The “Flocking to Buses” article in the April 11th Seattle Times raises some “interesting” issues. The fact that 19,000 more commuters chose buses in 2014 than in 2010 to make Seattle’s 78,000 bus riders second only to San Francisco in bus ridership attests to the willingness to use public transit. (It’s unfortunate no information was apparently available as to why the 189,947 commuters continue to “drive alone”.)
The article made no mention of light rail ridership. If they had, the 2014 Sound Transit year-end ridership report of about 18,000 weekday riders would rank somewhat more than the 14,157 who rode bikes. The billions spent on East Link has resulted in light rail ridership that’s a fraction of the local bus ridership and miniscule when compared to the 425,000 daily BART riders in San Francisco area.
Seattle’s bus ridership comes at a cost. King County Metro reportedly spends nearly 50% more on operating costs per capita ($284) than Denver RTD, Orange County, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Oakland, and San Jose. It’s not clear how much Seattle households currently pay in taxes and fees for the bus and light rail service. Whatever it costs, it likely “pales in comparison” to the $2800 a household will pay annually (per Seattle Times 4/03/16 editorial) for transit if ST3 is approved.
Those who currently use Central Link will get very little if any benefit from ST3. Other potential Seattle light rail riders will have to wait until 2033 for West Seattle service and 2038 for light rail service to Ballard. That might be a “tough sale” for not only transit riders in those areas but particularly those who rarely use transit.
The article also suggests the 60,000 who commute by bus in King County outside of Seattle reflect less interest in the suburbs. The reality is far fewer suburban commuters live within walking distance of a bus route. The only access for many potential transit commuters is via a local P&R. The fact that 60,000 currently do so despite the fact there are only about 10,000 parking spaces in King County P&R lots attests to the popularity of buses for those with access. (The Crossroad's success is presumably due to large numbers who have access by living near bus stops.)
Thus the obvious way to improve the “slow crawl on I-5” is to add access to transit via thousands of added parking spaces with increased bus service into the city. Unfortunately Sound Transit doesn’t “recognize” that reality. They persist in plans to spend billions on light rail extensions to increase transit capacity without recognizing the need to add the P&R capacity and bus routes needed to access that capacity. Thus, the vast majority of those with access to light rail will be those who previously rode buses. Reducing the number of buses on I-5 will have a miniscule effect on congestion.
Sound Transit’s lack of “recognition” of the need for added parking and bus service may or may not reflect the fact that once you add the parking the buses can be routed directly into Seattle negating the need to spend billions on light rail. They could add 100 bus routes an hour to one of the two HOV lanes, achieving the same increased transit capacity as Central Link Prop 1 extension without spending a dime on light rail.
They could reduce transit times for the added bus routes by limiting the HOV lane to only buses or +3 HOV traffic. Egress and access in Seattle could be facilitated by converting 4th Ave into an elongated, two-way, bus-only T/C with designated drop-off and pick up for each route on each side. Commuters on I-5 south, I-90, ST 520 will all similarly benefit from added parking and bus routes. They could begin doing so next year.
Again, the way to reduce the area’s congestion is to convince Sound Transit to provide access for thousands more commuters from throughout the area to “Flock towards Buses”.