The Times has a big piece this morning on the Mass Transit Now’s campaign’s efforts to mobilize Obama voters.  As a partisan of one side, I obviously wish they had printed more rebuttals to the statements of the other side.  At the same time, I think it’s better for the transparency of the issues to express the cost of the measure it terms of the average person or household, so I applaud them for that.  And I’m glad to see them linking.

However, there are two factual errors, one trivial, and one fairly important.

The trivial one is that Ben is not the founder of this blog, Andrew is.  Perhaps Ben is hogging the glory, but I suspect Mike Lindblom didn’t bother to ask the question. [UPDATE: This has been fixed online.]

More importantly, the plan summary says that Prop. 1 will add 100,000 hours of bus service, starting next year.  That’s unclearly stated, since there will be 100,000 hours added immediately, and even more added later.  This isn’t the Transit Now service drip-feed we’re used to, and it’s an important point given the criticism that this package doesn’t do enough right away.

I’ve been told that the service expansion plan will be out before the election, and we’ll let you know as soon as it’s released.  But for reference, assuming each round trip takes two bus operating hours, 100,000 bus hours gets you almost 6 additional round trips for every ST Express route in the system, 365 days a year, and 8 round trips if you add it on weekdays only.   That’s a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it means a lot more to most people than 100,000 hours.

[If you’re coming here for the first time via the Seattle Times, welcome!  To find out a bit more about who we are and what we do here, this post is both short and very useful.]

27 Replies to “Times Fact-Checking”

  1. I think the point should be made as often as possible that those who oppose Prop 1 and are saying “now is not the time” have been saying so from the beginning and won’t change their tune in the future, ever.

  2. The ad campaign writes itself…

    “The banks want $700B to pay off bad debts, but we only want $18B, and we’ll even give you something to show for it.”

    I also think Joni Earl should hold a press conference today to announce that she’s NOT available to go to DC to help settle the financial crisis, even though she’s done an infinitely better job with ST than the ‘free market’ has done with Wall Street.

    Privatize this.

    1. Haha, good point brad. ST doesn’t privatize the profits and socialize the losses, unlike a lot of these big firms that have been failing.

      1. Pray tell, what “profits” does ST produce?
        (Pol – the same benefits your roads provide. The ability for the economy to function. -Ben)

        They’ve only socialized the costs — ST is just about a 100% taxpayer-paid bailout of downtown Seattle (just as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac needed to be bailed out.) And you oh-so-sophisticated urban fools can’t see that truth. Tell me, where do you get your Kool-Aid?
        (Pol – kind of like SR-520 is a taxpayer-paid bailout of Redmond, and 405 of Bellevue? Per passenger mile, light rail is a lot cheaper than that, and no sane people are really questioning the import of building infrastructure. -Ben)

      2. Pol Pot-

        I was riffing on a common saying from progressives over the last few days, “privatize the profits and socialize the losses.” Obviously Sound Transit doesn’t generate a profit nor a loss, because it’s not a company.

        However, I’ll play along. The “profits” are the billions saved from new highway and roads projects, a cleaner environment, a faster commute, and more time with your family. Or course, this isn’t incredibly easy to measure in dollars and cents, which is why public transit is subsidized. Just like highways.

        All the money raised by ST is spent in the community that it was raised from. Pierce money stays in Pierce, Eastside money stays in the Eastside, Snohomish money stays in Snohomish. Pierce county will get a 65% increase in Sounder service, the Eastside and Snohomish both get light rail. And everyone gets better bus service.

        I get my Kool-Aid from Bauhaus.

      3. At $700 BILLION in write-offs, I think its safe to say that we can take ‘profitability’ off the table in the discussion about public works projects for 2-3 generations.

        And for that, we thank you Republicans!

      4. “Obviously Sound Transit doesn’t generate a profit nor a loss, because it’s not a company.”

        Huh? Then I guess you won’t claim the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Treasury can’t generate a profit nor a loss in its present plans to exorcise the toxic mortgage-backed securities from the balance sheet of the nation’s financial sector. Because they’re not companies.

        And Andrew says socializing the costs is fine apparently because the benefits are socialized. What if the costs are out of whack from the benefits, Andrew? And do you suggest *no* privatized benefits whatsoever are involved? You are badly mistaken.

        (You know, it’s kinda fun to play around in your little echo-chamber here. I now understand how 30 year-olds can be so out of touch with reality. They live in a virtual world of their own making.

      5. You mean the virtual world of… reality? The light rail system opening next year? Sound Transit collects tax dollars to build infrastructure projects, and it builds them. It does that darn well.

      6. It is sad how far the huge socialized costs of our highway system is out of touch with its very limited benefits. We’re finally waking up to how poorly we’ve been spending tax dollars.

        As for the bailout plan, mostly we have only the dangers we’ve seen from similar situations in recent history, especially the Great Depression and Japan in the 1990s. No one really knows what the benefits will be, we can only hope.

      7. Josh – what about the socialized *benefits* – you know, like the ones Andrew referenced?

        Don’t forget how much gas tax money is going into ST. I don’t know whether to classify that as a socialized cost or as a socialized benefit.

      8. Cost/benefit analysis always comes down to your assumptions. If you assume sprawl, which due to government policy was a safe assumption in roughly the 50-90s, you need lots of highways. Wow, look at that public benefit! Everyone loves it! (Well, at least if they weren’t one of the thousands of Seattle families whose homes had to be paved over.) Oops, we also caused massive pollution from cars and concrete production, health problems from spending too much sedentary time in cars, etc. Gee, this government policy creating massive social change is hard to get right, isn’t it?

        If you assume density (which can be seen from world history to be the natural inclination of large populations) you get a very different view of public benefit. “Transportation” suddenly includes walking, which needs different zoning, building codes, and architecture than sprawl–in short, it needs the built environment already present in cities around the world! High speed rail to Portland (as used all over Europe and Japan) starts to look like it would offer a better cost/benefit ratio than an I-5 expansion. I don’t mind my money going to these projects, but I don’t like the current model because it hides so much of the real costs of highways.

        By the way, I really enjoy having the differing opinions here (though I’m beginning to think you’re really just Ben playing devil’s advocate). We also need a real socialist telling us how Nader is our saviour, too.

        (Oh, and very minor: there are multiple “Josh”s who post, so it’s probably safest to call me “joshuadf”. )

      9. If you assume density, those thousands of Seattle families’ homes would be demo’d and built over. (Max nix, eh?)

        As re: assumptions, you assume roadways can only serve vehicles that pollute. Is that inevitable?

        As re: density, must it all go downtown? Why?
        Further, if your mind is flexible, why would density require light rail?

      10. Pol Pot, density isn’t evil and doesn’t mean destroying rows of houses. It means that places that want density will get it. Whereas home owners in Redmond clearly aren’t going to go for it, condo owners in Bellevue are probably excited by it.

        Car emissions might go away, but the environmental impact of even things like the batteries that power hybrids isn’t going away any time soon. However, I think we need to do everything possible — better fuel standards, green power, new cars that don’t burn gas, mass transit, better land use planning.

        By the way, 1,000 zero-emission cars create just as much traffic as 1,000 SUVs. Light rail doesn’t get stuck in traffic and is zero-emissions the day it opens, not 50 years from now.

  3. Overall, a pretty positive article about the campaign. It’ll certainly help with Google.

    But jeez, “urban contemporary music.”

    1. Every time they write one of these, they fix one thing and break something else. It used to say U Link was proposed…

  4. Pol Pot, this whole discussion about profits/loss is silly and distracting.

    Governments do not generate revenue like a corporation. You are forced by law to give governments revenue. And obviously the success of a government isn’t merely measured in whether the budget returns a surplus or a deficit.

    No one is pretending that one day Sound Transit’s light rail operations will be so profitable they we’ll all get checks from Mayor Nickles. But studies have shown that the economic growth in the region provided by light rail will more than return the cost of the taxes.

    1. Hear, hear. Although I made a bet with Andrew over something like that… maybe 50% of operating costs by 2040? I don’t remember exactly what it was.

  5. Mr. Duke has prepared a useful back of envelope calculation on the magnitude of the Prop 1 bus expansion increment: “…assuming each round trip takes two bus operating hours, 100,000 bus hours gets you almost 6 additional round trips for every ST Express route in the system, 365 days a year, and 8 round trips if you add it on weekdays only.”

    Since the Prop 1 ST bus bump up is about relieving overcrowding, I would indeed assume the 8 round trips per route are on weekdays, which translates into 4 trips for each ST Express route in the week day peak direction, that is, two in the morning peak and two in the evening peak. Fair estimate.
    (excuse me, but you just cut the number in half twice. Anyway, several routes don’t really have ‘peak’ directions, like the 545 and 550. -Ben)

    My reaction: Big fricking deal — this additional capacity covers about one or two years of the current ST Regional Express bus ridership growth trend across the 15 years of the Prop 1 program while we wait more than a decade for light rail expansion to begin carrying its promised share of customers.
    (That 100,000 hours is just the first year of additional capacity. Further increases come the year after, and the year after that… what’s funny is that I know this has been explained to you before, repeatedly. -Ben)

    Furthermore, ST Express bus service is less than 10% of the total bus service that people use every day in the region. Four local transit services, including King County Metro, carry the other 90%.
    (That’s because ST’s express buses are not their primary expenditure – the light rail that opens next year is, and Sounder carries another 10,000 trips a day. When ST2 is complete, ST’s rail services alone would carry more than half the passenger miles on transit in the entire puget sound region. -Ben)

    The Prop 1 resources to ST Express are a scrawny, insignificant bone compared to the 40 fold greater commitment of resources to light rail construction and operation that is the core of the spending motivating the Prop 1 doubling of Sound Transit taxes.
    (I don’t think they should have let you out of math class. 40-fold? Does anyone take you seriously anymore? It’s about 70% light rail, with the rest split between Sounder and ST Express. I notice you ignore Sounder, even though it’s wildly successful – I wonder why that is? Hard to argue against? Get a spine. -Ben)

    But, you are thinking, light rail is a good thing!

    Well, the problem with the Central Link light rail spine connecting Everett, Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue, and Redmond is that it costs too much and provides too little coverage of the total urban region. Turning the Sound Transit fire hose of billions toward more ridesharing and buses would achieve far more service delivery than laying track for shuttling rail cars with 74 seats and floor space for 126 standees.
    (Blah, blah, blah. Remember that comment I just made about passenger miles? With the same tax recovery as KC Metro, ST will carry more people farther on the train. No, buses don’t achieve more service delivery, except in your brain. -Ben)

    A shocking indication of light rail’s poor performance (in association with a bus-based feeder network) is the Puget Sound Regional Council calculation in its Vision 2040 regional development strategy of the employment accessibility provided by the full 125 miles of light rail that Sound Transit is planning for the long run.

    Here’s the finding of the PSRC computer modeling: in 2040, with 125 miles of light rail, the average household in the central Puget Sound region would have 30 minutes or less transit access to about 1% of regional jobs. That’s one out of 100.
    (And yet more than 1% of all jobs today are accessed by transit trips. Your number doesn’t even pass the whiff test. The PSRC number (1.07%) refers only to what percentage of all jobs in the region an average adult would have access to within 30 minutes on transit. I love how you nutcases enjoy the numbers that look small without understanding them at all – that number has nothing to do with where an individual actually lives or works. And on the page before, it says the same alternative would result in a 76-146% increase in transit use. By the way, Destination 2040 also includes massive highway investments that aren’t happening, and it includes half the fuel prices we have today – transit ridership is already way above their models. -Ben)

    The computer modeling takes into account a strong program of land development densification around train stations with associated allocation of residential locations and employment opportunities to take advantage of the assumed rail network.
    (Actually, again, you’re confused. The program with the land development is the metropolitan program which sees a 1.5% accessibility number. -Ben)

    When I read this result in draft form back in 2006, I was floored. It’s now published (somewhat buried) at .
    (You seem to have been floored because you didn’t understand it. Par for the course with you, Mr. Niles! -Ben)

    1. 100,000 service hours in 2009 is significant. That’s equal to the amount of service hours Metro is going to use to implement RapidRide BRT over a ten-year period. Like Ben said, that’s just the beginning. We are also going to be getting BRT on SR-520 and planning for BRT on I-405.

  6. “I would indeed assume the 8 round trips per route are on weekdays, which translates into 4 trips for each ST Express route in the week day peak direction, that is, two in the morning peak and two in the evening peak. Fair estimate.”

    8 round trips means 8 trips on 545 heading east and another 8 heading west. That means four in the morning, and four in the evening. However, higher ridership routes will see more additional trips, lower ridership routes will see less.

    But only four additional trips every peak period? Any bus rider will tell you that’s a big deal. Say you have a route that’s every 15 minutes between 7am and 10am — that is, 12 runs. Using Martin’s numbers, the increase in service is [b]33%[/b], and increases the frequency to 11 minutes. That’s a big deal and will help buses cope with high-ridership routes.

    Why not put a lot more into buses, then? Well, because diesel costs are exploding and buses get stuck in traffic too. Light rail is powered clean electricity and cannot get stuck in traffic. Buses are great short-term relief and awesome feeder services, but the long-term solution is light rail.

    As for the ridiculous 1% number… No one has the expectation that you can live anywhere and get anywhere else within 30 minutes. If you live in Everett you don’t expect to get to Tacoma within 30 minutes, even if there’s a lot of jobs down there.

    That’s why the 1% number is dumb to quote without context. If you live in Everett, well now you only have transit access to 1% of the jobs because it’s not possible to get down to Bellevue, Seattle, Tacoma, etc. on light rail under 30 minutes. The reality is that bus would take 70 minutes and a car would take 85 minutes, and light rail would still be faster and more reliable on these long-haul commutes.

    Light rail is the same deal. It won’t provide every person in the region with a commute of 10 minutes to every other place in the region, but it absolutely will connect the major employment centers with the major residential areas. And yeah, it will be fast and won’t get stuck in traffic.

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