I ran Ross’s Open BRT plan for West Seattle because it’s a good analysis of the best the region could do with a budget roughly four times lower than what it takes to build light rail to West Seattle. There are many reasons Sound Transit may need to economize on the West Seattle segment, and in that case they could do worse than to follow Ross’s blueprint.
But Ross’s thesis is much stronger: that BRT would be better than light rail for most riders, largely because an open BRT system would avoid transfer penalties. This runs counter to a lot of work on STB that shows the merits of a transfer-oriented system, which largely involve the operating savings of not running downtown to enable other trips. This aspect doesn’t appear in Ross’s work because he completely punts the issue of operations. This is crucial, because it’s in the operational details where claims of “rail-like” BRT collapse.
(1) One can only assume that Sound Transit 3 would pay for the excellent capital projects Ross proposes. But does ST actually take over operations on the C Line, 21, 120, 37, 55, 128, 116, and all the other buses duplicating each other on the bridge? If so, that’s a lot of ST’s taxing authority tied up in running buses forever. It also assumes an unprecedented level of ST bus service provision in this corner of the region, and other corners without light rail may wonder why they’re not getting the same. Both problems would kneecap ST’s ability to deliver big capital projects.
If Metro keeps running these buses, then that forfeits the opportunity to seriously increase the frequency of buses within West Seattle. This not only would cut headways to board the bus, thus eroding the putative time advantage of no transfer to light rail, but would also improve all intra-West Seattle trips.
(2) On a related note, Ross blithely asserts that his BRT system will have off-board payment. Off-board payment either requires turnstiles (and someone to monitor them) at all stops (which is not going to happen), or fare inspectors, which are one of the big cost differences between light rail and traditional buses. But this is an open BRT system! So are these routes fully equipped and staffed over their entire length, with machines at essentially every bus stop in West Seattle, or do the rules change when they enter the BRT zone? If the latter, then that will impair reliability of what feeds into the zone. Or is it, as I suspect, not really going to be 100% off-board payment?