Tacoma Link, by zargoman

Public opinion has been growing increasingly favorable to Sound Transit, according to three recent surveys (PDF) by EMC Research.  According to the surveys, ST’s favorable ratings are at a record high 67% and unfavorable ratings at a record low 18%.  The numbers are more or less comparable to those for Metro, which are at 65% and 14%, respectively.  Additional positives for Sound Transit include a 3.42 out of 4.00 grade, which has risen modestly since 2008.  70% of respondents also thought that ST investments have been worth it, a number strongest unsurprisingly in the North King subarea and weakest in the district’s outlying areas, like Snohomish and Pierce Counties.

Though the overall margin of error for the first district-wide survey is +/- 3.4%, it’s interesting to note that it’s much higher when you break down the sample size by subarea, ranging between 6.9 and 9.1 percentage points.  When broken down even further by city, East King results post a margin of error as high as 21.9%, because of the diminished sample size.  Nonetheless, the overall results were weighted for population distribution to give a more accurate representation of district-wide opinion.

Lots of other key highlights of the surveys below the jump.

  • A whopping 27% of respondents who were self-proclaimed transit riders have either never heard of ORCA or couldn’t rate it, for some reason.  If this is any statistical indication of how things really are, then the ORCA partnership needs to get its act together.
  • Don’t be fooled by Community Transit and Pierce Transit’s low favorable ratings.  Most respondents didn’t have an opinion altogether, so the unfavorable ratings were much lower as well.
  • The overwhelming majority of respondents picked a West Option (B2M- Bellevue Way/112th) for East Link’s B segment over the East Option (B7 – BNSF).  When it came to the downtown segment, however, the surface alignment was the clear winner.  Though the margin is a bit smaller, even East King overwhelmingly picked surface, which is surprising since the tunnel is so heavily backed in Bellevue.
  • Of all ST projects, most respondents prioritized improving access to Sounder stations and increasing parking over expanding light rail and bus service.  It’s a pretty good reflection of broader sentiment that prefers seeing short-term fixes over long-term improvements, especially in the context of ST’s commuter-oriented system.
  • 73% of respondents who ride ST indicated themselves as “choice” riders, meaning that they have the option of commuting by car instead.  When broken down by mode, Sounder has the most choice riders while Central Link has the least, which is telling of the differential between the rider demographics.
  • Grades for ST seemed to dip across the board in 2008, a year when we had record ridership.  That may help explain lower satisfaction levels if rider comfort was tampered with by things like crowding and unreliability.
  • Of three metrics we commonly like to use to monitor transit performance (speed, frequency, and accessibility), accessibility won out with 27% respondents saying they’d ride transit more if stations were either closer to their homes or to places they frequent.  8% preferred frequency and 5% picked speed.

There’s much much more buried in the survey findings (PDF).

28 Replies to “Surveys show favorable results for Sound Transit”

  1. As I noted in a previous open thread, it would be nice to have the choice ridership broken out between people with or without personal vehicles of their own. I doubt many people would give up their cars because of Sounder, but Link was a factor in my decision to sell my car. ST may even have that data already but just didn’t think to break it out; does anyone at STB have a contact they could ask?

    It would also be interesting to ask in future how much the proximity of Link/Sounder/ST Express was a factor in choosing where to live. Rates of voluntary car relinquishment and choosing to live near Link could be considered figures of merit for that service.

  2. Don’t read too much into the question about expanding parking & access at Sounder stations. The question didn’t split out parking from access. As I’ve pointed out before, it is easier to get an express bus to downtown Seattle than to get a local bus to Sounder if you are on the wrong side of the station.

    Maybe some of the respondents would like to be able to catch a bus to a Sounder station.

    1. There’s a whole number of reasons why people want better access to Sounder, and they run the ideological/visionary gamut.

      – Current access is sub-standard. (Which isn’t really true, except for Tukwila. This may be more a reflection of a call for more/better Sounder service?)
      – Gas is on the rise, so parking demand is going up as commuters look to avoid pain at the pump. (Surprise! Wait, you’re not?)
      – A better, more reliable, multimodal transit network can be built around Sounder. (This is certainly not without some merit. Buses get stuck in traffic, too.)
      – Non-commuters would like to use the trains, too. (Night and weekend service, please.)

      (Full disclosure – I ride a bus to the Sounder station on one end of my commute.)

  3. Regarding the DT Bellevue surface/tunnel decision: As much as I generally prefer grade-separation and faster travel times, there are advantages to the surface alignment other than cost. The pedestrian walkshed is improved with two surface stations. Above-grade would make for a much more visible presence in the landscape as well as a more enjoyable journey on the train. It’s already too late for total grade separation in the system, and smart signaling can make the best of the situation. I’m not a Bellevue resident or worker, but I’m OK with either approach.

    1. Has an elevated option been totally thrown out the window for downtown Bellevue? I mean, some of those streets are really wide, so a center alignment could still mean privacy for those floors that would be at the same level of LINK. I’m sure an elevated version would be much cheaper than a tunnel and would still provide the enjoyable ride for the riders as well as the visible presence, like Jonathan said. I still can’t believe that with all the architectures and structural engineers in this area that we can’t design something useful yet still pleasing to the eye and surrounding area.

      1. It wasn’t in the last SDEIS, so it’s functionally dead. Given the general nature of Bellevue, I doubt it was ever seriously on the table.

      2. I’ve long thought an elevated alignment might have been the best of all worlds in DT Bellevue: An affordable, scenic, visible, fast route that avoids traffic. It would be a dynamic new presence in that urban environment. I recall the argument being made about limited ROW on the streets, but it’s hard to imagine a surface alignment wouldn’t need still more.

        Merits aside, neither the revenue picture nor this new survey bodes well for the tunnel, and predicted ridership is about the same either way, so it seems likely to me that we will end up with the surface alignment, for better or worse. Portland has multiple surface alignments which seem to work at least OK, and it’s a lot bigger than Bellevue with many times the number of intersections. Station access is certainly convenient.

      3. Portland MAX runs on the surface through downtown. Trains cover 2.3 miles from Lloyd Center to Goose Hollow, with a scheduled running time of 23 minutes.

        Do the math!

  4. Are there any official numbers on ORCA adoption? Not just how many have been purchased, but also what percentage of trips are paid for by ORCA?

    As I pointed out in the last open thread, I think those “never heard/can’t rate” numbers are far too simplistic to tell us anything meaningful. I suspect a lot of people have opinions about ORCA but have never actually used it. Conversely, folks who use it might have chosen not to rate it, maybe because they’re indifferent or ambivalent about it (the only options seem to’ve been favorable/unfavorable.

    I think the ORCA partnership needs to do a lot more to increase adoption, but I don’t think those survey questions told us anything useful about whether or not what they’ve done so far is working.

  5. Interesting and surprising to me that on page 33 “good for the environment” beat out saving money and everything else on reasons to ride transit.

  6. “Of all ST projects, most respondents prioritized improving access to Sounder stations and increasing parking over expanding light rail and bus service. It’s a pretty good reflection of broader sentiment that prefers seeing short-term fixes over long-term improvements”

    They don’t see it as short-term fixes. They think larger P&Rs are long-term improvements.

    ” Sounder has the most choice riders while Central Link has the least, which is telling of the differential between the rider demographics.”

    It’s also telling of Sounder’s ticket price. You have to really want to ride the train to pay a dollar or two more over an express bus which has the same travel time and runs all day. For low-income people the decision is more practical: they can’t afford the surcharge so they’ll take the bus. Link fares are comparable to bus fares, and sometimes less given Metro’s fare increases. That may change as Link gets extended and its distance-based fares approach Sounder’s. But bus fares may also rise in the interval, keeping Link price-competitive with buses.

    1. If choice riders are driving to Sounder stations and parking in the parking lots and garages to pay a price premium to ride Sounder, would it make sense to charge fees at the parking facility with the revenue dedicated to supporting Sounder service? Then Sounder fares could be reduced, perhaps yielding an equivalent total fare. Folks who drove to the station to ride a bus would pay more, while folks making a bus connection to Sounder could save money.

      As a seoondary effect, the fees would reduce demand at the parking facility, maybe avoiding the need to expand it.

      1. Above, read “seoondary” as “secondary”.

        The parking fare at the parking facility could use a demand pricing model, so as it fills up, it costs more. If the parking fare is paid via ORCA, some portion (maybe $1) could be used as transfer value, so there’s still some cost to park, but there’s some added value for transit users.

      2. In the S 200th St discussion, someone (I think Tim) said the ST considered charging for P&R use, but when you considered the cost of enforcement and equipment, it was nearly $3 just for people to use it. They elected to try and improve bus service to nearby underutilized P&Rs instead.

      3. Charging for parking to subsidize fares is a good idea. It may not be feasable now as Bruce said, but it’s worth keeping as a medium-term goal. If you set the amounts right, drivers won’t pay more but those arriving other ways will get a discount.

        (Er, if somebody is dropped off and thus gets the discount, is that fair? I can see arguments both ways, although overall I think we should encourage dropping people off over parking in the garage.)

  7. Yes please, better Sounder to Bus connections please. Consider when I head down from Bellevue to spend a weekend with my Dad: 230 –> 550 –> Sounder –> Link –> 210 (3 to the newcomers) –> 212 to the ferry landing. Beats I-5 any day (and Friday evenings are horrible)

    My biggest gripe is IDS to King Street, especially in my wheelchair (I bring the manual since my scooter doesn’t fit in Dad’s car)

    1. And no the 599 doesnt help because Lakewood Station is out of the way (now if it stopped at 512… *)

      * I know why it doesn’t. Besides, isn’t it getting the ax anyways?

    2. I was thinking about that tonight as I waited for a bus at IDS. Why couldn’t they have a tunnel that went from the east platform of IDS to the waiting room at KSS, with long ramps, like LA Union Station, accessing the west platform of IDS and the Sounder platform?

      More realistically, they could have a concourse from the west platform of IDS, through the basement of Union Station, and a tunnel under the BNSF tracks with a ramp up to the Sounder Platform.

      Either way, It would make a lot more sense, but would doubtless cost a lot of money.

      1. Punching through Union Station wouldn’t be so simple. It’s a protected historic building, and its ground floor is actually well below the (dramatically raised) street level. To avoid disturbing the protected building, A tunnel would have to go down, under the foundation of Union Station, under the BNSF tracks, and then back up to the Sounder platform. That would probably put it deep enough that high-tide water seepage could be a problem – do recall that the reason Seattle streets were raised was high-tide flooding.

        The Weller crosswalk over 4th is probably the best we’ll ever do.

      2. There are non-trivial safety concerns about long tunnels, too. New York used to have a bunch of tunnels connecting stations a block apart, but they closed a lot of them in the 70s and still haven’t re-opened them.

      3. If nothing else, better station- and street-level signage between the stations would be nice. You know, “this way to King St. for Amtrak & Sounder”? Maybe a paint job on the sidewalk? Cheap, easy, useful!

    3. Many years ago the 210A once ran to Stilacoom. 210B ran on washington. As much of a long route as that would be, i think combining some of those routes again would make the system seem more useable, even if you still had to make the same number of transfers.

    4. After ST2 is finished and if Sounder ran on weekends, it would be: 230 -> Link -> Sounder (Seattle-Lakewood) -> 212.

      What bothers me is when people say we should make this-or-that bus improvements for Sounder (or a Sounder-Link transfer station), when Sounder has only a few trips a day and none at all on weekends. Jessica’s trip is an example of the “Weekend service doesn’t matter; everybody can ride the local buses” attitude, which leads to ridiculous 2- and 3-hour trips like this.

      A few weeks ago I visited my mom in Bellevue on Sunday and had to go to Northgate North on my way home. 230 -> 550 -> 41 (waited 25 minutes); (return trip) 41. If ST2 Link were finished, it would be: Link; (return trip) Link. The northbound travel time would have been 45 minutes instead of 98 minutes.

      With ST2: 45 min (Link: Hospital-Northgate)
      Currently: 10 min (230) + 5 (waiting) + 40 (550) + 25 (waiting) + 18 (41) = 98 minutes

      People who say Link has no advantage over point-to-point express buses don’t take these multi-bus trips into account. Even if you have to make a train-to-train transfer, it’s a 10 minute wait instead of a 30 minute wait. It’s like pulling teeth to get 10-minute frequency on buses, but with light rail it’s standard practice.

      This is not an unusual or extraordinary trip. I didn’t go deep into single-family-ville where no bus should be. It was not exurb-to-exurb. It was an ordinary trip in the metropolitan area. Jessica’s trip was longer and more exurban, and she shouldn’t expect a one-seat ride taking just one hour, but transit needs to be better than it is.

      (Actually, I didn’t take the 41 back. It was a long wait so I walked to Northgate TC, intending to take the 41 or 66, whichever came first. But the 16 came and I decided to take it to see how Greenlake-Meridian were getting on.)

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