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Thursday, July 07, 2011

Sound Transit Funding and Route Cuts Debate


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Sound Transit, who services the Puget Sound region, is in the process of identifying route and schedule changes for 2012 based on forecasted riders of 25.1 Million people for the year, a slight increase over the current year.

The expectation is that they will cut routes like cuts to most everything else in this state due to budgets, with a projected shortfall of about 25%, according to the Implementation Plan.

After reading through the budget there is discussion about the savings made by the route cuts, but I wonder if during the meetings they discuss how to actually generate revenue that they are missing on now.

I've been riding the public bus for over a month now and a few things I have noticed. The first is that most every bus I'm on is full to capacity and then some with standing room only. The bus on the route I take is a bus with two cars. So if they are projecting over 25 million riders next year, up from the current year where many routes are filled to capacity, it seems like an odd choice to discourage people from riding by reducing routes and creating even more full buses. Especially considering how often I see people riding without paying.

Yes, on occasion, someone might forget their Orca card, or not have cash on them. I'm not talking about those free rides. What I'm talking about are the times that the Orca card reader isn't working. So far in the past month, on my route alone I've seen this happen twice. So assuming that happens on other routes, which I've heard it does, with a full bus of riders that's a decent chunk of cash they are missing out on.

The largest bit of revenue they are missing out on is the Seattle Street Car, aka South Lake Union Trolley, aka Seattle SLUT operated by King County Metro. The posted adult fair for the SLUT is $2.50 and less for seniors and children. Almost non of which is being paid. The SLUT uses the honor system when collecting payment. Riders can pay via a payment system at the platform or on the trolley. What they don't have is a Orca card swiping like buses, or a person to enforce it. So the only people who actually pay to ride the street car are tourists. According to Wikipedia, in 2010 there were over 500,000 riders.

The SLUT is almost always full. Not only are all the seats full, people are usually standing shoulder to shoulder during the morning and afternoon commute, so I think the ridership has gone up even more. But lets assume they actually started enforcing payments on the street car and ridership is at 500,000. doing some quick math, let's assume an average payment of $1.50 (discounting $2.50 for seniors and youth) times 500,000 riders, we get $750,000 of lost revenue. Even assuming we pay some low wage workers to make sure people are paying, I'd still say the transit system is missing out on some revenue that they could use.

So maybe instead of cutting routes, Sound Transit should consider fixing the methods of collecting payments instead, so that then they could expand routes, which might involve me not getting stuck sitting next to some fat chick, who's fat roles over into my seat with the seats so close I'd almost rather be on an airplane.


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