It’s just that buses are expensive. The P-I has an article about Prop. 1 that discusses the claim that there isn’t enough new bus service in the package. The West Seattle Times argees, though they don’t support rail to Lynnwood over West Seattle, an argument there’s really no way to get around without telling them to look up what “subarea equity” means.
Ron Sims is being slightly disingenuous in his saying that skyrocketing ridership means we need more service hours on buses. Absolutely we do need more service, but the reason Sims wants Sound Transit to pay for more of what would essentially be local buses is that Metro has already reached the state legislature-defined cap of .9% sales tax. Metro cannot possibly raise any more money without the state legislature increasing the cap and another Metro ballot measure passing. Pierce Transit and Community Transit are in a similar situation. I would support both of these, though I doubt the legislature will move on the former.
As a regional agency, Sound Transit should not be in the business of paying for local buses, and with the region’s long term interests in mind, we should not be providing buses at the expense of light rail. My reasoning is simple – apologies in advance for all the numbers – the proposal on the ballot would bump Sound Transit’s portion of the sales tax to .9%, which for the North King subarea, 100% would be spent on light rail construction and bond servicing until 2009, when about .1% will go toward operating Central Link. In Seattle, Metro moves about 135,000 people a day for .9% in Seattle, Sound Transit will move about 45,000 for .1%, the operations portion of the link budget. After at most 30 years, Central Link’s bonds will be paid off, at which time Central Link will cost just .1% of sales tax to move more than 45,000 people per day. Similar results will be seen for North Link, East Link and South Link. All of light rail in Prop. 1 will be operated for just .2% sales tax, and by 2036 when the bonds are paid off, the other .7% could be reinvested into building more light rail.
For an example of how rail can more more people more cheaply, we need only look to Washington DC. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the operator of DC Metro, spends almost exactly the same amount of money as King Country Metro does, $560 million to $580 million. Except for that $560 million DC metro moves almost a million people a day on rail (three times what KC metro moves per day with its buses) and the WMATA agency provides buses that carry another 120,000! It’s only possible because of the investment put in place years ago, and residents there can reap the benefit of a reliable, traffic-separated transit system that’s relatively cheap.
For increased bus service, 100% of the money would go toward operations. Even assuming operation costs will not rise, that tax capacity could never be spent on service increases in the future beyond simply keeping up with the rise in population. But that rise in population seems to be ever more reliant on transit as a means of getting around, as noted 6.7% increase in bus ridership in 2008. Making matters even worse, operations costs are rising far faster than sales tax receipts because of fuel costs, which is why Transit Nowwill end up providing so little.
I understand that we have real transportation challenges facing us, but in the end, buses are just much more expensive to provide in the long run the rail is. We need the willpower and patience to not just go after the quick solution now, but provide a solution that can grow and be expanded in the future. If Metro needs more money for buses, Ron Sims should go to the legistlature and ask for taxing authority. Or maybe he should just cancel his foot-ferry idea and put the money to buses. That $24 million a year could be a lot of service hours.
Mutlimodal Man points out my numbers on the DC metro comparison are a bit off, but the main point still stands.