Eliminating cash fares

Erica has an excellent overview of Metro’s latest report on the possibility:

In a recent report on the future of Metro’s fare system, the agency outlined its plans for smoothing the transition to eliminating cash fares, which—according to Metro—will make boarding faster, ease conflicts between riders and drivers, and eliminate the need to periodically repair Metro’s 1,509 on-board fareboxes, which are a decades-old model that is no longer being produced. Replacing fareboxes with new ones that accommodate cash payments would cost around $29 million, Metro estimates—a substantial cost for a system that is still recovering from the pandemic. Cash riders also have to pay a second fare to transfer to Sound Transit trains and buses, a problem that will only become more acute as Metro terminates more routes at light rail stations.

The flip side is access: many people simply don’t have ORCA cards. It would be impossible to even contemplate until next-gen ORCA is more widespread. Getting ORCA cards into more pockets is always a good thing, and if this facilitates wider distribution of ORCA LIFT and other similar low-income programs, all the better.

New ORCA app and website coming next month

MyORCA.com:

Beginning in May 2022, the new myORCA mobile app and website will make paying for transit rides in the Puget Sound region faster and easier.

Later in 2022, we’re adding more retail locations where you can buy and reload ORCA cards and launching a new card design.

MyORCA replaces the aging orcacard.com and orcacard.biz sites, which was never really usable on mobile phones (and barely usable on desktops). It will include exciting new features like instant fare uploading. There will be a virtual open house on May 4 to learn more.

It’s the first milestone for the next-generation ORCA system. Previous coverage of next-generation ORCA here and here.

Local agencies lift mask requirements

After a somewhat confused day of messaging, all local transit agencies jointly lifted their mask requirements after a federal judge knocked down the CDC’s rule. David Kroman in the Times:

Immediately after the Monday ruling, Seattle-area agencies largely kept their current policies in place, albeit without strong enforcement mechanisms. By late Monday and early Tuesday, however, that shifted.

Eight Seattle-area transit agencies — Community TransitEverett TransitKing County MetroKitsap TransitPierce TransitSeattle Department of Transportation, Seattle Center Monorail and Sound Transit — said in a joint statement Tuesday that masks are now optional.

The rule was set to expire on May 3. The administration may appeal.

Put First Hill back on the table?

As Sound Transit has moved the West Seattle-Ballard Link Extension (WSBLE) through the EIS process, several challenges have emerged, with early concerns focused on the Ballard and West Seattle termini. These are nowhere near solved, but a compromise alignment seems within reach.

The middle of the line is another question: serious disruption in Chinatown / ID, deep stations with poor transfers, and some really complicated maneuvering and bridging required in SODO to add a second set of tracks that isn’t strictly necessary. Meanwhile, the only palatable option in CID, a shallow 4th Avenue station, adds $500M to the project budget and has some nasty impacts.

So, since it’s Saturday and we’re waiting for the EIS comment period to close, let us indulge ourselves in an alternative alignment through downtown that avoids some of these problems.

Continue reading “Put First Hill back on the table?”

Diagramming station depths

Sound transit has a blog post up that pairs well with our recent discussions of transfers and deep stations:

As people have begun to study the recently published Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), some have wondered about the depths of the stations and what the rider experience would be like to access the platforms and transfer between lines.

There are several factors in the Downtown segment that influence the depths of the tunnel stations.

In addition to physical considerations like existing terrain, soil properties, and existing underground infrastructure or building foundations, geometric design constraints imposed by the depths of adjacent stations also may determine how deep underground a station must be built.

Click through for a visual comparison of the station depths. You can see that a “shallow” station on 4th in the CD would be deeper than Capitol Hill, for example. Or that a deep station in the CID would require an even deeper Midtown one.

Regarding Midtown, one interesting idea that’s stuck with me is, given the steepness of the hill, a street-level entrance on 2nd & Madison, with a long pedestrian tunnel, could connect directly to a 5th & Madison station that would otherwise be only accessible by elevator.

No good options in CID

Lizz Giordano, South Seattle Emerald:

The CID is preparing for a messy buildout for the West Seattle-Ballard Light Rail Extension that will run a second set of tracks through the neighborhood. After weighing options studied in a newly released planning document, many in the CID say the choice is clear: lay tracks under 4th Avenue to avoid taking land from the Chinatown Historic District.

The existing light rail line, with its 19 stations including the existing one in the CID, began operating in 2009 and now runs from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to Northgate. For the new extensions, Sound Transit is considering building the CID station below 4th or 5th Avenues, just south of Jackson Street not far from the existing light rail station. Only the route along 4th Avenue bypasses the neighborhood, preserving buildings in the CID. 

Sound Transit sill has fourth options for Chinatown / International District (CID). 4th or 5th Avenues, deep or shallow stations. None of them are great. Deep stations have crappy transfers to the existing CID station. Shallow stations are very disruptive, as the article suggests. 4th Avenue adds half a billion in costs (roughly the cost of a West Seattle tunnel). could displace Metro’s Ryerson Base, and would make Stadium Station permanently inaccessible for riders coming North from Tacoma / Ranier Valley. Here are the gory details from the Draft EIS:

Chinatown residents have a strong case that 5th Avenue would be devastating to the neighborhood, and the result would only be marginally beneficial for a neighborhood that already has excellent transit access. While shallow stations are disruptive, deep stations completely fail to offer acceptable transfer options between the 1 Line and the 3 Line. If I were Mayor Harrell, newly installed on the Sound Transit board, I’d be prodding city and ST staff for more creative options here.

Commute Seattle’s 2021 mode survey

Madeline Feig, Commute Seattle blog:

However, the pandemic significantly altered travel behavior, and this year’s data broke from these historic trends. Comparing 2019 to 2021, the share of remote work among all Downtown commuter modes increased by 36 percentage points, to 43.3% of all surveyed trips. The percentage of transit trips, once at an eight-year high, dropped from nearly 50% to 18%. Walk/bike and rideshare trips decreased slightly, while the percentage of those driving alone to work remained flat.

The chart above puts in context what I think we all know anecdotally to be true: working from home soared, while transit use cratered.

Seeing these numbers and reading about more employees opting to work from home, I began to worry about the future of the ORCA Business Passport program, which sustains so much of transit agencies’ revenue. So I phoned Madeline Feig to ask whether commuter benefit programs were at risk of being slashed.

Feig noted that Seattle’s Commuter Benefit Ordinance, which went into effect just about the time Covid started showing up in the US, requires “businesses with 20 or more employees… to offer their employees the opportunity to make a monthly pre-tax payroll deduction for transit or vanpool expenses.” For many businesses, especially small ones, offering an ORCA card is the simplest way of complying with the law. No complicated reimbursement forms required.

WA Dems propose a $16B transpo package

I-405 near Canyon Park. Photo by SounderBruce

Marko Liias:

OLYMPIA – On Tuesday, Senate and House Transportation Committee Chairs Sen. Marko Liias, D – Everett, and Rep. Jake Fey, D – Tacoma, unveiled Senate Bills 5974 and 5975 and House Bills 2118 and 2119 — Move Ahead Washington — a 16-year transportation proposal for Washington state.

The $16 billion package provides historic funding for preserving our infrastructure, combating climate change by reducing emissions, expanding safe, affordable transit options, and addressing harm caused in communities of color from our existing transportation system.

There are technically two distinct bills here being yoked together. One would direct about $5B collected via the Climate Commitment Act towards transit and multimodal projects. This represents an unprecedented investment in transit from a state government that has traditionally left such things up to local jurisdictions. It includes operating funds, free youth passes and a down payment on some unspecified high-speed rail projects.

The second would take $11B from various sources (notably NOT a new gas tax) and direct it towards (mostly) highway projects, including a significant amount of highway widening.

Full lists of projects and revenue sources here. More coverage from the Times.

Real-time info will get better next year

Zee Shaner, writing on the Sound Transit blog:

Shortly after the Northgate, Roosevelt and U District stations opened in October, riders quickly noticed that next train information had disappeared from 1 Line platform digital signs. Passengers wondered why it was ‘broken’ and when we could ‘get it working again’.  

We want to clarify that the system is working just as it always has, but we made the deliberate decision to turn it off until its replacement arrives in the spring.   

Why would we turn it off? 

A well-written piece that answers a lot of questions readers have been asking on Twitter and here on the comment threads.

Inslee’s housing and climate proposals

From the Governor’s blog:

Gov. Jay Inslee’s 2022 supplemental budget proposes significant funding to reduce poverty, increase housing and resources for homeless individuals, expand K-12 learning supports, invest in clean transportation and green economy, decarbonize buildings, and protect salmon habitat.

The governor released his budget in Olympia on Thursday and was joined by David Schumacher, director of the state Office of Financial Management. The full budget presentation followed three events earlier in the week, with new salmon investmentsclimate strategy investments and homelessness funding.

The climate strategy includes lots of electrical decarbonization efforts, including a $1,000 tax credit rebate for e-bikes, and up to $7,500 for electric cars. There’s also an unspecified investment in “clean bus technology, and improvements to transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.”

On the housing front, there’s $800M to build new affordable housing and help people stay in their homes, and, of note to our readers, a proposal to legalize “missing middle” housing types:

Inslee is proposing a change to statewide policy that would allow for creation of a greater variety of “middle housing” types such as duplexes and townhomes in areas within a half mile of major transit stops in large cities. This change will also allow duplexes in most areas of large and mid-size cities. The state will provide technical assistance, including developing a model ordinance, to help cities implement these new measures.

One can dream that eventually “housing” and “climate” will cease to be discrete initiatives in the minds of our politicians (and voters). But good stuff nonetheless. On to the legislature.

More reporting and commentary: Seattle Times, Publicola, The Urbanist.

How to park at Northgate Station

Something else debuted this month alongside three new Link stations. Can you guess what it was? No? Surprise: it was Sound Transit’s first parking garage inside the Seattle city limits.

Woo-hoo?

Now, the official position of Seattle Transit Blog is that building parking garages near train stations is generally not the best use of taxpayer money (sometime obscenely wasteful, in fact). But of course Sound Transit, the board, and probably a healthy chunk of the electorate disagrees with us here, so ST continues to build parking garages, making gradual steps to even charge for their usage.

So ideally you should walk, bike, bus or roll to the station. But let’s say you’ve decided to take a car, because, say, an unscrupulous real estate agent sold you a house with “close to light rail” in the description when in fact the nearest station was 40 minutes away via an infrequent bus line.

Whatever your reasons, you’ll find several parking garages and lots in the immediate vicinity of the station.

  • The Metro Park & Ride (one corner of which is slated to become affordable housing, after much back and forth)
  • Thornton Place (the movie theater)
  • Northgate Mall (first two levels)
  • And a brand new Sound Transit-built garage, which we have written about going back nearly a decade.

Most of the lots are free to park. Just don’t park in mall parking. The exception is Sound Transit’s, which charges $15 but only on the top floor, attempting to ensure at least some weekday availability for commuters.

Speaking of which, there’s something humorous (to me, at least) about the signage, which refers to all riders as “commuters.” Sound Transit’s singular focus on work trips as the main reason one might ride public transit trickles all the way down to the wayfinding department, apparently.

When I visited, during a Husky game, one of the Northgate lots was selling Husky game parking. Maybe car-storage next to a train station is worth paying for after all?

Eastside’s exclusionary community council is on the ballot

The Houghton Community Council, which controls land use and other policies for a large chunk of central Kirkland, is up for renewal in November. We wrote about the HCC (and its sibling, the East Bellevue Community Council) back in 2017, when it was working to water down mixed-use development near the Google campus:

The Kirkland City Council has yet to review the proposal, but can only rubber stamp it (a first study session is scheduled for Tuesday). The undersized zoning changes are the creation of the Houghton Community Council (HCC). The HCC has veto power over land use changes in most of Kirkland south of 68th St, and will block any Kirkland Council action that differs from their proposal.

Community Councils (“municipal corporations” in state law) were authorized by the Legislature in 1967 to ease annexation into larger cities, and were generally viewed as transitional arrangements. There were never many, and most were dissolved over time even though state law does not require a sunset. Just two remain. The Houghton Council dates to the annexation of the city of Houghton to Kirkland in 1968. 

It’s worth emphasizing that these CC’s aren’t like the informal advisory boards that exist in Seattle. They have real power, and the ~10,000 residents of Houghton vote every four years to retain that power, inequitable as it may be. This time around, there’s an active campaign against renewal. From the “No on 1” website:

Continue reading “Eastside’s exclusionary community council is on the ballot”

Sound Transit begins new fare ambassador pilot

Sound Transit:

The Fare Ambassador Pilot Program grew out of passenger feedback and community engagement that expressed discomfort with fare enforcement officers who resemble law enforcement. In response, Fare Ambassadors wear bright yellow caps, and carry yellow messenger bags that make them easy to recognize. Their focus is on passenger education and customer service rather than enforcement, with particular emphasis on how to purchase ORCA cards and passes and how income-eligible passengers can obtain ORCA LIFT cards.

“We want all passengers to feel comfortable asking Fare Ambassadors for assistance, whether they need help getting to their destination, or they’re having trouble purchasing fare,” said Sound Transit Chief Passenger Experience and Innovation Officer Russ Arnold. “Fare Ambassadors are here to provide help.”

Riders can expect to see the yellow caps starting this week. Read our previous coverage of fare enforcement here.

News Roundup: coming back

This is an open thread

Know any good writers?

As you may have noticed, August was extra quiet here at STB. This is the result of combination of factors hitting all at once, including some of our contributors moving on to other priorities.

But September is here, Northgate Link is less than 30 days away, and we’re back, or at least we aim to be. But we need your help. If you have ever thought “hey, it might be interesting to write something for STB,” now is the time! Drop us an email, contact@seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com.

PS: to clarify, we’re mostly interested right now in volunteer / unpaid submissions, although we are ramping up our ability to offer paid freelance assignments as well. More to say on that in the future!

Link frequencies will increase on June 12

Sound Transit:

Good news, Link riders: light rail frequency will increase starting June 12. 

Link will run every eight minutes during peak hours and every 10 minutes during midday and weekends to help passengers get where they want to go – and return to their normal routines. 

During late evenings, Link will run every 15 minutes.

Currently, Link runs every 12 minutes during peak hours and every 15 minutes during off-peak hours, with frequency every 30 minutes in late evenings.

One more step towards normal.