PSRC says light rail will carry half of what Sound Transit told voters
How many people will ride light rail? It depends on who you ask.
Two years ago, Sound Transit asked voters to expand its regional public transportation system (ST2). During the election, Sound Transit officials told voters the expanded rail portion (137 miles of light rail and commuter rail) would carry 310,000 passenger trips (page 5) per day by 2030.
Voters agreed and raised sales taxes within the Sound Transit district.
Since voters first approved ST1 in 1996, Sound Transit officials have a long and documented history of wooing support by overpromising the benefits of rail, while at the same time, lowballing its costs. As soon as voters approve the higher taxing authority, the agency's promises begin to fall apart.
To their credit, Sound Transit officials admitted these mistakes afterwards and promised to clean up their act.
Or have they?
The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) recently adopted its regional long range plan called Transportation 2040. According to PSRC officials:
Transportation 2040 outlines a long-term template for how this region should invest in transportation to accommodate rising travel demand, while at the same time embracing the need to be flexible and responsive to the ways people – and the world — actually will change.
According to the PSRC, this means regional passenger rail will be 84 percent larger, but carry 47 percent fewer people than what Sound Transit officials told voters. To look at it another way, Sound Transit claims its rail system will provide 2,263 trips per mile, while the PSRC claims it will only provide 652 trips per mile.
Who is right?
I've contacted officials from both agencies and naturally they both claim their estimates are accurate. Sound Transit says the PSRC model mistakenly assigns potential light rail riders as bus riders.
On the other hand, PSRC officials claim each model is based on different long range plans and may not be comparable. For example, the Transportation 2040 plan includes widespread tolling and infrastructure improvements that were not considered in the early Sound Transit projections.
If Sound Transit is right, then I have to wonder whether the PSRC's long range planning process has any meaning at all.
If the PSRC is right, then Sound Transit officials are once again misleading the public in order to win an election. Moreover, Sound Transit is a member of the PSRC, so I also wonder how Sound Transit officials could contribute to a plan that cuts their own rail ridership in half.
Does rail even matter?
The PSRC estimates the region will produce 18.9 million person trips by 2040. If Sound Transit's model is correct, then their rail system will serve only 1.6 percent of all trips! . If the PSRC model is correct, then the rail system will serve only 0.87 percent of all trips. Either way, we are spending billions upon billions in public money on trains that will mean very little to our overall transportation system.