To ride or not to ride, that is the question

While riding light rail downtown to a morning meeting, I had some time to think about my transportation choices, and the sometimes not-so-conscious cost-benefit analyses we make on a daily basis.

Of course, this morning’s ride was a no brainer, the four buck round trip fare less than the cost of a parking meter, let alone a downtown parking lot. Plus, the cool, overcast morning made the 15 minute walk to Othello Station a pleasure, at least in the sense that I didn’t arrive at my destination completely covered in sweat.

But let’s say my daughter was with me, which would double that $4 fare to $8. If we’re gonna be downtown for more than hour or two, that makes economic sense, but for a relatively quick trip, not so much… especially considering that I still have to amortize the cost of owning a car, regardless of how much I use it.

The anti-rail folks complain about the high cost of the public subsidy, but I can’t help but wonder if the subsidy simply isn’t high enough. For in a city designed to virtually require car ownership, and in a nation where the public subsidies for our automobile culture are largely hidden (you know, things like the BP oil spill, the Iraq War and global climate change, let alone more obvious stuff like roads), it can be hard to justify the added cost of using mass transit when there’s a perfectly good car sitting idle in your driveway. In fact, I personally tend to use light rail more out of convenience (parking/traffic) than any real cost saving.

So my question for the rest of you is this: why do you or don’t you use mass transit, and would lower or higher fares change your behavior?


  1. 1

    Mr. Cynical spews:

    WAKE UP!
    We are in a double dip recession.
    There is no money.
    Taxpayers are tapped out & angry.
    And you continue your unaffordable dreaming.

    How are you going to pay for this genius??

  2. 2

    drool spews:

    Mass transit doesn’t serve me so I don’t have the option. I have used it when it was available and like it. I don’t know why Goldy exposes his daughter to the risks of an automobile….especially a sub par one that is no doubt unsafe relative to better models.

  3. 3

    Rae spews:

    Out where I live, mass transit just for me to go to work ( 16 miles one way–fairly straight shot) would involve about a 3 hour trip each way…and carpooling is not possible either because often I am sent home in the middle of a shift due to low census.

    So it’s not even close to being a possibility at this time. Even if it were free to me (which means others are paying through taxes, of course) it would not be feasible.

  4. 4

    Chuck spews:

    In my vehicle for $8.00 I can put 2 people in downtown Portland from my Roy address including wear and tear and insurance…

  5. 7

    Daddy Love spews:

    1. Mr. Cynical spews:

    WAKE UP!
    We are in a double dip recession.

    Really? What does the NBER say? Or did you just pull that out of your ass again?

    There is no money.

    The income of the top 1% shot WAY up over the last decade. There’s money all right. It’s just that YOU don’t have any.

  6. 8

    Mr. Cynical spews:

    6. Daddy Love spews:

    Public transportation should be free.

    How can it be “free” you stupid bastard?
    Will it just drop out of the sky and run itself??

    You are truly a pinhead Daddy Love.

  7. 9

    Blue John spews:

    We are in a double dip recession.
    There is no money.
    Taxpayers are tapped out & angry.

    But there is money, and the millionaire and billionaires have it.

    We are coming to a crossroads.
    As a society, we can have a shared sacrifice, be part of a “We” society and, to use the conservatives words for it “take” some from the rich to distribute to the poor, to keep the poor from rioting in the streets.
    My closest template is Denmark, Holland, Norway.

    Or we can keep going the way we are, stay with the “me” society and end up with heavily fortified walled estates where the richest live, protected and in fear of the angry desperate poor outside the doors, without health care, jobs, homes. With nothing to lose.
    My closest template is Columbia, Somalia and Haiti

    For pure self interest and the good of America, I’d choose the first. The second is not a country I want my kids living in.
    How can you argue otherwise?

  8. 10


    Now that we’ve gotten teh stupid out of the way, let’s actually address the conundrum Goldy describes.

    I live in (upper) Fremont and work on Pill Hill. I’m equidistant from two bus stops on a fairly reliable route into downtown, where I can transfer to a fairly frequent bus up the hill to my workplace. I signed up for an employer-subsided bus pass, making my use of mass transit a no-brainer for me. It takes a bit longer than it would to drive to work, but that’s a very small cost against the great expense of parking every day.

    I also bus most of the time to sporting events at Qwest and Safeco, to other events downtown, to my dentist and doctor appointments. I could take the bus to Drinking Liberally, but usually don’t (maybe I need to check the schedules). Just about my only regular car trips are to the grocery store and to visit my sister … Magnolia is a black hole for transit.

    Would I continue to use buses if the price went up? Yep, definitely. It would have to go waaaay up to come close to the price of parking at work.

    Would I keep busing if it was less convenient? That depends. In other cities, I never even looked at bus schedules … the right bus came along within a few minutes of my arrival at the stop, and I got on. Here, I commit the rush hour times of the Fremont-downtown (and reverse) trips to memory, and adjust my schedule accordingly. For a weekend trip to see the Sounders, I check the schedule ahead of time. Neither of those behaviors would change unless there were severe cutbacks in service.

  9. 11

    headless lucy spews:

    I tried bussing it from Issaquah to Burien for several months, but the hub in Seattle slows everything down — and the busses are not always reliable.

    Arriving 20 minutes late to work in a production type job is costly. That wasn’t my problem, but I heard plenty of people complain about it.

    Smelly drunks, punkish thugs. That’s what you get downtown.

  10. 12

    SJ spews:

    Four dollars for a one time ticket is probably spot on BUT if we want to encourage more general use there ought to be a way for residents of communities served by the route, to buy a coupon book or pass.

    Such a pass can be self financing. here at the UW, we have a system called U-pass that incentivizing employees to use mass transit rather than park.

    The great thing about a pass is that the cost to the state and the benefit to the use goes up the more the pass is used.

    Imagine that every resident gets to buy a monthly pass for $20! The pass could allow free travel or perhaps travel at $1. The incentive to use that, rather than drive, might lead to large enough saving in demand on downtown traffic to actually create a “profit.”

    We could call the thing the Gold Stone or the HASS PASS

  11. 13

    Reynaldo spews:

    Fares only cover about 15% of Link’s operating costs. How much more fucking subsidized could fares get?

    You live within walking distance of a station. 99% of the people paying through the nose for this lame-ass “system” don’t have that option – they’ll never use it on a regular basis.

    I doubt you have any clue about the financing plan for the capital costs David. It’s a $100 billion financing plan for 35 miles of rail and a couple of dozen stations. TriMet paid $2 billion for a comparable system, and it’ll cost ST $100 billion over the next 40 years.

    Fares are not even a small part of the big picture at Sound Transit. Focusing on them makes you look like an idiot, as if you lack any perspective. Just sayin’ . . . .

  12. 14

    lauramae spews:

    Where I live, taking the bus to work would involve 1.5 hour commute one way for what is otherwise a relatively easy 20 minute drive.

    When I go to Seattle, I like to take the train, but the train means Amtrak. Unfortunately, since the rails belong to the freight companies, Amtrak plays second fiddle so it is very common that the train will be hours late.

  13. 15

    rhp6033 spews:

    Given that the train doesn’t come anywhere near either my home or my work, it’s not likely I’ll be taking it anywhere anytime soon, regardless of the price. Which is a shame, I’d love to do so.

    Heck, if/when they open up a line from north Seattle to Seattle, I’d even consider communting to the north Seattle lot and taking the train in to attend special events, such as football games, the fireworks displays, Seafair, a day at the Pike Place Market, etc. – assuming that parking was available at the northern terminus.

  14. 17

    SJ spews:

    @13 Reynaldo

    The ONLY logical way to look at any capital expense is how that expense effects the total budget. If the proponents of LR are correct, then it should pay for itself by increased tax revenue and decreases in other costs.

    Same goes for “subsidized” fares. Let me give you one VERY obvious example. A huge part of the jobs in downtown Seattle are service jobs, low paying serv ice jobs. Subsidies for LR may make it possible for more folks living outside Seattle to compete for those jobs, pay taxes, increase productivty etc.

    @15 rhp

    You and I are on the same boat. The “planners” behind LR seem to be workiong out of some sort of catechism that includes the immorality of the car! The lack of either parking or local mass transit to get folks to and from LR is idiotic.

    Look at ti this way. For me to get to Seatac from my Cap Hill neighborhood by LR, I would need to call a cab to get to the Broadway station. That short ride will likely ocst me $10. Add $4 for LR and then there is still the absurdly long walk from the airport station to the airport. Coming back things are worse because, AFIK, they do not plan to have a cab stand. So total cost is likley to be $28 plus a slower ride and a lot of added inconvenience.

    When I asked a planner about this his response was I should need to learn to walk the twenty blocks to and from my house!


    @16 Lee


  15. 18

    nformed spews:

    @ 17:
    The ONLY logical way to look at any capital expense is how that expense effects the total budget. If the proponents of LR are correct, then it should pay for itself by increased tax revenue and decreases in other costs.

    WTF is that supposed to mean?

    Provide a link where some “proponent” argues light rail will be paying for itself “by increased revenue and decreases in other costs”. That’s just gibberish. Nobody’s ever said anything like that.

  16. 19

    Mr. Cynical spews:

    9. Blue John spews:

    We are in a double dip recession.
    There is no money.
    Taxpayers are tapped out & angry.

    But there is money, and the millionaire and billionaires have it.

    You are sooooo naive.
    You think the government trying to take money away from successful, private-sector job creators is a good thing?
    That’s foolish.
    It won’t work.
    Lots of ObaMao’s buddies are in that category.

    BTW BJ, did you see that Jerald Nadler (FatAss-NY) wants to extend the Bush Tax Credits only to wealthy Democrat Districts like his?
    Missed that, huh.

    And how about old man Gates Washington Income Tax SCAM. His kid, the richest man in the world, pays LESS because he owns $200 MILLION of Real estate and will only pay tax on $600,000 or so salary from Microsoft.
    You phoney bastards are either naive or stupid.
    Rich people will pay for everything??
    Get busy Blue John.
    This ObaMao Debt is YOURS to pay off.

    Leftist Pinheads naively or stupidly believe that raising taxes on JOB-CREATORS and giving more money to the Guv’mint will make things all Utopian & stuff.

    Blue John—this is your ultimate low.

  17. 20

    Mr. Cynical spews:

    I’m still trying to absorb the idiotic statement from Daddy Love that
    6. Daddy Love spews:

    Public transportation should be free.

    The disconnect of Goldy’s Northwest Division of Lunatic Moonbats is mind-boggling.

    In Daddy Love’s warped world, everyone is entitled to pretty much everything…no matter how hard others have to work for your FREE shit.

    Falls outta the sky and runs itself.
    More subsidized transportation.

    Talk about disconnected from reality.

  18. 21

    Mr. Cynical spews:

    sj @ 17–
    All gibberish. Kind of like the ObaMao double-talk on the cost of ObaMaoCare.
    We pay 4 years before any benefit…but don’t factor in the opportunity cost of those taxes.

    You are guilty of a bunch of JIVE TALKIN’!!

    You are in the running for the Leftist Pinheaded KLOWN Jive Talkin’ Award.
    You need a couple more idiotic statements though to pass Daddy Love’s
    Public transportation should be free.

  19. 22

    Blue John spews:

    Enjoy those impending gated communities. It’s a wonder bright future you want to create. Hope they let you in for being such a good little puppet.

  20. 24

    Poster Child spews:

    A fair percentage of the (admittedly few) responses here that actually address Goldy’s question (rather than just attacking him or transit) start with “Where I live,…” and then proced to explain why transit won’t work for them.

    I know owning a home out in the country is some sort of mythic take on the American dream and to criticise that is an impingement on our freedoms or something, but our land use patterns particularly out west are fucking retarded.

    I get a transit pass from my employer and I use it quite a bit. I often put my bike on the bus in the morning and then cycle home, sometimes I cycle both ways. But during the school year I need to get my kid to school three mornings a week, and transit would make that pretty tough, so I drive to his suburban school district (and then ride my bike from there)

    So here I am on my high horse about land use bad transit and biking good and yet I drive too. (sigh!)

    By the way Goldy, yr daughter qualifies for a Youth fare, so dragging her along doesn’t double your cost.

  21. 25

    worf spews:

    I had no idea it cost so much to ride the train, as I live in the north end. $4.00 is insane. No trip in the city should cost more than $1.00.
    Echoing many others here, the way our transit is laid out is a nightmare. I can drive to work in 15 to 30 minutes depending on my shift, but the bus would take about 90 minutes each direction – for a trip of 13 miles. when the tolls come to 520 I maybe forced to deal with the stupid routing, but till then, I’ll drive as there is no incentive to do otherwise.

  22. 26

    Steve spews:

    @25 I was surprised about that as well. What’s it cost just to take the bus?

    I know a 90 year-old who lives on 36th and Raymond, just west of MLK. He says that he has to go to either Alaska St. or Othello to catch the train – both very long walks for most 90 year-olds, even in nice weather. He also says that, with the train running, bus service has been cut back on MLK, making the whole thing a pain in the ass for him. Now, this is only what he says – I don’t know if it’s actually true – but I do know he’s not too thrilled with the situation.

  23. 27

    Transit Voter spews:

    Just a clue here for the clueless — transit is a System, not just a hodge podge of individual routes.

    I can take a Rt. 36 bus home from work and it takes me about 35 minutes. But if I take Link light rail to Beacon Hill Station, and transfer to the 36 there, my commute goes down to about 20 minutes. If I drove and parked and walked, my commute is…about 20 minutes, PLUS the cost of parking.

  24. 29

    Michael spews:

    I throw my bike on the ferries and the Gig Harbor-Tacoma express bus (which I hear might get cut) a few times a year. That’s about it for transit use for me.

    I’d use transit more if there were more transit for me to use (express buses, not stop every 75′ buses) and was assured a spot for my bike on the bike rack (most busses can only fit two bikes).

    Cost really doesn’t play into it. If I was commuting to Tacoma for work cost would probably become a factor.

  25. 30


    It’s worth noting that the time spent on transit, while sometimes longer that that of a car trip to the same destination, is time that can be used to do other things like check email, read, or do work. Also, depending on which bus/train you’re on, the ride can be a really comfortable way to pass the time. Time spent behind the wheel is almost entirely lost.

  26. 31

    drool spews:

    If you hate the hub and spoke system the airlines use, you can see the same with Metro. The system is downtown centric so many popular destinations are left without decent direct service. Try getting from the East Side to Boeing Field. You will notice Boeing Field is not on the way to downtown so you are SOL.

  27. 32


    To answer your question, Goldy, I selected where I live, and purchased a house, so I could get rid of my car and ride a metro bus to work. Metro cut back, now I own a commuter car. I live in North Seattle and work in the strange outpost of Everett.

    Unless you work in downtown Seattle there isn’t much of an alternative for anybody living north of 130th, in fact, it might be a good idea if everything north of 130th became part of the City of Shoreline, at least we would get sidewalks.

    I am not voting for another bullshit levy.

  28. 33

    SJ spews:

    18. nformed

    @ 17:
    The ONLY logical way to look at any capital expense is how that expense effects the total budget. If the proponents of LR are correct, then it should pay for itself by increased tax revenue and decreases in other costs.

    WTF is that supposed to mean?

    F aside …

    When Boeing builds new hanger, they do not expect it to pay for itself. They do expect to pay of the capital investment by increased sales plus decreased costs.

    As for light rail, the question of whether it pays for itself is absurd unless you ask about its i9mpact on the Region as a whole.

    BTW, I was not arguing for or against LR. I worry that as planned, LR is less efficient than it could be if they had planned for better access by car and make access to SeaTac less of a shlep. I also think the high ticket price was set because too many folks think LR should be analyzed only by its ability to be self financing.

    Take Ec 101.

  29. 34

    Chris Stefan spews:

    I’m not sure where you are in North Seattle, or where you work in Everett, but there is a ST express bus from the 145th & I-5 freeway station (ST 510) to Everett. There is also a P&R lot there to leave the car at.

    You may also want to look into a vanpool.

    With sales tax revenues down due to the poor economy all transit agencies have been forced to cut back service. CT in Snohomish County has been hit particularly hard.

    That said the biggest commuter destinations like Downtown Seattle, the UW, Bellevue, and Overlake are always going to have more transit service than areas with fewer workers.

  30. 35

    Bluecollar Libertarian spews:

    Goldy ask, “why do you or don’t you use mass transit, and would lower or higher fares change your behavior?” It isn’t available where I live. It comes to within a mile and no further. However I do wish it was available. I would certainly use it. I also believe that it should be taken out of the government’s hand and operated by one or more private concerns.

    Re SJ @ 33 what do you mean with the comment, “Take Ec 101″ ?

  31. 36

    Chris Stefan spews:

    Putting garages or parking lots at stations like Capitol Hill would be absurd. Of the current or planned stations within the Seattle City Limits, both Roosevelt and Northgate will have P&R lots. (ok the one for Roosevelt is a bit of a hike, but it isn’t THAT far)

    Of the remaining stations it would have made sense to put a P&R at Rainier Beach and perhaps Othello. Otherwise few cities build P&R lots for any mode (carpool, vanpool, bus, or rail) within 5 miles or so of the downtown core.

    As for the location of the airport station blame the Port and the TSA. Sound Transit wanted it closer. That said it isn’t any further from the Alaska ticket counter than the bus stop on the lower airport drive. For that matter many airports either have no rail service at all, force you to take a shuttle bus, or are a longer hike.

    The ticket prices really aren’t that high. Light rail currently costs anywhere from $1.75 to $2.50 depending on the distance ridden. A trip on Metro costs anywhere from $2.00 to $2.75 depending on the time of day and distance ridden.

  32. 37

    Chris Stefan spews:

    It would be a lot more expensive if it was private and there still very likely wouldn’t be any service near where you live. Private operators won’t operate any service they can’t make money on, therefore only the densest areas and most popular destinations would have service.

  33. 38

    Chris Stefan spews:

    The fares aren’t so bad when compared to either Metro or ST buses. $4 is for a round trip, the fare each way is $2 which is the same as Metro off-peak.

    A round-trip Link ticket is good as an all-day pass for rail. The only downside is you don’t get a transfer unless you have an ORCA card.

  34. 39

    Bluecollar Libertarian spews:

    @ 37 Chris there are plenty of examples world wide of private operators. Europe, Japan, Melbourne, Australia, etc. New Jersey has plenty of private operators running jitneys into New York I believe. Miami had a few some years ago but they were outlawed. And we had them in the U.S. until the government ran them out. Fact is Seattle has some in the early part of the 1900s but again they were outlawed.

    “According to the Journal of Law and Economics in February 1915, 518 private jitneys in Seattle carried 49,000 passengers daily.”

    I think there is room for more than just the government.

    And then there is one group in the Midwest (I’d have to dig it up) that suggest widespread use of jitneys could reduce greenhouses gases by as much as 50-75%. I think their numbers are high but worth looking at the idea.

  35. 40

    Bluecollar Libertarian spews:

    Here’s an National Academy Press piece on the issue. Enjoy

    “While transit contracting has long existed but increased only slightly in the United States during the past decade, it has grown much more rapidly in Western Europe, where it was rare as recently as 15 years ago. Several European countries, including France and Great Britain, introduced privatization measures during the 1980s; during the past decade, many other European countries have followed suit, though in different ways. European Union (EU) requirements to open quasigovernmental activities to competition by public and private suppliers from all member countries have prompted some of these changes, as have concerns about rising transit expenditures during the 1980s and 1990s.
    Many of Europe’s transit modes, as well as intercity passenger rail, have been affected. This appendix provides a brief overview of circumstances in several Western European countries, focusing on bus services.1 Table A-1 summarizes public- and private-sector roles in transit provision in the United States, Canada, and five EU countries.
    It should be noted that many studies have examined the effects of bus privatization, deregulation, and competitive contracting on transit fares, ridership, and service quality in Great Britain and elsewhere in Western Europe. A review of the international experience with transit privatization and contracting is beyond the scope and resources of the present study.”;page=138

  36. 41

    ex New Yorker / libertarian communist spews:

    When I lived in NY I took a private jitney, it cost about 4x more than the subway and half the cost ofa cab — but on the subway it’s 100 degrees in the station in summer. Wore a suit, what a drag.

    Anyway it was very much totally illegal. It was run by a lady and you needed a reference to get on the list. It came to your block and corner and you had to be on time. Then in side the van, you had to shut up and not talk. THAT was great. People read their papers nad had a semi decent ride from Brooklyn to Midtown manhattan.

    A big benefit of being illegal was the lady running this operation could kick you off with no lawsuit to follow if you were ever rude, late too much, stinky, didn’t pay, etc.

    We should allow jitneys and also allow anyone to pay anyone to carry them anywhere, this would mean the single occupant vehicle gets filled up by another rider who pays the driver! Suddenly the $20 for parking downtown is more feasible. Suddenly if you have a car you can make what, 10 or 13 bucks taking folks downtown from the more remote parts of Seattle? What would it be five bucks a trip? You could easily have two passengers and make 20 bucks a day! And a SOV would become a three person vehicle. Clearly this is the cheapest and quickest way to promote car pooling — simply stop banning carpooling for money!

  37. 42

    ex New Yorker / libertarian communist spews:

    it should be pointed out that the laws that provide for metro give it the right to veto anyone else offering service for money…this is a monopoly with typical monopoly effects…poor service….contraction of supply…little production differentiation….lack of competition, innovation, etc.

    Think about it. We get one kind of transit service, a slow bus ride. but when it’s milk? We have soy, nonfat, chocolate, we have coffee creamers, we have cream, we have organic, we have ten different sizes and fifteen levels of fattyness. That’s how a market works — innovation and differentiation.

    A monopoly, stifling everything, not so much innocation, not so much product differentiation, and in general, LESS of the product!

  38. 43

    SJ spews:


    36. Chris Stefan spews:

    Putting garages or parking lots at stations like Capitol Hill would be absurd. Of the current or planned stations within the Seattle City Limits, both Roosevelt and Northgate will have P&R lots. (ok the one for Roosevelt is a bit of a hike, but it isn’t THAT far)

    Is “absurd” is a useful word to use in an argument or an excuse for avoiding reason?

    First, I was pretty clear that if one does NOT have adequate mass transit for the local region, as we do not, then parking is a necessity. Is that an absurd statement? Exactly how do you think people in my neighborhood (Holy Names) are going to get to the Broadway station?

    The idea driving this absurd planning is that the population density close to the Broadway station will (eventually) grow big enough to justify the station. Perhaps, but currently there is relatively little housing near the station and what is being built is high end condos.

    Actually the parking-less station was part of a larger concept under Mike Nickles. He saw Broadway as a high density canyon. Building requirements were changed to permit six story apartment/condoes. The standards also decreased the number of parking spaces required per apartment and failed to require setbacks. So while there will be a lot of street level retail space, the assumption is that this space will be used by the new tenants since the sidewalks will not be especially pedestrian friendly and there will be no new parking spaces.

    Given the predominantly single family, upper iincome mix of people on Capital Hill this makes as much sense as building a shopping mall on Mercer Island but not letting that mall have parking spaces. Add LR to this mall and you get my idea.

    Absurd? Perhaps.

    As for the issue of placemen of the station at SeaTac, blaming this on TSA or the Port does not change the issue. Nor does it help to point out that some other airports are designed even more poorly. I suspect that the location of the station vis a vis the airport proper was a kludge, a way to save money. Similar facilities elsewhere usually provide moving walkways or shuttles.

    As for the fares, I agree with you the fare is reasonable. I did not understand that it was an open day pass.

  39. 45

    Michael spews:


    There have been a few proposals to do that thrown around and they’ve always gone nowhere.

    I’m betting that as the price of gas goes up and the access to cars go down (75% are bought on credit) we’ll see more of this sort of thing set up through car-share websites and good old Craig’s List.

  40. 46

    Transit Voter spews:

    SJ @43, The Broadway district is already one of the densest in the state. Don’t just look at the one-block radius; check out the neighborhood west of Broadway. Thousands of residents, all within walking distance of the station.

    How do you get to the station from Holy Names? Ride the bus and transfer! or ride your bicycle.

    What’s absurd is the notion that unless it’s at your front door, you have to drive to get there. You live in the City; get used to it.

    Re parking at Capitol Hill station, just which set of apartment and business buildings would you propose to demolish to build commuter parking? And at a cost of $X0,000 per parking space, just where would the money come from?

    It might come as a surprise to you but I expect a lot of people in that area just might object to such a strategy.