The 3/06/13 post suggested that Sound Transit’s 2013 East Link $93 million budget was not “prudent” when it failed to include “re-striping” needed to complete the 4th lane addition to the outer roadway or verifying the I-90 Bridge expansion joints could withstand the loads from their planned 4-car trains. The 3/09/13 post argued it made no sense for Sound Transit to spend $86 million towards the $1-1.5 billion cost for extending Central Link to Federal Way when the resultant train commute times will be 30 minutes longer than the current bus service. The 3/14/13 post proposed replacing some of the light rail train operations with less expensive buses.
This post explores the train/bus operating cost comparisons in more detail. The Sound Transit Quarterly Report for 2012 along with the Sound Transit 2013 Budget document provides the relevant information. The 2012 quarterly reports that express buses completed 453,004 trips during over 549,860 revenue hours of operation for an average 1.213 revenue hours per trip. The 2013 budget document (Page 44) includes an “Amended 2012” value of $183.15 cost per revenue hour (excluding depreciation) for a trip cost of $222.16. The quarterly report gives an average of 34.06 boarders per trip resulted in an average cost of $6.52 per boarder, essentially agreeing with the $6.51 value in the quarterly report.
The same report shows Central Link completed 90,834 trips using 136,167 revenue vehicle hours for an average of 1.499 rev.veh.hrs per trip. The 2013 budget document (Page 32) includes a 2012 Amended $411.08 per revenue vehicle hour (again excluding depreciation) for a trip cost of $625.85. The quarterly report average of 95.78 boarders per trip gives an average cost per boarder of $6.53. (Sound Transit apparently has a different method for light rail costs resulting in a $6.07 cost). The higher trip operating costs for trains can only be justified during the peak commute when demand justifies their added capacity. The higher train operating costs are also contrary to the commonly held perception that their high construction costs and other setup charges would be offset by reduced operating costs.
Obviously any light rail extension will increase the “trip” costs. The added costs make the Federal Way extension even more idiotic (3/09/13 Post) and raises question as to whether the Northgate extension will add sufficient riders to justify construction as well as increased operating costs. (It's particularly hard to justify any extension during two-vehicle operation with twice the operating costs) Light-rail-operating costs are just another reason among many (See 5/15/12 post) to replace Sound Transits East Link light rail system with BRT.