Today is the last day you can take the survey on Sound Transit’s proposed 2021 service levels. You can read Brent’s summary of the very complicated ST Express changes. It’s worth highlighting that the expectation that Link will run at 15-minute intervals through all of 2021 undermines the entire rationale of light rail.
Given plummeting ridership, sharp cuts at the start of the pandemic and a gradual restoration make a lot of sense. But if “reduced rush hour demand” is the reason to still keep service levels low, it’s perplexing that the worst hit times are everywhere but rush hour, where riders might wait 2 minutes more than they did in 2019:
Major employers like Amazon plan to return to work in January 2021. My guess is that will slip, but the recent service change applies through March. In the past, both Metro and ST haven’t been flexible enough to ramp up service in between scheduled changes. Far better that they plan to provide full service levels and cut them ad hoc, as they’ve demonstrated the ability to do in 2020, then budget for lower levels and be trapped when they prove to be inadequate.
Revenue is down, but the basic value proposition of light rail is a frequent, rapid, high-capacity spine that’s always there. Bus service has centrifugal properties: the roads they run on are everywhere, tempting leaders to put just a little service everywhere. The very large investments associated with light rail demand intensive service levels to justify them. If it’s just another route to be watered down to marginal utility when times get tough, the $20 billion or so in current dollars we’re still slated to spend stop making so much sense.
Furthermore, Metro is continuing a years-long process to reorient bus service to get people to stations rather than run parallel to Link. Frequencies that might be acceptable for RapidRide become less so when every minute is a transfer penalty for people that used to have a one-seat ride, and undermine people’s trust in changes that would build a more robust system in the long term.
In the bad old days there were some seasons where night ridership was atrocious, but Sound Transit ran one-car trains rather than renege on its understanding with the riding public. That sentiment appears to be gone.
Sound Transit did not respond to numerous questions about this subject.