Who’s to Blame for the Tunnel Attack?

[UPDATE 7:17pm: The Mayor’s office has released a statement, see below the jump.]

Recent footage released by Metro of a savage beating in the downtown tunnel last month has unleashed a firestorm of media coverage over the past few days.  But it’s not so much the beating that has everyone peeved, it’s the fact that there were three uniformed security guards not only present during the attack, but passively watching as the 15 year-old girl ruthlessly beat her peer.  Surveillance video shows the two girls fighting out onto the restricted trackbed and concluding with the victim lying on the platform with her head being stomped upon repeatedly.  All the while, the three guards seem to be unwilling to make any daring moves to save the victim, other than radioing for backup.

So who’s to blame?  The three officers?  Metro?  Olympic Security?  Witnessing bystanders?  The question has been very difficult to tackle because technically and legally, no one did anything wrong (attack aside).  Olympic Security, contracted to watch the tunnel, is discouraged by contractual language to physically intervene, leaving its personnel to only “observe and report” (PDF) at best.  The guards that witnessed the attack did manage to radio for emergency help, but were evidently powerless to stop or deter the beating.

More after the jump…

Continue reading “Who’s to Blame for the Tunnel Attack?”

Google Maps Getting Bus Data; OBA on Android

Those looking to plan their King County bus trips on Google Maps (and on their iPhones) have been out of luck since Saturday’s service change. Fear not! The problem will be solved soon, according to Metro’s Twitter feed:

Google Trip Planner will again be able to plan trips on Metro starting Fri., Feb 12. Metro has provided data to Google.

OneBusAway also faced some technical issues to do the service change (which is expected), but those issues are now fixed and most buses should now be tracked through the service. Just yesterday, One Bus Away announced the launch of an official Android client which follows the successful launch lsat year of a native iPhone app.

Getting Rid of 40/40/20

I’m not convinced that 40/40/20 — the policy where 80% of new service is sent to the suburbs, to gradually “correct” the disproportionately intensive service in Seattle — is a particularly great injustice.  However, “not a great injustice” is not the same thing as good policy, and Metro has enough objectives to worry about that a purely artificial numerical target doesn’t make it easier to achieve the things we should actually care about.   And in fact, it was a common sentiment in the King County Executive race that we should do away with this rule.

Unfortunately, the buck stops with the King County Council, and there are effectively four Seattle seats and five suburban seats.  I think discussion on this issue has been far too policy-oriented and not focused enough on naked political concerns.

Any alternate formula for expansion or cuts, viewed in isolation, has to pass a simple test: do five or more Council members see this as helping their constituents, or not?  In this effort we’re helped by the fact that Metro serves a fairly complicated set of divergent policy objectives.  I see three basic strategies:

  • Get to five. If you’re going to shift the formula to favor urban areas more, make sure to tweak it so that when you run the spreadsheet five districts come out ahead.  That would presumably be the four Seattle-heavy districts, plus either District 5 or 6.
  • Trade it for density. An intriguing idea championed by both Ross Hunter and Fred Jarrett during the executive race was to tie bus service to density.  As Greg Nickels is fond of pointing out, people here hate density and hate sprawl, so accepting density in your neighborhood is viewed as “taking one for the team.”  I think that’s the wrong attitude, but it can be used to good purpose.  It’s important that this density is beyond what’s already envisioned in the regional plan. Otherwise, you’re asking opponents to give something for nothing.
  • Trade something unrelated. Adding density is easy for me because I’d like to see it whether or not buses came with it.   If that doesn’t suit you, it’s a big policy universe out there.  In isolation, Reagan Dunn isn’t going to vote to reduce bus service to his constituents.  On the other hand, there are certainly issues his constituents care about more than bus service.  If Seattle councilmembers trade his vote on Metro policy for more logging rights or whatever*, we might have a deal.

Of course, if you’re the kind of person that wants to see Seattle get disproportionately more bus service you’re probably also the kind of person that doesn’t want whatever it is they’re bargaining for in Enumclaw.  But that really just brings us around to the question of “are you a transit advocate or aren’t you?”  If you support transit expansion to the extent that it doesn’t interfere with any of your other political priorities, I think the answer is “not so much”.

*Reagan Dunn is an example; logging rights are an example I made up.

Bus Violence

by MARK DUBLIN

“The 124”, by Mike Bjork

Around midnight Saturday January 23, a driver on Metro Route 124 was beaten unconscious by a passenger.  She may have been too slow letting him off the back door. The driver is recovering. Several suspects have been arrested and charged. Local newspapers and TV covered the story. Accounts are online. The media knows the drill. And that’s just the problem. Situation normal.

Now, even on rough routes, passengers don’t attack drivers every shift. Any 7-11 clerk is in worse criminal danger, for lousier wages and coverage. What mostly injures transit drivers is their own work day. Knee joint damage. Carpal tunnel syndrome. Back injuries. Those “gold-plated” medical benefits are legitimate repair bills for a forty hour week driving a bus.

But on about a half dozen routes, it’s not only drivers who regularly face personal violence. Most transit assault victims are passengers, who pay fares and taxes for the system and get no compensation for abuse on board. For a transit system fighting for its political and budgetary life, its people’s safety is its own as well.

I never drove Highway 99- no trolleywire. But Route 7 in the mid 1980’s also featured regular situations needing police. So I have a few suggestions about what “we” – meaning everyone who operates, rides, or cares about transit- can do to give ourselves the civilized travel people pay for, after the jump.

Continue reading “Bus Violence”

Cities express little enthusiasm for saving Metro service

Former Executive Kurt Triplett

When we broke the story about the King County Council forming a Transportation Benefit District in unincorporated portions of the County, media outlets who noticed focused on the implications for the South Park Bridge. And rightfully so: collapsing bridges are an important story.

Unfortunately, that overshadowed the very interesting point that when former County Executive Kurt Triplett sent a letter asking Mayors to indicate interest in negotiating to form a countywide TBD that could save some Metro bus service, there were zero positive responses and many negative ones.

Gov. Gregoire vetoed an attempt to give counties to authority to impose a vehicle license fee for transit, citing the existing TBD statute that allows a similar fee. Unfortunately, said statute requires consent of at least 60% of cities representing at least 75% of the population. Triplett’s letter was an attempt to gauge support to create a Metro-oriented TBD.

I spoke with Doug Hodson, who was Triplett’s transportation manager and now does government relations for King County DOT. Hodson that was the point of contact in Triplett’s letter. His correspondents were generally city public works managers, and the response was overwhelmingly negative. Of major cities that didn’t respond negatively, Hodson only recalled Federal Way (non-committal, but positive) and Kirkland (no response). More after the jump.

Continue reading “Cities express little enthusiasm for saving Metro service”

County Council Proposes Metro Transit Task Force

Timetables - from Oran

Although King County Metro has found short-term fixes to their ongoing shortfall, come 2012 they’re still going to have to either find significant new revenue or cut service.

With that in mind, in a proposal from Larry Phillips and Jane Hague, the county council plans to put together a transit task force (.doc) to make policy recommendations that could change the high-level design of Metro. These would not only include particulars such as how Metro grows or shrinks with available revenue, but goes as far as how they weight land use, environmental and social justice, and efficiency when determining where and how to provide transit, and even what Metro’s role in our transportation system should be.

I think this sounds like the kind of overhaul Metro needs. This year’s discussion of service cuts seems like it was just a window into a larger problem. As we’ve seen, Metro has routes that serve a few dozen people a day, and routes that serve eight thousand. Is it really Metro’s place to provide minimal service everywhere to the detriment of really usable core routes? How can we make Metro’s operations help serve our long term land use goals, but keep serving transit dependent communities? How can we stabilize Metro’s revenue so we don’t keep having to argue over it?

This task force could answer these questions. It will consist of a broad group of stakeholders – elected officials, representatives of social services, transit agencies, environmental, business, and educational groups, and others. Their timeline starts in February, with policy recommendations ready for implementation in September.

King County Ridership – Spring 2009

Highest Weekday Ridership Routes, Spring 2009 (click for more routes)

This data (click the image to see more routes) is a tad dated but I think everyone will enjoy taking a look and seeing how their favorite routes stack up.

Back when I wrote at Orphanroad.com I did a series with some similar ridership data (Part 1, Part 2). I didn’t directly compare the ridership figures because they aren’t directly comparable, so cross your eyes a bit if you want to compare them. I have only included routes with more than 1,000 daily riders. Also note that these figures are not direct measures and created using sampling and some fancy statistics.

The next shakeup should complete the most significant change Seattle’s transit system has seen in many years and it will be interesting to see how it impacts ridership on specific routes. At first blush I would expect the 8 to gain a good amount of ridership. It is becoming a center city version of the 44 and 48. And can’t the the 48 get any love… or Rapidride branding, TSP, off-board fare payment and maybe some real-time information?

Editorial: The Olympia tax fight matters for transit

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[UPDATE 2:28pm: If you’d like to put together your own package of  sales tax exemptions, this Dept. of Revenue pdf lists them all.  The list of special-interest giveaways is mind-boggling (livestock semen?  gun safes?).  Of particular interest, gasoline (p.291) would yield about $28m for Metro.  Taxing all personal and professional services (p.285) would net over $100m a year.]

One could be forgiven that the coming legislative struggles over plugging the State’s general fund deficit are orthogonal to the transit funding crisis.  And indeed, the profound decisions to be made are likely to drown out calls to rescue struggling local transit agencies with more tax revenue.

However, of all the new revenue options being covered, one stands out as being useful for transit, and that is the option of reducing exemptions in the Sales Tax.  Unlike other options, such an expansion would also increase the revenue of all other state entities that use the sales tax — including all county transit agencies and Sound Transit.

I’ve spoken to a number of veteran Olympia watchers and no one has definitively verified or challenged my layman’s interpretation.  Perhaps that’ll happen in the comments.

Here are some back-of-the-envelope calculations, using the 2011 revenue estimates reported in the Schmudget blog and the estimate that Metro sales tax collections in FY 2011 will be 5.5% the size of the State take*:

  • Extending the tax to candy and gum would raise $1.5m;
  • bakery products, $0.9m;
  • a variety of consumer services, $6.5m;
  • financial services, $10.5m (mentioned in the Seattle Times) ; and
  • removing the non-resident exemption, $2m.

More after the jump.

Continue reading “Editorial: The Olympia tax fight matters for transit”

Ferry News Roundup!

M/V Walla Walla departing from Edmonds on a sunny evening - By Brian Bundridge
M/V Walla Walla departing from Edmonds on a sunny evening - By Brian Bundridge

Here is ferry roundup!

M/V Sealth still out of service after damage to the vessel’s engine output shaft.

WSDOT is offering ride vouchers for those disrupted during the Port Townsend/Keystone closure.

Gov. Gregoire congratulates Port Townsend students for new vessel name class for the 64-car ferries: the Kwa-di Tabil Class, which means “little boat”

M/V Chetzemoka is progressing swiftly. Todd Shipyards are installing windows, doors, lighting and other accessories on-board the vessel currently. The Chetzomoka is scheduled to start service this Summer once six weeks of crew training and sea trials are completed.

Speaking of new ferries, the first 144-car ferry is scheduled to start construction next year.

WSF is featured in The Coast Guard Compass

Trouble deciding if you want to move to ORCA or stick with Wave2Go? Check out this handy guide by WSF

WSF is proposing to expand the reservation system to other routes

King County Water Taxi propose a 50-cent fare hike

Ever wondered what boat you are going to get? Or perhaps you have one of interest? Check out the WSF Vessel Watch

Have you pondered just what happened to your ferry and why it isn’t in service? You can see when your vessel is scheduled for maintenance by checking out this page

The state wants ferry rider opinions on the services.

Fun Facts!

Did you know that WSF also has ferry service in Eastern Washington? The little known Martha S has been making trips across the Columbia River since 1948. The free service runs from 6am to midnight, every day and takes about 10 minutes to make the crossing

Did you know that there are several other ferry systems around Washington State? Exploring some of these operations could make for a fantastic vacation this summer!

Did you know that all ferries shares something similar to diesel locomotives? The Super Jumbo Mark II vessels for example use the same high powered engines that EMD uses in their SD70 series locomotives. The Super Jumbo Mark II however has 4 engines, producing 4000HP each.

Joyce Eleanor on CT Cuts, Fare Increases

Community Transit CEO Joyce Eleanor made this video to explain directly to riders what the service cuts and fare increases are going to be. She focuses specifically on the reasoning behind “suspending” all Sunday and holiday service rather than spreading it over all days.  Unsurprisingly, Sunday is the weakest ridership day, and by eliminating almost all overhead on Sunday the system loses significantly fewer aggregate service hours than the alternatives.

The annual shortfall is about $11m.  $500,000 will be made up by the 25 cent DART and local service fare increase.   CT spokesman Tom Pearce says a rise to the commuter fare (already $3.50-$4.50 for adults) was not seriously considered because

Our commuter fares [are] among the highest in the region. Many riders choose to use Sound Transit service instead of ours because it is cheaper*. We decided that raising commuter fares again could price us out of the market and reduce ridership further.

The remainder of the shortfall is equivalent to 100,000 service hours out of CT’s total of 610,000 (including vanpools and paratransit).  This would amount to a cut in bus service of well over 17%.  However, the equivalent of 20,000 hours will be saved by shutting down all support operations on Sunday.  Therfore, 80,000 hours of actual bus service is going away, of which 28,000 hours are Sunday and Holiday “suspensions.”  Those suspensions will be restored as soon as the revenue situation allows, although Pearce declined to speculate on when that might occur. The other 52,000 hours are deep weekday and Saturday cuts that are unlikely to be restored for the forseeable future.

Community Transit essentially has no additional revenue options, although they continue to scrounge for grants.  They levy the maximum 0.9% sales tax, and the property tax authority that King County recently exploited derives from a statute that specifically applies only to King County.

It’s worth pointing out that CT’s actual cuts are proportional to the 20% armageddon that threatened King County last year before Kurt Triplett cobbled together a plan to minimize them.

Part 1 of this video, which sets up the general revenue situation and will be familiar to readers of this blog, is below the jump.

H/T: “Community Transit Operator”

Continue reading “Joyce Eleanor on CT Cuts, Fare Increases”

RapidRide A: October Opening?

Photo by Oran

At one time Metro’s RapidRide A line was to open in February 2010.  With the Metro budget crisis, RapidRide disappeared from the announced February changes, and Metro said opening would likely be around the summer or fall service change.

Last September the Executive’s proposed budget (pdf, page 33) referenced a starting date of June 12, which we took as firm.  As it turns out, it wasn’t; when I asked for a starting date and time to use for our countdown clock, spokesperson Rochelle Ogershok told me

While a firm start date hasn’t been determined yet, the A-Line will be launched on or around our fall service change, which this year is Oct. 4.

So it appears we’ll have to wait 9 more months to see King County’s take on BRT.

New Sound Transit Board Members

Claudia Balducci (City of Bellevue)

Dow Constantine, as King County Executive, appoints 10 of the Sound Transit Governing Board’s 18 members.  Today he nominated three new members to the board: Bellevue City Councilmember Claudia Balducci, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, and new King County Councilmember Jan Drago.  These three replace outgoing members Seattle’s Greg Nickels, Kirkland’s Mary Alice-Burleigh, and former Exec Kurt Triplett.  All have solid pro-rail credentials.

Constantine also reappointed Issaquah’s Fred Butler and County Councilmembers Julia Patterson and Pete von Reichbauer.  Of these, von Reichbauer is probably the shakiest from a “build as much rail as possible now” point of view, as he was one of only two board members (with Ron Sims) to vote against ST2 going to the ballot in 2008.

Constantine, Seattle’s Richard Conlin, Councilmember Larry Phillips, and Redmond Mayor John Marchione are continuing their terms on the Board.

All six of these appointments are subject to County Council approval, which should happen on January 11th in time for the next board meeting on the 14th.  It certainly casts new light on the Larry Phillips maneuvers that got Jan Drago on the Council and broke the 4-4 partisan deadlock there.

And let’s spare a moment to think who the appointees might have been had Susan Hutchison won.  There is certainly a crop of not-so-progressive Bellevue officials to choose from.

King County Enacts Transportation Benefit District

One of the reasons that Gov. Gregoire vetoed a $20 vehicle license fee for transit last year was that counties already could create transportation benefit districts to levy a similar fee.  However, such a district requires support of 60% of municipal governments comprising at least 75% of the County’s population, although there is no public vote.

On November 3rd of last year Executive Triplett sent a letter to municipalities asking for cities to express support for such a countywide TBD by November 18th.  The legislation itself claims that no cities responded affirmatively, while several directly declined.

Given the lack of positive response, the County Council voted 8-0 (Constantine’s seat is unfilled) yesterday to go ahead with a TBD in the unincorporated areas of King County, though the bill does not yet impose the $20 fee.  The funding would go to a variety of projects (Excel file).  Many are road projects (including the structurally unsound South Park Bridge), but there are quite a few sidewalk and bike lane improvements.  However, as one might expect there isn’t much in the way of relief for Metro in this measure.

Other documents related to this measure are here.

In other news, the Council approved their legislative agenda, which shouldn’t really surprise anyone.

(H/T: Mickymse)

What’s Ahead in 2010

"More RapidRide buses in the boneyard", by Oran

2009 was a red-letter year in Greater Seattle’s transit history, but there are some things to look forward to in 2010:

  • In June, the long-awaited opening of RapidRide Line A, from Federal Way to Tukwila/International Blvd. Station.
  • Starting today, Metro fares go up a quarter and transfer policies change.  By the end of the year the physical PugetPass will have disappeared.
  • A Seattle-only rail measure may go to the ballot in November.
  • A major revision to Southwest King County bus service in February, including the end of the 194.
  • A USDOT decision on the TIGER grant in February could cut years off the opening of Link’s S. 200th St. Station.
  • The first two rounds of “low-impact reductions” to Metro service occur in February and September.
  • Metro starts installing a new communications system — to include GPS — in the third quarter, with completion in 2011.
  • Hopefully, next train signs start working at Link stations in January.
  • The Sound Transit Board makes a final decision on the East Link alignment in March.
  • Route 542, from Redmond to NE 65th St (Seattle) via the U-District, begins October 4th, at 5:45am.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels

photo by Atomic Taco

Now that Seattle is about to have a new mayor, it’s an appropriate time to reflect on the outgoing one. Not only is the City of Seattle losing one of its more successful mayors, but the region is losing a giant of the light rail movement just as it begins to pay dividends.

In his capacity as Mayor Greg Nickels has three significant arguments for greatness: first, Bridging the Gap, which is significantly improving transportation in the City; second, the beginnings of the Seattle Streetcar Network; and third, a general willingness to say no to anti-density NIMBYs and bring about the dense, walkable neighborhoods the city so desperately needs. More generally, in all these efforts he displayed an ability to propose, oversee, and complete projects not often seen in Seattle.

On the other hand, there are two items on the Mayoral Agenda in which Nickels was on the wrong side or insufficiently aggressive. First, the Waterfront Streetcar was killed as part of the Olympic Sculpture Park deal for no good reason; and second, the deep-bore tunnel, which threatens to consume the City’s transportation budget flexibility for years.

Although “Mayor of Seattle” will likely be the first line in his obituary someday, it’s actually in a regional capacity that Nickels made the biggest mark on transportation. Nickels started agitating for light rail on the King County Council in 1988. He was an original member of the Sound Transit Board of Directors, and eventually became its chairman in 2008-2009. As we’ve detailed before, during that time he was the crucial figure in getting Sound Transit 2 on the ballot in 2008. Had that not happened, the region’s transportation future would be considerably darker.

More personally, Nickels the man has always struck me as one of us, a genuine railfan. I’ve now had the experience of seeing many politicians at photo-ops, but Nickels riding Link always seemed different: a combination of the completion of a life’s work, and the simple joy of the City he loves getting the system it deserves.

Here at STB, we were thrilled by the platform with which Mike McGinn won the general election. We wish him well, not only in the generic sense wished for all new leaders, but specifically that his agenda is substantially enacted. However, Mr. McGinn and all Seattlites should acknowledge our debt for over 20 years of public service and a record of epochal achievements. Thank you Mayor Nickels.

Fares, Transfer Policies to Change Jan. 1

Fare alert on a Metro bus. Photo by Oran.
Fare alert on a Metro bus. Photo by Oran.

Two major changes occur with the New Year:

First, all King County Metro fares (except for the ages 6-18 fare) will go up 25 cents.  For most of us that means $2.00 off-peak, $2.25 one-zone peak, $2.50 $2.75 two-zone peak.

More confusingly, there will be a dramatic reduction in the media with which you can legally board a bus.  The rules below apply to Metro, Sound, Everett, Snohomish, Pierce, and Kitsap Transit buses only:

  • Cash always works.
  • An ORCA card loaded with either E-purse money or a monthly pass of sufficient value.
  • Although they are increasingly hard to get, if you have a physical PugetPass or FlexPass of sufficient value that’s still valid.
  • On Metro buses only, a valid Metro bus transfer.  This does not include Sound Transit buses operated by Metro: 522, 540, 545, 550, 554, 555, 556, 560, 564, 565, 577.
  • [Update 1/4/10] On Metro buses only and only on weekends and holidays, Metro drivers sell a $4.50 day pass that is a valid fare.  This does not include any Sound Transit buses. [Updated 8/24/11]
  • On Metro buses only, a valid Metro bus ticket.  This does include Sound Transit buses operated by Metro.
  • On Pierce Transit buses only, a valid Pierce bus ticket (which are hard to get).  This does include Sound Transit buses operated by Pierce Transit,  (574, 578, 582, 586, 590, 592, 593, 594, 595) but only as a one-zone fare.
  • On Pierce Transit buses only, a valid Pierce bus transfer.  This does not include Sound Transit buses operated by Metro Pierce Transit.

On trains it’s simpler: either buy a ticket at the machine, use an ORCA card, or walk on with the scarce PugetPass or FlexPass card.

ORCA is a step forward but it’s clear we’re not really going to get the complexity down till we get rid of paper media entirely.

SE King County Commuter Rail coming soon?

WES by Jason McHuff
WES by Jason McHuff

Imagine getting off Sounder or a bus at Auburn station and a few short minutes later, another sleek, quiet train pulls into the station. This could happen in a few short years for Maple Valley, Covington, and Black Diamond residences.

The cities of Maple Valley, Covington, and Black Diamond have joined together for a feasibility study to implement commuter rail service, running from the Auburn Sounder Station to  the Black Diamond/Ravensdale communities, in hopes to relieve congestion off Highway 18, Hwy 169, and create transit communities around the stations or TOD, much like Kent Station.  More after the jump…

Continue reading “SE King County Commuter Rail coming soon?”

News Roundup: Rail Grinding


Video by Eric Jensen.

Op-ed: A+ is the Transit-Friendly Option for SR520

by VIRGINIA GUNBY

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Our SR 520 Westside Design A+ is the transit friendly, financially affordable option and was recommended by the SR 520 State Legislative Workgroup by a vote of 12 to 2 (opposed by Reps. Chopp and Pedersen of the 43rd District). A+ is supported by Metro Transit, King County, the University of Washington, five major Eastside cities, the Eastside Transportation Partnership, and many north end Seattle Community Councils. We worked to reduce A+ costs by retaining the current interchange at Montlake Blvd and saving $100 million on the replacement of the Portage Bay Bridge.

One remaining decision is replacement of the Lake Washington Blvd. ramps at a cost of $98m.  Information on the overall impacts of the ramps, in or out, will be included in the WSDOT SR 520 Supplemental EIS, which will be available for Public Review after the first of the year. We need a city-wide public debate on how to make this a “Win/Win” for both improving the future Arboretum and SR 520 inter-modal Transit services. More after the jump…

Continue reading “Op-ed: A+ is the Transit-Friendly Option for SR520”