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The average new car costs about $33,000. For the 630 people using the Sounder North line, your tax dollars are spending almost $8,000 ($5 million per year in subsidy divided by 630 people) a year to help these people get to Seattle in the morning and back home in the evening.  That’s equivalent to getting a new car for free every 4 years.

This is not intended to attack the people taking Sounder North. They didn’t make the decisions to continue to run this service. They are simply using the best options available to them and they are keeping around 600 cars off of I-5 in the morning by using Sounder North. So bravo to Sounder North users! 

Why does Sounder North still run?

It short, because politicians in Edmonds, Mulkiteo and Everett want it to keep running. It is providing high quality (at least during the summer, numerous landslides have cancelled service in the winter in recent years) transit service from the northern cities to Seattle and back.

The bus options are really just more buses down I-5, which gets busy during the rush hours Sounder runs, making the buses slow and less reliable. Here’s a comparison of Sounder versus similar transit service in the morning.

Sounder 510 to 5th and Jackson
Everett Station 5:45 59 min 63 min
210 daily users 6:15 59 min 72 min
6:45 59 min 77 min
7:15 59 min 85 min
Mulkiteo Station Sounder 417 to 2nd Ave Ext S & Yesler Way
140  daily users 5:56 48 min 77 min
6:26 48 min 77 min*
6:55 48 min 77 min*
7:25 48 min 83 min
Edmonds Station Sounder 416 to 5th Ave & Jefferson St
271  daily users 6:11 33 min 43 min
6:41 33 min 46 min
7:11 33 min 51 min
7:41 33 min 51 min*

* There was no similar bus service at that time, so I used an estimate.

These comparisons look bad, but I wonder how many of the people taking these service actually need to get somewhere else downtown, and are taking additional transit service to get there. If they were taking an I-5 bus, they would have other stops downtown. The worst situation is in Mulkiteo, where comparable bus service is an extra 1/2 hour each way.

How does this get fixed?

In short, SoundTransit needs to listen to its own Citizen Oversight Panel. In its latest report, it wrote:

As it has in previous reports, the COP continues to recommend setting ridership benchmarks in the corridor and identifying actions to take if specific targets aren’t met.

I can’t see a scenario where ridership benchmarks would be made, so the next step would be identifying actions to take:

  • You could expand Sounder North with more frequent service, perhaps 8 trains over 3 hours instead of 4 trains.  I can’t see how this makes the situation any better, and it stands a good chance of making the subsidy much worse.
  • You could cut Sounder North all together and replace it with bus service. In order to make this at all palatable, you would need to invest in some HOV lanes and transit priority, particularly in Mulkiteo. You could make these steps revenue neutral over the course of 3-4 years by re-purposing the massive subsidy into improvements in bus service.

What would you do to fix Sounder North?

139 Replies to “Sounder North: A Free Car For Every User Every Four Years”

  1. I would start big and work to reduce the seemingly constant interruptions in service due to weather. I can’t imagine all those delays are not a contributing factor in why the line is unpopular. Getting BNSF (using power at the federal level) to permanently solve those problems should be a priority.

    Conversely, I’ve always thought the railroads have too much power for this day and age anyway.

    But wasn’t Sounder server just a stop-gap until light rail was fully operational? Maybe that’s why big changes in infrastructure are rarely considered for that line.

    1. Worth noting: all the improvement work on the Sounder North line needs to be done anyway because it hosts Amtrak Cascades and the Empire Builder. So it’s not as if any of the mudslide repair, signalling, etc. money was really spent on Sounder North.

    2. “But wasn’t Sounder server just a stop-gap until light rail was fully operational?”

      No. That’s ST Express.

      1. ST Express was explicitly a temporary solution until light rail could be built (Seattle-Bellevue), or where the light rail-level ridership might take longer than expected (Burien-Renton) or might never appear (Auburn-Bellevue). Sounder was launched because it was quicker and less expensive to start up than Link; it was seen as low-hanging fruit that couldn’t be missed out on. But there was no sunset envisioned for Sounder like there was for the core ST Express routes. That could be due to not foreseeing Sounder North’s ridership problems and mudslide problems, and not really believing that Link would reach Lynnwood in 25 years. (I was surprised when ST2 included Lynnwood, as I expected it to only reach Northgate.)

  2. Add a Broad/Bell St. infill station.

    Sounder North ridership has been increasing steadily, and as the mudslide mitigation work is continuing, riders won’t be turned away because of unreliability.

    For a few weeks after that series of truck crashes on I-5 at northgate last October, ridership was noticeably up… for a few weeks, until a series of mudslides chased the new riders back to I-5 buses.

    1. I agree, I would add more stations and see if that helped. I would also look to see if extending service to Marysville was at all possible, even though it is outside of ST’s district. Who knows, maybe that would generate more ridership. Also: never underestimate advertisement… there are a lot of people who don’t know enough about the service to try it.

      I don’t think scrapping the line is called for either.. it may not carry vary many people now but scrapping it only makes the transportation options up north worse.

      1. Extending to Marysville is worth pursuing. I don’t believe there are any HOV lanes north of Everett. So there basically is no cheap alternative. The buses probably move very slowly from Everett to Marysville. This is in contrast with Everett to Seattle, where buses usually move reasonably well in the HOV lanes, and would move a lot faster if they HOV lanes were HOV 3+.

    2. Extending the Sounder to Marysville may seem like a good idea worth pursuing. However, one of the reasons why Community Transit made the 421 & 821 stop in Lynnwood a few years ago is to make moderately productive routes fully-productive ones. So if Marysville buses are doing “okay”, I don’t think investing millions of dollars to serve a mediocre amount of people is the best solution.

    3. Convince Community transit that having buses to bring people TO the Sounder is a good idea. I can only take 2 of the 4 trains and those have horrible connections with CT making it not worth the effort.

    4. And one to serve West Ballard, not the best location for Ballard, but way better than nothing and especially if it was fed by connecting buses. Its crazy to have fast HCT go right by several major destinations while having no stops between Pioneer Square and Edmonds.

    5. 1st – Reopen the Bond St. Station in Everett. It was the main rail station in Everett for 100+ years. The platform is still there. BNSF uses the building, which is not needed. All ST needs to do is put in a TVM, ORCA readers and an ADA ramp. Travel time competitiveness is even better from the West side of Everett, especially for those who do or could live there and currently walk/bike/bus over the hill just to ride the train right back under their hood… and the neighborhood is redeveloping with significant additional capacity to provide affordable housing options for those pushed out of Seattle but still desiring urban living.
      2nd – Totally agree with a station on the N end of downtown. The train is at grade, moving slow. Stop and let people off. Building a platform and fare payment should have been included in Move Seattle. It would eliminate some downtown out-of direction travel and attract more riders with north end destinations.

      This is the low hanging fruit. Pick it!

      These infill stations are a much better and cheaper investment than an extension. Going beyond Everett shouldn’t be considered by ST unless it’s part of a (funded) state plan to provide serious passenger rail connecting the whole I-5 Corridor from Bellingham to Vancouver, WA

      Also, the premise that only 600+ people are benefiting from Sounder North is laughable. Thousands of SnoCo residents use the service on odd occasions when we need to get downtown in the morning (and we use I-5 buses to get back because of the lack of midday or reverse trips) and to get to games where traffic and parking or buses stuck in traffic would be a poor alternative. The mudslides are a very occasional reliability issue of the same type all commuter rail has to deal with anytime someone walks or stops their car on the tracks and gets hit. Most days Sounder is phenomenally more reliable than I-5. For the communities it serves and the communities connected by WS Ferries, it will be the best travel option even after Link opens. Kingston and Clinton should be annexed into the ST district to help pay for it, since they get the highest benefit of its’ existence. Development around the stations has been slow to happen partly because of the limited service, market conditions and Nimbys, but that’s changing and there is potential to provide thousands of new units in close proximity.
      If the investment was not already made I would certainly advocate for other investments ahead of Sounder North, but with the cost already sunk, and the timeline for LRT to Everett stuck in the 2030’s, we should do the small things we can do easily to make the most of what we have in place. The 2 stations mentioned could be open by 2017 and 2019 respectively, while we’re still waiting for Northgate. Doing things NOW matters.

  3. I think it’s unfair to chalk this up to “politicians.” It makes sense that this service is popular, even if it doesn’t manifest itself in ridership, because as your table shows it’s vastly superior to bus alternatives, mudslides aside.

    That doesn’t necessarily mean we should pour unlimited subsidy into these communities. But I’m skeptical that the bus alternative is going to work out as a replacement. The subsidy may be “massive” on a per-rider basis but $5m is not a transformative amount of money.

    The step before identifying corrective action is understanding why more people don’t use the service. Is it the lack of a north downtown stop? Inadequate parking? Mudslides?

    1. Fine. Could we at least have ST do that? The only action I’ve seen in recent years is cut the train-set size and to work with BNSF on mudslides. Neither of those seem to affect ridership directly.

    2. It’s also because the bulk of the population is centered around Lynnwood, and they would have to go far out of direction to take Sounder.

      1. >> The step before identifying corrective action is understanding why more people don’t use the service. Is it the lack of a north downtown stop? Inadequate parking? Mudslides?

        I think you nailed it Mike. It is quite possible that Sounder North isn’t that popular because it isn’t that much faster than the alternative for very many people. The only station that has even moderate density is the Everett one, but like most of Everett, that is still pretty low. The ferry makes for a nice connection, but apparently not nice enough. Timing may be an issue in that regard, but I don’t think you can do much about that (the train won’t run that frequently and having it run frequently would end up screwing up the ferry schedules). So you are basically counting on people to drive to the station, and often times that is driving the wrong direction. Then you have the fact that there is only one stop downtown. It may take longer for a bus to get downtown, but if you are headed to someplace like Westlake, I think it will almost always be faster to ride the bus. In general, there just aren’t that many people who want to ride that train. The buses aren’t that slow (even though they are slower than they should be) and they are simply more convenient overall.

      2. Mike’s comment is right on the money. Before trying to figure out what’s wrong with Sounder North we should double check whether there’s anything wrong with it at all. How big is the market for travel between the places it serves (broadly) during the hours it runs? How much of that market does Sounder capture? And how much of it does other transit capture? This sort of study would be necessary to determine the benefit of any improvements, anyway.

        I bet Sounder North isn’t outrageously bad at capturing its market — it’s just going after a small market.

      3. You could look at the number of buses hauling people from the very same places and count heads. Ask 417 riders why they don’t take the Sounder. I’d bet a lot of that is because CT doesn’t provide proper connections OR that taking a Metro bus after getting to the wrong end of Seattle takes too much time OR it’s unreliable in the winter. These are my reasons for not taking it. If I had a decent connection in Mukilteo and it was reliable I’d pay more to take it even if it took longer. Who wouldn’t?

      4. Downtown Edmonds and Everett are way more dense than downtown Lynnwood. That hopefully will change in the future.

    3. “The step before identifying corrective action is understanding why more people don’t use the service. Is it the lack of a north downtown stop? Inadequate parking? Mudslides?”

      I’d guess scheduling. Service is in the peak direction and time only, with four trains in fairly quick succession; and the last evening service leaves too early.

      Instead of the current:
      4 south in the morning
      4 north in the evening

      I wouid try:
      2 south in the morning
      1 south at midday
      1 south in the evening

      1 north in the morning
      1 north at midday
      1 north early evening
      1 north late evening

      With timetables coordinated with the ferries.

      But it would require agreement from BNSF.

      1. Sounder riders with monthly passes have the option of the Amtrak Rail Plus program.

        This at least gives them an option if they miss the last Sounder North train from Seattle. Albeit with a 1 and 1/4 hour gap.

        Into Seattle in the morning is a bit of a stretch, since it’s 2 nd 1/2 hours until Amtrak Cascades #513 rolls through.

        And Mukilteo riders are SOL.

      2. In the middle of the day the bus is very fast. I think you would get very few riders from Everett when the bus is faster, more frequent and goes to more places downtown. Most of the ridership comes from Everett so I think that train would be the least popular train of all of them.

      3. Oh, and how exactly are the timetables supposed to be coordinated with the ferries? Does the train wait at the station until the ferry arrives? If so, the trip from Everett take even longer. Is it supposed to arrive two minutes after the ferry docks, allowing passengers to get to the station? Sounds good, except now you’ve probably screw up the ferry schedule. The cars wait for the train, which means the ferry spends an extra five minutes at the dock. I just think it would be very difficult to time them, given the fact that they interfere with one another (at least they do at Edmonds, I’m not familiar with the Mukilteo landing).

      4. An evening train would be popular, especially on game night (Mariners, etc.) That might make sense (add a train for events). Even when there isn’t an event, traffic from Northgate to downtown is especially bad. But traffic from Everett to Northgate is not. So I’m not sure if you would gain that much over a bus.

        Meanwhile, you have even less frequency during the commute hours. I just don’t see it. If this doesn’t work as a commuter train (which is obviously what it is designed for) then I don’t see it working in other capacity.

        Personally, I would try swapping the earliest train with a later one. Getting to the Everett station at 5:45 seems really early to me. For most people that means leaving the house around 5:30. At that hour, you could probably drive to Lynnwood and catch a bus there (and get to work much faster). On the other hand, this does seem to end too early. If they ran a 7:45 train, that would get to downtown at 8:45. That is when the traffic is terrible on I-5, and this train starts to make sense.

      5. A train timetable coordinated with the ferries, almost by definition, means a train that blocks access to the ferries at precisely the time that all the cars are trying to get off at once. Even if Sound Transit wanted to do it, WSDOT would likely forbid it.

      6. Any seasoned ferry commuter knows to give themselves a cushion on meet times.

        Not every ferry departs exactly on schedule, and the walk off takes longer than the

      7. OK, here’s what I mean by coordinated with the ferries.

        Let’s first assume that nearly all the ferry population is living on the islands and working on the mainland, as opposed to the reverse.

        In the EVENING, the northbound train arrives 10 minutes (or whatever, however much time is needed to arrive before ferry loading starts) BEFORE the ferry is scheduled to depart. The ferry waits for a late train.

        In the MORNING, the southbound train comes through shortly AFTER the ferry arrives — long enough that all the pedestrians should be off — and waits for a late ferry. Ideally, you do block the car traffic at that point. But if WSDOT won’t accept that, then arrive after the “ferry rush hour” is over.

      8. Pedestrians and Cars cross the tracks at the same spot.
        The process for disembarking ferry walk-on passengers takes a bit longer than for the cars to start, but the cars take longer to completely unload (roughly 10 minutes).

        In Edmonds, it takes roughly 7 minutes to walk-off and get to the Sounder platform.

    4. >> It makes sense that this service is popular, even if it doesn’t manifest itself in ridership

      That sounds like a contradiction of sorts. The word popular, of course, can mean different things. It can mean that lots of people like it or it can mean that the people who like it, like it a lot. If very few people ride it, then by one definition, it isn’t very popular. It is possible that the people who ride it really like it. Maybe. Do you have polls to support that?

      As the author mentioned, this is a very expensive service. It has been around a while, and yet still doesn’t have that many riders. An express bus from my house to my work would be ridiculously popular with those that ride it, but also ridiculously expensive per rider. If it doesn’t pick up people, then we have much better projects we can spend on our money on (that would be popular in all senses of the word).

      1. Hey ross,

        In this sense I’d mean “popular” to say that there are probably lots of people who like that it’s there, without necessarily taking it that often. The votes it wins in Edmonds and Mukilteo may vastly exceed the seats on the trains.

        The basic political problem is that if Sounder works for you, it REALLY works for you, in a way that buses probably won’t.

        So there’s two ways to get out of this pickle. Tell those people that it’s just too bad, likely a PR disaster heading into a vote. Or, make it so it really works for more people. One costs a lot of popularity and one costs a lot of money

      2. I understood your meaning, but again, please show me the survey to confirm your theory. At best, you are simply citing anecdotal evidence. Speaking of which, here is a rider that occasionally takes it, but doesn’t exactly find that it REALLY works for him:

        Again, I have no doubt that there are people who love the train. If you live by the station, and work close to King Street, it is great. But you can say the exact same thing about bus routes. I used to work in Bellevue. I took a bus that I jokingly called my private bus (I think it was the 243). It ran within a couple blocks of my house (down 125th) over to Lake City, then went to the UW and then to downtown Bellevue. It was great. There is no way I could take any combination of buses that would be faster. In fact it, was much faster than driving (since 520 traffic can be terrible). But despite all that, it was killed. Despite the fact that it went from Lake City to the UW and Bellevue, it was eliminated. It simply didn’t have the ridership. Should it have been kept? Hell no!. Why keep a bus like that when the 41 is packed to the gills? There were other options, and all of the people that loved that bus eventually took other options. We didn’t turn around and hate Metro afterwards, either, because, well, we were all adults.

        The only huge savings of time for this trip are from Mukilteo and Edmonds. The crazy part is the ridership is even smaller there than in Everett. I’m just having trouble seeing how something is so damn popular that changing it would be dangerous politically even though not that many people ride it! That just doesn’t make sense.

        So, yes, it makes sense to kill it. Killing anything, like a restructure, is dangerous, politically. The thing is, not that many people ride it. From Everett you could run a few extra express buses (maybe run a few that don’t zig-zag back and forth) and then would make things a lot easier. What you lose in speed you gain in frequency (and half the time you don’t lose anything in speed). Add a few more buses for Mukilteo and Edmonds. These could actually be timed to the ferry (not leave until after people have had time to get from the ferry to the bus). Or you just make the tough political decision to provide the most benefit for the money — the greatest good for the most people. But if you are really afraid of powerful people being angry, you do this after the election. Just call for a study right now, and my guess is that the study will show that this really is a waste of money and should be eliminated.

      3. 100% agreement with RossB. It’s time for a study into the following alternatives:

        1) Status quo

        2) Repeal and replace with express buses from Mukilteo & Edmonds to Seattle and then to meet Link as Link goes North

        3) Roll the dice big whopping time and have more Sounder North service hours for a short time with a higher fare as a last ditch effort

      4. Absolutely, it’s in principle possible to have a popular bus. The point is that for those people, the bus alternatives simply aren’t going to be as good by many metrics.

        And to be clear, I’m not exactly defending North Sounder. It’s true that I take less offense than most people here to transit being a little too nice, but it’s certainly not something I would advocate in 1995 knowing what I know now.

    5. As an Edmonds resident responding to Martin’s question of why some of us don’t use the Sounder, it’s because 1.) it ends too early to/from and 2.) I have to add an extra 15-20 minutes of walking/busing to commute to/from King Street.

      I sometimes use the train when I have to be downtown early. I live within a 15 minute walk from the station. But if I have to start work later in the morning, the 301 is a much better option – even if it means driving 15 minutes to the park & ride.

      I’d say the number one reason why others don’t take the Sounder is because of it’s far away accessibility.

      1. That makes sense to me, and i guessed both. I think it would make sense to swap the earliest one for a later one. Certainly heading to Seattle, but even heading back (I would imagine the train that leaves at 4:05 downtown is reasonably popular, since traffic is heavy by then, so that call isn’t so easy).

        But the other problem is a big one. The buses are usually better for most trips (as slow as they may be at times). The thing is, the train really isn’t super fast — it isn’t fast enough to make up for the difference in locations served.

      2. So Reyes, how would you feel about Sounder North being replaced with the purchase of more service hours for express buses first to Seattle than when appropriate the nearest Link Station?

        Just a trial balloon.

      3. That schedule needs to be changed.

        Question: what direction is your 20 minutes of busing going? Is it readily replaceable by a Link ride?

  4. One problem that I see with the bus service is that Sounder North goes the same direction as the directional express lanes. From what I have seen, the worst traffic is in the reverse peak direction due to the lack of those express lanes.

    Everett Station is OK for bus traffic on and off I-5, but it really isn’t that great in terms of serving anything in Everett itself. To actually serve downtown Everett you would have to wind up with an expensive underground station in the tunnel to really get close to what needs to be done there, and then you are talking about really screwing up the bus traffic – and that can’t happen because the train service is too infrequent to really work as the primary mode of transportation.

    There is an awful lot of traffic misery that comes from the vast areas of sprawl north of Snohomish County. The existing Everett Station is close to I-5 and might make an OK park and ride lot, but it would need a parking garage. Maybe something directly above that vast acre of concrete that serves as bus platforms? It wouldn’t be that different than an underground station.

    It would be good if Sounder were a bit faster. The only way that is going to happen is different equipment. There’s lots of curves, and begs for lightweight tilting DMUs or the like. This would be illegal in the USA under current circumstances, but there have been waivers granted for CalTrain to use EMUs if they get positive train control signals. Since PTC signals are going to have to happen nationally anyway at some point, maybe such equipment could be used here to speed things up a bit.

    What can be done on a line with tight curves and light population around it, if European class equipment were allowed here?

    There’s a guy in Germany that created an interesting set of pages about doing something like this on the horribly curvy and difficult to work with route between southern Oregon and California. His material provides an interesting bit of information about what might be possible on Sounder North should different equipment be allowed:

    Among the various material that he has produced, perhaps the most relevant here might be the one titled “Why are Amtrak trains so slow?”

    In particular to our dear Republican friend, the page about Quality of Regulations may be interesting:

    1. Well my dear Portand friend, if it would be more cost-effective to use DMUs up north such as the WES Commuter Rail in your area and then just ship the Sounder North gear to the Southline to serve up to Olympia with a WSDOT subsidy – sure! Why not?!?

      I know some may suspect my motives in opposing Sounder North so let me say I’m not trying to stop transit… quite the opposite in fact.

      1. I’ve been told that South Florida / TriRail is trying to sell theirs.

        TriMet has options on a few of the Nipon Sharyo cars used on the airport line in Toronto, which are good for 90 mph. There’s some straight, flat track north of Everett that would be good to upgrade and really let them roll.

      2. Don’t buy the Tri-Rail cars. I used to work there. Won’t say more. Look into BEMU’s or something else. The Colorado Railcar versions of DMU that FDOT and Tri-Met bought were poorly engineered and constructed. I haven’t been on the ones in Portland, which may be better since Tri-Met took over production when CR was falling apart as a company…?

    2. FWIW, PTC wlll be installed nationwide by roughly 2018. It will be done in the Pacific Northwest before that, because BNSF is moving faster than many of the other railroads, and has made the lines in your area a priority.

    3. Glenn, in response to your comment regarding serving downtown Everett, ST did that when the 510/11/12 series first began. But due to low ridership, the downtown tails were cut and SWIFT made an excellent supplementation.

      1. The tails were cut due to the recession. There were protests to keep the tails, and ST realized that truncating them would hinder mobility in Everett and ridership, but it felt it couldn’t afford to.

    4. If BNSF gets PTC in the next couple years, what opportunities will that give Sounder and Cascades?

      1) How much speed gain could we get if we just replaced the Sounder trains with DMUs? What other factors would hinder them from reaching full speed? E.g., BNSF policies, undone track work, conflicts with freight schedules.

      2) ST has spent a lot of money on the existing trainsets which have several years of life left, so it won’t be eager to replace them all soon. Does that mean we can’t really benefit from it for a couple decades anyway?

      3) What other routes would this make cost-effective enough to reconsider them? E.g., Eastside north-south, Auburn – Maple Valley, Everett – Bellingham, Olympia. Are there any other places with track that could be considered?

      1. 2) North Sounder trainsets could be used on South Sounder. Platform extensions might be needed.

        3) An extension of North Sounder to Snohomish and Monroe could be another possibility.

      2. Extending to Marysville, and Stanwood would also be possible. (though those cities are outside the current ST taxing district. I’m not sure of the status of Snohomish and Monroe)

        I think the current Sounder North is a good case for the DMU. Worse comes to worse the equipment freed up could be rotated with the current Sounder South equipment to reduce wear and tear on the whole fleet.

        I’m not sure if any additional current or former rail routes would be viable with DMU equipment. The potential ridership isn’t impressive and improving roads to speed bus service likely would offer more bang for the buck.

        In addition I’m not sure adding PTC increases capacity any. Right now a Cascades train takes more “slots” than a freight due to the speed mismatch. If Sounder was faster due to an equipment change it would likely use more slots as well. (also PTC means Cascades can exceed 79 MPH if BNSF allows taking even more track space). Could someone familiar with the technology and railroad operating procedures comment?

        Remember the line from Tacoma to Everett has quite a lot of freight traffic which has been growing over time.

      3. The district ends at Everett – Mill Creek – Bothell – Woodinville – Redmond – Issaquah – Renton – Kent – Auburn – Bonney Lake – Orting – DuPont. So no Marysville, Snohomish, or Monroe.

  5. As of August Sounder North Ridership was up 18% year to date. That’s a significant jump. Hopefully the trend continues.

    Blocking events are down the last two years. Most interestingly, there were no blocking events in the 2 areas where WSDOT did mitigation work last year. Work on four more slide mitigation projects will be complete by the end of next month. So reliability should continue to improve.

    At the same time I-5 congestion is only increasing, including for buses.

    1. Yay for increased ridership, but 18% increase is still only 730 people. That’s really disappointing given the cost of this service to run. Also, if mudslides were the problem, wouldn’t summer ridership be amazingly high?

      1. We are really focused on landslides and other mainland reasons for the low ridership but what about island and peninsula reasons? For example say parking at the terminals in particular Kingston and Clinton, or transit connections/service. Unfortunately those areas are not in the SoundTransit district so WSDOT or another agency would have to do it.

        Work there might boost Sounder Ridership and it would have utility for commuters even if it was removed and switched to buses later. Case in point my family owns a beach place on Whidbey Island once I have kids I was thinking I might spend time there during the summer teleworking and commute into the city on Sounder a few times a week when needed but I know the parking situation can be bad there (not like Bellevue/Mercer Island PR bad but bad) and will likely only get worse.

        None the less I am curious to see if anything changes once the Mukilteo terminal rebuild is finished.

      2. Well put Jason. It’s time for the gagaism to stop and time to get to dollars & sense. If there is such a thing as don’t interrupt an enemy while making a mistake, then there certainly is such a thing as interrupt a friend from throwing good money after bad.

      3. Hehe. Yep Island Transit is still there. ;-) Our particular area of the island lacks service and even then I’d have to take a 2.5 mile walk with 3 major hills to the nearest stop. While I’d love the exercise in the daytime hours it’s also a road I wouldn’t want to be on after dark unless it was in the Iron Man suit. Although if I added a kayak to my commute I could eliminate the hills and most of the on-road time.

        Off of the main highway and away from the towns Island Transit’s service is pretty limited and there are not many parking areas on the South end. I can’t speak to the North end obviously. Honestly you could likely leave your car almost anywhere on the island a few times a week and no one would care, or you could go up to the highway to one of the PRs. In my case by doing that I’ve gone 75% of the way to the Clinton dock.

  6. I’ve voiced my opinion before many times. In fact, so many I wanted to let others respond first.

    I’m of the firm view that service hour dollars need to be used fairly and equitably. We cannot be in this throwmoremoneyatit mentality indefinitely, especially when value-for-money is what wins over swing votes for transit funding packages. Furthermore, Sounder North could be used against us transit advocates in near future funding fights like ST3 passage, seeking more Amtrak Cascades funding from the state, etcetera.

    At some point we have to be cost-effective. If that means more buses and special bus right-of-way lanes, okay. Sounds like a plan.

    I’m also of the firm view if the slide stabilization does not work, we have a safety issue. My view on this is softening.

    1. The problem is it’s hard to count the number of people who would vote no due to Sounder North’s inefficiency vs the number of people who would vote no if Sounder North were cancelled, so predictions that one will definitely outweigh the other don’t sound very credible. If the Board cancels Sounder North it will be for its own reasons or because more people in Snoho tell it they don’t want it. Plus the further you get away from Pugetopolis, the less people know it exists or care whether it runs or not. And “we” don’t seek Cascades funding from the state, we ask the state to run Cascades more or improve the tracks. The state won’t base its decision on what Sounder North does or doesn’t do; that’s like saying the Sonics would base a decision on what a community college soccer team does.

      1. They’ll vote on a whim but I have a hard time believing Sounder would be a factor. If they do think about it they’d just say, “We can do better than ST.”

  7. There’s another big alternative to Sounder coming in the next 8 years – Link to Lynnwood. As bad as Sounder looks today, once the Lynnwood Link extension opens, it’s going to look even worse. During peak hours, Link is expected to run 4 car trains every 5 minutes, with stops everywhere in downtown, not just King St. Station. Link will avoid all the traffic problems that plague the buses today. Even with a few more stops along the way, taking a bus to Link will still be pretty reliably faster than Sounder for people from Everett, and feature comparable total travel times from those originating from Edmonds or Mulkilteo (*).

    As bad as Sounder looks today, there become absolutely no rational reason to keep it running post 2023. Almost anything ST could do for Snohomish County – including even extending Link to Everett – would be more cost-effective than operating north Sounder indefinitely alongside Link.

    (*) This assumes a non-stop bus taking a direct route, not the Community Transit routes we have today that stop every 1/4 mile and are full of circuitous detours. If north Sounder were eliminated, the cost would easily pay for at enough express buses to not only replace the current Sounder schedule, but offer additional span and frequency as well.

    1. Lynnwood Link will be a serious competitor to Sounder North. After looking at the travel times, I don’t think there’s *any* substitute for Sounder North until Lynnwood Link opens — cars are much too slow compared to Sounder.

      1. It will complement it. There will be no reason to run an express bus to downtown from the north end. The buses will connect to the light rail line. Nathanael is right, ST Express + Lynnwood Link will pretty much kill the popularity of Sounder North. Faster, more frequent, more reliable and with more useful stops on the way.

      2. ST and CT have said they’ll delete the express buses south of Lynnwood. There was some question about CT because it’s running parallel service now which it protected in the cuts and then bought double-talls, but it came down on the side of truncation at least a year ago.

    2. For more explanation:

      Once Lynnwood Link opens, the Link terminus will be at the Lynnwood Transit Center, more or less.
      * Express buses from Everett can run straight down I-5. It looks from Google like they will only hit congestion in the last mile before Lynnwood Transit Center.
      * Express buses from Mulkiteo can run down 525, and again will only hit congestion in the last two miles.
      * Express buses from Edmonds can follow 524, and shouldn’t hit any congestion.

      Before Lynnwood Link opens, I can’t find any way to design a bus route which doesn’t slog through miles and miles of congestion.

      1. I was thinking use the existing express bus routes but have the one from downtown Edmonds terminate at 185th and the Park & Ride at Mountlake Terrace stations. Not sure what frequencies to operate given it would take about 4 minute less time to reach 185th via 104 versus the current routing of some of the routes. I would also be looking at what routes to increase frequency on to make a bit of an FTN to Link.

      2. Even if the current HOV lanes were converted to HOV 3+ there is the problem of congestion between Northgate and Downtown. Also the lack of contra-flow HOV means buses traveling in the opposite direction of peak travel get delayed which can delay peak direction trips. Even with an HOV lane change truncating the buses offers much more reliable service with little to no time penalty over current express service. In addition truncation offers the ability to save ST Express and CT commuter service hours to be deployed elsewhere.

        If Link goes all the way to Everett in ST3 as long as the SR99 or I-5 route is chosen Link is still very competitive during peak with ST Express and CT commuter buses. (the Paine Field diversion is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish).

    3. As to;

      As bad as Sounder looks today, there become absolutely no rational reason to keep it running post 2023. Almost anything ST could do for Snohomish County – including even extending Link to Everett – would be more cost-effective than operating north Sounder indefinitely alongside Link.


      I will gladly do without transit boutique services if we improve transit outcomes.

      1. These communities have had passenger rail service for 120 years. In some form, it will continue until the ocean is higher than the tracks. That said, there may be a good case to reallocate the 4 slots toward a broader state service after 2023.

        Arguing to kill Sounder North now is wasting breath. Serious efforts to be more fiscally responsible should focus on improving it to attract more riders. That means adding some cheap origin and destination stations, adding density near stations, creating good connective transit, through routing, adding trips, and eventually extending as part of a broader state plan. Also, including the communities that benefit on the other side of the Sound in paying for its’ cost.

  8. The “buy a new car” comparison is frankly STUPID, and it’s beneath you. Get rid of it, remove it, rewrite the article and apologize for making the stupid comparison.

    The reason it’s stupid is, of course, that those cars would be *stuck in traffic*. As you quite clearly illustrate with your chart of train vs. bus times.

    Most of the people riding Sounder North probably already own new cars, too, if I’m correct about the demographics — it’s pretty upscale. They’d sell the extra car for cash.

    They’re taking Sounder North because it’s faster than driving. Much faster, according to your chart.

    Perhaps a better comparison would be the cost of building & maintaining bus-only lanes down I-5.

    1. I agree I’d like to see the cost of making a few lanes down I-5 bus-only lanes but still this piece is rather good. I think you just don’t like the fact Sound Transit is doing something absolutely unsound – throwing good money after bad when other options can be explored.

      In my view and I think I’m right: Criticizing Sound Transit to get more service hours per buck is inherently pro-transit.

    2. To create exclusive bus-only lanes, with the control that gives buses the same performance and frequency in the I-5 corridor, you are essentially building “Lynwood Link” without the catenary and rails.

      That’s the beauty of Bus Rapid Transit, you can define it for whatever argument you are trying to make.

      I wouldn’t have voted for ST2, or won’t for ST3 if there aren’t enough capital improvements for a rail system.

      I’m not looking for a “Better Bus System”.

      1. Jim, a better bus system from Lynnwood Link to Everett Station with a spur to Mukilteo might be more cost-effective and produce almost if not the same travel times as Sounder North without the outrageous subsidy.

        The subsidy can go back into more transit more often more places.

      2. And I believe my taxes are better served with long term infrastructure improvements – Rail (preferably away from a freeway alignment).

        If ST3 consists of predominately bus improvements, then I won’t be voting for it.
        I would, however vote for local (in-county CT) improvements.

      3. To create exclusive bus-only lanes, with the control that gives buses the same performance and frequency in the I-5 corridor, you are essentially building “Lynwood Link” without the catenary and rails.,

        No, you are simply changing a “2” to a “3”. Seriously, change the HOV lanes from HOV2 to HOV3 and suddenly the train seems slow — very slow. Because it is. A trip from Everett to Seattle taking an hour is pretty damn slow in my book. It does make additional stops, but obviously those stops aren’t very popular. Neither is the stop downtown, because it is only one stop.

        Simply focusing on light rail infrastructure development — simply believing that it will solve all of your problems is hopeless naive. There is no way in hell that Seattle will have a subway system like New York, and even New York has obvious flaws. It simply isn’t that fast to get from anywhere to anywhere. To think that spending billions on light rail will automatically get us a better system is silly.

        To get a successful system, you need a combination of buses, trains and to a lesser extent cars and bikes (which feed into the system via bike lockers and parking lots). It makes sense to leverage the existing infrastructure, such as freeways and existing roads (that the buses run on). Pay attention to frequency, it makes a huge difference. Not just on a single line (like the train) either, but on the buses as well. Consider the entire trip, end to end. A fast trip from Everett to Seattle is meaningless if you spend the next half hour waiting for a bus to take you to your destination.

        In short, assuming that a light rail investment is the best investment for Snohomish County is to be really ignorant of how successful transit systems work. It probably isn’t even the best infrastructure investment, let alone the best way to spend money. The best way to spend money is probably to spend it on higher bus frequency, so that people can actually get to the Lynnwood station (and take the train). That might justify higher frequency on the train. If you get enough feeder buses to serve Lynnwood, then the sorts of headways you suggest (4 minutes) might actually happen (without it costing Link an arm and a leg). If the train goes farther north, not only would it cost more, but ridership per operating hour would likely go up, meaning that you could easily see less frequency.

        But even if you want to spend the money on infrastructure, then it may mean that little things — like new bus only lanes on streets around freeways or additional ramps — will likely be a better value.

        North Link is already way past the point of diminishing returns. Light rail lines aren’t like freeways. This is a common misconception. A subway line works best for relatively short distances, where each destination is popular, and alternatives to those destinations take significantly longer. Extending Link further north fails on all those counts.

        South of Shoreline, the stations are all reasonably popular destination. This means various trips along the way will be popular. Northgate to the UW will be very popular. The UW to Capitol Hill will be very popular. The short distances and popular stops mean that it simply makes more sense than express buses, especially since express buses can’t possibly serve all the popular stops (otherwise they aren’t express). So someone from Northgate, for example, may very well miss the old 41, since it does provide a very fast ride to downtown. But that rider won’t lose a huge amount of time because it really isn’t that far from Northgate to downtown. The relatively slow speed of light rail (when you count the stops) won’t matter that much. Meanwhile, huge numbers of people will take other trips (to Roosevelt, UW and Capitol Hill).

        Now consider the Everett rider. It sounds like almost the exact situation. Except that the express bus is likely much faster than the train, even today. The worst traffic is close to downtown, and in the evening, you don’t even have HOV lanes (since the express lanes switch). Meanwhile, there is very little interest in any of the stops along the way. It is a different usage pattern. It just makes sense to run a bunch of buses from various neighborhoods to Lynnwood. Once they get on the freeway, they will probably operate as express buses. Those that do want to get from one Snohomish County destination to another will take advantage of other bus routes (like Swift) or transfer in Lynnwood.

        How best to make that work isn’t obvious, but what is obvious is that simply extending light rail farther north is probably not the best value.

      4. Ross, when you talk about trains, could you be specific if you are referring to Sounder vs Link, please? Thanks !
        The documentation I’m looking at from ST has Link and ST Express performing almost exactly the same. 1 hour from Everett to downtown Seattle according to the schedule for ST 512.(28 minutes proposed for Lynnwood Link, vs ~ 30 minutes for ST 512).

        I’ll have to reply later to some of the points in your post.

      5. Well, both are relatively slow. Light rail is slow because it makes a lot of stops. Sounder is slow because it curves around a lot. This is most unfortunate, and explains (in part) why our train isn’t as popular as a lot of commuter rail lines. A lot of other cities are relatively flat, and the towns followed the rail lines. Our city is very hilly, necessitating round about routes, with relatively less important stops along the way.

        But for the most part, when I talked about why it will probably be pointless to extend light rail beyond Lynnwood, I am talking about Link.

      6. “The documentation I’m looking at from ST has Link and ST Express performing almost exactly the same. 1 hour from Everett to downtown Seattle according to the schedule for ST 512.(28 minutes proposed for Lynnwood Link, vs ~ 30 minutes for ST 512).”

        But driving a car is twice as fast: 15 minutes to Lynnwood, 30 minutes to Everett when there’s no traffic. That’s why people are mad at Link and Sounder and ST Express: why does it take twice as long as driving? For Sounder it’s because the track detours out of the way. For ST Express it seems to be the way the bus meanders to and from freeway exits. For Link it’s the lower speed limit and a dozen stations.

      7. No, you are simply changing a “2” to a “3”.

        Ross, you’re framing that solution in the ‘wave a magic wand, and the change happens’ category.
        The only example we can look to now is what has happened in the I-405 corridor. The HOV lane performance deteriorated so badly between Totem Lake and Bellevue that they were indistinguishable from the regular lanes before things started changing. Plus that ‘upgrade’ is only happening in the context of the overall widening of the roadway. Even that solution (coupling HOV/BRT upgrades to a road widening project) is near impossible in the I-5 corridor from Northgate to downtown.

        Simply focusing on light rail infrastructure development — simply believing that it will solve all of your problems is hopeless naive. There is no way in hell that Seattle will have a subway system like New York, and even New York has obvious flaws. It simply isn’t that fast to get from anywhere to anywhere. To think that spending billions on light rail will automatically get us a better system is silly.

        Unfortunately when I look forward to your reasoned analysis, as you did with your argument for BRT to West Seattle, you gloss over the $ amounts it takes to bring the performance of BRT to that of LRT in its exclusive ROW.

        What are the costs associated with 1) making it politically acceptable to change HOV2+ to HOV3+ (as in the I-405 solution), 2) Freeway stops that don’t require BRT to mix with traffic (Mountlake Terrace P&R Freeway style stations), and 3) Any exclusive running of BRT from Northgate south to downtown?

        For instance, when I fleshed out the numbers for BRT in the West Seattle discussion (which I saw as a little bit higher than yours), I could see the argument of the West Seattle residents that for a little more, LRT would be worth the little extra expense (from their point of view, obviously).

        It makes sense to leverage the existing infrastructure, such as freeways and existing roads (that the buses run on).

        Define ‘leverage’. Does that mean – mask the improvements to existing roads via BAT lanes, so that using road monies gets you the incremental increases to transit?

        Many might like the idea of that style of improvement, but when I look at Aurora Avenue, which has morphed into 7-8 lane wide (2 SOV, 1 BAT, 1 turn (2 at major intersections) boulevards, I see Los Angeles.

        In short, …

        In short, for any increase in overall transit performance, BOTH Commuter and Local… that is, (even in NYC, there are Local and Express trains in the same corridor) you see a solution that will be road based, and over the same time will cost the same to build as LRT would have from the beginning.

        I contend that LRT investment now will be cheaper in that same time period, and …

        The pressure to widen roadways into Pedestrian Deserts, still catering to the auto dominated business, will be the extravagant expense. I prefer small scale walkable environments.

    3. The cost comparison to a new car is not meant to be a substitute. It is simply meant to point out the cost of this program. Cars are expensive (especially new ones). Perhaps you would prefer “Buy a new smart phone, laptop, washer and dryer, dishwasher, refrigerator, kayak, guitar (both acoustic and electric)”. The point is, it is a lot of money for very little.

    4. There are plenty of other people stuck in far worse traffic. There are people who are simply “stuck” because the buses don’t run often enough, or, like this train, don’t connect will enough with other transit. To say that something is justified simply because people taking a very long trip averaging a speed that they consider slow is nonsense. They average this slow speed only for short periods of the day, and even then, they average speeds that most people in the city only dream. To say that this train is justified when not many people are willing to take it shows that it really doesn’t work that well (and that buses, despite all their flaws, work better). You are only taking one very small section and saying “see — look how much faster it is — it is obviously better” when people have voted with their butts, and said otherwise.

      Read some of the previous comments and see why this train isn’t more popular. Now ask yourself how the train can solve that problem. The simple answer it can’t. It can’t serve Lynnwood. It can’t serve the UW. It can’t serve all of downtown the way a bus or light rail in the tunnel (or even moving through surface streets) can. It can’t run that often, either.

      I can’t help but think that you are basing your attitude on traffic, (let alone speed) which is a silly and meaningless metric. Traffic only means that lots of people are traveling along that particular road. Nothing more, nothing less. It reflects the way in which people drive, not necessarily where people are going. People go along freeways because, despite the traffic, it is the fastest way to get there. But it isn’t the shortest route. It is meaningless.

      Here is a counter example: In Seattle, to get from the end of Perkins Lane to 37th and McGilvra, it takes over a half hour ( This is horribly slow (about 20 miles per hour). That is slower, per mile, than that Everett to Seattle bus ride. But it is worse than that. As the crow flies, that is less than six miles! Without traffic, that trip averages 12 MPH! Imagine what it must be like with heavy traffic. So, obviously, we should build a light rail line to solve the problem.

      That would be ridiculous. Not that many people are trying to get from that one spot to the other spot. Of course, if you built it, people along the way might gravitate towards it, just like they have with this system. But they haven’t! That is the whole point. Not that many people ride the train, because it just isn’t good enough ( It doesn’t connect well, and it just isn’t fast enough to make up for its other shortcomings.

      1. Your Seattle example is simply incorrect. The correct analogy is not building a light rail line, but a line that already exists.

      2. I’ve read your two sentences several times and I really have no idea what you mean. How is my example incorrect, and what exactly do you mean by a “line that already exists”?

      3. You made an example of Perkins and McGilvra, and said:

        So, obviously, we should build a light rail line to solve the problem.

        I think it would be pretty unreasonable in that case, or in the case of North Sounder, to advocate for significant capital investment to get the current ridership. But the capital cost is sunk, and while the subsidy is high in per-seat terms it’s small in absolute terms.

      4. Given the situation with the Sounder North agreement, instead of the drumbeat to kill a transit alternative, it’s more productive to look for the simple, lower cost improvements.

        $16 Million for mudslide mitigation is small potatoes in the transportation spending environment.

        Edmonds and Mukilteo given their support of Sounder North have the obligation to upzone station areas.

        CT should stop running routes 416 and 417 where they compete with the Sounder station walksheds. They should instead run circulator routes that reliably deliver passengers to Sounder.

        CT’s routes to downtown Seattle is an inefficient vestige of the days when CT and Metro wouldn’t even talk to each other. And… I’ll argue that other routes compete with ST Express.

        CT routes in King County cannot pick up and discharge passengers outside of Downtown proper.

        ST needs to build the Bell St. station. The Mountlake Terrace freeway flyer-stop would be a good example, those are roughly $60-$80 million. This should be the one Sounder North project included in ST3.

      5. “CT’s routes to downtown Seattle is an inefficient vestige of the days when CT and Metro wouldn’t even talk to each other.”

        They were Metro routes in the 80s, then CT took them over. They don’t overlap with other Metro routes so I don’t see how you can say the agencies aren’t talking to each other. They are merely longer-distance expresses, the way the 301 is longer than 41, which is longer than the 76, which is longer than the 71.

        I don’t know why CT runs them in parallel with ST, but realistically if they did just shuttle to ST routes, then ST would have to run that many more buses anyway, and they would be an ST expense rather than a CT expense.

  9. One problem I see, since I’m most familiar with Edmonds, and from reading the tea leaves of local politics is the “Don’t screw up my million dollar view” attitude driving the decision process, especially when it comes to up-zoning in the station area.

    The Port of Edmonds finally withdrew it’s proposal for theHarbor Square development due to the height restriction issue.

    Maybe that’s what is needed.

    If a community insists on a Rail Station, then there needs to be a “low-density surcharge” on vehicle registration fees until supporting walkable density is acheived within a reasonable walkshed.

    1. As to;

      If a community insists on a Rail Station, then there needs to be a “low-density surcharge” on vehicle registration fees until supporting walkable density is acheived within a reasonable walkshed.

      I’d love to see that sic’d on Stanwood and a few other Amtrak Cascades stops as well.

      Mukilteo? We’ll see…. I know Mayor Gregorsen wants to improve her walkshed.

  10. Another pressure on use of the Everett-Seattle line is that it’s BNSF’s busiest stretch in the region. All freight to and from Vancouver, eastern Canada and half or more of freight to and from points east over Stevens Pass goes through Edmonds and Mukilteo. That’s more than what heads south or over Stampede. Trains of over a mile in length are formed in Seattle to move east, and trains of that same length arrive here, to say nothing of the fuselage and other parts loads arriving for Boeing Everett that also pass through. It’s not a line that’s empty and open to lots of extra passenger trains.

    The rail line north has to be shared and even valued as a critical piece of the competitiveness of Puget Sound as an efficient port. The jobs that BNSF and the Port provide are high-wage jobs that power the region. Please don’t trash the railroad for limiting passenger service when, like our busy highways in this very hilly region, there are so few tracks in and out of town.

    1. Did BNSF ever finish double-tracking the corridor? ST paid a lot of money to ensure there would be sufficient capacity for the passenger trains. If they want to run more trains, they’ll need to pay again.

      1. Good question. I don’t know if the double-tracking is complete.

        I often contemplate the cost of adding another track to a major rail corridor vs. expanded highway construction. Expanded rail has got to be cheaper. But who pays?

        But to really free up squeezeplays in urban and rural rail corridors (and there are a lot of them, easily seen on national maps, like between Spokane and Sandpoint), there is a very socialist solution: nationalize the roadbeds. Then the Maintenance of Way Union that often does such swift work to restore and modernize roadbeds might want to break off its division from the Teamsters to be a union of government workers. That’s a nice pipe dream, huh?

      2. When Sound Transit entered the agreement with BNSF, they paid for the ‘capacity’ on the North line.

        What BNSF did with the money to create the capacity was up to them.

        They could just as well have used the money to upgrade Stampede Pass, and create ‘capacity’ on the Scenic subdivision by routing trains that way instead of over Stevens Pass.

        Regardless, BNSF has lived up to the agreement of the 4 Sounder round trips per day.
        That won’t change.

        Why and when it gets double tracked now most likely has to do with freight traffic.
        More coal and oil trains are coming through, but there is less intermodal, so they haven’t needed it yet.

        There has been a lot of prep work on the roadbed, so when the BNSF bigwigs decide it’s time, then it probably wouldn’t take them that long to put the tracks down.

        It would be the crossing gates and modifications to the station building that would be the sticky parts.

      3. Single track still from MP 16 (1 mile south of the dog park), up to MP18, just north of Main St. in Edmonds.

    2. I don’t know why BNSF allowed the Eastside rail line to be severed. If they had left it intact, they’d have an alternative.

  11. Does anyone know if there’s a copy of the agreement with ST/BNSF on-line?
    I’d start ‘fixing’ it within the context of what is possible. If it is in perpetuity for those 4 round trip time slots, then that’s a golden goose. I would never give them up without getting my 1/4 Bil upfront cost back, plus interest. If they expire in 20 years (they’re now 20 years old), then they’re a liability, not an asset. Hell, I’d sooner run a Trackmobile ™ back and forth with one passenger than abandon the rights to the ROW.
    Next, I’d figure out what is likely to happen when LTC opens, and start figuring out how Mukilteo and Edmonds riders can get a quality ride each day, without expensive Sounder trains. Keep in mind that half of Sounder riders come off ferry boats at those stations, and pay ZERO towards the subsidy in the way of taxes to the district. Pay to Play, or shut the fuck up about losing your train ride.
    Lastly, I’d start investing in BRT corridor improvements between those Sounder cities and LTC to phase out Sounder over the next 10 years, keeping within the spirit of current state law that REQUIRES Sounder N. to be cost competitive with competing bus and HCT service along the corridor – however you define that.
    It boils down to what time is worth to those 400 riders each day, and what time is worth to 1/2m taxpayers in Snoho to highly subsidize their trip to work each day.
    So far, the only group making out on this line is the BNSF and Uncle Warren.

      1. Why in the world would you raise fares on a service with anemic ridership? More riders would improve the cost per boarding. Fewer riders would have the opposite effect.

      2. aw,

        aaaaaaawwwwwwwwwww, to cut the subsidy per rider.

        I agree with, “Keep in mind that half of Sounder riders come off ferry boats at those stations, and pay ZERO towards the subsidy in the way of taxes to the district. Pay to Play, or shut the fuck up about losing your train ride.”

        Oh and get a better handle than aw buddy :-).

    1. “I’d start investing in BRT corridor improvements between those Sounder cities and LTC”

      That would be Swift 3 from Edmonds if CT’s proposition passes. Mukilteo would be more difficult since they still haven’t figured out how it would integrate with Swift 2, and Swift 2 wouldn’t go to Lynnwood.

    2. For Mukilteo, remember that nobody lives at the station or beyond it. Downtown Mukilteo is this side of it and is very small. Most of the population lives in the outskirts which is even closer. So the solution might be a P&R at the Seagate Transit Center with an express bus to Lynnwood.

      1. Indeed Mike. Pre-2019 right now there’s a walk between the Mukilteo local route that feeds the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal and the Mukilteo Sounder Station. After that, the new Multimodal Terminal should help feed the Sounder – if there is a Sounder.

        It’s a huge problem I agree with no easy solutions. The current Mukilteo Mayor is on record as not wanting to change or repeal Sounder North. On the other hand, it seems to me King County Exec Dow Constantine and quite a few of us transit advocates have our concerns.

      2. Those that share transit advocate’s concerns should be behind tolling all the major freeways if SOV drivers are looking for a faster commute, not pitting one transit need against another.

        That would change the complexion of the commute (as it has started doing on 405).

        Right now, state officials are patting themselves on the back for raising the gas tax on the rest of us to fund highway capacity increases, which will just work to the keep transit mode share at its current level.

      3. “So the solution might be a P&R at the Seagate Transit Center with an express bus to Lynnwood.”

        That’s great for people driving to the station from Mukilteo, but you still have to have some sort of a transit solution to connect with the Mukilteo ferry and the Island Transit buses on the other side. Perhaps the express bus could make begin at the ferry, then stop at the P&R, then continue on, nonstop to Lynnwood.

      4. As to;

        Right now, state officials are patting themselves on the back for raising the gas tax on the rest of us to fund highway capacity increases, which will just work to the keep transit mode share at its current level.

        Well thanks to you know who going back on her referendum clause desire to this mess………………. make sure you vote Repealed on Advisory Vote No. 12 because we should have had a genuine vote on this massive NONSENSICAL highway expansion so the WEA could get $500 mil in Sound Transit subsidy as a cynical Republican gotcha & the WSDOT could get its sales tax exemption so Republicans could go on Freedom Daily and say without the necessary qualification how they got WSDOT exempted from sales tax.

        This is totally dirtbag lowball that torques me off. As we have had issues with the STB Comment Policy, I’m going to stop right there as my fumigation isn’t going to help anybody.

    3. “Keep in mind that half of Sounder riders come off ferry boats at those stations, and pay ZERO towards the subsidy in the way of taxes to the district. Pay to Play, or shut the fuck up about losing your train ride.”

      Are the elected officials on the Kitsap Peninsula or Whidbey Island complaining about losing the train? –

      Although, that’s a good point – how do you add a surcharge to the commuter that uses both, without affecting the fares of those who are in the taxing districts. (Which goes for WSF, CT, and Sounder fares).

      Not having an employer subsidized pass, I don’t know how much is subsidized, and is there a formula based on where you live? (Basically, a lower subsidy if you commute from outside a given public transit district)

      1. All the more reason to cut the per-rider subsidy. Which Jim & Al is the real problem. The emotional attachment to choo-choo is leaving vital places – e.g. Future of Flight – without even basic transit service. Also we could use the subsidy to create better bus services to feed the light rail spine.

      2. CT should be tasked with better bus service to the higher capacity rail systems, not running competitive express bus service, and if you check their scheduling at Mukilteo and Edmonds, you see that they are competing with Sounder.

      3. So I must ask, how many people do really connect from Edmonds and Mukilteo?

        Also would you rather have these people take their cars into downtown Seattle instead versus using the bus?

        Are you also going to make the point that out of state tourists that come to SeaTac should pay a higher rate on Link because they aren’t in the taxing district? Cause that would tip the scales from riding transit to driving a car suddenly. Many of us who would take the Airporter over or drive on I-5 now simply leave the car at home which reduces VMTs on the system and probably did help a smidge on capacity.

        We can talk about equity but then when someone who lives outside a particular county rides a transit system, should they pay a different rate than someone who lives in that county and pays more sales tax than someone who lives outside the area?

        There is a free rider problem with all infrastructure regardless of public transit or not but in one way or another, we subsidize each other’s commutes no matter what way you slice it or dice it.

      4. Your right Daniel, no taxation system is equitable and there will always be winners and losers as you describe. My gripe is when ST goes out of its way to offer service ‘targeted’ to groups that will use the service daily, but live far outside of the taxing district. Sounder North hugs the shoreline feeding ferry commuters into Seattle. Routes from Olympia or Gig Harbor would be fine too, if those few riders paid the full cost of the bus hours allocated beyond the last stop within the ST district, but get off with a token fare, falling way short of the full cost.
        Should ST begin running service to Bellingham, or Moses Lake and charge a three zone fare?

      5. mic,

        I would say you have a legitimate point there and PT should realistically be providing the direct bus service under the ST banner rather than ST itself. I don’t think ST is in the position of running intercity bus service nor should it be.

        Connecting services to ST should be done by the local transit agencies realistically and coordination is critical for those. Lynnwood Link will be a game change and I am hoping CT will restructure with about 5-6 commuter routes and add frequency to existing routes for connections to Link.

      6. “My gripe is when ST goes out of its way to offer service ‘targeted’ to groups that will use the service daily, but live far outside of the taxing district.”

        Does it? My understanding is that Sounder exists for the benefit of the Snoho subarea, although for practicality’s sake the stations are sized for the inevitable out-of-area ridership. That’s not “targeting” outsiders or diverting Snoho’s precious resources to them. Mukilteo and Edmonds may also be mindful of the additional cars that would come through their downtown if Sounder weren’t there and STEX were too slow to be an alternative. (Although that may be moot if the ferries are at car capacity anyway, if they can’t fit any more cars.)

  12. “This is in contrast with Everett to Seattle, where buses usually move reasonably well in the HOV lanes, and would move a lot faster if they HOV lanes were HOV 3+.”

    They would move even faster if buses had their own lanes like they do in other cities and didn’t have to share lanes with carpoolers.

  13. Jason’s trip times compare apples to apples, but something is rotten here. Most Sounder riders get off the train at KSS and head north via foot, bus or Link to get to work. CT routes pass those same points getting to their first stop on the south end of the CBD, before starting the slog north on surface streets.
    How would the trip times compare if both origin and destinations of the whole commute look when optimized? Very competitive if the buses escaped the express lanes sooner, maybe even into SLU/Denny first, then slog down to KSS.
    Aside from the ferry riders (who I little sympathy for as free-loaders), where are all the rest of the Sounder riders coming from? Maybe intercepting them near Aurora shaves more minutes off the ‘Total Trip Time’.

      1. I wasn’t being critical of the article which is well written and has prompted many suggestions. CT and Sounder N should be focused on the ‘sweet-spot’ of where riders originate from and where their destination is. Tailor the service around that set of points, optimize the travel time with targeted investments and ridership will rise, while subsidy falls.

    1. Yep, which explains why this isn’t that popular. There are a lot of comments saying the same thing. So far, the only person who has ever taken the train or would consider taking it said the same thing, It just isn’t that practical for an end to end trip. Running later at night might help a bit, but not that much. It really only works well for the ferry riders, but because timing a ferry trip and a train trip isn’t that easy, it doesn’t work that well either there. So, basically, with all its flaws, the bus isn’t that bad in comparison. Makes sense to me. The train really isn’t that fast. Areas that have really fast commuter rail are areas that are flat and grew up around the trains. We aren’t and we didn’t.

    2. mic, I normally from Skagit use Sounder North as, “It’s already there and schedule reliability is better than buses when the slopes aren’t wet right now.” So I guess maybe I’m just as much a part of the problem as ferry riders. That’s why I support a higher fare or a better alternative.

    3. Ferry riders being free loaders? *cough cough* and which routes pay nearly 100% of operations costs? *cough* WSF probably has a better farebox recovery than CT and ST.

      I could understand the ST taxing district and us taking advantage of what the city has to offer but don’t tourists do the same thing with light rail? Anyone who lives outside the ST district and then uses ST services could be considered a “free loader” just as much as anyone who decides to use transit in any county because sales taxes pay for those services.

      The fact is, everyone is a free loader in some respect or another and to make reparations for those would probably cost ridership somewhere.

      1. The ferry/Sounder users are freeloaders if they don’t pay their fare and they never buy something in the district that has sales tax on it.

      2. aw, you are making the assumption people do not pay a fare.

        Yet do I expect you if you drive in Kitsap County to pay for roads that are county owned? No
        We pay those via property tax just like transit can be paid via property tax there.

        There will always be a free rider problem and it becomes the accepted practice that there always will be a free rider problem. However, if that means people who come from this side of the water take advantage of those services, it is better than having more cars on the road. At the same time, I do not expect to be subsidized by certain decisions.

        If we look at Link to the airport for example, that better served residents over here given we can now use the ferry and light rail to get to the Airport. At the same time, I think I would have rather spent money on Northgate-Stadium as the IOS, then add Overlake, north to Lynnwood before heading to the Airport with an overhead catenary Metro with no grade crossings. That ship unfortunately sailed and ST is continuing its low cost low quality bus to LRT conversion throughout the corridors.

        Free riders as I stated in any transportation system will always be an issue. Do you just accept it because it will happen wherever you go or do you do something about it? Because administratively, that could become costly.

    4. Tourists spend money and improve the economy. Good transit does not just have the practical effect of getting tourists around and discouraging them from driving, it attracts more tourists as they read about the transit in their guidebooks.

      As for commuters from the islands, we don’t have to provide them a train. But at the same time, they’re not bad freeloaders if they use the train that exists. The train is supposed to be public transit, and they’re part of the public that’s being transited. It would be more of an issue if ST wants to cancel Sounder North and the islands protest, but that’s the point where the islands should kick in funding if they want to keep it running. Sounder exists because Snohomish County wants it, not because they need to keep it for the islands.

  14. One thing I think would increase ridership is eliminate some of the deadheading buses.

    Community Transit runs express buses to Edmonds and Mukilteo, but they are only in service going one direction.

    So, make those buses do something useful while headed towards the station. That would give an additional feed for the stations.

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