How Metro bills SDOT for service

With Seattle and King County Metro renewing their partnership in the Transportation Benefit District, it’s interesting to track how the cost of service escalates over the years.

Metro bills SDOT based on actual expenses; SDOT pays an estimated cost and the the agencies reconcile the difference at the end of each year. There are three pieces to the City’s total bill:

  1. The actual cost of driving, maintaining, and fueling the buses;
  2. Amortization and depreciation of the buses themselves; and
  3. a credit for fares, based on the systemwide farebox recovery ratio.

Metro’s Jeff Switzer was able to give me the figures for 2019. They break down like this:

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News roundup: why transit is expensive

Sound Transit Link About to Leave Mount Baker Station

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Metro unveils new service criteria

150 to Seattle off I-5

After an eventful 2020, Metro has been taking a look at how it prioritizes routes. As first reported by Stephen Fesler, On January 27th it briefed King County’s Mobility and Environment committee on its progress and revealed a bit about the staff’s thinking.

It appears Metro’s top two investment priorities will remain reducing crowding and improving reliability.

The current service guidelines describe how the third priority works: each corridor has a score based on the corridor’s ridership potential (“corridor productivity”, 50%), service to low income and minority neighborhoods (“social equity”, 25%), and connecting key nodes in the county (“geographic value”, 25%). The point total puts the corridor into one of four frequency levels. Metro invests in the list of routes that fall below these target levels, not in order of combined score, but instead first the highest geographic values, followed by the highest corridor productivities, and then the remainder that presumably had high social equity scores.

Finally, routes that carry lots of rides per hour and/or passenger-miles per mile get whatever new money remains.

This system is quite subtle, but broadly speaking routes with high residential and job density but lowish frequency are likely to dominate the list, but of those the ones in sparsely-served areas are likely to be boosted first.

What might change?

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News roundup: not nearly enough

Intercity Transit Route 13 at the WA ST Legislature Bus Stop

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Bill would increase housing supply, needs your help

Washington State Capitol Legislative Building.jpg
CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

[UPDATE: Sources say HB1157 will be ruled “necessary to implement the budget,” which gives it some more time to live. But it still needs your help!]

Two companion bills, HB 1157 and SB 5390, would create incentives for local government to allow more housing, but at least one of them must emerge from its committee Monday (Finance and Ways and Means, respectively) to succeed in this session.

Both versions of the bill have a bipartisan group of sponsors. In the Senate, it’s Liias (D-Edmonds), Gildon (R-Puyallup), Nguyen (D-West Seattle), and Saldana (D-Rainier Valley). In the House, there are 18 sponsors from urban, suburban, and exurban districts, including Fitzgibbon, Harris-Talley, Hackney, Walen, and Ryu from Seattle and its inner suburbs. Thank your district’s delegation for its sponsorship!

The bill would allow cities or counties to create “real estate excise tax density incentive zones” where they get a portion of the REET proceeds. To qualify, the zone must allow “Single-family detached dwellings at a net density of at least six dwelling units per acre [1], duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, townhomes, accessory dwelling units, and courtyard apartments.” To qualify, cities and counties cannot allow the units to be short-term rentals for more than 30 days per year.

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New OneBusAway for iOS

There’s nothing that quite matches this community’s interests like open software in the service of transit. In a recent blog post, OneBusAway for Apple iOS maintainer Aaron Brethorst says that a complete rewrite of the software is ready for beta testing.

For most of you, know that beta testing will expose you to some bugs but help make the final product better.

For those of you who spend your lives gluing bits of software together, know that this new version is built on the ‘OBAKit’ library, which makes it much easier to build other real-time transit applications. There are certainly lots of rural transit agencies that don’t have the resources to deploy things of this nature, and this makes it easier for developers to apply their skills to help those in need.

HB 1304: the solution to the next problem

HB1304, which would allow existing monorail taxing authority to be used for light rail, happened to show signs of life at just about the time that ST3 projects sank into serious financial trouble. Inevitably, these two subjects have merged in the discourse. That’s unfortunate, because the bill is best thought of as solving a long-term structural problem rather than a current revenue shortfall. Transit advocates should seize the opportunity to clear this legislative veto point and then argue about how to use it.

The vision in 1994 (Link)

The design of Sound Transit is driven by the “spine” between Tacoma and Everett. The basic narrative is that local leaders in Pierce and Snohomish Counties thought, and continue to think, that light rail is important to the economic development of their core cities and convinced the legislature to authorize an agency large enough to take their interests into account. And so supermajorities in Seattle offset skepticism in outlying areas to allow each subarea to fund its stated priorities.

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News roundup: not as progressive

Grays Harbor Transit - New Flyer D40LF

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ST to add public restrooms

On February 4, the ST Rider Experience Committee took up the longstanding issue of public restrooms on Link.

Sound Transit

Way back in 1998, a Board resolution mandated public restrooms at Union Station, Northgate TC, Everett, Tacoma Dome, Bellevue TC, and of course Sounder trains themselves. Since then, ST has added them at Seatac, Tukwila Link, Federal Way TC, and the Auburn and Sumner Sounder Stations.

By 2024, your bladder will have a universe of options, unless it’s on East Link (see the map).

The staff proposes three criteria for a public restroom: 10,000 boardings per day, five routes converging, or more than 20 minutes from the nearest restroom on Link. This would add Issaquah and Seattle Center to the map at right.

Each of these will cost about $322,000 annually to operate, mainly because of the security and customer service presence. Access can be controlled by Next generation ORCA or a QR code printed on a ticket. Public (and longtime STB) commenter Joe Kunzler had perhaps the most creative idea: to lease to small restaurants, which would be a revenue-positive way of providing both restrooms and other amenities at stations.

The committee moved to pass on the proposed policy change to the Sound Transit Board.

Sound Transit to expand paid parking

MLT Park and Ride HDR

Over the last few years, Sound Transit has eased the region into the idea of paying for scarce parking spots at Transit Centers. Before the pandemic, it was possible to guarantee yourself a spot by paying a monthly fee, less if a carpool or a low-income driver. ST had issued 1,100 permits at 14 facilities, according to ST Deputy Director Alex Krieg’s briefing at this month’s Executive Committee (see 1:30:00). ST froze the program as utilization cratered over the past year.

The main purpose, of course, is to manage demand. Before permits, spaces were strictly rationed based on willingness to show up early. Permits allow the agency to apply other criteria, as well as discouraging parking by riders with other easy alternatives. If free, why not drive 5 blocks and take up a spot, instead of walking?

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Two more Link closures next quarter; float still intact

East Main Station (Sound Transit)

Last fall Sound Transit thought East Link construction would require three weekend closures in the 2nd Quarter of 2021 and two later in 2021 for testing.

In last month’s East Link Extension update (pdf), which has nice photographs of progress at each station, next quarter will now see five closures, two of which are for removal of the temporary platform at Pioneer Square. The two later closures will still be necessary.

The briefing didn’t name specific weekends. It’s unfortunate that the center platform is going away: while a center platform at Chinatown/International District Station would have been ideal for transfers between Link lines, Pioneer Square would at least provide an option for the mobility-challenged and those with a lot of luggage.

Alas, a permanent platform requires emergency egress and ADA accommodations. Still, if I were ST I’d just leave the platforms there and just not open the doors on that side in the hope that someday there could be a shovel-ready stimulus project to finish it.

In much better (and bigger) news, the project float is still intact, so pre-revenue testing should begin in early 2022, and if the float holds, service could begin later that year, well ahead of the formal target of September 2023.

News roundup: a bit of progress

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News roundup: good luck

King County Metro Proterra Catalyst

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News roundup: President Amtrak

Yesler Cable Car #20, 3rd and Yesler, Seattle, 1940

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South Bellevue garage to open in September

South Bellevue garage facade and station. Image: Sound Transit

As the Sound Transit 3 news gets worse and worse, Sound Transit 2 continues a stream of good news as the bulk of the projects converge on opening. Today, we found out the South Bellevue parking garage will open in September, which restores the spaces for route 550 and 241 riders, and then some. This may be as much as two years before the Link line itself.

The garage has 1,500 spaces.

This publication is not a big fan of parking garages. But if there’s anywhere in the Link system there ought to be a garage, it’s here: hemmed in by a wetland and a neighborhood that won’t countenance upzoning (also up a steep hill), this station exists because it is on the way to downtown Bellevue, sits at an elbow in the line that allows it to draw from a wide swath of the Eastside, and proximity to two interstates.

Help guide Metro’s return to service

Orange Shoes and Shorts

As the County returns to full economic life, Metro is ramping up service. In keeping with their normal service reorganization procedure, there will be a citizen advisory board:

We are looking for participants for a workshop to provide input on how we prioritize what service to restore. 

Participants will: 

·         Attend a virtual workshop in the first two weeks of February 2021 to review Metro’s response to the COVID outbreak, 

·         Help Metro planning staff evaluate what types of service are most important to communities, 

·         Be compensated for their time and participation, and 

·         Be accommodated through interpretation and ADA access, as needed.  

If you are interested in this opportunity to participate in Metro’s planning, please respond to mjahshan@kingcounty.gov by January 21, 2021.

Longtime readers know I did one of these boards back in 2008 (unfortunately for me, well before one got paid to do so). It was an interesting window into the many considerations planners actually balance, as well as an education into what ordinary people in your community really think.

As always, I think people with a solid grasp of planning principles and a system view can be a useful corrective to narrower interests, as long they are willing to listen, open-minded, and empathetic.

News roundup: resuming

King County Metro

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News roundup: about right

waiting for the bus

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What’s the point of RapidRide?

RapidRide R Concept via Metro

Ashley Archibald reports some locals aren’t so sad Metro is shelving RapidRide R (Rainier):

Much of the Rainier Valley community “doesn’t really want the RapidRide R,” Kidde [of Rainier Valley Greenways] said, adding that they don’t like the reduction in the number of stops, the removal of the Prentice loop at the south end of the route nor the RapidRide-style fare enforcement where officers check payment on the bus. Advocates fear that the new fare enforcement will result in disproportionate enforcement against people of color.

Important source material includes longtime 7 driver Nathan Vass’ essay opposing the R line. It has some valuable firsthand testimony and some ideas I completely agree with. It also has not a lot of data and a weird assertion that RapidRide “counts as gentrification.”

Notably, Metro is going ahead with the BAT lanes, probably the most important substantive improvement. But really, what is RapidRide?

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