State Auditor agrees to investigate Sound Transit’s (problematic) forecasts

January 5, 2012

In 2010, I wrote how the Puget Sound Regional Council’s (PSRC) Transportation 2040 plan estimated passenger rail would carry half of what Sound Transit officials promised voters in their 2008 ballot measure to expand light rail. That post is available here: PSRC says light rail will carry half of what Sound Transit told voters.

I also made a formal request to the Washington State Auditor’s Office (SAO) to conduct an audit on the differences in the forecasts. In my letter, I asked the SAO to consider some of the following questions:

  • What are the differences between the two ridership models?
  • Sound Transit officials partly justified their taxing authority by how many riders would use their system. If Sound Transit’s demand projections are flawed, how does this impact their authority to impose taxes? Are there any accountability mechanisms for voters?
  • Are there any regulations, contractual obligations, internal controls or policies that require coordination between agencies? If so, were any of these policies violated?
  • Sound Transit is a member of the PSRC. Did Sound Transit officials raise concerns about the differences in ridership forecasts during the Transportation 2040 process?
  • Generally, transit agencies with ridership models based on assumptions different than the regional MPO cannot use those forecasts to apply for Federal grant funding. How do the differences in ridership projections affect the ability of Sound Transit to apply for Federal grant funding? How do these differences affect the Federal grant funding that Sound Transit has already received?
  • Almost all transit agencies and most MPOs create technical committees or peer review committees to provide independent assessments of their ridership forecasts. Does Sound Transit or the PSRC have such technical committees or peer review committees to provide independent assessments of their ridership forecasts? If so, do these bodies coordinate and how was such a large discrepancy missed?
  • The MPO must also review and approve applications for Federal transit grants, as well as Transportation Improvement Plans and Long-Range Transit Plans. How can the PSRC sign off on Sound Transit’s previous and future grant applications with such a large discrepancy between different ridership forecasts?

Yesterday, the SAO informed me they will perform the audit and they will likely choose a contractor next week. To their credit, the SAO also expanded the investigation to include the agency’s cost and revenue projections, which as we have pointed out, are also suspect.

The SAO estimates the audit will likely be completed by October.

Comments

Still waiting to hear your

Still waiting to hear your "market solution" to our transportation needs.

Market Solutions

Jay,

Think of this solution:

Paying a fare to ride one bus owned by company 'a' then pay a second fare to transfer to a bus owned by company 'b'.

It seems very difficult for me to reason why two separate bus companies operating in the same city would take a reduced transfer rate when a rider started their route with one bus company and finished that route on a second company.

Solution

Here's a Heritage article on the subject. But my understanding is that they are granted monopolies to provide bus service in a community, otherwise someone else might step in and take the profitable routes.

http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2000/08/competition-can-improve...

Light Rail Audit

I am pleased the Auditor is looking into this matter. It is so sad that as a region we are pouring so much money into an entity which will return so little in the way of actual benefit. Why are people so fascinated with electric trains? I don't get it. They are useful for a few hours each day, they only go from point A to point B, they are hardly plush, and are no more comfortable than a bus. I would venture a guess that every single automobile registered in the Sound Transit service area could be replaced annually with a new model for less money than that being spent annually on light rail. Put that option in front of the voters and see how many votes the train gets.

Light Rail Audit

Several years ago we were informed the Light Rail between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac was costing $2Billion. If you take the opportunity cost of $2B at a 6%/year return, you could buy an airline ticket on Southwest from Sea-Tac to Los Angeles for every seat on that train empty (most of them are empty all the time) or not. Most Venture Capital investments with this level of market risk in the private sector earn between 15% to 20%. Bottom line is we have been Soylindra-ed - The "Greenies" have stuck us for $2B. This thing is a joke and a dead loss - when are we shutting it down and cutting our losses?

Auditing Light Rail

"I don't get it."

I'm not sure what you are getting at here. Are you expecting leather couches, lunch and a service staff while on the train? That would only give you reason to complain about how much money is wasted on a government service that makes it comfortable for homeless people to ride all day long; making it easier for them to not get a job.

The function of mass transit is exactly your reason against it. It goes from A to B and does it efficiently well. If someone needs to go to C then they transfer to another efficient mass transit vehicle or walk a short distance to get there.