Home / General / Getting around the Puget Sound is about to get even more difficult

Getting around the Puget Sound is about to get even more difficult


This is not surprising, but quite devastating. The higher than expected sales tax receipts will probably prevent cuts from going all the way up to 17%, but the 14-15% cuts will still be devastating. While changes to the final cuts are inevitable, something approximating the coming carnage can be viewed here. Some thoughts:

1) I’ve wished some transit nerd somewhere would come up with some sort of ‘transit use per transit system quality’ index. Obviously transit modeshare is highest in those cities with the most advanced systems like New York and DC. But for a system that consists almost entirely of slow, stuck in traffic buses, Seattle has pretty impressive numbers (nearly twice the modeshare of transit in Portland, for example). I very much hope this isn’t the beginning of a death spiral; a “worse service–>fewer choice riders–>less political support for transit—>worse service” feedback loop. But I’m far from confident it won’t be.

2) Anyone who voted no has no business pretending they’re not a fan of Tim Eyman. This vote completes what he started in 1999—destabilizing transit funding by making car ownership artificially cheap. Furthermore, anyone who voted no has no business pretending climate change is something they care about in any meaningful way, as forcing thousands of cars onto the road in exchange for a trivial tax cut.

3) Anyone asserting confidently what the ‘no’ vote really tells us about what ‘the people’ really want needs to shut up, at least until we have some more and better data. First, it’s a special election with low turnout. Obviously one of the most important pieces of missing data is how many people voted primarily no because they didn’t like the regressive flatness of it. Depending on how much the vote totals tighten, if that number is between 7-10% of no votes that’s enough to get us to a tie. I would like to believe that’s the case, as it would bode well for the future and confirm my frustration and anger with the dysfunction in Olympia, but I’m not going to assert it must be true because I want it to be so. In particular, I hope Sound Transit won’t overreact and water down the ask for ST-3 in 2016. The electorate in a presidential election will be much, much more pro-transit than this.

4) I really hope this factors into the current negotiations Murray* is engaging in with TNCs and taxis; the arbitrary cap on TNC cars on the road was a bad policy prior to devastating transit cuts, and it’s even worse now. One in six Seattle households is currently car-free, and the city should be doing what it can to encourage that number to grow, not shrink. Implementing these two changes simultaneously goes against all kinds of environmental and land use concerns the city claims to have.

5) From what I’ve been told, Metro seems to think late night service cuts are a good place to start, because of relatively low ridership numbers. I can see where this is coming from, and it’s not like I’ve got a good, politically viable plan for how to figure out cuts with the least amount of  pain, but: not all ridership numbers are equal. Late night service does at least two very valuable things: it allows mostly poorer people with irregular-hour service jobs to, well, keep those jobs, it takes drunk people off the road. In other words, the rides provided by a 11:30 PM bus are higher stakes than the average ride. Whatever metric goes into how to distribute the final cuts, I hope it doesn’t just look at raw ridership numbers.

6) Speaking of which, people are going to lose jobs over this, and they’re going to be the kind of people with very little by way of a cushion when it happens. We’ll pay for a lot of these cuts indirectly, through social services. As 40% of this money was going to road repair, and Olympia seems committed to roads bills that are heavily tilted away from basic maintenance, and toward shiny new “screw the future and invest in cars for another century” roads projects, we’ll also pay through the back door for this vote through increased car repair costs.

7) Metro is going to try to combine these cuts with some common-sense restructures that will make service more efficient, and hopefully minimize the impact of the cuts. They have to do this, and many of the restructures they want to do would be worth doing in a service hours-neutral environment. Still, this is dangerous: previous restructures (such as West-Seattle/Ballard 2012, in light of ‘rapidride’ service introduction) have produces never-change-anything “save my stop” backlashes and prove quite politically difficult, but have been retroactively supported by the communities they serve. In other words, people were skeptical but have eventually bought into them. But under current circumstances, they restructures will be combined with service cuts. Will users and communities stung by the cuts make the distinction between the cuts and the sensible, efficiency-increasing restructures? I doubt it.

8) I don’t celebrate the death of traditional journalism as a general matter, but I’m going to make an exception on the day the Seattle Times bites the dust.

*Murray seems to have his head on straight about the idiocy of the caps, but his tenure in Olympia shows he’s not anywhere near the deal-maker he imagines himself to be.

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