This morning the Times has an editorial saying Sound Transit shouldn’t put light rail on the ballot. Their reasons are suspect, and their logic is twisted.

They continue to push the “don’t-take-my-express-lanes-away” agenda – the purely self-interested stance. Early in the hit piece they say:

Perhaps, though they might say yes for a mix of transit less-biased toward rail.

This package is a mix of transit less biased toward rail. Last year’s package was some 95% light rail. This year’s package is more like 70% – with big increases for ST Express. I don’t think even the Times can argue against more Sounder.

They go on to talk about boardings between buses and rail. First they talk about 477,000 boardings per day by our other transit agencies. Then they talk about ONLY the conservative ridership estimates (which should be boosted by the TOD we’ve built just since those numbers were calculated) for Central Link. They ignore University Link, ST Express, and Sounder. But wait, those apparently don’t exist!

For actual bus service, Metro charges an 0.9 percent sales tax. For promised light-rail service, Sound Transit has been charging 0.4 percent. You can move many, many more people for the money on buses than on rail.

Okay, so… Metro currently has daily boardings of about 370,000 for their .9%. Sound Transit already has 45,000 weekday boardings on ST Express, 10,000 weekday boardings on Sounder service – with 50% more service yet to add – and will have not only 45,000 daily boardings on Central Link, but later another 70,000 boardings on University Link (still part of that .4%). Also remember that the 370,000 daily boardings on Metro will drop on some of their core routes as people ride rail instead – the 7, 36, 42, 194, and others will see drops in ridership even next year.

So, .4%? In 2030, without ST2, that would be 200,000 riders a day. More than half the ridership of Metro for less than half the money. There’s another interesting component here. ST Express and Sounder trips are far longer, on average, than Metro trips. Sound Transit takes their passengers today 17 miles on average, but Metro takes their passengers under 5 miles. That’s more than three times the miles traveled for those boardings!

In 2030, with ST2, just Sound Transit’s rail services will carry more passenger miles than all our local bus agencies combined – with about the same tax rate. Link and Sounder combined will carry .9 billion passenger miles per year. All the buses – ST, ET, PT, CT, MT – will carry .6 billion. As we pay off those bonds, it will cost a third as much to operate. The Times’ own argument works against them.

They’re stuck in the fifties, when we hadn’t yet learned from our mistakes and we didn’t yet understand development:

Think of all the places buses go — in all three counties — and look at the map of where light rail will go, twenty years from now. Light rail is two strands, in the shape of a T. Bus service is a spider web.

Development follows transportation infrastructure. In Seattle, a hundred years ago, development was along strands of rail. You can see this today – wherever there are clusters of old brick buildings in our neighborhoods, they surrounded a rail line. Buses can only map the sprawl that occurred after we got rid of that rail – they can’t affect it. The fact that this strand of light rail will carry as much of our traffic as Metro’s huge web should make it painfully clear that ST2 is where we need our next transportation investments.

12 Replies to “No, Really, the Seattle Times Hates Sound Transit”

    1. Comparing capital costs for a subarea (and a half, I guess) to the operating costs of bus agencies is obviously misleading, but I want to point out the following:

      The Washington Metro’s rail service costs $290mn a year, and moves 800,000 people per day.

      Washington Metro’s bus service moves 400,000 people per day and costs $270 mn a year.

      Metro Transit moves 330,000 per day, and also costs $560mn (which happens to be as much as Washington’s bus and rail combines) a year. Bus transit is so much more expensive to operate per passenger than rail.

  1. Unbelievable! I am very disappointed in the Seattle Times for doing such shoddy research. I expect better from them. Did their editorial board actually read the plan or just call Kemper Freeman for stock anti-rail talking points: “Costs too much and does too little!”

    1. jonk: the Times ok repeats Discovery Institute bs. And now, Doug “I need a job” MacDonald bs.

  2. You guys forgetting who the messenger is? The Times? Please.

    It’s no secret the Times/Blethen’s are anti-transit. Surprised they’d come out so early against it tho.

    Tells me they are afraid that if it goes to ballot it’ll pass. They are using their bullets too early.

    1. It seems so – it’s pretty early for this. But last year they had nearly two dozen anti-ST pieces, so perhaps they’ll just keep it up.

      They used to love ST – they wanted light rail to the Times building. When ST chose the Capitol Hill alignment, they pulled their support.

  3. The Times is the dinosaur stuck in the tarpit. Every day hundreds of their trucks deliver tons of newsprint to anxious catowners and people who need paper twists to light their barbecues. Having lined their kitty-litter boxes and set their steaks to broiling, these people then surf the net to learn the news.

    It’s not a pretty sight, but think how much worse it would be if you agreed with them. Then we’d be forced to sympathize with the prolonged demise of an industry that depends on ads for cars and suburban homes to provide revenues to buy fuel and paper with.

    In the fullness of time Ryan Blethen may have the best damn blog in Seattle. Or not. As for the dead-tree edition of the Times, better that it should sink into the ooze, trumpeting like the Republican mastodon it’s always been.

    1. A co-worker once said “The Seattle Times is basically a way of letting people in the suburbs wallow in Seattle’s misery for one brief shining moment.”

      This is the same paper that has somehow dodged harassment charges and laws regarding solicitation time and again. I guess given what you’re saying, it’s no wonder they’ll call 3 or 4 times in a single day asking if you want their litter liner.

  4. It’s fabulous that they fail to realize that:
    1) It’s a regional system versus a local system,
    2) KC Metro is one of the least cost-effective bus systems in the country, and
    3) Sound Transit is one of the most cost-effective.

    I love the Seattle Times!

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