SOLUTION FOR TRAFFIC CONGESTION
SEATTLE CAN END TRAFFIC CONGESTION WITH
A FLEXIBLE DOOR-TO-DOOR APP DRIVEN VAN SERVICE
Request for Response to Transit Proposal
December 9, 2017
We Have Filled Up The Roads
I remember driving north through Seattle on I-5 in December of 1970. That was when I moved to the Northwest. I-5 had just been finished. The new freeway had a lot fewer lanes then, but it was still almost empty.
But time, by its very nature, continues infinitely into the future. If you keep growing, even if you grow slowly, you will eventually double your numbers and double them again. We have widened our roads and freeways since 1970 and widened them again. But we have nevertheless filled them up. What was unimaginable in 1970 is upon us. We have filled up our roads and freeways.
Traffic will only get worse unless we do something very different than what we are doing now. And so I propose a door to door, portal to portal, flexible van system as a solution. Please consider my proposal closely. It would work. It is the only solution which would work. It would be easy and quick to implement. It would cost much less than any other alternative.
If visitors come here from other planets and study our species – the way we study mountain gorillas – they probably send back reports about how warlike we are and how badly we treat other species here on earth. They would avoid associating with us out of fear that we might corrupt them morally or even serve them up for dinner. But they would continue to observe us at a distance because they would like our music and movies.
They would also report back that we have a strange habit of driving large buses around which are mostly empty most of the time, and that we clog up our roads with vast numbers of smaller vehicles which are also driven around mostly empty, with only a driver aboard.
Our transit system does not pick us up where we are, nor does it take us all the way to where we are going. It is not easy to get to and from transit centers and rail stations.
People do not like to wait for buses in the dark and in the rain. So most people commute single occupancy, filling roads and freeways.
Mass transit – whether freeway buses, BRT express buses, Link Light Rail, or Sounder Rail – will never realize its full potential unless we develop a better way to get to and from the mass transit. We have a last mile problem.
Many buses are driven mostly empty, particularly in the suburbs and even in Seattle at night, wasting fuel, wasting labor cost, depreciating valuable equipment, and failing to deliver services.
I am proposing that we implement a flexible van service using an Uber style app for ride hailing. The vans would provide door-to-door service from our front doors to transit centers, train stations, major BRT bus stops, and other local destinations. Vans would vary in size and number depending on route demand.
The flex vans would initially be paid for as an add on service, with an Orca card charge of around $1 per mile, with a $2 minimum fee. The vans themselves would fill up and produce enough revenue to break even. The vans in turn would fill the freeway buses, BRT buses, Link Light Rail, and Sounder Trains.
With more people using transit, it would be feasible to take a third of the cars off the roads and freeways and put an end to traffic congestion.
The flex vans would also provide portal to portal local service, from wherever you are to wherever you need to go, portal to portal, a complete transit service, which would allow people to get around without owning a car.
Why should we settle for anything less from our transit system than full portal to portal service?
Local buses which are currently underused would be moved to the freeways, where they would run full. Underused bus routes, particularly at night, would be covered by flex vans.
Under my proposal, the flexible van system would begin in Seattle and its suburbs, where it is needed most.
We Fail To Make Good Use of Our Transit Assets
In terms of freeways, highways, and buses, we do not have a capacity problem. In places our freeways are more than ten lanes wide. Highway 99 has three lanes in each direction and a center turn lane in the middle, plus wide shoulders, Our roads are gigantic.
Regarding vehicles on the road, we have thousands of buses, although many of them are driven mostly empty. We typically have three empty seats in most private vehicles, So again capacity is not the problem. We have roads which are big enough. We have thousands of buses although many of them are driven mostly empty. We have thousands of cars, although most of them are driven mostly empty. It is the unwise use of all that capacity that is the problem.
Our Transit System Ignores New Technology
In this new century we perfected smart phones. Uber developed a ride hailing app which is so efficient that fares can be less than what traditional taxis charge. Uber uses these tools to pick people up wherever they are and take them all the way to wherever they are going.
Unfortunately, our transit system ignores Uber’s technological advances and has failed to apply them to transit. Our transit systems could easily provide the same or better door to door service as Uber provides and do so at a lower cost. This is because the flex van system would have six passengers aboard instead of one, thus reducing the cost per rider.
Why is our transit system so backward? It is because of conventionality, the anxiety induced when we do things differently, the fact that our transit honchos are being paid well to do what they do so badly.
Why are we and our transit leaders so conventional? It all goes back to the trains. The first mass transit was trains. They had to run fixed routes because they could not leave the tracks. They could not pick up passengers just anywhere because the trains were tall and a platform was needed for people to climb aboard. When buses replaced trains, they were set up, out of habit and conventionality, also to run fixed routes. They were set up to pick up and drop off passengers only at fixed bus stops. They did not pick up passengers trying to flag them down because the trains did not do that.
I am proposing that our transit system adopt a flexible van service, summoned using a cell phone Uber style app, and use the new technology to solve the last mile problem and deliver a full and complete portal to portal transit service. Why should it deliver anything less?
With a Flexible Van System We Can Develop
Comprehensive and Connected Transit
Our current transit and transportation system is not comprehensive. It is disconnected and fragmented. It is difficult to use. To get around without a car, we must study bus schedules so we can meet buses and make transfers. A system of vans, summoned by an Uber type app and providing portal to portal service would connect and unify our transit system so that more people would use it.
Door to Door Transit Should Start by
Carrying Us to And from Transit Centers
In the Bay Area Uber has vans which pick people up at their front door and carry them to the nearest Bart or Muni station. At the end of the day these vans carry people all the way home. It costs less per person to ride in an Uber van than to ride in an individual Uber car because multiple riders are sharing one vehicle and the services of one driver.
I mention service to and from transit centers as the starting point, because it has already been proven to work and – more importantly – almost everyone can comprehend that such a flexible van system, powered by cell phone app, would work.
We Need Door To Door Local Transit Service
In addition to carrying commuters to and from transit centers, a door to door van service would work on a local level, picking riders up at their front door and carrying them to local destinations: to shopping, restaurants, work, ferries, car rental, church, school, day care, soccer practice, child visitation, and back home again.
For example, it is not easy to carry bags of groceries home by bus. It means taking a hike from the grocery store to the bus stop, and then taking another hike when the bus drops you off.
A local van service would be popular at night. It would increase the number of people going out at night to shop and to have dinner and take in a movie, because they would not have to worry about traffic and parking.
We Need Secure Transit
This far north, it gets dark by the time we leave work, so commuting by bus in Winter currently involves waiting for a ride in the dark. And when buses come, anyone can walk on. With a van system, however, each passenger would carry an Orca card and would gain access by swiping the card on a reader. Drivers would be vetted and trained and members of the transit union.
For young children I would propose a separate vans driven by trusted professionals who would provide door to door services, carrying them to and from school, day care, soccer practice and parental visitation.
Transit Should Coordinate with Uber and Taxis
Informal ride sharing – mediated through cell phone apps – is now a big thing. Uber has become very popular, and Lift and Sidecar are on the rise. Many taxi drivers are switching to Uber. Taxi companies themselves are adopting the Uber app system.
Down time is the big problem for taxi drivers. My taxi driver friends tell me that they sometimes spend half of their time just sitting idle waiting for a call.
A comprehensive and connected transit system should cooperate and coordinate with private carriers such as taxi drivers and Uber drivers, provided they too would have to be members of the transit union.
Taxi and Uber drivers would provide rides for those who want to ride privately and pay more or for those going out to more distant areas where few riders are going and it is harder to fill a van. Taxi and Uber drivers would provide rides for troubled people, drunks, and pedophyles, and they would be trained in how to handle them.
I suggest union membership with the expectation that the union would not only negotiate fair wages and working conditions, but would also train its members, insure their good behavior, and assist management in improving service. I also suggest it because across the board members would allow all transit sectors to work together.
We Need More Efficient Transit
Too many of us drive single occupancy, filling up the roads with cars which could be carrying four or more. We have on average three or more empty seats in each vehicle. If we were all coming from the same neighborhood and going to the same neighborhood and if we all knew and trusted each other, we could share rides and fill each car, which would take three or more cars off the road and eliminate traffic congestion. But we are not always coming from the same neighborhood or going to the same neighborhood, and we are mostly strangers to each other. So we drive alone and fill the roads and freeways.
Some sign up for our van pool program. I support van pools. A six person van pool takes five cars off the roads. However, van pools are limited in that they only carry a fixed group of people and they only carry them to and from work.
And, as mentioned above, many or most of the buses in the suburbs and even in Seattle at night are mostly empty most of the time. The net result is a filling of the roads with vehicles instead of people, which is highly inefficient.
We Need Transit Which Is Not Wasteful
We pay sizeable sales taxes, real property taxes, and vehicle tab taxes to cover gigantic transit deficits, with a little bit of money left over to service bonds taken out to pay for improvements. It is presumed that transit will always run at a loss and that operating costs will always have to be subsidized with taxes which will never end. There is no future envisioned by transit leaders in which operating costs will not be heavily subsidized.
The freeway buses are often full. But most buses in the suburbs are mostly empty most of the time. Buses in Seattle are sometimes packed during the day, but at night, most buses are mostly empty most of the time. Not only is this wasteful. It is a failure to deliver needed services.
Door To Door Transit Is The Only Solution
Door to door transit would be the least expensive solution. It would be the quickest solution to implement. It is the only solution which will reduce traffic congestion and make it possible to get around without owning a car.
It is also a solution which would be easiest to implement politically. There would be political resistance to raising the fuel tax to finance wider roads. There would be political resistance to enacting a regional toll on all freeway use or an odometer tax on total mileage driven. There is great political resistance to the car tab tax, the most hated tax of all.
But there would be no resistance to a flexible van system summoned by an Uber style app. Priced as an add on service, it would pay for itself. It would take a lot of cars off the roads and freeways, and so it would make the roads and freeways flow again. Sleep deprived passengers would like it because they would be able to snooze during their commute.
People Would Be Motivated To Use the Flex Vans
Cost is a major factor. According to the AAA, it costs on average around $706 per month to own, drive, maintain, and insure a car. That figure assumes one is driving around 15,000 miles per year, which a lot of people do. A van system could provide door to door service for much less than $706 per month.
There is also the hassle factor. Using the vans would and make travel a lot easier. There will be no anxious bumper to bumper driving, no problems finding and paying for parking.
Another big factor is that many people do not like to drive, especially at night. Many people cannot afford a car. Many would prefer not to own a car if there were some alternative.
Once the vans are in use and there is another way for drivers to get to the transit centers, we should start charging an $8 fee per day to park at the transit center. The van trip would cost less driving, and for that reason alone, many would ride the vans.
A benefit of charging a fee to park at transit centers is that there would be parking spaces available for those who really need to park there.
If more incentive is needed to get people to use the vans, we could charge a small per mile charge to drive on the freeways or an odometer tax on all road usage.
For all these reasons, I am confident that the vans would be heavily used.
We Need a Way to Get Around Without Owning A Car
Once a van service is implemented, many people will leave their cars at home. After months go buy with cars sitting in the garage unused, many three car families will become two car families. Many two car families will become one car families. And some will become no car families. They will ride a system of door to door vans, buses, and trains. When they need to go solo, they would rent a car, which would be available at transit centers.
If it were easy to get around without owning a car, and if the price of getting around were less than what Uber charges for solo rides – Uber is not doing van pools to Seattle’s Link stations – then people would feel safe buying condos and renting apartments which do not provide parking, and the city would be less apprehensive about creating too much on street parking, which irritates neighbors.
Kyoto And Paris Protocols
If we implement a flex van system, we would drive fewer vehicles and drive them fewer miles. We would burn less fuel. It would be easier for us to switch to electric vehicles. We would be doing our part to curb global warming. We would set an example for other cities. Seattle could be the first and lead the way in establishing green and comprehensive transportation.
Current goals to hold global warming to two degrees Centigrade are laughable. Do we believe that once temperatures rise two degrees that they will stop there? Do we believe that we can erect a stop sign that Mother Nature will obey? If the temperature rises two degrees, there be more to come as more and more methane is released.
The only way to stop global warming is to convert immediately to powering everything with solar, wind, wave, tidal, hydro, and geothermal. The only plan of action is to stop drilling NOW, for all new capital to be invested in renewables. In one of my songs I say:
Hey Exxon Mobile, look up not down
To solar and wind and wave.
Stop drilling NOW. The future is green.
Be a big green energy company.
Hey Shell Oil, how much did you spend?
Eight billion dollars in the Chukchi Sea?
You left. You said there was no oil. But really there’s a lot.
It was Mother Nature’s storms that drove you off.
Eight billion dollars
Would build enough solar
Enough solar power to permanently power
Two hundred thirty thousand homes.
Seattle could move to alternative sources by insisting that Sound Transit and Metro Transit implement a flexible van program and make it easier to use public transit than to drive a private car.
The real question is whether we are serious about the Kyoto and Paris protocols. Currently our response has been half measures.
Self-Driving Cars Will Not Solve Congestion Unless …
An automated single occupancy vehicle would still take up space on the roads and freeways. While it might be safer, automated single occupancy vehicles would not reduce the number of single occupancy vehicles on the roads unless a way is found to get people to ride together in vans, buses, and trains. An automated flex van might do that, and maybe that should be one of our end goals.
As an aside: The current model for vehicle automation is flawed. The current model assumes that a computer would follow GPS to a target destination and navigate around and among other vehicles, people and obstacles. This is all necessary, but it is not sufficient. A workable automated driving system would require transponders in all vehicles and with a computer coordinating and piloting the vehicles, telling each vehicle how fast it should be going and in what lane it should be traveling, and how far behind the vehicle in front it should be driving. Initially the computer would only direct human drivers as to where to drive, perhaps by voice command. But once all cars were carrying transponders, the computer could actually pilot the vehicles.
Children Need Door to Door Transit
We have thousands of school buses which sit around mostly idle most of the time. Schools should get out of the transit business. A flexible van system could do a better job of transporting children.
Under our current school bus arrangement, children must take a hike down to a major intersection and wait for the school bus to come. Parents fear for their safety and escort them down to the bus stop. At the end of the school day, the school bus drops the kids off at the school bus stop and they must take a hike home. Again parents fear for their safety and are waiting for them when they arrive.
A flexible van system would work differently. Vans would pick kids up at the front door and bring them home to the front door. Parents would not have to worry about their kids standing in the dark in the rain at the school bus stop.
And why is it that school buses travel fixed routes and stop at fixed school bus stops? This is taking conventionality to the heights. School buses should be picking children up at their front door in the morning and delivering them back to their front door after school. Apparently, the people running the system are just too conventional to do any critical thinking. They imitate the regular transit buses by travelling fixed routes and stopping at fixed bus stops.
Children also need to go to day care after school, soccer practice, piano lessons, and parental visitation. Vans could deliver such transportation services. Parents tell me they get tired of serving as taxi driver for their children. Drivers of these vans for children would be trained and vetted to guarantee child safety and security.
The Poor Need Door To Door Transit
For several years during the Great Recession, Snohomish County had no bus service on Sundays. Some people cannot afford the average $706 per month cost of owning, driving, maintaining, and insuring a car. Parking is an extra cost. The poor need a ride to their local job, to the post office, to church, to the grocery. Virtually all of the well paid officials who run our transit system and govern us drive everywhere. They should try riding our non-comprehensive, disconnected transit system. How would they use the buses to go after work to the post office, then to the grocery, and then home? They would have to plan transfers to the minute and still wait for long periods of time and have to stand in the dark and the rain and still have to carry heavy groceries. We could not design a more difficult transit system if we set out to do so.
However, a coordinated flexible van system, with vans summoned via cell phone or pager, could supply the local transit needs of the poor, then they – and all of us – could get around without owning a car. And if a person can reduce his monthly transportation cost from $706 per month to $200 per month, that person would be getting the equivalent of a $506 raise. The poor would not be quite so poor, and the rest of us would be a little less more prosperous.
We Need a Transit System That Makes Ferries Work Better
We have a ferry system that hauls thousands of cars across Puget Sound every day. They could be hauling 150 pound people, but they are hauling 150 pound people plus 3,500 pound cars. And they do this because we have not been creative enough to figure out an alternative.
We haul cars back and forth because we have no easy way for people to go from home to the ferries except by car and no way for them to go from the landing on the other side to their ultimate destinations except by car.
Under my proposal vans would carry commuters to and from the ferries. They would not in most cases go onto the ferries because there will be vans waiting on the other side of Puget Sound. There would also be buses carrying passengers to the ferries, and those buses will probably have been filled up at transit centers by vans bringing passengers to the transit centers. Those buses would not in most cases go onto the ferries because there will be buses waiting on the other side.
On the other side vans would be waiting to carry passengers on destinations close by. Buses would be waiting as well, to carry riders on to transit centers further away, from which riders would then take final vans to their ultimate destinations.
There would be fewer vehicles on the ferries and more walk on passengers. Long lines of cars waiting for a place on ferries, might become a thing of the past. This would mean that those who do need to take a vehicle across to the other side will be able to do so without waiting for hours.
Obviously we would save enormous sums by not having to build so many ferries with large car carrying capacities.
The Suburbs Need Door to Door Transit
There is a bus stop up a steep hill a half mile east of our home in Lynnwood. There is a bus stop down a steep hill a quarter of a mile west of our home. Buses running on both routes are infrequent. In Lynnwood most of the buses are driven mostly empty most of the time. Vans would take us to the transit center or to local destinations.
It is easy to visualize how a van system would work in the Suburbs. The bus service is infrequent in many neighborhoods. The Transit Center, with its 1,368 parking stalls, is maxed out by 7 AM. The Boeing parking lot, with its 6,000 parking spaces, where many Lynnwoodites work, is maxed out even earlier. My neighbor revs up his car and leaves for Boeing at 3:30 AM to be sure of a parking space. A flexible van system would give Boeing workers a much better way to get to work. Vans would pick riders up at their front door and take them a transit center, from which large buses would carry them on to Boeing, and carry them to the proper entrance for their work. Boeing employees would love the service.
Example: Lynnwood to Bellevue
Assume that I want to attend a seminar in a Bellevue neighborhood which is not close to the Bellevue Transit Center. I would summon a van using my Uber style cell phone app. The van would carry me and five other passengers, to the Lynnwood Transit Center. From there an express bus would take me and 50 others to the Bellevue Transit Center. From there a final van would take me and five others to our ultimate destinations all in the same zone. Lynnwood and Bellevue would be divided into zones, with one, two, or more vans orbiting each zone, picking up riders, and delivering them to the Transit Center or to other destinations.
Some passengers do get to the transit center by bus. Some walk. A few bike. Some get dropped off at the “kiss and ride”. But most drive to the transit center. If they find no parking spaces available, most will get on the freeway and drive to their destinations. For that reason, the number of passengers who can be served out of the Lynnwood Transit Center, even when Link Light Rail is completed this far north, is limited. The solution is to use door to door vans to pick people up at their homes and bring them in large numbers to the transit center. All those local buses which are driven around mostly empty most of the time would be reassigned to carry riders on the freeway or the Highway 99 BRT.
I would propose that the Lynnwood area be divided into a dozen or so zones, with vans picking up riders out in their designated zones and carrying them to the transit center or to local destinations.
Example: Everett to Renton
Assume that you live in Everett and work at the Paine Field Boing plant. There is space for 6,000 cars to park, and most of the spaces are full by 7 AM.
Next, assume that you have been transferred from the Everett Boeing plant to the Boeing plant in Renton. In this example there are points A, B, C, and D. Point A is your home. Point B is the Everett Transit Center; Point C is the Renton Transit Center; Point D is the Boeing plant in Renton. Our current transit system only carries you from Point B to Point C. It does not carry you from Point A to Point B. It does not carry you from Point C to Point D. It is up to you to walk or figure out some other way to go from A to B and from C to D.
Our current system offers commuters a fragmented transit service, and that is why most people do not use it.
Cities Need Door to Door Transit
There are many Seattle bus lines which are heavily used. Many people live close enough to those lines and are going to destinations close enough to those lines so that those lines are popular. I support buses running fixed routes if they have significant ridership.
However, Seattle is a large city in terms of square miles, and many areas of Seattle are a half mile or a mile from the nearest bus stop. Currently some riders walk to the nearest bus stop. Others never ride a bus and always drive wherever they are going. But a van system would give people what they now get by driving their own cars – door-to-door service.
Another problem is that streets are so filled with cars that buses are stuck in traffic. I read in the Seattle Times that bus rapid transit is having problems in Ballard. BRT cannot work if the streets are too crowded with cars for BRT buses to be rapid.
Vans Are Needed In The Heart Of Downtown Seattle
Vans are needed downtown, especially at night. There are buses rolling the streets of downtown Seattle at night which are mostly empty. A late night rider could summon a van via cell phone app, which would take the rider all the way to a nearby destination or to a transit center where the rider could continue on in a van or bus taking the rider to the rider’s ultimate destination.
As mentioned previously, vans would popular at night, simply because they would be more secure.
Vans would also be popular during the day. Many people downtown, especially tourists and those from the suburbs, have no idea when a bus is coming or where they should stand to catch one. So they give up on taking buses. Or maybe they have never tried to use the buses. They bring their cars downtown, pay a big fee to park them, and create a five mile per hour, stop and go traffic jam.
Whether it is day or night, in the heart of Downtown, a rider would summon a van by cell phone app. Or a rider could flag down a van if it were going in the right general direction.
In the heart of Downtown, a rider would not necessarily hold out for a van going all the way to his neighborhood. There would be vans going generally north, generally south, generally east, and generally west, and a rider would take one going in the appropriate general direction. Once a rider were on board the driver would then see to if that the rider is delivered to the nearest Link Light Rail station or the nearest transit center or bus stop where the rider can pick up a further ride going in his direction.
These transfers would be much easier to make than the transfers which are so difficult to make. Van drivers would either take you all the way to your destination or coordinate with and deliver you to another van which would take you all the way to your destination.
Except for heavily traveled bus lines, most would be replaced with vans of various sizes, all working together in a fuzzy logic way to cooperatively deliver complete transit experiences.
Door to Door Vans would be a Big Draw To Tourists
A flexible van system would be ideal for tourists. They would enter their desired destination and a van would pick them up and take them all the way to their destination or to another drop off point where another van will finish the trip.
Rural Areas Need Door To Door Transit
Many rural areas have no bus service. Many have some service, but it is infrequent. Riders must take a long hike to meet buses running infrequently, and these buses rarely take them all the way to their ultimate destinations.
A flex van system would make life much easier in rural areas, especially for those with low incomes and those who do not see well enough to drive or those who do not like to drive.
Door To Door Transit is Needed in Eastern Washington
Door to door transit would even work in Eastern Washington. Someone going from Wenatchee to Winthrop would take a van from home to the Wenatchee Transit Center. A bus or large van would take the rider to the Winthrop Transit Center. From there the rider would take another van to the rider’s ultimate destination in Winthrop. Transit centers in rural areas should include rental car facilities. Sometimes people need to drive alone.
Our current bus systems connect transit centers. The missing links are from home to the transit center and from the transit center on to an ultimate destination.
Door To Door Transit Math
Some will say that a flex van program would be more expensive. My response is: More expensive than what?
More expensive than widening the freeways? More expensive than converting every transit center into a multi-story parking garage? More expensive than the wasted hours we spend stuck in traffic? More expensive than businesses having difficulty delivering goods? More expensive than the inefficiencies which traffic congestion forces on business? More expensive than most of the buses here in Lynnwood being driven around mostly empty most of the time? More expensive than our current transit system, which is heavily subsidized by our taxes and is a country mile away from covering its operating expenses out of the fare box? More expensive than driving a single occupancy vehicle, which costs on average around $706 per month own and operate.
The immediate reaction I get when I present this proposal to transit people is that it would cost too much. They are saying that we can afford a bus system where many buses are driven around mostly empty most of the time and which fails to eliminate congestion and fails to deliver transit services to many who need them. They are saying, on the other hand, that cannot afford a van system which would fill up the vans, fill up the buses, fill up the trains, produce more revenues, reduce negative cash flow, make more capital available for expansion and eliminate congestion, avoid the cost of widening the freeways and building five story park and ride structures, and provide more and better transit service to those who need them.
A flex van system, working in coordination with our bus and train system, would carry many more riders than our current system. Per passenger costs would drop because vans, buses, and trains would run full or closer to full.
It costs me $12 to take Uber around three miles from my home to the Lynnwood Transit Center. If there were six passengers sharing the same van, the cost per person would be $2 each. My daily cost for the round trip would be $4 per day.
I would propose that vans charge an add on fee, in addition to regular bus fares. The fare would be $1 per mile with a minimum charge of $2. I estimate that such fares should be sufficient to cover operating costs. and attract heavy ridership.
Once the van system is in place, the transit system would then start charging $8 per day to park at the transit center. A parking fee would produce more income for the transit system. It would motivate people to take the vans to the transit center instead of driving their cars. Because of the convenience and relatively low cost of a door to door van–bus–train service, more people would take transit.
Charging for parking spaces at the transit center will not only produce needed revenues; it would also insure that there would be open parking spaces available for those who really need to park there.
It costs around $130 per hour to operate a bus. It does include a share of general system operating expenses. This does not include the capital cost of buying the bus. If the fare is $4 then the bus will break even if there are 33 passengers per hour on average riding the bus. ($4 x 33 = $130) If there are 33 passengers riding into Seattle but zero passengers riding the bus back to Lynnwood, this math would still work as long as round trips could be made in one hour. If the round trip takes more than one hour, more passengers would be needed on the outbound trip to keep the average up to 33 passengers per hour.
With a van system feeding riders to buses and trains, the buses and trains would run at higher capacity and generate higher fares. They might even break even in terms of operating cost or at least reduce the operating deficit.
Buses can cost from $500,000 to more than $1 million. After 20 years of service, even if they have been driven mostly empty most of the time, they are depreciated down to a low value and sold for next to nothing to transat services in Mexico.
Vans designed to carry six to eight riders might cost around $40,000, but probably no more.
In theory, a van averaging a speed of 20 miles per hour, carrying six people at all times, and charging each person $1 per mile could generate $120 per hour, more than enough to the cover operating costs, which would be less than operating costs for a bus. Labor cost of around $50 per hour would be the same for both buses and vans, but equipment costs, fuel costs, and depreciation expenses would be less for vans.
Average ridership might be less than a constant six passengers because the van will not always be full and because many side trips would have to be made to pick people up and drop them off. On the other hand, if there were a minimum charge of $2 per trip and if many of the trips were less than two miles, a van would produce more revenue.
The comparison is more stark when you consider that out in Lynnwood and other suburbs, many or most buses are carrying fewer than six passengers at a time. This means that a van costing $40,000 would be generating almost as much revenue as the typical bus costing $500,000.
Vans cost less to operate than buses. Vans can be electric. Vans are more nimble and can deliver quicker pickups and drop-offs. Vans can pull into your driveway and stop at the front door of Fred Meyer.
Vans will be popular especially at night, when it is not safe for women and children and all of us to stand on street corners in the dark waiting for buses.
How much would passengers pay for van trips? I would suggest that van trips be priced according to what they would cost to operate – excluding capital cost for the purchase of the van. I would estimate that a charge of $1 per mile would produce enough revenues for the vans at least to break even, with a minimum charge of $2 per trip. Most trips would be short trips, from home to the transit center or to the grocery store or post office. Vans would be able to make multiple trips during each one hour span.
The cost of operating vans would be easier to control than the cost of running buses on fixed routes. This is because the number of vans in use would be scalable. If there are fewer passengers hailing rides after 7 PM, fewer vans would be operating, whereas under our current approach buses must continue to operate even if few riders are aboard.
In the past we consciously charged less than operating cost to ride buses. We did so out of concern that if the ride were not cheap, people would drive instead of take the bus. This may be true to some extent, however, again, the cost of driving downtown and the cost of parking plus the stress of driving make the bus trip a valuable service, for which passengers will pay a reasonable price. Fares should be increased to a level closer to the break even cost. Most of us can afford to pay more than $5 for a bus to downtown Seattle.
Our current transit system subsides rides even for those who can afford to pay the full cost, which does not make financial sense. Conversely, there should be discounts for the unemployed, students, and those with middle and lower incomes.
We should not be discounting bus fares to provide an incentive for people to take the bus. There is enough incentive already. Driving is stressful and dangerous. Parking can be expensive. The average cost of driving a car is $.61 per mile, so a 40 mile round trip commute costs $24.40, plus the cost of parking.
With a transit system which comes closer to breaking even than the one we have now, we will be spending less money subsidizing underused buses. We will free up more money for capital improvements, such as completing Link Light Rail.
If the added convenience of taking vans instead of driving single occupancy is not enough to induce people to leave their cars at home, then we could charge a per mile fee to drive on our freeways. A small per mile fee charged on a large number of vehicles would produce a large income, all of which could be used to make capital improvements to the transit system and finish Link Light Rail sooner.
Snohomish County is predicted to add 200,000 more residents in the next twenty years. King County will add even more. So traffic congestion will only get worse. If we continue with our current transportation and transit policies, we will need to widen the roads. It would take many years to do that and would cost an enormous amount of money. And by the time the roads are widened, there will be more drivers and more choke points. We are already in gridlock. What will our gridlock look like in 20 years if we fail to do things differently?
I conclude that there are many reasons why many people would be motivated to ride the vans, that further motivation could be created by charging by the mile to drive, and that van ridership would be substantial.
Objection: A Van Program Would Add Even More Cars To The Roads
Response: If a flex van were driven around empty, it would add one car to the roads. If it were carrying one passenger, it would add one car to the roads but take one car off the roads, which would mean it would break even in number of cars on the road. If there were six passengers on board, the flex van would be adding one vehicle to the roads but taking six away, a net reduction of five vehicles on the roads and freeways.
Further, the van system would be scalable, meaning that it would only add vans to the roads when there are more riders requesting service. And each rider who receives service represents one fewer drivers on the roads.
We Need A Transit System Which Will Deliver Freight Selectively
Link Light Rail should include cars which would carry roll off bins of freight, such as Amazon and Wall Mart packages, with vans carrying them on to their destinations. It can be delivered after rush hour is over, when there is a lull in ridership. Freight is not in as much a hurry as passengers. There is much more money to be made in carrying freight than in carrying people. Freight can be packed into the trunk and stacked up. It does not need fresh air or a cushioned seat. The Burlington Northern makes much more money carrying freight than it could make by carrying people. So the Burlington Northern does not carry people. It rents space on its tracks at a high price to Amtrak.
Door to Door Transit Can Solve the Last Mile Problem
We have a last mile problem, and a van system would solve it.To travel the last mile or two or three to the transit center you can drive. But you may find that the parking lot has been full since 7 a.m. You can ride a local bus to the transit center, but that would involve studying schedules, taking a hike to the bus stop, and waiting in the dark and the rain for a bus. The bus might be late. Or you might be late and miss your bus. In no case does the bus pick you up at your front door. So instead of taking a bus, most people drive.
There Is Now A Feasible Solution
There is continuing debate over what we could do to alleviate traffic congestion. Writers in the Seattle Times suggest that we preserve what we already have, build bicycle highways, and stop waging war on cars. Others suggests that we improve our mass transit system,
The unstated but clear assumption by every newspaper editorial and every politician who addresses the issue, is that traffic congestion is only going to get worse and that there is nothing that can be done to reduce it.
But there is a solution. A flexible van system, providing door to door service will solve the last mile problem, motivate us to leave our cars at home and take transit, through the use of a spontaneous, on the fly, app driven system for delivering short distance transit services.
*This was not feasible in the past. The first mass transit was trains. They had to run fixed routes because they could not leave the tracks. When buses replaced trains, they were set up, out of habit and conventionality, to run the same fixed routes.
Flexibility was also not feasible because neither passengers nor drivers had mobile phones, although it would have been feasible, on the going home route, for buses to leave the fixed route and drop people off at their homes. There is no record of bus systems exercising enough independence and creativity to do this.
As early as the 1930s police cars began to be equipped with radios. Riders generally had home phones. Riders could have called the bus company to ask for a pickup, and the bus company could have radioed bus drivers to pick them up. But there is no record of bus systems exercising enough independence and creativity to do this.
Now days, most people have smart phones. Some still have cheaper flip phones. Either could be used by riders to hail a ride and get picked up the front doors or wherever the rider is.
Door to door service is now completely feasible, and the only reason public transit does not provide it is conventionality and a lack or creativity.
We Should Complete Link Light Rail and Do So in Six Years
We should finish Link Light Rail so that tens of thousands of more people can be moved from north to south and east to west on an exclusive right of way not subject to bottlenecks.
We should finish Link Light Rail– from Everett to Tacoma, from West Seattle to Kirkland, from Ballard to Issaquah. We should push to get it done in six years. If the Chinese can build a 15,000 kilometer national bullet train system in a decade, we can finish Link Light Rail in six years. We voted for Link Light Rail in 1996, and 21 years later, the system is less than one-third done.
But Link Light Rail in itself is not a solution to traffic congestion unless we develop a better way to get people to and from Link Light Rail. A flexible van system is that solution.
To complete Link Light Rail quickly and raise the necessary money to do so, we should first implement door to door transit and a flexible van service to solve the last mile problem. We should replace mostly empty buses with vans to cut costs. This would increase revenues and free up money for expansion. More money would be needed to finish the job in six years. To obtain it we should increase the Sound Transit gasoline tax. We should charge a small per mile toll to drive on all of the freeways. Or we should charge a per mile odometer tax. We would use the increased revenues to fund construction directly and to support bond sales sufficient to finish the entire project. We should set up a Washington State Bank, which would buy the bonds. It would charge no loan fee and would charge a lower interest rate than is paid on regular bonds. We should draw on all possible sources, sell bonds, raise state fund, raise federal funds and complete Link Light Rail.
We passed Sound Transit 3 in November of 2016 and raised the sales tax, raised the car tab tax, and raised the property tax. However, we could get much more for our money if we were spending less money subsidizing operating deficits, and we could do that by using flex vans to fill up the buses and trains.
We Should Extend Express Buses or Rail to Lewis-McCord
Recently Paine Field was opened up to passenger service, and Alaska and United will begin service there in 2018. In the newspaper we read that it will be more convenient to fly from Paine Field because a drive through congested Seattle can be avoided. This shows how uncreative people are. Already, we can travel by express bus from the transit centers at Everett, Lynnwood, or Mountlake Terrace to downtown Seattle. And from there we can take Link Light Rail to SeaTac. No one needs to drive from Snohomish County to SeaTac.
SeaTac is running out of room for expansion, and a new airport will be needed. But the place for that new airport is not Paine Field. Land there is far too valuable as a location for aviation related, high payroll companies, rather than for airport parking, motels, and strip clubs. The right place is Joint Base Lewis McCord, which has miles and miles of open fields which can be turned into as big an airport as might be needed. For that reason we should extend Sound Transit express buses or Sounder or Link Light Rail to McCord at the same time as passenger service is instituted there. See www.jamesrobertdeal.org/paine-field.
We Should Extend Express Buses or Rail to Olympia
It is a disgrace that there is no regular, several times daily, bus service from Seattle down to Olympia, especially when the Legislature is in session. Express buses, Link Light Rail, or Sounder Rail should be extended to Olympia.
We Should Serve West Seattle and Ballard using the Best Technology
West Seattle and Ballard have been waiting 21 years for light rail to come to their crowded streets. There are plans to dig tunnels and build elevated light rail to serve both. We unwisely voted down a ready-to-go monorail plan in 2005, which would have been completed by now.
That plan should be resurrected, although we should build quiet, efficient medium speed maglev instead of rubber wheeled monorail. Much of the route from West Seattle to the ferries and Alaskan Way and then up to Ballard and on up Aurora, is to be elevated. If a train is to be elevated, it should be a maglev train. Maglev can also run through a subway. Maglev has no moving parts to wear out, and although construction cost are higher, maintenance costs are lower. Whereas a light rail train squeals as wheel flanges scrape on rails as the train goes around turns, a maglev train is whisper quiet because it is not in physical contact with the rails.
The federal government subsidizes only proven technologies. In 2005 maglev was relatively new. Now the Japanese and Chinese have proven that it works. The opposition to monorail came from light rail proponents who feared that monorail would make light rail look bad. Ironically, it should be Sound Transit which should build a West Seattle to Ballard maglev train instead of a monorail group created by initiative.
With maglev running elevated along Alaskan Way, we should build elevated walkways leading east from maglev stations along with funiculars lifting people from dock level up to avenues uphill.
The Old Monorail Should Make a Comeback
Our 1.5 mile long, truncated, 1962 Alweg monorail is a laughing stock. Tourists ride it and ask, “Is that all there is?” Governor Rosellini had intended that it be extended once the World Fair was over. He was disappointed that he could not convince Seattle officials to extend it. Apparently, the city beautiful crowd was against it. They were against tall things in general. They were paranoid about passengers in an elevated train looking into their windows. Later it was the light rail crowd which opposed monorail, rightly fearing it as a competitor.
The Alweg is a powerful machine, capable of carrying large numbers of people and capable of climbing steep hills. The appropriate use of its capabilities would be to extend it north up Queen Ann Hill and perhaps further, and to extend it to the southeast up to the hospital district. The original Link Light Rail plan was to serve the hospital district with a subway station, but it was eliminated apparently to cut costs and to shorten the route. As with othere trains, an Alweg extension would be most successful if it were supplemented by a van system, which would carry passengers to and from monorail stations.
The cost of extending the Alweg north and south would not be prohibitive. The technology is proven. The maintenance facility is in place along with the experts to maintain the system. It would be necessary to buy more trains, but they are readily available, and it would be necessary to build new elevated tracks and new stations. It might make sense to completely replace the Alweg with a new heavy duty medium speed maglev. The Alweg currently breaks even and makes a profit. It would run an even bigger profit if it were extended north and south.
Door to Door Transit Will Require More Drivers
A flex van system would employ more drivers, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Van drivers would be busy moving riders, unlike our current system where drivers are often moving mostly empty buses. With a van system there would be more fare revenue with which to pay drivers.
Bear in mind that some of the new van drivers will be drivers currently operating buses which carry few passengers.
There should be cooperation among regular bus and train drivers, van drivers, taxi drivers, van pool drivers, and even Uber drivers. Vehicles of various sizes will be needed because at some times and in some areas there will be more or fewer riders. There are drunks and pedophyles who will be needing rides too, and there should be a separate group of vehicles for them. The way for all these classes of drivers and sizes of vehicles to work together would be for all classes of drivers to be members of the transit union. Thus, they would all receive proper vetting, would all receive proper training, and would all receive fair compensation.
Objection: Too Few Will Ride The Vans
Response: Many people hate to drive. Many do not see well, especially at night. Many are not old enough to drive. Many are too old to drive. Many cannot afford to own and operate a car. More people are living in apartments which provide little or no parking, and so they too cannot easily own cars. For those who do own a car, it would still cost less and be more convenient to use the van-bus-train system instead of driving solo. Parking is expensive. Driving is tense.
I conclude that riders in large numbers will sign up. To introduce the vans, free service should be offered for the first month.
If van ridership drops, for example at 8 PM in the evening, the number of vans on the road can be adjusted downward. A flex van system is much more scalable than a bus system which must run fixed routes on a fixed schedule. Vans will be activated and deactivated as demand ebbs and flows during the day. For that reason, it would not be a serious problem if too few were using the vans. The number of vans in service would simply be reduced. In all cases there would be fewer wasted trips, the contrary of our often underused buses.
Objection: Too many riders will sign up
Response: This is not a problem. If there is a surge in ridership, more vans will be put into service. The more vans that are on the roads, the more cars will be taken off the road and the more financially feasible the van service will become. More vans can easily be brought on duty if there are more riders. Full vans carrying four to ten passengers are more economical than half million dollar buses frequently being driven around mostly empty most of the time.
Our Transit Officials Are Letting Us Down
There are 18 members of the Sound Transit Board, ten from King County, four from Pierce County, three from Snohomish County, plus the Washington Secretary of Transportation. Board members are not directly elected. The three county executives are automatic members, and the executives appoint board members from among the mayors, city councilors, and county councilors in their respective counties.
An Edmonds resident might like Dave Earling’s policies as mayor but disagree with his policies as Sound Transit Board member, but the only way the resident could get Dave off the Sound Transit Board would be to get him out of the mayor’s chair.
Likewise, the boards of Community Transit, Metro, and Pierce Transit are all either mayors, city councilors, and county councilors, all appointed by their respective county executives.
Transit board members mean well. They are evidently ethical and honest people. However, they are not transit scholars. Their career focus has been on more traditional municipal issues. They are traditional thinkers and they listen to their hired staff who are also traditional thinkers. Together they all think only in terms of buses and trains running fixed routes, with people somehow making their way to and from the buses and trains on their own. They apparently think that if they draw lines on a map, which pass within at least a mile of most locations, and run buses on those lines at 20 or 30 minute intervals, that they have done their job – even if very few people ride those buses. The system is offering rides, and it is the fault of the riders if they fail to accept the offer. Our trainsit leaders know of no way to induce people to ride the buses, except to keep the fare price low.
My general observation is transit board officials act mostly as a rubber stamp for whatever transit board executives suggest.
Transit leaders presume that there is some logic behind the inept way we deliver transit services. They presume that the way things are is the way things should be. So they are most comfortable with sticking with what they have done before.
We in turn put our trust in our transit leaders. We presume that they know what they are doing – when in fact they do not. We are usually overworked and have little time to become transit scholars. So we put up with our disconnected transit system without questioning whether it makes sense. We are desperate for some way out of our ever worsening gridlock, and so we vote for enormous tax increases for Sound Transit construction projects, even though our transit leaders admit that they will not lessen traffic congestion.
I conclude that our transit leaders have let us down. They do not think outside the box. They do not identify what the core problem is, and they ignore the last mile problem. They ignore a simple solution which is now available due to the invention of the cell phone and the Uber app.
When I addressed the Community Transit Board, they cocked their heads and look at me with confusion on their faces. They mumbled that no one would use it and that it would cost too much. When I wrote to Sound Transit representatives, they replied with a polite letter telling me about their van pools, and referring me to other bureaucrats I could talk with. Having written their polite letter, they took no further action.
Our transit leaders truly have no clue as to how to solve the traffic congestion problem. Everything they say shows that they know of no real solution. For example, the only suggestion which Governor Inslee has offered is to “eliminate choke points”. He was speaking of the congestion on I-405 between Lynnwood and Bothell. However, it would take ten years to widen and eliminate I-405’s many choke points, and by that time, even if our freeways are widened, there will be new choke points.
When election time comes, there are no campaigns for positions on transit boards and no debates about how we should spend the vast sums which Sound Transit is collecting and what it should be doing to eliminate traffic congestion. Voters have almost no input at all regarding the selection of our representatives.
I conclude that transit board members should be directly elected. This would bring discussion about transit planning into the open.
The Planning Method to Employ
Washington has no long-term transit and transportation plan other than to finish Link Light Rail, to continue widening the roads, and to continue making expansions, adaptations, and adjustments to a flawed plan.
We should get past the belief that we have to “build something” to solve our traffic and transit problems. The freeways and highways are already built. They are gigantic. They are big enough. Making them bigger is not going to help because the population will increase, and more people will take to the roads.
As was inevitable, we have filled up our freeways and highways with too many vehicles driven single occupancy. We have filled them to the point where they no longer function efficiently.
The proper planning method would be to envision a future where it is not necessary to own a car to get around and to work backwards from there. It is said that we cannot predict the future, but we can set goals and work to achieve them. If we do that, there is a sense in we can in fact predict the future.
The proper planning method would be to identify why most people do not use transit. Most people It is because transit does not deliver a comprehensive, portal to portal service, because it does not solve the last mile problem, because it does not pick us up where we are, nor take us all the way to our ultimate destination. The obvious solution is to pick people up wherever they are – summoned by an Uber style app –see to it that they are delivered all the way to their ultimate destination.
That’s what we do with FedEx packages. We do not tell people they must drive to a certain FedEx station to drop off and pick up packages. FedEx will come to us and pick up our package. And FedEx will deliver a package all the way to us. FedEx does not set up a series of bus stops where we have to wait for a FedEx truck to drive by to pick up our package or to drop it off.
This raises another point: Publicly owned companies should charge market rates and compete with privately owned companies. The Post Office competes with FedEx and UPS. FedEx delivers packages. Transit should compete if it can.
If we were trying to design a transit system that is awkward and difficult to use, we could not design one more awkward and difficult than the one we have. We have a lot to do, but it is possible to eliminate traffic congestion and deliver complete transit services to all for less than the cost of driving a car.
The key points to remember are first, that there are limits to how many single occupancy vehicles can be crowded onto our freeways and highways, and so we must do something. Second, a van system would be popular because there are so many people who do not like to drive or do not see well enough at night. Third, a van system connecting up our disconnected transit system would be much less expensive that widening the freeways or building five story transit center parking garages. Fourth, a van system could be set in motion in a matter of a few months and provide both immediate reduction in congestion and a genuine improvement in transit services for those who do not drive and cannot afford to own cars. Fifth, it would reduce carbon emissions. Sixth, it would set an example which other cities and other countries could imitate.
Request for Response to Transit Proposal
I am sending this request for response to proposal to Sound Transit, Community Transit, Metro Transit, Pierce Transit, the Seattle Department of Transportation, and Mayor Durkan. I am asking that they evaluate my proposal for feasibility, including financial calculations.