The majority of commuters currently driving – and not relying on transit – in the greater-Seattle area cannot imagine any scenario that would persuade them to take an alternative form of transportation other than their car, even once a week. The Seattle Times,
“In a scientifically conducted survey of more than 6,000 households in King, Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap counties, the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) asked participants about a host of hypothetical scenarios that might entice them to take transit, carpool or van pool at least one additional day per week. Respondents could select as many as they liked.”
The scenarios included both disincentives and incentives. The disincentives included higher gas prices, costly toll and increased parking rates. A scenario in which gas prices were raised to $5 per gallon provoked the strongest response with 18.6 percent of commuters replying they would change their driving behavior. Eleven out of 12 drivers say they would not change their driving behavior if parking rates increased by 50 percent.
The incentives included high-speed transit, i.e. light rail, and HOV lanes. The survey found that neither option would be enough to “lure more than 1 out of 5 commuters in the four-county region away from their cars.” According to Seattle Times, “the PSRC even asked if there was something else that hadn’t occurred to them that might do the trick. Again, no. Not many drivers could think of some other scenario that would get them out from behind the wheel.”
The Seattle Times’ FYI Guy attempted to put a positive spin on the survey writing, “19.6 percent of respondents said that, if it were an option, they would take high-speed transit rather than drive. As a percentage, that is fairly low, but it projects out to more than 310,000 car commuters in our region, according to the PSRC.”
While 310,000 car commuters off of the roads sounds like a substantial achievement, there is no telling whether or not the survey respondents would actually give up their cars in favor of light rail. The reality is that, currently, commuters only choose light rail for their trips less than one percent of the time. Whether or not that would change with more light rail remains unknown. However, the fact is that light rail has failed to attract commuters thus far and, following nationwide trends, that won’t likely to change. Transit officials are prone to making grand promises of what light rail would do for traffic congestion in the Puget Sound region, but those promises don’t have a track record of actually coming true.
You could choose to think of the survey the way the FYI Guy does. Or, you can accept reality: Commuters don’t want to give up their cars. Light rail is not the best solution to reduce traffic congestion and officials would do well to consider other options.