Test drive: GIG carshare

Still actively discouraged from taking the bus, I had the opportunity to try out Gig car share recently. While the overall experience won’t surprise any Car2Go/ReachNow/ShareNow user since they ditched the smart cars, there are a few changes that might give the venture a chance where others failed.

The ride

Finding a car on the app has a similar interface to the old apps. You can reserve it up to a half hour before your trip starts. I had several cars to choose from within easy walking distance in the Volunteer Park area. It was a much less frustrating experience that my past troubles in the Columbia City Station area, but that could be a function of geography and the pandemic.

The experience is entirely keyless. Everything is done with the app, but you can ask for a keycard if you don’t have a smartphone.

All 250 cars are Toyota Prius. This is Seattle, so you’ve all ridden in a Prius before.


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TBD headed to the ballot

As expected, the Seattle Council approved a November ballot measure to renew its
Transportation Benefit District 9-0 and preserve existing Metro service. The real action was in the amendments. (The discussion begins at 1:11:00 in the video above).

The expiring measure included a 0.1% sales tax and $60 vehicle license fee. As the latter may not be legal due to I-976, there was debate about increasing the sales tax rate. Regrettably, the amendment to raise the rate to 0.2% lost 5-4. Morales, Sawant, Mosqueda, and Strauss voted for the higher rate.

However, a compromise measure for a 0.15% increase passed 8-1, with only Pedersen opposed.

An amendment to extend the measure to a 6-year package, expiring in April 2027, passed 5-4, with Morales, Sawant, Lewis, and Gonzalez opposed. Detractors focused on the imperfection of a city measure with regressive revenue tools, and sought to create a “sense of urgency” for something better. Proponents argued, correctly, that 2024 is the right time to try a county measure, and that a city measure expiring concurrently would provide no contigency for a county failure. Move Seattle also expires in 2024, creating more traffic on the ballot.

There was maneuvering around the limits on various special accounts for West Seattle buses, free and reduced price ORCA, and the like. In the end, “essential workers” (in the pandemic sense) became eligible for ORCA subsidy.

Seattle TBD vote is today

Seattle City Council (32884844902)

Today at 2pm, the Seattle Council is voting to send renewal of the Transportation Benefit District (TBD) to the November ballot. As eight of nine council members are already on record in support, passage of something is inevitable. The uncertain parts are what amendments will go with it.

The baseline legislation is a renewal of the 0.1% sales tax for 4 years. This is a significant cut from the status quo both because it doesn’t include the vehicle license fee from 2014, but also because sales tax revenues have fallen sharply.

  • Amendment 1 would extend the term to six years.
  • Amendment 2 would raise the sales tax rate to 0.2%; this roughly replaces the lost vehicle license revenue for a typical level of economic activity.
  • Amendment 3 would extend the ORCA opportunity program from seniors, youth, and low income people to include “essential workers” as commonly understood during the pandemic.

Amendment 2 is clearly an effort to devote more resources to transit, which is straightforward for advocates. Amendment 1 depends on your read of the political and legal situation. Amendment 3 is a difficult tradeoff between social justice objectives and getting as much bus service as possible on the road.

There are also rumors of an amendment to split the difference at 0.15%.

You can sign up to testify, beginning at 12pm, here.

King County letter cracks door for regional TBD

Seattle - City Hall Park & King County Courthouse P

A letter from King County Executive Dow Constantine and four Councilmembers (Balducci, Dembowski, Upthegrove, Kohl-Welles) expressed support for the Seattle Transportation District (TBD) effort, while pledging to pursue a countywide measure “at an appropriate time.”

The letter is delicately balanced between applauding Seattle’s effort to maintain service, while stressing the need for a regional measure “to provide the greatest mobility, equity, economic, and sustainability benefits.”

It specifically mentions the importance of “the equity and sustainability goals included in King County Metro’s Mobility Framework,” the agency’s (quite good) service allocation formula.

And then it makes its offer:

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News roundup: traffic is back

Dungeness Line (Olympic Bus Lines) bus at King Street Station

This is an open thread.

News roundup: do better

King County Metro 2015 New Flyer XDE35 3713
Zach Heistand/Flickr

This is an open thread.

Maximizing ridership is easy

There’s a certain thread of argument in transit advocacy that is frustrating because it is totally factually accurate, and yet completely misses the point. The latest example is this report on American light rail by the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, called The Economics of Urban Light Rail: A Guide for Planners and Citizens.

America has way fewer light rail boardings per route-mile than Europe and Canada. However, Seattle does well, one of only 5 in the US to have more than 3,000. No surprise: the strongest indicators of success are frequency and density around stations, two standards Link currently meets.

Continue reading “Maximizing ridership is easy”

Metro asks to defer driver raises

Mike Lindblom and Heidi Groover report ($) that King County Executive Dow Constantine wants to reopen February’s collective bargaining agreement that grants ATU-587 raises of 3% the next two years and 4% in 2022-23.

The Union has good reason to consider it. With revenues collapsing and service cuts coming in September, layoffs appear inevitable. Lower pay would mean more service, and thus more jobs. This would incidentally be better for riders.

Both a pay freeze and layoffs are, of course, at the expense of people so recently hailed as heroes for risking themselves in the pandemic, with two fatalities and numerous drivers infected. ATU 587 argues, correctly, that if Metro exhausts its rainy day fund, CARES Act funding, and Seattle passes a TBD extension, it can kick the can down the road past the end of the CBA.

That might store up trouble for later. But stalling actually worked in the great recession, when various minor efficiencies (and a steep fare increase) more or less kept service cuts at bay until the accelerating economy made them unnecessary.

News roundup: moving up

Save our Metro!
Oran Viriyincy/Flickr (2011)

This is an open thread.

All news is bad news

West Seattle - east side of California Ave looking north, south of The Junction 01

Last month’s Times story that rents are dropping in West Seattle ($) since the bridge closed spurs two thoughts.

There’s something honorable about journalism that always tries to find the person who is hurt in any change to the status quo, so that readers can understand the human costs. But there’s also something perverse about spending years lamenting the “crisis” in housing affordability, and then went rent falls, centering the losses of the poor, poor landlords.

“In my 30 years of owning buildings, I’ve never experienced what I’m experiencing in West Seattle,” said landlord Morris Groberman, who owns four buildings in West Seattle and several dozen other apartments across the region. “It’s absolutely bleak.”

Relatedly, the easiest way to keep rent affordable and avoid “gentrification” is to not improve the neighborhood. A place with good transportation options, good schools, good jobs, and minimal crime is going to attract newcomers in a context of overall population growth. To avoid the tragedy of displacing people already there, there will either have to be deteriorating conditions or more housing. Personally, I prefer the latter.

News roundup: TV star

Life in downtown Seattle is slowed down with many businesses still closed due to Covid 19 shutdown.

This is an open thread.

East-West Rail study: small project, small impact

Study corridor in Yellow.

A state study of passenger rail service via Stampede Pass (report, slides) reveals options that are relatively inexpensive but also not ambitious enough to provide competitive options between cities.

The most expansive option would run Spokane to Seattle with a running time of 8:35 (!). As with any indirect route, it mostly has to be about travel between the intermediate cities, not the endpoints: indeed, travel within the Yakima valley comprises much of the ridership. If this route were operating twice a day in a Covid-free 2020, it would draw 205,000 annual riders – or about a quarter of what Amtrak Cascades serves in a typical year with more trains serving bigger population centers. 97% of these riders would not go east of Pasco.

This line would cost $137m in new stations and track improvements, $253m for trainsets, and a net annual operating subsidy of $23m. Shortening the line or running once a day has the impacts you might expect. However, a Pasco terminus (running time: 6:05), while not a cheaper capital project, hits a sweet spot by lowering operating costs without much loss of riders.

These are not huge numbers as capital projects go, and surveys indicate significant local interest in trying out this service. Nevertheless, the travel times are not competitive with driving. Trains have advantages over intercity buses, but such an extreme time penalty suggests Washington either expand those buses or consider a much more ambitious rail program to achieve higher operating speeds.

Last year’s transportation appropriations bill funded the $250,000 study. Today, only the Empire Builder connects Spokane with both Seattle and Portland (7.5 hours), but only once a day and not scheduled for the convenience of Seattle-Spokane passengers. Zach and Bruce Nourish wrote up the potential of this corridor 4 years ago.

News roundup: already

Rainier Square Tower, May 2020 from 4th Avenue and Union Street

This is an open thread.

The bikes are back

Monica Nickelsburg reports that the Jump bikes, now acquired by Lime but, confusingly, still painted red and using the Jump Uber app, are back on the streets this week.

Credit: Jump

The Lime brand has largely pivoted to scooters worldwide, but here in Seattle they’re still waiting for the City to figure out how scooter permits will work. “Hopefully we will see scooters in the next couple of months”, said Jonathan Hopkins, Director of Strategic Development at Lime.

The initial deployment of 500 bikes, all electric, will cost $1 plus 36 cents per minute to rent. This is quite a bit more than Lime’s rate last summer of 25 cents per mile minute. But then again, transit alternatives have deteriorated a bit, in both frequency and perceived safety. For comparison, a typical UberX fare might be $2.20 plus $1.60 per mile, which may be a wash depending on how fast you ride, and how much you mind being in a car with a stranger.

I don’t know how this will play out. I thought that the killer app for these bikes was the last mile to and from transit services, but that’s less compelling now for several reasons. Are there enough people moving around our denser areas in situations where a personal bike, car, or taxi service aren’t more economical, convenient, and hygenic?

News roundup: more

Closed section on Link light rail train due to COVID-19 pandemic

This is an open thread.

Metro recovery starts Monday

King County Metro

Metro announced yesterday that it is largely restoring pre-pandemic service levels on Monday:

The result is Metro will operate more than 11,000 weekday bus trips, or 85% of its pre-COVID service level. Saturday service will be 8,200 trips (99%) and Sunday service will be 7,000 trips (99%). Starting Monday, Metro’s will increase the number of transit operators providing service from 64% to about 80% of pre-COVID levels.

Ridership is still down about 70%, but King County is likely to enter Phase 2 soon and have activity pick up. Quite a few non-core routes will remain shut down, but many peak expresses will return.

The South Lake Union Streetcar and Trailhead Direct will not operate. Metro promises the Reduced Schedule and Canceled Trips pages will have specific weekday schedule information on Saturday.

As September’s service change will cut about 15% off last January’s route network, we may be at this service level for quite some time, and worse off on weekends.

News roundup: no more

Closed seats on King County Metro bus due to COVID-19 pandemic

This is an open thread.

The “recovery fare”

On June 1st, Sound Transit instituted a “recovery fare” of $1 on Link and $2 on Sounder through June 30th, after a period of not collecting fares at all. ORCA is still charged at the normal rate; cheaper fares are only available through ticket machines or the TransitGO App. Early reports say 19% of Link boardings are using this fare. Thanks to social distance measures, mere possession of a ORCA card will satisfy enforcement.

This will make a little money. However, this is clearly intended to also deter a growing hygeine and security problem. ECB discussed this purpose at length and pointed out that the collateral damage includes people who are homeless seeking a warm and dry place.

An internal Sound Transit chart obtained by STB indicates a legitimate problem:

HW = headways
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Swift picks a Link extension

Community Transit

After almost four months of consideration, Community Transit announced that it has picked the route to extend the Swift Blue Line to intersect with Link. It will maintain a stop at Aurora Village Transit Center, as shown above. Alternatives would have continued on Aurora, skipping the transit center.

Meridian is a residential street less likely to experience traffic. Survey respondents prioritized “maintaining bus-to-bus connections at Aurora Village Transit Center.” However, most, but not all, routes that serve the Transit Center would still have had easy transfer points had Swift continued on Aurora. It’s ultimately hard to gauge the transfer opportunities until Metro chooses a service plan after Lynnwood Link.

Moreover, an Aurora Avenue/185th routing would have been more direct, used existing and planned BAT lanes, served a wider variety of land uses, and conveniently connected them to the Link station. Some of these benefits assume that CT would place relatively expensive Swift stations to serve riders to which it is not accountable.

While the relative travel times with 2024 traffic patterns are uncertain, it appears the speed advantages of an Aurora alignment are more likely to be more important for future CT riders than the transfer opportunities, despite the survey conclusion. While by no means a catastrophe for anyone, most future riders are likely to regret this decision.