The Sound Transit Board meeting on June 27 covered several important issues:
1. Presentation of a report analyzing a potential fare on Tacoma Link.
The policy report looked at fares up to $2.00, and determined a $0.75 fee would generate more than enough revenue to cover collection costs. Unprofitable fare collection is one of the ST criteria for free service that Tacoma Link no longer meets.
The report estimated ridership would drop 19%, from 83,000 to 67,000 per month with the recommended fare of 75 cents. After subtracting operating costs of collection, Sound Transit would net $12,000 per month. It’d take approximately 58 months for that revenue to also cover the costs of installing fare collection methods and means, which were estimated at $709,000.
The higher fee structures outlined in the table above would take less time, but also impact rider volume. Judging by the overall reaction during the meeting, the Sound Transit board will wait to deliver a final verdict until the next few steps in the process, which consist of pricing model refinements, with special attention to low-income populations, and community outreach.
Marilyn Strickland, Tacoma mayor, stated this process will integrate with Tacoma’s reevaluation of fares and parking, while Joni Earl, chief executive officer of Sound Transit, added that outreach to stakeholders would begin right away given the board’s response. So overall it appears the final verdict is yet to come.
2. Closeout of a total of 19 small projects worth $294m, all delivered a total of $11.5m under budget. Also the Lakewood Layover is transitioning to operations, a total of approximately $3.5m under budget.
3. A staff report and resolution that would “amend the Adopted 2013 Lifetime Budget for the Sounder ST2 Fleet Expansion project from $16,296,000 to $49,530,000” as well as “the Adopted 2013 Annual Budget for the project from $4,196,000 to $15,196,000 to provide funding to purchase nine Sounder passenger vehicles.”
According to the report, the extra vehicles are necessary for additional trips due to service expansion and rider growth. The report does not explain what exactly deviates from the ST2 plan; I have an email in to Sound Transit about this question.
Another interesting note in the fiscal information section of the staff report hints that the extra strain on the Pierce subarea financial capacity (where the extra $20.9m necessary in bonds will come from) may require revision of other current plans as well:
“In addition, the issuance of $20.9 million of additional bonds will reduce the agency’s net debt service coverage, which is already forecast to be below the board’s 1.5 x coverage policy minimum. Through the program realignment, staff is monitoring agency costs and revenues, and reporting quarterly to the Board…To offset the $20.9 million of additional costs, staff will present options to the Board by the end of the first quarter of 2014 for capital and operating costs savings within the Pierce subarea, including options for reducing the scope of the ST2 Sounder maintenance base project.”
However, perhaps it’ll be worth it. The 9 coaches will expand the 14 locomotives, 40 coaches, and 18 cab cars that currently compose the Sounder fleet. Purchased from Bombardier, the coaches would be fully compatible with the current trains, and serve on the South Sounder line. This build-out of the Sound Move program, on the Sounder South and North Lines, allows for another one peak direction trip in September on the South line. 2016 and 2017 will see 3 more trips eventually added.