Tag Archives: Transit cuts

An anniversary, a heavy baby, and an(other) angry rant

As of last week, it’s been twelve years since I gave up my car. A lot has changed since my 11-year “anniversary.” For one thing, we have another kid.


Our foster son (Heaviest Baby Ever, or HBE, for the purposes of this blog) is 21 months old, adorable, brilliant, and completely insane. (It is no coincidence that I posted my last entry mere days before he joined our family.) HBE has been with us since he was 16-months old, already well into the squirmy, irrational toddler phase. (On the plus side, I got to skip the busing while pregnant part this time.)

All of us have spent the last four months adjusting to this change and bonding with our delightful—and exhausting—new addition. The grown-ups in our household have also spent it figuring out how to manage busing with three babies.

As you might imagine, I have some STORIES TO TELL—about double the drop-offs, the return to traveling with a toddler, and adjusting to having more children than hands—but I’ll save those for future posts. Today, I’m not particularly interested in sharing the details of my personal experience. Or, perhaps I mean to say, my family’s personal experience isn’t really the point.

Over these twelve years, I’ve come to understand that the fact that we’ve managed to make this car-free life work, despite all the children, route “restructuring,” and sketchy stop removals is not reflective of what is possible for most people. It is reflective of some level of determination and stubbornness on our part—and also of a fair amount of privilege.

What’s on my mind almost all the time (and certainly every time I sit down to write something about transit)? The many people who aren’t managing.

Instead of focusing on the tradeoffs and compromises we were willing to make in order to live near transit and other amenities, I want talk about the fact that most working people can’t afford to live in Seattle at all, with or without tradeoffs.

The cost of housing in Seattle has been a problem for decades. At this point, it has reached the level of crisis. It is the most important issue our city faces, and there is shamefully little being done about it. We can talk all we want about urban villages and walkability and live/work communities, but if only rich people can live these utopias we’re building, we haven’t solved any problems. If anything, we’ve made problems worse, pushing people who can’t afford cars to distant suburbs that require them and moving rich people, many of whom will still choose to own cars (even if we ever manage to provide adequate transit service), into a crowded city that is better off without them.

Rather than regale you with stories of the dozens (hundreds?) of times I walked from one end of Yesler to the other (it’s 32 hilly blocks, in case you were wondering) because the 27 doesn’t run during the day anymore (!!!), I’d rather talk about the reliability and availability of transit in this region. The pathetic frequency of many routes, combined with the fact that buses are stuck in the same traffic mess as cars (but unlike cars, don’t have the option of rerouting to get around it), means that buses simply can’t be relied upon to get folks to their jobs, childcare pickups, and medical appointments on time. The way I have coped is by always leaving early, scheduling appointments at times when buses are more likely to be reliable, and living close to everything I really need to do every day. These are not luxuries everyone has.

Looking at reliability in a broader sense: Transit service in King County has been in jeopardy for years. Riders live with the constant threat of cuts, never knowing if the bus they rely on will be eliminated or reduced. In September, KC Metro cut almost 200,000 of hours of service (my beloved 27 included), and riders were left to figure out how to carry on their lives. In the meantime, the agency continues to raise fares to compensate for lost revenue (props for ORCA LIFT, though), and there is still no statewide (or, for that matter, countywide) transit funding solution on the horizon.

One of the purposes of this blog has always been to, as I said, back in 2009, “present a way of life.” I hoped that it would encourage people to think differently and give them a window into a way of doing things they perhaps hadn’t considered. But these days, encouraging people to depend on transit seems naïve, even irresponsible.

Right now, the region’s got all it can handle trying to make things better for those who already do.

WTF, Olympia?! (or, Bye-bye buses)

UPDATE, 7/17/13: The rally has been rescheduled to July 27th. The original date conflicted with the National Day of Action for Trayvon Martin. For more information about both rallies, visit the STRU Facebook page. See you on the 20th and the 27th?

No bus cuts (photo credit: Transportation Riders United)
This session, the Washington State Legislature failed (again!) to authorize a funding source for transit, and now Metro is going to cut service by 17%. If you ride the bus in King County, it is almost guaranteed that you will be affected.

On Saturday, July 20th, the Seattle Transit Riders Union will host a rally to ask state legislators, “WTF?!” or, “WHERE’S THE FUNDING?” From the STRU site:

It’s time to get organized. As a first step, TRU and allies are organizing a rally and demonstration for Saturday, July 20 to ask the resounding question, “WTF, Olympia?” (This, as we all know, stands for Where’s The Funding, Olympia?) But we know transit riders aren’t the only ones who got the short end of the stick. We are asking all individuals and organizations who are fed up with these misleaders in Olympia to step forward.

Do you have a grievance against the State Legislature? Bring it along! We’ll be collecting a busload of grievances to send to certain state legislators. Together our combined voices will echo in the halls of power.

What? A rally and demonstration to express our dissatisfaction with our State Legislature
When? Saturday, July 20, 12:00 pm
Where? City Hall Park, 450 3rd Avenue (south side of King County Courthouse)
Who? Everyone with a grievance
Why? It’s time to get organized!

The Bus Fam will be there. Hope to see you.

10 years in

This month marks the 10-year anniversary of my full-time relationship with Metro. The milestone snuck up on me, which is actually a good thing, since I’m not in the mood for a retrospective, and I don’t have any wise words about what I’ve learned in a decade of living, working, and parenting without a car. Honestly (in case the five full months without a post didn’t clue you in) I haven’t felt much like writing about the bus at all.

What’s on my mind most of the time is how our family is going to continue to make this bus life work. We’ve lost a lot that we counted on: two of our nearest bus stops, frequency and hours of operation on two of our most-used routes. If the legislature decides–for the fifth year in a row–not to let local communities decide how to fund their own transit service, we stand to lose much, much more.

And we’re not the only ones. All over the state, people are losing transit service they rely on, while we profess a desire to care for our most vulnerable citizens and wring our hands over global warming, air pollution, and ocean acidification. The fact that transit advocates have to scrap and hustle (and beg) just to get enough money to preserve basic bus service leaves little hope that we will ever find the will to make the long overdue, revolutionary changes our transportation system desperately needs.

So the thing is, I’ve been tired–of trying to make things work with diminished access and diminished service, and of fighting an uphill battle to fund transit statewide. I allowed myself to feel discouraged. And really, really angry.

But then, I had coffee with Christine.

Like me, Christine is a bus chick. Unlike me (knock wood), Christine is expecting. Earlier this year, she contacted me over the internets to pick my brain about busing with babies, and I was more than happy to share what I know. I suggested meeting for coffee, because I knew she’d never read the 300 pages I would have typed if I had shared my thoughts over email. I don’t like to brag, but if there was such a thing as a PhD in riding transit with kids, folks would be addressing me as Dr. Bus Chick.

But I digress.

At some point during our conversation, Christine remarked on the relative dearth of negative posts on my seven-year old blog and noted that I almost never write about the challenges of bus parenting. I do intentionally try to keep my blog positive, but until my chat with her, I hadn’t really considered why.

It’s not that there aren’t challenges (are there ever!). It’s not that I am trying to paint an unrealistic picture of what it is like to parent without a car. It’s not even that I have an optimistic nature (see above). I tend to write about the positive side of carfree parenting because the challenges of living this way are already known—or at least, they are imagined.

There is a reason why so many people think I’m crazy. Why I’ve been interviewed for TV and radio for doing something that thousands of parents in this county do every single day. Why, after a decade of watching us live this way, friends and family still regularly offer us rides. It is because most people who have a choice would choose differently. This means they have already considered, imagined, and just plain made up all of the reasons why it would be stressful and inconvenient to try to get around with two kids and no car.

What most people haven’t considered is just how exhilarating, bond-enhancing, and three-dimensional it is to ride the bus with your children. How your kids get to experience their city from ground level. How they come to know each season intimately. How they run into church members, neighbors, school mates, family friends, and medical assistants from their pediatrician’s office. How so many of the regular drivers recognize them and give them suckers and transfers and high fives. How they learn every sidewalk crack, every overgrown bush, and every window display in your neighborhood. How they love the silly games you make up to pass the long waits. How you have time to read them so many books that soon they are reading books to you. How you can hold them close and talk in their ears and smell their hair while all of you zoom past the Space Needle, or across a bridge, or through a tunnel.

That is what I write about because that is what I know. It is why I ride. And it’s why I never stay tired for long.


Doin’ the Puyallup, bus-fam style (part II)

A lot has happened since my last post. (This is mostly because I wrote it over six weeks ago, but it was a pretty jam-packed end of summer.) For one thing, my baby brother got hitched. (!) And also, we made a trip to the Puyallup Fair.

The last time we did the Puyallup (way back in ’08), Pierce Transit offered a shuttle from Tacoma Dome station right to the fairgrounds. The trip was reasonably painless but did involve two transfers and a bit of a roundabout route. These days—in case you haven’t heard—Pierce Transit is broke. The agency has been forced to cut a lot of vital service, so obviously, the fair shuttle had to go.

So, when we talked about going to the fair again this year, I assumed it was going to be a hassle to get there. I’m no stranger to transit adventures, but I do have my limits, and a day at the fair with two children is exhausting enough without bookending it with a couple of bus marathons.

As it turns out, the fairgrounds is only a little more than half a mile from Puyallup Station. (Thanks for the tip, Priya!) To get there, we caught the 578* from 2nd & Pike and then walked the .6 miles (through a pleasant downtown area, on sidewalks) from the station to the fairgrounds. The 578 isn’t a straight shot (it stops in Federal Way, Sumner, and Auburn), but it mostly sticks to transit centers and the freeway and keeps the stopping and starting to a minimum. Our total travel time was roughly two hours, including walks and waits. The cost: $2 of extra charges on our Orca cards for the 578 ride.

The ride back was even better (and significantly shorter), since the Sounder was running. We walked the same .6 miles back to Puyallup Station and caught the 4:37 PM train (the first northbound train after the morning rush) back downtown. Have I mentioned that I love the Sounder? It delights me. Our total trip time—from the fair exit to our front door—was an hour and a half, and the train ride was easily as fun as anything we did at the fair. And speaking of…

All four of us had a fantastic time. We ate ice cream. We met firefighters. We watched a pirate show. We ran into many friends. We got (henna) tattoos.

And, yes, we even did some driving.

Driving at the fair









Driving at the fair








Driving at the fair







Already looking forward to next year…

Note that we wanted to catch the Sounder, but there are only two southbound trains in the morning–at 6:10 and 6:50 AM (too early!). The next train south isn’t until 3:15 PM (too late!).

A brand new STRU

The Seattle Transit Riders Union is back—with new leadership, new energy, and plenty to do. Some excerpts from the inaugural post on the organization’s blog:

The idea of starting a Transit Riders Union grew out of the fight against bus service cuts earlier this year. King County Metro’s main source of revenue – sales tax – has taken a sharp dive since the recession began, and by spring 2011 Metro was facing the prospect of 17% cuts. Dozens of bus routes were slated to be eliminated. Some effective propaganda by Metro, combined with the organizing efforts of a wide variety of community groups, helped to raise a huge public outcry. Thousands of people attended public hearings and signed petitions, demanding that this vital public service be preserved.


This is not just Seattle and King County’s problem. Cities and counties across the nation are in the middle of similar battles, and to make matters worse, federal funding for public transportation is in danger of being cut too. And of course, it’s not just our bus service that is in danger.


This is why we have decided to found a Transit Riders Union. We, the people who depend on public transit, need a permanent organization to make sure that our voices are heard, an organization that gives us the power to shape the course of events. We are dedicated to building such an organization: a union of, by, and for the poor and working people who depend on public transit. We believe that every human being has a right to safe, affordable, reliable, and accessible public transit. We will continue to fight to preserve our bus system – and not only that, we will fight for better public transit. (To learn more about what the Transit Riders Union is about, read our principles.)

I recommend reading the entire post. There are some thoughtful, committed people involved with this organization, and I am looking forward to being involved.

The transit paradox: more riders, less service

An excellent (if depressing) article in the NYT:

Transit systems across the country are raising fares and cutting service even when demand is up with record numbers of riders last year, many of whom fled $4-a-gallon gas prices and stop-and-go traffic for seats on buses and trains.


Their problem is that fare-box revenue accounts for only a fifth to a half of the operating revenue of most transit systems — and the sputtering economy has eroded the state and local tax collections that the systems depend on to keep running. “We’ve termed it the ‘transit paradox,’ ” said Clarence W. Marsella, general manager of Denver’s system, which is raising fares and cutting service to make up for the steep drop in local sales tax.

The billions of dollars that Congress plans to spend on mass transit as part of the stimulus bill will also do little to help these systems with their current problems. That is because the new federal money — $12 billion was included in the version passed last week by the House, while the Senate originally proposed less — is devoted to big capital projects, like buying train cars and buses and building or repairing tracks and stations. Money that some lawmakers had proposed to help transit systems pay operating costs, and avoid layoffs and service cuts, was not included in the latest version.

I’m not mad about building train stations and buying buses (in fact, I take issue with the imbalance between road and transit projects in the stimulus bill), but I’m very, very concerned about the ability of the nation’s transit agencies (specifically, KC Metro) to continue to meet the rising demand for transit. After all,

“They’re going to make the economy worse if they cut the bus,” Ms. Nacoste said. “There’s going to be unemployment, people running out of money. What are we going to do?”

The entire article is only a couple of pages (short by NYT standards) and worth the read.

Time for a transit bailout

It appears that the financial crisis is affecting transit agencies directly. From a Washington Post article (via: The Bellows):

[DC] Metro and 30 other transit agencies* across the country may have to pay billions of dollars to large banks as years-old financing deals unravel, potentially hurting service for millions of bus and train riders, transit officials said yesterday.

The problems are an unexpected consequence of the credit crisis, triggered indirectly by the collapse of American International Group, the insurance giant that U.S. taxpayers recently rescued from bankruptcy, officials said.

AIG had guaranteed deals between transit agencies and banks under which the banks made upfront payments that the agencies agreed to repay over time. But AIG’s financial problems have invalidated the company’s guarantees, putting the deals in technical default and allowing the banks to ask for all their money at once.

In essence, the federal government is using our tax money to prop up banks that are demanding immediate repayment of exorbitant sums from public agencies, even though these exorbitant sums were guaranteed by an insurance firm that–you guessed it–the federal government used our tax money to prop up. It’s not clear what we’ve propped, since AIG is no longer keeping its promises, but hey.

So where’s the bailout for the transit agencies that can’t make good on their loans? (For that matter, where’s the bailout for the agencies like KC Metro, that are struggling to keep up with increased costs, decreased revenue, and increased demand?) Leaving aside the fact that I’d rather have my money spent to get people where they’re going than to cover resort vacations for the very folks who got us into this mess, imagine the financial (not to mention environmental) devastation (and general chaos) that would take place if transit agencies in major U.S. cities like Chicago and San Francisco had to drastically cut back service.

Today, senators representing states with affected agencies wrote an urgent letter to Paulson and Bernanke, asking for help resolving the crisis. From a US Senate press release (via: Yglesias Think Progress )

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, along with Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) are calling on Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to prevent a potentially crippling financial situation that transit agencies are facing as a result of the credit crisis. The collapse of insurance giant AIG has caused deals between banks and transit agencies to fall apart, allowing banks to demand billions of dollars from the agencies.

“Any reduction or degradation in transit service could mean that our constituents will struggle getting to work or school, squeezing our state economies and family budgets even further,” wrote the senators. “This is a time when we should encourage mass transit use and a financial blow to our transit agencies such as this one is a major setback to that effort”

The senators, who represent states with major public transit systems, called on the Treasury and Federal Reserve to each appoint senior officials to work with the Department of Transportation and large transit agencies in developing a solution that will avoid a fiscal crisis for the agencies.

I, for one, will be writing to my senators** to make sure they’re aware of my deep, deep interest in this issue. Who’s with me?

*I have not seen a comprehensive list of the affected agencies, but I don’t think KC Metro is one of them. (It’s close to midnight on a Friday, so I can’t really check on it.) Update: I have received confirmation that Metro is not one of the 30 agencies. Whew! Lord knows we have enough money problems.

**Contact Cantwell
Contact Murray

Transportation in the news

From Salon: “Who Says Americans Won’t Ride Mass Transit?”

The rise in mass transit ridership should be great news. Not since the OPEC oil embargo and energy crisis in the ’70s have famously car-centric Americans been so eager to shell out for a bus fare or a train ticket and leave the polluter in the driveway. Automobile transportation is one of the largest chunks of the country’s carbon footprint, so the more that Americans opt for trains and buses, the more that footprint could shrink.

But the news isn’t all that sunny. In fact, the mini-exodus from driving has exposed significant cracks in the country’s mass transit systems, which are struggling to accommodate new riders. Having spent decades forsaking the bus and the train for the convenience and privacy of cars, Americans are now finding that the buses, streetcars, trolleys and trains that they left behind are strapped for cash, if they still exist at all.