Sunday’s Times (10/7) celebrated the initiation of Sounder service to Lakewood. Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy, who chairs the Sound Transit Board proclaimed “This is a great day for Lakewood and a great day for the region”. I believe it’s just another example of Sound Transit incompetence where they spend tens or even hundreds of millions to extend light rail in a futile attempt to attract more riders
Lakewood already had good transit service with bus routes ST590-595. Their second quarter ridership of 430,840 trailed only the ST Bellevue-Seattle and Redmond-Seattle routes in total number of riders. ST590 or ST592 buses left Lakewood SR512 P&R every 10 to 15 minutes from 4:20 a.m. until 10:00 a.m. and every 30 minutes until 6:00 p.m. Buses leaving before 8:10 a.m. arrived at 4th and Union in Seattle in 60-70 minutes. Later routes included stops at the Tacoma Dome that increased route times by 10 minutes.
The return routes from 2nd and Seneca began at 11:00 a.m. every 30 minutes until 2:00 p.m. when buses ran every 10-20 minutes until 11:42 p.m. The return trips again took about 70 minutes during peak commute and 10 minutes longer for the early and later buses that stopped at the Tacoma Dome. The standard fares in both directions are $3.50.
The Lakewood Sounder will provide 5 northbound trains from 4:42 a.m. to 6:37 a.m. and 5 southbound trains from 4:20 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. The Seattle terminus is the King Street Station. The standard fares from Lakewood will be $5.25 each way.
It’s not clear what the travel times will be from Lakewood, however the Sounder Tacoma to Seattle portion currently takes 58-59 minutes in each direction. Presumably the additional 8 miles from Lakewood will add 15 minutes to route times. Thus, there is little difference between transit times for the two options.
Total commute times, however, for most of those riding the train will increase because of the time required to either walk or ride a bus from the King Street Station to their final destination. (No more free buses?) Those riding buses would presumably be dropped off far closer to their destinations. It’s doubtful many transit riders will switch from the bus to the train when faced with the early departures, the increased fares, and especially the problems associated with getting to and from your destination from the King Street Station.
This overpromising of riders is similar to Sound Transits Everett Sounder program which had many of the same problems. There they spent about $500 million in capital costs to initiate rail service. The combination of the high train operating costs along with their failure to attract riders has forced Sound Transit to pay $20,000 a year to cover the operating costs for each rider. (see 6/12/12 post for details) One can only hope they do better this time.