Beyond Prop 1, virtually the entire state government is up for grabs. Olympia has vast power over land use and transit outcomes in Seattle and everywhere else in Washington. I hear there are some federal races too.
It is not a good idea to use the US Postal Service this late in the process. Instead, find your nearest drop box and insert your ballot no later than 8pm tonight.
Or, if you need more assistance, managed not to register to vote, or are just old-fashioned, don a mask and register and/or vote in person.
Finally, if like most eligible people you’ve already voted, please track your ballot today so that you have time to rectify any problem that arose.
Metro’s proposed budget greatly reduces most capital outlays over the next several years. The RapidRide expansion has shrunk to just three funded lines, and base expansion plans have been mostly suspended. But there remains a $270 million investment in battery buses and associated charging infrastructure, $93 million of that by 2022.
Into the budget debate comes a remarkable report from Metro, laying out the steep opportunity costs of a transition to all-electric. Under the most likely assumptions, battery electric buses and infrastructure are 53% more expensive than a diesel hybrid fleet. Even with societal benefits including emissions priced in, it’s 42% more expensive. The added cost of a 100% transition from hybrid to battery is enough to buy 237,000 service hours annually through 2040.
The report shows the costs of electrification within Metro’s latest fleet plan. The fleet plan itself is remarkable, making stark how Metro’s plans have shifted with COVID and the recession. The number of buses operated by Metro will fall by more than one-fourth through 2026, and no service expansion is projected beyond that.
With budgetary reductions to the fleet plan amplified by the costs of electrification, Metro service levels will be reduced unless higher revenues are forthcoming. As Executive Constantine warned when transmitting the budget proposal a month ago, “Additional investments in electrification of the fleet [beyond 2028] will require a new revenue source, significant increased revenue forecasts, or a reduction in service levels”.
Like many transit agencies, Sound Transit predicts a constrained financial future and has cut transit service. Under Sound Transit’s initial 2021 Service Plan, Link would have continued its current operational pattern of 8 minute peak frequencies—stepping down to 15 minute and 30 minute frequencies—through 2021. In that document, the agency blames reduced peak hour demand for this proposal. Sound Transit has since backed away from this plan after collecting feedback. Nevertheless, a sole focus on reduced demand ignores the other consequences of infrequent service on Link. These consequences are not abstract; they are quantifiable. Ignoring them significantly and disproportionately reduces the value of the Link in Seattle. We should expect more effort to analyze the consequences of these reductions in much greater detail.
While ridership-based measurements, like Sound Transit’s citation of peak hour demand, are pervasive, they are quite limited. They are subject to errors and bias from sampling. More concerning, they tightly couple observed demand for transit with actual desire for transit. In doing so, they assert that demand for a transit route is a consequence of the area the route serves. They fail to consider that the underlying quality of transit service also drives use. Ridership-based measurements are logical to use when adding service: a crowded bus is a clear sign that more capacity is warranted. When used in reverse, they create cycles where low ridership drives a reduction in frequencies, making transit less practical and dissuading potential riders further. In reality, adoption of transit depends on both the needs of people served by transit and the qualities of the transit network that serves them. Unfortunately Sound Transit’s explanation of its service reductions only guesses at the future of the former while saying nothing of the latter.
On Friday Metro celebrated the retirement of the last diesel bus—part of the fleet dubbed “the 1100s”. Metro’s fleet is now comprised only of diesel-electric hybrids, battery-powered buses, and electric trolleys. To celebrate, a “Gold Tire” retirement ceremony was held to recognize the last bus, which will be preserved by the Metro Employee Historic Vehicle Association (MEHVA) which you might be able to ride some day.
The ceremony comes several months after the last trip operated by an 1100 series bus, which last saw service in late March 2020, when route 200 was suspended. The first of the 1100s entered service in 1999. A more recent addition–the D40LF or “3600s” made by New Flyer, were added to the fleet in 2003 and last saw service in April 2020.
The Mayor’s budget proposal funds streetcar service in 2021 at current levels, with about 10% fewer service hours than before COVID. The Seattle Council however appears to be looking at further reductions, eyeing about $700,000 in operating savings for every 10% further reduction in service. Prospects for restarting the paused Center City Connector appear dim.
Overall, the City’s streetcar operations budget for 2021 is flat vs the original enacted 2020 budget. Cost increases nearly offset the 10% reduction in service.
Pre-pandemic ridership on the First Hill streetcar had reached up to 4,000 per day, with another 1,700 on the the South Lake Union streetcar. Recent ridership on First Hill had recovered from post-pandemic lows to about 2,000 per day. South Lake Union service, suspended for most of 2020, reopened on September 19.
Council Member Alex Pedersen, casting an eye at the empty office buildings in downtown, was skeptical last week about funding current operations levels on the SLU line in particular. There were several questions from Council about how much further savings could be wrangled by reducing service. Council President Lorena González cautioned against going too far. “If the cut is too deep, we’re signaling we’re abandoning the streetcar system entirely”. González sought further analysis of where a tipping point could be, warning “particularly on two lines that have already been built, and that are existing infrastructure in our city, I worry about whether we are setting them up for future failure”.
Meanwhile, the Center City Connector remains on hold.
Link Light Rail would be upgraded to 10-minutes off-peak headway, as compared to the long-term continuation of 15-minute headway in the first draft. Late evening headway would be 15 minutes instead of the originally-proposed (and current) 30 minutes. These upgrades would take place as part of King County Metro’s March service change.
Route 555 (Northgate to Bellevue), currently suspended, would continue to be suspended after Northgate Link opens. Metro route 271 would be expected to handle the reverse-peak ridership on the corridor.
Route 586 (Tacoma – UW), originally slated for elimination with the opening of Northgate Link, would continue on, with a stop added at Federal Way Transit Center. The presentation did not specify whether the new stop would be added in March or September of 2021.
While there is a lot of lost service in the King County Metro network due to COVID-19 and its economic impacts, Metro has nevertheless managed to make lemonade out of lemons by assembling an increasingly robust network of buses connecting to Link Light Rail stations at frequencies that match Link’s temporary off-peak frequency of every 15 minutes. Link’s frequency is planned to be every 15 minutes during off-peak hours, until late evening, likely through 2021. Sound Transit is preparing for a long pandemic. The recent spike in new cases and deaths backs up their pessimism.
The following routes that serve Link stations outside of, or just on the periphery of, downtown have 15-minute off-peak weekday headway. (Link now runs every 8 minutes during the peak period on weekdays.) Unless otherwise noted, they also have 15-minute headway during the day on weekends.
On October 8th System Expansion Committee received briefings on various capital projects. The centerpiece was a detailed review of East Link. The system is 85% complete, within the budget set in 2015, and on schedule for opening in July 2023. But there’s also some bad news.
Major civil engineering should be done in early 2021, and systems work by early 2022. Most of 2022 will be “pre-revenue” testing, and from September 2022 is 9 months of “float”. But some things are not going well.
For most of us, voting could not be easier. Every registered voter with their address of record up-to-date gets a ballot in the mail. Return postage is pre-paid. There are also plenty of ballot drop boxes open. Ones close to light rail stations include the Beacon Hill Library, Uwajimaya, the King County Administration Building, and the northeast corner of the Edison Building at Seattle Central College,
The King County Elections Department recommends that you mail your ballot by Friday, October 30, in order to make sure it gets postmarked by election day, the following Tuesday. After that, it is recommended that you use one of the many drop boxes that are available 24/7 now through 8 pm on November 3.
UPDATE: In-person voting registration is available through Election Day at the accessible voting sites, but the County urges everyone to use the voting centers only if they have to. Wearing a face covering over the nose and mouth will be required.
Sound Transit recently started its virtual open house for the NE 130th St infill station, where you can see the latest designs. As part of this open house, there is a survey where you can provide feedback on the proposed designs. In addition to the blue and green station-wide color scheme options, you can weigh in on the available plaza-level seating and bollard options. In addition to the station design, Sound Transit has provided an update the status of the project.
Link Light Rail service will be partially disrupted this weekend, per an annoucement from Sound Transit:
Link light rail service will temporarily stop running between the UW and SODO stations Saturday, October 17, and Sunday, October 18 to allow for system upgrades.
During the service interruption, free bus service will be available between UW station and SODO station. Light rail riders will need to switch between trains and buses at SODO station stations [sic] to complete their journeys. Sound Transit will provide shuttle buses every ten minutes between the affected stations, and Sound Transit personnel will be available to help passengers with transfers. Trains will run every 15 minutes on the weekend. Light rail trains will return to their regular schedule Monday morning.
Other alternatives to get to or between the northern station areas include:
Route 7 between Mt Baker Station and downtown.
Route 36 between Beacon Hill Station and downtown.
Route 48 between Mt Baker Station and UW.
Route 10, 11, or 49 between Westlake and Capitol Hill.
Route 49 between Capitol Hill and the U-District.
Route 60 between Beacon Hill Station and Capitol Hill.
Route 70 between downtown and the U-District.
Route 101, 150, or ST Express 594 between SODO Station, Stadium Station, and downtown.
Any work Sound Transit has to do on Link is certainly best to do on weekends during the pandemic, while there are the fewest riders to be impacted.
King County Metro is embarking on a process to phase out on-board cash payments.
Details are so far limited, pending discusssions with stakeholders. A briefing to the King County Council Budget and Fiscal Management Committee noted the discontinuation of on-board cash fares would happen in concert with the launch of the subsidized annual pass program and the planned launch of Next Generation ORCA by early 2023. Metro will engage with community stakeholders later this year and early next year to develop a plan.
The subsidized annual pass program offers free fares on all Metro services but Vanpool, and is available to recipients of several means-tested programs. The full launch of that program was announced yesterday. (Sound Transit is running a similar program on a pilot basis). It’s favorable to reducing cash use because lower income riders have historically preferred not to prepay for ORCA media.
Next Generation ORCA allows smart-phone payment and private bankcard payment, so that paying fares becomes easier for infrequent riders or those without a current balance on their ORCA accounts. The new ORCA cards will be available at a far greater number of retail locations.
The immediate practical importance is that various transit and transportation agencies will not have to refund the money they have been collecting since I-976 passed, easing pressure on budgets statewide.
All justices but Barbara Madsen, who found only one reason to reject it instead of two, signed the ruling. Story here ($).
Seattle loves its bus service. As pandemic measures temporarily reduce demand, new challenges like the West Seattle Bridge closure arise. It would be irresponsible to reject a measure that doesn’t even fully replace the tax that it succeeds.
In 2014, Seattle approved a $60 vehicle license fee and 0.1% sales tax to fund increases in bus service that greatly increased the number of Seattle residents within walking distance of bus routes that run every 10 minutes all day. That tax expires on December 31st, and Metro has already cut some service in anticipation of losing that revenue.
Booming tax revenues, and a lack of bus capacity at Metro, led Seattle to find other worthy transit-related goals. Notably, Mayor Durkan introduced the “ORCA Opportunity” program, providing free passes to Seattle Public School students and therefore nearly eliminating youth fares in the City of Seattle.