News roundup: bonfire of the Limebikes

Bikes and Transit
Paul Kimo McGregor/Flickr

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News roundup: outer counties

King County Water Taxi Seattle
Paul Kimo McGregor/Flickr

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Comment on the Sound Transit 2020 SIP

It’s Service Implementation Plan time again. The 2020 (draft) version of the plan has three fairly significant bus route changes:

  1. The 540 and 541, both variations on a line from the U-District to the Eastside, would go away in favor of the 544, a Microsoft-SLU run with a few key stops in between. It would run every 15 minutes in the peak.
  2. Weekend 577 trips would continue on from Federal Way to go to Auburn, to increase frequency between the two cities.
  3. Route 566 would abandon 2 stops on I-405.

The first change certainly opens up a lot of interesting transfer opportunities. Although midday and weekend frequencies aren’t high enough to make it work, the emerging system certainly resembles canonical “open BRT” with relatively clear right-of-way on the 520 bottleneck and tendrils fanning out to UW, Downtown, SLU, Kirkland, Redmond, and Bellevue.

You can take a survey or show up for the Oct. 3 public hearing at 12:30 at Union Station.

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ShareNow, regulation, and the future

SounderBruce / Flickr

The “carshare” business (free-floating, short-term rentals) is on the ropes. ReachNow is long gone. Limepod is closing its Seattle operation in December. The survivor, ShareNow (née Car2Go), is pulling out of 5 North American cities including Portland. A few weeks ago, ShareNow rolled out its $4.99 fee to park outside of high-traffic areas, and “up to” $4.99 credit to move it back in, in an effort to cover some costs. It’s enough for some to decide the business model is in a death spiral.

That would be a shame, because carshare has some societal benefits. It changes driving from a large fixed cost to an incremental one, which should discourage driving. It also eliminates one of the main objections to getting rid of a car entirely. So it’d be nice to keep these businesses around or create a public equivalent.

At the moment, we don’t really know if the business model is sustainable, because the current market is shaped by lossmaking “rideshare” providers flooding the market with cheap door-to-door service. As with anything unsustainable, this will one day end and leave one of three equilibria:

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News Roundup: skyrocketing

Buses severely backed up by the rally
Spencer Thomas/Flickr

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News roundup: setback

Summer Shoes and a Pair of Wellies
prima seadiva/Flickr

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ST adds new light rail options to the mix

West Seattle Junction from above (SounderBruce)

At the direction of the Sound Transit board, staff studied several new ST3 alignment options to the same level of design as existing options. They looked at new variants at Delridge, Sodo, and in the core of Ballard. They presented the result to the system expansion committee yesterday.

Delridge

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News roundup: problematic

South Bellevue Station (SounderBruce/Wikimedia)

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Link Transit expanding

Link Transit’s electric bus in Wenatchee (SounderBruce/Wikimedia Commons)

In a ballot measure that escaped our notice, on August 6 voters in Chelan and Douglas Counties approved a two-phase sales tax increase (by 12 points) to fund a service expansion. The first 0.1% will come into effect in January 2020, and the second in 2022. The current rate is 0.4% out of a possible 0.9%.

Link Transit

Next July, the agency promises increases in Saturday service. If they are able to fill open positions, Link will also start running service on Sundays. For urbanite tourists, Sunday service opens up a wealth of possibilities to get around the area after traveling to Wenatchee without a car, which is not difficult.

You can find more details about Link Transit’s plan for the next few years here.

News Roundup: a new name

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ShareNow corner cases

Earlier this month, ShareNow announced a tiered pricing model where drives that left a car outside an inner “Zone A” would incur a $4.95 surcharge, and drives that brought cars back into Zone A would receive a credit of “up to” $4.95.

A spokesperson from ShareNow confirmed that the latter phrasing simply meant that the credit cannot exceed the actual cost of the trip. That is, a $3.00 ride from Zone B to Zone A would receive a credit of $3.

For many regular commuters between Zones A and B, then, this should turn out to be a wash. But the coarseness of this price signal has created some odd boundary conditions. A person that is a $3 ride away from a Link station in the boundary will continually incur $4.95 charges out and only $3 credits in.

These second-order details will get swamped by larger arguments about equity and economic sustainability, but I suspect they may also result in some unintended consequences. A simple tweak to the policy — limiting the surcharge to 100% of the cost of the trip — would remove this problem.

News roundup: worthwhile Canadian initiative

SounderBruce [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

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News roundup: catching fire

SounderBruce [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

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Tweaks to Union Street, 4th Avenue

SDOT’s spot improvements program continues to be the most effective engine for improving transit riders’ experience immediately. The diagram is self-explanatory.

SDOT

Item 1 will free up the lane from turners waiting for pedestrians. Items 2 and 3 will simply lower the number of cars in front of the bus. And number 4 will make it clearer that it’s not OK to loiter in the bus lane.

These changes will improve some old tunnel routes: the 41, 74, 76, 77, 101, 102, 150, 301, 312, 316, 522, and 550 all utilize some or all of this stretch of Union. The 4th Avenue change (which includes red paint on the curb) should also improve reliability for a great many routes.

If you have questions or comments, please contact local hero Jonathan Dong at jonathan.dong@seattle.gov or (206) 233-8564.

O’Brien, Pacheco want to improve the Seattle process

Mike O’Brien (seattle.gov)

Pro-transit, pro-bike, pro-density voters might be forgiven for thinking their vote and their input don’t really matter. We vote like-minded candidates into office, we pass taxes to fund forward-thinking transportation projects, and we participate in developing master plans. And then, when it’s time to actually take the road space for buses or bikes, a few neighbors complain, or sue, and SDOT chickens out. A handful of well-resourced reactionaries hold a veto on progress.

One of the more egregious instances of this was the demise of the 35th Avenue NE bike lane. Inspired by this debacle, outgoing Councilmember Mike O’Brien is trying to pass legislation this fall to give these plans force of law. Anytime SDOT spends $1m or more on a street with a bike lane in the master plan, it has to build the bike lane or write a letter to the Council explaining why they didn’t. This is pretty much what our own David Lawson proposed back in March.

Lester Black reports that Mayor Durkan, often blamed for what happened on 35th, supports the rule. So here’s hoping that there’s one less veto point for safe and rapid transportation. What Seattle needs is not more great plans, but reform of the institutions that block progress.

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News roundup: coming for the produce markets

The @KenmoreAir Streetcar at the Light
Avgeek Joe/Flickr

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Abandoned by the city, riders take matters into their own hands

Apparently fed up with rampant bus lane violations, an unidentified woman took the initiative last week and inspired equal parts of praise and outraged driver entitlement. She also inspired the Greenways movement to run a similar event Monday, which Heidi Groover covered ($).

Grasping the spirit of the moment, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff called them “heroes“. The organs of Seattle city government definitely did not:

SPD spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said frustrated transit riders should channel their feelings into “more productive’ efforts like lobbying lawmakers to allow camera enforcement. Whitcomb said bus-lane enforcement is “a regular area of focus’ for traffic officers but stationing officers on crowded downtown streets during rush hour can worsen congestion.

The city establishment feels the pressure to fix the bus lane problem and does what they do best — deflect blame to Olympia. Lobbying may or may not make things better eventually, but the bravery this week improved some bus commutes immediately.

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Passenger-miles matter, too

Low cost per rider, because it only takes them a mile. (Visitor7/wikimedia)

There is no transit performance metric quite like ridership. However, when any metric becomes the single point of evaluation, it can lead to bizarre conclusions.

Last month’s High Speed Rail study counted riders, and some readers couldn’t resist comparing the numbers to middling local transit routes. But it’s one thing to take riders between adjacent neighborhoods and another to deliver them 180 miles away.

A project’s cost, at a first approximation, is proportional to its length. Single-minded attention to cost per rider means never building a long-distance project at all, which is nonsensical. That’s not to say that passenger-miles is a perfect metric, either. It favors long-haul routes that are irrelevant to the spontaneous trips that enable urban living. But a comprehensive evaluation must consider both when the difference in spatial scales is this large.

Moreover, Seattle-area transit and HSR aren’t fiscally in tension with each other. A state subsidy to Puget Sound transit that actually moves the needle is inconceivable. Meanwhile, HSR could connect cities all around the state with the wealth centered in Seattle, at a time when it is increasingly hard to drive there. This aligns with Olympia’s traditional responsibility for intercity rail and bus, and offers a good value proposition to voters across the state.