Desmond says that by 2010 and beyond, the system’s budget is going to be in a “complete structural imbalance.”
“Is it doomsday? I wouldn’t call it doomsday, but very significant cuts are very much looming on the horizon.
“That’s where I think we need to begin a real public participation, public dialogue process in the spring and summer of this year, probably. To begin raising general public awareness of what the problem is, getting public input on what is the best way to approach the problem,” Desmond says.
Along with its huge number of trolley buses, King County Metro employs more than 200 hybrid articulated vehicles — almost half the agency’s fleet. Desmond says simply that for King County they work and work well. Oh and that hybrid thing? It has to do with the major geographic hurdle the agency faces, a mile-and-a-half long tunnel in downtown Seattle.
“We can’t run normal diesel buses in the tunnel, so we needed a clean alternative,” Desmond says.
“We engaged in a really good partnership with the manufacturers to develop the articulated diesel-electric hybrid bus specifically to operate in the tunnel.
The hybrid articulated buses operate much like a Toyota Prius he says, with the caveat that you have control over the hybrid control.
As the bus leaves the tunnel the operator pushes a button and then it operates just like any other diesel bus. Desmond says though the articulated hybrids are more expensive than a standard diesel articulated bus, they are less expensive than a dual move diesel/trolley bus, and their duty cycle has been excellent.
Coordinating County Connectivity
King County Metro may be one of the largest systems in the region, but it’s far from the only one. Other than Pierce Transit, Desmond’s former employer, there is also Community Transit and Sound Transit. All of these systems have to operate in a connected and coordinated manner throughout King County, which is no easy task.
“That’s always been around here an ongoing issue and as transit as part of the solution to traffic management, traffic congestion, roadway management has gained in the public eye the service integration issue the organizational issues are increasingly at the forefront,” Desmond says.
Desmond feels the various systems coordinate well despite institutional barriers. “We as separate institutions do have our own both local set of issues, local demands and local differences in the way we provide service because each of the four agencies in the region: us, Community Transit, Pierce Transit and Sound Transit in effect have different missions.”
King County Metro operates the urbanized service in the Seattle area and much of the suburban and commuter service. Community Transit to the north of Seattle is heavily invested in commuter service. Pierce Transit to the south is more of a localized system focusing on service within Pierce County. Sound Transit is the regional agency that also provides rail service and express bus service, which the three other agencies operate for it.
Desmond says with all those systems coming and going through the downtown, Seattle area integration is a must. He says King County Metro works with the Seattle DOT to manage just how that bus service comes into and out of the city. The systems also coordinate their Web pages, trip planning services and soon their fare collection systems. The Orca card will be a unified fare system throughout the Puget Sound region accepted by all four transit agencies.
“The Orca card will take us to the next step in regional fare integration. So we’re very excited at long last to be able to launch that,” Desmond says.
Downtown Seattle is about to get a new wrinkle in its integration plans as Sound Transit’s Central Link light rail line begins operations later this year. And despite the challenge, Kevin Desmond couldn’t be happier.
“We’re tremendously excited after a long, long time. I mean this has been talked about, desired by so many people since the 1960s. So at long last the Seattle area will have its first real rapid transit system,” Desmond says.