Zach wrote for STB from 2010-2017, and was our inaugural Staff Reporter from 2015-2017. Zach has also worked for Pierce Transit, Commute Seattle, and owned a bike rental business. As of June 2017 he works at Sound Transit. Zach is a Beacon Hill resident and can often be found biking, riding Link, or driving his Seattle-cliche Subaru.
Yesterday Mayor McGinn held a press briefing with Thom Neff, a Strategic Infrastructure Management Consultant that the Mayor had retained to complete a risk analysis on the likelihood of on-budget, on-time completion of the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel. Neff, with a 40-year vocational history managing large tunneling projects (including Boston’s Central Artery, the “Big Dig”), offered a cautiously pessimistic assessment of the project. Noting that the tunnel represented technology “at or beyond precedent” in the “worst geologic environment [he’d] ever seen,” Neff said that the project presents a substantial risk of exceeding budget and a moderate risk of not being completed at all. Among the geological anomalies, historical glaciation was so extensive that there is “residual lateral stress at depth” that “exceeds the vertical pressure.”
Everyone expected our anti-tunnel Mayor’s hand-picked consultant to say such things, but Neff was impressive and decidedly apolitical, stressing that, “I love tunnels, that’s what I do. But some tunnels shouldn’t be built.”
In May 19th’s post on Metro’s Fare Evasion Report, Martin made the utilitarian argument that “net revenue maximization” should be the primary goal of fare policy. Evasion rates per se, he argued, are less important than the larger revenue picture to which they contribute; furthermore, enforcement often cannibalizes the revenue it seeks to protect,
“…however unjust it may be, fare evasion in itself is not the problem here. It’s the concurrent loss of revenue, and to a lesser extent the tendency of some fare evaders to disrupt the bus in other ways. As a result, any attempt to address the problem needs cost/benefit analysis to see if it actually improves the budget situation.”
Many commenters passionately disagreed, bristling at cost-benefit analyses when principles of fairness and integrity are at stake. As a brief footnote to that conversation, let me add a cautious word about operators. The conversation to this point has involved two types of operators: (1. Those who follow policy by passively allowing fare evasion in the interest of occupational safety, and (2. Those who for reasons of principle break policy and choose to actively confront evaders anyway.
I suggest a third type of (rare) operator: s/he who actively solicits fare evasion. In the six weeks since I moved back to Seattle, I have experienced three occasions in which operators stopped people about to pay with phrases such as “Hey, don’t worry about it. Have a great night,” or “This one’s on me”. On one memorable occasion, the operator provided free rides to members of her own ethnic group but no others.
My hope is that this happens rarely, and I grant that arguing from such anecdotes is usually unwise. It is impossible to quantify how fairness, policy reliability, and operator integrity contribute to ride quality and the retaining of ridership (and by extension, revenue). But as almost all untapped transit demand lies with choice riders, I suspect that such qualitative considerations make lasting (and potentially pernicious) impressions on the market segment we most need to attract. So yes, as Martin correctly argued, in the end revenue should be our primary concern. But when transit agencies undermine themselves they lose more than money. Tolerating fare evasion is defensible, but contributing to it is not.
The Sightline Institute issued a report yesterday about rising fuel consumption in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia. While the headlines make this out to be an ominous sign, the overall picture is equivocal and quite mixed. After a decade of per-capita declines, 2009 saw a tiny uptick of 3 gal/year for the average Cascadian, a 0.7% increase. Overall consumption rose 2%, while diesel consumption (a key indicator of freight traffic) fell by 10%. While Washington and Oregon saw per-capita increases of <1%, Idaho and British Columbia drivers consumed 4% and 10% more, respectively.
There are interesting trends in this report, even if it strikes an unnecessarily sensationalist tone. Read it for yourselves, it is short, well-written, and very accessible. I would only make a couple of observations:
Due to electrical problems on the elevated section between Rainier Beach and Sea-Tac, Link service has been suspended on that portion of the route until further notice. A bus bridge is in place between Rainier Beach and Sea-Tac, and Link service remains available from Westlake to Rainier Beach. Expect long delays.
More info on this as it becomes available.
[UPDATE: As of 10:00am service had been restored. The new alert showing resumed service was slow to arrive.]