The previous post and the following were prompted by a recent trip to the Aspen/Snowmass area that features free bus rides. I submitted it to the Times as a “Special to the editor” but have posted it since they will likely ignore it.
Minimizing the Area’s Roadway Congestion
The way to reduce the congestion on the area’s major roadways is to offer free transit from all the major P&R lots to T/Cs on 4th Ave in Seattle, Bellevue, and Overlake. Rather than paying for the ride commuters will pay a monthly or annual fee for an assigned parking space. Those within walking distance or who can be dropped off at P&R could ride free.
Sound Transit’s ST3 proposal to spend $54 billion and 25 years on “Prop 1 and beyond” light rail extensions will never provide the needed capacity, the access to even its limited capacity, or the route flexibility needed. Instead they should allocate funds to add 20,000 parking spaces and connecting bus routes each year for as long as it takes to reduce congestion.
Each P&R lot would have its own BRT connection to and from the various T/Cs. All those who regularly commute into Seattle, Bellevue, or Overlake area will be surveyed to determine if, when, and where they would like to leave their car, where they would want to go, and how much they would be willing to pay. Use this information to prioritize where to add the parking, and when and where to route the buses.
Commuters would likely welcome the chance to pay $250 a month or $3000 annually for an assigned parking space. They could use it whenever they want, share its use (and cost) with others, or carpool with neighbors to and from the P&R.
A Sound Transit bus costs approximately $10 per mile to operate (per 2016 budget). Thus, the $200,000 parking fees from the 20,000 parking spaces would cover operating costs for 20,000 bus miles daily. If the average distance between P&R and T/C were 10 miles, the $200,000 would cover the complete cost of 500 daily 40-total-bus miles required for inbound and outbound trips. The 500 buses could easily accommodate 50,000 daily riders leaving ample room for those not required to pay.
Longer commutes would either require higher parking fees or less frequent service if P&R fees are required to cover operating costs. (By comparison, Sound Transit’s approach to use fare box revenue rather than parking only covers 28% of bus operating costs (Per 2016 budget)).
Assuming the average cost for a parking space is $40,000 and each bus can make 2 round trips during the morning and afternoon commutes, the 20,000 parking spaces and the 250 buses required will likely cost ~$1.2 billion annually. However, it would require no subsidy to cover the shortfall between fare box revenue and operating cost.
Sound Transit could spend ~ $6B over the next 5 years adding 100,000 parking spaces and BRT service that would dramatically reduce congestion and require no subsidy to cover operating costs. While transit may not be the answer for all commuters. "Free rides" will minimize the congestion. And they could do so without ST3. Compare that with Sound Transit’s alternative.