Fleet Financing

Transpo Notes: Feds Boost ST3, Water Taxi Adds Evening Rides, Tacoma Streetcar Gets New Vehicle

A Link train in downtown Seattle. (Credit: Stephen Fesler)

This week’s Transpo Notes roundup covers recommended federal funding that could accelerate Sound Transit 3 (ST3) projects, King County Water Taxi’s summer waterway schedule, King County Metro’s launch of new battery-electric buses, the new Tacoma Link streetcar and revised on-street paid parking rates in Seattle.

Recommended Federal Funding Can Help Accelerate ST3 Projects

This week, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) outlined recommended funding levels for transit projects across the country as part of the Biden administration’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2023. The recommendation would provide 516, $6 million to Sound Transit expansion projects ahead of schedule, which would provide real financial benefits in long-term savings for the projects.

Earlier funding allocations could save the agency $40 million in borrowing costs, according to Sound Transit. This could have implications for future ongoing projects. This is especially important because many Sound Transit 3 (ST3) projects follow a two-tier schedule. Many ST3 projects could be delivered earlier than the affordable target dates set last year if additional financial resources can be found, such as reducing project costs, increasing federal grants and funding, and reducing borrowing costs – the last two of which this federal funding allocation could provide.

The trees have their fall colors near the trail leading to Downtown Lynnwood station.
A bird’s eye view of the construction progress of the downtown Lynnwood station starting in November 2021, with I-5 in the background. (Credit: Sound Transit)

In total, the FTA’s recommendation is $716.6 million in direct capital improvement grants to Sound Transit this year. Of this amount, $318 million is for the Federal Way Link extension and $250 million for the Lynnwood Link extension. Sound Transit says recommended grant allocations are accelerated by three years or more compared to normal formulas. President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package that passed Congress last year is the main reason funding allocations are coming earlier.

In a statement, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff said, “Receiving federal grant commitments early helps us in several ways; not only does this save our taxpayers money, but it also frees up capacity in the years to come so that the federal government can help us with our next generation of projects: expanding light rail in Tacoma, West Seattle , Everett and Ballard.

Summer Sailing Schedule Revealed for King County Water Taxi

The queue for passenger ferries at Colman Dock. (Credit: Stephen Fesler)

With spring here, a service change is coming soon to the King County Water Taxi on April 21. Additional service will be deployed on the West Seattle route with extended evening service on Fridays and Saturdays. The service will operate until 11:00 p.m. At this time, the service ends around 7:00 p.m. The start of service remains around 6:00 a.m. on weekdays and 8:30 a.m. on weekends. On Monday, Metro also improved access to the West Seattle route with timed shuttle service (to Alaska Junction and Alki) for all trips. The summer schedule will continue until October 14.

Passengers should also note that midday service on the Seattle West route will be temporarily suspended April 18-20 for staff training exercises.

Metro launches new battery electric buses

Local officials celebrate the new battery-electric buses, including Metro CEO Terry White, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell. (Credit: King County)

On Wednesday, King County Metro celebrated the opening of new electric charging facilities in Tukwila and the launch of battery-electric New Flyer buses. The first new bus went into service on Route 193 around 3:00 p.m. Wednesday. A new test facility for electrical charging is also located near the south base. The test facility is capable of charging up to nine buses at the same time and interoperable allowing different types of electric battery to use the equipment, including buses made by different manufacturers.

“As we charge these new electric coaches in this state-of-the-art facility and send them on the road, we are reducing global carbon emissions while removing local air pollution from communities most affected by climate change,” said the King County Manager, Dow Constantine. “Developing buses to handle our unique conditions and scaling our green infrastructure would not be possible without the innovative leadership of King County Metro and our transportation industry partners. This coordination delivered the fleet that will take Metro to the next green frontier.

Metro has purchased dozens of battery-electric buses from New Flyer. The agency plans to have 40 in service by the end of the year. Two variants were purchased: the 60ft version is capable of carrying 120 riders and travels 140 miles with one load and the 40ft version is capable of carrying 76 riders with one load. Full electrification of the metro fleet is planned by 2035.

Sound Transit Receives New Tacoma Link Streetcar

Sound Transit received its first new tram vehicle for Tacoma Link. The new model is larger than the existing Škoda 10 T vehicles (three from the existing fleet) that currently operate the line. Sound Transit plans to add five new streetcar vehicles to the fleet in support of the Tacoma Link extension to the Hilltop and Stadium neighborhoods. As part of the extension, the T line will more than double in length from its terminus in the theater district.

The map shows the Tacoma Link Hilltop Extension alignment and six new stations. (Credit: Sound Transit)

Brookville Equipment Corporation, based in Brookville, Pennsylvania, is the manufacturer of the new vehicles. The newer vehicle is already equipped with Sound Transit style seats and line-specific stop diagram stickers. The general appearance is somewhat closer to regular Link trains than to Škoda T Line trams.

Sound Transit has yet to test the new vehicles for certification and get the full suite here. This should happen in the coming months. However, Tacoma’s overall T line extension launch schedule has slipped from May to early 2023 in part due to delays in obtaining new streetcar vehicles. Construction has also not progressed at the pace of the original May opening date. The streetcar route along Division Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr Way continues to be torn apart and awaits its new lane and sidewalk. However, the stadium area train station seems generally ready for business,

Seattle changes paid street parking rates

On Monday, new paid street parking rates went into effect in Seattle. Most paid street parking (about 95%) remains $2 or less per hour throughout the day. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) says “parking rates remain unchanged or decrease in more than half of neighborhoods and times of day.”

New paid street parking rates in Seattle. (Credit: City of Seattle)

“Based on data we analyzed from January, paid street parking rates will increase by $0.50/hour or $1.00/hour in approximately one-third of paid parking areas and hours of the day in the city,” SDOT wrote in a blog post. “The rate will decrease by $0.50/hour in four zones at certain times of the day.” The most expensive regular hourly parking rate is $3.00 in the Denny Triangle South area during midday periods. Many areas continue at only $0.50 hourly rate.

Seattle uses a data-driven approach to setting rates so that there is often paid parking available on the street throughout the day. Streets with very high demand (more than 85% occupancy) generally see their rates increase, while streets with below-target demand (less than 70% occupancy) may see their rates decrease. Rates may vary to meet local demand throughout the day. As a result, tariffs are generally revised at least once a year to reflect demand trends. As the pandemic recedes, it is likely that rates will continue to rise across the city.

Stephen Fesler

Senior Reporter

Stephen is a professional urban planner in Puget Sound with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is particularly interested in how policies, regulations and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. After long stays in big cities like Bellingham, Cork and Seattle, Stephen currently lives in Kenmore. He primarily covers land use planning and transport issues and has worked for The Urbanist since 2014.