So what exactly does Sound Transit do?
Sound Transit collects money from taxpayers to build and run light rail, and then pays other transit agencies to run commuter (express) buses and commuter trains, and public relations firms to create very effective campaigns to convince taxpayers to regularly increase taxes to support their goals. Most of the money Sound Transit collects is devoted to light rail construction, the focus of www.SoundTransitRevealed.com.
Sound Transit Seattle Light Rail Key Facts
The first segment of their system between Downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport, called Seattle Central Link, cost $2.93 billion(2014$) and began service in 2009. Here are some key facts about Seattle Central Link Light Rail.
A Question to Ask Yourself
How do you feel about paying thousands of dollars in taxes to build a light rail system that costs $1 million for every 5 or 6 riders it carries back and forth to work each day (in addition to the daily operating costs since riders paid 31% of those costs in 2015)?
Central Link was the most expensive starter Light Rail System in US History when it opened in 2009 at $185 to $188 million(2014$)/mile. Costs have since increased for the ST2 projects with the recently opened University link reaching close to $600 million/mile. These are unimaginable amounts for a LOW capacity transit system, which Seattle light rail is.
Another question to ask yourself
Why are we spending hundreds of millions of dollars per mile to duplicate our highest frequency best transit service while the overwhelming majority of the Sound Transit taxing district has far worse transit options? During rush hour it can take 20 minutes to drive 2 blocks down a major arterial in Lynnwood which has minimal bus service.
Time for a Sanity Check
To provide a perspective on the size and timing of such large funding requests it helps to look at our closest peer cities building light rail systems, Vancouver, BC and Portland, Oregon.
Vancouver is a higher density higher cost city with a light rail system similar to a heavy rail system due to extensive tunneling and 100% separation from vehicle traffic. Shorter stations, however, prevent it from obtaining the higher capacities of a heavy rail system. Light rail stands for light capacity. Some have referred to it as an intermediate rail system.
Portland, Oregon is a lower cost lower density city with a more typical lower cost light rail system. It shares the road for much of the routing limiting capacity and speed, similar to Seattle's Central Link.
When Performance Falls Short Ask for More Money
Vancouver and Portland follow the traditional approach to funding expansion. Justify a need for expansion over a specific route, build the route, review the performance versus promises, and then identify the next corridor.
Should we double our Sound Transit taxes so that they can spend another $17.7 billion (2014$) on light rail construction? This would give Sound Transit 5 times as much as Vancouver BC spent for their system which served 323,000 daily riders in 2014, and 10 times what Portland spent to building a system moving 87,000 daily riders.
Another question to ask yourself
Sound Transit's Performance Metrics
Sound Transit's performance (riders per dollar spent) is similar compared to both newer light rail lines, such as the Vancouver Canada Line which opened the same year as Seattle Central Link (2009), and the 1st Vancouver and Portland light rail lines opening in 1986. Comparisons are in inflation adjusted US dollars.
Sound Transit weekday ridership predictions and year end published values are inflated according to p. 15, in the, "Central Link Initial Segment and Airport Link Before & After Study Final Report, Feb 2014." The report states that Sound Transit divides their annual riders by 305 to arrive at an average weekday ridership even though bus ridership numbers indicate that 333 is the appropriate number to use.
Sound Transit inflated ridership predictions and underestimated costs to sell light rail to voters. Now, however, we have the Sound Transit performance record to review before voting on the ST3 proposal to increase our taxes once again.
This chart includes data available as of the opening of the University Link Station in March of 2016.
Seattle Central Link Light Rail between downtown Seattle and SeaTac Airport averages 24.8 mph, due to stops and a shared road on Rainier Ave. An express bus running from downtown Seattle to the Sea-Tac airport with no stops on a free flowing lane is much faster.
So where does Sound Transit mention this minor detail in their Public Relations campaign? They don't. In fact Sound Transit advertising always shows Light Rail being much faster then the buses they replace.
Sound Transit spent almost $3 billion(2014$) to replace the 194 Express bus with a train which increases the travel time from downtown Seattle to SeaTac airport while leaving riders 0.4 miles from the airport terminal. The express bus left passengers across the street from the terminal building. It takes almost 50% longer to get from downtown Seattle to the airport counter at SeaTac using Central Link compared to the express bus during non-rush hours.
A train which makes 5, 10, or 10 additional stops is slower than an express bus running on a lane where traffic is controlled to ensure high speeds.
Since Sound Transit Light Rail is So Expensive What Alternative is There?
Intelligent application of various levels of Bus Rapid Transit When Costs Matter to vastly improve public transit service (speed, frequency and reliability) over 200, 300, or more miles of transit corridors covering every freeway, highway and major road in the Sound Transit taxing district at a fraction of the cost of Seattle Light Rail.