Sound Transit's (un)progress report on light rail

Light rail costs $7.13 per trip and a quarter of the time it's late, argues a critic of the system.
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A light rail train in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel

Light rail costs $7.13 per trip and a quarter of the time it's late, argues a critic of the system.

Sound Transit just released its Second Quarter Ridership Report for this year. Light rail ridership is higher than the previous quarter but still far below projections:

Weekday boardings averaged 21,766 for the quarter, compared with 16,909 average weekday boardings during last quarter. Central Link will need to maintain this high rate of growth to meet the ambitious 2010 ridership target. Halfway through the year, Central Link ridership totaled 3,195,454, about 40 percent of the budget target of 8.1 million boardings for the year.

Low ridership also translates to higher costs-per-trip. Believe it or not, It costs $7.13 for every trip made on light rail. To compare, buses in King County average about $3.91 per trip.

A more immediate area of concern for Sound Transit officials is the poor on-time performance with light rail. Sound Transit officials told voters in 1996 that Light Rail "will provide significantly greater reliability than all other types of public transportation in the region.'ꀝ Typically, other transit modes have on-time performance of between 90-99 percent. Last quarter, light rail had a dismal on-time performance rate of 71 percent. This quarter saw a slight improvement at 77 percent, but still well below Sound Transit's target of being above 90 percent.

The reliability of light rail was one of Sound Transit's biggest selling points, especially over other modes like bus rapid transit.

Sound Transit officials made a number of promises to voters in exchange for higher taxes. Back in 1996, voters were given a vision of 25 miles of light rail, costing $1.8 billion, finished in 2006, and with daily boardings in 2010 of 107,000. Fourteen years later, Sound Transit has only been able to build 17 miles for $2.6 billion, with weekday boardings of 21,766. As for the rest of it, Sound Transit officials have reduced the original scope of this first phase to 21 miles, and won't be finished until around 2020, with total costs approaching $15 billion.

Voters deserve better. Voters deserve what they were promised. The comparisons are to be found in "Light Rail, One Year Later: A Train of Broken Promises."  

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