement may be very small. South King County areas with street grids have latent demand for transit. To the Thompson concern about relying on Covid period ridership, that is only one factor; the pre and post ridership is much more important. The ST3 concerns may be distant in time, as $11 billion is real money.

    1. Metro Connects always depended on a future countywide levy to fully implement it. The county has not yet gotten around to putting it on the ballot, and the last two countywide Metro measures failed. The last time, South King County in particular complained it saying it couldn’t afford more transit taxes. (Kent and a couple other cities may have voted yes.) But it’s not clear that they or the county as a whole really can’t afford it; it’s seems to be more just car-centric thinking and a knee-jerk adversion to taxes. If there’s more transit service so that people don’t have to drive as much or have a car, then they’d save more money than the tax increase is.

      1. The April 2014 county TBD failed. What was the second failure? A major reason for the 2014 failure was running it at an odd low turnout time. The 1995 RTA failure was also in April. Transit measures do better with large young turnout.

      2. Orr: there was no second countywide failure. The STBD lost in 2011 under McGinn. The joint ballot measure lost in 2007.

  9. The metric for “Social Equity” is defined as so:

    Social equity indicators show how well a corridor serves any areas where there are concentrations of minority and low-income populations along the corridor. This is done by comparing boardings in these areas against the system wide average of all corridor boardings within minority and low-income census tracts*. Metro assigns the highest value to corridors with concentrations of boardings in low-income or minority census tracts that are higher than the system average. Those close to the system average, but just below, are also awarded value in this process.

    *Low-income tracts are those where a greater percentage of the population than the countywide average has low incomes (less than 200% of the federal poverty level depending on household size), based on current American Community Survey data. Minority tracts are defined as tracts where a greater percentage of the population than the countywide average is minority (all groups except White, non-Hispanic), based on current census data.

    This is clearly flawed. It makes it worse for low income people in high income neighborhoods. I see no benefit from that.

    Obviously the ideal would be to gather information from surveys, but that is difficult. But even using census and stop data, they could do better.

    The simplest would be to just assume that the bus ridership of stops represents the same ratio as the people who live around there. If a particular bus stop picks up ten people a day, and 10% of the people around the stop are low income, we can just assume that one rider is low income. Then you can measure the “social equity productivity” using the same metrics as other productivity measures (e. g. low income riders per hour of service).

    1. The simplest would be to just assume that the bus ridership of stops represents the same ratio as the people who live around there. If a particular bus stop picks up ten people a day, and 10% of the people around the stop are low income, we can just assume that one rider is low income.

      Isn’t that oversimplifying, Ross? In most economically heterogeneous communities it’s pretty clear that the less well-heeled are going to be the bulk of the ridership, except in some places at peak hours. Yes, there are always some “choice” riders from the more economically successful cohorts of society — people who choose to use transit for environmental or social equity reasons or for whom driving is unpleasant or difficult.

      But most of the all-day ridership arises from the “transit dependent” population. We can hope that will change over the next few decades as it becomes clear that our sprawl cityscapes are a death sentence for the world, and people make the “right choice” to live more densely or are forced by economic realities to do so. But right now those forces are only true on the margins.

  10. People living in equity zones, we have some good news, and some bad news. The good news is, because you live in an equity zone, you will receive great transit. The bad news is, your job isn’t located in an equity zone, so it’s going to be difficult for you to get to work.

    – Metro.

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