Sound Transit and King County Metro Transit will write a report by September about how to integrate their service and reap an “efficiency dividend,” County Executive Dow Constantine announced Thursday.
He is currently the chairman of Sound Transit’s governing board, “so I can credibly say it’s a good time to take the relationship to the next level,” he said. The report would include strategies to deal with Metro cuts and route changes next year, and the start of light-rail service to the University of Washington in 2016.
The order comes in a season of turmoil for Metro. Voters rejected tax increases in April for buses and roads, and on Monday evening, Constantine vetoed a plan by Councilmember Rod Dembowski of north King County to defer 389,000 hours of 2015 bus cuts that Constantine proposed. Asked if he was reclaiming the news cycle and the mantle of pro-transit executive, Constantine said “that’s up to you,” and that his cooperation directive was in the works for weeks. “We would have done it earlier, but I didn’t want to step on the council’s deliberations around the Metro funding issue,” he said.
The joint planning could include these issues:
- Redesigning the Mercer Island Transit Center so Eastside buses drop passengers there, so they transfer to future East Link trains in 2023 to finish the trip downtown.
- Shortening bus lines in Northeast Seattle to feed Northgate and Roosevelt light-rail stops in 2021. That’s always been the general idea; it is not a new proposal.
- Tough choices in the airport-area suburbs, where RapidRide A Line from Federal Way now shuttles riders effectively to and from the light-rail stops at Tukwila International Boulevard and SeaTac/Airport stations. Constantine said he just assumes the A Line will be shortened as light rail opens in the south at Angle Lake Station in 2016, then at Highline Community College. But there will be people who want bus stops closer than one to two miles apart, so would Metro sustain overlapping transit?
- More effective customer service, including a website where people can plan trips easily using both Sound Transit and Metro.
Constantine emphasized that cultures should change to boost overall transit use, not necessarily do what’s best for one agency. That might mean Metro forgoes some riders to feed trains, he said. To some extent, light rail’s current 31,000 weekday ridership already drains some demand from Metro, which nonetheless is carrying 400,000 passengers per weekday, same as 2008.
But he doesn’t favor an outright merger of the agencies’ leadership, which has been studied in the past; he said there’s value in local control of local transit.