I was pondering recently, even with all the fussing the naysayers have about transit, what was accomplished when TriMet finished the Green Line connecting another couple of neighborhoods to the light rail system plus multiple park and rides.
The first thing was the system picked up another 17-18k riders per day. The riders on this line were almost entirely new at first. At least 10-15k of them. The busiest bus line in the city, the #72 plying up and down 82nd Avenue, saw almost zero change to the ridership. Being only about 1-6 blocks at various points from the light rail one might have thought some of the riders would have switched modes. The simple explanation is that the #72 serves a specific constituency and the light rail serves another constituency.
There is however one huge difference. After a period of 18-20 years Trimet will have spent – including infrastructure – less on the light rail service than on the bus service on 82nd Avenue while getting a growing ridership on the green line that will even surpass those estimates.
What does that mean?
It means Trimet will have more money to spend, operationally and for infrastructure, on other parts of the system.
Fast forward to my current city I’m living in. The light rail that Sound Transit is building is almost 10x the cost of what Portland is building. Primarily because Seattle’s Sound Transit is getting the light rail built in raised and subterranean infrastructure. This type of infrastructure is inordinately expensive. A cost, that at this point is unneeded.
Recently Federal Way requested that Sound Transit make sure the promise of light rail doesn’t disappear from the future. Right now, from a money perspective, Sound Transit has basically told the city it won’t be getting light rail. I see two massive problems here.
1. There isn’t money for the current plan to get light rail into Federal Way. That’s the plain and simple reality of the matter.
2. Sound Transit and most of the area Governments are inflexible on building light rail more cost consciously.
Now these are the two problems at the surface. Looking a little deeper, just below the surface, one will immediately notice the real problems. Both of which I’ve raised here at Transit Sleuth a number of times over the years.
The first problem is that the Government assumes the economy will do X and has almost no plans to mitigate when Y happens. Our currency is hosed, so an individual citizen of Seattle can safely assume that all plans moving forward that aren’t already under contraction and paid for are on the chopping block. Yes, EVERYTHING. Increasing funds and taxes won’t particularly help either until some politician in the White House gets the balls to do something about our currency and valuation against the global markets. Right now we’re sunk. That’s the summary position of problem #1.
Problem number two is a different beast. With the money that is allocated so far Sound Transit could do a lot of infrastructure investment. They could, in all honesty, get to Federal Way. The problem lies in Federal and State Regulation that causes Sound Transit to be rather inflexible in how or what they can do with that infrastructure money. This inflexibility we as citizens we do want and don’t want.
Either way, I digress, I hope that Seattle and Sound Transit can find a better way to get real infrastructure with high quality transit built. Right now the ambitions look good, but more reality needs brought to focus. This massive high cost light rail infrastructure probably is not the best way to go about getting higher capacity and higher quality transit to the Seattle area.