Bush reg, feds end Metro special service to games

DMZ · April 12, 2009 at 3:57 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Absolutely outrageous. Here’s the Times article.

So the Bush administration put in this amazingly horrible regulation that public transportation agencies can’t (can’t) operate a charter like Metro has if there are private operators who can. Can’t compete… can’t operate. And, as I pointed out last time we talked about this, the way they did it meant that any moron with a school bus could claim they could serve the games and Metro would be entirely barred from trying.

The Seahawks already got hosed over this.

This is a great thing the M’s have done for ten years, and I love them for it. And now it’s dead. The M’s got a waiver last year. But now you’re screwed, because they can’t, soooo… So let’s talk about how this regulation’s working out.

The Mariners say Starline’s costs would have been around $15-20 per passenger. Fares would have paid $5 and the team would have paid $300,000 or more to defray the rest, Hale said.

Last season, the team got a temporary waiver from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to hire Metro, which charged $3 a ride, while the Mariners paid a $159,000 subsidy, said Hale.

That’s great! So Metro can provide cheaper service to fans and to the M’s, but they can’t. Because they’re barred from doing so. Oh, but here’s the money quote.

Starline argues that if Metro were to charge for its full costs, including the buses themselves, the bill would be much higher than what Starline seeks.

“The Mariners want the taxpayer to pay for it,” said Gillis.

Screw you.

This is the whole point of public transportation. The system’s in place. The incremental cost for Metro, which has buses, drivers, maintenance, and all that infrastructure in place is low. For Starline, which has to pay people like Chief Executive Gladys Gillis to make objectivist arguments about the societal cost of bus systems, it’s higher.

Unless the choice is “abolish Metro and have the smoking remains bid against charter providers” the clear and obvious winner of that competition is Metro. And because of this ridiculous reg, and the Obama administration’s baffling decision here, now everyone loses.

And it just got a lot harder to go to games — Hale said that shuttles served 300-500 last year, but here’s the thing: the shuttles provide greater value the higher attendance becomes. If there’s four people going to the game, it doesn’t hurt congestion downtown if they drive or not. But the more people and cars we try and stuff in, it doesn’t get +1 annoying for +1 driver, it quickly becomes +2 annoying, +3, and on and on. The shuttles are a huge, huge help there. I’d love to see numbers on how many people were taking them every day in 2001, for instance.

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41 Responses to “Bush reg, feds end Metro special service to games”

  1. scott19 on April 12th, 2009 1:12 pm

    I’m with you on this, Derek — and for the risk of getting on a lengthy anti-neo-c tirade, I’ll leave it at that.

  2. Matt Staples on April 12th, 2009 4:06 pm

    I disagree with Derek on most issues involving politics. Because my overarching political philosophy is anti-bullshit and anti-foolishness, this is one of those issues on which we agree.

  3. kenshabby on April 12th, 2009 4:21 pm

    I’m sick and tired of having infinitesimal chunks of my hard-earned unemployment checks go toward the funding of socialist programs like public transportation. Metro is just another example of a bloated, vampiric bureaucracy intent on bleeding the taxpayer dry. Besides, capitalism isn’t about fair competition, it’s about destroying the competition! Glad to hear someone like Ms. Gillis speaking the truth and standing up for the common man.

    As for getting to games, I usually hire a car service, preferably one that employs a fleet of Hummers. Either that, or I take a rickshaw.

  4. hark on April 12th, 2009 4:26 pm

    I’m all for abolishing Metro, Pierce County Transit, Community Transit, etc. and merging them all under the Sound Transit umbrella. It cuts administration costs, streamlines route distribution and offers a unified transit system. (See: the Portland area’s Trimet.) But in any case, public transportation is in place to serve the public need. Just because we’re going to a Mariner game doesn’t make us purely private citizens–if that were the case, how do you justify buses that get people to work. Isn’t work a private function?

    This is bull. Bring back the shuttles!

  5. Mayberry RFD on April 12th, 2009 4:48 pm

    Seems to me that a stadium paid for by taxpayer dollars should have a taxpayer subsidized shuttle service running to and from it.

    Greater good and all that.

  6. Venezuelan Fan on April 12th, 2009 4:55 pm

    Mayberry: I bet a lot of these “anti-neo-c” type M’s fans opposed the subsidization of the stadium but scream bloody murder when the subsidized transit to the stadium is removed. Funny how this works.

  7. Nat Irons on April 12th, 2009 5:16 pm

    And because of this ridiculous reg, and the Obama administration’s baffling decision here, now everyone loses.

    Has the Obama administration made a decision, or have they not yet cleaned house in FTA? If there’s been any explicit reaffirmation of the Bush-era regulation, it’s not mentioned in the Times story.

    I can’t tell from FTA’s web site who’s running the department, or whether he’s a political appointee — Wikipedia says it’s been James Simpson since 2006, but he’s no longer listed at all on the “Key Personnel” page:


    … though there’s no one else there listed as Administrator, and Simpson’s page is still up as of this writing, even if you need Google to find it:


    Hey FTA, classy URLs you’ve got there.

  8. joser on April 12th, 2009 5:18 pm

    I’ve always viewed public transportation as the means by which I can pay to have other people’s cars removed from the road — and about the only means by which I can do that (since they won’t let me mount a large cannon on my car to simply blow them out of my way). And conveniently, I don’t even have to pay for this service each time I get in the car (though of course I am paying a tiny amount every time I buy something in King County).

    Anyway, I guess my question wrt this policy rule is simply this: is it having the presumed desired effect? Are private operators providing the same level of service, at lower cost? Because if they aren’t, I don’t see what the point of the rule is except to use tax dollars to enrich private business. Though maybe that was the presumed desired effect.

  9. skipj on April 12th, 2009 5:25 pm

    This is very odd. I assume that Metro has accounted for maintenance, benefits, depreciation, etc. If they are cheaper, what’s the problem? If there is a cost to taxpayers, that’s another story, but if the true cost is being borne entirely by the fans riding, and the Mariners subsidizing then WTF? Do other businesses subsidize Metro for instance? there must be some formula…

  10. joser on April 12th, 2009 5:33 pm

    Many businesses pay for all or part of the cost of bus passes for their employees, which I suppose could be construed as a subsidy to Metro (though I believe it is considered an employee benefit for tax purposes). Perhaps the M’s can declare its season ticket holders to be a special class of employees and offer them special bus passes?

  11. TomTuttle on April 12th, 2009 5:35 pm

    Reversing this policy is definitely change I can believe in.

  12. skipj on April 12th, 2009 5:40 pm

    Since this comes from the Feds, I assume it’s tied to transit funds. Was there some sort of egregious abuse going on in, say, Chicago? Or just over-reaching, ill thought out, unintended consequences?

  13. DKCecil on April 12th, 2009 6:00 pm

    This really hits home for me, as the shuttle service was my preferred way of getting to games the last five years. I don’t have a car, so being able to take a shuttle to and from the Northgate park and ride (which is just a few blocks away from me) made things so much quicker and easier. Getting to the game isn’t going to be so bad, since I can grab a 41 there in decent time, but forget about getting home from night games. I’d be lucky to walk in my door by 11:30. This regulation is absolutely terrible and I can only hope a smarter solution prevails in the future.

  14. joser on April 12th, 2009 6:17 pm

    Well, if you’re right by the Metro park and ride, you can rest assured that you’ll be able to ride the Sound Transit Link light rail directly from the Stadium to the Northgate Park and Ride starting in…. 2020. Assuming they stay on schedule, of course.

  15. Mike G. on April 12th, 2009 6:32 pm

    I’m currently in Aspen, CO and this law impacted the way the public transit here served the ski areas.

    However, the company just runs more regularly scheduled busses to the hills at peak times. Almost business as usual just without the “charter” tag.

    I would think Metro could find ways around this as well. Run, more “regularly” scheduled busses at “certain” times and by some coincidence the Mariners are buying up a lot more ad space on metro busses.

  16. Paul B on April 12th, 2009 6:44 pm

    Hmmm, so if they ran more buses that just happened to be on game days, that would get around it? That sounds like what they were already trying to do.

    Otherwise, I guess the feds could search anyone getting on a bus or a ferry or a train, and if they had a sports ticket they could just kick them off and make them take a taxi.

    Likewise, they could ensure that transit doesn’t serve other events, like a fair or a any other large gathering. But then where do you draw the line. The big money is in commuters, so wouldn’t the independent companies want to haul all the commuters? So I guess we should just eliminate all forms of public transit.

  17. scott19 on April 12th, 2009 6:50 pm

    I’m all for abolishing Metro, Pierce County Transit, Community Transit, etc. and merging them all under the Sound Transit umbrella. It cuts administration costs, streamlines route distribution and offers a unified transit system. (See: the Portland area’s Trimet.)

    Great point, Hark! A number of metropolitan areas have regional transit authorities which act as an umbrella agency. If the monorail group and Sound Transit, for example, had ever gotten together on a workable plan rather than having a peeing match with each other, they might have been able to put together an elevated light-rail system in this city a long time ago.

  18. Max Power on April 12th, 2009 6:55 pm

    I would think Metro could find ways around this as well. Run, more “regularly” scheduled busses at “certain” times and by some coincidence the Mariners are buying up a lot more ad space on metro busses.

    Along the same lines, I’d assume they could get around this by having another company rent unused Metro equipment & operating staff and then have that company bid on the shuttle service.

  19. djw on April 12th, 2009 7:23 pm

    Running more of certain buses would certainly help and I hope they do it, but it won’t replace the convenience of buses that go directly to park and rides, which aren’t directly connected to Safeco by regular routes.

  20. wpnw on April 12th, 2009 7:43 pm

    hark got it right. merge them all and deal with one organization. i wonder if this rule would apply to Sound Transit running special light rail trains to the stadium station once the line opens this summer?

  21. Randy on April 12th, 2009 9:15 pm

    Sorry I don’t have anything intelligent to say about the issue, but eff this s.
    Just like Derek said, it’s PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION, use the system that you already have. Ugh, finding parking…

  22. DMZ on April 12th, 2009 9:30 pm

    That doesn’t solve our immediate issue.

  23. RustyJohn on April 12th, 2009 9:36 pm

    I’m sure a unified letter writing campaign to our elected officials would work. Once they get our e-mails they’ll listen to us just like they listened to our opinions on bank bailouts, immigration, 2 trillion dollar deficits, the war, etc.

    To save all of you the time, I’ve created a fake response which will probably be eerily similar to any actual response you’d get…

    “Dear (fill your name in here),

    Reducing traffic congestion and supporting our local sports teams are important which is why I co-sponsored HR 1148, a bill aimed at reducing traffic congestion and supporting our teams. Unfortunately, (fill in the elected official’s opposing political party here) are for traffic congestion and are Yankee fans. They have stalled my bill in committee.

    I will work hard to reduce traffic congestion and support our local sports franchises. Thank you.

    Your shameless elected representative.”

  24. hark on April 12th, 2009 9:38 pm

    i wonder if this rule would apply to Sound Transit running special light rail trains to the stadium station once the line opens this summer?

    Apparently not, since Sound Transit can still run the Sounder commuter trains on weekend day games. (Click here.) WTF, mate?

    wpnw, scott19–

    Regional transit authorities make so much sense. At least the region is attempting inter-agency cooperation with the ORCA card. But honestly, here we have Sound Transit servicing Snohomish, King and Pierce counties. Meanwhile, due to carrier agreements, Pierce Transit continues to run buses into south King County while Metro cannot run buses into Tacoma and Community Transit runs from Skagit to Snohomish, but none make it to King County (that I’m aware of). Metro services two “zones”–going into Seattle is a separate fair from the rest of the county, even though most of downtown is in the “free ride” area.*

    We funded the development of this Sound Transit entity, but we’re still backing Pierce Transit, Metro and Community Transit running overlapping routes. It’s such a waste.

    I love public transit. Whatcom Transit Authority in the north has an excellent bus system that run on circuits instead of lines with central stations. You can get anywhere in Whatcom County within an hour and a half with no more than three buses. Portland’s TriMet (with the MAX) serves the outlying suburbs and gets to a central location in Portland, with buses going off on spurs into the city quadrants. But the absolute mindf@!* central Puget Sound region’s public transit is only surpassed by the mindf#$& of the actual highway planning. Whose bright idea was it to put a convention center over the freeway?

    As to this whole private-function mess, if you can serve “rush hour” with express buses to the city, maybe you define buses as express and have them follow the normal route with stops on the transit corridor. I like that idea.

    *The free ride area is another rant entirely…no wonder we have to so heavily subsidize public transit with the ungodly inflated sales tax when so many people are riding for free in the city proper. Even if you charged 75 cents for an entire day pass within the city, you’d probably come closet to covering costs.

  25. Breadbaker on April 12th, 2009 9:47 pm

    I’ll try to keep on topic (there are a lot of things that spill over, but whatever).

    The Bush guideline is allegedly an antitrust issue, not a transportation funding issue. They claimed that public transit competing with the “private sector” (as though the roads the buses run on were privately funded) was anticompetitive. If you ran a bus company, I’m sure you’d think that. The result is going to be no service, not some other service, because no one is running this service without a subsidy from the M’s and the M’s won’t pay the “private” rates.

    Metro won’t be able to do much; it can’t run the service without a subsidy either. And there is just no way it can have buses waiting on 1st avenue when games end when it’s cutting service elsewhere and raising fares.

    So what’s next, the M’s can’t hire Seattle police to control traffic if some private agency (Blackwater needs a new mission) wants to do it?

  26. scott19 on April 12th, 2009 10:11 pm

    Hark –

    Actually, I’ve seen some Community Transit buses running in downtown Seattle, though I’m not sure what their routes are. It’s possible that they’re just doing some limited express runs from Snohomish County into downtown using I-5, with no stops in between.

  27. hark on April 12th, 2009 10:13 pm

    Actually, I’ve seen some Community Transit buses running in downtown Seattle, though I’m not sure what their routes are. It’s possible that they’re just doing some limited express runs from Snohomish County into downtown using I-5, with no stops in between.

    Fair enough…which still makes me ask “Why the Hell can’t Metro run into Snohomish and Pierce?” and “Why don’t we get rid of this operation agreement nonsense and get nothing but Sound Transit?”

  28. scott19 on April 12th, 2009 10:35 pm

    Totally agree!

  29. teacherrefpoet on April 12th, 2009 10:43 pm

    To me, another key argument I’ll hit my elected representatives with is the fact that the Metro M’s shuttle buses might convince people who don’t otherwise use public transit to try it. My buddies who don’t want to negotiate the Lake Washington bridges or struggle to find expensive parking would board a bus on the eastside to join me at Safeco…and sometimes, it was their first Metro trip. In every case, my friends found they find they liked using the bus, and they therefore have become more likely to use public transportation for other trips in the future, especially those going downtown. Think of the M’s shuttle as a gateway drug for public transit.

    I don’t think using a private company (which, as has been pointed out, isn’t likely to actually happen here) will have any similar effect on changing future transit behavior.

  30. teacherrefpoet on April 12th, 2009 10:56 pm

    Just spent 15 minutes writing an email to the FTA and got an error message when I went to send it. Ick.

  31. RustyJohn on April 12th, 2009 11:14 pm

    Lol…maybe they ought to pass a reg outsourcing their IT work.

  32. DMZ on April 12th, 2009 11:42 pm

    Yay RustyJohn for that dose of easy cynicism. I thank you for finding the energy to type that out with the weight of the world so heavily weighing on you.

  33. MedicineHat on April 12th, 2009 11:47 pm

    You would think they just said you can no longer ride public transportation to the game. All that’s happened is they can’t provide “special service” to the game.

    It still only costs me $5 each (or less) for my son and I to get to the game from Marysville…with one transfer in Everett.

    The sky is not falling. People who want to take public transit still can. It just may be slightly less convenient.

  34. DMZ on April 12th, 2009 11:57 pm

    That your experience seems easy doesn’t mean it’s easy for everyone.

    Say you’re attending a game that runs until 10:30. You, and whoever else needs to get back to the Eastgate P&R, has until 10:45 to get to 5th & Jackson to catch the 554. If you miss that, or the bus just can’t hold you, you’re waiting an hour.

    What’s going to happen is that it’ll be more of a pain in the ass the later it gets, people aren’t going to want to deal with late-night hassles, you’re probably going to see families spooked about the safety of waiting downtown drive in or leave way earlier…

    Even if the only boon was to make going home from games far more convenient, that was a big win for the M’s and for Metro, and this ridiculous regulation takes that away to no good end.

  35. Colm on April 13th, 2009 12:09 am

    The logic of this law seems intended to prevent taxpayer-funded public agencies from competing with private providers – because that is presumed to be unfair.

    However, by the same logic, shouldn’t we ban public transit altogether? It clearly deters commuters from hailing privately operated taxis.

    This service reduces, however slightly, traffic congestion and pressure on parking spaces associated with Mariners games. Seattle Metro offered the service to the Mariners for $159,000. Starline wanted to charge $300,000. The marginal cost to the Seattle taxpayer in either case is the same – zero dollars. This federal law prevents the Mariners from chosing the cheaper option. Instead of funding the extra $141,000 for Starline they are chosing to stop participating in this service. That helps no one.

  36. Uncle Ted on April 13th, 2009 6:38 am

    Ugh. Competition isn’t intrinsically valuable, it’s a means to an end of providing consumer goods and services more efficiently at cheaper prices to the consumers. If the government can do that the best, then that is who ought to be doing it.

  37. Eleven11 on April 13th, 2009 7:55 am

    Funny how when you put your faith in government you get stupidity. That is a bi partisan comment

  38. Colm on April 13th, 2009 8:41 am

    The capacity for stupid pettifogging extends far beyond government.

  39. joser on April 13th, 2009 8:42 am

    When you put put faith in other people you often get stupidity. Just ask the former employees of General Motors or Lehman Brothers. Heck, we’re Mariners’ fans just emerging from the Bavasi era, we know exactly how that works.

    The hopeful thing here is that — unlike the employees at Joe’s or WaMu — there’s a chance we can alter our fate. Because this is a federal rule passed by a federal agency and subject to congressional oversight and white house direction, large groups of ordinary people (or small groups of rich people) can actually have an impact — they just have to make the effort (and preferably the campaign contributions). After all, whenever the government does something stupid that directly affects you, that’s usually what happened: somebody else spent their effort and money to make sure the stupidity happened to you, and not to them.

    Apparently not, since Sound Transit can still run the Sounder commuter trains on weekend day games. (Click here.) WTF, mate?

    I’m totally guessing here, but Sounder trains are heavy rail on tracks shared with freight and classed as intercity passenger rail, and thus regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration. That may exempt them from oversight by the Federal Transit Authority, which would have oversight over Link light rail (since it runs on dedicated tracks and isn’t intercity). Thus I would guess the rule that applies to buses would also apply to Link light rail, but not to Sounder heavy rail.

    Though, as I said, I’m totally guessing.

  40. jefffrane on April 13th, 2009 10:14 am

    Joser has it exactly right. FTA has no jurisdiction at all over heavy rail.

  41. awesomenossum on April 13th, 2009 4:21 pm

    Well then I guess once the Light Rail line opens in just 3 months (July is the rumor) that they will have to skip stops at the “Stadium” station to allow other light rail competitors serve us. Yeah right.

    This is such a stupid rule. This really needs to be changed. Thanks for spreading the word DMZ!

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