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?