Sound Transit still not tracking how many passengers with clear-and-obvious proof of payment are getting warnings and citations

Sound Transit is in the process of reviewing its fare enforcement policies, per a presentation last Thursday.

However, the single most impactful element of that process is still not on their radar. Sound Transit fare enforcement officers are directed to warn, and then fine (after repeat infractions) passengers who possess passes that cover the highest possible cost of a train trip for their payer category, or have tapped on to other services within the previous two hours that have at least as high a fare as the highest Link fare for their payer category, if the passenger failed to tap on for the ride.

Section 4.0 of Sound Transit’s Standard Operating Procedure for Fare Enforcement states:

This includes students who have received “free” passes from their school district. Students who got free passes from Seattle Public Schools who mess up once on tapping will be subject to the same treatment that students who tried to ride for free the first day of school before getting their passes issued. According to ST policy, it doesn’t matter that they have clear-and-obvious evidence with them that the trip is pre-paid.

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News Roundup: Ellen

Transit Service

Election Politics

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Why ridership on ST 550 melted down

ST Express 550 in the DSTT (Image: Oran Viriyincy)

ST Express 550, connecting Bellevue to Seattle, is the highest ridership bus in the Sound Transit Express system. In the last two years, it has shed more than one third of its ridership. Issaquah-Seattle route ST 554, also operating on I-90, has seen ridership decline 14% over the same period.

Recently, a Sound Transit Committee received an analysis that explores the reasons why. It’s unlikely very much of the lost ridership could have been avoided. It’s nevertheless concerning because the I-90 express routes ought to be building a market for transit ahead of Blue Line trains running to Bellevue in 2023 and Redmond in 2024.

ST 550 has become progressively more difficult for riders to access as several major stops have closed. The South Bellevue P&R closed in June 2017 for East Link construction with a loss of 519 parking stalls. That was followed by the closure of Convention Place Station in July 2018 and Rainier Freeway Station in September 2018. However, the greatest loss of ridership came with the closing of the downtown transit tunnel to buses in March 2019. On average, Metro and Sound Transit routes formerly in the tunnel have seen 20% ridership losses since March.

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Community Transit’s near-term plans prioritize frequency and connections

Community Transit is preparing for more Swift lines in the next few years

With Lynnwood Link construction underway, Community Transit has less than five years to prepare for major changes to Snohomish County’s transit landscape. The draft of their latest six-year transit development plan is out for public comment and describes some of the upcoming challenges and priorities for the agency up to the 2024 restructure.

Last year, Community Transit buses and vanpools provided 10.6 million boardings, averaging just under 37,500 on weekdays for fixed-route buses. The agency expects this figure to grow to 14.4 million passenger trips by 2024 with the implementation of more frequent service and the opening of the next Swift line. Community Transit scheduled 412,364 total service hours in 2018, and is expected to use 566,864 by 2024 after several service expansions.

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News roundup: bonfire of the Limebikes

Bikes and Transit
Paul Kimo McGregor/Flickr

This is an open thread.

First of several weekend Link closures start this weekend

The new platform at Pioneer Square Station takes shape (SounderBruce)

Sound Transit:

Trains will run as usual between SODO-Angle Lake and Capitol Hill-UW, with three-car trains every 10 minutes during most hours of the day. Free bus shuttles will run every 7 minutes in groups of two buses at a time, serving SODO, Stadium, International District/Chinatown, Pioneer Square, University Street, Westlake and Capitol Hill.

Plan accordingly. Weekend closures will happen again from Oct 25-28 and Nov 8-11. This is all in preparation for Connect 2020, the project to tie East Link (a.k.a. the Blue Line) in with the downtown tunnel.

WSDOT is also closing the westbound lanes of the SR 520 Floating Bridge over the weekend to prepare for several years of Montlake construction. Bus routes using the bridge will detour via Interstate 90 and will skip some stops, so check the Metro Alerts page. Eastbound service will use all normal stops, but may be affected because of the longer trip times.

Red paint coming to Olive Way

Weather permitting, this weekend SDOT will install a full-time bus lane on Olive Way between 4th Avenue and 8th Avenue. This will help 39 major regional bus routes from Metro, Sound Transit and Community Transit. SDOT estimates these routes combine for 33,000 daily riders.

You may recall that this stretch of downtown was where bus lane violations had gotten so bad that a frustrated bus rider recently took matters into her own hands to kick the cars out, prompting a follow-up citizen action from Seattle Greenways the following week.

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Roosevelt-Eastlake BRT is officially RapidRide J

Atomic Taco (Flickr)

SDOT and Metro are kicking off another feedback session for the newly-named RapidRide J, formerly known as Roosevelt-Eastlake BRT. The route combines pieces of Metro Routes 67 and 70 to provide service through South Lake Union, Eastlake, the University District, and Roosevelt, terminating at the Roosevelt Link station.

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Monorail now accepts ORCA cards

How to use an ORCA card to pay for the monorail

As of today, October 7, the Seattle Center Monorail has a new payment option: the ORCA card in your pocket, bag, or phone case. After five years of study and negotiations earlier this year from the rest of the ORCA consortium, the monorail is now better integrated into the regional transit system as a real commuter option.

Monorail riders using their ORCA cards will line up at the regular ticket booths and present their card to the cashier. After a quick tap with a handheld reader, you’ll be able to board the monorail, which runs every 10 minutes between Westlake Station and the Seattle Center. The monorail will work similar to a normal bus, with both daily and monthly passes accepted as payment alongside e-purse deductions. The two-hour transfer offered with ORCA transactions also apply to the monorail.

The monorail will continue to accept cash, credit/debit cards, and mobile tickets. Paper transfers from Metro buses will not be accepted. The monorail has accepted mobile tickets through Metro’s TransitGo app since January 2018.

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Requiem for a Streamline: Buses return to the TIBS loop today

This map was accidentally accurate for the past three months.

After over three months of pouring concrete along the bus loop at Tukwila International Boulevard Station, the project is complete, and buses have returned to the loop as of 4:30 am this morning.

Riders on Metro’s A Line and route 124 are likely rejoicing. Riders on the F Line and 128, not so much.

Route 124 and the A Line both terminate at TIBS, so stopping below the station makes sense, and provides off-street layover space.

The F Line would have originally had stops on Southcenter Blvd in front of the station lot, but the City of Tukwila wouldn’t allow them.

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A transit bridge across the Montlake Cut?

Montlake’s bascule bridge pictured on Seattle Yacht Club’s opening day of boating season (image by author)

The Seattle City Council’s Planning Committee recently considered whether to endorse a second bascule bridge serving transit across the Montlake Cut. Current city policy does not favor a bridge for transit unless specific triggers are met. However, changing circumstances in Montlake may warrant a revisit. Although last week’s discussion was inconclusive, the question is likely to recur as construction proceeds on SR 520 and WSDOT begins a consultative process with stakeholders in the project later this year or early 2020.

The Legislature funded a second parallel bridge across the Cut in the Connecting Washington package in 2015. WSDOT envisions the bridge being constructed in a third phase of the SR 520 ‘Rest of the West’, but has not released a timetable.

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News roundup: outer counties

King County Water Taxi Seattle
Paul Kimo McGregor/Flickr

This is an open thread.

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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Financial risks to the ST3 plan have grown

Compared to expectations in 2016, capital costs are likely to be much higher as inflation in capital expenditures and right of way acquisition have run far ahead of general inflation (image: Sound Transit)

By the time most ST3 projects are delivered in the mid-2030s, Sound Transit is projected to accumulate over $17 billion in debt. Managing that debt load is critical to delivering the program on time.

Sound Transit’s debt capacity is limited in several ways. There is a statutory limit that total debt cannot exceed 1.5% of the property tax base within the RTA district. There are other constraints, contained within financial policies and bond covenants, that limit bond servicing costs relative to available cash flow. Sound Transit monitors all of these so the future debt load remains financially sustainable and within legal limits. If future projections indicated any of these limits would be exceeded, it would become necessary to delay projects or reduce operations.

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