As a person who has traveled in 20-plus countries, using public transit in nearly every one of them, I feel qualified to make the following statement: the transit decisions made to serve the Puget Sound’s extended metropolitan area stink.
Have you tried to drive to Seattle lately? I had an argument last month with my brother, who lives at the southeastern extent of the Los Angeles metro area. At first, he questioned my assertion that driving here was worse than L.A. Then I pointed out that because Seattle is geographically confined to the eastern edge of Puget Sound, and since the closing of the viaduct, the only way across is the congested artery of Interstate 5, there are no alternate routes. Contrast this with Los Angeles, where there are at least 13 major byways moving north to south and six running east to west. Granted, the population (12 million) is much larger in Southern California – but the people there have a smorgasbord of options to solve their commuter dilemma.
Back here in Washington, the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority was created in 1996 and began building an urban transportation network to address the commuting and traffic-related problems experienced in our metropolitan area. To date, they have built an expansive network of rail stations and busing services all the way from Everett to Tacoma.
There are impressive, modern stations in Sumner and Puyallup that could be utilized as key links in the chain to addressing our congestion issues. I say “could be” because their operation hours ruin the practicality of the whole affair.
Estimates claim nearly a quarter of a billion dollars has been spent building the Sounder Commuter Network, including routes to Puyallup and Tacoma. To quote Michael Richards’ character in the 90’s sitcom Seinfeld, “That’s a lot of potatoes.”
I’m not against public investment to serve a verified need and I’ve already spent half this column complaining about the traffic situation. Truth be told, I’ve wanted to use the Sounder every time I’ve driven to Seattle in the last year and a half, but never been able to do it – not once. That’s because the final southbound trip leaves Seattle at 6:15 p.m. and only on weekdays.
The sparse schedule is truly what grinds my gears. Traffic in Seattle isn’t only terrible during rush-hour, it’s terrible just about all the time. If the Sounder was created to address traffic-related issues, it should provide service people can depend upon into the evenings and on weekends.
Obviously, the system costs money to operate and returns have been underwhelming so far. But I can’t believe I’m the only citizen from our corner of the metropolitan area who has avoided taking the Sounder because I’d like to actually be able to get home. No, it is certain that ridership would explode if the Sounder was a viable option for citizens.
There would have to be an effective marketing campaign to let people know they could visit the city and take
what should be a great alternative for avoiding the worst traffic in this country, and a daunting parking
situation once they arrive.
The bottom line is: if you don’t make the required operational investment for this tool to be a success,
you’ve just wasted $250 million in public money building an aggravating system that fails to serve its own valid purpose.
By Publisher Brennan Purtzer