Other states issue stay-at-home orders while transit gets less-social-distancy here

Coronavirus image from wikicommons

Update: Governor Jay Inslee issued a “Stay home, stay health” order, with a list of essential workers who are exempt, Monday afternoon.

It may seem like an Age ago, but it has been less than two weeks since the United Nations’ World Health Organization declared covid-19 to be a pandemic.

By the end of last week, local transit agencies had made their first move to implement social distance orders — that is, that people should stay at least 6 feet away from each other — by enabling rear door entrance and egress on all buses, and reducing contacts via fare equipment, both achieved by sacrificing any further fare collection until further notice. Only riders with mobility aids or otherwise needing to use the ramp will be permitted to use the front door.

In an act of unfortunately poor timing, significant service reductions are being implemented starting today, even before we get to see what fare freedom does for transit ridership. The end result is that social distance on buses may be much less this week than last week.

We also don’t know what ridership would have been like on Link if ST went back to the old pre-Connect-2020 schedule, which actually had a schedule. At publication time, ST has not provided a Link schedule to us for this week’s service change, but merely indicated that headway would be 14 minutes.

In another case of unfortunately poor timing, riders from freshly-truncated Metro route 255 will now be expected to transfer at UW Station, or increase crowding on other downtown-bound buses.

In one piece of good news, Metro has improved its text-for-departures program to remove cancelled runs. Text your bus stop ID # to 62550 to find out when the next bus will arrive.

Let’s crowdsource. Are your buses and trains more or less crowded than less week? Are you able to maintain social distance (6 feet) from other passengers while on transit, and while waiting for transit? Have you switched to other routes or other modes that allow you to maintain social distance? Are you prepared to bunker down at home for the next several months or maybe more than a year?

It’s beginning to look a lot like curfew

While Washington State was the earliest and hardest hit by covid-19, other states have jumped to higher levels of mandated social distancing faster.

By the end of this past weekend, the governors of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio had all issued stay-at-home orders for their population not involved in essential jobs. Update: The governors of Colorado, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, US Virgin Islands, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin have also now issued or announced they will issue stay-at-home orders for all residents in their state who don’t have essential jobs.

Each of these states have treated transit as an essential service. However, falling ridership and added expenses for cleansing against covid-19 have created a financial emergency for transit agencies, and so emergency service reductions have become the standard practice. Moreover, New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and many other transit agencies are begging the federal government for a bailout.

The City of Wuhan, where the outbreak started, actually shut transit and most other modes of transportation down for several weeks, in order to get the virus under control. With the rest of the world treating the virus less seriously, their sacrifice might have been in vain.

Major climate bills face Monday committee deadline

Monday, March 2, is the deadline for bills to get out of fiscal and transportation committees in Olympia. A slew of bills important to fighting the climate catastrophe, as well as clearing cheaters out of transit lanes, are up against this wall.

Both the House and Senate version of the bill to allow automated camera enforcement of some transit-only lanes have passed out of their original chamber. Bizarrely, both are having trouble getting out of the transportation committees in their second chamber. HB 1793 is scheduled for a vote in the Senate Transportation Committee Monday. SB 5789 is scheduled for a hearing in the House Transportation Committee today. Each has to get out of committee Monday.

Of much larger concern to those who want to see humanity survive the impending climate catastrophe, bills to require cars to emit less CO2, fuels to be less polluting, and to set an overall limit on the state’s emissions in line with 2018 science, are also having trouble getting to the floor of their second chambers. I covered these bills in a little more detail recently.

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Climate bills in Olympia: what’s moving, what’s delayed

Update: Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon updated the status of three of these bills in the Comments.

Rep. Vandana Slatter

A key bill to reset the state’s anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions reductions schedule to a more ambitious pace recommended by the State Department of Ecology, House Bill 2311, by Rep. Vandana Slatter (D – Bellevue) is running up against a deadline to get out of the House Appropriations Committee.

The bill would set deadlines for reducing the state government’s and overall carbon dioxide emissions, culminating in a 2050 deadline for carbon neutrality, with carbon sequestration taken into account.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a stark report in 2018 calling for such a rapid emissions reduction. Achieving worldwide reduction goals will, as a matter of political reality, require those states and nations that can reduce emissions faster to do so. A similar bill failed last year, putting even Washington State behind the scientists’ called-for schedule.

The deadline to get out of committee is Tuesday, and the bill has already been pulled from the committee’s action lists twice.

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Cyclists to bear brunt of light rail operational changes, starting this morning

video by Robert Svercl

Connect 2020‘s first full closure of the downtown transit tunnel is behind us. Now, we settle in for 10 weeks of tighter, more crushloaded trains during peak periods, longer waiting time especially during peak, a mid-line forced transfer across a temporary center platform at Pioneer Square Station, and a ban on bikes on the train between University Street Station and International District / Chinatown Station.

For the duration of Connect 2020, all trains will be four cars, and will come roughly every 12 minutes (and hopefully less “roughly” as the days progress). This means there will be an increase in off-peak capacity, and a significant decrease in peak-hour capacity. Passengers in the downtown tunnel may also have to use a different platform than they are used to, and it may switch from time to time. Signage and staff will be on hand to point the way, along with automated announcements. Please spread out along the entire length of the platform to fill the four train cars evenly, and stay out of the priority seating area, so wheelchairs users, riders in scooters, and others who need it can board quickly.

King County Metro is helping out by adding more buses on routes 7, 36, 48, 49, and 70, as alternatives to taking Link.

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Link FREE this weekend for tunnel closure

The ten-week period of construction work to install East Link track and switches in International-District/Chinatown Station, a project Sound Transit has dubbed “Connect 2020“, has arrived.

Operational nuisances begin today and tomorrow with a full closure of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Just like happened a couple weekends last fall, shuttles will run every 7 minutes between SODO Station and Capitol Hill Station, and serve temporary bus stops at each station in between. Link will run every 10 minutes on tunnel closure days.

Both the shuttles and Link will be free all weekend. ST staff will be available at both Capitol Hill Station and SODO Station to answer questions.

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Intercity Transit rolls out fare freedom, and schools King County on performance metrics

Happy New Year!

Today, Thurston County Intercity Transit is embarking on a five-year pilot program to run without fares. That means both their fixed-route buses and paratransit (which, by federal law, cannot charge more than twice the fixed-route fare) will be free.

This experiment is not a dive off the ideological deep end, but, rather, the result of using proper performance metrics. From IT’s fare page:

Fares account for less than 2 percent of our net revenue. After considering the capital and operational costs of a new system, the difference is negligible. The opportunity to offer faster service, increase ridership, improved access and equity is a far better investment. 

It seems that Intercity Transit was following my advice to use the proper performance metric — net fare revenue — or that that performance metric is so obvious that many wise minds think alike. (I’m not necessarily counting myself as one of the wise guys.)

King County Metro continues to base fare policy on the much less useful datapoint of gross fare revenue.

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Free Metro rides New Years Eve / Holiday service changes / long-term Link pain

King County Metro and Seattle Streetcars will be allowing riders to ride for free from 7 pm on New Year’s Eve, 2019, to 4 am on New Year’s Day, 2020. This is just for King County Metro (including Via to Transit, Community Van, Community Ride, and Access) and the streetcars, not other agencies, nor for the King County water taxis. In particular, ST Express, Link Light Rail, Sounder, the ferries, and the monorail will be charging fare. However, the monorail now accepts ORCA, and honors ORCA transfers and passes.

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Improving 60/107 frequency to match Link, virtually for free

passengers leaving Beacon Hill Station / photo by SDOT

One of the best improvements in the recent Metro service change was the one that cost essentially nothing: re-timing route 60 and 107 schedules on evenings and weekends to create combined 15-minute headway on the 15th Ave S corridor between Beacon Hill Station and Georgetown.

There is more scheduling cleverness still to be milked out of scheduling inefficiency on this corridor.

The Georgetown diversion

The most obvious opportunity is to remove the Georgetown diversionary loop on route 107, which currently has the unfortunate effect of adding several minutes to the commutes of students going to and from school at Cleveland High School and Mercer Middle School. Even when Cleveland students get out at the stop before the Georgetown diversion and hike along the narrow sidewalk the last few blocks, it still adds a few minutes.

The Georgetown loop increases the total time it takes to drive each run by approximately 10%. In the process, it likely causes a non-trivial loss in ridership, for reasons similar to the old Veterans Administration Medical Center loop on route 60, but not quite as pronounced.

Weekday headway alignment

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How the County could reduce downtown gridlock and preserve more service

Author’s Note: SEPTA’s 50-cent electronic fare discount has been added since the original post, thanks to an observant commenter.

King County Metro is at the mercy of cities for giving right-of-way and signal priority to buses, at the mercy of the State (and Tim Eyman) for being allowed to ask for local tax revenue, at the mercy of a more generous federal government for subsidization, and at the mercy of thousands of daily riders to choose to put the speed of buses over their personal convenience when they choose which way to pay their fare.

A very direct way to reduce bus dwell time would be for King County Metro to finally incentivize non-cash payment on all trips, with a lower electronic (ORCA and smartphone) fare than the cash fare.

Louisville’s new MyTARC card, saving users 25 cents per ride over paying with cash

Thirteen other urban US bus agencies have figured this out:

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First regular weekday of tolling in the Highway 99 tunnel

Tolling in the new Highway 99 tunnel has finally started. Today is the first regular weekday commute to feel the impacts (as yesterday was Veterans Day).

WSDOT is encouraging tunnel users to avail themselves of the Good-to-Go Pass, by giving pass users a $2 discount. (If only someone could explain this principle to King County Metro and/or the County Council…)

Tolls are as follows:

  • $1.00, weekends and 11 pm to 6 am
  • $1.25, 9 am to 3 pm and 6 pm to 11 pm
  • $1.50, 7 am to 9 am
  • $2.25, 3 pm – 6 pm
  • $2.00, for not using the Good-to-Go Pass

Let’s talk about what you see happening today. Are there any impacts to your bus route?

One thing that will impact bus routes today will be the Sounders’ MLS Cup Victory Parade, which will take over 4th Ave from sometime before noon, when the parade is scheduled to start at Westlake Plaza, until 1:30 pm, when the parade terminates at the Seattle Center.

If you haven’t already signed up for travel alerts specific to your route, now is a good time to do so.

This is an open thread.