The cost per rider statistics of North Sounder that Bruce cited a month ago are indeed quite damning, and have sparked additional reporting at the Times, PubliCola, and The Sun Break. I support reforming transit service to maximize long-term ridership for the amount spent, and Sounder seems to fail that test. Nevertheless, I hesitate when I hear calls to wind the service down.
Defenders have some valid points.
I’m unable to be as furious about the line as others seem to be. North Sounder is not deserted like the 42. Each train is carrying around 150 people; it’s just that it’s so expensive to provide the service that exists.
If it stands for anything, STB stands for high-quality service on selected corridors. North Sounder has elements of high-quality service (off-board payment, traffic-independence) but also is lacking important ones (frequency, span, freedom from mudslides).
My pet peeve is dismissing transit choices as “political,” and there are values that could argue for North Sounder. Indeed, critics of cost per boarding seem to be falling into Jarrett Walker’s trap of misconstruing the purpose of the service.
Finally, it seems to be a reliable vote-winner in its service area (see map at right), and I’d hate to jeopardize the entire light rail project in an attempt to block Snohomish County voters from paying for the service they want.
In other words, I’m open to the argument of the Edmonds, Mukilteo, and Everett Mayors that North Sounder is uniquely valuable to their cities. However, I’d like to see solutions that reflect that value, rather than asking Sound Transit to dump yet more subsidy into the line.
Everyone can make the line better.
Although things like mudslide mitigation have broader benefits, major new capital investments in parking, stations, or new service are simply unjustifiable with scarce subarea funds and dire needs in the I-5 corridor, unless they’re nearly free riders.
However, there are two hugely important things that cities could do, one that costs money and one that doesn’t. The expensive option is for the cities to step up and provide parking. There’s no reason that this has to be paid for by Sound Transit. Cities that value the service and are constrained by parking can benefit their citizens by making it easier to access.
free revenue-generating option is to upzone. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that a four-trips-per-day line will spawn “Transit-Oriented Development” in the classic sense, but there’s no fundamental reason that cities couldn’t allow more people within the walkshed of their stations. A few thousand more units could make a big difference to Sounder ridership and have additional side benefits for the neighborhoods.
There are, of course, other accessibility improvements, like the foot bridge Mukilteo is studying. That’s the kind of thinking that can improve ridership without making Sound Transit’s investment even less economic.