[ Susan Hutchison and Dow Constantine facing off at the Seattle Aquarium last night. ]

Did I forget that I had just taken a hit off the crack pipe, or did I actually hear Susan Hutchison say that Metro’s $100 million plus projected annual budget shortfall should be addressed by cracking down on unpaid fares?  The latter, I’m afraid.

Such a befitting position for Susan Hutchison to take, laying the blame on all those untrustworthy, unwashed bus riding types from the big scary city. Gotta play to your base.

Never mind that unpaid fares are a complete non-issue. Though for sure, it’s just the kind of overblown, pseudo-controversial story that would be a perfect fit for an anchor-model to read on the local TV evening news.

From 2005 to 2008, Metro estimates that about one percent of riders didn’t pay or paid partially.  That probably amounts to around $2 million per year, or just two percent of Metro’s deficit.   But then you have to factor in how much it would cost to reduce the unpaid rate, how much it would delay service, and the extra risk to which it would expose drivers.

Of course, the professionals who run Metro already understand these issues and their costs/benefits, and they operate the system accordingly.  No, scratch that.  The Hutch knows better.

21 Responses to “Oy”

  1. Wells

    One of my comments to a Times article was removed the other day. It had two points that might’ve caused the problem.

    Point 1: I suggested Link LRT fares should be based on ‘time’ (say 2 hours) rather than ‘direction of travel’ ($2 one way plus $2 back). The ‘direction of travel’ fare insures $4 is collected per trip and thus discriminates against low-income riders, reduces ridership and fare revenue. I suggested this policy is aligned with buses remaining fareless in the DSTT while Link requires a ticket likewise discriminates against low-income riders.

    Point 2: Defending Link LRT as zero-emission transit in urban areas, I warned that more people using Link would increase the air pollution of farting: more people = more farting.

    I’m wondering which point resulted in the post being removed. Surely, not the word farting. Should I have used flatulation, flatulatory, flatulationousness?

  2. Matt the Engineer

    Back to the topic, one might wonder if cracking down on fare evasion would even generate revenue at all. It doesn’t seem likely to me that many of those that evade fares actually have the fare but won’t pay it. It’s more likely that they’ll just be kicked off the bus (after a long stream of arguments, and after what, the bus driver pulls out a weapon?). How does kicking off passengers that can’t pay increase revenue?

  3. Mallahanner

    I say maybe just be progressive like me and charge more

  4. Wells

    Reducing a Link ticket by $2 would reduce fare evasion. An actual engineer would realize this. Low income riders are apt to realize it as well, resent the discrimination and rebel with fare evasion. My comment was pulled because I charged Sound Transit with discrimination. If the City of Seattle wants to reduce crime in Rainier Valley, they would force Sound Transit to charge fares that didn’t discriminate against low-income riders. The city prefers a police state.

  5. Ross

    Good point, Matt. I wonder if Hutchinson has ever ridden the bus? I wonder if she realizes that a lot of the bus rides involve paying as you get off (not as you get on)? It’s too bad questions like the following weren’t asked as followups:

    1) What percentage of riders don’t pay?
    2) How much money could be raised assuming 100 percent compliance?
    3) What percentage of those are “pay when you get off”?
    4) Of those, what exactly are you proposing if the rider just jumps off the bus — tackle him?
    5) What if the rider shrugs his shoulders and says “I lost my transfer”? Should the bus driver shake him down — perhaps ask for his watch as payment?
    6) What about the increased danger to the driver and passengers for unruly riders who refuse to pay? Should the bus driver call the cops? Should everyone on the bus have to wait until the cops arrive?

    The author has done a good job in researching some of the answers to these questions. The answers and questions themselves show just how idiotic this proposal is.

  6. John of Humdinger

    Matt and Ross:
    You’d be surprised how many wagon riders
    have more money in the bank
    than the folks who are paying for their free rides.

  7. Wells

    It doesn’t make sense to charge for riding Link in the DSTT. It’s easier and faster to board Link than a bus. In the DSTT, any delay boarding a bus can delay Link. Why then is there a charge to ride Link in the DSTT? Answer: discrimination. The City, not so much Sound Transit or Metro, is segregating riders by class. The policy is bound to backfire. Sound Transit should change the Link fare system to ‘time’ rather than ‘direction of travel’ and credit the change to serving the public. And make Link fareless in the DSTT.

  8. Chris Stefan

    Your other arguments aside I don’t think Sound Transit is having big problem with fare evasion. I’m running into fare inspectors fairly frequently and it is pretty unusual for someone not to have the fare. Even then I’ve only seen one case where not paying was a result of anything other than an honest mistake.

  9. Kat

    As a Metro driver, I can attest that Metro significantly underestimates nonpayment and underpayment of fare. I would say that as much as 20% of passengers evade or fall short of their fare. It depends on the route. Most of the highest fare evasion routes are on trolley lines, inner-city. Some won’t just evade their fare, but demand a transfer as well. Metro has built this culture over many years.
    Fare evasion IS a huge problem at Metro.
    If Hutchinson wants to close the deficit, she should go after the biggest evaders of them all Martin Seling and the DBA. The DBA pays for the ride free area at the same cost they arranged with the Seattle Transit Authority- more then 25 years ago. Martin Seling promised to pay $60,000 to extend the RFA to Belltown, where his developments are. He NEVER coughed up the dough, yet the RFA still goes out to Bell Street.

  10. Wells

    I don’t consider fare evasion a matter of great concern. The more important matter is that mass transit provide the alternative to driving it’s meant to be. In the case of ‘direction of travel’ fare structure on Link LRT, many trips 2-way trips could be made for $2 if the fare were based on a 2-hour ticket. Reaching for $4, Sound Transit loses $2. Commuting would produce the $4 anyway. It just seems to me, the fare structure discriminates. I believe in the honor system. Fareless areas of town can teach that lesson, but discrimination of this sort, perceived or real, does the opposite. Think about it.

  11. Chris Stefan

    Well the other way to look at it is a round trip ticket on Link or Sounder is effectively an all day pass. I’m not sure if it works out that way with Orca though. I think it would be a good idea to set a maximum daily fare of some sort with Orca. Say perhaps the value of the two highest cost unlinked trips plus a small premium.

  12. holz

    so if metro took the approach most euro transportation systems (not regional/national – but local), would it be more successful?

    through much of germany/switzerland, you don’t pay while loading/unloading, you obtain and stamp a ticket when you get on/off (assuming you don’t already have an affordable pass) – this does two things, prevents the driver from having to interact with unruly passengers and decreases loading/unloading time at stops.

    separate staff come around in plainclothes and check tickets – failure to have proper ticket results in hefty fines due at the time of infraction.

    worked really well where we lived (freiburg/vauban)

  13. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    JOH: due to my college loans I guess I’m poorer than a subsistence farmer. Makes me so glad we have tax breaks for mansions instead of increasing our pathetic percentage of foreign assistance.

    Wells: ORCA fares are good for two hours.

    You can call it classism if you want, but SoundTransit chose to charge fares in the tunnel to keep the base fare at $1.75. They’re quite aware that results in about a 10% drop in tunnel ridership, but the lower base fare makes Link more competitive for riders in the Rainer Valley.

    Also, what’s with the “actual engineer” jabs? Matt’s a M.E., a professional engineer. That’s fairly real, though of course civil engineers like my dad are the real-est. :)

  14. Jay

    I made 4 trips on Link in both directions yesterday within 2 hours with my ORCA card and was only charged $2, so I don’t know what the hell Wells is talking about. Maybe if Art Lewellen, I mean Wells, actually lived in Seattle and not Portland he’d have a better idea of how things work here.

  15. Matt the Engineer

    To be fair, the TVM’s do charge you $4 for a round trip ticket and don’t specify that you don’t need a round trip ticket if you’re travelling for less than 2 hours. But this is an information problem, not a policy problem.

    Thanks [Josh]. I had been avoiding interacting with [Wells] because he appears to be a troll. For the record, I’m a licensed mechanical engineer with over a decade of experience.

  16. Wells

    Matt and I had a disagreement, I forget the specifics. Still, this does not make me a troll. There’s enough rank incompetence within Seattle’s planning circles to keep anyone busy poking holes in assumptions.

    Sound Transit Link LRT tickets specify each is valid in one direction of travel. Since Link ridership is below predictions and expectations, changing the fare structure would increase ridership and revenue, and earn appreciation from riders by making Link more affordable. Does this opinion sound like the grumblings of a troll?

    I gave analytical testimony before Sound Transit board public meetings in 2000-2001 to justify Link LRT south to Seatac after the original 1st Phase tunnel to UW bust its budget. I still oppose the tunnel to UW for the same analytical rationale that an engineer ought to appreciate instead of haughtily dismiss.

    This haughty aire is in part why many conservatives conclude Seattle’s armchair and professional planners consider their personal viewpoint unquestionable. I understand the frustration conservatives feel because I’ve been treated as one while advocating for light rail since 1993.

  17. Chris Stefan

    First, Link ridership is exactly where it is expected to be given the current economic conditions (which have lowered commuter ridership for all agencies and modes). Link is already getting more daily riders than any Metro route. I have no doubt Link will make it’s 2010 predicted 26000 boardings per day.

    As for University Link and North Link I just don’t get your opposition to them. Sure the construction cost is high, but so is the density and ridership. If anything this line should have been heavy rail rapid transit. Even with 4 car trains and 2.5 minute headways the line is likely to be at capacity rather quickly.

  18. Wells

    Well, I’ll try to explain it one more time, Chris. 15,000 ‘rides’ daily is below predictions. No amount of shuffling the economic parameters makes a good excuse for the shortfall. My basic argument about fare structure could increase ridership, nuf said.

    U-Link is little more than bus riders becoming rail riders. New transit users is more the goal. I simply do not believe the ridership predictions overall and discount that number based on bus riders becoming rail riders. After 8 years of construction, another 3 years or so and a few more billion is needed to reach Northgate.

    Next, I predict ridership on the other Link extensions, south to Federal Way, east through Bellevue, and a spur to Southcenter.

    The initial line has lowest ridership southbound. Even with the Airport extension, Seatac is not a major destination. It’s a place people go when they’re going somewhere else. The extension to Federal Way is necessary. I make this same argument for a spur to Southcenter, possibly to Renton. This is in part why the initial line has low ridership.

    The I-90 extension east is important for construction on SR-520. Transit will need to handle more trips during that period.

    I prioritize the other extensions ahead of U-Link for these reasons and also for guiding regional growth. There’s far more potential for “infill” development in the suburbs than along U-link. Improving suburban economies is the only way to reduce rush hour traffic congestion.

    There are a lot of people who don’t question the pretty picture agencies have painted Link to be. Yeah I know, I write like Yoda. Sorry. In my wildest dreams and in theory, the Express Lanes of I-5 are the best Link route north as was their original intent. You just have to consider connecting transit as something more than an afterthought. Gotcha! You never think about connecting transit much. Meanwhile, Bellevue can’t build Link because some people demand a prohibitively expensive subway and don’t wanna transfer, boo hoo.

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    […] County Executive: A closet Republican ex-local TV news anchor model with zero civic experience and no ideas is polling ahead of a progressive, experienced politician with a proven record of forwarding the […]

  20. Editorial: Hutchison is Wrong on Transit - Seattle Transit Blog

    […] believes the $213 million Metro deficit can be seriously addressed through cracking down on fare evaders. How much do those evaders cost the county? Around $2.7 million — or 1% of the deficit.  […]

  21. seattle town

    Superb writing. Bless you for posting it.

    Yours truly,

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