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They call it 'public transit' but some riders get left behind

Bureaucracies have their ways of ignoring the needs of customers using other public transit systems -- to say nothing of private providers.

Colman Dock currently accommodates foot-ferry services, seen on the extension to the left (2005 phont).

Colman Dock currently accommodates foot-ferry services, seen on the extension to the left (2005 phont). Chas Redmond/Flickr (CC)

The King County Ferry District operates a service that uses Colman Dock on the downtown Seattle waterfront.

The King County Ferry District operates a service that uses Colman Dock on the downtown Seattle waterfront. AvgeekJoe (Joe Kunzler)/Flickr (CC)

One sees it in ways large and small: the confusion that is public transportation in our region whenever someone is trying to make more than a simple trip on a heavily traveled route or with a single transit provider. Go online to Google's trip planner to plan a trip from downtown Seattle to Smokey Point Boulevard and 174th, on Arlington's busy miracle mile, and Google will draw a blank. Snohomish County's Community Transit, although it runs five buses on Smokey Point, doesn’t share its data with Google, as Metro's planners, for example, do.

Try Google or any transit provider's planner for a let's-get-out-of-the-city jaunt to Skykomish or Stevens Pass and you'll strike out completely. A private company, Northwestern Trailways, in fact serves Skykomish and Stevens Pass twice daily, to and from Seattle — but it isn't on Google, and public-sector providers all too often act as if private intercity buses don't exist.

The gaps and omissions online furnish a metaphor for the inability of transportation providers to work together in other contexts, too. A 2006 report by the Puget Sound Regional Transportation Commission counted 128 “agencies” that “manage aspects of transportation” in Snohomish, King, Pierce, and Kitsap counties alone. (The term agency suggests that private providers are not included.)  Shoulder-bumping and the occasional sheer illogic are inevitable, given the number of cooks in the kitchen. Agencies often shun opportunities to work with providers outside their own modes and niches, however obvious those opportunities might be.

Meeting last September with representatives of the King County Ferry District (KCFD), Washington State Ferries (WSF) director David Moseley presented a plan to rebuild the state system's Seattle waterfront hub, Colman Dock, without the foot-ferry berth that the dock now includes. The county-operated ferry line relies on the dock at Colman for its passenger-only services to Vashon Island and West Seattle.

Although he took pains to stress WSF's cooperation in operational contexts, King County Councilmember Joe McDermott, speaking for KCFD, said the presentation “was not a dialogue.”

The Colman Dock plan looked much the same when Moseley put it on the table again at a January meeting of foot-ferry providers convened by Seattle's Cascadia Center for Regional Development. This time, however, three other current or prospective foot-ferry operators — Kitsap Transit and the ports of Port Townsend and Kingston — were on hand along with King County Ferry District (KCFD). None of the three had seen the plan beforehand. In an interview with Crosscut, Moseley alluded to staff-level discussions with Kingston, which, like KCFD already contracts for dock access, for its SoundRunner boats, but he did not provide details. “We don't have any contractual relationship with Kitsap Transit or Port Townsend,” both prospective users of the dock, he added.

Port of Kingston executive director Kori Henry, who was at Jan. 13 meeting, said there had “definitely not” been any approach from WSF prior to that date.

“That was the first I'd heard of it,” chimed in Larry Crockett, executive director of the Port of Port Townsend, which is working towards a 2013 launch of a foot-ferry to Seattle. “It was a little surprising, because we'd talked with Moseley directly, starting about a year before, and let him know we were in that [service launch] process.”

Moseley stressed that the plan, which some attendees said was presented as a fait accompli, is only preliminary, and that WSF would be happy to confer with foot-ferry providers if they take the initiative in proposing an alternative plan for the dock.

By statute, WSF cannot operate a foot-ferry, but it does have a clear mandate to work with those who do: State law provides that “the Washington state ferry system shall collaborate with new and potential passenger-only ferry service providers ... for terminal operations at its existing terminal facilities.” As if that provision didn't suffice, state Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Burien), whose district is served by King County's boats, placed a proviso in the Legislature's recently approved transportation budget that seems to read Moseley the Riot Act. Referencing the existing law, the proviso instructs the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to ensure protection of passenger-only ferries and multimodal access is maintained at the Seattle terminal.  McDermott and others have meanwhile put together an informal political coalition on behalf of retaining the foot-ferry access.

Of course, even without pressure or legislative direction, nothing in the law prohibits transportation administrators from considering their colleagues in other agencies — as they often do in operational matters. Still, a keep-the-blinders-on mentality seems to prevail precisely when agencies should be taking the broadest view, in planning services and facilities. Without that foundation, providers ultimately must cut their own paths. The region gets a mishmash of providers who often view one another as foreign — if they're even aware of each other.

In its long advocacy of a “regional rail” service between Everett and Bellingham, the Cascadia Center has faced precisely this stumbling block. The service would require commuters going, say, from Mount Vernon to Seattle to transfer trains in Everett. That’s because the Everett-Seattle commuter rail service belongs to Sound Transit, and a service north of Everett would lie outside Sound Transit's jurisdiction, and thus entail either a separate provider operating a separate train or a problematic extension of Sound Transit's taxing district.

Or maybe something grander. For Cascadia, consolidating governance is crucial. “We proposed to [the Washington State Department of Transportation] in reference to its state passenger rail plan that it . . . include operating regional rail,” director Bruce Agnew told Crosscut. “The transit agencies are not in a position to form a consortium and operate it. [With state management] you come in under Amtrak [to run the trains] and access Amtrak's agreements with the host railroad.”

Agnew points to Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C., as examples of consolidated administration. Vancouver's TransLink, he says, is “endowed by the province to take care of all forms of transportation, including new bridges. In contrast, there's a balkanization in the Puget Sound area

“We busted our pick on regional governance for three years – and the Legislature and governor turned their backs on it," Agnew said. "And their argument was that they wanted Sound Transit to get past their 2008 vote on [the] Sound Transit II [expansion proposal]. That was four years ago.”

The governance issue didn’t make the agenda of the governor's Connecting Washington Task Force, either. Neither has governance or even the task force's proposal for a major new tax package to fund transportation infrastructure received much face attention from legislators in this year's session.

So is state transportation policy simply a submarine bumping along with its periscope down? In 2010, the Strategic Planning and Programming Division at the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) completed a legislatively mandated study on the feasibility of diesel multiple unit (DMU) service on a 13-mile corridor between Maple Valley and Auburn, in southern King County. (A DMU is a self-powered passenger rail car used by many commuter systems.) The scenario: the commuter takes a short trip on the DMU, gets off at the Auburn station, and transfers to a Sounder train to reach Seattle, for example. Despite the reluctance of riders to deal with a transfer, and the slowness of the overall trip to Seattle, the scenario does not foresee operational or administrative consolidations — a one-seat ride to Seattle train, or a pooling of crucial insurance arrangements — that would come into play if the Maple Valley route were added to the Sound Transit (ST) system. The Legislature, after all, only instructed the study's authors to consider transit within the13-mile corridor.

The authors nonetheless devoted a few thoughts on the advantages of coordination with existing providers. Unfortunately, the report concluded, “while DMU operation by existing agencies [King County Metro, ST, WSDOT and Amtrak] may be theoretically possible, there is little reason to expect those agencies to pursue the idea.” The report goes on to note a lack of interest in the service on the part of both Metro, which doesn't do trains, and ST, which, to incorporate the service area, would have to expand its taxing district — a very heavy lift.

The study's authors did their digging. They noted that, in addition to the aforementioned providers, “a thorough review of the RCW identifies at least a dozen other agencies that could provide transportation services. Of these, four types of public entities were identified that could plausibly manage the operation of DMU commuter rail service under current law.” However. after reviewing that alphabet soup of administrative models, the authors concluded that “even though it appears feasible to implement and operate DMU commuter rail service under any of these statutes none of them are a perfect fit for the circumstances in the [Maple Valley] corridor.”

The Maple Valley service thus brings to mind the pop-up that falls between the shortstop, the left fielder and the center fielder as each wonders if one of the others will catch it. None of the three gets an error — and baseball scoring, like Washington state's transportation policies, does not acknowledge the existence of a team error.

While even the most diligent public planners run into the firewalls that separate public transit's fiefdoms, private providers feel, if anything, even more frustration. They also point a bit more freely to attitudinal issues.

Clipper Vacations, whose tourism enterprises include passenger-only ferries sailing from Seattle to Friday Harbor and Victoria, has been able to manage only a very limited marketing arrangement with the state-sponsored Amtrak Cascades service, the result being that travel on neither carrier adds meaningfully to patronage on the other. Clipper CEO Darrell Bryan, who worked for almost 14 years in various managerial positions at Amtrak, says he has been trying since 2007 to purchase an allocation of train seats at fixed rates — hardly a novel procedure in the tourism industry. His efforts have met, in his words, “substantial resistance by Amtrak’s marketing management.”

“Attitude is the heart of it," Bryan said. "They get paid regardless of whether they get one person on that train or 200. They don't have any skin in the game.”

Amtrak's cold shoulder prompted Bryan to turn to Gov. Chris Gregoire. Writing her last Dec. 19, he noted the failure of his efforts with the national provider. “Our experience is consistent with what other groups have stated in working with Amtrak,” the letter stated.  “Washington State has made a major commitment to its intercity Cascade Corridor and I am concerned the future will be hampered by Amtrak performance.”

The letter sought the governor's support for contracting out the state-managed Cascades trains' marketing, reservations and ticketing functions to Clipper. Senate Transportation Committee chair Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island) sent the governor a letter of support, praising Bryan's intentions.

Asked what response he'd gotten from Gregoire or the State Rail and Marine Office, Bryan said, “Absolutely none.” He added that he was “tired of dealing with bureaucrats who don't want to find ways of increasing revenue and participation in promoting rail.”

Bryan's approach came in the context of a 2011 legislative mandate for a trial public-private partnership aimed at “increasing ridership, maximizing farebox recovery and stimulating private investment” in the train service. However much public-private partnerships may be enjoying political favor, this one appears to be stuck in the station. Rail and Marine Office spokeswoman Laura Kingman reported that the program “causes the State to lose revenue during peak season by selling [Clipper] seats at a discount that can be sold at full price.”

“It's a simple issue of numbers,” she said.

In an e-mail, Bryan countered that all the program partners — including Clipper and several tourism agencies — “understood the model except the rail folks. ... WSDOT-Rail and Amtrak have a very myopic view of the tourism industry. They can hide behind the simplistic argument that they may lose money on transactions while missing the point that it is more than off-set by volume.  ... This is not rocket science.”

Cascadia's Agnew directed attention toward the other Washington. “Here you have a third-party guy who comes in and wants to fill seats, and the state wants to increase ridership. Amtrak in D.C. has got to be sensitive to that. Turning your back on his pilot project is the wrong way to go.”

What the mind can conceive is one thing; what people can achieve together, at least in transportation, is quite another. Which returns us to those trip-planners. The techies who create the planners are poised to boldly go where no administrator has gone before. Not every technical glitch has been smoothed out, but the technology is racing far ahead of the politics and the flow of investment money.

“The tools that became available through Google should inspire those administrators to take action. Sometimes it takes a little while to do that,” says Port Townsend's Marcy Jaffe, a data-integration and innovation contractor who manages the collation of transit system data and their transfer to the technology giant.

“It may be that if you take transportation out of the fiefdoms, you would have an integrated  network. You need leadership that believes this is important, for the rider.”

The writer has done contract work for the Cascadia Center for Regional Development.

C.B. Hall is a freelance writer and has been following Pacific Northwest transportation issues since the 1990s. He can be reached through editor@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Mar 14, 4:01 a.m. Inappropriate

It is good that the writer disclosed a relationship with the Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center.

It would also be good for Cascadia to disclose who is funding its promotion of DMUs and everything else.

The regional governance proposal that was heralded by noting that there are 128 public entities involved in transportation died, in part, because it simply created one more.

The lion's share of the 128 are cities and towns that aren't going away and provide transportation in the form of things like streets and sidewalks.

It was also fatally flawed because its prime motive appeared to be to take taxing authority away from regional transit and use it to build roads.

There are plenty of warts in the system. Most bureaucrats I know work every day to try to fix them. (In my experience, the private sector does dopey things too sometimes.)

There is an emerging need for the region to rework the future. Voters in the rest of the state are being allowed to hold back the economic engine that keeps their schools open and their prisons operating.

The solution probably will not be found in the production of laundry lists of mistakes or foibles of government. Because in the end, we'll be asking for more money to grow transit systems and rehabilitate our tired old roads built by long dead Governors.

What is needed is a clear-eyed articulation of a better way that is framed on the future, not the history of the Discovery Institute's minor role in the failure to win one for the road side of a very tired old war.

Jan

Posted Wed, Mar 14, 6:05 a.m. Inappropriate

You can start reforming the system by getting rid of the King County Foot Ferry. It's too expensive and serves too few people. It's highly subsidized and redundant.

Cameron

Posted Wed, Mar 14, 8:13 a.m. Inappropriate

There is a lot of cross-county stupidity too. There are a lot of Boeing employees who live in north King County and south Snohomish County yet it is impossible to get a quick bus to the Boeing Everett plant. Even going from the park and ride on I5 just over the county line, requires you to take 3 buses to the plant. All of community transits buses come from north of the plant to the plant and no metro buses go to the plant.

Rhonwyn

Posted Wed, Mar 14, 8:36 a.m. Inappropriate

Part of the problem is that the agencies are political power bases and want to keep their influences intact. Jobs would be lost in any consolidation and each agency director acts like a union shop steward, sworn to keep the budget/jobs the same. The loyalty is not to the tax payer or the transit user; it's to the agency itself and as such the agency must be protected from review, changes, or mergers. Hence all the different groups ignoring each other and ultimately the transit user.

chapala21

Posted Wed, Mar 14, 9:07 a.m. Inappropriate

Rhonwyn The 952 from Auburn operates to Boeing Everett three times each commute.

But other than that, you just can't get there from here.......very sad. I will only take the bus point to point, no trying to transfer or do anything complicated. I am too old to spend 3 hours to make a 20 minute trip.

Geezer

Posted Wed, Mar 14, 9:21 a.m. Inappropriate

Rhonwyn and Geezer, you've got it right.

I would suggest further that as chapala 21 says, these agencies are political power bases, but even more than that, we have all the high paid managers or whatever they call the executive layers at whichever agencies, who are not giving up those cushy jobs talking to each other and to their similars throughout the country and the world.

There are great salaries with great benefits and at least some paid travel for these self-referential folks to reap. Even though we don't need them, and even though all their conversations and meetings achieve nothing much of benefits to folks who want to travel regionally rather than in the majority commute time directions, they will fight to their last to make sure no commonsense changes that actually serve the public will be made.

mspat

Posted Wed, Mar 14, 9:52 a.m. Inappropriate

When I read the headline, I thought this piece might be about Metro's proposed changes--which could also stand a review here. By promising 'Rapid Ride' Metro will have to scrape up funds from 'non-rush hour' users. Over time I foresee Metro morphing into a rush hour service leaving non-traditional workers and others who just need a way to get around--left out in the rain.

But to this piece, I wish we had the political will, required transparency and ethics to provide this region with a transportation system similar to Portland's Trimet. It is such a pleasure to go there--one can travel far and wide so easily.

m-t-e

Posted Wed, Mar 14, 11:39 a.m. Inappropriate

The Cascadia Center supports Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU's) train sets because (like the old Budd cars) they are self propelled ( no loud locomotive) carry as many riders as commuter and Amtrak intercity trains and are cheaper to staff than long distance trains. The latest models can burn biofuels, carry up to 24 bikes, have handicapped restrooms, WiFi and a bistro. They operate in Portland, San Diego, Austin and will soon be operating on a 38 mile plus rail and trail corridor in Sonoma and Marin counties.

Combined with the popular Inter County Connector express bus service from Whatcom, Skagit and Island counties to Everett, they could feed passengers into Sound Transit's Sounder service between Everett and Seattle (which could use a ridership boost) and complement the excellent Amtrak Cascades service. They would also be ideal in feeding riders from east Snohomish county communities which are poorly served by transit to the Eastside portals for EastLink light rail and Metro buses on the old BNSF Eastside Rail Corridor.

As a private, non-profit organization, we receive no financial support from the 7 or 8 international companies that manufacture them and never asked. They do not need our help in selling themselves...
Bruce Agnew
Director, Cascadia Center

bagnew

Posted Wed, Mar 14, 1:55 p.m. Inappropriate

Bruce,

Is there a page that details the funding on the Cascadia Center?

I like to follow the money to inspect the motivation on groups such as yours. I think every one knows that the Cascadia Center is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Discovery Institute of "Intelligent Design" infamy, but people might be interested in where your money comes from.

andy

Posted Wed, Mar 14, 2:31 p.m. Inappropriate

I did find some info on wikipedia about Cascadia Center/Discovery Institute funding:

Funding

The institute is a non-profit educational foundation funded by philanthropic foundation grants, corporate and individual contributions and the dues of Institute members. Contributions made to it are tax deductible, as provided by law.

The institute does not provide details about its backers, out of "harassment" fears according to Chapman.[22]

In 2001, the Baptist Press reported, "Discovery Institute ... with its $4 million annual budget ($1.2 million of which is for the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture) is heavily funded by Christian conservatives. Maclellan Foundation of Chattanooga, Tenn., for example, awarded $350,000 to the institute with the hope researchers would be able to prove evolution to be a false theory. Fieldstead & Co., owned by Howard and Robert Ahmanson of Irvine, Calif., pledged $2.8 million through 2003 to support the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture."[85]

In 2003, a review of tax documents on GuideStar showed grants and gifts totalling $1.4 million in 1997. Included in the supporters were 22 foundations. At least two-thirds of these foundations stated explicitly religious missions.[86]

Most Discovery Institute donors have also contributed significantly to the Bush campaign.[22][58]

In 2005, the Washington Post reported, 'Meyer said the institute accepts money from such wealthy conservatives as Howard Ahmanson Jr., who once said his goal is "the total integration of biblical law into our lives," and the Maclellan Foundation, which commits itself to "the infallibility of the Scripture." '[87]

According to Charity Navigator, in FYE 2005, the Discovery Institute had $2,989,608 in total revenue and $3,878,186 in expenses.[1]

The Discovery Institute denies allegations that its intelligent design agenda is religious, and downplays the religious source of much of its funding. In an interview of Stephen C. Meyer, when ABC News' asked about the Discovery Institute's many evangelical Christian donors, the institute's public relations representative stopped the interview saying "I don't think we want to go down that path."[4]

Though in the minority, funding also comes from non-conservative sources: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave $1 million in 2000 and pledged $9.35 million over 10 years in 2003, including $50,000 of Bruce Chapman's $141,000 annual salary. The money of the Gates Foundation grant is "exclusive to the Cascadia project" on regional transportation, according to a Gates Foundation grant maker.[22]

Published reports state that the institute has awarded $3.6 million in fellowships of $5,000 to $60,000 per year to 50 researchers since the CSC's founding in 1996.[22] "I was one of the early beneficiaries of Discovery largess," says William A. Dembski, who, during the three years after completing graduate school in 1996 could not secure a university position, received what he calls "a standard academic salary" of $40,000 a year through the institute.

andy

Posted Wed, Mar 14, 2:31 p.m. Inappropriate

We launched the Cascadia Center in 1993 with a grant from the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, dues and memberships from local governments, citizens and businesses. Our primary goal was - and is - to encourage greater cooperation on transportation and sustainable development issues on Cascadia's "Main Street" from Vancouver, B.C. to Eugene, Oregon ("community, conservation and commerce"). This is why we analyze differences in governance and finance between Portland Metro, central Puget Sound and Greater Vancouver B.C. In the last several years, our primary funding source has been the Gates Foundation.

bagnew

bagnew

Posted Wed, Mar 14, 2:35 p.m. Inappropriate

From the late nineties until the early aughts I commuted to downtown Seattle via the ferry from Bremerton. The amazingly precise way in which the ferry and the waterfront streetcar were synchronized was truly a marvel to behold. Without fail, the streetcar always left the station just as foot passengers from Bremerton were hitting the sidewalk in front of Coleman Dock.

dbreneman

Posted Wed, Mar 14, 2:45 p.m. Inappropriate

Bruce, do you get any funding from the parent organization, Discovery Institute?

andy

Posted Wed, Mar 14, 2:50 p.m. Inappropriate

"dues and memberships from local governments"

My tax dollars are funding you? That is very disturbing.

andy

Posted Wed, Mar 14, 3:24 p.m. Inappropriate

Your tax dollars are funding all manner of non-profit organizations pushing all manner of political agendas with which you might disagree, Andy.

I believe we should totally overhaul the "non-profit" section of the tax code. It has become haven to charlatans, activists and tax cheats and presents a shadowy way to transfer public money to "private" politicos.

Check the numbers:

http://nccsdataweb.urban.org/PubApps/profileDrillDown.php?rpt=US-STATE

Wonder where all the government money went?

BlueLight

Posted Wed, Mar 14, 4:25 p.m. Inappropriate

BlueLight, also get rid of the tax exemptions for religious institutions and we have a deal!

Oh, also get rid of:
-sales tax exemption on auto fuels
-property tax exemption on land occupied by freeways
-minimum parking requirements
-open container law
-income tax used to prop up the Highway Trust Fund
-tax subsidies to big oil and big agriculture
-federal funding of blackwater (a.k.a Academi, Xe Services LLC, CIA private army)

woohoo I am almost a libertarian.

andy

Posted Wed, Mar 14, 5:09 p.m. Inappropriate

As Reporter Hall correctly notes, the transit agencies in the Puget Sound area "often shun opportunities to work with providers outside their own modes and niches, however obvious those opportunities might be."

But that's merely the tip of the metaphorical iceberg – only about one-tenth the story. The other nine-tenths is a dark portrait of bigotry and socioeconomic hatefulness, which is probably why it remains hidden, the proverbial skeleton in our regional closet, the secret shame that reveals all our “progressive” pretensions as the rankest of hypocrisies.

Having covered public transport here twice (1974-1981 and 2004-2009), also in New York City and Northern New Jersey (1965-1970) and even occasionally in East Tennessee (1963-1965), I surely have sufficient background in transit policy to recognize an excessive degree of bureaucratic self-protectionism. Just as Hall argues, this is one of the reasons the Puget Sound region suffers what is by far the worst mass transit of any comparably populated metropolitan area in the United States.

But the bureaucracy's ineptitude is more symptom than cause. Likewise our viciously regressive (and therefore definitively anti-transit) tax structure, the peculiarities of our municipal bonding regulations and – most of all – the bipartisan anti-transit consensus of our politicians, (yet another) confirmation the Democrats and the Republicans are members of a single plutocratic party.

Then too there's our collective denial of just how horrid our transit actually is.

Given how the U.S. is the most notoriously auto-centric, anti-transit nation on Earth, this means ours is actually the worst, most backward, most anti-environment, most anti-transit region in the entire industrial world.

The inherent socioeconomic discrimination – the fact ownership of a reliable automobile is essential if we're to have any quality of life here (but at the same time is increasingly beyond the reach of the ever-more-impoverished 99 Percent) – is effectively turning this entire area into the equivalent of a walled, gated, heavily guarded enclave: a country-club “community” on an unprecedented regional scale.

Exactly as intended.

Our region's history of venomous hostility to transit is proven by a five-decade record in which eight of 11 regional transit proposals were overwhelmingly defeated. Market research shows these defeats to have been engendered by a carefully conditioned, cunningly provoked fear of mass transit as a magnet for those humans defined as undesirables by the White (actually “Aryan”) One Percent and its legions of benighted disciples in the electorate.

That market research even taught me a nasty, then-new pejorative for my home town: “Jew York.”

Thus I was hardly surprised by the vicious bigotry and class-prejudice that surfaced during the run-up to the February 2011 election in the Pierce Transit service area: Tacoma, its surrounding municipalities and the adjacent suburbs.

Pierce Transit needed a sales tax increase of three-tenths of a percent – three pennies on a 10-dollar purchase – to maintain its barely adequate levels of service, particularly in Tacoma proper.

Though the proposed tax increase was tiny – so insignificant even a pauper like myself could afford it without difficulty – this minimal save-our-transit measure, which was all the more vital given Pierce Transit's skyrocketing ridership, nevertheless sparked a firestorm of obviously contrived demagogic fury.

Opponents openly attacked mass transit as welfare, “another example of wastefully coddling the useless and lazy poor.” This brought into play all the associated code-words for minorities and evoked all the associated fear and malice. The comment-threads on pre-election stories published by The News Tribune were as hateful as anything on Ku Klux Klan or American Nazi Party websites

By denouncing transit as welfare, the opponents of the minuscule tax increase also tacitly linked Pierce Transit to the notoriously self-serving welfare bureaucracy – never mind the agency had demonstrated some of the most enlightened transit leadership on the planet.

Not only had Pierce Transit led the entire world in conversion of its buses to run on minimally-polluting liquefied natural gas; it had the foresight to lock in a low, early-1990s fuel price via a long-term contract that expired only last year and saved the agency – and its riders – mind-boggling sums of money.

But these real-world accomplishments were swept away by the tsunami of racist and socioeconomic malice generated by the “transit-is-welfare” tactic. The tiny tax increase was overwhelmingly defeated, 54 to 46 percentage points, with the loss approaching 80 percent in some suburban precincts.

As a result, Pierce Transit is in its death throes, its service eliminated in some areas and slashed by up to 75 percent in all others. The passengers on its remaining buses are now typically sardined to Third-World discomfort levels, and there's naught but further cutbacks in the agency's future. Indeed it has already begun the legal process of self-dissolution.

Voters in Whatcom County dealt the transit system there a similar blow, essentially reducing it to a radically shrunken Bellingham-only service.

That in each instance the hate-mongers triumphed so easily and so overwhelmingly explains the real reason behind all the other barriers to adequate transit. We tolerate the bureaucratic isolationism Hall describes, the bonding problems, the lack of political will to create a genuinely regional public/private transit authority, most of all the tax inequities that coddle the rich with what for them are the lowest state taxes anywhere in the known world – all this because it reflects our sneering rejection of public transport as a civil right and thus our vindictive intent to hamstring it accordingly,

Meanwhile Puget Sound's long ugly history as the graveyard of transit proposals proves these obstacles will not be removed. Not now, not in the foreseeable future, not ever, xenophobia without end amen.

Welcome to the Puget Sound Country Club, where only rich Caucasians of non-Semitic origins are eligible for membership.


Posted Wed, Mar 14, 8:19 p.m. Inappropriate

Wsdot should change its acroynm to Wsdoh (department of highways) because the only mode of transportation the agency considers is highways. SDOT's former director Grace Crunican was fired from her position of Oregon state highway director for her incompetent oversight of Portland's Ross Island Bridge rebuild project. Her disregard for pedestrian safety was malevolent but her culpable cohorts kept her record of incompetence mostly secret. Her Seattle cohorts likewise refuse to admit the surface street reconfigurations related to the deep bore tunnel greatly increase the statistical probability for car crashes as well as pedestrian/bicycle fatalities. Consequently, she's cajoled an unsuspecting San Francisco cadre to appoint her head of BART where she's likely to again be fired after damnable waste, theft, incompetence. Washington DOTs and transit agencies are likeminded in their determination to serve automobile-related business interests. Sound Transit's parking garages and Metro's park-n-rides are not the worst of these agencies policy-defining character.

Wells

Posted Wed, Mar 14, 8:53 p.m. Inappropriate

Yes, Andy, religious institutions, too. All of them. They all rely on infrastructure and government services. All should pay.

The rest of your list is, of course, outside my comment on non-profits.

BlueLight

Posted Wed, Mar 14, 9 p.m. Inappropriate

Further, Andy, I am coming to believe that non-profit organizations are directly responsible for a great part of our community and national discord. End tax exemptions and government grants and you will end a lot of our civic rancor and division.

BlueLight

Posted Wed, Mar 14, 9:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Is consolidation about government efficiency (what about consolidation the scores of cities in the Puget Sound) or something else? It seems that "political will" refers to what the author would "will" into existence. Long distance travel, commuters from Maple Valley to downtown Seattle or Skykomish-to-Bremerton excursions, are at the edges of typical travel patterns (average person trip in the US is five miles in length). This discussion is more symbolic than it is relevant to the majority of person trips. Symbolic in that people would like to see transit operate as seamlessly as the automobile. Not so relevant in that the trips the author describes are most effectively provided by the personal automobile and not MASS transit.

That said, we already have a statewide transportation agency that pours countless resources into ensuring a seamless transportation system while coordinating with thousands of "cooks." And for the most part it works. Signage is standardized and operations are consistent enough that testing of one's ability to use the system can be administered at various locations throughout the state using the same test.

In order to achieve the same results for public transport, I believe the state would need to 1) articulate a clear state interest in transit 2) provide a cogent vision for transit that is founded in how transit really works and 3) provide significant state support through planning and operating grants. Now we're talking to political will.

Posted Thu, Mar 15, 8:38 p.m. Inappropriate

I have long wondered why the variety of agencies exist separately and why they don't have one budget.

Before Tim Eyman gets involved, perhaps some other commonsense minded people might start suggesting fixes that will work?

What I do know re: WSF ... working together with any entity is not their forte. Hiring a communications director was simply a shill position, one where he gets paid for smooth talk and no action, but that indeed is his job. Masterful application. Paula Hammond should resign.

Posted Thu, Mar 15, 8:40 p.m. Inappropriate

There certainly are too many nonprofits, I do agree. When people go to college with the sole purpose of getting some type of degree so they can work forever in the nonprofit sector, it makes me understand why so many nonprofits I know have zero clues on where money really comes from.

Posted Fri, Mar 16, 9:27 p.m. Inappropriate

"An unsuspecting San Francisco cadre appointed a head of BART likely to be again (thrice) be fired after damnable waste, theft, incompetence."

DOT AND TRANSIT agencies display an unbelievably likeminded determination to ultimately serve automobile-related business interests primarily even to the detriment of non-motorized travel and use of efficient mass transit. How can Seattle and Wash DOTs fail this horribly?

Are questionably-determined designs for the highway bore tunnel beneath 240+ vulnerable historic brick & mortar thru already over-trafficked neighborhoods left determinedly-unquestioned??

Could a cut/cover, a Square BOX, survive THE higher, more damaging seismic shock wave?? Survivability "higher" with Cut/cover?

"Oh, oops, what?? Nahhh, we seattlerdirts dont need no better thing there fer where like the water n' docks is for like fish n' stuff for like walkin n' stuff."

Do not count on the current Waterfront planning committee leaders to produce actually good design anytime, soon, later or ever. I've heard several chairperson directors speak, and, they are now frothing Idealism using impractical terms like Aspirational. Let's hope so but the approved surface street plans and bore tunnel designs are widely rejected as asinine. Worst engineering seen in a long time. Get over it. You've all been HAD by a Department of Highway robbery...

Like I said, Sound Transit parking garages and Metro park-n-rides aren't the worst policy-defining character of these agencies. Any good engineer is way afraid of the bored tunnel plan, ALL the street rearrangements, the drilled concrete-pour log fence seawall? Who does seawalls on major waterfronts like that these days?

Wells

Posted Thu, Mar 22, 6:47 p.m. Inappropriate

As long as we're on the subject of transit let's get some info on the proposed Metro changes for September of 2012. Larry Phillip's office told me yesterday the Executive would send the proposed changes to the County Council on April 12th. Then the Council would do more "outreach." If any of you have been to any of these outreach meetings you'll know what a joke it is. None of the 4 Metro planners I spoke to at 4 separate meetings would look me in the eye as I voiced my concerns and I'm sure this will be more of the same. They are going to take away all route 28 local service north of NW103rd St. on 3rd. Ave. N.W. The only thing that will go all the way to the end of the line at NW143rd. and Linden Ave. is the 28X and only during peak hours. To hell with everyone else that doesn't travel during that time. Great job Metro.

cbbear

Posted Sun, Mar 25, 10:21 p.m. Inappropriate

This is an excellent assessment of the status of public transit in the Puget Sound region. Many of you may have seen the picture in this publication of transit leaders of this region warning us all about potential cuts in transit funding in this region. Those are the same folks who get together - or close to that level - whenever there's any coordination between the agencies. Close to a million dollars of annual salaries get together month after month to negotiate in the best interest of their own fiefdom, their own transit agency, typically their own county, sometime for years (as in the case of ORCA). Further, each agency has their own separate structure of personnel, finance, grants, even oversight. Some of that oversight are elected officials where transit oversight is part of their primary job (King County), where others hold an elected position for their city or county, then volunteer to oversee transit, that being similar like your basic citizen on a city commission: some are diligent, others not so, they're mostly validating staff's proposal (it seems). What's needed is significantly-greater accountability. For instance, a single agency overseeing the others, which act as subsidiaries, one per county. Centralize certain departments and functions: fare policy, grant submission (from one source vs. several competing against each other), large item purchasing, perhaps even scheduling. Having everybody on the same team vs. in the same conference.

If you believe in something along these lines, contact your state legislators and ask them to start down this road. Further, ask them to add strings to any new funding in the meantime. After all, how much do you know about what these transit agencies are doing with mostly your taxpayer money, a lot of it sales tax revenue? Metro and Sound Transit are among the better ones at disclosure: their meetings are televised and streamed, their agendas and staff reports are posted and available well in advance of their meetings, their minutes available in short order after their meetings, they provide some project information. While not directly providing it, their salary information is available, though I'd like to know how many make over $100,000 and their titles. It would also be informative to see their organizational charts and management structure (e.g., # of managers to staff), and major project spending (over or under budget/time and why) I'm not sure about. As for the others, good luck on most of that. I think it would be appropriate for a publicly-supported organization to supply this information, and it would be eye-opening for even those who urge essentially a blank check.

bricsa

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