This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.
Yesterday’s Weekday on KUOW featured “longtime critic” of Sound Transit Jim MacIsaac to provide his views on the RTID, slated to go to voters in the fall.
MacIsaac’s bio notes that he’s the founder and manager of Kirkland-based The TRANSPO Group, so clearly he’s done his time in the system.
The interview provides some interesting insight, and even the most die-hard transit supporters shouldn’t be afraid of rigorous criticism, so give it a listen. MacIsaac’s not road crazy, he mostly wants to beef up bus service, especially around the Eastside, and not design a system where all routes lead to Seattle.
Now, to address what I thought were a few misconseptions.
First, MacIssac argued that Sound Transit wasn’t providing service from, for example, Auburn to Redmond, or Lynwood to Seattle.
Well, sort of. When the Eastside link is built, you’ll be able to ride Sounder to King Street and transfer to light rail. The whole commute will probably take an hour, which is far less than the equivalent highway trip will be in 2028.
Second, Sound Transit estimates the ST2 package will cost each household $125 per year. MacIssac adds up the total amount spent, divides by the number of households, and comes up with a number that’s about 2.5 times larger.
Here we’re just confusing our means and our medians. ST’s PR guy sort of cleared this up, but he rushed past it pretty quickly. ST’s calculation of $125 is based on the median household, which is more accurate because it doesn’t get skewed by high-income RTID residents like this guy.
Third, RTID and ST claim the package will cost $16B or so, MacIsaac, taking into account the decades of finance charges and interest on the bonds, comes up with $39B.
That’s perfectly true. However, it’s also misleading, because humans don’t use interest charges in ordinary conversation. When I buy a $400,000 house, I don’t go around telling people it’s actually an $840,000 house, even though that’s how much I’m paying over the course of a 30-year mortgage. Same with my car, or any other major expense.
It’s a worthy cautionary note, though. The monorail failed because people balked at the $11B price tag, with interest, that amounted to FIVE times the $2B cost. ST’s finance charges well within reasonable limits, so it’s misleading to call it out or make an issue out of it.
Fourth, MacIsaac laments the fact that only 1% of riders use transit, so rail lines are of little use.
Well, this is really the crux of the road-vs-rail debate, so there’ll be other times to rehash it. But for now let’s just take note of what’s been happening along the light rail route through the Rainier Valley. Tons of houses and condos being built, and the line won’t open for two years. There’s no way you’d have seen that kind of development along a bus route. Point is: build it and they will come. With gas headed for $4/gallon this summer, people are starting to relocate around transit hubs. Give them the choice, and they’ll take it.