Metro Updates 2021
Metro is updating its fundamental planning documents in 2021. The major changes in these plans are to put equity first, and to address climate change. The push for equity is an outgrowth of Metro's Mobility Framework, adopted in 2019, and the Equity Cabinet that helped to establish the Mobility Framework. Specifically, it puts the needs of priority populations first: people who have low or no income; are Black, Indigenous, or other people of color; are immigrants or refugees; have disabilities; or are linguistically diverse. The goals for climate are carried over from the County's Strategic Climate Action Plan, adopted in 2020, and call for a 70% growth in transit service 2015-2040. Together, these add up to big changes in how Metro will be operating in the future. Lastly, in response to Council, the Metro Connects long range plan now includes cost estimates.
The documents being updated are:
Strategic Plan for Public Transportation 2021-2031 outlines goals, objectives, strategies, performance measures for transit service
Service Guidelines provides criteria to evaluate, modify, and develop transit service
Metro Connects long-range unconstrained plan for 70% growth in service and better equity
There was an excellent presentation on this from County staff at the Regional Transit Committee video here, starts at 22:41. There was another very good overview with emphasis on how the new plans relate to King County's Strategic Climate Action Plan that was given by Carrie Lee and Stephanie Pure to the 43rd Democrat's Environmental Caucus, video link here.
These documents will be updated again in 7 years, by the current schedule.
Metro's plan are in accordance with the King County Strategic Action Plan, but even if fully implemented will not by themselves allow the County to reduce transportation emissions sufficiently. The Strategic Plan notes that:
Achieving the reduction of regional miles traveled and other goals in the Strategic Climate Action Plan will require transit service investments beyond what is currently proposed in Metro Connects, Sound Transit 3, and Vision 2050. However, securing more funding to achieve the Metro Connects network would be a significant start.
Further it says :
Equitable pricing for vehicle usage will be necessary for King County and Metro to achieve their climate goals. The Strategic Climate Action Plan commits Metro to lead and engage in a regional conversation to evaluate and implement equitable options for vehicle usage pricing and management. Actions might include expanding Metro’s park-and-ride pricing program, developing King County’s position on pricing tools (e.g., congestion pricing), and seeking opportunities to build incentives for pricing into transit planning and policy agreements (e.g., tolling, HOV lanes).
Ten year plan that adds some new goals to what Metro had before: meeting the needs of priority populations, prioritizing greenhouse gas reductions, addressing new mobility innovations, engagement around shared decisions and co-creation. Metro will create an online dashboard, similar to the Rider Dashboard started in 2020. It makes the data that Metro will be using in order to make decisions about routes transparent, and it updates the criteria by which Metro will add, remove, and update routes. Staff will make updates to the Regional Transportation Committee on progress on the dashboard. The dashboard will also track progress on the Metro Connects interim network, and will allow users to look at performance by route and by time (current Rider Dashboard just shows overall system data).
Metro becomes less of a way to just get people to Seattle downtown and to UW, and more of a spiderweb leaving large connections to Sound Transit and providing local service to connect between smaller centers. When making decisions around routes, points are awarded for connecting regional centers.
Establish the criteria by which transit service will be added, reduced, or restructured. Equity will be more central to these decisions. The new guidelines expand the definition of equity, expanding from race and income to add three new factors: disability, foreign born and limited English speaking. The new guidelines raise the priority of equity in the decision making process. Example: Equity Priority Area Score (EPAS) is calculated for the census block where each bus stop is located, and scored by the percentage of priority populations that live near in the block around the bus stop. The Equity Prioritization Score (EPS) calculated for each bus route is the average of the all the EPAS scores for the route. The EPS score is used when evaluating routes to add. The Opportunity Index Score (OIS) is calculated for each bus route, and is the percentage of bus stops on the route whose EPAS score is 5 (the highest equity need). The OIS is used when evaluating service reductions.
One of the key points for reviewers will be how the rules interact with each other and will affect real life choices.
Now that equity is such a key metric, should it be reported better as a metric when reporting (e.g. on dashboard) on system performance?
Reasons to add service:
Reduce Crowding – add service hours (trips) or add capacity (bigger bus)
Improve Reliability – add service hours (add time to schedule to reflect real travel time) or invest in bus lanes, transit signal priorities
Grow Service – fill gap between existing service and target service
Criteria for adding new service:
Equity – moved to first priority in new guidelines
Land Use – measures density on corridor
Geographic Value – prioritize connections between regional centers, industrial centers and activity centers
Routes will be sorted first on Equity, then on Land Use, then on Geographic Value. These guidelines serve as the starting point for discussion, but restructuring "is an art not a science".
An example of the equity lens applied to current routes is shown on the right.
How can local cities use these criteria for urban planning? If a local city rezones and redevelops, how do they know if they will get increased service? There is a certain chicken and egg problem, the city has to first introduce the changes that will earn more service, it can't know in advance that it will get it. But it should be noted that these scores are not the end of the discussion, they are the beginning, and can be tweaked by Council. In any case, the new rules give a bigger incentive for cities to include priority populations in development.
How will these criteria, and in particular the emphasis on equity, interact with how Comprehensive Plans are done, which do not have the same equity lens? (Pauli Mayor of Issaquah)
One issue around using Metro's data for making data-driven decisions is that it doesn't include Sound Transit data. We need Sound Transit and Metro to both be providing these metrics into a common pool in order to make reasonable decisions. (Balducci)
Criteria for reducing service:
Equity measured by OIS (percentage of highest equity stops)
Productivity – how many people ride the bus and how far they go
When reducing routes, start with the least productive routes that have the lowest equity scores. Routes in rural areas have different thresholds for productivity than urban or suburban routes.
Restructuring happens because of major transportation network changes (e.g., Link expansion), major development or land use changes, or mismatch between service and ridership. The new Guidelines allow Metro to redeploy service hours elsewhere if Sound Transit or another agency replaces an existing Metro service.
Proposes two future transit networks: the interim network, which is the network envisioned for when the Link extension to Ballard and West Seattle is complete. This network would be replaced by a 2050 network, which would be inline with Vision 2050.
The key changes from the previous Metro Connects plan are:
More frequent service and all-day service
Added service to address South King County equity gaps
RapidRide lines decrease from 26 to 19-23 in 2050 network
Future RapidRide lines become "candidates" rather than named lines
Service hours were 3.855M in 2019, and under the new plan would be 5.5M in the interim network, growing to 7.25M in the 2050 network. Projected ridership is set to almost double from 2019 to 2050.
As background context for this, note that King County's growth plans include adding 1.8 million residents and 1.2 million jobs by 2050. These means that there will be increased need for better transit, but it also means there will be more people to share the cost.
Below is a conceptual view of what the networks would look like.
These are the levels of service that Metro would like to provide, and not what it currently has funding to provide. It has provided a cost analysis of the new networks in order that Council may use them to put together a funding plan. Council's adoption of the plan represents according to Council President Balducci, and intent to provide the funding. The table to the right is a summary of the cost estimates.
The Capital costs include funding for an all-zero emissions bus fleet.
Baseline estimates would require a decrease in service if there are no new revenues. These numbers were done before Federal funds for transit, and before sales tax income rebounded.
How can this funding be secured? Metro Connects says: "Metro will only achieve Metro Connects through a cycle of growing its network and connecting people to mobility services, measuring progress, demonstrating value, securing additional funding, and continuing to grow. " Further, Metro Connects reports: "Metro’s revenue sources include sales taxes, fares, property taxes, federal and state grant funding, with sales tax representing metro’s primary revenue source. Using a sales tax as Metro’s primary revenue source amplifies the challenge of sustainable and equitable funding. Sales taxes are volatile and regressive. Property taxes— another available funding source—are also regressive. The region could pursue many funding approaches, including sources that may be more equitable and less regressive. A 2019 report to the King County Council included potential funding options, although these may evolve based on changes at the state or local levels. "
(Balducci) We know that we are due for a plan for how to grow the transit system. We need more. 2020 would have been an ideal year to ask voters for increase. It would have aligned with Seattle. With the pandemic it wasn't possible. We should adopt the vision, and then we can ask the voters for the funding. If we adopt the plan we're saying we are willing to work over the next few years to build the revenues.
(Upthegrove) Council back in 2020 had a majority in favor of funding – the need is not questioned at County Council. Need to find consensus with city partners to build broad support, and identify councilmember's specific needs and interests, and then what is the best timing to bring it into the public conversation.