NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, March 21st, 2020

COVID-19 fallout: Metro abandons August levy proposal; transit agencies reduce service

Man­ag­ing the rapid­ly wors­en­ing coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic is the most urgent pur­pose at present for all lev­els of gov­ern­ment every­where. The pan­dem­ic has had pro­found impacts on pub­lic ser­vices in the Pacif­ic North­west, includ­ing trans­porta­tion.

In the face of a rapid­ly-evolv­ing sit­u­a­tion, local tran­sit agen­cies are mod­i­fy­ing ser­vice and long-term plans to ensure the via­bil­i­ty of their oper­a­tions.

King Coun­ty Metro won’t sub­mit a request for fund­ing to vot­ers

With Seat­tle’s Trans­porta­tion Ben­e­fit Dis­trict expir­ing at the end of 2020, coun­ty offi­cials were hop­ing to ask coun­ty vot­ers in August to fund region­al mobil­i­ty improve­ments.

With the cur­rent pub­lic health emer­gency and antic­i­pat­ed neg­a­tive eco­nom­ic impacts, Met­ro­pol­i­tan King Coun­ty Coun­cilmem­ber Clau­dia Bal­duc­ci of Belle­vue announced that the coun­ty would no longer move for­ward with a levy pack­age.

Sched­uled to expire at the end of the year is a $60 car-tab fee and 0.1% sales tax levied in the City of Seat­tle. This has aug­ment­ed Metro’s exist­ing fund­ing to enable increased ser­vice fre­quen­cies, new pro­grams like Via to Tran­sit and Trail­head Direct, and ORCA oppor­tu­ni­ty pro­grams.

Coun­ty offi­cials were hop­ing to large­ly replace that fund­ing with a coun­ty­wide sales tax increase, but that is off the table.

Also includ­ed in the pro­pos­al were increased ser­vice hours to meet Metro’s sys­tem goals, sup­port for low-income pro­grams, and the elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of bus bases.

Coun­cilmem­ber Bal­duc­ci’s state­ment also indi­cates a wish for the Leg­is­la­ture to open up new fund­ing path­ways for tran­sit local­ly, espe­cial­ly with the uncer­tain­ty sur­round­ing I‑976.

Seat­tle May­or Jen­ny Durkan intend­ed to main­tain the bus ser­vice improve­ments that her city has ben­e­fit­ed from since 2014, but it remains to be seen how that will be pur­sued in light of recent devel­op­ments. The City has until May 8th to send a mea­sure to the bal­lot.

In the long run, this is a speed bump for imple­men­ta­tion of Metro Con­nects, the 25-year plan approved by the coun­ty coun­cil in 2017. Fea­tures of this plan include increas­ing ser­vice hours from 3.5 mil­lion to 6 mil­lion annu­al­ly, upping the amount of RapidRide lines to 26, and sup­port­ing 73% of King Coun­ty res­i­dents with easy tran­sit access with­in walk­ing dis­tance.

Sched­uled route adjust­ments will con­tin­ue

King Coun­ty Metro has been plan­ning a large restruc­ture of bus ser­vice on the North East­side, to come into effect March 21st, 2020. These changes will go ahead — but be sub­ject to the same tem­po­rary ser­vice reduc­tions the entire agency is plan­ning in the face of our pub­lic health emer­gency.

In the past, bus­es in the Kirkland/Kenmore/Woodinville/Redmond areas were com­pli­cat­ed and not use­ful.

Put sim­ply, the old routes were not direct enough. They tried to serve too many loca­tions at once, which decreased the appeal of the bus for rid­ers look­ing to move quick­ly between major cen­ters.

A comparison of the old Rt 238 and new Rt 231, more streamlined bus service on the North Eastside. (Photos: King County Metro)

A com­par­i­son of the old Rt 238 and new Rt 231 from Kirk­land to Wood­inville, show­cas­ing more stream­lined bus ser­vice on the North East­side. (Pho­tos: King Coun­ty Metro)

The new restruc­ture aims to straight­en out bus­es across the North East­side, with more direct, city-to-city con­nec­tions being pre­ferred to cir­cuitous neigh­bor­hood-cen­tric routes. Totem Lake, Brick­yard, South Kirk­land, and UW Both­ell will all receive bet­ter con­nec­tions to major hubs.

A few major route changes to note: Route 255, the main con­nec­tion from Kirk­land to Seat­tle for com­muters, will also receive an over­haul.

Instead of fight­ing traf­fic into Down­town Seat­tle, the 255 will exit State Route 520 at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton and rid­ers will need to trans­fer to Link light rail.

Also com­ing into ser­vice is the new Sound Tran­sit Route 544, which will link the 520 cor­ri­dor direct­ly to South Lake Union for the first time. This will allow East­side com­muters head­ed to South Lake Union to bypass down­town.

Over at the Seat­tle Tran­sit Blog, you’ll find a detailed analy­sis of the route changes for North­east King Coun­ty. And King Coun­ty Metro has pro­vid­ed a handy map tool and infor­ma­tion­al page to keep rid­ers updat­ed.

Tem­po­rary ser­vice reduc­tions, elim­i­na­tion of fares wide­spread

If you are mak­ing an essen­tial trip via tran­sit, remem­ber to prac­tice phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing and main­tain per­son­al hygiene. Allo­cate extra time for your trip, as online trip plan­ners will not account for the ser­vice reduc­tions.

Local­ly, King Coun­ty Metro and Sound Tran­sit both announced across-the-board reduc­tions in ser­vice lev­els for the time being. Sound Tran­sit was report­ing a 69% drop in rid­er­ship at the begin­ning of last week. Ser­vice reduc­tions are tak­ing place across the board: Sounder and Express bus ser­vice are all affect­ed.

Link Light Rail’s Con­nect 2020 project has also been extend­ed, after the last round of safe­ty test­ing revealed elec­tri­cal issues that must be resolved. The Con­nect 2020-relat­ed ser­vice reduc­tions will con­tin­ue to remain in effect until fur­ther notice.

Fare enforce­ment has also been paused on Link. Down­town sta­tions will be closed again this week­end, and dur­ing this clo­sure only all Link rides will be free, sys­tem-wide.

Local agen­cies are hav­ing to bal­ance the con­tin­ued tran­sit needs for essen­tial pub­lic work­ers and com­mu­ni­ties with­out trans­porta­tion alter­na­tives, while absorb­ing the cuts to rev­enue result­ing from the elim­i­na­tion of fare box income and decreased sales tax rev­enue.

Metro will be reduc­ing the amount of trips on near­ly all bus routes. Ser­vice will be entire­ly cut on eleven Metro-oper­at­ed low-rid­er­ship routes.

Metro is also sus­pend­ing the Com­mu­ni­ty Ride pro­gram. While rid­er­ship is low and irreg­u­lar, these routes pro­vide crit­i­cal access to ser­vices for folks in Black Diamond/Enumclaw, Shoreline/Lake For­est Park, Nor­mandy Park, and Sam­mamish. The imple­men­ta­tion of the new Juani­ta and Bothell/Woodinville Com­mu­ni­ty Rides will be delayed. (The Des Moines Com­mu­ni­ty Shut­tle will run reduced ser­vice while the Mer­cer Island shut­tle is sus­pend­ed.)

Com­mu­ni­ty van shut­tle trips will con­tin­ue to oper­ate as long as there are vol­un­teer dri­vers. This seems to be Metro’s plan to con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing access for vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties. Areas served include Bothell/Woodinville, Duvall, Sam­mamish, Kenmore/Kirkland, Lake For­est Park/Shoreline, and Vashon.

The Via to Tran­sit pro­gram, which aimed to increase low-income Link rid­er­ship in South­east Seat­tle and Tuk­wila, will also not oper­ate.

Last­ly — and cru­cial­ly — King Coun­ty Metro will also be sus­pend­ing fares on para­tran­sit, water taxi, and Metro bus ser­vices. Rear-door board­ing will be required, with the front reserved for the dri­ver and cus­tomers who require the use of the board­ing ramp.

Across our region, sim­i­lar COVID-19-relat­ed mod­i­fi­ca­tions are tak­ing place.

Bus­es in Skag­it, What­com, and Jef­fer­son coun­ties have gone fare-free dur­ing the emer­gency to lim­it inter­per­son­al con­tact (Inter­ci­ty Tran­sit is already fare-free). TransLink, the oper­a­tor in the Van­cou­ver, BC area, has also gone fare-free on its bus­es.

Island Tran­sit is mod­i­fy­ing its Sat­ur­day sched­ule for week­day ser­vice. Com­mu­ni­ty Tran­sit is study­ing ser­vice reduc­tions but has not imple­ment­ed any­thing yet — though cer­tain peak-hour trips to King Coun­ty have been can­celled due to staff short­ages. Pierce Tran­sit is report­ing no mod­i­fi­ca­tions to ser­vice as of now.

Amtrak Cas­cades is sus­pend­ing all ser­vices between Seat­tle and Van­cou­ver, BC, run­ning replace­ment bus­es until Belling­ham. Ser­vice along the rest of the line from Seat­tle to Eugene has been reduced; see the Cas­cades web­site for details.

The King Coun­ty Water Taxi has delayed the roll-out of sum­mer ser­vice. Kit­sap Tran­sit water taxis are oper­at­ing with reduced capac­i­ty to main­tain dis­tanc­ing.

Last­ly, Wash­ing­ton State Fer­ries has sus­pend­ed all gal­ley ser­vices and sus­pend­ed no-show/­can­cel­la­tion fees, but has­n’t reduced sail­ings sys­tem-wide. The sea­son­al ser­vice from Ana­cortes and the San Juans to Van­cou­ver Island has, how­ev­er, had its launch delayed by a month. Its first sail­ing is ten­ta­tive­ly sched­uled for April 26th.

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