City Hall

Major Milestone Reached Toward New Transit Master Plan

By Erica C. Barnett February 22, 2011

The city is currently in the process of revamping its outdated Transit Master Plan---which, when it's finished, will serve as a template for Seattle's transit planning for the next several decades. As part of its work toward that update, the city's transportation department just released a briefing book for the master plan---a kind of snapshot of what the city's transportation system looks like now and a road map for moving forward.

I won't pretend this is a comprehensive overview---the whole document is more than 400 pages long---but here are some interesting stats that jumped out at me.

In case you haven't noticed: The buses are full.

A large number of Metro routes are at more than 110 percent capacity---particularly those serving Lake City Way, Fremont Ave, Eastlake Ave, 15th Ave S., Rainier Ave, and SR 509/East Marginal Way. That's bad news given that Metro is cutting service, not adding it on routes that are over capacity.

Buses aren't just for rush hour anymore.

Metro's routing system focuses largely on getting people in and out of downtown. That system makes sense at rush hour, but focusing on downtown inevitably shifts service away from other types of trips, such as between urban villages. Given that 83 percent of Metro trips aren't to or from work at all, it makes sense to figure out ways to make those trips more convenient and reliable. Two of the report's suggestions: Make parking more expensive in urban villages (to give people an incentive to ride the bus there) and invest heavily in non-downtown service.

But that isn't likely because...

In case you need a reminder of Metro's current financial situation, here you go: Without a new funding source, Metro will face a shortfall of a$1.2 billion through 2015 and will have to cut 600,000 hours of service. King County supports legislation that would allow it to pass a temporary $30 vehicle-license fee for transit.

Half of all bus riders make more than $75,000 a year. And 90 percent of them drive.

Charts showing who does and doesn't ride Metro include a number of counterintuitive stats. First, the largest group of Metro riders are those making more than $75,000 a year, who make up fully 47 percent of Metro's ridership. Those making $25,000 a year or less, meanwhile, make up just 15 percent of riders. Most Metro riders (90 percent) have at least one car, and 43 percent have two cars or more. The vast majority (76 percent) of all Metro riders (and 91 percent of frequent Seattle riders) get to their bus stop by walking.

Ridership rose. But alas, it rose more than the number of service hours provided.

Bus productivity---the number of riders for every hour of bus service, indicated by route in the nifty chart below---rose, but that increase was due largely to the fact that ridership rose faster (20 percent) than service hours (13 percent) between 2003 and 2008. If you want to find out how your specific route is doing, check out the chart on page 29 of section 4 of the briefing book (sorry, it's too large to upload here).

Seattle falls short.

Seattle's bus and rail system is less cost effective, overall, than all but one (Pittsburgh) of seven comparable cities. All of the other six cities (which included Portland, Denver, Minneapolis, and Vancouver) had higher hourly ridership per hour and lower costs per trip than Seattle. However, that was due largely to the fact that Metro serves a lot of outlying areas; take those away, and Seattle's ranking improves.

SDOT will use the information in the briefing book to come up with a list of recommended transit investments in the fall.

Need even more bedtime reading material? Pages and pages of data, charts, graphs and more await you here.
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