The two previous posts dealt with the devastating effect of East Link’s lack of capacity on I-90 Bridge commuters. This post explains why East Link would be a monumentally stupid idea even if it had the needed capacity.
The Sound Transit 2008 DEIS promoted East Link as the way to increase I-90 Bridge transit capacity by 60%. They later “refined” light rail capability by projecting 50,000 daily riders with 40,000 coming from terminating existing I-90 bus routes at the South Bellevue and Mercer Island light rail stations.
The ST East Link plan raises the question, “Why not terminate it at the South Bellevue P&R?” Doing so would provide 40,000 of the projected 50,000 riders with transit access and eliminate the cost and devastation to those living along the route into Bellevue. (A South-Lake-Union-style streetcar system with connections to the Bellevue T/C would be a far better way to attract development to BelRed.)
East Link’s proposed operating schedules provide 484 car trips per day, so shortening the route would reduce car miles per day by 10,600. At $22.48 cost per car mile (per 2014 ST budget) nearly $240,000 per day would be saved in operating costs, or $24.00 for each of the 10,000 lost riders. Presumably some of the 10,000 would find other ways to get to the South Bellevue station reducing the number of riders lost from the truncation.
Truncating East Link by 11 miles at the Bellevue station would reduce the route to Lynnwood and back from 77.6 miles to 55.6 miles. The daily operating costs for the 484 car trips would still be $605,000. The Seattle-to-Lynnwood portion will not provide any additional net fare box revenue since Central Link will have far more capacity than needed without East Link. Thus the light rail operating cost for each of the 40,000 bus riders with the truncated route would still be ~$15.00.
All of the transferred bus riders would presumably have paid the $2.50 fare when they entered the bus so ST would have to subsidize the entire $605,000 daily operating cost. Assuming the weekend daily cost would be half that level requires ST to provide $3.6 Million weekly or ~ $187 Million yearly to cover operating costs. Each weekday rider forced to switch to light rail rather than continue riding the bus the 9 miles into Seattle from Bellevue or the 6 miles from Mercer Island will require a subsidy of up to $7800 annually.
Again, this assumes East Link had the capacity to accommodate the 20,000 riders morning and afternoon commutes. Many of these commuters will be forced to find other ways into Seattle because of lack of capacity during peak commute. Thus, the subsidy for actual “riders” will be substantially higher.
ST is currently planning to spend ~ $3 billion in capital costs to initiate this East Link operation. If doing so doesn’t qualify as a "monumentally stupid" idea, I don’t know what does. The fact it will also gridlock vehicle traffic on the I-90 Bridge and turn what was an easy bus commute to Seattle into a transit nightmare for others simply adds to the stupidity.