Photo of a sculpture in Seattle, Waiting for the Interurban. There are five sculpted people and a small dog with a human bearded face. The characters have been "dressed" in bright ragtag clothes.
Image from r/SeattleWA
“Waiting for the Interurban” dressed by annekak

The recent stall of a Sound Transit light rail train after the Apple Cup has brought on a public discussion on communicating with transit customers. Let’s hope that conversation continues. It is an important one.

Have you ever felt a touch of fate? Several weeks ago I decided to take public transit from Seattle to visit the Kinsey Collection Exhibit at the Tacoma Art Museum. (Fantastic show for a more visceral understanding of African American history. Gone now but you can check out on The Kinsey Collection website.) It turned out to be a freakishly on-target, real life look at public transit customer communication.

It all started with my smug self meeting up with reality on the trip back to Seattle.

Observation No. 1: We are an unruly lot.

Heading home within the soft privacy of the Sound Transit coach buses, smugness settled over me. Doing good for the environment and it had been a breeze. Technology revolutionizing the public transit customers’ ability to plan a trip, make the connections and get off at the right stop. Not a hitch. Across the aisle I can hear the two friends who hadn’t seen each other for years but bumped into each other on boarding. They are having a fine old time catching up. The new and the forever virtues of public transit on full display.

So, deep into my little satisfyingly rosy world I settled. Then from behind me comes this loud, combative voice. “Shut the **** up!” Apparently, the fine old time the friends are having was not sitting well with everyone on the bus.

Humanity is the really messy part of public transit. Public transit being one of the most fully public of public services. We people are what make the work difficult. The equipment, the programming, the planning, the scheduling, even the driving. Easy. You will look so brilliant when you determine the cause of the stall on Apple Cup day.

But customer service? It is not a world of certainties. I once tried to convince a planner that spending time and money on customer service would in the long run save the agency money. They weren’t buying it. Maybe they saw the reality of unruliness better than I and reasoned it would only be throwing good money after bad. A not uncommon opinion. The practice of blaming riders, such as was initially done by Sound Transit after the Apple Cup stall, is one of the typical results of holding this opinion.

Observation No. 2: Patting your pate while rubbing your belly.

Back to the ride. Now, of course, Sound Transit Route 594 travels I-5 so as this loud, combative voice intrudes on my self-satisfied thoughts, we are barreling down the freeway at 60 miles an hour in a bus that weighs a lot. And the rain is back. My smugness is waning as the protesting gets louder, long lost pals don’t take it well, and the driver stays focused on driving. Or at least that is what I am hoping the driver is doing.

Which gets to one of the biggest realities in communicating with transit customers. Stuff happens and it doesn’t matter if you are an operator at the head of a long train of light rail cars or a bus driver hurdling down the freeway. The harnessing of that mass of metal through space is your responsibility. Your mind must be on the driving. Safety first. On-time performance behind that. The two biggest factors in evaluating the work of an operator. And any time an operator interacts with a rider, safety or on-time performance can be compromised. A trade-off that drivers are acutely aware of, resulting in the byproduct of this trade-off. Stress lodging in the drivers’ very human bodies.

Observation No. 3: “Don’t tread on me!”

At this point, the driver decides they need to do something. And so they lean into the microphone, eyes still on the road, and says confidently, “All riders have a right to talk on the bus. You can’t expect that your ride will be totally quiet.” Based on the rule book.

Taking straight from the rule book is a driver’s go-to. Very reasonable. But it also opens the door for refuting the driver’s understanding of the situation. The rider has their side of the story. Annoyingly, narrative has a point of view.

You will notice that this driver takes it a step further, stating that the situation is a matter of individual rights. Now it is wrapped in an added something that isn’t going to be helpful. As Covid so stunningly brought home to the world. For in this world, claiming a right is never without cost. I wonder if there is an alternate universe where that is not true? Because this means that in our world, a right is a very precious thing that will never be your own. It will bring you face to face with others. And to all the uncertainty and complexity, anger and passion that will be let loose as the cost to whom or to what is worked out. In other words, asserting a right won’t get you anywhere fast which the driver really needs at this point.

Observation No. 4: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

So the war of rights begins. Without barely a skipped beat, the loud, combative voice behind me retorts, “I have PTSD!!”

At this point, you can’t help feeling sorry for the driver, but they pivot quickly, moving away from the rule book to another standby. The driver goes from a confident pronouncement of rules to pacification. “Just sit back and relax and we’ll be off the freeway in 15. You will be fine.” Repeated several times in an attempt at a calming mantra. (A quick reality check here. We are probably a good 25 minutes away from hitting that off ramp.) The rider shoots back, “**** you! Let me off the bus now!!” (The rider’s emphasis.)

Insincerity can be sniffed out by all of us and particularly those for whom respect is in short supply. Both parties are now throwing around the expletives. We are nearing melt down. Nobody is going to lose respect on this bus, by god. The driver makes one more pivot.

Observation No. 5: “Stretch your tent curtains wide.”

In a final attempt to keep this bus rolling, the driver finally states the obvious. “Hey. I’m trying to drive this bus and keep us all safe. If you don’t quiet down, I’m going to get off at the next exit and throw you all off this bus!” (Emphasis the driver’s.)

Covid has put me in a biblical mood. It just seems like biblical times. The quote above from Isaiah, read literally, refers to increasing your progeny but I’ve never been one for literal interpretations. I see in this an act of community in a starkly real world.

No more calling it in. Be present and see what you have that can support life. Now this particular driver fell upon this truth through desperation but who of us hasn’t been slow to get it? The driver creates a temporary “bus village.” (A bit of a despot, but at this point, who cares.) In creating this village, the driver speaks from his depths for the first time. We are all going to lose if we don’t pull together. The driver snaps us back to reality and the need for thinking as community.

Peace reigned for the rest of the trip.

Thoughts on these observations

We often try to solve messy humanity problems with cladding rather than structure. With a dab of powder rather than a warm smile. But the solutions lie deep. I remember interviewing a head of driver training at Metro many years ago. He was looking at retiring soon and summed up his biggest conundrum after years working with drivers, “You can teach people how to drive a bus but you can’t teach them how to work with customers.”

And as the extent of Sound Transit’s need to improve their support of riders during emergencies became public, it is clear that it is not just drivers who can’t be taught how to work with customers. So how then does a transit agency ensure good customer communication if the solution isn’t just an extra training module. Could it be as simple as a belief? A belief in the possibility of a hidden seed for community lurking in the unruly lot of humanity in that rail car, bus or boat? Every day drivers nurture the power of community into being. Or stumble upon it like my driver did.

Simple, of course, is not the same as easy. Beliefs are deeply held and require nurturing within a trusted community. So the transit agency will have to be that trusted community of believers in humanity.

Is this just rosy world stuff again? If it is, we need it. Our present world is finding out that the soft arts are essential for us to master if we are to hold on to our humanity. To recognize the truth that humanity is made up of gut and mind and dismissing one or the other puts us in peril. But enough talk. D. H. Lawrence says it best in his poem, Thought*.

Thought, I love thought.
But not the haggling and twisting of already existent ideas
I despise that self-important game.
Thought is the welling up of unknown life into consciousness,
Thought is the testing of statements on the touchstone of the conscience,
Thought is gazing on to the face of life, and reading what can be read,
Thought is pondering over experience, and coming to conclusion.
Thought is not a trick, or an exercise, or a set of dodges,
Thought is one person in their wholeness wholly attending.

*The last line is modified to make it easier for us all to identify with the poet. Apologies D.H.L.

57 Replies to “We are an unruly lot: Five observations on communicating with transit customers”

  1. Thank you, Melony, for writing a piece here that’s actually about people. And for foregrounding the value of community, which too many people and institutions ignore because, like all the best things in life, it does not have an economic value. Bravo.

  2. I’m on the side of the “combative voice” here. Mass transit is not the appropriate place for an impromptu “Sit and Stitch”. If your conversation is loud enough to annoy others it is a violation of the Transit Code of Conduct, plain and simple. A passenger’s right to talk ends at another’s stinging ears just as one’s right to make a fist ends at another’s face. The driver made the wrong call, both IMO and by the book.

    1. LOL, no. It’s not a Amtrak ‘quiet car.’ I’ve got a right to talk and I’ll do it if I please. Bring earplugs if you’ve got “PTSD” to the point that normal conservation annoys you.

      1. Others have a right to talk. You have a right to ask them not to be so loud, foul-mouthed, or talking to you when you don’t feel like talking to them. Playing radios for the rest of the bus to hear is verboten.

        Most riders will appreciate if you wait until you are off the bus/train before you engage in a phone conversation. You have a right. They have a right to scowl at and at that point talk over you.

        Most operators seem to want to focus on the road rather than hearing the stories of the guy sitting too close to them at the front. Nathan is a rare exception, and a jewel.

    2. Whether it’s annoying other passengers is subjective. That’s fine, feelings are always subjective. But the other passenger could have politely asked the other passengers to keep the volume down. Unfortunately, whether this is a trauma response or not, the person’s “combative voice” violated a tenet of the transit code of conduct which is “do not harass driver or other riders.”

      Additionally, the transit code of conduct’s “common sense guidelines” don’t say anything explicitly about conversation volume. Perhaps because conversation between people happens naturally ad needs to happen and because transit is a noisy place anyway. I agree with Ron Swanson here. Bring earplugs and be prepared to reasonably ask people to keep it down if you need. That’s a much more flexible system than asking everyone to be quiet because one person might not like it.

    3. @Ron, I do better than that. I use a 600 dollar earbud/over the ear ANC/PNC combo. And I can still hear most conversations on mass transit.

      People have a right to talk. People don’t have the right to unruly and disruptive behavior, and at a certain volume one’s behavior is definitely unruly and disruptive. Whether the victim has PTSD or not is irrelevant.

      1. The fact pattern in the post said nothing about the conversation being unruly… it was described as “two folks talking”. The combative passenger was out of line. Period.

    4. One important word passed down from my uncle
      (or ‘obsoiv’, colloquially in the regional dialect of the time he was passing his wisdom down to us all)

      Understand what your and the disruptive person’s capabilities are (i.e. a petite person won’t want to directly confront a very large one), and very importantly…
      Watch for Weapons, or behavior that indicates that.

      1. You missed the point. I use two pairs of noise canceling headphones at the same time. Even then, there are multiple conversations on most mass transit rides in my experience. And that level of volume, regardless of content of conversation, is definitively unruly by its very nature. That makes it a violation of the Transit Code of Conduct.

  3. There is one bit of communication lacking, and it’s trying to get people to understand just how dangerous it is to be on any railroad right-of-way outside of the rail vehicle.

    Me personally, I don’t give a rat’s ass how butthurt people get when they are admonished for putting themselves in danger.

    “Blaming” ?,…maybe more like
    Shaming, as one would do with a teenager on an issue that is serious enough to warrant that intervention.

    Mike Lindblom’s comment that the the stalled Apple Cup Link train situation is “nuanced” is wrong.

    There’s no nuancing getting hit by something that has the mass of a moving house.

    Death is the ultimate inconvenience.

    1. It is not clear whether the train operator knew the latter three cars weren’t hearing him over the loudspeaker. If I were in her seat, I would not have expected the loudspeaker to fail in the rest of the train because of an electrical cable being cut. I would have expected the loudspeaker to still work.

      It is a straightforward argument that the passengers might have been safer in the tunnel’s side passages than on the train. Failure to inform them that they are safer on the train, and that no other train is going to crash into them, and that the air filtration system still works (which it might not have been) does not make it the customers’ fault.

      There may be situations when evacuating the train is warranted, especially when it is at-grade. Indeed, having to exit the train (so far in my experience, always at a station, thankfully) and wait for another train is commonplace. An ad campaign telling riders to stay on the train in all breakdown situations just does not seem warranted.

      1. “It is a straightforward argument that the passengers might have been safer in the tunnel’s side passages than on the train. Failure to inform them that they are safer on the train, and that no other train is going to crash into them, and that the air filtration system still works (which it might not have been) does not make it the customers’ fault.”

        This comment illustrates how far we’ve drifted from rail travel (e.g. Interurbans, streetcars, mainline rail, etc.) in that now there is a lack of concept of just how dangerous the environment can be outside of the railcar.

        The basic societal need that we have to explicitly be told
        “Trains are BIG, and you Don’t Play or Walk on active Train Tracks”,
        rather than it be as intuitive as
        “Don’t Play or Walk on the Freeway”
        is what the problem is.

        That’s the communication that needs to be addressed.

        “It is a straightforward argument that the passengers might have been safer in the tunnel’s side passages than on the train.”
        Straightforward argument? Based on whose informed decision?
        If there was violence happening on one of the cars in the train, yes that’s a good reason.

        ” Failure to inform them that they are safer on the train, and that no other train is going to crash into them,”
        This is Exactly what I mean when I challenge the decision by passengers to evacuate without any direction. It shows that with a complete lack of ignorance of rail operations. How does someone come to the conclusion that another train was about to crash into the stalled train? Why make the decision to evacuate? Did it make some passengers feel important? (Those white males again…) “I don’t have a clue what to do, but I’m going to ‘take charge’ and do something (and while I’m at it, cuss out the operator)”

        And here’s the kicker… Unlike Vancouver’s Skytrain, there was at least one ST representative to ask – The train operator.

        Hence, my question asking was there one calm ADULT in the crowd that could say “Let me go up front and find out”, once they started to break out after 10 minutes?

      2. Jim, I don’t think the issue is whether the passengers placed themselves in danger exiting the train, the issue is any human factors expert would tell you that is exactly what the passengers will do in those circumstances.

        It isn’t up to a passenger to lead the passengers to safety, or calm them, or risk their safety to find out what the hell is going on. That is not part of the fare. The irony is the load capacity for the trains (600 for a four-car train less four conductors) includes a conductor per train car, when it sounds like no ST staff were on duty, at all.

        ST now has a budget of $148 billion. There are train and subway systems all around the world. ST has had trains operating for a decade. My guess is every first world country has reams of regulations about training and systems for exactly this situation, because it is so common. I am sure those regulations begin with backup ventilation, back up lights, and communication to the passengers immediately.

        Some would argue a brand-new train on one of the busiest days should not stop in the middle of a tunnel and argue there should have been more ST staff on duty — even on Saturday — because of the known crowds, but the train did stop, and as anticipated it was packed with a lot of tipsy riders, and trains do stop (which means they needed to use bathrooms and were nauseous, and the passengers acted EXACTLY like it was predicted they would.

        If they placed themselves in danger there was only one entity at fault to have allowed that to happen. It is the same reason many freight train lines through urban areas have fences along them, even though it may seem intuitive folks should not walk on train tracks. But they do because walking on the flat train tracks as opposed to through the surrounding vegetation or slopes is easier, not because they want to die. Same reason train crossings not only have bells and flashing lights, they have cross bars that block the intersection.

        ST is damn lucky no one got seriously hurt, but it sounds like the design guidelines in the tunnel were pretty good even thought the passengers were left on their own, and ST did stop all trains, because as anticipated it sounds like some passengers wandered into the opposing tunnel, exactly like predicted, which is why you stop all trains and make sure there is a thorough inspection before restarting the trains.

        For lawyers like me who deal in risk, the stopping of the train might seem emblematic of ST, especially the lack of conductors and staff on such a busy day, but what is really scary is the lack of training, systems, and foresight for such a common situation for a subway. If someone had died there would have been a major federal investigation, but I still hope there is some kind of federal review of this incident, because it makes me worry — after the derailment — that ST needs to bring in a real safety expert who knows the federal regulations.

      3. Since we’re all armchair quarterbacking this incident until the investigation is complete and the report comes out, I will entertain myself by listening to you dazzling me with your brilliance while you explain this statement you made:
        “Jim, I don’t think the issue is whether the passengers placed themselves in danger exiting the train, the issue is any human factors expert would tell you that is exactly what the passengers will do in those circumstances.

        It isn’t up to a passenger to lead the passengers to safety, or calm them, or risk their safety to find out what the hell is going on. “

        From looking at Daniel Heppner’s Twitter feed, we need clarification as how the passengers actually accomplished opening the doors.
        Time Stamp 8:41pm: “They opened the doors manually to let some fresh air in.”
        Question 1: (not having ridden in the new Seimens vehicles, and never investigating escaping a light rail vehicle) Do the doors have an “Emergency Exit” option that allows the doors to open manually?

        The next tweet only suggests what was happening:
        Time Stamp 8:50pm: “Some people are getting upset and have forced a door open and are walking the tunnel.”

        Given your statement: “It isn’t up to a passenger to lead the passengers to safety.”
        Then WHY did they decide to force the doors open, and walk the tunnel?

      4. “It is the same reason many freight train lines through urban areas have fences along them, even though it may seem intuitive folks should not walk on train tracks. But they do because walking on the flat train tracks as opposed to through the surrounding vegetation or slopes is easier, not because they want to die. Same reason train crossings not only have bells and flashing lights, they have cross bars that block the intersection.”

        Since freight railroads own the property they run their trains on, they also consider anyone on their property not in a passenger train, in areas unprotected by crossing gates and guards as TRESPASSERS.

      5. “Given your statement: “It isn’t up to a passenger to lead the passengers to safety.” …

        “Then WHY did they decide to force the doors open, and walk the tunnel?”

        Because that is exactly what passengers do when they are stopped on a packed train in a dark tunnel without ventilation in the dark with no communication. Studies will show that once one person decides to leave the others follow, and that pretty much one person will decide to leave if there is no communication. They weren’t leading anyone to safety. They were leading themselves, and the others followed.

        It is foolish to try and change human behavior in an emergency. There are decades of data about what folks do on a train that is stopped in a tunnel, and for how long, and whether there is ventilation, light and communication. This is just one more example of people in this situation doing exactly what studies and experts will tell you they will do. ST is the common carrier with the $148 billion budget. Plan for it.

      6. Jim, I don’t know why you think the public ought to know anything about train operations, or have any responsibility to act as engineers would hope (that is, to stay put and stay silent), any more than the flying public ought to know how an airplane works. I’d bet anything that if a plane were taxing down a runway and the plane power cut out without any flight attendants to provide instruction or communication from the pilot, as soon as the air stopped flowing from the vents, people would be opening the doors and riding the slides to safety on the tarmac. People getting off a totally shut down train is natural, especially considering the HVAC shut off and the lights were still on in the tunnel.

        The fact that ST didn’t have a contingency plan for communicating with down-train passengers when there’s only one operator on the train is what went wrong, here. The point of the post, and the lesson from all uncomfortable experiences in public places, is that engineers can’t provide engineering controls for all possible situations involving the public. In fact, when people themselves are the source of the hazard, none of the NIOSH hierarchy of controls are applicable.

        Fundamentally, providing services to customers requires a understanding of the art (not science) of customer service, especially in complicated situations. Otherwise, you end up with people only using your service when they have to, not when they want to. In this regard, ST has a long ways to go to meet the bare minimum of good customer service.

        And Dan, you toss around ST’s 30-year budget as if it’s a meaningful number, but you can’t even quote it right (it’s $138B as of October 29, 2021). As we’ve seen in the past, ST’s engineers are great about meeting the bare minimum of regulations – see the Point Defiance Bypass Incident, where ST is blamed for not having implementing PTC yet or properly training the conductors, despite neither of those facets being required by federal regulations at the time. Regarding tunnel incidents, you once again provide total speculation and then treat it as fact. As someone who works with safety regulations on a daily basis, I doubt there are any regulations regarding how to handle complete train failure in a tunnel. Obviously there are requirements to provide safe evacuation routes, which ST obviously achieved as people were able to walk to the nearest stations. But specific guidance regarding how to safely guide passengers when the power goes out? That’s all at the agency policy level – individual incidents are too varied to possibly cover at a state or federal level. Don’t you work in tort law? You ought to understand this.

      7. Daniel, light rail trains do not have “conductors”, especially one-per-car. They sometimes have fare inspectors.

      8. @TT,

        Ya, that is an incredibly uninformed opinion by Daniel.

        Anyone who has ridden LR anywhere in the world knows that they don’t have conductors, let alone “one conductor per car.” Even heavy rail passenger trains don’t have one conductor per car, and such things aren’t required by regulation.

        What is required by regulation is a means to safely evacuate the trains in case of emergency. ST did provide such means, and it apparently worked very well, even under the most adverse conditions. Kudos to ST and their design engineers.

        Also, Daniel got the Link capacity wrong. These are very fundamental errors. Such egregious errors to basic fact call into question the veracity of the entire post. I’d just skip over such posts in the future.

      9. Fare “Ambassadors” Tom, not enforcers.

        The four “conductors” per train (one per car) comes from ST.

        Way back in early 2018 ST had announced buses would no longer cross the bridge span and all cross-lake transit would be on East Link. Under ST/Metro’s proposed optimal bus intercept Mercer Island would see up to 20 articulated buses per peak hour, and up to 14,000 off Island boardings per day (including park and ride users and Island residents). At that time people — including Metro — still believed ST’s wildly inflated future ridership projections on East Link, and folks still thought the majority of eastside workers would commute to downtown Seattle for work. ST had just announced a fix for the bridge deck to span joint that would allow trains to maintain speed across the bridge, and that post-tensioning of the bridge span would allow East Link to run with 8-minute headways, although even today whether four car trains will be able to cross the bridge span is unclear, and only time and the concrete will tell. Rogoff was still CEO.

        So naturally Mercer Island was concerned that there would be a lack of train capacity at the last stop (Mercer Island) going west in the morning, and going east in the afternoon, and ST’s capital budget was still $54 billion I believe.

        One number no one could get a straight answer on was how many riders could a train car hold. So ST submitted information from the manufacturer:

        1. 200 riders in crush mode. This is where station staff actually push riders onto the train, like in Tokyo. ST stated it would never run in crush mode, or hire staff to push folks onto the train.

        2. Standing room only mode. This consisted of 75 seated and 75 standing, for a total of 150 passengers per car, 600 per train. ST stated 150 was the maximum passengers per train car it would allow, or could fit on a train without staff forcing folks onto a train.

        3. Less, according to the manufacturer and ST, four “conductors”, or one per train car, so a total of 596 riders for a four car train, which still was not enough peak capacity for Mercer Island based on the proposed intensity of the intercept, and ST’s ridership projections cross lake.

        I don’t know what the “conductors” listed by the manufacturer do in other parts of the world considering most of them probably don’t have onboard fare enforcement, but that was the term they used. I would imagine ST will need one fare ambassador per train car if it hopes to enforce fares, although how to do that with 150 riders per train car I don’t know.

        Obviously all the ridership projections cross lake in early 2018 are out the window, and Mercer Island under the restructure looks like it will be a minor intercept as working patterns post pandemic shift. It also looks like ST has decided — at least on the train that got stuck in the tunnel — to forego any “fare ambassadors” for all four train cars, so maybe ST should amend its train capacity numbers given to MI in 2018 from 596 riders to 599 riders (including the driver).

        It seems a little silly today that back in 2018 we were actually discussing the four train conductors when determining train capacity on East Link. A pandemic can do that, along with dishonest ridership projections.

      10. @Dan,

        Please just stop. We get it, you don’t like LR and you don’t like Seattle. That is fine, everyone is entitled to their opinion. But the key word is “opinion”, and opinions often exist contrary to the facts, and most of us here prefer facts.

        Fact: Link LRV’s don’t have conductors. They have one operator per LRV train. Just one. And it has been that way since day 1, same as every other LR system.

        Fact: Link LRV capacity is officially listed as 196, which most people just quote as 200, because, you know, at 196 what is 4 more people between friends. Use the Google. The truth is at your finger tips.

        Fact: The evacuation system after the stall worked perfectly. Exactly as designed. There is debate about whether the passengers should have evacuated, but there is no doubt that the safety systems worked as designed.

        Fact: ST never said Link would never run at crush loads, they just said they weren’t designing the system to always run that way. It has always been understood that there would be situations were Link would indeed run at crush loads. Like, for example, after a sporting event. Gee, that sort of describes the Apple Cup…

        And, for the record, we were talking about the stall, not capacity calculations from MI. Nice attempt at changing the subject.


        “How many people can fit?”

        “The original Kinkisharyo rail cars provide 74 seats, while the new Siemens railcars, which display blue lights on the sides, contain 70 seats. But the Siemens railcars are roomier in the midsection, so 10 to 12 more people can ride comfortably.”

        “Ideal capacity is considered 150 per rail car, where half the people stand but don’t jostle. (Sound Transit’s official max load is about 200 people, which crowds experience leaving a sports event.)”

        “Sound Transit will operate four rail cars per train, for ideal capacity of 600 people, or 4,500 riders per hour per direction, at peak eight-minute frequency. If demand grows and more rail cars arrive, capacity can be doubled by sending trains every four minutes.”

        You know Lazarus, your computer has access to Google too. We probably spent 18 months on this issue when it came to capacity on light rail at the Mercer Island station. I know you are a blind advocate for ST, and you must feel like Lazarus from the Bible, but you need to not destroy your credibility which is pretty thin on this blog right now.

        No one is going to stuff 200 riders on a train car, and none of ST’s fantastical ridership estimates are based on 200 passengers per train car, even during sporting events, because it would take people at the station platform to push those people onto the train.

      12. @DT,

        Ah, so now we have it. You are using the wrong definition of capacity.

        “Ideal capacity” is not the same as full, max, or “crush” capacity. Ideal capacity is in fact partially “full”. It leaves plenty of room for passenger comfort and it allows the system to absorb unexpected transient increases in ridership demand. It is an operational target, not a capacity limit or constraint, and nobody should be claiming it as such.

        And, getting back to he main subject, the tunnel stall incident occurred while the Link train was operating well above “ideal” capacity, It was in fact operating closer to crush capacity. This was after a major sporting event after all..

        Additionally, ridership estimates are not based on system capacity. Ridership estimates are just that, estimates. They are developed based on existing commute and travel patterns, existing transit use, and expected demographic and employment trends. They are not developed from system capacity.

        Quite the contrary, system capacity is usually adjusted to match actual ridership. This is done by changing train frequency or lengths.

        As per your comment that “We probably spent 18 months on this issue…”, I’m really interested in who that “we” is? Because I can tell you with absolute certainty that the configuration and capacity of East Link was known by the people involved the day East Link was proposed – basically it was going to look exactly like Central Link (up to 4-car trains operating at headways as short as 6 minutes).

        But if by “we” you mean some dark corner of the internet where people huddle together and try to channel some ghost of Maggie Fimia past, well then you have me. But I can assure you that if T-anon does in fact exist, it has no impact on the transit discussion.

        The train has left the station.

      13. Fare ambassadors work in pairs. They board a train at a station, check the car they’re in, get off at the next station, and presumably wait for the next train. Passengers don’t see them that often, maybe once every ten trips. So it’s a random inspection. Fare non-payment is around 3%; this includes forgetting to tap and malfunctioning readers as well as intentional fare evasion. There’s no conductor on every Link car all day, nor on any other subway I’ve ever seen. There’s just the driver in front.

      14. The numbers DT is quoting are used for things like emergency exit spacing and size, ventilation capacity, etc. It’s similar to designing the West Seattle bridge for the worst case scenario of every lane being filled with trucks of steel beams coming from the Nucor Steel mill: it’s something that probably won’t happen, but if it does you don’t want your underwear dangling about your ankles.

        The 200 passenger number per car isn’t that difficult to achieve, but I doubt Link will get there. TriMet probably gets close after Moda Center events, but to do it they have platforms built into the sidewalks with access from all directions, plus they will make trains wait at the station since these events happen off-peak and off-peak frequency is atrocious. With 10 minute all day scheduling, Link won’t have the luxury (or need) to wait several minutes at a station for that many people to get through the doors. The Link platforms also have much more constrained access that TriMet’s sidewalk level stations.

        As to conductors, the only two transit-like lines I’ve still seen conductors:

        • most Brazilian city buses have them because there is some sort of federal law that prevents drivers from driving, so on most buses there is a separate fare collector.

        • Manx Electric Railway, but then their rail line hasn’t changed much since the 1960s, and the equipment is from 1892 to 1924, so it’s not like we’re talking about the most state of the art operation.

        • commuter rail lines in the USA, but that’s not light rail.

      15. 200 passengers is packed in like Japan, which isn’t going to happen in the US. People will wait for the next train instead. ST estimates 125 is the realistic American maximum.

      16. @Mike Orr,

        Ah, no, ST most certainly DOES NOT list the maximum as 125 pax/car. Where in the world did you get that idea? That is only about 50 people standing, in a vehicle configured primarily for standing!

        And I can assure you I have ridden Link at loads well above 125! 125 is nothing for a Link LRV!

        ST actually lists capacity as 196 pax/car, which I think is based on something like 5 pax/m**2. I’d have to use the Google to confirm.

        It is interesting to note though that Seimans actually quotes pax capability for the S700 in ST’s config as 225 pax at 6 pax/m**2 and 276 pax at 8 pax/m**2. ST doesn’t propose to operate at those levels!

        For comparison, definitions vary, but in Japan crush loads are normally considered to be loads at greater than 10ish pax/m**2.

        ST does not propose to go there! And comments by people on this blog that the only way ST can get to 200 pax per car is to employ Japanese style pushers are utter nonsense.

        Also note, in India their super dense crush loads are normally considered to be 15 pax/m**2. And they don’t use pushers!

        ST doesn’t propose to go there either!

      17. “Accommodates 148 passengers (with a roughly 50/50 standing/seating
        ratio) on a 95-foot car and, when coupled, can create up to a four-car
        train with 600-passenger capacity” Slide 23
        “Passenger load for light rail differs from other modes, as the trips are shorter. Thus, standees are permitted, up to the maximum car capacity of 148 passengers. The Sound Transit standard for passenger load on Link is
        a maximum load factor of 2.0, which means half of the 148 are seated
        and half are standing. In this scenario, there should be 4.4 square feet per
        standing passenger, which is considered a comfortable standing load, per the Transportation Research Board’s Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual.
        Sound Transit uses automated passenger count (APC) data to evaluate overload conditions during each bi-annual service change period. If the load factor exceeds 2.0 or 30 minutes of standing time on a regular basis, corrective action should be considered. Regular basis is defined as at least three days a week for weekday service and two times a month for Saturday or Sunday service.” Slide 24

      18. When Sound Transit or what ever agency decides what is Normal, Full, or Crushload rider numbers, do they include all possible standing areas? I have read about 3 or 4 different specifications from commenters here. I have no idea which is correct. But I know from riding during rush hour that most people will not go up the stairs to stand. And most people will not stand in the articulated areas. Not everyone, but most. I don’t even know if either section has grab handles to hold on to if you are standing in either section. Please let me know. Maybe there are. I just don’t remember. If those standing areas are considered by ST to estimate Full or Crushload numbers, then I think it would be hard to get them. Many will wait for the next train. Especially if it is only 10 minute frequency with 4 LRV’s per train. Except at concerts or sports events. But recently those people were looked down on in this blog. I have seen some riders stand in both areas, but it is not very full or very common. Most people don’t seem to want to stand in an area that can’t access the doors quickly. Most standing riders hang out by the doors or the low floor areas between the articulated sections. And that is not good for people flow. When the door opens it is very difficult to get out. I think I would only stand in those 2 areas if I was going more than six stops. And there would have to have something to hold on to. Maybe the new LRV’s open floor plan can change that. I don’t know. But I am still curious about how ST calculated those numbers.

      19. “Except at concerts or sports events. But recently those people were looked down on in this blog.”

        Just the football fans. Especially inebriated ones.
        US Fútbol (Soccer) fans tend to be more civilized.
        Baseball fans are genteel. If they’re drinking, they’re just drowning their sorrows (around here, at least)
        Hockey fans haven’t shown their true colors yet. (wait until playoff season)

      20. crush load means all standing room possible. In order for it to be an effective safety measurement of emergency access, ventilation capacity, etc it has to be.

        Think of it as the capacity of one of the ferries , limited by life jacket capacity. Once you hit that number, you can’t safely have any more people.

        So, you design the system to be able to safely handle whatever that capacity could be. There’s no point in designing Link around dealing with, say, a 15 car London Underground load, but you don’t want to assume the Tandy Subway either.

        Normal load would be whatever experience dictates is the normal load, but you’d want to differentiate normal load and normal peak period load. What you assume depends on how that number is going to be used.

      21. I think where people are getting confused is in what limit to apply in which situation, because there are several different limitations that the engineers and operators use in different situations and for different purposes.

        The 148 pax ST limit is not a true vehicle pax limit. It is the limit ST imposes internally based on the day-to-day comfort level they want to provide. As such it is somewhat subjective, but it is the benchmark they use for adjusting capacity. If Link starts operating at ridership demand levels consistently above the 148 pax value under normal circumstances, then ST will adjust headways or train lengths in an attempt to bring loads back down to the 148 pax/car value.

        But note that Link can, and does on occasion, operate well above the 148 pax level. These high demand events occur around things like the Apple Cup (for example), and during these periods Link ridership per car will be closer to the actual physical limit for pax onboard (not the comfort limit).

        What is the actual physical pax limit for Link? ST uses 196 pax per car. That is what people around here tend to call a “crush load”, but in reality the industry tends to use a higher still value.

        What value is that? Here are the manufacturer specs for the S700 in ST’s config (scroll down):

        Note that they quote pax capacity as 225 and 276 pax at 6 and 8 pax/m**2 respectively. The 6 pax/m**2 is what the industry typically calls “crush load” and is well above the 2.4 pax/m**2 that ST uses for its “comfort limit”. It typically get used to define a weight called AW3 which is used for track loading calcs.

        The 8 pax/m**2 limit? It defines something that called AW4, which is a weight that gets used in bridge loading calcs. Vehicles in this country rarely operate at those levels.

        So what does ST actually use for max passengers possible per LRV? I remember from the monorail days that the value used somewhere in the industry at that time was something like 4 pax/m**2. Does ST use this value to get to 196 pax/LRV?

        I don’t know, but I do find it interesting that if you linearly scale the number of standees by the ratio of 4 over the comfort level, and then add back in the 77 seated passengers, you pretty much get ST’s value of max LRV capacity:

        70*4/2.4 + 77 = 194

        Which is pretty darn close to ST’s value of 196 considering we only have secondary inputs.

        So there you are.

      22. The 125 estimate was from before the Northgate Link cars and maybe the U-Link cars, so they may have more capacity, and passengers may be more willing to crowd than they were in the mid 2000s. Yes, people are reluctant to go to the upper levels, and some will stand in the lower section rather than take a seat in the upper sections. However, this applies less during ballgame or full peak-commute loads.

  4. There are jerks who want silence. There are people that chat too loudly or react too loudly. These are some normal challenges about being in public in many situations.

    What I see is that we are moving into more of a “retreat mode” as a society not only because of Covid but also because of self-absorption . That’s not universally bad, but it does mean that people are less familiar with monitoring and adjusting their own behavior. A seasoned rider would generally think nothing of a conversation among other riders — but there could have been aggravating factors. In sum, this is not unique to transit. It’s an indicator of how we increasingly think about ourselves more than the temporary community when in public.

    Could vehicle design changes have eased the aggravation? I don’t think so. Transit vehicles are usually loud as there is little to absorb the sound. However, I doubt ot would have changed things much.

    The driver did their best.

    1. Agree. You may not have this in mind, but when I hear about “retreat mode,” I think about people being insular to the point they don’t feel capable or comfortable asking for the things that they want or need. Unfortunately, that missing skill is needed to sort out our problems with non-bureaucratic solutions. As you point out, no technical or policy change likely would have made all the people in this scenario happy. But they could have come to a reasonable compromise if all parties were willing and able to communicate effectively.

  5. Thanks for the interesting and well written article. I enjoyed it.

    Someone can always buy a pair of passive shooting earmuffs for $9.99 that reduce sounds by 25 decibels if they have a hard time with loud voices, probably not a good condition to be in public with. I am not sure what this rider hoped for when he got off the bus in Seattle. Silence?

    Of course A Joy raises a common complaint we all have suffered: very loud people who think we want to hear what they have to say, and most of the time the reason they are so loud is because no one ever listens to them. They want some affirmation that their life is being noticed by someone, when in reality it is not, and that is terrifying.

    The pandemic has frayed a lot of nerves and there is a lot of financial anxiety (which increases drugs and booze), and the isolation has not been good for most. Too many people live alone, and when some people shelter they end up sheltering alone. We lose our social skills, or tolerance. We also spend too much time online and in virtual worlds, and there is a tempering with face-to-face interactions.

    I can see the effects in my two kids, both now in college. One lost most of his undergraduate experience when that is often the best time in someone’s life, while the other lost her senior year in H.S., another momentous year for most. The universities are mostly open, but you can’t go back and build the relationships you make in years one and two that were lost.

    Last Thursday I got my booster shot. I got Moderna, although my first two shots were Pfizer. I was knocked out for two days, but as I lay in bed I was grateful for the vaccines because they have made it possible for me and my family to socialize again. Just a year ago we were all living in terror, wiping down surfaces with rubbing alcohol and crossing streets to avoid one another. I am in good shape and exercise, so I really believe that even if I get Covid it will be mild, and that is worth risking to return to some kind of normal social life. For those who choose to not get vaccinated that is their decision, but at this point I can’t give a shit about them, and don’t plan to change my life for their decision.

    Again thanks for the article. Sometimes public transit reveals what is going on in general.

    1. Well put. I believe we are on the long long slow rise from the low of the pandemic. Yet everywhere there are lasting effects. Yesterday I read an article about a community health clinic in Charlotte, NC, my hometown. Parents are bringing in their kids for vaccines, but a lot of the time they are much more worried about chronic health conditions that the pandemic has exacerbated for many reasons. Those still need to be treated.

      Amid the challenges I admit I have much to be grateful for. I am a healthy young person, and none of my family have been disabled or killed by Covid. In a week and a half I’ll be able to see my family in person, and I got my booster shot just in time to make me and them safer.

  6. ST says:

    If someone had died there would have been a major federal investigation, but I still hope there is some kind of federal review of this incident, because it makes me worry — after the derailment — that ST needs to bring in a real safety expert who knows the federal regulations.

    I too hope for a federal review, though it rarely happens with transit agencies. It’s only a matter of time before this same problem happens to someone else, and it would be useful to know what happened and how to prevent it.

    Federal regulations are notably absent when it comes to local transit agencies. National Fire Protection Act covers some things when it comes to what materials are allowed (Eg, no acidic gases when seat cushions burn) but with transit lines an awful lot is left up to local regulations. There’s no real Federal Railroad Administration or FAA equivalent for local transit agencies.

    Which is unfortunate as I think it results in what happens at one agency being very insular to that agency, without giving others the benefit of the experience gained.

    I’m not sure any agency is well equipped to handle he particular problem that happened during the Apple Cup as the communications lines between the cars are required for communications to the rest of the train. Berlin S Bahn? It’s 3 section permanently coupled cars made into 12 car trains with no way for anyone to walk between cars. Open gangway trains such as London is getting are one step, but even there it would be possible to break communications with other cars. You’d have some limited ability for information to travel down the train by word of mouth, at least. Amtrak at least has the ability to have two COM cables between cars, but those are manually connected cables requiring a lot more time for coupling and uncoupling compared to the fully automatic system on light rail trains.

    I’m leaning towards this being a design issue with the Siemens fold-out couplers and how the cables are routed around the coupling. When the cars aren’t coupled, the couplets are hidden under the bumper-like cover at the end of the car. There are flexible joints and other pieces that would be a bit more prone to failure than having a single solid coupler bar.

    In any event, some basic photos and descriptions of MAX couplers (which are similar to those used on Link) are found here:


    “Recommended Emergency Preparedness Guidelines for Rail Transit Systems”

    “16. Abstract”

    “The Recommended Emergency Preparedness Guidelines contained in this document are designed to help rail transit systems to assess, develop, document and improve their capability for responding to emergency situations, and to coordinate these efforts with emergency response organizations in a manner which best protects the traveling pubic and transit system facilities and equipment.

    “Four major areas of emergency preparedness are addressed. The first section presents recommendations for Emergency Plan Development, including emergency response procedures, agreements with emergency organizations, and supporting documentation. The training section outlines recommended training for both transit system and emergency response personnel, as well as programs to promote public awareness. The last two sections –Facilities and Equipment, and Vehicles–focus on performance requirements and emergency equipment recommendations to facilitate passenger evacuation and minimize transit property damage.

    “These guidelines have been developed over the past several years, with input obtained from discussions and workshops with transit system and emergency response organization personnel, and from literature sources such as industry guidelines, codes and standards.”


    “Safety planning is composed of two basic phases: a preventive phase and a reactive phase. The preventive phase is concerned with preventing the occurrence of the incident or accident. The reactive phase is concerned with the response once an incident or accident has occurred, and with minimizing its effect. The recommended emergency preparedness guidelines address this reactive phase and as such are directed not at preventing the incident or accident itself but at assisting rail transit systems in preparing for and responding to its occurrence in a timely and effective manner.”

    “A. Emergency Evacuation”

    “Rail transit systems should provide special tunnel orientation activities, not only for their own personnel, but for emergency response personnel who may become involved in an emergency situation.

    “Training should include visual aids depicting the tunnel environment and walking (or riding) tours for greater familiarization.

    “Transit systems should conduct evacuation drills periodically both for their own personnel and for emergency response personnel.

    “Transit systems should provide visual aids portraying a simulated emergency tunnel evacuation and demonstrating the appropriate application of emergency procedures by employees.

    “Transit systems that use ladders, ramps, planks, and/or stretchers for emergency evacuation should ensure that their operating personnel know the location and use of these items.

    “B. Emergency Tunnel Ventilation”

    “Transit systems that have forced ventilation systems should provide specialized training for Central Control personnel, supervisors, and emergency response personnel in accordance with operations documentation for managing ventilation during emergencies.”

    “Transit systems that rely on train movement, natural air flow and/or grates between tunnel and surface to provide ventilation, should establish procedures and training in accordance with these limitations.”

    “ Emergency Response Training Drills -”

    “Emergency response training in the form of drills should be carried out by rail transit systems. The drills may vary from full-scale emergency simulation drills involving both rail transit and emergency response organization personnel, to drills for rail transit personnel only or even for a particular employee (e.g., a train operator). More importantly, the simulation drills should serve as a means for evaluation of the overall emergency response capabilities of the system through careful selection of the time and location of drills, the location of monitors, and the performance of a simulation critique.”

    “4.1.1 Construction”

    “Transit station construction should provide for rapid patron
    evacuation and rapid emergency response personnel access for potential
    emergency scenarios. With this in mind, transit station construction
    should take the following into consideration:”

    “4.1.2. Lighting”

    “Lighting is an essential factor in many emergency situations, particularly in underground stations. It can also play an important role during hours of darkness at elevated, at grade, or open cut passenger stations.”

    “4.2 TRAINWAY”

    “Although the preferred method of evacuating passengers under emergency conditions is to move all or part of the train to the nearest station, in some cases it may be necessary for passengers to exit from the train while it is located between stations, in order to walk to another train or to the closest station or emergency exit. The trainway environment and available equipment can thus have a large effect on passenger evacuation in emergency situations.

    “The three basic types of trainway are underground (tunnels and underwater tubes), elevated, and surface (at-grade and open cut).”

    Here is another link:

    1. Nathan, I am not an expert on federal regulations in this situation, and I really don’t want to spend the time to research them. Ordinarily I hire experts to do that. The reason I posted these policy recommendations is it makes me think there are formal regulations, both per agency and probably federal, and a qualified expert in litigation would know them already if the DOT has issued these guidelines. Granted the policy recommendations from the DOT seem pretty basic, which again is the point.

      Do I think ST has these policies and has provided the recommended training? No, from the situation with the train stuck in the tunnel, I don’t think ST has done its due diligence.

      Your first post simply regurgitates what I have posted several times on this issue from a human factors point of view — that the passengers acted as predicted in that situation — and my second point is I am pretty sure there are federal regulations for common carriers for common situations like this when the predicted action by passengers when left on their own, as Jim rightfully points out, might not be the safe decision.

      The only disagreement I have with Jim is whether a court or jury or federal inquiry would hold ST or the passenger responsible for injuries or death from leaving the train when they received no communication and had little ventilation or light. I think it would be ST. Luckily we didn’t have to find out.

      1. My post doesn’t regurgitate any of your points of view, but the fact that you think it does indicates you think it’s preposterous that anyone could come to a similar conclusion without reading your posts.

        It’s not luck that the train failure didn’t injure anyone, no more than it’s luck that your brakes work. It’s simple fact that ST’s safety planning prevented injury and damage in this unexpected emergency.

        The only thing ST clearly failed to do was to send actionable updates to people not involved in the rescue effort. We may find out there was some negligence in train maintenance, and there will likely be a finding of “inadequate operator training,” because ST didn’t predict such a specific and total electro-mechanical failure and train operators for it.

        You’re a hawk for reducing waste of your tax dollars, so I don’t know what you want – should we start requiring all public agencies to imagine and prepare for every conceivable scenario, with reams of unused emergency plans filling hard drives and wasting expensive planning time? I can’t imagine the additional operational costs that would accrue.

      2. Absolutely Nathan, safety comes first. Before cost. The deaths and injuries from the train derailment prove that. Damn right I expect honesty and project cost and construction efficiency, because other than ST — including the entire private sector and every charity — efficiency increases what can be done. Like a station on First Hill. I can live with the taxes I pay for ST, but there is way too much waste.

        Jim is likely correct: I doubt safety experts would recommend passengers on a packed train stuck in a tunnel should start wandering around train tunnels looking for an exit. At least the DOT polices I linked to suggest that is not ideal, as long as the passengers have notice, ventilation, lighting etc.

        It is luck no one was injured. On this Jim is dead on. Show me a policy that suggests passengers should start wandering around both tunnels in a subway. These passengers are drunk, obese, scared, in improper shoes. What in the hell do you mean it isn’t luck no one got hurt?

        You are damn right common carriers better prepare for every contingency, whether public or a private airline. Did you read any of the link I posted. At least to me, the DOT policies made it pretty clear every rail system should plan — and train — for every contingency, certainly for something as foreseeable as a train stopping in a tunnel. What could not be foreseen with a subway after over 100 years around the world?

        ST failed to do just about everything. The one thing I can live with is the malfunction itself, despite the fact the train is brand new, and this was going to be the busiest day of the year.

        I would have fired Rogoff immediately after the train derailment. Rather than killing riders to meet an artificial deadline he was fired for “lying” to the Board when the Board was in on the lie all along.

        Look, I don’t care about escalators. I get tired of never ending tax extensions and the endless dishonesty and arrogance but I guess I have to live with that. . But the safety, training and procedures for ST — if just having staff on duty on one of the busiest days of the year, is very concerning.

        I get the idea you want to make this about class. MOTU’s don’t ride transit. I know dozens of folks at this game, including my two kids, and they all took Uber. But still let’s not kill the non MOTU’s or leave them abandoned on a train in a tunnel.

  8. All of this guidance (not regulation) is simply “the agency should develop policies to handle emergency situations,” which is obvious. You didn’t provide a summary, or point out any relevant points, so neither will I. None of the guidance provides direction on process or policy, because like I said, each system is different and each system has to create their own policies. BART’s webpage is nice, and a great example of a webpage for passenger safety training.

    I invite you to point out which aspects of the guidance, if any, ST explicitly does not meet in their Design Criteria Manual or Agency Safety Plan.

    Here’s some real regulation on the creation of emergency management plans:

    And look, here’s a standard for communications strategies:

    I agree that ST dropped the ball in terms of customer service and communication to riders outside the incident, but neither of those are required by regulations. Their emergency and safety planning, which are required by regulation, maintained rider safety. They’re not “lucky” no one got hurt, because their systems worked to make sure no one got hurt.

    1. @Nathan.

      I’m with you. That was a very long post by DT that didn’t even attempt to make a point.

      Design guides and recommendations are just that, guides and recommendations – not regulations. It’s hard to understand what DT thinks the reader should conclude from his regurgitation of said recommendations.

      And beyond that, it would appear that ST is in full compliance with all actual (not imagined) requirements. So where is the problem?

      And ultimately the evacuation was completely successful and safe. So apparently the system worked.

      Ya, communication could be better, but we don’t know the full story on that yet. And, sorry, but just sending out a tweet or putting something on FB doesn’t cut it per a communication strategy. If I’m in a building and it catches fire, I’m not going to be checking FB to see what I should do next.

      1. I think that’s what’s unique about this situation, is that it hardly counted as an emergency. A train got stuck, but not because of any really dangerous failure – a cable broke, but not the cable from the pantograph, but the cable between the cars. There was no fire, there was no crash, just a loss of power and communication between the operator and 3/4 of the passengers. Interestingly, it seems passengers in the car with the operator were the ones that panicked and left the train.

  9. Thanks for the link Al. That is consistent with what we are told by ST in 2018, although at that time ST or the manufacturer deducted one person/train car from the 150 standing room only limit, not two. I am not a train expert and don’t know why ST, or more likely the manufacturer, used the term “conductor”, but they did, and maybe that is a generic term. I don’t know what the two persons removed from the 150-person load limit in your link are for either.

    The difference between East Link and Line 1 is that East Link will always be limited to 8-minute headways because of the bridge. You can’t increase that train frequency, and long term that frequency is questionable.

    It is also important to remember the circumstances in early 2018.

    ST had just “rediscovered” the issue with the joint between the bridge deck — which is fixed — and the bridge span which floats, although its engineers several years prior had raised this issue. The old joint limited trains across the joint to 20 mph because the weight of a four-car train dropping from the bridge deck to the span every 8 minutes would cause micro-fracturing in the concrete. ST later would hire new engineers and do some testing in CO and apparently come up with a new joint that allows trains to maintain speed across the bridge span. We will see.

    Then we learned of the need for post-tensioning. The weight and vibration of the trains would microfracture the deck span, like glazing in old china, which is why concrete cargo ships never caught on. ST claimed post-tensioning of the span — which has never been before done on a floating bridge — would solve that problem. However it also meant the rails had to be elevated, which forecloses complementary forms of transit in the center lane like buses, which were originally planned to operate in conjunction with light rail, and probably why maintaining the dedicated HOV lanes is a good idea several years after East Link opens.

    Then you have ST. Many of us were new to ST, and never imagined such a dishonest and bullying agency. Our mayor had foolishly signed off on the SEPA permits based on trust and his crazy belief light rail would solve global warming, and the city entered into the abusive settlement agreement in Nov. 2017 because it had no leverage. Shortly afterwards ST announced buses would no longer cross the bridge span, and Mercer Island would become a major bus intercept when we didn’t really want a rail station to begin with.

    I am chagrinned to admit it now, but I believed ST’s inflated ridership estimates back then, although some like the ETA claimed from the beginning they were inflated (and ST 3 would cost about twice what ST claimed). At the time we didn’t understand the incestuous relationship between the PSRC — and its inflated population levels and push for TOD — and ST (Balducci is chair of both, shock and surprise).

    So when you ran the numbers, including ST”s cross lake ridership estimates, the PSRC’s claims for future population growth, a maximum 8-minute headway, a 149 person/car maximum load with maybe four car trains, and 20 articulated buses on MI per peak hour under the optimal configuration for the bus intercept, there was no way there was capacity to handle that on Mercer Island, and it would be impossible for an Islander to ever get a seat on the train.

    Sure, now we know ST’s cost estimates were underestimated and ridership estimates were inflated to sell ST 2 and 3 and substantiate the huge cost of East Link, and the incestuous relationship between the PSRC and ST (and Master Builders Assoc. and Democratic Party), and the pandemic has fundamentally shifted work patterns and future ridership on East Link across the lake, but we didn’t know that back then, and spent a lot of emotion and time and litigation pursuing these lies, which has left us very bitter and distrustful towards ST. ST’s reputation on the eastside is very, very poor across the board.

    I suppose it helps Rogoff got fired, although the Board was just as dishonest and we still have the Board and its incestuous relationship with the PSRC, and the pandemic has solved all of MI’s transit problems, eastside cities began to push back in the most recent housing growth targets, and now ridership and farebox recovery/operation budgets are the main concerns rather than capacity across the lake, and Balducci gave our park and rides to the N. King Co. subarea for WSBLE, and ST and East Link are really after thoughts these days on the eastside, but still it has been depressing for many lay citizens to see such a dishonest agency, with such incestuous relationships with other agencies because of ST’s enormous budget and gifting ability, at least back then. ST really hurt trust in regional government on the eastside, and I don’t know how the county, PSRC, GMPC or ST get that trust back.

    1. DT, I’ve mentioned this before but it seems I need to do it again:

      ST has to get buy-off on its forecasts by FTA, who must verify that it meets rigorous guidelines established by FTA for all competitive New Starts applications. That allows FTA to compare a project in Seattle to one in San Diego or Houston or anyplace in the US that wants New Starts money.

      This review process began in the 1980’s when Miami and Dallas produced reticulum’s forecasts. The biases were widely discussed and extensive reforms were made to evaluate New Starts applications after that.

      ST cannot unilaterally inflate forecasts. Every assumption and calculation gets scrutinized, challenged and independently replicated by FTA.

      Of course, after or before the New Starts process there is not that level of outside rigor. However East Link forecasts did receive that rigor or they would not earn FTA funds.

      Remarkably, no Board member asked for details about ridership forecasts for ST3. If they did, the Kirkland — Issaquah line would have been DOA. I don’t think local decision-makers care what the forecasts say even when they are wrong.

      The bigger problem is with capital cost estimates. As we have seen, ST appears to have almost criminally underestimated the West Seattle -Ballard project by about 70-80 percent in 2016. They try to blame it on inflation but most of that was because of irresponsibly poor estimation of major elements according to the audit. This is a much bigger problem within ST.


      1. The ridership numbers are also usually something like 20 years in the future, not opening day. Land use patterns can change a lot after a line opens, and long term usage is the important part.

        Looks like the estimate for East Link is 43,000 to 52,000. MAX was doing that in the 1980s, and it didn’t have much next to it then. They should be able to hit that without a problem. First year probably 60k range.

    2. Al, I am not sure how rigorous the FTA is about verifying ST ridership estimates, but even pre-pandemic actual ridership was maybe 2/3 of estimates.

      My point was in 2018 I and many others trusted ST’s ridership estimates for East Link, although I admittedly feel foolish about that now.

      By the way, if the FTA must sign off on ST’s ridership estimates what were those estimates for the Issaquah— Kirkland line. I am assuming ST can’t get federal funding towards a $4.5 billion line with no ridership estimates.

      1. You can’t do ridership estimates until there is a line to do estimates upon. Estimates require knowing where the stations are, what bus routes and ridership will intercept the line, land patterns within a certain distance of the stations, speed between points, etc.

        Sure, ST3 had a fancy line drawn on a map. That’s nice, and you can sort of get a ridership concept, but it’s far from an actual plan. FTA doesn’t come into the picture until there’s a real plan on what will get built. Otherwise, it’s just arm waving.

      2. The line is so far in the future and in the back of the queue that ST probably hadn’t begun to discuss the line with FTA.

        The early forecasts show how silly the line is. The non-Central Bellevue stations (4 stations total) only show 8200 daily riders by 2040 in the ST3 forecasts:

        Assuming that just as many get off as board — and that the three existing station pairs have all the riders on Line 2 — that would be 16,400 daily riders. So say 16-17K. (Note: This is lower than the two 405 Stride lines, which are assumed run less frequently — so that if those two lines ran at Link frequency and reliability, they would be even higher.)

        And that’s before FTA scrutiny. FTA will scrutinize both ridership forecasts and cost forecasts. If the New Starts criteria was applied to the project like those applications submitted by ST in the past few years, they may not be rated high enough to get FTA funds — which of course would significantly change the project’s fate (cancelled, shortened or changed to BRT).

        The bigger point is that no Board member seemed to care. No Board member asked “Will this project be good enough for New Starts Funding?”

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