PSRC Funding for Pierce County

zargoman/Flickr

The Puget Sound Regional Council largely serves as a conduit for allocating federal funds. With all the grim news in Pierce County, it’s a small consolation that the latest chunk of funding is $481,000 to Pierce County, replacement for aging vanpools and completion of preliminary engineering for Tacoma Link. You can comment on these uses from November 8th to December 6th:

How to make a comment:
Mail: Puget Sound Regional Council
ATTN: Kelly McGourty
1011 Western Avenue, Suite 500
Seattle, Washington 98104-1035
E-mail: tipcomment@psrc.org
In Person: December 6 at PSRC offices, 1011 Western Avenue, Suite 500, Seattle

Comments

  1. Norman says

    Tacoma Link’s operating cost is $3.10 per boarding, or $3.48 per passenger-mile.

    I would like to hear how anyone would attempt to justify that absurdly high operating cost.

    By comparison, Metro van pools’ operating cost is 16 cents per passenger-mile, and I would assume Pierce Transit’s van pools have similar operating costs.

    Not only that, but Metro van pools have fare box recovery of 95%, while Tacoma Link has ZERO fare box recovery, because all rides on Tacoma Link are free. This means that the operating subsidy on Tacoma LInk is $3.48 per passenger-mile, while the operating subsidy for Metro van pools is less than one cent per passenger-mile.

    So, which mode gives taxpayers more bang for the buck? Per dollar of operating tax subsidy, you would get 125 passenger-miles in van pools, or 0.3 passenger-miles on Tacoma Link. That is 416 times as many passenger-miles per dollar of tax subsidy on van pools as on Tacoma Link.

    Why was Tacoma Link built, and why does it continue to operate? Operating cost of $3.48 per passenger-mile is just stupid beyond belief. Two people sharing a taxicab costs a lot less than $3.48 per passenger-mile.

    • Mike Orr says

      Tacoma Link exists because it was in ST1, which was voter-approved. It was in ST1 for the same reason the SLUT was built: as a starter line to demonstrate a streetcar in operation, to connect Sounder to downtown Tacoma and UW Tacoma “in style”, and in the hope that it would someday be expanded into a larger citywide system. In order to achieve a larger system, you have to get your foot in the door with a starter system.

      The reason it’s free is that Pierce had plenty of taxing authority in ST1 and nothing else immediate to spend it on. Pierce is “banking” its taxing capacity for a future extension of Central Link to Tacoma. At that point, Tacoma Link will have to charge fares.

      If it’s later decided that Central Link will not be extended to Tacoma, or if it’s intentionally postponed beyond the affordability date, then Pierce will have to decide what to do with the money instead, or roll back the tax if it won’t adversely affect the other subareas. Of course, Pierce Transit’s imminent emergency may suggest reprioritizing ST’s Pierce funds, but that’s something ST would have to decide, and it probably wouldn’t happen until ST3. Cancelling Sounder or scaling back ST Express without a voter mandate sounds unthinkable. Maybe there’s room for Tacoma Link to start charging fares, since that’s obviously an extra perk that was never intended to be permanent.

      • AlexKven says

        “It was in ST1 for the same reason the SLUT was built…”

        I’m assuming that “SLUT” stands for “South Lake Union Tram”? I have never seen that abbreviation before. Maybe it’s better not to abbreviate it.

      • Mike Orr says

        South Lake Union Trolley. That was its name until a week before opening, when some neighbors pointed out its initials spelled SLUT. So it was officially changed to the South Lake Union Streetcar or Seattle Streetcar, but the old name lives on as an affectionate nickname, especially among those who were initially against the streetcar but have now grown to accept it.

    • Norman says

      In other words, nobody can justify the insane operating cost of $3.48 per passenger-mile, other than “voters passed it.”

      Do you think there was anything anywhere in the plans for the Tacoma streetcar that was presented to voters saying that it would cost anything close to $3.48 per passesnger-mile just to operate? What do you think ST was projecting for the operating cost of Tacoma Link when they presented the plan to the voters?

      If Tacoma Link is a demonstration line, it has certainly demonstrated that it is a ridiculous waste of money.

      But, regarding that $481,000 mentioned in the story — would it move more people more miles being spent on vanpools or on Tacaoma Link?

      Vanpools are extremely efficient. Tacoma Link is a total waste of money.

      • Nathanael says

        It’s clear you’ve never operated a business in any downtown of any city anywhere and you’ve never been part of a city government. Look up “economic development”.

        Oh, right, Norman, you are incapable of learning. I forgot.

      • asdf says

        It doesn’t matter because nobody ever rides a vanpool for a 1.6 mile trip. Vanpools do have their uses, but they only work for a very specific class of trips and cannot be used at all for spontaneous travel. For instance, in order to ride a vanpool

        – Your trip must be between home and work, with no stops on the way
        – You must arrive and leave work at the same time, every day
        – You must work for a large enough company so that a critical mass of people who work for the same company (not some other employer along the way) and live in your neighborhood decide to use it.
        – You must live far enough from work for enough people to decide that the hassle of setting up the vanpool in the first place is worth the benefits. I’ve never heard of a vanpool trip less than 10-15 miles, one way. My dad regularly rides a vanpool to work that’s about 30 miles, one way.
        – In many cases, it is also necessary to own a car to get to where the vanpool picks you up in the first place.

        So, if all you care about is people who work for large employers making the same long-distance home->work->home again trip every day, vanpools are great. But if you care about spontaneous travel, travel for any purpose other than work, or work commutes for people with small employers or people who (god forbid) live within a few miles of where they work, vanpools do not work.

        Again, I’m not saying that vanpools do not exist. The trips they are used for, they work very well. But vanpools are simply not a substitute for a regular transit system.

    • X says

      Norman,

      You oh so conveniently (naively) ignore usage. What good is a cheaper mode of transport if people don’t use it? Rail has been a proven attractor to those who wouldn’t otherwise “do” transit. It’s also cleaner than most vans, pollution-wise. It’s not just about cost per mile (which goes down with higher usage- higher usage occurs with system EXPANSION).

    • Nathanael says

      You ask to justify the operating cost?

      (1) Tacoma Link is too short.

      The operating cost is not proportional to the length of the line. Make it longer, and the operating cost stays nearly the same.

      (2) Tacoma Link as it is is an economic development device to encourage commercial development around downtown, and it should not be judged by any other measure. (Look where it goes: from the train station along the main downtown street. Period.) For that purpose, it works, and vanpools simply don’t. Few, if any, people would take a vanpool to shuttle around between businesses downtown.

      Yes, Tacoma Link has zero farebox recovery, like many downtown business district circulator operations — indeed, exactly like Portland and Seattle used to have.

      This does not need to remain true; if Tacoma Link is extended to be long enough that the fares collected would be more than the cost of fare collection, it is perfectly reasonable to add fares.

    • AlexKven says

      It’s obviously non-profit, as is essentially all public transit. The free line in Tacoma is analogous to the RFA in Seattle. It does encourage transit use, and also serves as a major convenience for Tacoma visitors and tourists. Whenever my family (with nine members) goes to downtown Tacoma for something, we always park at the Tacoma Dome Station, and we hop on the Tacoma Link to get where we are going (So the link isn’t “the train that has been going nowhere for 20 years,” as some people put it. It goes to downtown!). With 9 people, we obviously wouldn’t be doing this if the link wasn’t free. This is also good for people that need to get to 10th and commerce when their last bus only gets them to Tac Dome station, and vice versa. So in most respects, it’s exactly like the old Ride Free Area in downtown Seattle (and even like the current downtown circulator there).

      And I think it should stay that way. Obviously, when ST finally connects the south/central link to the Tacoma Link, the line won’t be free anymore. But I would like that area of Tacoma to be designated as a fare free zone (as in, no ticket required between Tacoma Dome stn and the theater district), and this would work great.

  2. says

    Superfluous comments, Norman.

    An extension of Tacoma Link was already promised to voters for approving ST2 in 2008. Alternatives analysis is scheduled to be completed in April of next year with the ST Board selecting a preferred alignment. The extension will bring with it fares, additional ridership, and more passenger-km. Right now there’s a significant chunk of time used in each service hour to have the operator move from one side of the vehicle to the other to turn around. That’ll be a smaller portion of operating costs once the extension is complete.

    It’s not like the people of Tacoma haven’t been asking for this to happen for the last 9 years.

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