The Suburbs of Seattle Appear to Like Light Rail but Not Buses. Why?

Comments

1
1) Only poors take buses, of course.
2) Real cities like NYC have light rail, and suburbanites like to think they live near a real city.
3) Trains don't take up roadspace that could otherwise be used by their precious automobiles.
4) They can at least take their car to the train station. It's just not a commute if they didn't drive anywhere!
2
Technology stigma. In many cities (and probably the Seattle suburbs as well) bus service is so bad that it comes to be seen as a last-resort transportation option, something you use when there is no other option. Case in point is Los Angeles, where the bus is sometimes known as the "loser cruiser." Trains have more predictable schedules and observable routes; also, there are examples from the east coast and elsewhere of working professionals who take the train into the downtown core. So trains tend not to carry the same stigma as buses, but they can be prone to it too. We had a series of well-publicised violent crimes on Portland's light rail a few years ago when one of the suburban stops was claimed by two rival gangs. That tends to stigmatize the option.

Technology stigma can affect bicycles too. Not so much in cities like Portland or Seattle where improvements have been made to bicycle infrastructure and bikes are seen as an acceptable alternative. But in places like West Virginia, where the roads are dangerous, people tend to assume that anyone who is riding a bike is doing so because they had a DUI and lost their license.

It comes down to perceived quality of service and whether peers are observed using the option. Crappy technology of any kind stigmatizes its user.
3
Nailed it.
4
There wer yard signs all over the east side: "No $60 car tabs." Simple message. Buses never mentioned.
5
Because rail is excellent for commuting and commuting is the purposes the suburbs see for transit. Not just for themselves, but for others who will no longer be in front of them on the road. Transit is a way to get to and from work, possibly with a drive to a park and ride in the mix, and that's it. Taking the bus to the store, or our with your friends, is not even a consideration.

On the other hand, those of us in the city see transit as a bigger part of our lives. Late night bus service to bring folks home from the bar, routes serving local trips and running frequently on the weekends, etc. Stuff that buses are great for.

Which is why it is fucking silly to demand that Seattle and Enumclaw have the same level of transit funding. Our interests are not the same. Let them fund their commuter based system through Sound Transit, and let Seattle fund our more comprehensive system by devolving Metro to the City.
6
Its pretty simple.

Collecting sales tax in that city, to pay for light rail in that city is ok. Taxes collected in that city benefit citizens of that city.

Collecting a car tab fee that the entire county has to pay, but Seattle reaps most of the benefits from, not ok, or at the least a hard sell to voters after cutting 13 routes 3 years ago with no public vote and with little or no notice of their cancellation (not a single sign was posted on the 256 bus about the cancellation).

Its almost comical how people claim that Metro cant cut any fat to save money, yet at the same time builds new rapid ride lines with fancy bus stops and LCD reader boards. Metro is also picky on who advertises and they clearly dont care to lease out space for food carts or coffee vendors (which we used to have at the bus tunnels prior to the light rail retrofit).
7
Better class of rider.
8
I don't like April elections. It's hard enough getting voters out in November. And I thought all the election talk was just premature, until I went to my box on an off day and unexpectedly found my ballot.
9
I love light rail because it's predictable, doesn't have frequent stops, doesn't get stuck in traffic jams, doesn't bounce over potholes, and has many entrances/egresses.

Not a fan of buses for all of the opposite reasons. They are slower, more annoying, more difficult, less pleasant. I'll usually drive rather than take a bus; for most trips, I would happily take light rail.

I did vote for prop 1, because more options are good. But there are folks like me who see much less value in buses and voted against.
10
@2 FTW, but I'll add one other potential factor: public perception of Metro. Light rail at the time was new and didn't have a recognized administrative body attached to it. Metro on the other hand has been operating for years, and people being the negative creatures that they are will always perceive the shortcomings in something that already exists, especially when that thing is a government body that uses your tax dollars to do something. See one empty bus and you think Metro is inefficient.
11
On the train it's easier, both physically and culturally(?) to stand up and walk away from someone who makes you uncomfortable. Which, for some people, explains their preference the suburbs as well.
12
Traffic.
13
$60 was just too much all at once. Most people understand transit is as good thing, but $20 would have been more likely to be approved.
14
Pop music has many great train songs.
Crazy train, love train, peace train,

Not much regarding busses:
magic bus, bus stop...
...Just bussed a move?
15
Voters vote for things that benefit them directly, and that don't benefit others. Light rail directly serves commuting suburbs and only indirectly serves Seattle riders.

Surprising thing is that less than 51% would want even this.
16
What people want is not really transit.

What they want is a parking lot shuttle.
17
Buses benefit people in Seattle getting to places in Seattle, people in Seattle commuting to the Eastside, people on the Eastside commuting to Seattle. There are many now who live AND work on the Eastside. Metro really, really sucks for that. Maybe this was one factor among those on this side who actually like the bus.
18
@14 Note: even with Magic Bus, the consensus was that there was 'too much' of it. The Who would not have supported Metro.
19
For myself, the number one difference is grade separation.

Putting transit in traffic has big, ugly and obvious drawbacks for everyone.

Then again, I am a suburbanite who voted yes on Prop-1.
20
Yes @8, voter turnout is the critical difference. The Metro vote was a special election with nothing else on the ballot, so turnout was very how. The successful Sound Transit elections were held on presidential election ballots where turnout is highest.

Anti-tax voters vote in every election. Voters who are not so tax-averse vote less often. Had Metro's Prop 1 been on a presidential ballot, it too would have passed.
21
The sharp rise in anti-tax sentiment.
22
Because when you fund and build light rail, they can't come back in six months and say your route is going to get cut unless you pony up again.
23
maybe people knew metro was lying about a 17% service cut revenues were recovering; was lying about a 17% service cut when bus hours aren't the service, trips are and thru triage a cut in X dollars can be mitigated with shifting busses to better routes. maybe voters knew metro overpays folks with thirdhighest wages in nation. maybe sound transit got its boundary drawn after taking a test vote that failed, too. or maybe people realize trains have to come -- NO real city leading a region that's the world class thing doesn't have them and many middle rank cities have them -- but that's different than keeping busses at a widespread and inefficient level. ormaybe there is a ceiling in the sales tax and car tab fee tax that we have reached -- just maybe everything liberals say about regressive taxes is true and the people agree -- no more regressive taxes. maybe light rail tax being added now wouldn't pass either after the eco problems. it's not a sharp rise in antitax sentiment it's a sharp rise in folks realization that much of govt. is wasting dollars stupidly while the middle class goes down ie the feeling isn't silly sentiment but a cold and rational objective reaction to cold economic facts: metro was lying and wasting money.
24
It's the money, stupid. People in the burbs didn't want to shell out $60. Couple that with an April election and you have the predictable results.
25
It was a perfect storm of shit. An April election meant turnout was crappy and favored those who hate paying higher car tab fees. The fact that the vote would have done nothing to improve transportation in the suburbs was another crucial factor - even if it had included more buses alone that might have made a difference.
26
None of you get it - people in the suburbs like light rail because they think it's like light beer - you'll lose weight if you ride it.
28
@13: Your comment makes no sense. Prop 1 replaced expired funding, which was already $20, so a $20 car tab would not have raised any additional funds.
29
In the 'burbs the anti-prop 1 message was simple. No $60 car tabs.
30
dedicated lines. full stop.
31
@2 and @5. Also, I know that when I visit a city, I am a million more times likely to take a train or a subway than a bus. I always imagine the buses dumping me out somewhere a million miles from anywhere, where I have no idea where I am and no idea how to get back where I mean to be. Figuring out alien bus routes seems intimidating -- train routes seem friendlier and easier to comprehend. Also, trains usually have stations, and stations often have guidance, and lighting, and lots of people around, and that's reassuring. Bus stops can be lonely little things with no assurance that you're in the right place or the right time. Oh, and weather. Train stops are almost always sheltered.
32
@5 & @16 and others nail it- transit is seen as getting to and from work, not what you use to come home after the bar, to go to events, etc. People look at you bug eye if you don't drive to something.
In addition, I'm going to suggest it: Racism. Buses are for brown people, light rail is for white people. Back when I lived in Minneapolis it was the biggest factor for funding transit to the mall of america and stadiums, but not where it would have had the highest use.
33
If you live in the suburbs, your parking is almost always free and plentiful and the grocery store not walkable. You have no problem with owning/driving a car until you try to commute to work across 90/520 and it takes you over an hour to travel those 15 miles. You realize the bus would do nothing to alleviate this problem but it dawns on you that if you had a train to ride on you could just cruise right by it.
34
1. Car tabs. For whatever reason, that is just a losing strategy in King County.
2. April vote = low turnout.
3. Suburban voters just never made the connection between lack of bus service in Seattle and increased commute times. Kinison @6 is one example of this. I blame this on two things: people's shortsightedness and the Prop. 1 campaign.

Another example is my co-worker who commutes to Seattle from Kent every day. We were discussing the impact of 30,000 extra cars on the road on his daily commute. He was upset and talking about how he'll have to move or just stay at motels during the week, because the traffic is already as much as he can handle. So then I asked, "did you vote on Prop. 1?" His answer "no". He didn't make the connection on his own, and where was the Prop. 1 campaign to convince him of the real impact to his life? Hidden behind NO $60 CAR TAB signs.
35
Because our buses suck, our bus service sucks, and our bus schedules suck. They're unpleasant, unsafe (a metro driver is assaulted on-the-job every 48 hours), and unreliable.

Rail, even if it's just streetcars that aren't any faster, is much more pleasant. It's a proper extension of the sidewalk.
36
The majority of suburban king county voters that showed for the election are retired well to do white people. They are the bread and butter of the no new taxes crowd.
$60 is a ridiculous tab charge. We have been paying the $20 CRC charge for the past several years to stave off these cuts. Now the charge is 3x as high with projected revenue increases already coming in?
It doesn't add up.
37
And a not-regressive tax. $60 flat to somebody in the city is not the same as $60 flat to somebody not in the city.
38
@36,

Half of the money went to roads, that's why we got a 200 percent increase.
39
I have an idea: how about more Amtrak, less BNSF?
40
Classism.
41
@38, that's part of the problem selling it, too. You know which bus routes, but do you know which streets?

This is one of the better discussions on slog involving any form of transportation that I can remember.

I'll post here what I posted there. And, I think there are similarities in the failed Seattle TBD vote from 2011. $60 car tabs, a loose laundry list of what the tax would pay for, but not an explicit and easily communicated description of what else was being paid for.
Also, I think people actually believe that road maintenance is actually basic infrastructure that should be budgeted from the general fund.
And, also as has been mentioned above, the flexibility of bus routes and the inflexibility of rails works for buses when there is an abundance of funding to allow for routes that do more than shuttle people into and out of downtown (not everybody needs to go downtown), and works against buses when routes can just be cut.

Seattle voted no in 2011 on the Transportation Benefit District

Seattle Car-Tab Fee Implementation
Result Votes Percentage
No 96,628 56.94%
Yes 73,075 43.06%
"It would authorize a $60 increase in the Vehicle License Fee beginning in 2012, allowing collection of approximately $20.4 million annually for ten years."
Seattle Transportation Benefit District …


My guess is that unlike the 2011 ask for money without too much of a plan to spend it, the 2014 vote in Seattle was a much clearer "this for that" bargain that was heavier on explicitly saying what transit would be paid for, and the rest maintaining the streets busses, cars, and bikes roll on.

It's hard to convince people to pay to save something that they aren't actually getting to begin with.

I think plan C would pass, probably not with as big of a margin as the votes cast in this last effort (having Mike McGinn endorse something benefits Mike more than the the thing he endorses).
I wait to see what plan E is.

I purchased my home a decade ago in proximity to a bus route that allowed me to dump my car, then the route was cut and will never return, the route will eventually be replaced with light rail after I retire, and yet I'm asked to give away $60 a year for the non-existent benefit. I have to drive no matter what and I don't work downtown, so, a bunch of people suddenly having to drive downtown is not my problem, and voting to give away $60 a year provides zero benefit, with no real description of what the other "100%" was actually going to pay for.
This was an overreach.
I really think they should have put a sacrificial measure on the ballot (a concept that just hasn't yet been realized). Break that "200%" into two parts.
They should have had a vote for metro, and second measure to maintain the roads metro destroys every year.
42
Uncertainty
43
@41,

Apparently the roads part of it was badly needed, and I had no freaking clue. That part of the prop wasn't sold at all. It's like the stakeholders just assumed that suburbanites love roads.
44
@32 AS a brown guy myself I would dosagree. I would want to use both and plenty of minorities in the burbs mostly Asian and Indian but still.
45
Disagree sorry stupid phone
46
The message "Metro is a poorly managed agency with bloated salaries" got out but the message "Park and Ride lots are already maxed out, buses to Microsoft and the UW run at capacity" did not. Suburban voters got reminded of thugs on buses and $60 car tabs instead of the experience most of them will have- a swift, generally pleasant, time and money-saving alternative to their car.
47
@27 His Weirdness! A great performance but still not a pleasent ode to the bus ride.
48
Citizen R @ 20 has my vote.
49
@6 Christ, you're a stupid fuck. LCD screens aren't expensive, and they make the bus system easier to use for everyone, increasing ridership and lowering per rider cost. It's called "not cutting corners".

Sometimes you have to spend some money to make a project work right? Why in the fuck can't conservative jerkoffs understand this shit?
51
"Racism"

AKA Apple picking.
52
which bus system are they supposed to fund? Sound Transit + Community Transit + Metro?

Why would they do this? The first 2 are designed to fulfill their needs. The last is just an attempt to collect their money (at least the stupider ones).
53
Dedicated paths.

Look at west-bound 520 between the floating bridge and 405 at 5:30pm on any weekday. Then count the uncomfortably-crammed busses stuck in that traffic, and count how many people are moving just as efficiently as the people comfortably sitting in their bucket seats all around them.

Also, why is it that going down any street, the bus will inevitably get stuck at every intersection waiting for a red light? I take an early bus from Redmond Way every morning. Every day, I watch as the bus has to stop at EVERY light on the street, even when there's no cross traffic.

Yes, trains also experience traffic (NYC subway experiences this frequently). But that's nowhere NEAR as bad as being at the mercy of every bad driver, traffic incident, or road coming apart that this region has to offer.