Tunnel WiFi is here to stay

The DSTT is no longer an area devoid of communications. In case you haven’t noticed, there’s now a somewhat suspicious-sounding but completely legitimate “Tunnel WiFi” available at all five DSTT stations (but not in the tubes between stations). Launched by King County on March 9, it was promoted so riders could start planning for route changes. King County will continue to maintain it after ST turns on cell coverage but is not planned to be extended in to the tubes.

For cell coverage, ST’s Bruce Gray explains:

The plan is still to have the cell service up and running in the tunnels and stations from UW to downtown by the end of this summer, then in the DSTT this fall and in the Beacon Hill station and tunnels early next year.

Metro’s Battery-Powered Proterra Buses Now Running Revenue Service

King County Metro Proterra Catalyst

On February 17 Metro held a press event to announce that their three all-electric Proterra Catalyst battery-powered buses would be hitting the streets in revenue service that day. The buses will operate on routes 226 and 241—two routes that operate in a loop from the Eastgate Transit Center through downtown Bellevue.

Initially 4602 was entered service at Eastgate at 11:25 but it later broke down completely at Bel-Red Rd & 124 Av NE about an hour later. A diesel hybrid was brought in to replace it, and three hours later a mechanic brought out 4603 to run the rest of the trips for that run.

I rode route 241, and when it arrived at Eastgate TC it had used just 48% of its capacity after running a complete 18 mile loop of almost two hours. The layover time between these two trips is just 12 minutes. Since charging takes approximately 10 minutes and is required after every loop, this may mean that the trip will leave late if there are schedule delays on the incoming trip. Metro has not built in any additional layover padding next shakeup.

The “docking” process of the vehicle pulling in to the charger is almost completely automated; the operator simply holds the go pedal down and the bus takes care of forward acceleration. When the charge is complete, the arm automatically retracts.

The interior layout is designed to maximize seated capacity, with three seats being wedged in transversely between other rows of seats in order to make maximum use of space. The rear door is a passenger-activated plug door–the doors slide parallel to the body rather than pivoting. The rear section features a rear window and will soon be the only vehicles in the fleet to do so.

King County Metro Proterra Catalyst interior looking back

The entire interior of the bus is made of plastic (save for the seats and structural components of course) and despite this the bus was not squeaky on the inside Continue reading “Metro’s Battery-Powered Proterra Buses Now Running Revenue Service”

Metro Test-Driving Off-Wire Trolleys

King County Metro XT40

If you’ve been on the streets of Seattle lately, you may have noticed one of Metro’s prototype 40 foot trolleys cruising the streets. Identical twins 4300 and 4301–officially New Flyer XT40 trolleys–are out simulating service on a 90 day test run. This allows Metro to identify any minor adjustments that might be needed prior to New Flyer’s production run beginning in early 2015. The remaining 84 vehicles will start arriving in June and will hit the streets after they’ve been tested and had various accessories installed (farebox, bike rack, radios, etc). The 60 foot prototype will arrive around March 2015, with production of the remaining 54 beginning in late 2015 or early 2016.

Continue reading “Metro Test-Driving Off-Wire Trolleys”

Demographics and Land Use

Orting, Pierce County, WA (Bing Maps)

Mark Hinshaw in Crosscut provides yet another entry in the exurbs-are-dying genre.  A few years ago, I wrote two posts reacting to previous articles in this thread. There have been others over the years, most notably this Freakonomics roundtable.

For me, though, Matt Yglesias applies the critical sober analysis:

Rising gas prices and various other considerations have prompted this increased round of speculation on whether the suburbanization of America will reverse, but the right answer needs to take into account the fact that what policy choices we make will have a strong impact on the course of the future.

Here’s the money graf:

It’s totally plausible that we’ll respond to high energy prices by keeping our transportation spending priorities similar, while incumbent homeowners in-or-near walkable places respond to increased demand by enacting tight development restrictions in order to maintain artificial scarcity of housing stock and maximize the value of their homes. A similar overall proportion of the population would live in the suburbs, but the urban/suburban socioeconomic mix would continue shifting (“demographic inversion”) and overall quality of life will be hampered. Alternatively, we could alter our land use rules to facilitate the construction of denser areas and shift transportation spending priorities. That would slow sprawl, encourage inner suburbs to become less “suburban,” and a shift of the population base toward the cities. That would also be the more prosperity-friendly solution (not because cities are awesome, but because it’s more economically efficient to allocate resources in a manner less constrained by arbitrary regulatory barriers) and I hope it’s the solution we adopt, but whether or not we do it is totally uncertain.

The only thing I have to add is that the population of most metro areas will continue to grow.  So in his first scenario, where we keep the statutory status quo, you might see demographic inversion, but over an increasingly sprawling area.  Homes in Seattle and Bellevue become more unaffordable than they already are.  As you get to current outer suburbs and exurbs, incomes steadily decline, until you reach towns that currently haven’t been absorbed into the metropolis yet.  These towns would grow up to be sprawling exurbs, with the added problem of being of a lower socioeconomic stratum than that currently associated with exurbs.

In the second scenario, increased density moderates prices in the core, creating a mix of housing prices throughout the metro region.  Furthermore, since growth is directed inward, the geographic metro region has roughly the same limits it has today.

Editorial: Fares, ORCA, and Low-Income Residents

Photo by Oran

One of the serious limits to fare increases is the impact on low-income people. Indeed, the current system for selling bus tickets to social service agencies will inevitably miss needy portions of the population. If the ticket program were ever radically expanded you’d almost certainly see a secondary market develop, as tickets are about as traceable as cash.

As a poverty-fighting measure, however, low Metro fares are a blunt instrument. First of all, they threaten the service that low-income people depend on. Secondly, a significant portion of the savings are recouped by middle-class commuters, employers (through transit subsidies), and the federal government (passes bought through employers are usually done pre-tax). More after the jump.

Continue reading “Editorial: Fares, ORCA, and Low-Income Residents”

MEHVA Historic Trolleybus Tour: June 13th, 2010

MEHVA Seattle Transit 1940 PCF-Brill 40 SMT Trolley Bus

The Metro Employees Historic Vehicle Association (MEHVA) is a volunteer organization within Metro that is responsible for Metro Transit’s historic fleet of Trolleybuses and Motorcoaches. MEHVA will be operating a Seattle Trolleybus tour on Sunday, June 13th at 11AM.

With the future of our Electric Trolley Bus (ETB) system in doubt, this may be one of the last times that one may enjoy riding in Metro’s Historic ETB fleet.

What: Enjoy an unhurried 4-hour tour of city’s unique trolley bus system. Our restored trackless trolley buses will take you from Seattle’s hectic downtown to several fine old neighborhoods throughout the city. Tour stops for photos and lunch. Trackless trolleys depart at 11 a.m.

When: Sunday, June 13th, 11 AM

Where: Tour departs from 2nd Ave S. & S. Main Street

Cost: $5 (kids 5 and under are free)

MEHVA online: http://www.mehva.org/

The Bus Bunching Mystery

'Metro Route 7' by Oran

Bus bunching is something that’s often mentioned as a problem spot for bus reliability and particularly frustrating when riders have to wait 20 minutes longer than expected only to find two buses rumbling along one after the other.  As it turns out, however, bunching isn’t some systematic anomaly that no one has the answer to.  While there are a lot of factors that end up fluctating actual headways (as opposed to scheduled headways), late buses only exacerbate tardiness, therefore resulting in bunching.

More after the jump.

Continue reading “The Bus Bunching Mystery”

News Roundup: Mainly PubliCola

photo by papahazama

This is an open thread.

Rethinking Station Access (I)

"Where's Mt. Baker TC?", by Oran

An important part of Seattle’s decision to not build park-and-rides near most Link stations was the idea that people could take walk, bike, or take the bus to the train.  Indeed, one frequent criticism of Metro is that bus connections are not good enough.  Although Link is usually the better option if you’re actually at the station, close examination of transit options indicates that at the close-in stations if you’re already on the bus, the transfer generally doesn’t pay if you’re headed for the downtown core.

To reach Rainier Beach Station, riders may take the 106.  Simply remaining on the bus will get you downtown in about 38 minutes in the morning rush.  Link takes about 23 minutes for the same trip, so it will get you to work a bit faster, even when you factor in crossing a couple of streets and waiting an average of 4 minutes for a train.

At Columbia City, the 39 is your downtown-bound bus option.  Incredibly, the station is not a timepoint (!), but it’s about 26 minutes to University Street, vs. 16 minutes for Link.  However, in the peak, almost anyone on the 39 for any significant length of time can also choose the 34, which is 11 minutes faster to University Street,  beating 39+Link.  Off peak, the train is either better or a wash, but the 39’s headways are pretty awful.  The 42 is 20 minutes to the ID vs. 12 for Link. More after the jump.

Continue reading “Rethinking Station Access (I)”

Second to Last Step for First Hill Streetcar Alignment

Update @ 5:20pm: Slog is hosting the letter that the Mayor sent to the City Council.

The Mayor’s office just sent out a press release announcing that he is asking the City Council to approve the two-way Broadway alignment. This is the recommendation made by SDOT. This isn’t a surprise but what caught my eye were a few details that I have bolded.

… There are many advantages to the recommended route. The Broadway/Jackson route is estimated to cost approximately $125 million, comfortably within the maximum Sound Transit funding limit of $132.8 million, and will provide an efficient and accessible new transit option.  The route also presents opportunities to rethink the Broadway streetscape in ways that support walking, biking and riding transit. In the Chinatown/International District, the Jackson Street route and the Pioneer Square loop integrate well with other transit and connect First Hill and Capitol Hill to this historic district and the adjacent stadium district.

The mayor is committed to developing plans to address the key transit issues that stakeholders identified throughout this process, including:

  • Improving transit access to the Boren/Madison area, through measures such as speed and reliability improvements to existing Metro routes;
  • Developing alternatives that provide north-south transit service in the 12th Avenue corridor; and
  • Extending the First Hill Streetcar to the north end of Broadway, to support the economic revitalization of Broadway and improve neighborhood access to the Capitol Hill light rail station.

All of this bodes well, although certainly doesn’t ensure anything.

Editorial: “Political” Lines

A pet peeve of mine, and mine only, is the habit of attacking one alignment or another as “political.”  It’s a tool of both Sound Transit critics (North Sounder, Central Link) and those who generally agree with ST (the Wallace alignment). It also turns up in discussions of certain Metro routes.

I think the problem with this accusation is that it presupposes that there is a platonic ideal of an objectively optimal route for any given project. In fact, any routing decision is a complex tradeoff between a number of different objectives and interest groups.  Most people agree that ridership, VMT reduction, lowest cost of service, and improving the mobility of low-income people are important objectives for a transit system. Many people here would add “encouraging dense development.” On some level many people think it’s important that those who pay for the service should benefit from it.  If you’re a rail advocate, speed, reliability, and quality of service are probably important ends in themselves.

Cursory examination of these objectives shows they are to some extent in conflict. There’s a word for trading off competing interests; it’s called “politics.” There is no other way to resolve these conflicts in a democratic society than to have our representatives haggle this out.

I don’t mean to suggest that this always results in sensible outcomes. To make up an example, if there had been a politician from Bothell that was obsessed with rail, and had therefore spent a decade of his time on the ST Board advocating for his constituents, we very well might have seen an earlier emphasis on service to Bothell.  In real life, I believe the recent overwhelming emphasis of certain Bellevue activists on reducing impacts on their neighborhoods to be misplaced, and in any case not an important regional consideration.*

Tarring our opponents’ ideas as “political” doesn’t move the discussion forward because it doesn’t contain any information.  Let’s instead look at what each proposal is trying to achieve and explain why those objectives are invalid or less important than our preferred ones.

*Not important, because Link is destined to run through someone’s neighborhood, unless you (stupidly) push it away from where the people are.  It’s just a question of which one!

City to Develop Transit Master Plan

Eastlake bus stop. Photo by flickr user photocoyote.

Central District News is reporting, in an impressive scoop, that the city is developing a transit master plan, in the model of the city’s bicycle and pedestrian master plans. They quote the mayor’s office:

The new Transit Master Plan, which we expect to begin developing within the next few months, is envisioned to serve as a blueprint for transit investments in the same way that the recently adopted Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plans are guiding the development of improvement to help make biking and walking easier in Seattle.

Seattle Department of Transportation spokesman Rick Sheridan outlined the broad goals of the transit master plan to the neighborhood blog:

  • Develop transit service and capital investment priorities and recommendations
  • Make commitments to provide minimum levels of speed and reliability for high-ridership transit routes
  • Identify minimum service frequencies and span of service for high-ridership routes
  • Generate more transit funding to support growth in Seattle and the region
  • Improve coordination with Metro and Sound Transit planning activities
  • Include a plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transit vehicles

When asked about how much public feedback would be incorporated into the plan, Sheridan told us that “public involvement is absolutely needed” to shape the plan.”

“There will also be an advisory committee supporting the work made up of members of the public,” Sheridan said. “However, full details concerning these elements have not yet been worked out.”

The plan is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2011.

Metro Puts Data for Developers Online

One Bus Away is powered by Metro's GTFS feed.

King County Metro has posted a data file that defines all of its routing and scheduling information to its servers for anyone to access.

The data is in the GTFS format, which stands for Google Transit Feed Specification. This feed powers Google Maps’ transit directions and third-party services like One Bus Away. Transit agencies across the world are exporting their data to the de facto industry-standard format, so some applications based around GTFS that are built for Portland’s data, for example, could also work for Seattle depending on the context.

“King County is home to some of the best and brightest tech minds in the world, and we want to tap into their ingenuity,” said Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond. “Our customers love the apps that are already out there for their phones and computers, and we think there is a lot of potential to create more.”

Metro began opening up the feed late last year, but this is the first time that anyone can access the data without first contacting the bus agency. Developers can access the data file directly online, but must agree to King County’s terms of use. Notably, the terms do not prevent developers from profiting from their use of the data.

Most transit agencies do not post their feeds directly online, and Metro is taking a progressive step that should be applauded.

Streetcar, Tram or Light Rail – ROW or Station Spacing?

Yonah at the Transport Politic weighed in on rail transit categorization/semantics last week, using the potential West Seattle to Ballard extension as an example.

The dividing line between what Americans reference as a streetcar and what they call light railis not nearly as defined as one might assume considering the frequent use of the two terminologies in opposition. According to popular understanding, streetcars share their rights-of-way with automobiles and light rail has its own, reserved right-of-way.

But the truth is that the two modes use very similar vehicles and their corridors frequently fall somewhere between the respective stereotypes of each technology. Even the prototypical U.S. light rail project — the Portland MAX — includes significant track segments downtown in which its corridor is hardly separated from that of the automobiles nearby. And that city’s similarly pioneering streetcar includes several segments completely separated from the street.

As a result, some have labeled this plan little more than a streetcar, whose slow pace and minimal capacity make it more useful as a development tool than a transportation one. Others are convinced that the project will morph into a multi-billion dollar mini-metro like Link, a high-cost concept into whose face city budget experts are afraid to look.

But Mayor McGinn’s proposal is neither of those things — it’s an effort to build a cost-effective rail transit line on the model used by cities across Europe, known typically as tramways.

Jarrett over a Human Transit has a different take, arguing that station spacing is a more important factor in determining what kind of rail transit something is.

More after the jump Continue reading “Streetcar, Tram or Light Rail – ROW or Station Spacing?”

Haugen and Clibborn Oppose USDOT, Transit Agencies On Private Provider Requirement

Senate Transportation Chair Mary Margaret Haugen and House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn have sent a letter to the Governor (PDF) requesting Gregoire not veto the private provider provision we’ve covered before.

The letter’s points are nonsensical, and fail to address or even acknowledge any of the concerns raised in opposing letters from USDOT (PDF) and all of our local transit agencies (docx).

The chairs claim, for instance, that local jurisdictions have “always resisted even an evaluation of the benefits of sharing these restricted facilities” – when several of these agreements have been adopted already, such as shared use of Overlake Transit Center. Interestingly, we’ve heard that the provisions here in the budget may even conflict with existing state law regarding agreements with private providers – the budget does not amend the existing statute, but instead creates conflicting guidance for transit agencies.

As we covered before, the language in this amendment would tie any WSDOT funding for transit to that agency opening their facilities to private operators.

We’ve heard Starline Luxury Coaches may be involved here – they’re smarting from the Obama Administration removing the public transit restriction for game service, and they’ve weighed in on that issue heavily, and were involved in creating the original Bush rule.

When voters approved local transit projects, they didn’t agree to taxes to subsidize private motorcoaches.

Metro Releases Sounders and Mariners Service Schedule


On the heels of newly announced special Sounder service to soccer and baseball games, Metro announced this year’s schedule of special buses from (and in some cases, to) Sounders and Mariners games:

  • to and from all weekend Sounder games from Northgate, South Kirkland, and Eastgate.
  • to and from all weekend Mariner games from Northgate, South Kirkland, South Bellevue, and Eastgate.
  • From all weeknight Mariner games to the same four locations.

In all cases the trip will cost $5 each way, a rise from $3 a couple of years ago.  This fare is cash only and will be waived only for children under 2.

Unlike the Sounder service, whatever costs are not recovered by fares will be covered by the teams, which might explain their draconian structure.  It would appear that Link and Sounder are now covering the old downtown postgame shuttle and trips to points South

In any case remember that we have Senator Patty Murray to thank for lifting the ridiculous Bush-era provision that banned this kind of arrangement.

Transportation Benefit Districts are Back From The Dead!

Marko Liias’ HB 2855 is back in the special session! It’s been modified, though, so it would offer King, Pierce or Snohomish the opportunity for up to a $50 vehicle license fee with a public vote. Martin’s noted in the past that $40 would be enough to patch up Metro’s budget hole, and it’s certainly a good start for Pierce or Community Transit.

This bill will likely be on the floor today, and this is probably your last chance to take action during the session. If you want Sunday service back in Snohomish County, there are two things you can do (as usual) – call your own legislator, especially your representative, and call Speaker Chopp’s office to ask for a vote. (Bryan’s pointed out the District Finder)

Remember, every time your legislator hears that you care about this, even if they’ve already heard once or twice before, they’re reminded that people care about transit. We’re going to remind them of that all year!

February 2010 Link Ridership Numbers

from the Flickr Pool

February Link ridership numbers increased slightly over January’s average to 16,741 boardings each weekday, 13,744 on Saturdays, and 12,076 on Sundays. That actually beats out the record for weekdays, set in October, of 16,192.  The weekend records were set in the July opener and are unreachable for the foreseeable future.

Prediction and analysis on this subject are fraught with peril, but the major change in February was elimination of the 194 as part of a reorganization of Southwest King County service that also greatly improved bus access to TIB and Seatac stations.

These always turn into really long comment threads, but recall that we have a basically incomplete data set, Link’s most important promises won’t be realized for decades, and these numbers are neither so astoundingly high nor abominably low that anyone on the either side is likely to be convinced to change their opinion on the project as a whole.

For obsessives, the raw data is here.