Sound Transit officials recently said their agency’s June 2013 ridership figures averaged 32,000 weekday boardings. They were quick to tout this as a 14% increase over June 2012, but conveniently ignored the fact their ridership is far below what they promised voters when the program began.
Sound Transit head Joni Earl proudly highlights June 11 as a banner day, with 38,000 boardings, however on that day a Mariner game and a World Cup qualifier soccer match were both being played in SODO, so it wasn’t a typical day. Understandably, Sound Transit officials are putting the best face possible on their low ridership numbers, but a more accurate picture comes from looking at what they promised the public in the first place.
Sound Transit laid the ground work for light rail in their ballot measure, titled Sound Move, in 1996. To justify the level of public money they were seeking, light rail boosters that year said Sound Transit would carry 107,000 trips per weekday by 2010. Clearly facing failure by 2006, Sound Transit said they would serve only 35,821 trips per weekday, a 66% cut. In 2009, Sound Transit backed away further on their ridership promise, down to 29,467 per weekday, a 72% cut from their original commitment.
Last year, the State Auditor examined Sound Transit’s light rail ridership projections for accuracy. The Auditor’s report found Sound Transit’s ridership projections were consistently wrong. Referring to the ST2 ballot measure passed in 2008, the audit concluded that the expansion of light rail would again leave ridership short of projections.
While Sound Transit did eventually lower some of their long term ridership projections on light rail, albeit relatively minimal, celebrating these milestones misses the point. Taxpayers were promised much more than they are receiving, and when taxpayers pay billions of dollars for light rail, they expect to receive what they were originally promised.
The 32,000 trips averaged in June represent about .2% of all daily person trips in the Puget Sound area. Statewide, the 31 public transit agencies serve about 2.3% of daily trip demand, over 90% is served by personal automobile.