Second of three parts
Part 1: Ridership today and the suggested Sound Transit sales tax increase.
Part 2: Real riders speak, and Sound Transit's model isn't what they want to buy.
Part 3: The must-do agenda for transit and smart growth.
Sound Transit wants to hear from people about a plan for a 30 percent to 40 percent (depending on where you live) increase in the sales tax slice devoted to transit. The plan would put billions of dollars into the lap of the board of directors to spend on capital projects for Sound Transit's 10 percent share of the region's transit service. The big investments would be 18 miles of light rail extensions, serving just a few communities, and station improvements and beefed up frequency on the Sounder commuter rail train through Puyallup, Sumner, Auburn, Kent, and Tukwila, from Tacoma to Seattle.
Riders could first use the big projects in 2020. Ten years later, by 2030, 22 years from now, the new projects would have produced a gain in daily ridership, according to Sound Transit, equal to about 20 percent of today's daily regional transit ridership, although many of those riders would just be shifting their transit trip to a rail car from a bus.
Meanwhile, the rest of the regional transit system — 90 percent of today's current ridership — operated by King County Metro, Community Transit in Snohomish County, Pierce Transit, Everett Transit, and Washington State Ferries, already with hundreds of thousands of daily boardings, is bursting at the seams with near double-digit annual ridership gains pressed on existing services by gas-price woes to which no end is in sight and, at least for now, traffic congestion.
What's right with this Sound Transit plan?
Not much. Because it would fail to leverage much of Sound Transit's huge proposed tax-funded spending in the markets where transit growth is happening today and where the most important opportunities and needs for transit improvements and growth are presented tomorrow.The best proof of the plan's failings lies in little-noticed but critically important details of Sound Transit's reports on its own growth spurt in transit ridership. And looking at the evidence from the other parts of the regional system and other places around the country just underscores the flaws in Sound Transit's approach.
The big route connecting Bellevue and Seattle isn't where the riders are
You can start right at the top by laying Sound Transit's own ridership reports against the plan's main event: $2.1 billion in spending to serve Bellevue-Seattle customers (with Mercer Island riders to boot) with a light rail extension between downtown Seattle and Bellevue and Overlake.
This light rail line would replace the Queen Elizabeth II of Sound Transit's regional express bus system, the Route 550 express bus. Today, the 550 makes more than 60 trips each way every day, every few minutes during rush hour. It has been Sound Transit's biggest express bus route, and with travel times just about the same as light rail, it defines the case for Sound Transit's approach of building out an east-west light rail main line. It would connect up with Central Link light rail, which runs north-south, basically paralleling Interstate 5 through downtown Seattle on which construction is moving ahead to a hoped-for mid-2009 opening.
But there's a stark message drowned out in Sound Transit's crowing over an overall 2007 to 2008 jump of 16 percent in overall ridership.
Which Sound Transit express bus route in that period produced growth less than half the rate [PDF] of the Sound Transit system average? Hint: it's the same route that shows lower daily boardings today than in 2001.
Yes, it's Route 550 between Bellevue and Seattle on the I-90 bridge, drifting for years between 5,000 and 6,000 daily boardings and, even with infusion of a few new riders this year, not yet recovering the peak ridership level of 2001.
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