A Peek at the Other Two East Link Stations

I-90/Rainier Avenue Link Station (from the Central District News)

In light of Bellevue routing and whatnot, East Link’s first two stations outbound from International District Station have been somewhat of an anomaly, at least up until now.  The Central District News has some new information about the I-90/Rainier Ave. Station, which is currently a freeway stop.  There will be platform entrances from 23rd Avenue on top of the Mt. Baker tunnel entrance, as well as an entry ramp to the Rainier Avenue bus stops below I-90. More below the jump.

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Sound Transit: Looking at Changing Fare Structure

ST Express Proposed Changes
Proposed changes to ST Express bus fare.

We were just informed that the Sound Transit board will discuss a “fare simplification/coordination and rate change” proposal at this Thursday’s board meeting Operations and Administration Committe. The initial draft of the fare proposal can be found here. Information about the meeting can be found here.

From my cursory skimming of the proposal the biggest news is not the fare changes themselves; as ST’s fare have only increased once since 1999 compared to four times with CT, Metro and PT. Rather the big news is the structural changes underlying them. ST Express bus service would see the largest structural changes, shifting from a Sound Transit subarea basis to a county basis.

The image above outlines the proposed changes to fare structure as well as price. I’m under the impression that this structural change is an effort to bring ST’s fare structure more in line with the county operated transit operators. In coordination with county agencies this could possibly leading to a harmonized although not necessarily unified fare structure.

The other change is to increase Link’s base fare by $0.25 cents and eliminating the distance-based portion of the fare for youth and senior/disabled. This will cut the number of possible link fares in half from 12 to 6 and bring youth and senior fares in line with Metro’s bus fares next year.

The Seattle Times will have a story with interviews tomorrow and I’m sure Martin will contribute more analysis in the coming days, especially since he wrote about fares here just a few days ago.

I’ll just leave you with a few thoughts. To me there are three competing objectives when designing fare structures; equity, ease of use, and system efficiency. Depending on the historical precedence and context of the transit system these competing objectives lead to different fare structures. Flat fares are easy to use but create large winners and losers and don’t manage demand well. Zone based systems are harder to understand, make the system more fair and more efficient. Distance based fares are complex, more fair and more or less lead to efficient use of the transit supply. In Seattle’s context equity and ease of use will be the two competing objectives that will shape any fare structure change. Stay tuned for more details in the coming days.

Should Drivers have Plexiglas Barriers?

[UPDATE 8:00 am: This TV report provides some video of what the shields look like.  It’s hardly an airtight seal.]

The Seattle PI reports that Metro will install Plexiglas barriers between drivers and passengers in a handful of buses as a trial run.

After a bus driver was beaten and knocked unconscious while behind the wheel, officials with King County Metro Transit are exploring whether to enclose drivers behind Plexiglas barriers.

As a pilot project, security partitions will be installed in a small number of buses, General Manager Kevin Desmond said. More details, including costs, will be announced in the next few weeks, he said.

I’m not so sure that Metro’s limited dollars should be going to Plexiglas barriers. As the article notes, a barrier could cement a notion that buses are unsafe. And if a passenger’s first source of aid is behind a barrier, wouldn’t that make one feel less protected? While bus drivers can go through dangerous parts of town, it stands to reason that if a bus is an unsafe place to be then passengers and not just drivers should be protected. That means things like security cameras and a random police presence could be more effective for overall safety than Plexiglas barriers for drivers.

Route 28 Stop Consolidation

Route 28 (click to enlarge)

Route 28 is going through the same stop reduction process the 7, 16, 48, and 120 have over the last few years.  A total of 134 stops between Denny and N 145th St, spaced an average of 760 feet apart, will be pared down to 56 with a 1,300 foot (1/4 mile) interval.  On busy routes, stop reductions save time and therefore money, while improving the experience for most riders.

Comments about the stop closures can be submitted by phone to (206) 296-4511 or by email (with “Route 28” in the subject line) to community.relations@kingcounty.gov.

The reduction will be implemented on April 4th.  A complete list of stops scheduled for the axe is below the jump.

H/T: Commenter “Guest”

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Sunday Open Thread: Moving through Metro

My hometown system…

[UPDATE: A few points I should have made yesterday:

  • It’s interesting to consider that DC decided to move forward on this system at about the same time Seattle rejected starting theirs.  The difference, I think, is an institutional setup where elected leaders make decisions, rather than one where they have to go to the ballot for (super-)majorities for nearly every budgetary decision.
  • DC has a similarly balkanized system: spanning two states and one-quasi state, WMATA runs the subway and some regional buses; then you have at least five county agencies running buses, and two different states running their own commuter trains.
  • Seattle Times editors: please count the newspapers in the video.]

A Modest Fare Proposal

Sound Transit Fare Zones

The last fare thread had a lot of complaining about differential fares between agencies.  And although ORCA is intended to smooth over that complexity, in ideal world similar service would cost the same on each agency.

Judging from the comments, people seem to think this is really important.  An interesting way to judge the actual priority people are willing to give an issue is to trade it off against other priorities.  As it so happens, people hate fare increases, and given widespread budget crises there’s no way agencies are cutting fares.  So here’s a thought experiment that gives everyone the fare parity they value so highly, while also raising some cash for transit:

  1. Everyone adopts the Sound Transit fare zone map, with a new fare zone created for Snohomish County outside the ST district.  Other outlying areas can be absorbed into the adjacent fare zones.
  2. The unified fare system adopts the highest fares at each level.  For adults at peak times, that’s $2.25 1-zone, $3.50 2-zone, and $4.50 3-zone.  Off-peak, it’s $2.00/$2.50/$3.00.
  3. If you like, raise Link fares 80 cents and .5 cents a mile to match Sounder.  Use the same structure for the SLUT and Tacoma Link.
  4. Form a regional fare board to approve all future fare changes.

Longtime readers know that I don’t wring my hands much over fare increases to plug the budget gap, because a large part of the burden is actually borne by employers and the federal government.  What reservations I do have would be swept away by a more systematic way to get reduced fare passes in the hands of people who need them.  On the other hand, I’m not convinced the reduced complexity would really be worth the ridership declines you’d create.

Breaking: Car-Link Collision

Train and car after the collision
Train and car after the collision, photo courtesy of KOMO News

[UPDATE 4:36pm According to Metro the accident is cleared, meaning Route 8 is back to normal.  One can only assume the same is true for Link.  Good job, emergency services, and good job, Metro alerts.]

There was a car-link collision just South of Othello at 3:30pm today.   Fortunately, no fatalities, though it’s not clear from the P-I report if the car passengers were injured or not.

Link is likely be single-track for a while, but there are no other details on the service disruption at this time.  Enough of the street is blocked that Route 8 is being rerouted on Renton Ave. between Kenyon and Henderson St.

News Roundup: City Government Ethics

Photo by Oran

This is an open thread.

Signaling on MLK (II)

“Waiting to cross”, by Oran

Here are some miscellaneous questions and answers from my interview with SDOT Senior Engineer Darlene Pahlman.  For the most part, these words are paraphrases.  See also Part I of this report.

What can operators do to improve their practices? SDOT has transmitted to Metro’s training staff the accumulated best practices.   If operators would like SDOT to come provide another training seminar they’d be happy to do so; please coordinate this through your training focal.

Is manual control of the signals possible? “We can remotely access the controller and can issue manual commands.”

What is the minimum achievable headway is on MLK? “We think we can successfully operate a system at 5 minute headways.”

What is the signal cycle length on MLK? 2 minutes, although there’s no firm bound on how long a car might wait.

Is there a special operating mode at late night or on Sundays? At these times we “run free”, meaning we try to grant demands to cross the tracks as they arise.

Are there any plans to expand the “running free” period? Not unless the data shows us a problem.

Is there any threshold of poor traffic flow where trains lose signal priority? That is no city policy at this time.

Would SDOT consider opening their controller configuration? No, for security reasons.

How are the pedestrian crossings working? At first, we had a lot of complaints about inability to cross MLK on a single signal.  We installed the “countdown” signals and those complaints dropped precipitously.

More on the License Fee Amendment

[UPDATE 8:45pm: The legislation page says the Senate has officially “refused to concur” with the House amendments, which moves the bill to a conference committee back to the House, where it can “insist” or not.]

If you’re interested in why the Pierce and Community Transit relief passed, Metro relief didn’t, and the license fee’s overall prospects in the Senate, please read Erica Barnett and Larry Lange.

Briefly, Metro didn’t have enough votes.  Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen is likely to kill what did pass, allegedly to enlarge the coalition for a broader transportation measure next year.  Pierce Transit’s reserves don’t run out until 2012, but a measure signed into law tomorrow is unlikely to spare Community Transit residents at least a few months of drastically reduced service.  Whatever agenda Ms. Haugen has, she’s clearly willing to sacrifice the mobility of Snohomish County residents to achieve it.

Pierce, Community Transit Relief Survive the House

The effort to attach amendments to the Transportation Benefit District bill to allow additional license fees for transit has met with partial success.  Andrew Austin at the TCC’s blog reports the amendment for Pierce and Snohomish Counties was successfully added and passed the full House.  The King County equivalent did not come to a vote.   The amendment passed 54-44 on a straight party-line vote, except for 7 dissenting Democrats: Finn, Green, Hudgins, Hurst, Kelley, Morrell, and Probst.   The vote was the same for the whole bill, except Hudgins flipped to vote Yes. Now it’s on to the conference committee, and the amendment’s survival is questionable.

If I’m not mistaken this closes the door on explicit relief for Metro this session, although they may gain from reduced sales tax exemptions.  In any case, Metro doesn’t really hit the wall until 2012, so there’s one more session in which to do something.

More Space at Brickyard P&R

"Snowy Brickyard P&R", by Oran

The Brickyard P&R, which in 2008 was at 105% capacity and in the top 10 in utilization, is opening 200 more spaces this week, nearly doubling its capacity to 442 vehicles.  This will be a relief to the residents of this area, filled with low-density, unwalkable, cul-de-sac oriented development, as it gives them good access to 10 Metro and Sound Transit routes, including expresses to Seattle and Bellevue.  The $2.1m cost was covered by WSDOT’s Regional Mobility Grant program.

Vehicle License Fee Back from the Dead

Although the standalone bill that would add authority for a $20 license fee in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties died in the House last month, Publicola reports that the same provision has been proposed as an amendment to SB 6774, an otherwise boring bill about Transportation Benefit District governance:

The amendments—sponsored by Reps. Scott White (D-46) and Sharon Nelson (D-34) for King County and Rep. Marko Liias (D-21) for Pierce and Snohomish—would grant the three county councils the authority to either pass a $20 vehicle-license fee to pay for transit, or to put a license fee of up to $100 before voters for the same purpose. (They could also impose a $20 license fee and put a measure on the ballot, but the ballot proposal would be limited to $80).

My math says a $40 fee alone would solve Metro’s funding problems, or a $30 fee plus a removal of sales tax exemptions similar to the House plan.  However, if I read it correctly this authority would expire in 2015.

Erica says Republicans are hoping for a floor vote to identify who supports the amendments, which have not yet passed.  Someone should tell them that avoiding drastic transit cuts beats doing nothing 3-to-1, even in off-year special elections in relatively conservative districts.

UPDATE: TCC has an email your legislator page for this amendment.

State Revenue Proposals may Help Transit


Both the House and Senate in Olympia have released details of their revenue plans.  As we’ve noted before, to the extent that these eliminate sales tax exemptions, they will also slightly increase revenue at local transit agencies, all of which rely on sales tax for a large chunk of their revenue.

The House proposal (thanks Publicola) contains, by my count, $458m in new sales tax revenue from repealed exemptions in the 2011-2013 biennium.  Our Metro revenue predict-o-tron tells us that that amounts to about $12.5m a year for King County Metro, or about 100,000 service hours.   That’s about a quarter of the budget hole Metro faces in that period.  For Community Transit, it’s about $2m, not enough to restart Sunday service, but enough to buy back about a third of the weekday cuts.

The Senate budget is presented in a way that makes it much harder to figure out what’s sales tax, but my count (see this) says that there’s about $180m for the state over two years, or $5m a year for Metro.  An email to Sen. Murray to clarify the numbers did not generate a response in time for this post.  Anyone who knows more about the taxes mentioned here is welcome to correct the record on this.

Proposed Changes to Routes 903, 910, 919

click to enlarge

Metro is proposing a change to Route 903 that both shortens the route and provides new service to the Federal Way City Hall and Federal Way Community Center.

New Route 910 (map at right) would connect the Auburn Supermall and a bunch of other stuff  to the Sounder Station.  Service would be hourly during business hours only.

The new route would also suggest a revision of Route 919 to eliminate overlaps, basically eliminating a large dial-a-ride service area in exchange for regular service on the 910 (current service map here).

The latter two changes are part of continuing Transit Now service improvements, part of a service partnership agreement with the City of Auburn.  You’ve already missed the open house (thanks for the heads-up, Metro!) but you can fill out a survey (on the 903 or the 910 and 919) or email comments on any of the three changes to mary.coltrane@kingcounty.gov until Friday, March 5th.

Metro Won’t Renew Olympic Contract

The Stranger reports that Metro won’t renew its contract with Olympic Security, after a brutal beating of a teenaged girl occurred right in front of guards in the downtown transit tunnel. That beating became national news; Metro and the city have since increased the police presence in and around the tunnel.

It was Olympic Security policy to not intervene and instead “observe & report” altercations. Olympic Security’s president city sent a letter to county and city officials putting blame on Metro staff for that strict policy, saying that the transit agency had told Olympic to not make “physical contact” with others. Metro notes that the prior incidents that led to a clarification of the “observe & report” rules were not assaults, but instances like a skateboarder rummaging through the trash which didn’t necessitate physical contact to maintain safety. Publicola has the full report.

Pierce Transit in the Worst Shape of All

Image via Tacoma Tomorrow (click to enlarge)

Evan Siroky at Tacoma Tomorrow has a detailed report on Pierce Transit’s long range budget situation, and it isn’t good.  PT’s reserves run out in 2012, at which point the bottom falls out.

Using current revenue sources, annual service hours will fall by 57% – from 622,000 to 265,000, as the number of bus routes plunges from 51 to 23.  The end of service would move from midnight to 9pm on weekdays, and from 10pm to 8 or 9pm on weekends.  Weekend headways would increase to 60 minutes.

As the map above indicates, there would also be a substantial reduction in the areas PT serves. Unlike in King County, the PT district is not equivalent with the County.  These unserved areas would still be paying taxes to support PT; should the lack of service persist, they would likely pursue the time-consuming and complex “deannexation” process.

PT also provides 33% of service from Tacoma to Olympia, and that would end.

Metro and Community Transit faced potential 20% cuts when their sales tax collapsed.  Spokesman Lars Erickson explains that PT’s would be much deeper because “Pierce county experienced the recession earlier and deeper.”  The long term deficit is about $50m/year.  PTCT saved about $72m through 2012 through staff cuts, fare increases, and deferral of most capital expenses.

The good news is that Pierce Transit assesses a 0.6% sales tax, so they have a further 0.3% they can access with a public vote even if the legislature never comes to the rescue.  The chart below the jump pitches what could be done with that money: a gradual increase to 638,000 hours, including a fourth major trunk route.  The Pierce Transit board is likely to decide on a course of action this summer.

See also the TNT on this subject.

Continue reading “Pierce Transit in the Worst Shape of All”

Regional Transit Task Force Members Appointed

Dow Constantine

We reported a few weeks ago that King County was forming a transit task force to look at Metro’s policies, in particular the weights to which it assigns various objectives such as ridership, reduction in vehicle miles traveled, congestion relief, serving transit-dependent populations, and so on.  County Executive Constantine just released his appointments for the task force’s 28 members:

The geographically balanced 28-member task force includes a mix of elected officials and representatives of business, labor, education, and human service agencies, along with riders…

The task force is being asked to develop policy options for discussion by July and to adopt final policy recommendations by September 2010.

Aside from six municipal politicians, the most recognizable names are probably Rob Johnson of the Transportation Choices Coalition, Chuck Ayers of the Cascade Bicycle Club, and the P-I’s “Bus Chick”, Carla Saulter.

People interested in repealing 40/40/20 will be interested to know that there are 18 slots identified by subarea, with 6 appointees from each.  However, Constantine claims that “I deliberately sought a group of people who are willing to put aside political divisions and think creatively about how to plan a transit system that will serve us well in the future,” which I believe is code for being willing to replace the infamous formula with something based on other metrics.

The proposed appointments will go through a Council committee (Environment & Transportation) tomorrow and should go before the full Council next Monday, March 1st.