In the 1980s, Domino’s declared 30 minutes too long to wait for a pizza delivery. Is it reasonable to expect a person to wait for a bus longer than it would take for them to order and receive a pizza to said bus stop? No.
Originally, I was born and raised in a car-dependent Chicago suburb before living outside the United States for six years teaching English as a Second Language, where I learned that life based around rail and bus timetables is both financially and psychologically more liberating than car dependency. I first arrived in Washington State in 2022 to obtain my Master’s in Education from Pacific Lutheran University in Parkland, as both the state and university have a good reputation for education, especially compared to my home state of Illinois.
Throughout the entirety of my year-long program I lived in Parkland without a car. This decision forced me to quickly familiarize myself with Washington’s current transit network and left me to rely on a bicycle more than I had anticipated (to the benefit of my physique). Pierce Transit’s route 1 along Pacific Avenue became my lifeline, both as a connection to central Tacoma and for transfers to Sound Transit’s 594 to Seattle. Speaking with bus drivers and transit users, I learned not only that Pacific Avenue’s route 1 is straining to meet demand, but Parkland was originally designed around a transit corridor along that very route—it had initially hosted regular tram service. In short, I was living in a streetcar suburb with no streetcar, which explains why demand for the 1 is naturally so high and why two to four cars piled up in front of every house left me with a sense of claustrophobia despite the quiet streets and quaint little homes.
The pandemic saw ridership numbers plummet across all transit modes as a life-or-death crisis literally afflicted the entire planet. Now, the pandemic is over. Climate change is threatening billions globally. We have a responsibility to reduce our carbon consumption, and choosing public transportation is one of the most cost- and carbon-effective ways individuals and local entities can pursue this end.
When given a reasonable choice, the people of Washington choose transit. Link’s ridership increases speak for themselves, having not only recovered but exceeded all time highs since June of 2022. However, these heartening numbers do not hold across modes: Sound Transit Express busses have only recovered half of pre-pandemic ridership numbers in May 2023, Pierce Transit’s ridership has stagnated at roughly 75% of pre-pandemic levels throughout 2023, and Sounder has shamefully not even recovered half of its pre-pandemic ridership to this date. Why?
Frequency and reliability for all uses, whether commute or personal, helps explain these numbers. Look at Link, where trains arrive every 8 minutes during peak hours and 10-15 minutes morning to night daily, roughly one third time to one half the wait for a Domino’s pizza delivery. On the weaker hand, Sounder’s weekday only schedule operates exclusively for commuters going into Seattle in the morning and out in the evening. Then consider Pierce Transit’s “standard” routes operating between 1-2 Domino’s pizza delivery times (30-60 minutes), and “frequent” routes operating at 1 bus per pizza. Given that frequent reliable transit in the state is out-performing pre-Covid numbers, might service frequency cuts better explain lower ridership than lingering pandemic concerns and a spiritual inclination towards cars? Yes.
We cannot reasonably expect Americans to abandon their material comforts and embrace the carbon neutral lifestyles of modern Somalians, much to the disappointment of Somalia’s people, who will suffer the consequences of climate change more horrifically than us. Fortunately, we have an understanding of what people deem reasonable: researchers have found ~400 meters (roughly a quarter mile) is widely considered a reasonable walking distance, and Domino’s has declared 30 minutes too long to wait for a pizza. If anyone wants to start claiming Washingtonians will deem anything other than a car unreasonable, Link has proven people will choose transit if given a reasonable option.
Putting this all together, a resident of any area paying the Regional Transit Authority tax and car tab fees should reasonably expect some form of transit service—as simple as a minibus connection to the nearest network hub through Sound Transit—to swing by within roughly 400m walking distance every thirty minutes. Yet people in some underserved communities, whose money funds regional transit, do not even possess an unreasonable alternative to the cars they are financially penalized for using. If Bonney Lake, where voters rejected an expansion of Pierce Transit’s local service, has a bus connection to the regional network though Sound Transit, communities such as Graham and Orting should at least expect the same minimal service. While perhaps not yet ready for Domino’s pizza reliability, they could at least take a bite at half a piece.
At the same time, transit authorities should hold their “standard” routes to reasonable standards. The Pacific Avenue corridor of Pierce Transit, which could and should be its crowning jewel, barely passes the Domino’s test while carrying the label “frequent.” Meanwhile, “standard” routes by definition fall beyond the standard of a Domino’s pizza delivery. If we’re serious about combating climate change and increasing transit use, the standard for buses should compete with Domino’s pizza delivery.