Accountability

See Paragraph 4 under Response from Sound Transit July 22, 2016 to Eastside Transportation Partnership questions…

New rider calculations for 2040 indicate that the ST3 plan would result in approximately 723,000 (midpoint of the range) trips made on transit each day across the region. Of those, about 64,000 (midpoint of the range) would be trips by new transit riders, or about 9% of all trips.

Summary of the documents, issues and outcome re: June 23rd 2016 Notables Letter

 June 23rd 2016, “Notables” signed onto a letter to Sound Transit and to the Puget Sound Regional Council. The letter asked three basic questions regarding the Sound Transit plans in the context of PSRC’s Transportation 2040 Plan Update (2014).

  1. ST3 Why the rush? Why the insistence that there are no alternatives?
  2. Opportunity Costs – What is not getting funded?
  3. What is the return on our transit and transportation investments?

Under the heading “Measuring What Matters” the letter pulls out specific outcomes from the PSRC 2040 Plan 2014 Update and then goes on to ask 15 questions about performance measures that are not found in the plan.  The questions were focused on:

  • Ridership
  • Capacity and Convenience
  • Cost and Competence
  • Congestion and Growth
  • Alternatives

On July 19th, we sent a follow up letter to Sound Transit and the PSRC.  Shortly after that we did get answers to about half the questions from PSRC. They said the other questions were best answered by Sound Transit. Sound Transit did not respond to our follow up or send any answers.

About this same time, the Eastside Transportation Partnership asked Sound Transit many of the same questions.  Sound Transit did send them a response on July 22, 2016 See below

The letter gives detail about the ST3 assumptions about grant funding, debt service, tolling & effect of new technologies.  They continue to use a very “low ball” estimate of tax burden on families.

The most startling numbers are those for “new” daily transit trips.  It’s important to remember that “trips” and “riders” are two different numbers.  One person can take several trips each day.

It is also important to remember that by 2040, the PSRC estimates that we will be taking 19,000,000 daily trips by all modes – car, carpool, bus, rail, bike and walking- the vast majority by car/carpool.  They qualify their answer by basically saying “the Feds don’t make us measure that anymore,” and they still give the answer in new trips instead of new riders.

 “Only 64,000 of those trips will be new transit trips.” Given the generous assumption that those were all made by commuters, that would be about 32,000 “new” riders.  After an additional $54 Billion on top of the $22 B. already approved and over 40 years, we can understand why Sound Transit and the PSRC do not want answer this question. 

In answer to our letter, PSRC does confirm that by 2040 all of transit will carry only 5% of all daily trips in the region, up from less than 4%, but justifies that number by saying the SR520 Bridge carries less than 0.4% of vehicle miles traveled in the region each day and that there will be higher percentages for transit for “work trips” to downtown Seattle, Bellevue and Redmond.

Transit is on track to take almost 50% of all the transportation dollars between 2010 and 2040.  The return is terrible.  That does not count the additional percentage should ST3 pass.

Our question about the plan to find $36 billion of local transit and other transportation needs that are not funded, NOT counting I-5 repair/rebuild, was basically that they are working on it.  See question 7.

Lastly, the answer to the question about congestion and keeping the HOV lanes functioning for the vast majority of transit riders and for those who want to carpool was: “Given current and anticipated changes to the state’s HOV system configuration and operation, PSRC has engaged with WSDOT and flagged the topic for consideration as part of the scope of work for the upcoming Transportation 2040 update.”

There are other answers to other questions but these are some of the most striking. Written and researched by Maggie Fimia

Notables Letter

June 22, 2016

Dear Sound Transit Board Members and Puget Sound Regional Council Officers,

Given the lack of specifics in the proposed ST3 package and magnitude of the commitment being asked of the people of our region, we feel it imperative that the Sound Transit Board and the Puget Sound Regional Council Officers and Staff inform the public of the return on the investment of not just the proposed $54 billion additional dollars but of their total investments in ST1 and ST2. We’ve made the following observations and have questions regarding our adopted regional transportation plan and the ST3 package. Why the rush? Why the insistence that there are no alternatives?

Sound Transit has announced a massive ST3 $54 billion package that its appointed Board is expected to put to the voters this November. ST1 is not even finished; its completion is now projected for 2021. ST2 projects are not projected to be finished till 2023. Even though bus rapid transit projects could be built at a fraction of the cost and be up and running in a few years, Sound Transit has proposed light rail extensions to even lower-density areas than ST2, and communities will still have to wait decades for the rail line to reach them. Neighborhoods within Seattle that do have some density to support more transit, also will not see light rail for decades if at all. Meanwhile, PSRC’s own data show us that growth goes all over the region at a higher percentage than to urban centers. There is no way we can predict where it will be in 2040.

Sound Transit leadership maintains we have no alternatives: “We have to do it.” We find this puzzling given the widely reported speech in 2010 by Mr. Peter Rogoff when he was head of the Federal Transit Administration. He recommended transit agency leadership “tell truth to power” and that special buses in their own lanes can “move a lot of people for less cost than rail…Some communities might be tempted to pay the extra cost for shiny new rails now. But they need to be mindful of the costs they are teeing up for future generations.”

We would like to know why Mr. Rogoff now believes our region has no choice.

Opportunity Costs – What is not getting funded? According to the Transportation 2040 report, cities, counties, local transit agencies and the State have a backlog of $36 billion of unfunded transportation projects before we get to ST3. In addition, the State needs to resurface and repair I-5, our region’s most important corridor for moving people and freight. The ST3 package includes a property tax. The State Legislature is required to provide full funding for schools. This will make it harder, perhaps impossible, for them to do that. What is the return on our transit and transportation investments? It’s been 20 years now since we passed ST1, a ten-year plan. Many of us supported and voted for it. Since that time traffic has become the driver of our schedules. Gridlock is a daily occurrence. The percentage of transit ridership has been flat at 4% since 2006. Transit service has actually been cut by some of the local transit agencies and the voters have had to increase their local transit taxes to get it back or to grow it. We understand that there was a recession, but that should always be built-in to our investment decisions. We believe that the public deserves an accounting of how their current and future tax dollars will address the needs for much greater access to transit and enable efficient, safe movement of people and goods on our roads and bridges.

Measuring What Matters

According to the Puget Sound Regional Council Transportation 2040 Updated Plan adopted in 2014, our region is projected to spend $174 billion federal, state, regional and local government funds on transportation between 2010 and 2040. Almost half of that, $80 billion, will be spent on public transit. This updated plan did not include most of ST3. Even assuming 79 miles of light rail and aggressive growth in urban centers, the increase in transit ridership is flat, from 3.1% of all trips on transit in 2010 to 4.3% in 2040 (annualized .04%/year) according to this Plan.

By comparison, cars and trucks on the roadways made up over 87% of the trips in 2010 and are forecast to be 84% in 2040. Yes, the transit numbers are higher along a few corridors in and out of Seattle during commute times, but this is a regional plan, everyone is paying and expecting much better results. The PSRC modeling outcomes also show:

• A 38% increase of congestion on arterials.

• Number of total trips in the region goes from 15,000,000/day to 19,000,000/day.

• Almost 20% increase in the number of miles vehicles traveled – a number that represents how well we are meeting our land use goals. PSRC has not, that we are aware of, included the following important outcome in the 2040

Transportation Plan Update: Transit access to jobs – average percentage of jobs within 30 minutes of housing by transit. The last time they measured this was in 2008, which showed the number to be only about 1%. Why was it not measured in the 2040 Update? This concerns us because the major reason given for building more light rail is that it will serve the region. If people don’t have reasonable travel times to work, they will not use it, but turn to their cars if that’s an option. Many don’t have that option. When will they get the needed transit service that can get them to and from work in a reasonable amount of time?

How do we know if a plan “works” if we are not measuring a key outcome? Basic cost/benefit analysis needs to be done.

To that end we have the following questions for PSRC and Sound Transit. Please provide detail and sources for each response. We do not want to receive documents that contain this information and would require us to find it.

Ridership

1. a. What are the capacity, frequency, speed and reliability assumptions Sound Transit made to project 525,000 light rail riders by 2040? Also, how can that number be larger than the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) heavy rail system, truly high capacity transit, in San Francisco, which serves an area with 2.4 times the population density of the Sound Transit service area?

b. According to the May 18, 2016 letter to the City of SeaTac, PSRC did not break out percentage of transit riders between light rail, commuter rail, and buses in their last update. However, the total percentage of daily transit trips for 2040 compared to all trips is listed as 4.3%. How did you arrive at this percentage without having the number of trips for each mode? Why is that not available now?

c. King County Metro, under the direction of the County Executive who is also the Chair of the Sound Transit Board, has rerouted dozens of Metro bus routes to “feed” the Husky Stadium station. Are these current and proposed major bus route changes in the 2040 Plan and if not, has modeling been done to show their effect on bus ridership?

2. How many new riders to transit are projected for ST1, ST2 and ST3 vs. moving existing riders from buses? What is the cost per new rider? Is it reasonable to expect that, similar to East Link, over 80% of the riders will be moving from an existing bus to light rail, as opposed to taking a car off of the roadway?

Capacity & Convenience

3. What are your assumptions for the capacity of buses, light rail and highways per hour? Please provide seated and standee capacities for buses and light rail in all the major corridors of ST3 expansion.

4. How long will it take a rider to get from Downtown Seattle to Bellevue and from Downtown Seattle to Everett by light rail vs. express buses in their own lanes controlled to maintain a minimum 45 mph speed?

5. What is the average percentage of jobs within 30 minutes of housing by transit? If you do not have that number from the 2040 plan, when is the last time you measured it and what werethe assumptions about miles of light capacity rail? If you do not measure it, why did you stop?

Cost & Competence

6. Compare the costs of the completed Vancouver, BC, Portland, Oregon Light Rail and Seattle Light Rail projects as follows: Total cost in 2014 dollars; Average system cost per mile in 2014 dollars; Average cost per daily round-trip in 2014 dollars.

7. What is the plan to pay for the existing, unfunded $36 billion list of projects in the 2040 Transportation Update given the problems with implementing tolling and the other unfunded projects including resurfacing of I-5?

8. What is the 2014 or 2015 average annual operating cost per passenger mile for Sound Transit’s current light rail line and commuter bus fleet?

9. a. When will the bonds be paid off?

b. Of the total paid on the bonds over their life, what percentage will go towards debt service, how much toward operation, and how much toward capital construction?

c. When the bonds are paid off, is there any plan for refinancing, such that the bonds won’t really be paid off after all, or does paying off the bonds mean the total debt associated with ST3 will really be extinguished, or will it carry on ad infinitum?

What does Sound Transit believe is the maximum reasonable capital cost in dollars per daily rider served for proposing a rail project in a corridor? And, At what levels of density does light rail begin to make sense instead of the much less expensive BRT?

10. Has any analysis been done on the economic impacts from the largest tax increase in the history of the Puget Sound region and the opportunity costs related to that?

Congestion & Growth

11. What is the Sound Transit, PSRC, and WSDOT coordinated plan to address the growing congestion in our region and to keep our 310 miles of HOV lanes at 45 mph 90% of the time?

12. Where in our country has a light rail line achieved significantly higher transit ridership, significantly higher density in the urban core or reduced congestion?

13. Since 1990, what percentage of people and job growth has actually gone to the designated urban centers?

Alternatives

14. If continuing to build light rail is the only option we have in certain corridors, then a BRT option must have been considered and rejected. Please outline the assumptions and outcomes of that alternative for each ST3 light rail corridor.

15. What potential effects will new technologies and services, including higher levels of vehicle automation, Uber, Car2Go, and Bridj have on transit ridership?

We will appreciate a prompt reply

Our names are attached

Sources:

• Vision 2020 – 1993 PSRC http://www.psrc.org/assets/9789/V2020-1993-

MCPlanningPolicies.pdf

• Mode Share –PSRC Trends April 2015 http://www.psrc.org/assets/833/trend-t8.pdf

• Centers Report – PSRC 2013 http://www.psrc.org/assets/10190/Centers_Monitoring.pdf

• Traffic ranking – http://inrix.com/scorecard/ and https://www.tomtom.com/en_gb/trafficindex/

• Transportation 2040 Plan Update http://www.psrc.org/assets/10550/T2040Update2014.pd

• Metro Route changes: https://metrofutureblog.wordpress.com/2016/02/02/link-connectionsking-

county-metro-bus-riders-will-see-many-changes-in-march/

Signers

Last Name First Name Letter from Notables Voters’ Pamphlet
Tibbott Neil Edmonds City Council member Kevin Wallace, Bellevue City Council member
Teitzel Dave Edmonds City Council member Earl Bell, Professor Emeritus, Urban Design and Planning, UW.
Hablewitz David Founder, Technical Lead, Founder Stop405tolls.org; Principal, Divergent Solutions John Fox, Coordinator of the Seattle Displacement Coaliton
Dennis Franklin L. Attorney at law, Chair Guy Spencer, former City Council member Normandy Park
Preston David Port of Edmonds Commissioner Dick Paylor, former City Council member Bothell
Bell Earl Professor Emeritus, Urban Design and Planning, UW. Sen. Maralyn Chase  32nd District
Bundy Emory Cyclist, Former Director Bullitt Foundation and Director of Public Affairs, King Broadcasting Kristiana Johnson, Edmonds City Council President
Fox John Seattle Displacement Coalition  
Bader Scott Council member, City of Everett  
Spencer Guy Former City Council member Normandy Park  
Johnson Kristiana Edmonds City Council President and a Transportation, Land Use Planner  
Gerend Don Mayor, City of Sammamish  
Chase Maralyn Washington State Senator 32nd District  
Gauge Fred Port of Edmonds Vice President  
Contreras Santos Former Deputy Mayor City Kirkland City Council  
Valderrama Ramiro Dep. Mayor Sammamish City Council  
Nixon Toby Council member, City of Kirkland  
Nelson Gary Former Edmonds City Council, Snohomish County Council, State Representative and Senator
Fimia Maggie Former King County Council and Shoreline City Council, Founder Smarter Transit  
Paylor Dick Former Bothell City Council member  
Sandberg Tris Bothell City Council  
       
     “Titles and affiliations provided for identification purposes only and do not necessarily imply endorsement by the indicated organizations”.

Full Response from Sound Transit July 22, 2016 to Eastside Transportation Partnership questions (They did not respond to the Notables Letter)

July 22, 2016

ETP would like to know the projected net increase in ridership and transit mode share, regionally and for the ETP area, with the ST3 plan compared with a credible no-build alternative? (The no-build alternative will depend heavily on the assumptions made about Metro service).

The ST3 Plan will up to quintuple Sound Transit ridership from what it is today, moving it from around 145,000 each weekday to between 561,000 and 695,000. The ST3 plan will double the 350,000 boardings each weekday forecasted to follow the completion of the Sound Transit 2 plan.

This question asks the number of “new” transit riders ST3 would attract, defined as people who were not previously riding transit. The below numbers must be prefaced with the fact that the Federal Transit Administration no longer evaluates the cost effectiveness of transit projects based on “new” riders but on all riders. The FTA moved away from measuring costs per new rider back in 2003 during the Bush Administration due to the narrowness of the measure.

New rider calculations for 2040 indicate that the ST3 plan would result in approximately 723,000 (midpoint of the range) trips made on transit each day across the region. Of those, about 64,000 (midpoint of the range) would be trips by new transit riders, or about 9% of all trips. The ST2 plan that is on track to be complete in 2023 had a very similar estimated result of 11% of all transit trips being new trips. The significant number of riders who would shift over from buses reflect the fact that, logically, transit agencies seek to develop high-capacity transit in corridors where there is already very high bus ridership. This enables riders to graduate from crowded and underperforming buses which are reaching their destinations slower and slower each year.

Regarding transit use if there is no ST3, it should be noted that the model makes a number of far-reaching assumptions listed below that, while consistent with PSRC planning, would represent major changes from today that overstate future bus ridership if the changes aren’t actually implemented: The calculations assume WSDOT and other transportation agencies will have the political will to initiate a new per-mile driving fee on all miles driven across the region to manage future traffic levels that affect bus travel times. This assumption is imbedded in PSRC regional planning and therefore must be addressed by the ST model.

• In the future bus travel times on HOV lanes are assumed not to deteriorate. In order to assume no future reduction in bus travel times, the model accepts that future leaders will have obtained the political consensus to impose new, more stringent HOV limitations (HOV-3 or HOV-4) or convert the HOV lanes to bus-only lanes.

• Because the model assumes faster bus travel times related to the policy assumptions described above, it may overstate the level of bus ridership for the no-build scenario. The calculations assume full build-out of local agencies’ long-range plans by 2040. Put another way, the calculations assume that every proposed road and transit improvement in the region will be built without regard for whether they will actually secure the necessary funding.

• Further, the model does not take into account the public’s well-documented preference for using rail services over buses, only taking into account travel times for a given trip irrespective of transit mode. In a scientific phone survey conducted in April, 68% of regional voters and 70% of Eastside voters responded that expanding light rail is either urgent or extremely urgent.

While Sound Transit does not have projections specific to the ETP area, below are projected ST3 improvements in commute transit mode share for several of its cities and the entire region.

• 43% increase in downtown Bellevue (20% from 14%)

• 33% increase in downtown Redmond CBD (4% from 3%)

• 75% increase in Issaquah (7% from 4%)

• 43% regional increase (20% from 14%)

ST 3 will be funded by increases in property tax, sales tax and RTA MVET and grant funding. How much grant funding is assumed in the $54 billion plan? From what sources?

A total of $4.7 billion in grant revenue is assumed to fund the ST3 measure, based on the assumption that federal grants will fund 13% of the capital projects.

Will the plan have a positive effect on congestion? (In other words, when modeled with and without the ST3 investments what change in congestion is observed? We’d like to see this modeled for 2030 and 2040).

Light rail and other high-capacity transit expansions will dramatically increase the people-moving capacity of our transportation system. Every rider is someone who does not contribute to rising congestion, helping to ease the movement of drivers and freight on our roads. However, freed up or added road capacity quickly fills up with cars, a phenomenon known as induced demand.

Congestion will very seldom reduce from today’s levels, but without mass transit investments would be worse. What light rail offers is an alternative to driving that also helps promote vibrant and dense urban development where people rely less on cars, benefitting all travelers as well as our environment. Sound Transit does not model future congestion. Our ridership estimates utilize PSRC assumptions, including future implementation of pricing measures such as per-mile fees and HOT lanes in addition to increased occupancy requirements for HOV lanes.

What assumption has Sound Transit made regarding tolling on state highways or other facilities? Will increased tolling affect your projections?

We assume existing tolls and planned tolls (like SR 99) will be in effect. As mentioned above, we assume a regional mileage fee for all miles driven, a replacement for the gas tax and one of the options being considered by PSRC’s Transportation Futures Task Force in preparation for the update to Transportation 2040. PSRC and ST decided this was the most reasonable assumption to achieve the required policy consistency with PSRC. Assumptions for tolls and mileage fees are the same for the no-ST3 and ST3 options and have the effect of slightly shifting more people to transit.

What assumption has Sound Transit made regarding parking costs? (The PSRC plan makes aggressive assumptions about parking pricing, especially in urban centers, this tends to boost ridership in the model).

In areas that have paid parking, we assume parking costs will increase above inflation about the same rate as employment density increases: about 0.5% to 2% per year. We have found that change in employment density is a good indicator of change in parking costs.

What assumptions, if any, has Sound Transit made regarding new technologies and on-demand services such as Lyft, Uber, Car2Go, etc? (technology may change things quite a bit over the next 25 years).

Under any conceivable scenario for the future of ride share and automated vehicle technologies and business models, mass transit will continue to be critical both during the evolution and ultimate implementation.

Sound Transit recognizes that future transportation demand patterns and needs will change in response to regional growth and as result of new mobility options and business models such as shared-use and driverless vehicles. We see emerging mobility technologies as being highly complementary to high-capacity transit; they promise to provide the flexible, on-demand mobility that will close the first- and last-mile gaps that are often a barrier to transit use. They also promise to make a car-free and transit-dependent lifestyle more viable for more people.

Currently, Sound Transit is actively working with a number of partners including a transportation network company to design and test new business models integrating transit and shared-use mobility services, and we are pursuing grant funds to move toward pilot implementation. The ST3 Innovation and Access funds would expand these efforts by:

• Designing transit stations to ensure future flexibility and integration of transit with new connecting modes with features including but not limited to expanded pick-up/drop-off areas.

• Designing stations to reflect future changes in parking demand and use, including changes to circulation patterns and parking configuration.

• Developing integrated trip planning, booking and payment applications that work for transit as well as other modes.

Some argue that automated vehicles could leave transit obsolete. However, it is important to note that these technologies are as likely to increase congestion as they are to improve congestion or transportation system capacity. Gains are likely to be cancelled or offset by unoccupied cars returning to other locations after dropping off passengers rather than parking, or by people sending cars on trips that would not have otherwise occurred if an occupant had to endure the congestion. At the end of the day there will be fixed constraints on how many vehicles, automated or standard, can fit into the region’s most congested areas. It all boils down to space, which dense and growing cities inherently lack. There will always be demand for congestion-free travel that helps preserve roadway space for other uses.

What will be the total tax burden (property, sales and MVET) per household under the ST3 plan? (including the continuation of taxes imposed under the Sound Move plan and ST2).

The estimated cost to a typical adult living in the Sound Transit District would be approximately $169 more annually, or about $14 more per month. The level of existing taxes for Sound Move and Sound Transit 2 is $159 per adult, so ST3 would increase that to $328 per year or $27 per month. Sound Transit is presenting these costs on a per-adult basis since many households have only one adult. People can multiply to get the total for their specific household, or by 1.93 to get the results for the average household (about $326 for ST3 and about $307 for existing taxes).

What would be the total estimated indebtedness and how much debt will remain at the end of 25 years?

Sound Transit plans to use borrowing to cover approximately 30% of the plan’s capital investments by issuing $10.9 billion in bonds. This will compare to buying a house with a 70% down payment and funding the rest through borrowing. In 2042, at the end of the ST3 25-year program, total indebtedness is expected to be approximately $9.2 billion.

Has Sound Transit obtained final Federal approval for conversion of the center roadway of I-90 to light rail operation?

Sound Transit completed the required environmental documentation for the project. The Federal Transit Administration issued a Record of Decision in November 2011. Sound Transit is developing the design consistent with FHWA and WSDOT requirements. In 2008, an Independent Review Team (IRT) convened by the state legislature was tasked with studying the feasibility of placing light rail on the floating bridge. The IRT determined that is was feasible, and identified 23 specific issues related to design, construction and operation. After years of collaborative design and testing, Sound Transit recently reached concurrence with WSDOT and FHWA on resolution of all 23 issues.