Because being there is what's most important, WPC's Center for Transportation researches and analyzes the best practices for relieving traffic congestion by recapturing a vision of a system based on freedom of movement.

What's New

Facts don't support commuter rail in Auburn/Maple Valley

October 6, 2009 in Blog

In April, Congressman Dave Reichert applied for a $600,000
for a feasibility study to determine whether a commuter rail
system could connect the cities of Maple Valley and Covington with Auburn. Much
like Sound Transit’s Sounder Commuter Rail, the proposed route would use
existing BNSF rail tracks. The application claims there are five cities
interested in pursuing the federal money for the study: Covington, Maple
Valley, Black Diamond, Enumclaw, and Auburn.

Connecting suburban communities with transit is important,
but research shows that commuter rail is the worst option. To put it more simply,
low ridership does not justify the cost.

We don’t have to look further than our own back yard and Sound
Transit’s poor performance at running a commuter rail system. Even with using
existing BNSF tracks, the Sounder is extremely inefficient.  

The following table compares the expenditure per passenger
mile of commuter rail with other intercity transit modes. 


The operating cost for the Sounder to move a single
passenger is .60 cents per mile. Accounting for capital costs, expenditures climb
to $5.39 per mile. When compared to other intercity transit modes, commuter
rail is three times more expensive than Sound Transit buses, six times more
than county buses and 27 times more expensive than vanpools.

It gets worse.

Another performance measure that reflects the social
benefits of transit is farebox recovery ratios, or the relationship between how
much operating expenses users and taxpayers cover. Traditional bus systems
generally recover about 20 percent of their operating costs from users, while
taxpayers subsidize the remaining 80 percent.

To look at it another way, consider the public must cover
their share of operating expenses with a subsidy, generally through increases
in sales taxes. This subsidy can vary based on the efficiency of a particular
transit mode and by the farebox recovery policy implemented by the legislative
body of each agency. The following table compares the operating costs per
boarding, operating revenues per boarding and the public subsidy required per
boarding for vanpools with other transit modes between 2002 and 2007.

Six Regional Vanpool Agencies

Sound Transit Buses**

Six Regional Bus Agencies

Sounder Commuter Rail

cost per boarding





revenue per boarding





subsidy required per boarding





Between 2002 and 2007, the public paid about $1.26 for every
vanpool trip made in the Puget Sound region. In comparison, the public paid
$5.13 in operating costs for every passenger trip on Sound Transit’s buses and $10.66 in operating costs for every
passenger trip made on the Sounder Commuter rail.
The differences are even greater when capital costs are included.

Based on the region’s experience with commuter rail, building
a similar system between Auburn and Maple Valley does not make sense. Research
shows that the biggest influence on ridership is density. There are some
exceptions but generally transit ridership is less than 1 percent of all
commuters in areas with less than 10,000 people per square mile. Transit
ridership rises to 3 percent with densities between 10,000 and 25,000 people
per square mile; and 8 percent when the density is above 25,000 people per
square mile. The density of Maple Valley is less than 2,000 people per square

 Measuring ridership,
costs and market potential in the Puget Sound region shows that vanpools are a
successful and more efficient option with moving longer, intercity commuters.
Instead of spending more public money to connect cities with commuter rail policymakers
should look toward vanpools as the most efficient alternative. 

Vanpools in the Puget Sound Region, Part III

October 6, 2009 in Publications

As traffic congestion and the financial and environmental costs of commuting continue to rise, a once overlooked transit alternative has quietly become an effective option for many motorists: vanpools.

Vanpool Fact-of-the-Day #6

October 6, 2009 in Blog

passengers are charged monthly fares that vary depending on the group size,
fuel prices and distance traveled. Fares can range between $60 and $200 per

Vanpool Fact-of-the-Day #5

October 5, 2009 in Blog

vanpool programs report an average daily round trip within a range of 48-108

Vanpool Fact-of-the-Day #4

October 4, 2009 in Blog

Sound transit agencies provide more than 1,700 daily vanpools and serve about
4.8 million passenger trips per year.

Vanpool Fact-of-the-Day #3

October 3, 2009 in Blog

the Puget Sound there are six transit agencies that provide vanpool services:
Community Transit, Intercity Transit, Island Transit, King County Metro, Kitsap
Transit and Pierce Transit.

Even when we are right, we are wrong

October 2, 2009 in Blog

This from the Publicola blog:

2) The second press release is from the Washington
Policy Center, a right-wing transportation policy think tank,
announcing a new study showing that vanpools are “the most cost
effective and efficient mode of public transit.” The press release
doesn’t actually include or link to any data showing that vanpools are
better than actual transit (carpooling, vanpooling—whatever you want to
call it—isn’t transit). We’re not impressed. We give it an F.

By the way, the American Public Transit Association (APTA) defines public vanpools as mass transit:

It is considered mass transit service if it is operated by a public entity or is one in which a public entity owns, purchases, or leases the vehicle(s).

There are twenty vanpool programs in Washington State and all of them are provided by public transit agencies.

Vanpool Fact-of-the-Day #2

October 2, 2009 in Blog

2008, there were about 2,360 vanpools with an average load of 8.14 passengers
per van across Washington State.

Vanpool Fact-of-the-Day #1

October 1, 2009 in Blog

Washington Policy Center is rolling out a four-part series on the effectiveness of vanpools in the Puget Sound region. To highlight the key findings, WPC will also be releasing a fact-of-the-day through the month of October.

Here is the first vanpool fact-of-the-day:

The largest public vanpool program in Washington and in the United
States is King County’s, serving more than two million annual trips
with 826 vans in operation.

You can find more information on our vanpool study at
You can also become a Facebook fan to have these facts and other transportation-related data delivered right to you.