It wasn't exactly Yasir Arafat drinking coffee with Ariel Sharon, but on December 9 Joel Horn, the newly appointed leader of the monorail agency, sat down at the Union Station Starbucks with Joni Earl, the leader of Sound Transit. The pair met for an hour.
While the official line during last fall's monorail campaign was all hugs and kisses between the monorail and light rail contingents (ever wonder why the monorail folks didn't pitch a South Seattle route?), take members of either camp off the record and they'll seethe about the other.
Indeed, as everyone realizes, the two giant public transportation projects are natural rivals. When push comes to shove they're competing over routes, limited public money, and hearts and minds. Basically, it's foolish and inefficient to set up two massive public rail systems in Seattle. When one system succeeds, it will be the death knell for the other. (Sound Transit chair Ron Sims obviously realized this, as evidenced by his frantic behind-the-scenes efforts to sabotage the monorail.)
So, how did Joni and Joel's Starbucks summit turn out? According to Horn (Earl won't talk to me), the meeting was a "get to know you" session that went quite well. Horn says the pair talked about working together to coordinate a "seamless" system involving fare cards and transfers. Well, that's sweet.
Horn says he made no mention of the monorail agency's designs to extend the monorail's Green Line to Northgate or the University District--which would constitute major affronts to the stumbling light rail project. He says he simply asked Earl for advice on running a major public agency.
Huh? I'm amazed Horn could even keep a straight face on that score. Asking Sound Transit for advice on running a public agency? Regardless, I asked Horn if he gleaned any helpful hints from Earl. He said she had some solid stuff to say about staffing. (I'm not sure what that could be--hire four new PR people while your entire funding mechanism is on ice?)
Let me take this opportunity to offer Joel Horn some advice regarding Sound Transit: Make no agreements with Sound Transit. Do not agree to forgo any route in Seattle. Do not agree to support Sound Transit's efforts in D.C. to secure funding. Do not agree to any joint projects.
Joel, you represent an agency on the rise and Joni represents an agency on the ropes. Despite Sound Transit's establishment support, it has zero sway. You need nothing from them. They need everything from you. You do not have a common agenda with Sound Transit. They are a suburban commuter line that shares the road with cars; the monorail is an inner-city line that travels above traffic.
The next time you meet with Earl, tell her if Sound Transit doesn't secure its federal funding soon (BTW: That critical cash is already two years late), the monorail agency will have no choice but to make plans to extend the monorail line onto Sound Transit's turf.
You won Joel. Don't worry about kissing up to those you think are in power--you're really the one in power.