Starting this week, Sound Transit began moving rail cars from its Sounder North line, where ridership is low, and adding them to the more-used Sounder South line. The Everett Herald reports some incredible dollar figures in conjunction with this decision:
The move will save an estimated $275,940 a year on the route, which suffers from weak ridership and costs taxpayers roughly three times more per boarding than Sounder South, where those coaches will be part of added service between Lakewood and Seattle.
Indeed, Sound Transit’s most recent monthly ridership summary, which covers July 2013, shows the south line averaging 10,568 weekday boardings and just 1,215 for the north line.
Some astute commenters on that Herald article pointed out several examples that underscore Sound Transit’s planning problems and explain why Sounder North ridership is so low:
- Riding the Sounder from Everett to Seattle takes 15 minutes longer per trip than the comparable 510 bus route.
- The Sounder train costs $1 more to ride than the 510 bus. (And this higher fare still doesn’t cover marginal difference in Sound Transits operating costs for train versus bus service.)
- The 510 bus runs more frequently (every 10-20 minutes) than the Sounder train (just four trips each direction).
- For typical workers who get off work at 5:00 p.m., the 510 bus is more accessible (7 departures from Seattle at 5:15 p.m. or later) than the Sounder train (1 departure from Seattle at 5:15 p.m. or later).
- The 510 bus has more convenient stops (north and south ends of the downtown business area) than the Sounder train (only the far south end of downtown).
- The 510 bus doesn’t get cancelled because of dangerous mud slides.
 According to its 2012 Annual Report, Sound Transit’s cost-per-boarding for ST Express buses was $6.42, while the cost-per-boarding of the Sounder train was $11.65. That makes the train $5.23 more expensive to operate on a per-boarding basis. Thus, the $1 higher fare for Sounder covers less than 20 percent of Sound Transit’s extra costs for running the train.