68.7 F
Seattle
Saturday, July 2, 2022

Buses to Nowhere: How the Region’s Transit has Shrunk

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

We see them all over the place. Buses running their usual routes, but nearly empty. For a while, agencies were actively telling the public not to ride the bus if they did not absolutely have to. Now, buses are limited to a fraction of their capacity, but they still roll on. A combination of fewer commutes, fear of proximity to strangers and concern about driver safety has made transit one of the toughest problems to solve in the wake of the pandemic.

Figure 1 shows the change in ridership from January for the five agencies that serve the Seattle metro area.

Sound Transit has seen the largest fall-off in ridership, carrying 24 percent of it’s January passenger count in June. The five systems, combined, carried 35 percent of their January ridership in June.

The systems have adjusted, cutting back on service. Figure 2 shows the service hours for each system, compared to January.

All systems, except Everett Transit, cut service between 20 and 25 percent, with the total for all systems together operating at 78 percent of their January capacity. Figure 3 combines these changes into a measure of system productivity.

Even with the cutbacks in service, the systems are all operating at about half of their usual productivity. But since buses are limited in their carrying capacity, due to distancing measures, we cannot really expect much more.

Transit agencies have seen their revenue cut back as they have less (or no) fare revenue, and sales taxes drop due to less retail spending. In King County, countywide retail sales tax collections are down 12 percent from January through May. Retail sales are picking up, so agencies should finish out the year without too big a tax hole, but they will struggle to regain adequate levels of farebox revenue.

Looking Ahead

It is difficult to imagine an easy path forward for transit as long as the coronavirus is a threat. Many commuters will be staying at home, and many who had been riding transit will shift to cars. The transit-dependent will, of course, stick with the bus, but many of them will face the prospect of seeing buses pass them by after they reach their mandated capacity. Sales tax revenue should return to close to normal by the end of the year, but farebox revenue will be short for quite a while.

This story first ran in our partner site Puget Sound Indexer.

Michael Luis
Michael Luis
Michael Luis is a public policy consultant who has been wrestling with housing, growth and economic development issues around Washington State for over 30 years. He is author of several books on local history and served as mayor of Medina.

Post Alley welcomes comments to our articles. Our guidelines: no personal attacks, stay on topic, add something of value to the discussion. Our editors will edit comments for clarity and to conform with our guidelines. We encourage writers to use their full names.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

LATEST

Why the Keystone State will be Key in the ’22 Election

1
No place is more pivotal than Pennsylvania, where Donald Trump has yet to concede his narrow loss to Joe Biden two years ago.

Disconnect: Missteps Over an Intruder at a Seattle Elementary School

0
On June 2nd, a series of events occurred in the Sand Point neighborhood including an incident at Sand Point Elementary School where an intruder...

Time to Lower the Heat in the Post-Roe Commentary

5
If the SCOTUS decision is the beginning, not the end, of the debate, we will need a lot more thoughtful commentary. Here are some examples.

Bolting for the Bigs: USC, UCLA Abandon PAC-12 for Big Ten (UW Next?)

14
It’s official now that the industry has fallen off the edge of the flat Earth propped so long by the mythology of amateurism.

Inside City Hall’s Serious Budget Shortfall

7
The multimillion-dollar gap -- viewed in the perspective of an annual budget in the $7 billion range -- is perhaps not horrific. But it still is bound to impact what the city can achieve towards meeting its on-going needs and ambitious social goals.

TRENDING

Bolting for the Bigs: USC, UCLA Abandon PAC-12 for Big Ten (UW Next?)

14
It’s official now that the industry has fallen off the edge of the flat Earth propped so long by the mythology of amateurism.

Disconnect: Missteps Over an Intruder at a Seattle Elementary School

0
On June 2nd, a series of events occurred in the Sand Point neighborhood including an incident at Sand Point Elementary School where an intruder...

Time to Lower the Heat in the Post-Roe Commentary

5
If the SCOTUS decision is the beginning, not the end, of the debate, we will need a lot more thoughtful commentary. Here are some examples.

Why the Keystone State will be Key in the ’22 Election

1
No place is more pivotal than Pennsylvania, where Donald Trump has yet to concede his narrow loss to Joe Biden two years ago.

Inside City Hall’s Serious Budget Shortfall

7
The multimillion-dollar gap -- viewed in the perspective of an annual budget in the $7 billion range -- is perhaps not horrific. But it still is bound to impact what the city can achieve towards meeting its on-going needs and ambitious social goals.