Closed seats on King County Metro (Wikimedia)

On King County Metro, starting today, transit capacity is restored to 100%. Pierce Transit, Community Transit, Everett Transit, Kitsap Transit, and Washington State Ferries have restored capacity a few days earlier on July 1. For Sound Transit Link Light Rail and ST Express routes operated by Metro, capacity is restored today, and other ST service (including Tacoma Link and Sounder) restored full capacity on July 1st. This change came quickly after governor Jay Inslee formally reopened the state on June 30th as planned, lifting most state-wide restrictions (though not affecting public transportation). Though a welcome change, this does not affect the mask mandate. Masks are still required to be worn on all public transportation services.

When the capacity restrictions were first implemented in April 2020, it was one of the most important tools we had at the time to slow the spread of the pandemic. But limiting capacity to 18 passengers for 60 foot buses and just 12 passengers for 40 foot buses made public transit harder to use due to the risk of being passed by full buses, and caused agencies to insist that people limit transit to essential trips only. As Metro reduced service in 2020, it had adapted the reductions to preserve more service in higher-ridership areas like S. King County (even adding service on the RapidRide A-Line), but even still it was very common to see buses with “BUS FULL” on the sign even where service was most preserved.

As vaccinations opened up to everyone in April, Metro opened up capacity to 40%. This was nearly double what the original capacity limits were, and meant that riders didn’t need to worry as much about the bus passing them up. For riders who sat out transit during the pandemic, this meant that returning to transit was less likely to leave more essential riders waiting for the next bus. But this was still far from normal, and relied on many fewer people taking transit than before the pandemic. With capacity opened back up, it’s even easier to leave the car at home and rest assured that essentially everyone who wants to take transit can. Just be sure to mask up on the bus, and the more people we can get vaccinated, the better.

79 Replies to “Transit agencies restore full vehicle capacity”

  1. Good. Now it’s time to eliminate the mask requirement for vaccinated individuals.

    1. That won’t work, because the Trumpies will lie about it, like so much else.

    2. It’s a federal regulation so local agencies and the state can’t do anything about it.

      1. I don’t know if you’ve been out lately but masks are pretty much a thing of the past all over Seattle. Karaoke bars are packed and people are lining up in grocery stores, no masks.

      2. At least half the people in downtown Seattle are still wearing masks outside. I stopped wearing it outside last weekend when the heat wave hit. Before that I was pulling it up when I passed people and pushing it down when there was nobody within a block. I still wear it indoors even if it’s not required. I haven’t started going to karaoke bars or the like yet, mostly because I stopped going to bars/nightclubs a decade ago so I rarely do anyway. (And my favorite club, The Vogue, closed in 2000, and there’s nothing like it now. I would go to the electroswing night in Pioneer Square if it comes back, but then I never made it there in the year before covid.)

      3. “At least half”? Not even close to reality in my experience. I’d say maybe 5-10% of people walking around the city (Fremont, Ballard, Capitol Hill, Downtown) are wearing masks. Most restaurant staff and retail workers aren’t even wearing masks anymore. I haven’t seen Capitol Hill bars this packed maybe ever.

      4. What a difference a couple days makes. When I went out on Saturday there were masks all over the place. When I went out today after my last comment, only 3% were wearing masks outside. I’ll see if it continues like that.

      5. “I would go to the electroswing night in Pioneer Square if it comes back”

        I would, too, since I was one of its DJs, but I doubt that’ll happen. Attendance dropped off sharply after the first few months, and the venue has since closed.

      6. Wow, I wish I’d gone then. Whenever STB has another meetup, look me up and we can talk music.

    3. New study out of Israel shows Pfizer vaccine is 67% effective against Delta variant (vs. 95% on earlier variants). I’ll be wearing my mask on a crowded bus for a while.

      1. Ironically 67% is the efficacy for the J&J vaccine and we were all told it was an effective vaccine.

        A mask does not protect the wearer. .According to Dr. Fauci 99.2% of current infections are in unvaccinated persons. Even before the vaccines less than 2% of those infected required hospitalization and/or died, and most of those were over 65.

        King Co. is now 70% vaccinated, and my city is over 90% fully vaccinated. I think there is little risk, although I think the media would like there to be.

        There were mental health issues from a year of isolation, especially among the very old and very young. Our economy also suffered, and soon the eviction moratoria will have to be lifted.

        On balance, I think it is time for vaccinated persons to return to enjoying life. If mass gatherings like sporting events or transit worry you avoid them for now. But I don’t see much risk for a vaccinated person in grocery stores or restaurants/bars.

      2. Well, that answers that!

        Just out of curiosity, where does the 99.2% figure come from?

      3. Failures include even minor sniffing. So 67% efficacy doesn’t mean 33% of people got a debilitating sickness. Still, I’m bummed because I and everyone I know got Pfizer, and I was hoping it would be more effective against delta. That gives me another reason to leave the mask on indoors and on buses.

      4. The business of “a mask does not protect the wearer” is based on the assumption that you’re wearing a poor quality mask or not wearing the mask properly. A year ago, masks that do protect the wearer were hard to get and we were told to save them for health care workers. Today, anyone can buy a pack of them off Amazon. The key is to wear it properly – any mask that droops down, exposing the nose, most certainly does *not* protect the wearer.

        Eliminating mask requirements for everybody does not prevent high risk individuals from wearing a high quality mask to protect themselves. Sure, the protection won’t be as good as the health care workers, whose masks are professionally fitted at a cost of hundreds of dollars, but it is not hard for ordinary people to protect themselves in a way that is a whole lot better than nothing.

        I did it myself in March when flying on a plane, unvaccinated, with B.1.1.7 circulating. 4 hours on a plane with a KF94 mask, supplemented by a surgical mask underneath. In spite of lots of people around me taking off their masks for meals lasting 20 minutes or more (which I didn’t dare do), I didn’t get COVID (tested negative 4 days after the flight), so I guess the double masking worked. (That said, I did delay my return ticket until I could be fully vaccinated, since now, Delta was spreading and I wanted additional precaution).

      5. It is highly likely that we are at the beginning of another wave. This one will be smaller, but quite similar to the other ones. Like all the previous waves, it is caused by ignorance. We are nowhere near herd immunity, and yet a lot of people have dropped their guard.

        I don’t mean to call out the comments here — because they can be interpreted other ways — but they exemplify the situation. “The vaccine is effective against the delta variant.” Great, but that’s not the issue. Neither is whether a mask protects the wearer. This thing has been going on for months and months, and folks still can’t wrap their little heads around it: it isn’t about the individual. You don’t get a vaccine or wear a mask to protect yourself — you do it to protect society.

        People think of a vaccine or mask as like a seat belt. It is more like driving sober. Driving drunk isn’t a “personal choice”. Yeah, of course if you drive drunk you are risking your life. But you are also risking everyone else’s life — just like not wearing a mask or not getting vaccinated.

        It is clear that people don’t get that. The delta variant is bad because it is more transmissible. It becomes much harder to get herd immunity. Lots of people — especially young people — still don’t understand the basic reason for taking a vaccine. They don’t get immunized because they aren’t worried about getting sick. I want to slap them upside their head and scream in their face: “It ain’t about you! It is about everyone else!”. I would blame a narcissistic culture raised on selfies, but we are no different.

        In the end, a lot of people will suffer. A lot of people who were reluctant to take the vaccine will die. A lot who can’t take the vaccine will die. People who are immunosuppressed, or those too young to take it. The children may be fine, or they may get complications years from now. All of this could be prevented, if we didn’t live in such an ignorant, narcissistic country.

        What does this have to do with transit? Not a lot. The disease did not spread via transit, it spread through ignorance. Wear a mask on the bus, don’t wear a mask — it probably doesn’t matter (especially if you’ve been vaccinated). The disease is spreading in cafes, restaurants, bars, churches and inside houses as we speak. Its like the Battle of the Bulge. We are winning the war (its almost over) but way too many people are dying needlessly. 200 in the U. S. and 7 in Washington State just yesterday.

        Case in point: Yesterday, my wife and I went hiking at Mount Rainier. On the way back, we stopped at a Mexican restaurant in Maple Valley, because they had outside seating (and good food). We’ve both been vaccinated, but we both wore masks when we went inside. One server wore a mask, the other didn’t. We were the only customers I saw that ever put on a mask. Several groups inside didn’t have them, and several people went in without them. Now it is possible that most of the people who weren’t wearing masks were immunized, but since some of the kids under 12, not all of them. It is also unlikely that all of the adults were immunized. According to public records, only about half the people in that zip code have been immunized, which means that well under half of those under 60 have had their shots. This is a very high risk area, and people are ignoring the risks. This means that a lot of people will get the disease, and a lot of people will suffer.

        But it also means that relatively soon (weeks, maybe months) we will reach herd immunity the hard way. Lots of people will have gotten the disease, while plenty of others got vaccinated. Until then, I’m going to wear a mask just to encourage others to wear them — as I did in that restaurant. It probably won’t make a bit of difference, but its worth a shot.

  2. I assume the all-mask requirement will be in place on transit until it’s lifted for non-vaccinated people in general. If the State is waiting until we hit 70% vaccination of total population, that may be a while.

    1. The question is not when is it safe for unvaccinated people to not wear masks, the question is why transit needs to go in a special category, alongside hospitals, where vaccinated people need to wear masks also. Logically, riding a bus should be no different than walking through a retail store or shopping mall. I can see the reasons for special caution around transit in a city like New York, where everybody is shoulder to shoulder, but the vast majority of transit systems in the United States, ours included, are not nearly that crowded.

      1. If you’d ever ridden the Rapid Ride C during rush hour pre-pandemic, you wouldn’t say that.

      2. Because you sit in a bus next to the same people for thirty or forty minutes. In a store you’re next to people only occasionally and only for a moment, or the time it takes to check out. In more transit-oriented countries they don’t have the extreme low capacity limits we had but they do have masks.

      3. Because you sit in a bus next to the same people for thirty or forty minutes. In a store you’re next to people only occasionally and only for a moment, or the time it takes to check out.

        Sorry, I don’t buy it. Bus rides are often short, with people getting on and off periodically. Many bus systems (like King County Metro) have modern air filtration systems that protect against the spread of Covid. Even without that, a typical bus will stop and open its doors completely every minute or two (letting in a bunch of fresh air). It is pretty easy to think of examples where people are at much greater risk. For example, a ball game. For baseball and football it isn’t too bad (it is outside) but for basketball or hockey, it means enclosing thousands of people indoors in close proximity, while they then cheer for their team. Or how about a bar. You come in, have a seat and next thing you know, you are engaging the stranger next to you (and half the bar) in conversation. If everyone is watching a game, it means you are there for hours (and again, periodically yelling). There is very little evidence that the disease spread through transit. If you look at the case studies, it was in more mundane settings. Some guy infected half the restaurant by simply sitting there. It spread through a small town because of church choir. Youth sports have been the cause of more recent outbreaks (as we started opening up).

        There is no scientific reason for singling out public transit when it comes to masks. None. This is just the result of a governmental anomaly.

      4. I’m with RossB – the risk calculation for any interaction has to involve the proportion of infected people in the population (quite low now in WA), the number of people you interact with closely (even with a packed bus/train, the number of people you are actually close to is still low, probably 10), how long the interaction goes on for (CDC says in the absence of vaccination it tends to take at least 15 minutes to get a dose required to start infection, vaccination presumably increases that), and how dangerous the interaction is (talking/yelling/singing being dangerous, but fortunately rare on transit). Put all that together, and transit looks very safe, even in the absence of masks and capacity limits.

      5. @asdf2,

        People need access to mobility just like they need access to health care. Indeed, it is more of a daily necessity than seeing a doctor (which is, more and more, happening by tele-visit).

        Also, the CDC guidelines don’t make sense. Why should the FTA duplicate a policy that does not make sense?

    2. Transportation mask requirements follow federal rules.

      Keep your eye on what the airlines are dealing with. That might be a way to get a hint of what policies will change.

      For instance, on the ferries, masks are required inside the cabin area, but not if you’re riding on the sun deck.

    3. It’s a federal rule, not a state one. As it stands it’s gonna be September before that happens. Delta may have something to say about that.

    4. You know what I really don’t like about using (low) vaccination targets to justify endangering the population more?

      You may ask what the point of vaccination is if you can’t stop wearing a mask. (Well, now you generally can, even if you aren’t vaccinated, but the CDC’s policy was poorly-thought-out and ought to be rescinded given the advice of the World Health Organization.)

      You know why I got vaccinated? I did not want to get COVID-19. That’s it. No other incentive was needed.

      Other people being allowed to take off their masks around me (especially on transit, in grocery stores, at work, etc) was not something I thought about, or wanted. Indeed, it feels like a punishment for my choice to have gotten vaccinated. I am grateful to my employer for continuing to require masks at work. I am grateful to the Federal Transit Administration for continuing to require masks on board transit. If that mask requirement goes away, I may no longer be able to go visit my parents who I have not seen in two years.

      As for the grocery stores, I no longer do business with grocery stores that allow unmasked unvaccinated customers in the door. Yeah, few don’t do that, but Central Co-op, some Red Apples and some Grocery Outlets still require masks. Those are my grocery shopping options now.

      If the mask requirement on local public transit gets lifted during the pandemic, I will no longer feel safe getting on the bus or the train, and may have to switch to getting around on e-scooters, learn to ride a bike again, or just not travel very far.

  3. I was enjoying the extra space. How long will it be before riders return and fill those empty seats?

    1. I think there will be a short-term ridership drop, as some riders see the news and become more afraid of getting on a bus.

      Others will just have a bad experience with the increase in maskless riders, and switch to other modes. That’s already happening, but I think it will accelerate.

      I’m not a fan of the seat re-opening, but, to be honest, people already have been ignoring the seat signs, and crowding in the portions of the bus where everyone is masked up, and staying away from the unmasked manspreaders. (They aren’t physically taking up multiple seats, but most riders move away from them. So, in practice, they are taking up whole sections of the bus, more than a 6-foot radius around them.)

      I think most operators have given up on even playing the safety message if an unmasked manspreader is on board. Indeed, every time I have heard the message the last couple months, everyone on board was already wearing a mask. It felt like pointless virtue signaling to give riders a false sense of hope that mask-wearing on the bus is universal. BTW, those safety messages (not just the COVID ones) need to be in multiple languages.

      The path to opening up more space on buses in practice, not just on paper, is to make riders feel safer on the bus. That means dealing with the unmasked manspreaders, starting with that safety message operators are afraid to play when an unmasked manspreader is on the bus.

  4. There aren’t a particularly large number of scientific studies to determine how far away one has to be to not be infected. Doing so would mean intentionally infecting people.

    However, what we do have are many, many anecdotal cases that show that 6 feet really doesn’t work at preventing transmission if you are indoors together with an infected person. Actual unsafe distance, if unmasked, depends on air flow direction, speed, filtration quality, and other factors. Efforts at school reopening have shown it only takes a matters of an hour or so to spread the virus around an entire room in those conditions.

    With masks, it has been shown the safe conditions change radically. Widespread mask use is probably why Taiwan only has 11 or so deaths, despite being densely populated and never really closing down for long periods.

    Therefore, considering all the evidence that 6 foot distances don’t make a huge difference compared to masks, it’s likely the mask mandate for transit will continue for a while yet.

    1. Having worked behind a glass partition for years, I’ve been telling all the merchants I shop from, “When they lift the mask mandate, keep the plexiglass shield in place, and don’t clean it… for how long it takes for people to see how much we inadvertently SPIT on Each Other in normal conversation.

      What I like about masks is I can foist my opinions on my victims without fear of infecting them, since I speak classical New York-ese, along with associated hand gestures.

      That glass partition has never been cleaner since the start of Covid restrictions.

  5. It’s really bizarre how local public transport falls under the purview of TSA for the mask mandate. The purview of *airport security.* Think on that.

    Come September, I can most definitely see mask mandates remain on air travel, since this is how we keep finding new variants. But the mask mandate for buses and trains need to be deferred to state and local control, not federal airport security.

    1. TSA used to be part of the FAA, but is now part of Homeland Security. While it’s still focused on air travel, its mandate includes all conveyances, including not just mass transit but also port and pipeline security. That said, the actual authority for the public transit mask mandate is the CDC, not the TSA.

      1. That much is true, I’ll give you that much. However I think my point still stands in that circumstances surrounding public transport systems across the country are going to be drastically different from each other, or from air travel alone. We ought to be hearing from the bipartisan group of senators about CDC and TSA’s process for updating the mask requirements soon.

      2. Anybody care to guess as to the odds that mask requirements in airports and airplanes get lifted before mask requirements on transit do? From a virus spread perspective, that order would make zero sense. But, from a political perspective, I can see that happening, since airports are experienced by mainstream middle-class people across the entire United States in ways that transit isn’t.

      3. So, some want to lift COVID requirements on air travel…

        Can someone tell me how the delta variant got into the United States, if not by air travel from the other side of the planet?

    2. Local transport is a tricky issue. On the one hand, local control logically makes the most sense since the COVID cases, vaccination rates, and crowding on transit is very different from city to city.

      On the other hand, you’ve got a number of fairly large cities with not-so-great vaccination rates in Republican controlled states, and only way to get any kind of mask mandate on transit at all in those states is for the CDC to impose it, since local transit agencies are subordinate to GOP governors and legislatures, but the CDC isn’t. Also, a mask mandate that applies only to the unvaccinated is not enforceable.

      So, long story short, we in King County may need to put up with a mask mandate on transit, even if we don’t need it (because we have very high vaccination rates), so that transit systems in cities like Atlanta and St. Louis, where vaccination rates are lower, can have one too.

      1. Agreed, and the other thing we need to keep in mind is that public transit needs to be kept “public”. On the one hand, it means that everyone (including people with conditions that make them at higher risk) needs to feel safe. On the other hand, we shouldn’t put conditions on riding that make it less open to the entire public (i.e. a mask requirement without freely-available masks). As long as there’s funding for free masks on board, I’m OK (though not completely happy) with a mask requirement on transit, just as I’m OK with it in public libraries for the same reason. I really hope in a few months, though, things will really be safe enough for the requirement to go away.

      2. I’m not convinced that the vaccination rate on the bus is proportional to the vaccination rate in the general population. I do know that the vaccination rate in South King County is much lower than that in Seattle or Bellevue, and that is where ridership has dropped the least.

        In particular, the vaccination rate in the zip code around the Lumen Field vaccination clinic has remained much lower than that of Seattle in general. That should give us some pause about whether the county has done a good job vaccinating the population experiencing homelessness.

  6. But isn’t an overarching mask mandate the exact thing Republicans will call “hogwash”? I don’t think the GOP is interested in holding the democratic states hostage.

    If there is just one thing I agree with Republicans on, it’s that there are no clear criteria that CDC and TSA uses to revise or retire the mask mandate, despite the fact they say they will revisit it often. We’re already halfway between May and September and there’s still no update. I’m not advocating for the feds to ditch the mask mandate soon, but there needs to be clear criteria for revising the mask mandate. And yeah, I get there are a number of things to think about like the impact on public transport employees. Just like the senators in the letter, I too am looking for answers.

    1. I think it speaks volumes that Congress still imposes an “overarching” mask mandate on its own members, staff, and facilities. And yes, I support their decision to do that.

      They are also all experts on air travel. They (the majority anyway) don’t seem to be in any hurry to be on planes with unmasked passengers. I wonder why.

    2. I don’t think the GOP is interested in holding the democratic states hostage.

      Malden and Pine City would beg to differ.

  7. How long until suspended routes and trips get reactivated now that people are coming back to work?

    1. I think that’s something that needs to be decided on a route by route basis. In some cases, a reaction to decisions by major employers such as Amazon, when to ask everybody to return to the office.

      Some routes, such as the 555/556 may never come back in their current form – with Northgate Link opening in just a few months, un-suspending express buses between Northgate and UW, just a few weeks before Link replaces them, does not make much sense.

      1. Last I checked, route 556 is coming back on October 2. Route 555 will remain suspended.

      2. True to Brent. But the 556 will terminate at U-District Station (along with the 542). So will the 555, once it gets restored.

      3. Metro announced it will reactivate some routes October 2nd. It didn’t say which ones. It may not be all of them.

        There’s some uncertainty with the 47, as Metro stopped funding it in 2015 and Seattle’s TBD was funding it, but the reduced TBD in 2020 didn’t. So supposedly it’s deleted but the city council is apparently trying to do something to save it.

  8. Most everyone here, I assume, is fully aware that the most important thing you can do to protect yourself from COVID-19 is get vaccinated. All the news stories about how an overwhelming majority — by orders of magnitude — of those dying from COVID right now were not vaccinated, are what we would expect.

    Nonetheless, as most here probably predicted, despite the nonsense out of the CDC and the governor’s office, those of us fully vaccinated can still get the virus, spread it, get sick from it, get forever-disabilities from it, and in very rare cases, die from it.

    Word to Gov. Inslee: More people will go back to patronizing optional/luxury businesses if they feel safe doing so. They will feel safer doing so if the strangers around them are wearing masks. Stores will feel safer having mask mandates if the order comes down from the government.

    Allowing more people in seems, by definition, to be a re-opening policy.

    Allowing unvaccinated unmasked people in is working in the opposite direction from enabling more capacity.

    1. One can also, in very rare cases, get sick, become disabled or die from swimming in a lake, going skiing, doing yardwork, etc. We make risk assessments every day. Removing masks is a risk that I’m willing to take (and from the looks of it, most others are too), for the benefits that come from seeing each others’ faces.

      And while I follow the mask rule while on the bus (and in my experience so do 99% of other passengers), I don’t like that transit is singled out as a place you have to wear a mask. It sends a message that transit is “unsafe”.

      1. When you go swimming or hiking you are taking a risk for yourself.

        When you take off your mask during a pandemic you are taking a risk for yourself, those around you, and for your community.

        Personal risk choices should be exactly that – personal. But going maskless in public during a pandemic is making a risk choice for others without including them in that risk choice.

      2. @Lazarus — Exactly!

        Vaccinations and masks are meant to protect society. The benefit they provide the individual is secondary. The fact that this isn’t common knowledge just shows what a narcissistic country we live in.

      3. Hi, immunocompromised person here. I’ve been vaccinated, but there’s growing evidence that the medications I take for my condition minimize or halt any benefit that gives.

        Sure is fun watching everyone here declare that they’re taking the risk for themselves when people like me are the ones that could catch COVID from them. Just a blast.

      4. It’s not just immunocompromised people. There’s 46 million children in the USA that aren’t vaccinated yet.

    2. Brent, it might be good to consult the CDC breakthrough data:

      Out of 154 million fully-vaccinated people in the US, a total of 4427 have been hospitalized and 879 have died after testing positive with SARS-CoV-2. Of those, over 25% were asymptomatic so presumably died of something other than COVID19, and even a subset of those who were symptomatic would have died of something else.

      You’re right that there is a risk, but for vaccinated people the risk is minuscule compared to the other risks we take as part of our regular lives. You would have a greater chance of dying of flu despite being vaccinated than of dying from COVID-19. I don’t have a problem with wearing a mask on transit for a couple more months especially if it gets transit back to full capacity more quickly, but any kind of mask requirement isn’t backed up by the evidence for the long term.

      1. But again, we have no idea whether someone has been vaccinated or not. If everyone in the room has been vaccinated, there is very little risk of transmission. If vaccination rates are low — as they are for most of the country — there is a very good chance that it will spread.

        Which doesn’t mean that our mask mandates are consistent. It is crazy to allow it in high risk situations (indoors, with little ventilation) and then turn around and mandate them on buses.

        The argument for that is the one mentioned earlier — a bus is a public space. If I can’t get vaccinated (for whatever reason) I can avoid bars, restaurants and various other private venues that don’t require masks. But I can’t avoid taking a bus. Or rather, I have a right to take a bus while feeling reasonably safe, which means that with the current vaccination rate (nowhere near herd immunity) it is quite reasonable to have a mask mandate.

        From a public health standpoint, it makes no sense. But for a country like America — ignorant and individualistic — it is quite reasonable.

      2. Why do people keep walking into the self-own argument that the flu as a larger threat than coronavirus?

        We had a record low in flu cases in the US last fall and this spring. Why? Because masks stop the influenza virus the same way they stop the coronavirus.

        Guess what I’m going to keep doing during flu season even after the coronavirus pandemic has ended? (BTW, the pandemic is not over. We are billions of vaccinations away from the end zone, with no indication the US will cough up more than 500 million to help. Let us hope a variant doesn’t evolve that makes the vaccines moot, while we dither on vaccinating the rest of humanity.)

      3. What these posts re: masks tell me is if even transit advocates are concerned about going out in public without masks we are a long way from commuters returning to transit, especially buses. I have friends and relatives who are fully vaccinated but still refuse to take public transit (including planes or Uber). I think that is overly cautious but that is their choice to make. I worry they represent a large percentage of commuters.
        If they do, companies who can allow workers to work from home need to plan for that for the long haul. That means fewer days in the office, more parking, and staggering days when employees do come in, because everyone will be driving to work (or perhaps taking Uber).

        That is going to have some negative repercussions for transit. Along with many I was not totally surprised by ST’s admission of its cost estimating “errors” for ST 3 in N. King Co. because the estimations seemed very optimistic in 2016, and ST felt it had to pass ST 3 with uniform tax rates. It was the farebox recovery and general fund revenue losses short and long term in the N. King Co. subarea due to the pandemic that are the bigger issue, because projects can be extended or eliminated, but not if future revenue projections are way off too.

        Commuters are necessary because of their farebox recovery, especially on light rail that has to run whether there are riders or not (just at much lower frequency), which is why light rail is so commuter oriented. Commuters also transfer general fund revenue (sales taxes, B&O, etc.) from transit poor areas (Issaquah, Sammamish, Mercer Island, et al) to transit needy areas (Seattle), but if working from home that revenue transfer does not take place, and we lose the retail vibrancy in our downtown cores, which then affects tourism, a cash cow with little social costs. ST’s pre-pandemic ridership projections were always very optimistic, which means its future farebox revenue at 40% was optimistic to begin with.

        If a large chunk of commuters never return to transit that is going to reshape our transit choices, which is already happening, although ST and the Board are calling it “rescheduling” for political purposes. ST had hoped population/ridership gains and continuing revenue growth in Seattle would help cover its cost estimating errors in the N. King Co. subarea. Transit needs riders to function. It is one thing to effectively eliminate some projects like DSTT2 and WSBLE, but another to reduce coverage and frequency throughout the system long term because of a significant loss of riders.

        Some experts say it is a slow process to go from sheltering in place during a pandemic to a fully reopened society, and I hope that is true. States like FL that have been fully reopened for a while look to be returning to pre-pandemic levels. If everyone is wearing masks, even if vaccinated, that is not normal society, and reflects fear.

        No matter what, we will continue to have positive Covid cases for several years to come because 30% to 50% refuse to get vaccinated, but there is no way to force someone to take a vaccine, whether it is for the flu, shingles, or Covid. I doubt the 49 million children under 12 will get vaccinated because their hospitalization rate is four per million, likely lower than complications from the vaccine, although I doubt kids will be wearing masks when they return to classrooms this fall. It is imperative we return to our pre-pandemic risk tolerances if we are to return to pre-pandemic society, and transit.

      4. Daniel, while I think we do need to be conscientious of the fact that public transit needs to serve everyone in the public, the thought that commuters are going to improve transit’s financial prospects is probably misguided. Something like 3/4 of transit trips aren’t commute-related at all, and the commuter routes that Metro did run before COVID had very poor cost-recovery. They might have looked full, but they had a large amount of deadheading and not a lot of stops, so pretty poor ridership on a platform-hour basis.

        We’d be better off expanding the all-day/all-week frequent transit network than bringing those peak routes back, even though I’m sure Metro will cave to political pressure and do the latter.

      5. Off-peak ridership has already returned to or exceeded pre-covid levels on some runs. The 10 is higher than pre-covid (most double-seats occupied), maybe because the 11 was reduced. The 50 was standing room only (!) twice when I went to Alki in May or June. The C is busy. The latter two may be related to the West Seattle bridge closure. The southeast Seattle and South King County routes never had a major ridership loss. I’ve seen that repeatedly on the 7, 101, 106, 124, 131, 132, and 150.

        Eastsiders, don’t be misled by the almost-empty 550, B, 250, 255, etc. That’s not happening in Seattle or South King County.

        What’s missing in Seattle is the bulk of peak commuters. But peak ridership is still higher than off-peak. When Metro suspends routes its expenses go down. (The average operational subsidy is 80%. A few high-volume routes recoup all their cost by fares.)

        As we’ve said repeatedly, if ridership flattens out enough that we don’t need many extra peak runs or peak expresses, that’s a good thing. That service is the most expensive to provide, for several reasons: (A) split driver shifts, (B) deadheading from a one-way run, (C) deadheading from the base for a 2-hour or 4-hour shift, (D) peak congestion sucks up service hours like a black hole, (E) Metro has a limited number of buses and no room at the bases for more. A third or so of the buses are just for the peak surge. If those aren’t needed for that, Metro’s expenses goes down, the buses are available for other all-day service, and Metro can sell its surplus buses.

        As for Link, while you say the Link expansions are predicated on pre-covid ridership numbers, in the end it’s a political issue whether to build those capital projects. Either the region wants to spend the money to build them or it doesn’t. If it does, and ridership is lower than the pre-covid predictions, that’s fine. We’ll finally have a robust transit trunk, which is what most large cities in the industrialized world have. That’s a good thing even if it costs a lot of money up front. The Interstates and airports also cost a lot of money up front.

  9. To some extent, the mask mandate on mass transit reflects the ongoing perception that public transport is unsanitary, and best left as a mode of last resort. While mask mandates for airports and on planes makes sense — by their nature, you have a lot of people traveling from states with low vaccination rates and you’re there for hours at a time — the CDC should really re-think the mask mandate on mass transit, FOR states/cities that have achieved 70% vaccination. Most transit trips are well under an hour, and the exposure is mainly to those in the same community. Trains are well ventilated, and leaving the windows open in busses has become standard practice. At the end of the day, there were never any documented cases of large scale Covid spread on mass transit in America (TBF, of course, this is partly due to the capacity reductions and mask mandates early in the pandemic).

    1. Even in countries with high transit ridership and no stigma against transit, everybody wears masks on transit. What’s unusual about the US is the 75% capacity reductions, the belief that transit is a superspreader, and companies prohibiting employees from taking transit to work, not the transit mask mandate.

      I can see how some people can interpret transit mask mandates as meaning transit is unsafe — these are probably mostly the same people who were already skeptical of transit even if they rode it — but to me the continuing requirement is no big deal and not the biggest problem in the world. I already might continue wearing a mask on transit even after it’s not required, or in winter during flu season.

      1. Mike, a mask does not protect the wearer, unless it is a special mask. The ordinary mask protects others by reducing the distance an infected person spreads the virus, although the science on this is mixed. .

        Whether there is a stigma attached to transit ridership or not, the quickest way to get riders back on transit is to make them feel safe. Much easier to require masks for longer than to change other rider’s perceptions of their fellow transit riders (especially commuters). Even you indicate you may continue to wear a mask during flu season, which is probably a good idea except your mask protects others, not you.

      2. Your mask protects both you and others. It just happens to protect others more.

    2. My understanding was pre-pandemic peak ridership exceeded non-peak ridership. I agree with Mike that less peak commuting is best for everyone, especially workers, and hope there is less peak transit ridership, and that it can be spread out more. Workers were spending too much of their life commuting. I suppose when it comes to light rail fewer peak commuters will simply translate into less frequency.

      However riders have to feel safe on transit from a Covid point of view.

      That does raise some farebox recovery issues and ST’s optimistic pre-pandemic ridership projections. We will have the spine when all is said and done, although I always thought the spine was very peak commuter oriented. I doubt there will be much rail beyond the spine, including the Issaquah to S. Kirkland line which will likely get “extended”. Revenue — farebox and general fund — will then simply determine frequency and coverage.

  10. Masks are more about protecting the people around you than protecting you, but they do some of both. Think of them more as a face diaper than a face shield.

    We really have no idea how many vaccinated people are spreading the coronavirus asymptomatically, since very few people are getting tested these days, and most because they have developed symptoms.

    I kinda wish Facebook and Twitter would block the CDC guidance for spreading misinformation about the purpose and nature of masks.

    The mask I wear to protect you honors the mask you wear to protect me. Namaske

    1. “Why are experts at odds over masks for vaccinated people?”

      “A few days after the WHO recommended that people who received the COVID-19 vaccine should continue wearing a face mask, Fauci explained why the advice differs from the CDC’s. “There’s a reason for that,” he said in a virtual White House press briefing. “The WHO is responsible for the planet as a whole. It’s different in the world in general from here in the United States.”

      “What we know for sure is that if someone does get sick with COVID-19 after vaccination, in what is called a “breakthrough infection,” symptoms will be milder. Studies have found that people who tested positive for COVID-19 after getting just their first vaccine dose had lower levels of virus in their bodies than unvaccinated people who tested positive. The researchers believe the decreased viral load hints that vaccinated people who do contract the virus will be less infectious because they will have much less virus that could be spread to others.”

      Anyone is free to wear a mask forever. If you really think you have a reasonable possibility of getting Covid-19 despite vaccination, and have comorbidities or age factors that might make you at risk for complications, then I would advise stay at home, and totally away from those without a mask, which currently is a significant portion of the public. You have no chance to re-mask America, so if you think that creates an unacceptable risk what can you do except avoid others. And God forbid transit, because we know that if people think there is even a remote chance they will get Covid — with or without mask — they won’t take transit, at least buses.

      For me the most important factor is the 0.8% infection rate for those fully vaccinated. There will be new cases for a long time to come, but the odds are so low and the complications so low for a fully vaccinated person I am willing to accept the risk.

      Yes they are testing people today. There are around 11,000 new cases in the U.S. each day that are all tested. 99.2% have not been vaccinated. It is tragic, especially those few who die, but you can lead a horse to water but can make him drink.

      I support your right to wear a mask. I hope wearing a mask becomes more common when other viruses hit, like the common flu although I will also get the flu vaccine. I always carry a mask in case I go inside and I worry being maskless might make someone uncomfortable (although I wonder what they are doing indoors with a bunch of maskless people if they really think they have any measurable risk). But the rest of the world — or a very large majority — have taken off their masks, so either I join them or stay indoors, because I don’t think a cloth mask protects me.

      And by the way, my greatest risk is probably my 20 year old son who is back from college and my 18 year old daughter who currently live with me, both vaccinated but not exactly practicing social distancing, to say the least. Living with teenagers comes with its own risk. If you want a strong immune system become a parent.

  11. If people are scared of transit, for health reasons, then they will spend money not to use it. Mask or not. No matter how expensive it is. The’ll get a car they know they cannot afford. Not keep it up or insure it. It does not matter how much. Many people are scared of sink water, because of added fluoride so the people spend billions on bottled water. They could buy expensive water filters, but most do not. If they are convinced the (add your subject) is unsafe or wrong, it is difficult to bring that person out of it.

    1. Far too many people I know are still buying bottled water in single-use plastic bottles, and throwing them away. Never mind that the company might have poured tap water into those bottles. The filter I use for my water, which I fill from the tap, has worked well for me, as long as I change the filter out from time to time. Of course, spending money to have purer water protects the drinker.

      Masks, first and foremost, protect the people around the wearer, and others who will be around those people, and so on, and so on. SHAME ON THE CDC for creating the false impression that ceasing wearing masks around others does anything to protect public health. They brought forth no data in that regard.

      I don’t think the mask requirement on transit stigmatizes transit. Regardless, that requirement is essential for me to be able to ride transit. I think the CDC guidelines stigmatize the wearing of masks. (And I certainly do think that ridership will drop if the mask requirement is lifted during the pandemic. I will be one of those avoiding transit.)

      Dropping the mask requirement in grocery stores was psychopathic. People need access to food. I’m probably limited to curbside pick-up for months to come, if I can get over the thought that I’d still be doing business with businesses that chose to cater to the unmasked unvaccinated (while allowing said individuals to unnecessarily risk their own health) instead of being open and available to safety-minded shoppers. Sadly, there are zero grocery stores left that are serving those of us needing to shop at a store where everyone is masked up. Not one. Not even the co-ops. Even the co-ops have failed the community.

  12. A vaccinated person is certainly free to wear a mask indoors or outdoors to protect themselves, or from asymptomatic transmission to others. But the science does not support that.

    The CDC has lifted all mask mandates for vaccinated persons, and even the King Co. medical director has lifted mask mandates. WHO recommends masks for unvaccinated persons living among mostly unvaccinated persons, which is mostly foreign countries that haven’t yet received the vaccine. The empirical evidence is only 0.8% of all current infections in the U. S. are those who are vaccinated when mask mandates have been eliminated, which is much lower than one would expect from any vaccine. I think the regular flu vaccine has around a 60% efficacy rate.

    750 U.S. citizens have died from Covid after being fully vaccinated, and 76% of them are over 65.

    Wear a mask if you are vaccinated and think it helps you or others, even though Dr. Fauci noted fully vaccinated individuals who are infected but asymptomatic really don’t have the viral load to spread it, but it really isn’t a moral decision because the science does not support a vaccinated person wearing a mask, although it will take time for many to let their concerns subside. It is important to remember we are talking about a virus that kills around 1% of those it infects and who are elderly or have comorbidities, not Ebola.

    There are many different reasons some don’t get vaccinated. For
    African Americans it is a history of questionable medical treatments. For rural conservatives I think it is ideology. Some very progressive people like Jenny McCarthy think vaccines cause other diseases. Some people just don’t go to the doctor or dentist. For those under 12, the discussion now is the fact only 4 out of 1 million infections result in hospitalization, while the risks (myocarditis) of the vaccine in those under 12 — mostly male — may have higher risks. I live in a city that is pretty divided among progressives and conservatives and the fully vaccinated rate is 90%. There hasn’t been a case for a long time.

    The problem this raises for transit is when even transit advocates believe vaccinated persons are still at risk of contracting Covid-19 it means folks — especially commuters — won’t take transit, mask or no mask because a mask isn’t that great of protection if you are unvaccinated.

    Let’s face it: many people do attach a stigma to those who ride transit, and probably believe a higher percentage of unvaccinated persons are on public transportation (buses especially) than in the public at large. At the same time I am more uncomfortable in an elevator with other folks just like I would be on a crowded bus just due to the crowding, although the science tells me I have no risk since I am fully vaccinated (and probably so are the other folks in the elevator).

    What I am seeing is a disproportionate amount of peak hour car traffic when most offices are still not open. This suggests to me folks are returning to the office, at least part time, but are driving.

    Unfortunately, there isn’t the road or parking capacity to have everyone return to offices, even if 3 days/week (especially if everyone works the same three days) and drive to work. Plus our very expensive transit systems are based on some farebox recovery (40% for ST and 20% for Metro), and they need commuters to fund operations.

    Then there is the skewing of general fund (sales tax) transit revenue. During 2020 what we saw was eastside cities realize record sales tax revenue from online shopping because the tax is allocated to the purchase point. Those folks use to travel into larger work centers (downtown Seattle and Bellevue to some extent) to shop and dine, but they also don’t rely on transit as much.

    It is a bit of a catch-22 Mike has touched upon: on the one hand a mask mandate on transit might make some feel safer although the evidence does not support ordinary masks protecting the wearer or even others if vaccinated, but would help an unvaccinated person from spreading Covid to another unvaccinated person, but at the same time it tells the general public transit has a higher risk of infection, even though you are vaccinated.

    We have built a transit system based on large general fund tax revenues from major work centers like Seattle, but until the workers return that tax revenue is going to the bedroom communities. We are already extending transit projects, but that is based on the belief workers will return to offices and commuters will return to transit pretty soon. So far I am not seeing that, but workers cannot return to offices if they won’t take transit because there just isn’t the road capacity, no matter what the WFH model is. Without commuter farebox recovery non-peak transit frequency is going to be pretty bleak, especially with the sales tax revenue going to online sales.

    So get out there maskless and enjoy if you are vaccinated. Transit needs the revenue, and so do cities.

    1. Your urging those who are vaccinated to stop wearing masks misses the point of what’s wrong with the CDC guidance. The CDC does not contemplate the reality that there is a huge overlap in the Venn diagram between those who refuse the vaccine and those who refuse to wear a mask. They are most certainly capable of the viral load to transit the disease.

      I’m not settling for 90% effectiveness against their spittal assaults. I’m still wearing my mask to make sure I have 99% effectiveness against them. And also, hopefully, to apply peer pressure to get them to mask up, which would give me closer to 99.9% effective resistance to viral load in their water droplets, should they be infectious, since most of their water droplets would get caught in the face diapers we have to beg/beseech/pressure/require them to wear. I also don’t want to be responsible for infecting any of them. (And, oh yeah, 14% of the population has no approved vaccine to get, and about 3% too young to wear masks safely, so basically on the same order of magnitude with the resistors.)

      Taking your mask off achieves nothing. There is no science-based advantage to doing so. Keeping it on improves your protection. The choice should be obvious. The CDC guidance was based on politics, not science.

      Let me try, again, to update your outdated representation of the position of the World Health Organization, which even Fox News managed to get right. They are telling everyone to mask up indoors. Given the large number of unvaccinated people willing to go maskless and spread the virus, the WHO got it right.

      The CDC slipped on a banana peel under political pressure. Sadly, the CDC won’t backtrack to jibe with the WHO guidance, because political pressure. And so, we are stuck having to be around the unvaccinated maskless, in grocery stores and other settings that are hard to avoid. This is probably the biggest political blunder of the Biden Administration to date, impacting the daily lives of hundreds of millions of Americans.

    2. “…because the tax is allocated to the purchase point.”

      The sales tax assessed, and ultimately distributed, is based on the delivery or ownership transfer point, not necessarily the purchase point (unless they are one and the same). Tax collections were indeed jumbled last year because of the large increase in online shopping with home deliveries and, conversely, the significant decrease in in-store retail purchases, as well as the closure of many retail outlets, restaurants, taverns and many other sales-tax generating venues. (Lest we forget, there was also this thing known as a recession with massive job losses going on that significantly hurt sales tax revenues at all levels.)

  13. Thanks for the clarification Tisgwm.

    Actually cities like Mercer Island saw a record year for sales tax revenue in 2020 due to online sale tax revenue, even though the perennial number one source for sales tax revenue — sales tax on construction — was not in the top five sources. There was a huge jump in online sales tax revenue, while local retail sales tax revenue remained stable.

    I expect this to change as the pandemic eases and Islanders leave to dine and shop off-Island, and begin to travel, because there was little entertainment or services to spend money on during the pandemic, and almost no one commuted off-Island to work.

    However the lesson for Mercer Island was it does not need development to balance its books.

    I am not sure how many followed the GMPC amendment and final housing growth target adoption.

    It was very interesting. Here are some of the new housing growth targets through 2044:

    Mercer Island 1239

    Clyde Hill 1

    Beaux Arts 1

    Medina 19

    Yarrow Point 10

    Sammamish 700 ( with a population of 70,000)

    Issaquah 3500

    Bellevue’s target I believe was 35,000. The targets are retroactive so housing units permitted since I think 2019 count.

    Mercer Island’s figure actually represents a zero net increase because our past progressive council agreed to crazy housing targets the last time the GMPC went through this exercise that we are working through, and so Mercer Island has already reached its maximum build out population of 26,000 it was not suppose to reach until post 2050.

    The most interesting issue was Sammamish’s threat to proclaim itself “built out”, and refuse to amend any zoning for new housing targets (mainly rezone single family housing to multi-family) or accept any increase in housing targets (Sammamish has 70,000 residents). In fact, a declaration of built out usually means a downzone to reflect no new housing growth.

    This has always been the showdown the GMPC has wanted to avoid, especially now that many eastside cities feel they have reached or are reaching their peak populations and refuse to rezone, and the GMPC mostly allocated housing growth towards cities or areas that wanted more growth, like Shoreline, to avoid this showdown.

    With Seattle possibly looking to eliminate single family zones, along with recent residential zoning changes, and eastside cities except downtown Bellevue looking to limit housing growth (and Bellevue’s new multi-family housing will be very expensive) it could be Seattle sees the most housing growth per capita, and I think that makes sense if Seattle wants that (multi-family) housing growth.

    I think this is reflected in the new housing prices reported in today’s Seattle Times. Although Seattle saw a 48.2% increase year over year (June 2020 to June 2021) in the closed sales for SFH (some speculate landlords dumping rentals due to eviction moratoria) and the eastside a 33.3% increase, the average price in Seattle rose 11.3% year over year to $890,444 while the eastside saw a price increase of 39.6% to $1,364,000, and even N. King Co.’s average price is now $925,000, a 42.3% percent increase. I have to think the disparity in price increases has to do with some Seattleites moving north or east for SFH zones (and maybe schools).

    Condo sales year over year in Seattle saw a 101.2% increase, with a price increase of 9.5% to $499,995. The eastside saw a 84.5% increase, with an average price increase of 9.5% to $556,000.

    Personally I don’t see any relief for housing prices, especially SFH, anywhere, and the rub with upzoning is new construction is always the least affordable, and developers seek out the oldest, least costly and most affordable properties to redevelop. Bellevue’s “TOD” is anti-affordable in most ways. Not good for ST if it hopes to extend project commencement and completion dates to collect more tax revenue if the price of land is going up 11.3%/year in Seattle.

    I suppose it makes the most sense to focus new housing where it is cheapest, and where communities want more density. The problem is even Southwest King Co. now has an average SFH price of $577,000, and Southeast King Co. an average price of $660,000, price increases of 20.4% and 27.2% respectively. These two areas were particularly opposed to additional housing targets feeling they have borne the brunt of new housing targets, and if housing prices increase at their current rate these areas could have roughly the same average price as Seattle, so the thinking is Seattle should absorb the most (affordable) new housing, in part because Seattle wants the additional density.

    1. “the rub with upzoning is new construction is always the least affordable”

      That’s hard to say when a condo costs $400K and a house costs $700K.

      New everything is the most expensive because it’s new, just like with a new car. That’s why we should have upzoned massively twenty years ago so those new units wouldn’t be new. Pre-WWII cities added infill multifamily housing as they grew; that’s how Manhattan went from farms to houses to towers. Remember Willy Loman who had the last house in his neighborhood in the 1950s? Yet now we freeze 75% of the buildable land as single-family and refuse to budge even when the population doubles or triples.

      Re Sammamish refusing to accept more people, I’m torn between saying “I hope they get sued” and “Good riddance, we shouldn’t force people to live in unwalkable low-density exurbs with little transit.”

    2. “These two areas were particularly opposed to additional housing targets feeling they have borne the brunt of new housing targets These two areas were particularly opposed to additional housing targets feeling they have borne the brunt of new housing targets”

      South King County has hardly grown at all in the past decade; it’s far behind Seattle or even the Eastside.

      Seattle should target a million or 1.6 million population, and upzone Northgate like SLU, and allow missing middle housing everywhere. It’s not, but at least it’s doing more than the suburbs are doing.

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