There are better ways to spend transit dollars and get higher performance.

Share story

WE took a close look at data in the Puget Sound Regional Council’s (PSRC) adopted Transportation 2040 plan. They show that in 25 years, fewer than 1 percent of all trips will be made on light rail while traffic congestion will only increase.

We examined key performance measures we think the public really cares about: transit ridership, congestion, accessibility to jobs via transit, average speed and vehicle miles traveled — and put them into a user-friendly report, which can be seen at seati.ms/2040-analysis

For example, by 2040, PSRC estimates $87 billion would be spent for transit — assuming 79 miles of light rail are built and bus service is doubled.That amount is nearly half total regional transportation spending. And the percentage of trips by all transit would rise to an estimated 4.3 percent from 3.1 percent — almost 90 percent of those transit riders would be on buses, not trains.

These numbers are unacceptable, despite the justification that transit ridership improves during rush hour for downtown Seattle and a few other urban corridors — “because that’s what really matters,” we are told.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Our response: This is a regional plan paid for by everyone.

Even more disturbing, why are we led to believe that we are getting different outcomes? We’re told congestion would be solved at the same time we are warned the only predictable travel would be on rail. That was the argument 20 years ago when we voted to create Sound Transit. Today, light rail carries 0.23 percent of all trips in our region and congestion has increased 52 percent since 2010. Meanwhile, rush-hour buses are packed or not available at all.

It’s time to ditch the pretty photos and happy talk in the executive summaries and for elected officials to set realistic, measurable goals for our region.

This is not about roads versus transit. This is about honesty, accountability and the future. Investments in both should make sense.

The challenge is that land use and transportation go together. University of Washington Professor Emeritus Jerry Schneider once explained our growth patterns this way:

Picture a map of the region. Now drop a handful of pick-up sticks on the map. Voilà, you can see our actual travel and land-use patterns. No surprise that laying down half a pick-up stick every 10 years along a single corridor is not an effective way to deliver needed service. The modeling has shown for decades that fixed light-rail lines do not dictate where the great majority of people decide to live.

There are better ways to spend transit dollars and get higher performance. One is more bus rapid transit now going to more places in our region. More and better bus service do not take decades to implement and would be much more flexible. We’ve invested billions of dollars in 310 miles of HOV lanes. Let’s expand incentives for commuters to use them.

We call for the Legislature to require the state Department of Transportation, PSRC, Sound Transit and local transit agencies to address the following points before the measure, Sound Transit 3, is put on the ballot:

• Clearly and consistently state the region’s goals and key performance measures, and explain how they will be achieved.

• Identify how the state will deliver on its commitment to keep HOV lanes at 45 mph, 90 percent of the time.

• Explain how and when tolls will be in place and what the plan is to prevent soaring congestion on arterials.

Proper public transportation planning requires balancing performance numbers and cost numbers. Long-standing performance measures that helped our region move into the top 10 for transit ridership are now buried in documents or not measured at all. We believe they should be front and center, and we ignore them at our peril.