Where the US needs more Interstate highways (Geography King). April Fools in January.
Why transit cities are better for everyone (RMTransit)
Paris RER is the best commuter rail in the world (RMTransit)
What the US gets wrong about trams (RMTransit)
This is an open thread.
140 Replies to “Video Roundup: More Interstates?”
I’m actually concerned that there aren’t enough transit “New Starts” projects across the country. That’s the video that’s needed.
Seattle, Minneapolis, Austin and Los Angeles regions have multiple upcoming rail transit projects. There is still BART through Downtown San Jose, Valley Rail to Tracy and Maryland Purple Line. After that, the projects are pretty modest extensions.
Unless more metro areas have ambitious rail plans, I see the Federal funding momentum shifting to high speed rail. I’m not sure how much funding FTA will be allocated in the future for New Starts but I expect the pot to be much drier.
Although it looks like chaos I think the House of Representatives is serious about cutting spending. Even military spending. In the past R’s we’re opposed to spending only when D’s were in charge. This time looks different. These are ideologues. I wouldn’t worry about the House getting excited over HSR at the expense of municipal rail.
The next budget isn’t until 2024 but look for the House to question every dime of spending, including roads, and transit. These folks just believe in smaller government, and that might the one thing that unifies them. They believe there should be no budget deficit and with the debt at $31 trillion unfortunately they are probably correct. Murrray is head of appropriations but there will be a real showdown between the House and Senate over spending. The concessions McCarthy made on the rules will allow a lot of objection to any spending, with a bias that any spending is bad or too much. Raising the debt limit will be interesting.
IMO spending and the debt have gotten totally out of control, although many cities and agencies are looking at budget deficits in 2023. I would love to see the budget go back to regular order rather than these huge omnibus bills to really debate expenditures. I wouldn’t be surprised if transit is the poster child, especially the build and they will come (someday) transit. I would be hesitant to start a project on the assumption the Feds will nail it out. We are taking 100% farebox recovery folks.
Nothing is likely to happen, it’s a political stalemate in congress. Will there be cuts, probably but negligible due to the makeup of congress.
The debt is high because of Republican tax cuts, rich people not paying the taxes they owe, a one-time pandemic, and an insane patchwork healthcare system.
When Reagan and Trump slashed taxes for the rich, the debt ballooned. When Clinton and Obama restored taxes, the debt plummeted. The IRS estimates it loses tens of billions a year in unpaid taxes. Republicans have underfunded the IRS to keep it from collecting. Some want to abolish the IRS.
The healthcare system is not free-market; it’s highly regulated and oligarchic. Over half of Americans have socialized healthcare of some kind (military, veterans, Medicaid, subsidized). Yet the system doesn’t cover everyone, and millions of people fall through the cracks. Americans pay twice as much for healthcare than Canadians/Brits/Germans when you look at public+private spending combined. Medicare is not allowed to negotiate prescription rates, so drug companies fleece taxpayers. (This is starting to change, but only in 2025, and only on five drugs initially.) Hospitals bid up prices because the insurance system is opaque, and hospitals are otherwise underfunded. Specialists and labs bid up prices because they can and the insurance system is opaque. People falling through the cracks cause social expenses in the form of desperate people on the streets and in jail. The high cost of education limits people’s productivity. So there are a few ways to slash the debt right there, by fixing the healthcare and education systems, even if it requires an initial investment up front. (And we’ll need deficit spending to make that investment, because we can’t afford not to.)
Watch the Republicans try to cut “blue-state” domestic programs but pour money into the southern border for a wall, paramilitary agents, and prisons.
Transit is off their radar. When they think about transit it’s “Amtrak Joe”. So Amtrak may get the brunt of cuts. But then you have rural states who don’t have other transit besides Amtrak, and they don’t want to lose it. Their constituents don’t want to lose Amtrak just like they don’t want to lose Social Security. And if the ideologues try to eliminate them, their constituents may suddenly remember why some government services are important.
“Nothing is likely to happen, it’s a political stalemate in congress.”
Except that Congress has to act to avoid defaulting on the debt in August and to avoid a shutdown in October. They can use that to hold the economy hostage.
I think Mike has it about right. No sane Congress can default on the debt although some like to bluff. Instead the increase in the debt limit will equal what the R’s in the House want the budget deficit in 2024 to be. My guess is at less than 1/2 of recent deficits. R’a have a point. Debt — news shock — has to be paid back, and interest rates are no longer zero. Imagine if the interest payments on the debt instead went to transit.
I could see the House shutting down the government for a short while. Many believe less government is better.
The key for cities and agencies is to not bet on federal aid unless the cash is in hand. A perfect example is WSBLE that is predicated on unallocated federal subsidies. 2023 is going to be a year of pay as you go.
You’re assuming this Congress is sane.
i don’t think you understand the MAGAt’s very well. As long as one Black, one Latino, one Asian, one “Druggie” or one trans-sexual benefits from a Federal program, they want to tear the government down.
God will protect “His” people. And they get a Very Special, The Best, escalator ride to Glory as they watch with glee the travails of “The Left Behind.
Tom, Democrats will vote on extending the debt ceiling too. So it will only take a few R’s to raise the debt ceiling. D’s always want to extend the debt ceiling as much as possible. My guess is how much to raise it will be the main sticking point. R’s will likely only want to raise the debt ceiling to match what they think the budget deficit should be in 2024, which will likely be at least half the $1 trillion deficit in 2023, a staggering amount. So that means $500 billion in cuts. All budget bills begin in the House.
This week the House begins negotiating the rules, which McCarthy adjusted to favor the conservative votes he needed to become speaker. The reality is the hardline conservatives/Freedom Caucus number around 20 in the House, and moderate R’s number at least 40, and many were just elected from blue states like NY in districts Biden had won. Although the Freedom Caucus could dictate the rules because McCarthy needed the votes to become speaker that has passed. This will be R vs. R fight over the rules.
What we will likely see is moderate pushback on some committee assignments and chairs, but more importantly who controls the bills reaching the floor, and the amendments allowed. It cuts two ways: R’s don’t’ want to return to the Pelosi dictatorial style in which amendments and ability to place bills on the floor were strictly controlled, while at the same time leadership has to make sure incendiary bills that have no chance of passing (even among R’s) don’t come to the floor. I strongly support returning to regular order on the budget in which 12 separate funding bills are debated separately which is required by the 1974 budget law, but has not been followed in decades.
Some think this could help moderate R’s by allowing them to vote against bills that are too extreme.
I watched most of the Sunday morning talk shows, and R’s are mostly putting out the conservative but not crazy committee chairs as guests. There were two overarching themes: 1. cut spending and balance the budget; and 2. investigate the weaponization of the FBI and Dept. of Justice.
The one person who did not fare well is Trump. Trump gets airtime by being crazy and saying (but often not believing) incendiary things, but the House is a whole different kind of crazy, and mainstream press ratings that have been in the toilet skyrocketed during the McCarthy votes. Watching the D’s is like watching paint dry.
The relevance to transit — and any federal program — is actual cuts as opposed to increases below inflation are coming. For cities like Seattle with a $3.5 billion unfunded bridge replacement and repair need — and we just saw that with the lower WS bridge — the feds are not coming to the rescue just as Covid stimulus has run out and inflation is still very high, with a big hit to tax revenue from the loss of the work commuter and WFH. Same with WSBLE. Don’t start what you can’t afford to finish.
All that you said makes sense, though “balancing the budget” without tax increases across the board is impossible. The government has mad way too many commitments to accomplish it.
But Kevin McCluless has agreed that one person is all that is needed to move a vacation of the chair. You don’t think that Gaetz, Boebert, Good, Rosendale, Biggs and Crane won’t do a “tag-team” of repeated Motions to Vacate as the clock ticks down to midnight on the last day on which the Treasury still has money to spend?
OF COURSE they will. What a great way to get into the history books!!! “Committed Six Destroy World Reserve Currency” [They should be “committed”
Something I’m mildly curious about that could maybe be answered by someone with some GIS skills: what is the address/intersection in the city of Seattle that is the furthest walk from its closest bus/Link/streetcar stop? (excepting Harbor Island). I feel like it’s probably someplace in Broadview, but maybe an address on the edge of Laurelhurst is also in the running.
Many bonus points if there’s anyone who could generate and plot/bin the distribution of walking distances to the closest bus/Link/steetcar stop within the city.
I feel like I’ve seen a websites that let you generate a heatmap of travel time by mode, so I feel like the data to at least approximate this must be out there, but I have no idea how to find or work with it myself.
Seward Park has many locations almost a mile from a bus route. There isn’t a street corner to refer to, though.
And when you do get to Route 50, you might wait a while. Metro is running that part of the route once every 35(!) minutes most of the day!
SDOT focused its STBD funds on the West Seattle segment.
I typically don’t bother with the 50 to Seward Park because it’s too hard to time and simply walking all the way from Columbia City station is more relaxing. It’s good to have the 50 in reserve in case it starts raining and I get caught. But I normally don’t plan on using it.
That was supposedly temporary while the high bridge was closed. We’ll see whether the TBD redistributes it next March or September.
Northeast Seattle would be my guess. Hills also make a difference, because a 15-minute walk without a hill is different from a 15-minute walk with a hill.
Do bus stops that see service only during rush hour count, or does the bus have to run all day? There are some neighborhoods at the far edges of Seattle where a rush hour-only bus is their only bus.
As a matter of trivia, I’m be curious about the address that is furthest away from any bus stop. There’s a couple places that friends of mine lived or worked at that felt surprisingly far from a bus stop even while being in the city, and it got me wondering about the city address that is actually furthest from a bus stop within the city.
But the deeper motivation is that I think I the city of Seattle should develop so that- as far as is possible- no matter where you live in the city, most of what you need in a week (at the very minimum groceries: medicine, toiletries/household goods) you can find within walking distance (say half a mile, at most), and everything else you need is accessible via fast, frequent transit, which is also within walking distance. I’m curious how much of the city currently meets those criteria, and how far the rest is from meeting them. Obviously there’s some room for room for debate about what constitutes “fast, frequent transit”, and what else needs to be in walking distance for a convenient life, but as a starting point, if you’re far from any bus stop, the address can’t meet the criteria.
I might nominate the Carkeek Park beach, just over a mile away from the nearest bus stop. However, that mile is almost entirely park trails and when you exit the park, right across the street is a stop for RapidRide D.
To keep the spirit of the original intention though, I would exclude parkland, since nobody expects bus service in the middle of a hiking trail. In that case, the houses right by where the Burke Gilman Trail transitions from Seattle to Lake Forest Park could be a possibility. Or, perhaps, Perkins Lane in Magnolia.
3031 W Galer St is about 3/4 mile from the 24 stop that Google Maps uses. I think there might be one closer after the second loop the 24 makes north and then south. This address is in a ravine south of Magnolia, so you’d have to walk down a hill under other streets to get to it.
4594 W Cramer St is so far from the nearest bus stop I’m not able to get Google maps to give any distance to any bus stop. It will only show Lyft as a route option. I attempted to get it to show a walking route to the 33, but gives it a tortured loop halfway around the park so the 1.5 mile distance it shows isn’t real. As noted below, some of the other stuff north of Discovery Park might be worse, but it’s hard to tell with Google maps not working too well for this type of thing.
22 minute walk to the 522.
Excluding parks, can someone beat it?
The northwest corner of Madison Park is cut off from a bunch of stuff by the golf course, and it’s a fair distance to the bus stops along the lake.
The stuff north of Discovery Park has no through access to the 33 at Daybreak Star, and it it’s a really long way to get to the bus stops at the north end of Magnolia. It’s a bit closer to cross the locks and get the 44, but they close to pedestrians at sunset.
West Point is far from any bus route, but you don’t go out there unless you are expecting a hike anyway.
Some other contenders might be the very far NW corner of Seattle, right near the “Seattle Golf Course” (which I think is actually in Shoreline), and the very North end of Broadmoor. Based on the way Google Maps renders the roads, both of these seem to be gated communities. Some of the houses just north of Carkeek Park (around NE 120th St.) are also pretty far from any bus stops. The middle of Perkins Lane probably beats all of them, though, as it’s a very long walk just to get to any cross street.
How about Alaskan Way up to 3rd?
The furthest spot I’ve found from any bus stop is around Beach Drive in West Seattle, where some houses are a ~1.5 mile, 30 minute walk from any bus stop at Fauntleroy (C Line), Alki (50), Genesee (57), and the Junction.
Some of the furthest edges of Broadview are about that far from all day bus service, but they have closer access to the 28X.
How about some discussion about the ongoing issue of cancelled Metro bus trips on weekdays? Taking service across the 520 bridge as an example, I’d say that 10-25% of the route 255 trips are being cancelled on the typical weekday again and again. Sometimes we’ve had evening cancellations into the late evening when service is down to 30 minutes. Cancellation rate on the 271 seems to be similar. Let’s add to this the fact that the 255 stop at Montlake in a different location than the 242 and 271 so you can’t even wait at the same location for the next bus.
Routes 257, 268 and 311 seem to be cancelled 50% of the time. Why even bother to claim the route is running if most trips are being cancelled. Add to that the stupidity that these three routes operate a different path through downtown Seattle than the ST 545 so that it’s almost impossible to wait at a stop for all four routes – the first common stop is Olive Way at 8th Avenue. Waited there during rush hour last week for phantom 257 and 311 trips that were shown operating on OneBusAway and never came. And while the 545 is supposed to operate every 10 minutes, waited more than 20 minutes until one came and it was crush loaded.
It’s time to have a conversation about how much the service quality has deteriorated and how no one seems to care. And after six months of this the excuse about hiring is getting old. Metro has to staff up. It’s been long enough to either figure out how to hire and train or raise pay or reduce peak hour service to the level they can staff. Unreliable service is unusable.
It’s too bad that this blog no longer advocates for transit and that the Urbanist doesn’t allow for comments.
I live in Admiral and go to the office once a week. I’m always confident the 56/57 will come in the morning to get me downtown. After work however those 2 buses are not reliable to get me home because they are often cancelled. I just hop on the first C that comes along which is usually standing room only until it gets to the first WS stop on Avalon. I then transfer at the Junction to the 50 or 128 to get me home to Admiral. I usually don’t have to wait more than 5 minutes for one of them to arrive. It would be nice after a long day’s work to have a reliable one seat ride home though.
I don’t need a one seat ride, I’m willing to transfer. But not if it’s supposed to come every 15-20 minutes and has dropped trips.
A rush-hour only bus that is scheduled to come every half hour and drops trips is useless and a waste of resources that should be used to make a frequent bus more reliable.
And having buses that can be used to go to common destinations depart from different stops is an unforced error – makes accessing unpredictable service that much harder.
We can do better. It’s crazy that we consider what’s being done now acceptable or a good use of limited resources.
An immediate family member lives in Lake Forest Park and works in Capitol Hill. In most of 2022, they were happy to take the bus to Link to Capitol Hill. But unfortunately they don’t trust the bus system anymore.
A – too many buses are being cancelled. To them (and to many riders I imagine), it doesn’t matter if it’s workforce issues or mechanical issues. The bus agencies aren’t delivering what they are supposed to.
B – data quality issues. There are many ways to see if a bus is running or not, and for some reason they often contradict each other. Metro sends texts of cancelled routes. Sound Transit does not send texts but has a website. One Bus Away app deletes buses that it knows are cancelled, but other trips that are grayed out are a crap shoot. Metro trip planner lists buses that are cancelled.
But I’ve seen firsthand how many of these data sources are just wrong. Metro trip planner says a bus is coming but it never does. OBA lists a bus in gray but it never shows up. Metro trip planner says a bus is cancelled but it shows up on time. Metro trip planner says a bus is cancelled but didn’t send a text about it. Metro sends a text about a cancelled bus 1 hour after it was scheduled. I can go on. Is my family member’s boss going to understand why they were 30 minutes late to work because of bus troubles?
So now my family member drives to Northgate to catch Link because the bus system has become unreliable and impossible to plan. I have a 1 seat ride to work along the 372, and am much more forgiving of transit systems than the average person. But I’ve also become frustrated with recent declines in service such as when I was recently stranded at the I-5 / 45th St bus stop in the rain because Metro’s trip planner and texts promised me the 322 was running normally and no buses showed up.
67% of route 322 show up. 100% of route 522 show up. Tell your family member to take the route 522. Problem solved.
Sam – you’re unfortunately wrong. I know from firsthand experience that not all 522s are showing up. Last week I waited with a crowd of people at Roosevelt Station for over 25 minutes before a 522 came. The first 522 never showed and the second was late. My family member has had problems in the past few weeks where the 522 they planned to take didn’t come, and there weren’t any 320 or 322s in the near future, so their options were to take the 372 to UW Station, or walk home and get their car. They chose their car and haven’t looked back. I can’t blame them.
Trust is hard to regain. My family member has lost trust in both Metro and Sound Transit. I don’t see them coming back to the bus for quite some time. I imagine they aren’t an isolated case.
I stand corrected. According to Pantograph, on Monday of last week, the route 522 had one missed trip, but, for the rest of the week, it had no missed trips.
But, I feel your pain. I live a historically underserved community within Kirkland. Where I live, we used to have two bus routes that went directly downtown. Now it’s a three seat ride. In the entire time I’ve lived here, I’ve only seen one of my neighbors waiting for the bus.
Counting routes is a somewhat misleading indicator of quantity of service. The old days of Metro had lots more routes than present day, but a lot of these routes ran only during rush hour, one direction only. Of course those that did run all day, very few of them ran as frequently or as late as buses today do. A better, but not perfect, indicator is number of daily trips.
Also, the “direct to downtown” comes from a Metro culture that has historically prioritized service to downtown above all else. It resulted in one seat rides to downtown from pretty much anywhere (at least during rush hour) but it left big gaps in the service network for going anywhere else. For instance, until the 2010’s, the only bus from Ballard to Fremont was a commuter express to the I district that ran rush hour only. All other times, you’d have to ride the 44 and either transfer to walk. Even the 8 and 48, which we take for granted today, Metro was initially deeply skeptical about running them because they didn’t go downtown. On the Eastside, there was no straight-line bus between Kirkland and Redmond until very recently. A direct bus between Kirkland and Bothell also didn’t exist until 2020. In 2025, the East Link restructure adds a direct Redmond-Woodinville bus for the first time, and in 2050, people will think it’s crazy that in 2020, Metro didn’t have it.
With the pandemic shifting demand patterns away from rush hour trips to downtown in favor of all day trips from anywhere to anywhere, the importance of downtown above all else is only decreasing. Sure, service to downtown still matters, and the bus/Link connection works pretty well when the bus part is reliable, but it’s not the end all/be all like it was 50 years ago.
asdf2: yes, exactly. For 30 years, the area has been planning to shift the downtown Seattle transit market toward LRT (Link). Route 40 was implemented in fall 2012; Route 46 was deleted. Route 48 frequency was improved in 1991 and partially funded by U Pass; Route 48 was split in March 2016. Route 8 was first implemented in 1995; the community led the effort; it was extended in June 1997 (probably not a great idea). The Redmond-Kirkland Route 248 was implemented in February 2008. For Woodinville-Redmond, Route 931 and former Route 251 provided that connection via Cottage Lake but midday service was deleted in fall 2014. ELC proposes conceptual Route 251; SR-202 is largely rural between NE 124th and 145th streets; the housing development between Redmond and NE 124th Street is relatively new.
When it comes to cancelling trips, Metro prioritizes certain types of routes over others. School trippers are untouchable. First and last trips of they day they also try to avoid cancelling. Sound Transit routes they also try to avoid cancelling more than other routes. I think that’s a contractual thing. Yes, they will still cancel them, but they’ll cancel certain other routes before they’ll cancel an ST Express route.
You can see missed trips on Pantograph. You can even go back in time and look at missed trips from days ago. You’ll see patterns. Some routes are cancelled more than others. For example, trips on the route 246 are rarely cancelled, but about 15% of the weekday 271 trips are consistently cancelled.
Here’s one trick I use with OneBusAway to distinguish the real buses from the phantom buses. On the route of interest click “show on map”. When a bus is scheduled to leave the terminal, the bus initially shows up in the gray color (scheduled arrival) until about 1 minute after the bus actually leaves its terminal, at which point the color changes to either blue (late), red (early), or green (on time). So, a grey bus near the beginning of route could be either real or phantom (you don’t know yet). A grey bus more than about 10 minutes into the route is either phantom or very late starting its run. And a blue, red, or green bus is probably real.
This is also a couple of caveats worth mentioning. First, OneBusAway has a bug where occasionally a phantom bus shows up colored green instead of grey. To rule out this case, if the bus is green, click on it to see progress details. If the bus is exactly zero seconds late, you are likely observing the bug, and the bus is a phantom bus. If the number of seconds early or late is anything not exactly zero (even some very tiny number like 1 or 2), the bus is real.
Second, OneBusAway only works when buses are following their regular route, and cannot be trusted at all when the bus is on a reroute. So, if you’re taking the 255 into Seattle today, on a day the 520 bridge is closed, OneBusAway is generally trustworthy in Kirkland, since it’s before the reroute, but will be complete garbage for the return trip. Schedules are also worthless for the return trip, with buses heavily delayed, so you’re essentially stuck just showing up at a bus stop whenever you happen to get there and waiting as long as it takes for a bus to show up. (Well, you could also take the three-seat ride of Link to downtown, 550 to Bellevue and 250 to Kirkland, but I don’t think that combination would be any faster than just sucking it up and waiting up to 20 minutes for a 255).
Canceled trips is one thing that the Metro Trip Planner app does better than OBA, on Android at least. The UI is generally crap but, if you select a stop, you’ll get a list of upcoming trips with the canceled ones clearly marked.
For iOS or browser users, Pantograph works very well, as Sam notes.
In canceled trips are going to be with us, Metro needs to figure out a better easier way to communicate and inform. This would be good in any event. Figuring out intricacies of OneBusAway cannot be expected of average riders.
Two relatively recent anecdotes are making the service unattractive in the evenings.
Waiting for route 545 at 4th & Jackson late weekday evening, when service is scheduled every 30 minutes. It’s the second stop on the route, so OneBusAway has little useful information. Waiting for a scheduled bus, not shown as cancelled. It keeps showing up on OneBusAway as scheduled, and finally totally disappears on OneBusAway. No cancellation shown on OneBusAway or ST status page. Metro and ST twitter not operating in the evening. The bus finally shows up 20 minutes late, 10 minutes before the next one is scheduled. It’s the second stop of the route. I ask the driver why it’s so late. He shrugs his shoulders and doesn’t give any reason. There are not citywide traffic incidents (bridges and freeways open and it’s well past rush hour.)
Who wants to wait for what amounts to 25-30 minutes at 4th & Jackson at night in the dark with no information?
Second anecdote – waiting at Olive & 8th for the 545, again weekday evening, again during 30 minute service, scheduled bus never shows up. It shows on OneBusAway but the time estimate gets later and then the bus disappears. There are about 10 passengers waiting. Again, no cancelled trips communicated and nothing on Twitter for either ST or Metro. I spot a Metro service supervisor van (who makes no effort to communicate with waiting riders.) Go into the street when he is stopped at a red light and ask him about the bus not showing. He says something about an incident on I-5 and the bus being re-routed. He shrugs his shoulders and drives off when the light turns green. I don’t see anything on SDOT or WSDOT twitter feeds about any I-5 incidents and am still not clear what happened.
But overall a crappy experience.
It’s frustrating when we don’t have better real time tools or communication in the evenings.
And it’s making it harder to justify using transit.
And stupid stuff like 257, 268, 311 not serving the same stops as 545 leaving Seattle, and ditto the 271, 542 at UW station not serving the same stops as the 255 just seems like indifference to rider experience and utility of the service. As is the constant rerouting due to construction and events which rerouting goes way out of the way (520 closures, and Montlake area closures)
I agree that this needs to be talked about. I think it came up a month or two ago and there was some discussion of the fact that the starting salary for a Metro driver is low compared to the cost of housing in the area and also low compared to some other service sector jobs. Metro needs to raise wages high enough so that they can compete with other employers and high enough that drivers can afford to live in areas they’re driving. I would be 100% behind raising drivers’ wages and would vote for a tax increase to fund it.
This isn’t an isolated problem though, and it’s effecting other parts of the country too. The unemployment rate is at a historic low. Walking around Seattle, I see stores, bars, cafes, and restaurant windows with Help Wanted signs. When there’s a shortage of workers, hiring workers for one sector creates shortages in other sectors.
In the medium-to-long term, we need to bring more people into the workforce, both locally and nationally. Raising wages might bring back some people who lost their job early in the pandemic and still haven’t returned to work. Subsidized childcare might bring in some people who are currently stay-at-home parents. At the national level we need more immigration into the country, but at the local level, building more housing in Seattle could both lower the cost of housing in real terms and allow for more workers (including potential bus drivers) to live here.
Yes, this needs to be talked about. I don’t know what to say or do. Another thing that’s happening is reliability is going back to the dark ages of the early 2010s. Metro says any new service hour increases will first have to go to just getting service back on time amidst worsening congestion.
The driver shortage is national, and affects Sound Transit, Community Transit, and Pierce Transit too. This is a strange situation: Metro and Seattle’s Transit Benefit District have money for more runs they intend to deploy but can’t find enough drivers for them.
The 522, 535, and 550 all missed out on planned service increases in 2022 because of the driver shortage. The 522 was going to be every 15 minutes after Northgate Link. The 535 was going to get Sunday service. The 550 was going to get 15-minute Sunday service. I suspect the 522 was going to get more frequency beyond the boost it got with Northgate Link, but I’m not sure about that.
Another issue is the training bottleneck. New Metro drivers and maintenance workers go through a several-week course, which has a limited number of openings and starts a course a few times a year. Metro mentioned that as a bottleneck last year; I don’t know how it’s going now.
A buddy of mine interviewed with PT a few weeks ago, and starts his 10-week training in early February. They promised him full-time, so hopefully driving routes by April. Hopefully he’s not alone. Route 1 needs to get back to every 15 minutes.
If there is money for more runs but not enough drivers to staff the existing runs, the first way to get more runs is to increase driver pay so that they can hire more drivers.
Another thing Metro and city DOTs need to do is make sure the buses that are running aren’t stuck in traffic. A bus that can reliably run faster can be turned around faster, and give a free frequency boost.
This goes beyond bus lanes everywhere, and includes aggressive, 100% enforcement of RCW 46.61.220″> to allow buses to merge back into traffic after stopping. Ideally this could be done via photo enforcement with mailed tickets, and could also be an excellent revenue stream if the state would ever stop taking the biggest pie slice.
For what it’s worth, here are cancelled trips that were announced so far this morning for route 255. They only note the time leaving Totem Lake Transit Center so if you are boarding elsewhere, you need to know the schedule.
6:05 (announced at 6:06)
6:44 (announced at 6:36)
6:50 (Two sequential cancellations means a 26 minute gap between scheduled buses)
In addition there are select cancellations on 257, 268, 311 and route 271, in each case only giving the departure time from the terminal.
Free fares to West Seattle while the lower bridge is closed for at least two weeks, but you have to use a mobile app for it, the Transit Go Ticket App. The Water Taxi is also include.
Can anyone confirm whether driver are charging fares for passengers who don’t have the app?
I’m not sure why this is happening now, when there was no such benefit when the high bridge was closed. Or was there?
Thank you Ross and Mike for the last few months of transit related topics to read and comnent on. I also thank the other guest writers as well.
First/last mile access was always going to determine the success of Link. ST was just too arrogant to understand that. ST planners were urbanists in a very non-urban three county area.
Many on this blog intuitively hate park and rides, but they provide first/last mile access in less dense areas with zero wait. Like the family member who now drives to Northgate Link. As some have noted, transit often gets one chance to lure a driver to transit. Blow it and that driver will never try transit again. Budgets and driver shortages are going to affect bus frequency and reliability for a long time.
Another option is TOD. But even transit riders usually don’t put transit at the top of the list when it comes to where they live. They expect transit to come to them. Reasonable walking distance and reliable schedules, which are more important than frequency. Transit is not worth living next to a freeway.
Which is why it amazes me that transit advocates want to upzone the SFH zones and increase the people and transit coverage and frequency these upzoned neighborhoods will demand at the expense of current transit service and routes. Right now many SFH zones like mine pay a lot of taxes toward transit but ask for no transit service in return, which would be very expensive to provide. Double or triple the number of residents in these affluent neighborhoods and they will demand transit service.
No more will there be posts on STB asking where is the longest walk to a bus stop ( which is in these zones). ’If the competition for transit service is between rich and poor how do you think that will turn out? Say Issaquah vs. White Center?
I can’t believe transit users and urbanists would invite the SFH zones to the transit pie thinking it will benefit them.
Forget about tax increases for transit service or federal largesse for the next few years. If anything transit budgets will decline and costs increase, which means coverage and frequency will decline. In fact most transit levels of service will continue to decline. If Metro has to double coverage to serve some very whiny upzoned SFH neighborhoods the real question is what other routes get cut. It is a zero sum game.
Which is why the PSRC from the very beginning has pushed cities to zone for future population growth WHERE THE TRANSIT SERVICE ALREADY IS, which is mostly in the town centers.
If I rode transit, and saw the writing on the wall when it comes to future transit funding, increased costs, and driver shortages I don’t think I would want to invite remote upzoned politically powerful neighborhoods to the transit pie.
“ST planners were urbanists in a very non-urban three county area.”
I think you’re giving the ST planning staff way too much credit.
The core problems with ST stem from the Board. It was the Board that believed the consultants on costs and constructibility when anyone who knows similar projects would have quickly seen things just weren’t right. It was the Board that hired Rogoff and now Timm who don’t have either hands-on rail construction experience nor operations experience (“Oh we let other operators do our work so it’s not important”) nor station maintenance experience (neither has dealt with systemic major escalator and elevator maintenance in any former job). It is the Board that ignoreds performance metrics in developing and now implementing ST3. It was the Board that makes commercial property owners (“stakeholders”) very important for WSBLE even to this day with “special” meetings in the CID and other places — yet act like riders aren’t. In sum, the Board is elected officials who get pulled in many directions and do not have the time nor the expertise to be a good ST board member and believe that good rail planning is merely keeping influential, super wealthy people happy.
So let’s quit blaming the staff and instead lay the blame at the feet of Constantine, Balducci, Keel, Dammeier, McDermott, Juarez and others who have all been on the ST Board for many years now. They have all been there long enough while ST problems get bigger so that their tenures are proving increasingly toxic to the ability to make ST function like 2019. Unless there is major Board turnover, it’s going to keep getting worse and worse in a number of ways.
“So let’s quit blaming the staff and instead lay the blame at the feet of Constantine, Balducci, Keel, Dammeier, McDermott, Juarez and others who have all been on the ST Board for many years now.”
Keep in mind that when these people come up for reelection, the alternatives are not people that can magically do cost estimates better, but people who simply hate transit and would like nothing more than to see ST disbanded. Or ultra progressives who will act as though money is infinite, as long as it comes from taxing the rich.
So, in spite of the problems with ST3, there really isn’t much choice but to vote for the incumbents on the ST board for their respective positions.
The Pierce County reps on the board (Dammeier and Keel) have a base that is largely rural or suburban, respectively. I have no idea how they were chosen, but they chose poorly. After watching a few meetings, they have at most a passing interest in transit. Maybe a bit of animosity.
Yes. The ST board room is named for Representative Ruth Fisher, D-Tacoma. She wrote the enabling legislation. The district covers the urbanized area of three huge counties. Its very scope has led to its decisions. She wanted Tacoma included in the district; she may have thought that the affirmative votes in Seattle would lead to improved transit in Tacoma. (Ironically, ST has had a very difficult time selecting sensible transit projects there). The staff follows the board; consider how few of the board ride transit in their regular lives. The board makeup has led to Link alignments in freeway envelopes. The board makeup may have also led to a capital focus and little focus or funding on service.
The board followed the county/city politicians, the CEO followed the board, and the planners followed the CEO. It was the counties, cities, state legislature, and ST’s structure that told the board to serve Everett, Tacoma, Seattle, Redmond, and the urban growth centers between them. So that’s what the planners did because it’s their job. Those aren’t the planners’ fault; they’re the requirements they were given. And it was understood that each city’s station would be at its downtown or designated P&R. The planners are sometimes responsible for details within a few blocks, but even those are often mandated by the board’s preference or deferring to an influential stakeholder.
My comment was not about the Link route or spine. Although I have my concerns about spending so much money on a fixed route light rail transit system to distant areas with little density and a car/truck demographic, that was predictable when ST included outlying areas with subarea equity, in large part based on silly future population estimates or the ability of government to force density on non-poor folks. My comment was about first/last mile access, especially in urban areas.
In some ways I think first/last mile access is easier in suburban areas. Stations often have the land for large park and rides, and residents for some reason don’t count driving to a park and ride as a transit seat. Plus there are fewer transit ideologues who feel Link must eliminate the car. The trip from garage is immediate, there is no wait, the cost to Metro is zero for a park and ride at a Link station, and many need to run errands after work anyway (pre-pandemic). Using buses for first/last mile access to Link is so difficult most expect it will fail.
First/last mile access in an urban area like Seattle was always going to be difficult, but ST blew that off. Now there is the first step — doorstep to bus stop on foot — and then the wait for the bus, and then transferring to Link. The dead time waiting negates Link, especially now that the long range commuter in heavy traffic congestion is gone.
When adding the transfer to Link the wait for the bus had to be less than before to compensate and compete with driving. Due to budgets and lack of drivers waits are longer than the one seat buses before Link, and reliability is terrible. Even the apps don’t sound like they work well, especially for a non transit geek.
What is so frustrating is a dense area like Seattle is exactly where Link was suppose to excel. Now unless someone is willing to move to TOD and Link goes where they want to — now and five years from now — their transit trip got worse. Or unbearable. Or unacceptable if you have to be somewhere on time. It isn’t just waiting for a bus. It is building in an additional 30 minutes every day because you never know.
I’ve said it for a long time: what is going to determine whether Link succeeds or fails is first/last mile access. If it fails in suburban areas like the Eastside, which it likely will without the work commuter, big deal. Those folks will just drive past the station. But they won’t develop a real resentment toward transit and Link because they don’t have to use it.
But if Link fails in urban Seattle, and the bus routes have all been truncated at a Link station and are unreliable or have long waits those folks often have no alternative. Day after day waiting for unreliable buses just to get to a Link station to wait for a train will ingrain resentment, even among transit lovers like in these comments.
DT, even for first/last mile access, it’s the Board and not the staff setting up the designs. The staff appears essentially powerless
First of all, ST has contracted out station design to architecture and engineering firms. The staff get little input. Several of those firms are local — meaning that they often don’t have good vertical conveyances experience.
Then there is the Lynnwood Link station saga. At the last minute, ST cut escalators and elevators and the widths of several platforms. That was after they rolled out 90% design after the EIS. Rather than ask the locals if it was ok or if the locals could find more money at the last minute, they just did it! I fully expect the Lynnwood extension escalators to be a bigger problem than the Northgate extension escalators for this reason.
The “alternatives” that ST presents never seem to vary by station entrances. Every alternative that I see is about where to put the light rail platform.
Finally, ST3 had $100M for better access — but ST set up the program to award grants to projects that local governments pursued. The staff can only rank the applicants by subarea but cannot develop the projects themselves.
So the staff are but administrative gofers in a much bigger game.
Park and rides are, at best, only a solution for first-mile access, not last mile. If you are traveling in the reverse direction, your car isn’t parked at the station when you get off, so all those parking spaces are useless. The only last-mile solution I know of is buses, bike lanes, and sidewalks.
Even first-mile, they don’t work all that well when too many people want to park at the same place at the same time. Construction costs of the parking garage itself go through the roof, and traffic congestion in and around the station during peak commute hours becomes just as bad as traffic congestion in and around downtown.
Last-mile access is not ST’s responsibility, it’s Metro’s and the host city’s. What do you expect ST to do? Run a shuttle bus from neighboring arterials? Have on-demand taxis? You can blame ST for inferior station locations like 148th instead of 145th, but the decisions are made in consultation with Metro, and Metro provides representative bus routes in the EIS. Where do you think ST should do something about last-mile access, and what should it do?
“I’ve said it for a long time: what is going to determine whether Link succeeds or fails is first/last mile access”
You mean whether the transit network succeeds. ST’s responsibility is regional transit: getting the train to the station. If the local transit agencies and cities don’t provide last-mile access to get to Link, you can’t blame that on Link.
And right now the agencies are dealing with an extraordinary situation: a driver shortage, so they can’t run as much service as they intended to. To add runs at stations they’d have to delete runs elsewhere. Do you have a solution to that?
There’s at least 1 case where the first/last mile problem is ST’s responsibility. During the realignment process, the ST board voted that in cities where ST delayed a park and ride facility (e.g. several cities along the 522 corridor), ST is responsible for addressing the first/last mile problem that the lack of a park and ride will cause.
Now ST might address the problem by contracting out to Metro or Via or offering Uber credits or what have you. But they are responsible for addressing it.
The current Link line only serves one or two park and ride lots. Much of Sounder ridership is based on park and ride lots.
Guess which one is having ridership issues?
Have you been on Link recently? Because it really isn’t suffering particularly poor ridership. In fact, even with the UW on holiday break, it’s pretty robust.
“Which is why it amazes me that transit advocates want to upzone the SFH zones and increase the people and transit coverage and frequency these upzoned neighborhoods will demand at the expense of current transit service and routes.”
You’re thinking distant areas like the southern tip of Mercer Island, but Seattle is full of single-family home zoned areas that are already within a few blocks of major bus routes.
But, in any case, you consistently act in your comments as if the purpose of upzoning is to “drum up” transit ridership. It’s not. The purpose of upzoning is to increase the number of people the existing built-up area can accommodate so we don’t have to clearcut all the surrounding forests to accommodate future growth. Similarly, more people living in a neighborhood means more potential customers for local businesses, which in the long run, means more businesses you can walk to, which is a win even for existing residents, insulated from rising housing prices by 30-year mortgages. Even in areas where there is no transit and every trip is a car trip, what I said still applies.
Now, it is also true that more people living in an area does mean more potential riders for buses or trains that service the area. In some cases, the additional ridership forecasted as a result of upzoning may make the difference in deciding whether a frequency upgrade or a light rail station pencils out. But, the cause and effect are backwards from you make it out to be. You don’t first decide to build a rail station, then upzone simply to increase ridership; you upzone because the broader Puget Sound area needs more housing, then you use the increased ridership that the upzone would create to justify locating the station there vs. somewhere else, if it comes to that.
Upzoning around stations allows more people to live within walking distance of stations. More people want to do this than are currently able to. Those who want to live near stations will preferentially choose those units, and those who don’t will opt for a better view or parking space elsewhere.
Roosevelt, Beacon Hill, and Mt Baker Stations are notorious for having single-family houses a couple blocks from their Link stations. The latter two especially have too-small villages. Those kinds of things are what I’m referring to when I say we should expand urban villages.
Mike: “Upzoning around stations allows more people to live within walking distance of stations. More people want to do this than are currently able to. Those who want to live near stations will preferentially choose those units, and those who don’t will opt for a better view or parking space elsewhere.”
But that is not what we are talking about. The proposal is to eliminate SFH zoning in all SFH zones in the state. What you are describing is the PSRC’s approach to TOD and population growth, which makes sense except the population growth numbers look highly inflated and transit use has declined quite a bit.
Asdf2: “But, in any case, you consistently act in your comments as if the purpose of upzoning is to “drum up” transit ridership. It’s not. The purpose of upzoning is to increase the number of people the existing built-up area can accommodate so we don’t have to clearcut all the surrounding forests to accommodate future growth. Similarly, more people living in a neighborhood means more potential customers for local businesses, which in the long run, means more businesses you can walk to, which is a win even for existing residents, insulated from rising housing prices by 30-year mortgages. Even in areas where there is no transit and every trip is a car trip, what I said still applies.”
Actually, if you read the PSRC’s 2050 Vision Statement the goal of upzoning — near transit — is to increase transit ridership. The idea upzoning SFH zones is necessary to meet future population targets is simply not true. The Dept. of Commerce released future population estimates it now admits were too high, the GMPC allocated housing targets to cities to accommodate that growth (based on the inflated DOC’s estimates) with some cities like Shoreline and Lynnwood wanting more housing targets to gentrify their town centers, and every city I know has zoning that already accommodates the GMPC targets, mostly in the town centers near transit because that is what the PSRC has been recommending for over a decade to create TOD. Not only that the PSRC estimates the majority of future population growth will not occur in King Co. None of the proposed upzoned bills requires allowing retail in the SFH zones, and that would be counter-productive to creating retail density. The last thing the eastside wants is more dispersion of retail.
So once you admit upzoning SFH zones is not necessary to meet even inflated population growth estimates you have to ask what the real motivation is.
Asdf2: “You don’t first decide to build a rail station, then upzone simply to increase ridership; you upzone because the broader Puget Sound area needs more housing, then you use the increased ridership that the upzone would create to justify locating the station there vs. somewhere else, if it comes to that.”
Again, this simply is not true. Link was built in many areas without the population density to support it, with either park and rides or future TOD to meet ridership goals. The Puget Sound area does not need any zoning changes to meet population growth estimates or GMPC housing targets, and for once the PSRC got it right: build new housing WHERE THE TRANSIT IS. You can’t move light rail tracks. If ST has made on mistake it is building transit where the folks are not, and upzoning the SFH zones will only compound that terrible mistake.
Asdf2: “Park and rides are, at best, only a solution for first-mile access, not last mile. If you are traveling in the reverse direction, your car isn’t parked at the station when you get off, so all those parking spaces are useless. The only last-mile solution I know of is buses, bike lanes, and sidewalks.”
Biking to a transit stop in East King Co. is impossible, or lugging your bike around all day. Walking requires flat land and a short walk. Buses cannot possibly provide first mile access in such a huge and undense area, which is why even the network of feeder buses depends on park and rides.
Park and rides are not cost prohibitive compared to the overall cost of Link. Look at how many park and rides there are in the system. Even Amazon’s Bellevue offices have 1100 underground parking stalls. Microsoft is building a 3 million sf underground parking garage. Every city I know, including Seattle requires underground onsite parking, and so do the lenders. If private developers can build plenty of parking so can ST.
The only other option in the suburban areas is massive micro-transit to serve these areas, probably Uber, if you want folks to get to Link and ride it. Park and rides have the advantage where the driver pays for the car, driver, maintenance and fuel rather than Metro.
I agree with you that in a park and ride system at least one of the terminals — usually the destination — needs to be walkable, and that was downtown Seattle. With the loss of downtown Seattle as a work destination ridership on Sounder or suburban Link will not do well. People just hate transferring to a bus AFTER getting off Link.
Obviously, some ST staffers and transit advocates don’t like the idea of park and rides, and maybe the need for a park and ride should have led ST to question running light rail to those areas. But to tell eastsiders (or S. King Co., Pierce or SnoCo) to walk or bike or bus to a Link station is pointless because they have the perfect alternative in their garage: a car. The only question is whether you want that car to stop at a Link station or continue onto its ultimate destination.
That is the fundamental problem with most transit, certainly ST: they think everyone is a transit slave, and there are no alternatives, like very expensive parking in downtown Seattle. There are endless alternatives, especially now with WFH, and the number one alternative is a car.
If ST or others don’t want these non-urban folks to ride Link great, those folks don’t care and likely won’t ride Link anyway. As I noted, the people who get the shaft are “urban” Seattle dwellers who now must build in 30 minutes each way for the feeder bus, if it comes, and add another 20 minutes for transfers and waits, because there is no reasonably priced parking at the destination because urbanists thought that is how you get rid of cars. How much longer until they say screw it, and get a car or start using the car they have, even if just to the park and ride at Northgate or farther up north?
It was always going to be very difficult for Link to compete with driving, especially in suburban areas with impossible first mile access and lots of free parking. An easy to access park and ride with huge capacity like S. Bellevue and a walkable destination like downtown Seattle with expensive parking and traffic congestion was the one hope, but WFH killed that hope, and the East Link stations eastward from S. Bellevue are so poorly placed, because ST built East Link where the people are not.
ST, urbanists and the PSRC saw a world of transit slaves, but the market or technology usually figures out a way to save slaves, especially when a pandemic helps accelerate things. Transit in this region for most is just not a convenient, safe or timely way to get from A to B, and fewer have to get to B anymore, which is good. Just think of the overall time saved by not commuting to work each day, and all the time wasted by someone in Seattle still having to take a bus to Link every day of their lives, waiting and waiting and waiting knowing they can’t be late.
Upcoming free webinar on walkable cities:
Thank you for the interstates video. What a gem! Being familiar with Ohio, the Toledo to Parkersburg route really cracks me up.
I’ve never been to those states or only visited one city (Columbus and Raleigh) so I don’t know what’s happening in those corridors how accurate the video is. What cracks you up about the Toledo corridor?
I had a coworker from a suburban county of Toledo, who said there’s no public transit at all in the county.
TARTA covers Lucas and Wood county, and Bowling Green has its own transit centered on the university. Those are the only two counties that contain Toledo, so not sure what your coworker is talking about.
I think she meant a county outside Toledo, akin to Pierce or Snohomish here. I don’t know which county. And she may not have been aware of all the transit options, or they may have started after she said that. She did take the bus to work when I knew her, and said that in her hometown she couldn’t.
The author is advocating for a freeway to connect Columbus, a major City, with Parkersburg, a little town on the Ohio River about the size of Wenatchee, with no through routing to any other destination. He offers no support besides that there is a good NE-SW corridor and not a NW-SE corridor. Perhaps there is good reason??? No major traffic generators to necessitate a freeway or transit or rail or much of anything. Small towns and lots of forest.
The Midwest actually has many highways that are “almost interstates”. The idea to upgrade those is reasonable — but an upgrade doesn’t really improve driving travel times very much so I don’t see it being a big push. Ohio is plastered by rural four lane highways that tie non-interstate places together really well with only a few two-lane gaps (like US 23, 24, 30, 33 and 35 and OH 11, 16/ 161 and 32).
The US is careening to a highway maintenance nightmare. So many roads built in the 1960’s and 1970’s are the backbone of our highway system today. The nightmare of failing bridges is pretty ominous in particular. Many states are so burdened by maintenance that upgrading is a low priority. Even if a new revenue source to backfill falling gasoline tax revenue comes about it’s going to first go for the deferred road and bridge reconstruction.
Not sure there is much of a case for a freeway south of Athens, but you must not be very familiar with Ohio if you sneer at the lack of a direct connection between Detroit and Columbus.
The difficulty for ODOT is how to improve travel time and freight movement north of Columbus without just inducing a bunch of sprawl. FWIW, the turnpike through Ohio (and Indian & Pennsylvania) is almost the platonic ideal of a freeway – it gets close enough to be useful for Chicago, South Bend, Toledo, Sandusky, Cleveland, Akron, and Pittsburgh but doesn’t serve any of the urban centers directly & therefore induces negligible commuter sprawl, and ongoing maintenance (including major work like bridge replacements) is entirely funded by tolls.
The person who posted that highway video filmed a follow-up, explaining that he wasn’t anti-trains, mass transit, or anti-urbanist; he supports all those. It’s that in some places highway improvements are needed, either because trains don’t pencil out or because the existing highways badly need repair. https://youtu.be/z_CcrtqbXOE
Public Transit Goes Off The Rails With Fewer Riders, Dwindling Cash, Rising Crime. (WSJ story from yesterday).
I read that article. A combination of WFH and funding issues. Congress appropriated around $69 billion in transit funding during Covid but that money is now running out.
The loss of what the article calls the “choice” rider (whom I call the discretionary rider) has two main effects:
1. Funding. According to the article transit systems in NY and San Francisco don’t think the future will support a joint farebox recovery/general tax subsidy type of system due to lower ridership and fare payment. According to the MTA, the problem is not how to fix a deficit but how to move to a completely different funding model. How to get taxpayers to move to a 100% general tax funding system — without fare increases — is problematic since many choice riders don’t need transit anymore. I don’t expect the new House of Representatives to be keen on more transit operations funding. The MTA is hoping charging drivers a tax to enter the city might help to raise $1 billion for transit. That would only further hurt Seattle’s anemic retail sector. The MTA is losing around $550 million/year in non-payment of fares.
2. Safety. Or more importantly perceptions of safety. The loss of the choice rider means the percentage of “non-choice” riders is higher, and so people feel less safe, trains look less clean, and transit is a closed system in which a rider is a prisoner in a train or bus. Whether someone who feels less safe is actually less safe is a pointless argument. Who wants to be the test subject?
According to the article it is WFH more than safety that is the issue. If folks don’t have to ride transit they don’t so they don’t pay a fare. In the past when they had to ride transit they would, but complain about schedules or the conditions of the trains or buses. Now they don’t care because they don’t ride transit. Their lives have moved on.
It is no doubt WFH is better for the worker. Whether driving or taking transit spending two hours or more each day in uncompensated time commuting to an urban center for work was abusive. The reality is all those workers don’t want to live in an urban area, even if they can afford it, and never really liked working in an urban center in a cubicle. How urban centers deal with that, and transit, will be interesting. IMO not only will both need a new funding model, but just a new model in general about where they fit in in society today and in the future. the reality is young workers and students are becoming ingrained in WFH, and I think it will increase as younger workers replace older workers, until we have a real balkanization between the urban cities and suburbs. Neither will visit the other very often.
“The loss of the choice rider means the percentage of “non-choice” riders is higher, and so people feel less safe,”
Most non-choice riders are working-class people who can’t afford cars and are well behaved. Only a tiny fraction are smelly homeless people hopped up on drugs shitting everywhere and raping women. Yes, the percentage goes up, but it’s still a tiny fraction. The difference between perception and reality is perennial. You talk about how people don’t feel safe in Seattle. That has been a never-ending complaint in suburbia since I was in elementary school fifty years ago, regardless of how the crime rate goes up and down over time.
My friend in north Lynnwood is only a non-choice rider in the sense that, for her to drive, she, in her late 60s, would have to go to driving school, get a license, and buy a car, as if she could afford one on a maid’s salary. She travels to work and shopping and to visit people, and is clean and doesn’t talk loudly on the phone. There are hundreds of thousands of people like her on transit in Pugetopolis.
A better take on the “less riders and therefore less safety” https://humantransit.org/2022/04/is-the-nytimes-worsening-transit-crime.html
I think we’ll need an article on how society is changing and what the next transit funding paradigm should be. What other questions or issues should it include?
Mike, I worked in downtown Seattle for 32 years and travelled to Pioneer Square five days/week. Sunday’s Seattle Times had an article by Danny Westneat titled, “Seattle’s Crime Fever May Be Breaking”. Last week we were talking about attempts to clean up 3rd Ave. I remember the street protest by King Co. Courthouse workers refusing to return to in-office work, and the park having to be chained off and then sold to King Co. I was never assaulted or robbed, but there were areas I did not go, especially at night. I know very little about the MTA and was only quoting from the article. I wouldn’t take public transit in NYC however. I would Uber. If New Yorkers think MTA is too dangerous for them that is good enough for me.
As I noted in my previous post, I think WFH has had a more profound impact on transit ridership to urban centers than perceptions of safety. Even on the eastside transit ridership is way down. Same on Sounder, and I doubt safety is a big issue on Sounder. If people don’t have to ride transit — either because they WFH or drive — then transit ridership declines. The article simply notes that if ridership declines far enough then a joint farebox recovery/general tax subsidy system is not going to work for the remaining riders.
Seattle’s downtown problems are its own problems, but I do think they affect transit ridership, at least for some. People on this blog love to ridicule people like my wife who has a very, very small tolerance for personal risk, but she is the demographic that buys everything in the U.S., and decides where we are going out. She thinks Seattle is unsafe (except ironically for the CID but drives there), and that is the end of it. You won’t change her mind. She drives, and has the entire eastside in which to shop. (She will drive with our daughter to U Village).
Seattle could be 100% safe, and perceived by eastsiders as 100% safe (although according to Nextdoor which reaches well over one hundred thousand eastsiders it is unsafe) and still why would an eastside discretionary rider go to Seattle, let alone take transit there, if they don’t have to? The retail downtown sucks and it is expensive to park.
Transit ridership is way down because so many no longer need to take transit to downtown Seattle, apparently don’t want to go downtown whether on a bus or in a car, and so like the article notes a joint farebox recovery/general tax subsidy system is not going to work, especially if the riders still left on transit are not paying a fare. The sole issue is fewer riders and fewer riders paying a fare generate less farebox recovery.
The MTA spends a lot of time looking at alternative taxes to make up for lost farebox recovery, except the $550 million/year lost due to non-payment of fares. To me that seems like the low hanging fruit if you need more farebox revenue.
The MTA is not in denial about ridership. Instead, the MTA is looking for alternative taxes and funding sources to make up for lost farebox recovery, something I have raised on this blog as a critical future issue for some time. The MTA realizes it has something transit in this area does not: NY City, and rich people who will pay $50 to park will pay a fee to enter. That is not Seattle. So transit advocates in this area need to look for some other tax increase to make up for farebox recovery declines (again increasing the percentage who pay a fare seems like a good place to start to me — and Rogoff).
Hopefully the crime fever is breaking. As I have described in previous comments, the crime isn’t everywhere downtown, most blocks don’t have derelicts standing around (including one block away from the hotspots; e.g., 2nd Ave or Union Street), and many people aren’t affected. Some New Yorkers may be unwilling to take transit because of safety, but many many others are taking it. It may not be enough to fund operations and they may have to switch to another model, but the subways and buses aren’t empty either.
Metro is already moving toward a post-covid/post-WFH model, by shifting resources from peak service to all-day service, and emphasizing areas where ridership never fell; e.g., south King County. It could probably do more of it (i.e., reduce more downtown/First Hill expresses), but it’s taking a step in that direction. As to whether Metro or ST will run out of operating funds with its current fare structure/enforcement, we don’t know and we’re not experts who can determine that, so it’s really a matter of waiting until the agencies tell us it’s a concern, when the reductions will happen and how much, or what alternatives they recommend. We can’t just be worrying about vague things that might theoretically happen someday.
New York is clearly a large dense city that can’t function without transit and hundreds of thousands of residents don’t have cars, so they’ll figure out something. Seattle is in the middle between a New York-type city and an ultra-suburban city that doesn’t even try for transit. So we will get some kind of in-between solution.
Also, people in tech/office industries tend to overestimate work-from-home. Three-quarters of jobs can’t be done remotely. So WFH is not THE future; it’s just a shift in a minority of white-collar jobs. And if the current level of WFH is permanent, larger things in society will have to change, not just transit. For instance, all those office buildings downtown and the restaurants that are based on them. We need an integrated solution for all those, and maybe a multifaceted approach will work better than just changing transit. I don’t know what a new paradigm might be; I’m waiting for the politicians and business leaders to come up with suggestions.
As far as new funding paradigms, I think we need copy other systems that have successfully monetized their properties through joint developments. If that requires changing a law, change the law, so we can do that here.
DC Metro recently released a 10 year plan, in which they say their properties will produce:
– 31 million square feet of new development.
– 26,000 new housing units.
– 9 million new annual Metro trips and $40 million in new annual fare revenue.
– $50 million in annual lease revenue to Metro.
– $340 million in new annual tax revenue to local and state jurisdictions.
They develop projects on their properties that generate a ton of annual taxes and revenue, and give transit system a large new supply of paying riders.
Almost every ST Link station is a potential gold mine, and ST either gives the land away for free, or does nothing with it.
Sam, what ST Link stations do you think could provide revenue if leased to developers? Sometimes agencies like D.C. Metro make up numbers. Many if not most of the Link stations are along freeways. Do you know whether a Link station could support the weight of a tall building? Take for example Capitol Hill. Could that station support a new tall building on top of it, and if so how long would the station be closed for development of a new high-end tower?
Here is the D.C. Metro plan:
“1. Partner with local jurisdictions – Delivering high-quality joint development that maximizes density and community benefits will require partnerships with local jurisdictions
“2. Right-size transit facilities – Given the extraordinary cost of replacing existing transit facilities such as commuter parking or bus facilities, evaluating the expected future need at each station and responding to new commuting and teleworking trends to right-size facilities will minimize costs while maximizing land-use efficiencies.
“3. Increase development readiness – Strategic investments prior to making sites available for development will address potential project challenges that maximize development value to Metro and its jurisdictional partners.
“4. Minimize implementation risks – Improving internal processes to minimize implementation risks will increase private developer interest and reduce the duration of the joint development solicitation process, from issuance to contract execution.”
Number 2, “right-size facilities”, sounds like converting transit facilities like bus station/stops and park and rides to high rises in partnership with surrounding cities with the cities paying for it which will somehow increase transit trips by 9 million, just not commuters. The rest sounds like government speak. But hey, if Metro and ST can pay their own way through development go for it. I am not sure that if I were a developer, I would run out to build TOD, even in D.C. although this sounds like the suburbs. Why would someone live in a TOD next to a transit station if they are not commuting into D.C.?
“Sam, what ST Link stations do you think could provide revenue if leased to developers? ”
We might need a new posting and thread to cover all this. I see some significant opportunities that ST might use but isn’t.
ST’a prime real estate is Union Station. It’s a neat historic structure and the only ST facility with public restrooms. It should not go unnoticed that it seems to only be used by about 10 people at most at a time.
I can think of about 10 things to do with that space that would preserve it as a historic structure while using it for something more productive.
Daniel, Mike basically asked for new transit funding ideas to write about. My idea was a shift from the status quo of giving away surplus land for free to non-profits, or doing nothing with valuable agency-owned land (Houghton P&R), to developing and monetizing transit land, where possible, like some other agencies do.
Good point Sam. I like Glenn’s idea about making this a separate thread during a lull. I would be interested to hear ideas, especially whether existing station heads could be developed.
One thing about ST is the board is made up of five different subareas. So, for example, a lot of urbanists like the idea of developing park and rides when N. King has few park and rides. whereas East King loves park and rides and they were promised in the subarea and the subarea can afford them. Plus those park and rides were not cheap to build and tearing them down so soon after building them would raise public concern. There is terrible feeder bus service on the Eastside, and the irony is feeder buses serve park and rides and I don’t think eastsiders will take a bus to a Link station.
Then you have local regulations. The park and ride on MI sits in a residential zone with a conditional use permit. S. Bellevue is in a green belt. The zoning would not allow a development to justify eliminating the park and ride.
ST actually owns little land. ST was required to transfer staging property to local jurisdictions for affordable housing when the station was completed. By the time ST reached East Link property owners figured out the scam in which ST condemned their property based on current zoning and then sold or transferred the property after a friendly upzone, so they demanded condemnation leases.
TOD is most profitable in dense areas, but where from Northgate Link to Sodo could you develop a Link station, let alone economically. I am guessing TT has something to say about the engineering.
I’m not sure what I’m asking, but clearly society needs a paradigm shift to deal with empty offices, work from home, and changing transit needs. The question is how to structure an article: what is the full question we’re trying to answer, and what factors do we need to look at?
I see, Mike. Funding is a small part of what you may write about, if you touch on it at all.
I’m fairly optimistic about local transit. Even East Link. Long term, I think East Link is going to be popular. I mean 10+ years out. I think it will struggle in the first years, though. But, eventually the population will grow, and development will gravitate to some station areas. Another factor that may help transit ridership is if driving becomes more difficult or painful. Right now it’s easy for me to choose driving over taking a bus. But, what if in the future downtown Seattle has congestion pricing, more local highways are tolled, car tabs cost double or triple what they cost now, the 520 toll doubles … etc., etc. A more expensive driving future may push some former choice riders back onto transit.
A start of the article might be what others are doing?
The park and ride lot at TriMet’s Fuller Road MAX station has never been particularly well used. They just finished putting an apartment building on it. There are many parking spaces left, but many of them were unnecessary. At Clackamas Town Center, a new hotel has been built on land that was once a mall parking lot that was never really well used (too far from the actual mall).
With the decline of the office commuter, it makes no sense to have vacant park and ride lots. Are there other agencies doing this?
The biggest transit need we have is more frequency, so the question is how to keep the current service level and hopefully increase it in a changing society. That requires funding, so I see it as mostly a funding issue. The agencies for equity reasons don’t want to raise fares, and there’s increasing interest in free fares, so those are factors too.So the transit part is mostly how do we fund a robust network. The office and reimagining downtown part is more about what will people do there in the future. Probably downtown needs to shift to a more residential/retail/tourism model. But the old retail model probably can’t be revived: department stores are diminishing, and high-end boutiques are also in the suburbs. So what new retail model can there be? That’s where the business leaders should be taking the lead, but I haven’t heard any ideas out of them.
I’ve heard TIB and South Bellevue P&Rs are designed to be convertable to housing in the future. And the Bel-Red surface lot is explicitly a temporary use until Spring District growth spreads to that area. Northgate-area residents turned down a P&R expansion for better bus/bike/ped access to the station. Seattle’s policy is no new P&Rs; that’s why Link in Seattle doesn’t have them. So there are seeds for a change. But so far the suburbs are still red-hot for their Lynnwood, Federal Way, Shoreline, KDM, Overlake, Bothell, etc, P&Rs, and I don’t know when that might change. The I-90 P&Rs were packed full by 7:30am before covid; I’m not sure what they’ll be in the future.
California and New Jersey just say no to freeway expansion. ($) Colorado too. ($)
“The concept of induced traffic has been around since the 1960s, but in a 2009 study, researchers confirmed what transportation experts had observed for years: In a metropolitan area, when road capacity increases by 1 percent, the number of cars on the road after a few years also increases by 1 percent.”
“In 2015, a $1 billion project to widen a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 405 through Los Angeles was completed. For a period, “congestion was relieved,” said Tony Tavares, the director of Caltrans, California’s Department of Transportation. But that relief did not last. Rush hour traffic soon rebounded, he said. When a congested road is widened, travel times go down — at first. But then people change their behaviors. After hearing a highway is less busy, commuters might switch from transit to driving or change the route they take to work. Some may even choose to move farther away.”
Watched the RM transit videos in the link….. and no, America may not need any more light rail, trams or whatever you want to call it. Rapid Transit buses are just cheaper, and more flexible. It’s just more train and brain…. the USA isn’t Japan or Europe and needs to find it’s own way in transit. Dedicated lanes and battery operated bus maybe?
Years ago when Sound Transit was starting out, my fear was there would be a transit hierarchy here in Puget Sound…. that rail lines would receive the lion’s share of all transit money and local bus service would just go to Hell. That’s certainly been the case.
And let’s get one thing straight here. There’s not a bus driver shortage. There’s a shortage of money to pay for drivers and shortage of respect for the profession from transit agencies, but there are plenty of current CDL drivers who would love to drive for Metro or PT. It’s more a question about pay and respect.
Pierce Transit and Metro haven’t bothered to keep up with wages or do much for work force development for decades. It all starts with this bullshit of hiring part time drivers and working them these crazy spilt shifts. No wonder they can’t keep anybody.
The solution is very simple. Pay drivers 20% more across the board. Absolutely no part time drivers ever. Train 40 hours a week then drive full time. No split shifts. Come to terms with the fact that you’re going to have drivers operating the bus 32-35 hours a week and you’re still going to pay them for 40. Other industries pay for availability (like skilled nursing).
Overall, transit needs to be the highest paying CDL job out there. That means maybe a 40% increase in labor costs for transit outfits in Puget Sound. It’s time to pay up or suffer a sub-par transit system.
“And let’s get one thing straight here. There’s not a bus driver shortage. There’s a shortage of money to pay for drivers and shortage of respect for the profession from transit agencies, but there are plenty of current CDL drivers who would love to drive for Metro or PT. It’s more a question about pay and respect.”
“The solution is very simple. Pay drivers 20% more across the board. Absolutely no part time drivers ever. Train 40 hours a week then drive full time. No split shifts. Come to terms with the fact that you’re going to have drivers operating the bus 32-35 hours a week and you’re still going to pay them for 40. Other industries pay for availability (like skilled nursing).”
So Tacomee, is the solution to raise fares around 40% to attract and pay drivers? The money has to come from someplace, especially since ST has or will suck $142 billion out of the transit system. A fare increase is long overdue in this high inflation, low rider, low fare paying environment.
Well, if you can’t pay, you can’t play. If the Puget Sound wants a first class transit system, it needs to pay up. What we have now is sort of a joke.
It all starts with this silly idea that the fare box is going to cover expenses. That’s just not possible and it doesn’t mean we can’t have good transit.
The problem is Sound Transit is the obsession of endlessly tunneling underground (regardless if anybody is ever going to ride the damn thing when it’s finished). As of right now, all the escalators need to be replaced in the downtown bus tunnel. The place is a pit and needs a total remodel. Local bus service has hit a 20 year low? (I’m guessing a bit). Why on earth is Sound Transit expanding subways when transit has labor problems and aging platforms? And fares are way too high now. Recalibrate everything, get all the transit and union leaders together and come up with a plan.
When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging maybe?
“It all starts with this silly idea that the fare box is going to cover expenses. That’s just not possible and it doesn’t mean we can’t have good transit.”
If farebox recovery is part of the assumptions to cover O&M costs it is not silly. I agree though that the driver shortage is a convenient way to mask funding issues.
Link assumes 40% farebox recovery, Metro 20%, ferries 65%, Sounder 23%. If those figures are not realized, due to lower than estimated ridership (which was inflated by ST to sell the levies), or lower fare payment percentages, or both, then you have a problem, like too little money for maintenance or to hire drivers. So far Covid stimulus has hidden farebox deficits.
You can cut costs (labor, fuel, maintenance, coverage and frequency), increase efficiency, increase fare payment percentages, increase riders (who pay), increase fares for those who pay, shift capital funds to O&M (Link expansion like WSBLE or Inslee’s and Metro’s demand for electrification of ferries and buses), or find another revenue/tax source.
The delayed maintenance for DSTT1 is common throughout transit systems in the U.S. that are that age and that tend to be overly optimistic on M&O costs and O&M revenue, and so skimp on O&M to keep frequency and coverage up and fares down, hoping the feds bail them out. Which is why $100 billion out of $106 billion for transit in the infrastructure bill will just go towards deferred maintenance rather than new systems. ST is lucky only because Link is relatively new (God forbid when the escalators are old), and ST built the highest ridership part first. It is probably unlucky because the new House of Representatives will try to hold the infrastructure money up.
ST’s two issues are: 1. The system is aging; and 2. it is now building lines in suburban areas that will not come close to pre-pandemic ridership estimates. The lack of any kind of objective fare paying system, and loss of the 100% fare paying commuter (because their employer was paying), is another hit. Inflation is killing every agency and local government.
For the last 20 years or so this region has done it with new tax increases. ST 2, 3, Move Seattle, transit taxes, because the region was estimated to grow exponentially and densify, and everyone would need to ride transit to downtown Seattle because of congestion and high parking costs (rather than live downtown).
My guess is after the Covid stimulus runs out the gap in transit funding will have to be addressed by increased fare paying percentages although progressives oppose that, higher fares, better efficiency, and cuts to coverage and frequency beyond peak runs (including Sounder S.). Ideally inflation drops but the past inflation is already built into salaries and costs.
Transit advocates will argue a lack of ridership and revenue cannot result in reduced coverage or frequency because those must be fixed no matter where the money comes from. The old “induced demand” argument. As I have stated on this blog before, this is not a “time for optimism”, to quote Joni Earl.
Rogoff in the one time he was honest as he was heading out the door suggested all the tools listed above to cover the budget gap will be necessary, or like today we will just see those cuts applied haphazardly which creates inconsistency and unreliability, which I think is worse than coverage and frequency cuts.
I would rather know a bus doesn’t run on a route, or has 30-minute frequencies, than wait for a bus that isn’t coming or effectively has 30- or 45-minute frequencies although the schedule says 15-minute frequencies. I think there is a damn good reason Metro does not do a better job publishing delays and cancellations. It doesn’t want that info readily available to be collected and published, praying for some kind of turn around although it is now 2023, not 2022 and time for praying is over.
This is the new normal. Fewer riders, less farebox revenue, aging systems and bridges, less fare paying percentages. So figure out a way or ways to deal with that because doing so in an organized and public way is better than the current methods. Please don’t post you want more taxes unless you can tell us how to sell higher transit taxes when so many swing voters (i.e. eastsiders) are not riding transit, unless you think S. King Co., Pierce Co, and SnoCo taxpayers will vote for higher transit taxes.
“America may not need any more light rail, trams or whatever you want to call it. ”
“the USA isn’t Japan or Europe and needs to find it’s own way in transit”
No, we actually need more rail, people who keep professing busses, busses, and more busses as the transit solution for everything forget the value of rail to a system. It generally means we can move more quickly and more frequently. Can’t really do that with articulated buses bunching together *looks at the 15/15L in Denver*
Said buses are also highly susceptible to cuts in service compared to rail. It’s much easier to cut bus service than rail, which is bad for key trunk bus routes.
Permanence is another reason, the rail stop is unlikely to close once built. This is a key thing when wanting to build density as investors like permanence when building in an area for new housing, retail, etc.
“The US is not Europe” argument is also very tired, lazy, and a cop-out that we shouldn’t expect better service in the US when in reality it’s the opposite. Expecting people to accept mediocre is not how you improve transit in the US.
I like buses, but they aren’t the end all be all solution in every situation. For a lot of BRT projects, I would argue that a LRT or Tram would be the better solution because oftentimes the cost is so marginal between the two options of bus vs rail that you’re often better off just spending the extra money to make a better overall user experience.
BRT is always cheaper…. way cheaper than any rail….and way more flexible.
Permanence might work in, say Rome or Tokyo, but very little in America is permanent. Actually, single family wood frame houses are more permanent than almost everything else in America. I’ve been a part of building big retail buildings that have a planned lifespan of 40 years (think Walmart). How does rail mesh with that? The USA is a dynamic place with a never ending frontier. We, as a nation, are constantly reinventing ourselves. Maybe buses are just more our style?
“BRT is always cheaper…. way cheaper than any rail….and way more flexible.”
Not really and has worse ROI than a tram, it’s only said cheaper because people are ood by price tag (which should never be the first thing when looking at improving transit) even though said BRT buses are often a lousy investment from BRT creep and just a mediocre way to improve transit.
I’d rather take an okay tram over an okay brt. Need I remind you of how terrible the Rapid Ride system is built. It’s not really BRT, it’s enhanced bus service at best. And that’s very offensive to me as a transit reliant person. If you treat your customers as if they should just accept mediocre transit upgrades, don’t be surprised when they call you out for being cheapskates. Telling transit riders, “Here’s a pole, a bench, and a basic shelter. Why aren’t you happy? is just a charitable overlay mentality I see many people in US have. And does nothing to addressing transit that is just hurting the US in the longer term.
Europe has it right mentality for transit in general for the most part because they don’t treat public transit as just for the poor, but rather everyone. Are they building good bus service, yes. But they are also not putting in a bunch of BS features like BRT does in the US. It’s just enhancing bus service. They’re also adding tram service because they recognize that popular bus routes should be upgraded to rail services if they can’t afford a metro like system. Or acts as a supplement to metro and bus service.
Buses are important and are a backbone to the systems, but American politicians are guilty of cheaping out when they need to spend more on rail to get more for their dollar in the longer term.
“Maybe buses are just more our style?”
It’s because we cheap out, we really don’t view transit as more than just a service for the poor. And that is often the problem with building transit here. If you treat your customers with little respect, then don’t be surprised when the ridership isn’t good.
What’s the accepted definition of BRT? My image of it involves bus-only, grade-separated roads like Curitiba, LA’s Orange Line, or even parts of Eugene. Or do routes like RapidRide/Stride count?
“What’s the accepted definition of BRT?”
That’s a perennial controversy. Rather than arguing over what is and isn’t real BRT, it’s more useful to use the multiple levels defined in the BRT Standard. Curitiba has one line at Gold level and four lines at Silver level. In the US, only Albuquerque is Gold, and it’s unclear whether a planned reevaluation went through. Silver systems in North America are in Cleveland OH, Hartford CT, Ottawa, and four in Mexico. Bronze systems are in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Eugene OR, Pittsburg VA, Richmond VA, Ottawa, and two in Mexico. Basic systems are in Pittsburg and Las Vegas.
You can add up the points to see where Stride, Swift, and RapidRide fall. I did a quick calculation, although I had to guess on some criteria:
RapidRide: “Not BRT”, score 23. BRT requires a 4 out of 8 score on dedicated ROW, and 20 “BRT Basics” points. RapidRide fails on both. It scores 14 on BRT Basics, and 6 on higher-level criteria.
Swift: “Basic”, score 40. Assuming 6/8 dedicated ROW, 30 Basic points, 12 higher-level points, subtract 2 for infrequent evenings.
Stride: “Basic”, score 49. Assuming 8/8 dedicated ROW, 31 Basic points, 17 higher-level points.
To get to the Bronze level requires a score of 55.
Agencies clearly use the term “BRT” to make lines sound higher-quality than they are. That follows an older ptractice of some agencies calling themselves a “Rapid Transit District” for an unimproved bus network.
One of the higher-level criteria is “Diverse services – express, limited-stop, and local”. I don’t know of any BRT systems with multiple BRT levels in the same corridor. It’s possible that this means over the entire bus network. In that case, Pugetopolis has all three levels somewhere or other, although the middle level is unclear in branding and unknown to users. RapidRide is local. Routes with stops every 1-2 miles are limited-stop but aren’t called that: they’re called Swift, Stride, Link, Metro 9X, 15X, 28X, ST Express 512, 522, and 550 (in Bellevue).
For urban transit, the fundamental advantage of rail is capacity, not speed. It is true that some trains are faster than buses, but high speed rail is more about going between cities, not across town. The main reason that trains are often faster than buses is because they have more right-of-way. Give that same right of way to the buses and they are just as fast. This was the case with the bus tunnel, for example. Within the bus tunnel, buses were as fast as trains.
They just can’t carry as many people per vehicle and more importantly, per driver. A train can carry as many riders as a dozen buses, sometimes more. Thus if there is enough demand, it makes sense to run some sort of train, instead of running buses.
There is a point at which increasing frequency no longer benefits riders, and is done merely to handle the load. People have different opinions as to that point, but transit expert Jarrett Walker puts that point at 3 minutes. If you are running your buses every three minutes, you should definitely look at running trains. Of course even this gets complicated when you have things like “spines”.
More right-of-way means faster buses which means more riders. This is why running trains instead of buses to Bellevue makes sense. The belief is that once we have a very fast way to get to Bellevue (and all the other cities) there will be plenty of riders — more than buses can handle.
The principal advantage of buses is that they can leverage existing infrastructure. The buses that run on SR 520 do so at a very fast clip. Trains wouldn’t be much faster (once they fix the bridge bottleneck). Adding another bridge for the trains would be extremely expensive. By leveraging existing infrastructure, buses can easily be “Open BRT”. This was, at a very rudimentary level, what the bus-tunnel buses were. They traveled along the streets like a regular bus, but then went into the tunnel, and were as fast as a subway train (i. e. “real BRT”).
The terminology doesn’t help. There are lots of labels for buses, but with rail, the focus is on the hardware (light rail, heavy rail, monorail) even though it is quite similar to buses. Buses get stuck in traffic, just like trains. Buses can run for miles without stops just like trains. Buses can have exclusive right-of-way or grade separation just like trains. It is common for either mode to be a mix, as well.
I think it is best to consider what a particular service has to offer, rather than fixate on the terminology. That is what NACTO is trying to do, with labels like “Real BRT”. But even that struggles. First, who is to say that their priorities are the right ones. Second, what if you score well on one part, but not the other. You might have the same scoring as another line, but be completely different.
As to what makes sense in a particular area, it depends. I believe the best approach is iterative. Improve the right-of-way and keep increasing frequency. If that leads to crowded, frequent buses all day, then move to rail. You can leapfrog (and we have) but it is focus on areas that have proven demand (like UW to downtown) instead of crossing your fingers and hoping that ridership will justify the expensive.
Seattle transit not in the top 13 public transit systems in North America. So is Seattle the NY Jets or Sacramento Kings of transit?
I took a look at the report referenced in the article, and it doesn’t attempt to rank Seattle at all. It only selected 60 global cities to compare, and Seattle wasn’t included.
NY Jets. The Kings are actually good this year.
I’m not sure the analogy is a great one. We aren’t terrible — there are a bunch of cities much worse than us. The problem is we are spending a huge amount of money for mediocrity. If the Jets could win a couple more games then it would a better analogy.
Vancouver has been described as the best urban, best transit city of its size in North America, so it’s hard to beat that. Downtown and the West End are full of highrise housing with full-sized supermarkets and schools and other walkable amenities. Skytrain is fully grade-separated and runs every five minutes full time and has three lines now. The Surrey suburbs has center-lane BRT. Reasonably frequent buses connect all the suburbs to Skytrain stations, all the way to almost the US border. Metrotown station has a shopping mall and lots of walkable housing and jobs within walking distance. Residential Skytrain stations have small highrise clusters. Kitsilano, a quiet residential district, has duplexes and small apartment buildings mixed with single-family houses a few blocks from a frequent bus street.
Pugetopolis is around the 13th largest metro in the US, and our transit network is about 13th most extensive. But if you’re ranking all of North America, then Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, Mexico City, and Guadalajara rise to the top 10, and only cities like New York, DC, San Francisco, and Chicago can compete with those, so that crowds out Seattle. That shows the average state of transit in the US.
Pugetopolis is around the 13th largest metro in the US, and our transit network is about 13th most extensive.
I think if you look at what we are spending for ST, we rise up to the top (per capita). https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/transportation/seattle-area-spends-most-per-capita-to-build-transit-heres-why/. That was before ST3. So, yeah, we are spending a huge amount of money *for a city this size*. Are we getting our money’s worth? In my opinion, no.
I said extensive, not expensive. As in what percent of the population and destinations it serves in coverage, frequency, and speed. Pugetopolis is not in the top ten in the US but it’s somewhat close to it. We focus on its shortcomings and often don’t realize how good we have it. 80% of the US doesn’t have 15-minute middays or evenings in several corridors, a rail trunk that covers have the city at 10-minute frequency and is half grade-separated there, all-day expresses to the suburbs and suburban job centers, or a multi-agency pass and transfers. When you add Canada and Mexico, they prioritize transit properly so they rise to the top ten.
ST may make Pugetopolis the most expensive, but that has to be seen in context. It was the significant investments in expansions in the 2010s that made Pugetopolis have the largest ridership increase in the US. U-Link, RapidRide C-F, Seattle TBD’s frequency, ST Express increases, network restructures, street improvements, saving the Seattle night owls, and extending night owls to Aurora Village, Northgate, Lake City, Burien, Federal Way, and in Kent and Auburn.
Much of the cost both then and now is for things that are still under construction or planning, so they don’t add to the extensive service yet. You’d have to imagine how an ST2 and ST3 network, planned RapidRide lines, and the related bus restructures and restructures will change our extensiveness and our national ranking. I won’t attempt to guess how much but it will clearly be better.
ST is clearly spending a lot of money on things that are more politically motivated than on delivering the most service where it’s most needed and will be most used. But it’s also doing several things right, including current Link, ST2 Link, and the upcoming Stride lines.
It seems like this might be major enough to warrant its own article, but Metro has released its first draft for the Lynnwood Link Connections restructure. My first impression is that it’s a fairly aggressive restructure in North Seattle and North King County. There’s a survey through March 10.
Yeah, I was thinking of writing up something tomorrow.
My first impression is that, except for the E line, the service in shoreline is too loopy. The straight-line bus down Meridian that we have today is gone, and the 46, 334, and 336 all can’t be ridden more than a mile or so without being forced to make some sort of out of the way detour. Also, the Shoreline->Link connection that the 65 is supposed to provide won’t exist until the 130th St. Station opens, so maybe taking 145th from Greenwood to Lake City is better than 130th, at least while 130th station is closed.
The 348 serving 185th St. Station right along its existing route is nice though, and will make it much easier to reach Richmond Beach than before.
I like the 10 priorities that emerged from the phase 1 feedback: east-west connections, night time transit, frequency, weekend. Those are the biggest holes in the transit network. As I look through the proposal I’ll be looking to see how well it does these.
Ross, your Lake City – NW 85th Street route is there! Route 61. And it explicitly replaces the 20.
I’m skeptical of terminating at 3rd Ave NW though. People need to get to central Ballard, not to a minor street with no frequent north-south route and east of central Ballard.
Yes – the return of route 61 is one of the changes I am most excited about.
Yeah, that is the highlight for me :)
I don’t think ending at 3rd is that bad. I have that on most of my maps (which I never got around to publishing — now they are outdated, oops).
Ideally the bus would keep going until Crown Hill, connecting to all buses headed south. Unfortunately, there is no existing layover there. Another alternative would be to swap the tail with the 45. The downside of that swap though is that alters the 45. One seat rides from that part of town to the UW (a much bigger destination than Northgate) go away.
No matter what you do, there is a trade-off, which is common given our geography. It is difficult to make connections without redundant service. Sometimes that redundancy is justified (you can double up service on a strong corridor) other times it isn’t. By ending at 3rd you reduce the redundancy, but lose some connections.
I agree, the return of the 61 is welcome. I wonder if there is a way it could run on a different arterial than the 45, like 65th or 80th. There’s decent density on both streets (certainly more than the south part of the 20 has now) and would add another frequent E/W crosstown route.
I’m not sure where it would layover, but 32nd is pretty wide in places and might have enough space.
Earlier renditions of the 61 had it running on 80th. In general that isn’t a good idea. You want consolidation, so that service is doubled up. For example, with two buses running on 85th, frequency is increased for trips along the corridor. It also makes it easier to get from Greenwood to Link, as either bus will work.
I do think it would be good to have a bus on 65th (east of Green Lake). I think east of 8th would be challenging, so maybe if the 61 continued on 85th until 8th, then went south, then west on 65th to 24th. The challenge at that point is finding a layover. The bus could go back north and layover with the 45 or 17, but that doesn’t add much value. It could go south towards the locks, but I’m not sure where it could turn around and layover.
With it terminating on 3rd it really serves Lake City to Aurora and Greenwood, and 3rd must be just a layover place. People aren’t going to go to 3rd and wait possibly 30 minutes for a 28. The 65 or 72 will be faster than this to get to Aurora, and Greenwood seems a little small for non-straight route to it.
I would be very reticent to put any bus on 85th. That intersection at at Aurora can consistently take 3 or 4 cycles to get through.
@Mike — Yes, there is a layover at 3rd. I believe the short versions of the 5 (running peak-only) used to layover there. Basically it is just a way to turn around with a layover in there somewhere. There is nothing else special about 3rd.
I would be very reticent to put any bus on 85th. That intersection at at Aurora can consistently take 3 or 4 cycles to get through.
That is like 45th versus 50th. The answer is not to move the bus, but to add bus lanes so that the bus can go faster. The people are on 85th, not 80th. The 45 isn’t going to move (nor should it). If anything, having another bus there makes the case to improve 85th stronger (and hopefully gives SDOT a push to make it happen).
Yeah, that’s why I was thinking 65th rather than 80th for the 61. It’s far enough from both the 44 and the 45 to avoid duplicating service, goes through some decent density (Ballard High, plus multi-family developments, some built in the last few years), and hasn’t had E/W transit service for decades, if ever.
The trick is getting it down there given the terrain and narrow streets by Green Lake, but maybe could run on 3rd or 8th from 85th.
Yeah, if I covered 65th (in Ballard) I would probably take the 61 and extend it, making a jog from 8th. The only problem is finding a place to layover. Well that, and extra money to pay for it.
Look at that Link frequency. With Lines 1 and 2 combined, that’s 4 minutes peak, 5 minutes until 10pm, 7.5 minutes late evening. That should lay to rest the idea that East Link and Rainier Valley will have less than 10 minute frequency. Metro hedges it saying “may” instead of “will”, but it wouldn’t publish that timing without Sound Transit being reasonably certain about it.
NOTE: I wrote up a post for the the Lynnwood Link Connections restructure (https://seattletransitblog.com/2023/01/10/new-metro-restructure-proposal-for-lynnwood-link/). Probably best to move the conversation over there.
And Metro in their proposed changes is rolling back the clock as they want to replace the #372 south of 145th Street with the # 72,
I thought that at first but it’s on 25th rather than 15th/University Way, so it doesn’t connect Lake City to Roosevelt and the northern U-District like the 72 used to. It’s really truncating the 372 and chopping off the “3”. The 25th corridor in the U Village area wasn’t the 72; it was the 68 if I remember.
Correct but I just find it funny that Metro brings back the #72 for at least a portion of its old route on Lake City Way and Ravenna Avenue. But the new # 72 does not connect Lake City to Roosevelt and the north part of the U-District.
And yes it was the #68 serving 25th Ave NE and the U Village.
I’m torn on the 372 change.
On the 1 hand, it fills a key gap because when the 522 switches to 148th Station, LCW between 130th and 145th would otherwise lose their connection to Link. Multiple senior housing centers are near 137th.
On the other hand, the northshore suburbs of LFP, Kenmore, Bothell will lose their connection with Lake City, U Village, and UW Campus. The half hourly 324 seems like it will be barely usable.
The proposed 72 turns west on 145th to Shoreline South station.
I like the new routes table and PDFs, but there is one misleading thing about them. The 72 PDF implies the 65 is replaced (deleted), and the 65 PDF implies the 75 is replaced. But neither of them are deleted; they’re revised.
I’m confused on what the point of 324 is. 522 will still have the same stops as 324 does once it becomes stride, right? Are there that many people who specifically need to go from Kenmore/LFP/Bothell to Lake City between 130th and 145th?
I’m not sure what the most efficient route to get from Kenmore/LFP/Bothell to UW will be anymore. Transfer in Lake city? Transfer at 130th station? Drive to the Shoreline Light Rail Park and Ride and Link all the way?
I’m glad they’re adding more consistent shorter service from U Village to UW though. 372 gets really busy between those two stops, and there doesn’t really need to be a 15 minute bus between LFP and Bothell when a majority of the demand is near U Village and UW.
The 522 is limited stop and presumably Stride will be too, so it needs a local shadow for the in-between stops.
Right now the 522 skips some local stops the 372 (and presumably 324) would make, such as Bothell Way and Ballinger Way in LFP, 96th Ave in Bothell, etc.
When the 522 becomes Stride it will skip even more stops such as Bothell Way and 80th Ave in Kenmore. And relevant to your other question, Stride will not stop at Bothell Way and 145th St.
From 2024-2026, the fastest way of getting from LFP/Kenmore/Bothell to UW campus is probably 522–>72, transferring at 145th street. To the U District or Husky stadium is probably fastest via Link. After 2026 when Stride means there is no longer a transfer at 145th seems like it would force those people to take Link.
If the stop doesn’t need to be covered by the 522, does it need to have service at all? In my opinion, the obvious answer is no. Running a bus every half hour to serve a handful of stops is just not a good value. There are plenty of places within our system without coverage (as the previous thread showed) and plenty more with peak-only coverage.
As it is, the 522 won’t miss many stops between 145th and Lake Forest Park (https://www.soundtransit.org/sites/default/files/documents/522-brt-station-map-feb-2021.pdf.) East of there, the 334 makes all the stops until it ends at Kenmore. The 334 could be extended to Bothell if we felt it necessary to cover the area between Kenmore and Bothell, or one of the other buses (like the 225) could go that way.
The 324 has failure written all over it. It doesn’t provide enough coverage to run so infrequently. It was cut off from the main 372 for good reason. Now that it will run less often (and compete with the more frequent bus that connects to Link) I just don’t see it performing well. Even if you are headed to Lake City from Kenmore, you’ll take the 522 if it shows up first (which it will, usually). Then you’ll transfer to the 72.
We are getting ahead of ourselves here. I plan on making this argument later (on its own post) but I felt compelled to take a break and answer this now. I’m sure we’ll argue this again later :)
I got a Metro ad on Facebook promoting the Transit Go app… pay online… get a free ride for signing up… earn rewards (free trips) with use…
I’ve never used the Transit Go app, but based on quickly looking at the information the promotion linked to (on a website, I didn’t install the app) Transit Go is completely independent of ORCA, and is a really incoherent mess.
Effectively Transit Go is being promoted at the expense of ORCA – get a free ride, earn more free rides. (Don’t pay a fee to get started, either).
BUT, and this is somewhat insane, no transfers to/from Link or ST buses. Here within King County we have truncated Metro buses with transfers to Link (e.g. MT 255) and we often overlap Metro and ST bus routes and expect riders to mix the services yet here is Metro promoting a fare payment method that doesn’t allow transfers. You can buy tickets for ST buses and Link light rail on the app, but you can’t but a transfer. It simply seems insane and I can’t possibly understand who would design and promote this product. Why not just create an app-based version of ORCA? Or else if you want this thing to be different, why not create something that can provide a compatible ticket? In what universe does Transit Go make sense? I guess it’s for 1-seat riders. Do we really need an app optimized for 1-seat riders? With rewards for using it?
Still miss the days when STB would be critically covering topics like this and advocating for common sense.
So we have time and money to create competing electronic fare products, but not time and money to hire and train enough drivers run the buses that are on the schedule that we publish. Sheesh. Maybe we need less overhead and more operations.
Relevant discussion when Transit Go was released; https://seattletransitblog.com/2016/11/30/metro-debuts-mobile-fare-payment/
The app is designed for infrequent transit users, in recognition that not everyone carries exact change, and not everyone keeps their ORCA card on hand.
According to the 2016 article, it costs about 2% of the fare revenue within the app and some modest flat fee. Seems worthwhile. If anything, the advertising campaign seems excessive but maybe they’re seeing a drop in usage (weird how that happens when you suspend fares for 18 months) and are hoping to juice it up a bit.
I would be interested in some sort of usage update from King County, though. I wonder if it’s discussed in any of the operations reporting?
The app is designed for infrequent transit users. But it is being promoted with a frequent user rewards program?
Why is the old, stale incompatible app being promoted now to frequent riders? How about instead creating an app-based ORCA for single trips?
I would assume that rewards for frequent rides is an attempt to turn infrequent transit users into more frequent transit users via incentive. At that point, the frequent transit user is likely to switch to ORCA.
There is an ORCA app: “myORCA”
The ORCA system will allow payment via NFC (essentially turning your phone into an ORCA card), but that feature hasn’t been finished/released yet.
Just received the alert below. Wonder why this is being done. This stop was added to make the buses more accessible to Capitol Hill riders, and it’s done a great job. It has a dedicated lane, protected from traffic, that leads to a carpool on ramp. Why are we discontinuing this stop?
Stop #1051 Olive Way & Boren Ave (EB) revised beginning Sat Jan 21.
Get on/off buses at:
Beginning Saturday, January 21, this bus stop will permanently close.
At that time, board or exit the following routes at new stop #1070 west of here, eastbound on Olive Way just west of Terry Ave.
Remember, there used to be a long eastbound bus stop in between 9th and Boren. (You could look down into the Convention Place Station staging area and tunnel entrance). That bus stop has been gone for a while, with the sidewalk and right lane being taken up by construction activity. The construction is probably wrapping up and the bus stop might be reopening, in which case they don’t need two bus stops on each side of Boren. Here’s a street view pic of the old bus stop from 2007. It’s unrecognizable today.
European international rail travel woes. Our poor traveler tries to go from Amsterdam to Prague. Different track gauges, electric voltages, train control systems, and ticketing systems/apps abound. Why can’t you go to a website and buy a through ticket like you can with airlines? Because the national rail companies can’t be bothered, and they don’t want to pay for your hotel room if your train is too late for a connecting train.
One comment thread explains why Sam’s theoretical Rome to Lisbon trip was so problematic:
“I was at [the main] train ticket office in [Vienna] Austria a few weeks ago. At the counter next to me there was a man who had waited in line for about half an hour. He wanted a train ticket to Portugal. They told him they just could not sell him one. And if I remember correctly they told him to buy a plane ticket instead. The poor man was really frustrated.”
“The ticket office assistant [in Vienna] is right. During covid, the Spanish operator permanently discontinued the partnership that made possible the only international trains Portugal had, the Lusitania to Madrid and the Sud Express to Hendaye in France. The latter one would solve the equation for 3 of the countries he needed to cross. Our national operator wants to restart the partnership but the Spanish are not interested (in their defense, it was probably not that profitable, but still). There are now separate tickets for LisbonMadrid via Badajoz, only slightly shorter journey than the night train but during the day which is so boring… 9h for a a trip that should be 3h at most…”
“For the reasons someone already explained above, taking a train journey between Lisbon and Madrid is a nightmare that involves 3 or 4 poorly synchronised trains and some 9h or more hours. You can’t even buy a through ticket from neither the Portuguese nor Spanish operator, you need to buy at least 2 separate tickets.”
Most European rail is in fact standard gauge, the exceptions being the Iberian Peninsula (Iberian gauge) and the Baltic countries and Finland. Certain non-EU countries that were part of the Soviet Union are still on Russian gauge, but that is a whole different matter that involves Putin and friends.
Additionally, Ireland uses Irish gauge, but being an island the change in gauge is not much of a problem.
However, all high speed rail in Europe is now being built to standard gauge, even the new high speed lines into Spain, Portugal, and the Baltics. And locomotive technology now allows for at least a subset of different electrification systems. The result being that it is technically possible to go most places in Europe without changing trains or locomotives – if the passenger sticks to the high speed lines and if the railroad has enough volume to justify offering the service.
But ya, pick some bizarre routing that requires travel on secondary lines and the user can encounter problems with loading gauge (usually not track gauge) and electrification systems. Try to go from Porto to Transnistria via some small town in the Baltics and the passenger is pretty much guaranteed to have problems – and not just with the trains!
But no sane person would do such a thing voluntarily.
Sound Transit now expects about 15% lower ridership in 2042 than anticipated before the pandemic. In summary:
• Less transit ridership in the future than previous estimates
• Peak flattening
• Different impacts by industry sector
• Different impacts by income
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