Sound Transit to invest $2.1M in rail, bus ridership research

Seattle's LRT is grossly overbuilt for what it does.

Seattle has built a grossly over-engineered light rail line which has more in common with Vancouver's SkyTrain light metro than LRT and ridership is flagging. Having failed to meet forecast ridership comes as no surprise as the hybrid light rail/metro is trying to be all things to all people and in the end pleasing none.

What Seattle transit planners probably do not wish to recognize is that what they planned, was doomed for failure and now ($2 billion too late) hiring market research companies to find what the public really wants and how to grow ridership.

In Vancouver, our three light-metro lines just carry enough ridership to fool the mainstream media which spins the story about our 'successful transit system' to the public. Our transit planners just sit back and let high priced spin doctors feed local TV and radio stations with news release after news release, singing hosannas about how successful our SkyTrain and Canada line light-metros are. What is quietly forgotten is the massive subsidies to pay for our three metro lines have truncated the rest of the transit system.

Funny, no one has copied Vancouver's light metro transit model, except Seattle and the city and its transit system are ignored by the international transit community at large.

Back to Seattle; I could save Sound Transit $2.1 million and simply tell them the truth; "Your $2 billion hybrid light rail/metro system is not customer friendly and thus will not attract much new custom".

"You must completely rethink how and why you build LRT!"

I think fixing the problem will mean that Sound Transit must to get rid of a few sacred cows, starting with that $2 billion, three mile subway to the University District , instead plan for classic on-street/at-grade LRT, with stops every 500 to 600 metres (about 1500 feet) apart, what has proven to attract ridership. Transit authorities must completely rethink how and why they build LRT and how they provide transit and it is not going to be easy, for like Vancouver, they keep doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different and more successful results each time.

I'm afraid the transit clock has run out in Vancouver, with an out of control planning bureaucracy for ever coming up with more expensive subway schemes, but not in Seattle where a usable and customer friendly LRT can be planned for still, instead of politically and bureaucratically prestigious metros and subways. But is there the political will to make change happen?

Sound Transit to invest $2.1M in rail, bus ridership research

Sound Transit will spend as much as $2.1 million for consultants to conduct market research, in hopes of boosting its rail and bus ridership.

Sound Transit will spend as much as $2.1 million for consultants to conduct market research, in hopes of boosting its rail and bus ridership.

"Finding out what will get people out of their cars and into our services is going to require some deep research and talking to a lot of people in our region," said communications Director Ron Klein.

The board's operating committee voted unanimously Thursday to pay EMC Research up to $1.5 million over five years, and Resource Systems Group up to $630,000 over three years. EMC will analyze public and customer attitudes, while Resource Systems will measure the effects of fares, fuel prices, tolls, congestion and parking on traveler choices.

Meanwhile, neighboring Pierce Transit and Community Transit are cutting buses. King County Metro is considering a $20 car-tab fee to preserve bus service plus the roomier, more frequent RapidRide buses voters approved five years ago.

Sound Transit has announced a long-term $3.9 billion shortfall in its $18 billion, 15-year expansion plan, and the possible scrapping of a future station in Federal Way, but it has ample cash for now.

"If the economy weren't so bad, our partner agencies would want this information as badly as we do," Klein said.

Community Transit Chairman Dave Gossett said there's no way his agency could find $2 million for market research. But it has paid consultants to examine who rides which bus lines — data now being used to make tough decisions, he said.

"Any transit agency is a business, and it's a business that needs to attract customers, just like GM or any other business," Gossett said.

Ridership on Seattle-area Link light rail increased in March to 21,341 average weekday trips, 18 percent above March 2010. That's still below an original goal of more than 26,000 trips. Recession is one factor, and a decision to charge fares downtown likely dissuaded some, a spokesman said.

Sounder commuter trains in March carried an average 8,799 riders a weekday, down more than 4 percent from a year earlier, as mudslides closed the Everett line for a week.

EMC already does annual customer-satisfaction surveys for Sound Transit, but officials say they lack a clear picture of people who don't ride.

That knowledge could help target advertising dollars more effectively, Klein said.

After the Roads and Transit plan lost a regional vote in 2007, an EMC poll indicated a transit-only package might pass. That influenced the agency's decision to try again in 2008 and win.

Sound Transit won't dwell on certain bus lines, such as the 590 from Tacoma to Seattle, that are full, Klein said.

But there's plenty of room on Sounder and Link. "We have trains that are going to run whether they are full or half full," Klein said. "We want them completely full."

Operations-committee members voting yes Thursday were Dave Enslow, mayor of Sumner; Claudia Thomas, of Lakewood; John Marchione, of Redmond; and Paul Roberts, of Everett, who each hold local elected office.

Mike Lindblom:

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