At What Cost?

Last week’s News and Guide editorial sung the praises of the new START Town Shuttle routes. The new routes are indeed more convenient, but I take issue with some of the statements made in the editorial.

The START Bus system currently claims to reduce single occupancy car trips by around 1%. If START is able to achieve the Integrated Transportation Plan’s ambitious goal of doubling ridership in the next ten years it will then be able to claim that it reduces those car trips by around 2%. It’s hard to see how that kind of minuscule reduction in vehicle trips will have much affect on our valley’s traffic woes. My conclusion is that – like pathways – START is a very nice amenity, but not a game changer when it comes to our traffic gridlock.

Tens of millions of dollars will need to be spent in order to attempt to achieve and maintain the goal of doubling START ridership. This is a very extravagant amenity, and the cost of START isn’t only financial. For example, the Town Shuttle currently sends 66 buses each day into the quiet residential neighborhoods east of Redmond to serve very few riders – on average less than one rider per bus. In the case of far east Jackson START is dramatically adding to the traffic rather than reducing it, and is damaging the character of those neighborhoods by relentlessly trolling large essentially empty buses up and down narrow residential streets. Empty buses are not environmentally friendly.

START’s growth in ridership has actually been stagnant since 2008/2009. It’s quite possible that a significant number of the people who wish to ride the bus already do so. Rather than pouring tens of millions of dollars into START in a futile attempt to reach unrealistic ridership goals that even if reached will have little positive effect on our traffic problem, local government should work to reduce the expensive burden START places on the taxpayers, and fight the urbanization of our quiet neighborhoods by focusing START resources on the routes and times of day that will ensure full buses.

I think we can all agree that START is a useful amenity, and that we need START to be as efficient and effective as possible. Let’s move in the direction of a lean, intelligently targeted, transit system, not a bloated system that eats up huge chunks of taxpayer dollars and damages our quiet neighborhoods with big city bus traffic.

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