Metro at WWRHAH – June 4, 2013 meeting notes

King County Metro was our guest tonight, with DeAnna Martin, Victor Obeso, and David Hull from the agency joining us. Here are the minutes and what happened. This meeting was at Chief Sealth High School’s library to get more space and an extra hour of available time. Next month on July 2nd we’ll be back at the SW Library branch on 35th. There were 36 people in attendance.

The group at Sealth.
The group at Sealth.

Here’s what happened during the meeting…

 

6:40 pm to 7:00 pm:

Previous council business from last month: Amanda Helmick, our chair, ran quickly some news from last month and some things we’ve been working on since then.

We had our first ever elections, and have some open positions still – we’ll go back into this in July. Details on our officers are here on the site’s About Us page. And speaking of, we have a site now. You’re reading it.

Chris Stripini then talked about the traffic calming & safety issues for Roxbury Street that SDOT is starting to look into with our feedback — more feedback is needed! In short, there’s been chatter for months in the meetings about traffic concerns on Roxbury, and what can be done to improve safety in general. SDOT has caught wind of this, thanks to Chris, and they are looking for feedback to form a study. We are going to spend some time collecting such information – what do you think Roxbury needs for traffic and pedestrian safety? Please e-mail feedback to contact@wwrhah.org.

Recruiting for committees — we need more people. Please see some details here.

We then ran through introductions. The group was especially Arbor Heights centric tonight — about 2/3 in favor. It’s usually about a 50/50 split between our northern and southern halves.

A reminder: we have two upcoming Mayoral Forums for the upcoming primary election and the November elections. You can go ask questions of the candidates and meet them. The first is June 22 at 10am on public safety and crime, at City Hall downtown in the Bertha Knight Landes Room. The CNC is hosting the second Mayoral Candidate Forum on June 26th at 6 PM in the same room. This one is about neighborhood issues.

7:00 pm to 7:45 pm:

Metro ran through the questions on our agenda, which came from feedback in previous WWRHAH meetings. They had some initial information for us first, after their introductions:

Metro projects they need to grow services by 10% in the county — but the $75,000,000 budget shortfall because of the legislature and reliance upon sales taxes and an expiring $20 vehicle tab fee will mean cuts up to 17% instead. That’s a net 27% reduction from where we should actually be, by autumn 2014. Metro’s revenue base comes from the following:

• 60% revenue from sales taxes
• 20% from car tabs
• 20% from other various sources

David went through a list of all revenue sources that Metro has — there’s nowhere in today’s formula at all to squeeze more revenue out. We’ve already cut out all the legitimate fat and gristle.

Revenue increases come down to what Olympia does in the current special legislative session that Governor Inslee ordered. If the measure we’re after is granted from Olympia, we would need to vote again on a levy to fund Metro on the county level. Cities technically *could* fund Metro individually but only Seattle at all has really done this in the past on a small scale, for their own local-only services. The UW and Microsoft long ago did as well. This comes up again in the meeting.

Right now, if we face 17% cuts in autumn 2014 comes down to Olympia.

For all the Q&As below, the answers are shortened up and paraphrased a bit.

The prepared questions:

1) Bus layovers on Barton St cover a large portion of Roxhill Park. This makes it hard to see what is happening inside the park from the street. We have had some crime there, including an armed robbery. What is Metro’s intention for the Westwood Village area? Is Westwood Village to become a Transit Center?

Answer: Westwood Village is a Transit Hub by design—like Northgate. This is to mitigate the problem of food deserts for lower income groups in adjacent areas such as White Center among other reasons. Metro concedes that the buses create a visual barrier against Roxhill Park as they layover and wait for their service to resume, but bus drivers need to get a rest period by law and these always come at the end of a route. Ways to deal with this layover problem came up later in another question: short answer; they’re working on it now that they know it’s an issue for us.

1a. Follow Up: There are a lot of bus routes now terminating at Westwood Village. Is there a plan for any of those routes to connect back to White Center?

1a Answer: They have actually kept a number of routes back into White Center, and two routes still connect WWV to White Center directly, such as the 120, which also connects Delridge, Westwood Village, and White Center now.

2) Arbor Heights Residents will be without bus service if this next round of cuts are allowed to take place. Will there be an addition of connector buses to bring AH residents to a Rapid Ride area?

Answer: In autumn 2013 they want to mitigate some of the previous autumn 2012 Arbor Heights cuts if possible. They plan their service model based upon productivity of the route, and social equity requirements–for people who need services the most. The cuts in Arbor Heights are similar to cuts that they did north and west of Ballard.

Among the reasons we saw cuts in 2012: on the previous local route 21, only 5% of the riders boarded in Arbor Heights, but the Arbor Heights loop of the 21 local cost 20% of the cost of the total of route 21, since it was 1/5th of the length. Cost for a bus route is measured in hours. An hour of a bus is an hour of a bus, and the Arbor Heights previous 21 was statistically one of the worst performing routes in the network. Some of this will be mitigated with the “new” route 22 coming soon.

We’re also getting a 35th & Roxbury Rapid Ride stop, to help Arbor Heights a bit. This will not be like the new 21 that loops back around from Barton to Roxhill. Rapid Ride will still terminate at Westwood coming south. But this stop will at least help people commuting to downtown from Arbor Heights. Other options exist still for needy riders in Arbor Heights, such as the Access Vans—for those who physically have no other choices. Metro is trying to keep it’s Access Van type programs viable despite the budget shortfalls.

For disadvantaged communities, Metro is required to comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and has to strike balances in the service distribution between commuters, downtown, the UW area, SE Seattle, and South King County. These requirements that they have to report to the Federal government on – in exchange for Federal grant money we rely on – also played a role in deciding where to shift bus service hours.

3) Routes such as the Commuter Routes 113/118/119 are slated to be cut. What routes do Metro assume these bus riders will use?

Answer: The commuter routes 113, 118, 119 would be cut in the worst case scenario. Riders here would need to use the local runs of nearby buses if the 17% cut forecast for 2014 happens.

4) It appears as if Metro is forcing all of West Seattle to use the Rapid Ride buses. Given the scheduling and overcrowding problems already experienced:

4a. What aspects of Rapid Ride does Metro consider successful and which parts are being improved?

Answer: Metro first provided a detailed list of all the many changes done leading into today’s Rapid Ride, which would be too long to list here. The 21, 54, 55, 56, etc. changes and so on. The very, very long answer boiled down to this:

After Rapid Ride, all of West Seattle on all of those pre-Rapid Ride routes that got merged into Rapid Ride or were changed because of Rapid Ride have seen a total +45% increase in usage and ridership since Rapid Ride went live. Apologies—I don’t have all the numbers; there were a lot, but the math checked out at the time.

• Pre-October 2012: all those routes had X number of people.
• Post-October 2012: what remained of those routes plus Rapid Ride now carry X +45%. It’s usage has grown a lot.
• At the same time, overall network growth county-wide is up 2% to 3%.

4b. How does Metro propose to solve the problem of additional overcrowding if the other listed routes are cut?

Answer: Ridership is way up. Which leads to crowding (this came up in the open Q&A session as well). West Seattle actually was one of the areas historically in the city did not have crowded buses — most areas were used to crowded buses for years. Crowded buses and standing only mass transit systems are actually the norm both nationally and internationally, and they cited other cities where this is just the way things are (New York, London, Tokyo, Chicago).

Victor Obeso, manager of Metro's service development; Mat McBride, chair Delridge community councils; DeAnna Martin, Community Relations Planner; Doug Johnson, transit planner with Metro's service planning group.
Victor Obeso, manager of Metro’s service development; Mat McBride, chair Delridge community councils; DeAnna Martin, Community Relations Planner; Doug Johnson, transit planner with Metro’s service planning group.

After a bathroom break, from 7:55 pm to 9:00 pm:

The open floor Q&A session with Metro.

Sound Transit 560 routing changes – no more transfers to 21X at Barton & 35th?

Starting next week all 560s end back at Staples in Westwood Village. The 560 to the 22 is the best connection available right now.

How can we help stop cuts to Metro?

Contact your state legislature representatives and senators as soon as possible to let them know you want to stop the cuts.

Was there any discretionary spending from the Rapid Ride federal money that we can use elsewhere?

The Rapid Ride Federal money was a grant — it was only available for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems. No discretionary usage. More money will come federally over the years in this system but it’s only for our new BRT system.

If given permission for a 1.5% motor vehicle excise tax is allowed and passes, what then?

We will get approximately (expected) $85,000,000 annually covering the $75 million shortfall and allow for some of the overdue needed growth. This addition of $85 million will be a net growth scenario for the entire network, even over the autumn 2012 changes that led to Rapid Ride.

If we get the $85,000,000 in excise money, how do we know we won’t get cuts in some areas anyway?

Metro is doing everything they can to not reduce or hurt services along these lines. Examples cited: Arbor Heights and Madison Valley cuts in the past. If something had to be cut in less busy areas — Snoqualmie, Enumclaw, Vashon Island — they would look to use less expensive solutions to connect back into our main transit network. So a quiet area may not get all-day 40 or 60 foot buses like in the past, but will get something. They do not want to cut off any community completely.

What’s the new Route 22 status?

The new 22 will be Junction to 35th to the Arbor Heights loop to 106th to Shorewood then back north again. It will be counter clockwise on the map. It’s a done deal—it’s coming. It is basically a reversal of the current 22 and an expansion. This will be an all-day service, but not quite every hour. It will run about 30 minutes later each night than it currently does. There will be no planned changes to today’s version of the 21 express because of the new-new 22 that’s coming.

For the route 22 expansion, will only one bus service the line change?

Yes.

For the 21 route — will it exist as-is in September 2013 for what the route covers today?

Yes. But in autumn 2014 if we don’t get our money we would begin the hypothetical apocalyptic-type cuts. Until then it would be current business as usual.

What is the King County Council saying and doing about all of this cutting and money trouble?

Joe McDermott (our council rep) has been fighting in Olympia for this. King County Metro is not allowed by law to lobby politically along these lines themselves.

At the Westwood Village Rapid Ride stop area — all the buses are lined up all day. The bus loading area completely boxes off all of eastbound Barton to load passengers. Could there be anything done to move the Rapid Ride stop west a little or something to not kill traffic on a regular basis?

This is intended — it’s meant to be a safe zone for pedestrians.

But — there is a blind spot with how it’s designed. It’s hard to see pedestrians as you approach the crosswalk, especially when buses routinely layover and camp literally on top of the new curb bulb. Can we make drivers stay 25 feet back from the curb bulb at Westwood for safety?

Metro is going to look into this. When we described (in detail) these issues, they were surprised. It hadn’t come up before to them.

What is the value of money we lose from fare evasion?

It’s $5,000,000 to $8,000,000 a year county-wide.

How much money could we gain for Metro by forcing payments vigorously? What if we really cracked down on fare enforcement?

Only a small percentage of riders cheat or cannot afford to pay. 60% of riders now use ORCA. It would cost more money to enforce payments such as through security than to just go with it as-is — fare enforcement enhancements would be a net loss. Fare evasion is <3% on rapid ride. It’s about <5% system wide of all passengers. Also, Metro does not allow bus drivers to aggressively push fare enforcement — when tried it always leads to assaults on bus drivers.

Can we put armed guards on all buses to force people to pay their fares?

There is no plan for this but Metro will review the suggestion.

Will Metro switch to electric buses totally?

No electric bus can do this system wide currently; none exist commercially that are 40-60 feet in length, like we need. The technology doesn’t exist yet in the market.

Can we put Metro Access buses downtown for people with wheelchairs and others who slow down access to the buses or those that can’t afford to pay?

It would cost more money to do this than to use the existing services as well. It would be a cost loser and we legally cannot create a separate class of service that disabled people are required to use.

If we get the new money, how do we know when or what to do with Arbor Heights to replace service? There are almost no riders today because of cuts.

This would need to be studied.

How much money was lost because of annexations in the county and how can we mitigate this?

As county areas become incorporated we lose money from that as it goes to the new administrative body that controls those areas. Example: some county neighborhood joins Sammamish. The revenue from them goes elsewhere now instead of the Metro system. Most areas being annexed these days are high tax revenue wealthy communities. This has a negative impact on Metro. There’s no easy way to mitigate this.

Buses stack up on Barton in front of Westwood Village at the Rapid Ride stop and at the park crossing at 29th & Barton. Buses sometimes line up all the way from the Barton Westwood stop to 30th. Can we stack up the idle buses all around the shopping complex in layover mode elsewhere instead of just where they are now? Like down 25th, or behind Westwood on Thistle?

This will be looked at. Metro didn’t seem to realize until tonight how much of a headache the Wall O’ Buses was down at Westwood.

Is it possible for Metro to look at an opt-in fee structure for cities to use where they will for example give Metro $30,000,000 a year in exchange for service? Can Seattle become a direct customer or patron of Metro to use that money 100% for their own services?

This may require special state taxing authority. It would require Metro policy updating as this doesn’t exist today. It is possible. It’s been done in the 1990s with the University of Washington and Microsoft in the past. Any such growth would ideally need to be a permanent contribution per year — $30,000,000 in 2015 for say 300,000 hours of city service would be for 2015. We will need to pay for that 300,000 hours again in 2016, 2017, 2018, etc.

Does Metro have any authority over Sound Transit?

Not really–they’re a separate agency and taxing authority created by the state and counties. Indirect influence to some degree–some people who run both agencies sit on both boards in some cases. So there is cross-planning for synergy and overlap, but they are separate by law.

Have any studies done of how service is done between the community transit SWIFT system and how they do fare enforcement?

The planners between Metro and SWIFT do speak together, and have worked on various BRT related national committees for planning and standards. The SWIFT system uses more of an ambassador type approach for fare enforcement. Ours is more of a pure enforcement role.

Why do ORCA cards need to come out of wallets sometimes to be scanned?

This is for portable readers only–they can’t read as well as the fixed stations.

When will the tunnel mitigation fund from the state to Metro end?

Two years before tunnel construction ends. Metro is trying to get the state and WSDOT to extend this — it’s about $17,000,000 in cost to Metro.

Would it be any faster for buses to go on the Spokane Street lower bridge rather than the upper freeway and viaduct route? In other words, you skip on lower surface level all the way from Avalon and the freeway to downtown via perhaps 4th Avenue?

No — then you deal with rail delays. Metro studied that extensively as a what-if already. It’s a draw for time involved and not worth changing.

Any talk of splitting the C line in any way, based on major destinations like the ferry and Junction?

It was intended to be a line like a rail line — a to b to c to d to e etc. and to include major intermediary destinations as nodes on the major line.

That’s it!

Please come to our next meeting, on July 2nd at 6:15pm at the Southwest Branch of The Seattle Public Library, 9010 35th Avenue SW, in the upstairs conference room. Facebook invitation link here.

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4 Comments

  1. “Sound transit 560 routing changes – no more transfers to Barton & 26th?” should read “Sound Transit 560 routing changes – no more transfers to 21X at Barton & 35th?”

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