Public Interest Transportation Forum

An Independent E-zine on Public Transportation
and Mobility Issues in the Puget Sound Region

PITF has been on-line since 1996! See it here as in 1996.

For a new direction as PITF entered its third decade of online presentation, and as Sound Transit with voter support advanced its $54 billion ST3 expansion plan, we decided to try describing what's happening with some rhythm in a music video titled "Seattle Train Wreck."  Click here  to see our efforts in music production.

Last Update: August 1, 2021

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Hosted by Global Telematics in Seattle

Founders: Dick Nelson (R.I.P.: 1936-2019), John Niles, and Jerry Schneider
Editor in Chief: John Niles
Contributing Authors: James MacIsaac (R.I.P.: 1941-2014), Emory Bundy, Rich Harkness, Don Padelford

Click here to offer a comment, including error reports, on anything you read on this site.

PITF Lead Stories

Sounder North Should Be Shut Down -- Public Hearing Testimony from Smarter Transit, November 4th, 2021

The "paint-is-cheap" speech by Peter Rogoff in 2010 while he was Federal Transit Administrator pertains to his current job.

Former Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, now the CEO of Sound Transit, made some remarks from a prepared text in 2010 at a transit focused conference in Boston. His thoughtful remarks were widely discussed at the time around the U.S., and are still being discussed by critics of transit development in the central Puget Sound region. Rogoff offered wise policy guidance in 2010 that is still pertinent for transit leaders and transit supporters in the Sound Transit service territory, which is now under pressure to control rising costs of light rail right-of-way acquisition and construction.  Rogoff declared in his remarks for the record in 2010:

Supporters of public transit must be willing to share some simple truths that folks don't want to hear.  One is this -- Paint is cheap, rails [sic] systems are extremely expensive.

Yes, transit riders often want to go by rail.  But it turns out you can entice even diehard rail riders onto a bus, if you call it a "special" bus and just paint it a different color than the rest of the fleet.

Once you've got special buses, it turns out that busways are cheap.  Take that paint can and paint a designated bus lane on the street system.  Throw in signal preemption, and you can move a lot of people at very little cost compared to rail.

A little honesty about the differences between bus and rail can have some profound effects.

While billions of dollars have been spent on Seattle region's light rail network so far, billions more are planned. What remains for the network expansion is compatible with high quality bus service as well as light rail construction, with vast cost differences. 

Read all of Rogoff's extensive remarks on this archived page from the FTA web site:

Seattle Times op-ed, August 31, 2019 by Kaitlin Smith, a University of Washington senior who has been a close observer of Link Light Rail operations in the Rainier Valley, and is a new outspoken critic of the safety implications: "...the street-level tracks in Rainier Valley cause additional injuries and deaths every year. Competition with car traffic throttles the speed of Link’s entire central line. Eventually the tracks must be elevated, and Sound Transit and the city need to be prepared to pay the cost: for the construction and for every drop of blood spilled while it waits."

Seattle Times reporter Mike Lindblom, July 27, 2019: "More than 75 collisions have occurred in the history of the Link light-rail line, which just marked its 10th anniversary. Most have involved vehicles whose drivers turned left against a red signal, but at least 21 have involved people who accidentally or deliberately stepped into the path of a train." 

PITF spoke up about the Rainier Valley light rail safety problem along the tracks five years before the line opened in 2009: "Light Rail Planned for Seattle's Rainier Valley Would be Too Hazardous to Operate, According to Federal Guidelines" 

Published in New Geography: "Will Seattle light rail extended to Snohomish County create intolerable crowding on peak period trains in King County?" by John Niles and David Lange, December 22, 2018

Comparing monthly ridership trends of Central Link Light Rail and King County Metro Transit buses (update in process)

Cost Exceeds Benefits in Sound Transit’s ST3 Light Rail Expansion

Governor Jay Inslee receives petition (pdf-part1) to conduct more rigorous evaluation of potentially cost-effective alternatives to ST3.    Here is more detail (pdf-part2).   Inslee rejected the petition.

Seattle light rail as of 2017 finally met the original agency ridership goals set as justification back in 2003 and 2007 for the Federal grant funding needed to build it.

Sound Transit's installation of light rail passenger train tracks on the I-90 Lake Washington floating bridge will reduce vehicle, passenger, and freight capacity.

Fourteen daily passenger trains are at risk of being hit by a severe landslide on any rain-soaked weekday along the Puget Sound shoreline just north of Seattle.

Item posted: September 11,  2019

Resource Hot Links
Useful documents for researchers!

Environmental challenge from Bellevue citizens (including a former mayor) alleging damage to the Mercer Slough Nature Park has been beaten back by Sound Transit.

The Sounder North train is illegal, because costs per passenger-mile for Sounder North far exceed those for the express bus service operating in the same corridor.

Dollars per passenger mile cost of the Sounder commuter train between Everett and Seattle are much more than bus costs in the same corridor, an issue now reported to the public by the Sound Transit Citizen Oversight Panel (COP).

 The cutter head on the tunnel boring machine (TBM) named "Bertha" for digging the SR 99 highway tunnel under downtown Seattle had an area more than seven times larger than the cutter head on the TBMs used by Sound Transit for light rail subway tubes (pictures).

Latest Twitter messages from John Niles


Archive of older stories:

High Cost of Seattle-Area Transit Needs to be Understood and Reduced Before Additional Taxes are Authorized.

Message to Washington State Legislature in 2014: Make Sound Transit build what we are already paying for before letting the agency ask voters for higher taxes.

Communication sent to the Sound Transit Board on August 24, 2016 by seven former and present day elected officials on why the $54 billion ST3 agency expansion should be removed from the November ballot even after being approved by the Sound Transit Board on June 23, 2016.

The profound difference between two official forecasts of future regional rail ridership remains following PITF questioning of Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl in a Forum at Agency Headquarters.

Seattle and Portland regional transit operating costs -- adjusted for size of service area, performance, and regional cost of living -- are remarkably equivalent.

Response to the Sound Transit Vice Chairwoman: Sound Transit is slowly building passenger light rail lines where buses provide quite adequate service already. At the same time, neither buses nor trains reduce traffic congestion.

Cost forecast model for large public transit bus systems suggests those in Washington State are high cost compared to other systems across the U.S.A.

Replacement of Alaskan Way Viaduct by a tolled tunnel sets up Seattle downtown for additional traffic on surface streets

Sample of 40 Central Link light rail runs in early 2010 indicated delays of 3 minutes or more in about a third of trips.

Sound Transit goal is 40% recovery of light rail expenses through fares, but in first months of operation, revenue from riders covered 11%.

Try out Central Link light rail now ... seats are still plentiful.

Note to those who believe their environment has been damaged by the new Central Link light rail

Since opening for customers on July 18, 2009, Link Light Rail has struck and killed three pedestrians, a number that matches the PITF prediction before the line opened.

University Link construction underway: climate-changing greenhouse gas CO2 emitted during its construction is not compensated by reduced motor vehicle emissions until more than 40 years of light rail operation have passed, according to the U.S. Government.

Misleading campaign messages that helped Sound Transit win the November 2008 Prop 1 election to double its taxes and expand the light rail network

Summary: What Prop 1 does and does not do for the central Puget Sound region

Very Small Portion of Prop 1 Taxes Go to Relieve Bus Overcrowding

Sound Transit's Prop 1 Victory Sends Taxes Soaring Upward for Little Effect on Regional Mobility 

Intriguing Essay: "A Great City, Maybe" by X

Bus Rapid Transit vs Light Rail in Metropolitan Seattle: Guest Essay by Don Padleford

$107 Billion tax collection authorized in the Prop 1 mass transit tax that passed November 4, 2008

Sound Transit's Proposition 1 doubles transportation sales taxes.

There they go again: Sound Transit falsely claimed in 2008 that benefits exceed costs in light rail expansion, just like the agency claimed in 2007.

Sound Transit shows station and tunnel plans for the light rail Seattle Subway to Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium. As under Beacon Hill, there are layers of sand through which the tunnel boring machines will pass.

Sound Transit to State Auditor Brian Sonntag on annual independent performance audits: The answer is NO

Sound Transit is misrepresenting operating & maintenance costs in financials for the future

Issues in the first Prop 1 election which Sound Transit lost, not that much different than issues in the second Prop 1 election that Sound Transit won.

Sound Transit reports that the $5 billion ten-year Sound Move program approved in 1996 is now a $15 billion program through 2020.

Bogota, Colombia runs a million-passengers-per-day bus-based mass transit system.

Sound Transit Citizen Oversight Panel concerned about operating and maintenance costs.

King County implementation of significant Metro Bus expansion is underway, including five new BRT lines.

Sound Transit releases Final Environmental Impact Statement for the six-mile light rail subway between downtown Seattle and Northgate, the Seattle "Big Dig."

King County Metro posts trip cost calculator focused on gasoline price vs bus fare.

High Quality Bus Services Attract as Many New Riders as Rail

CETA recommends USDOT analyze monorail and light rail history and results before recertifying Puget Sound Regional Council to continue conducting transportation planning

Planning Tutorial -- USDOT asks questions, Puget Sound Regional Council provides answers on meeting transportation planning requirements. 

Let Voters Trust Transportation Planning by Richard Harkness, Dick Paylor, and Bill Popp (extended version of Op-Ed in the September 30, 2005 Seattle Post Intelligencer, with research sources)

Bias and Misrepresentation in Sound Transit Analysis of East King County Transit Options

Sound Transit and its Citizen Oversight Panel by Emory Bundy

Updated Sound Transit Report Card by Emory Bundy, reformatted with graphics in pdf

How Sound Transit Abused the Planning Process to Promote Light Rail by Richard C. Harkness, Ph.D

Click for real-time Puget Sound regional travel times from Washington State DOT

Viewings since 1996:


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In November 1996 citizens living in the central Puget Sound region of the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. voted to raise their local taxes and begin implementation of a ten year, $3,900,000,000 rail and bus plan to expand public transportation facilities and services. The plan -- after 14 years overrunning both the approved budget and the original schedule -- is administered by a public agency and special government taxing district, the Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (RTA), later renaming itself Sound Transit. This region includes parts of three counties and the major Washington State cities of Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue and Everett, with a total regional population of about 3 million.

This web site is maintained by a group of Puget Sound area residents who have since 1996 opposed certain parts of the Plan including light rail. We knew back then that voters were deceived about what they were approving, and we said so during the 1996 campaign. In December 2000, Sound Transit revealed that its Seattle light rail plan would cost $1,000,000,000 more than what voters approved, and take three additional years to build. As of late 2012, the first light rail line in Seattle -- opened in July 2009 -- is operating with lower reliability than promised and is well short of the ridership forecast made before opening. Important parts of the 1996 plan were delayed until a phase 2 doubling of the Sound Transit sales tax, a $23 billion phase 2 expansion plan, was approved by voters on November 4, 2008 by a margin of 57% to 43%. This approval came despite false claims made by Sound Transit about cost and performance, as documented within this site.

This Public Interest Transportation Forum presents information that bears on halting light rail expansion and replacing it with other available options that would be implemented faster, cost less, and at the same time achieve better levels of mobility, environmental quality, economic vitality, and general welfare in the region than are currently anticipated in the official Plan. More on why we are doing this.

The Seattle region already has an excellent bus-HOV transit system, organized by county, in which Sound Transit now operates express bus service. To learn more about existing transit systems, click here. 

Co-editor Jerry Schneider operates another web site, Innovative Transportation Technologies.

Co-editor John Niles works on bus improvement research with Mineta Transportation Institute and Breakthrough Technologies Institute.

Co-editors Nelson and Niles have conducted university-funded research on transit-oriented development. Check out a series of papers and presentations for the Transportation Research Board.

Table of Contents


The popular initiative of Seattle citizens in 1997 and 2000 to build a citywide Monorail resulted in a 14 mile initial line approved by voters on November 5, 2002, but the project is now terminated.


Basic Description of the 1996 RTA "Sound Move" Rail and Bus Plan, including a map of the RTA System as promised to voters in 1996

bullet Puget Sound Regional Council takes up the meaning of Least Cost Planning

Emory Bundy reviews the history of Link Light Rail


Sound Transit 1999 EIS Document Predicts that Link Light Rail to Northgate Won't Change Seattle Rush Hour Traffic in 2010


Quick links for Seattle Light Rail invisible.gif (809 bytes)


Assessing Public Opinion on Link Light Rail


Citizens for Mobility sued FTA and Sound Transit in Federal Court, and lost


Niles to Regional Council: Audit whether Sound Transit is really supporting Vision 2020


Talking points on Central Link Light Rail


Seattle's Light Rail: 272 Daily Trains over Four Miles At-Grade Likely to Cause 8 Collision Deaths per Decade


Dick Nelson's comprehensive review of the 2002 Seattle Monorail Green Line Proposal


Bus Rapid Transit using Diesel-Electric Hybrids costs less and does more than Link Light Rail


Sounder commuter train to Everett will cost taxpayers about $100 for each individual ride for the next 20 years


R-E-S-P-E-C-T the Voters, D-E-F-E-A-S-E the Bonds


Court Rules that Sound Transit Can Build Light Rail that Costs More, and Has Fewer Stations


Survey: Light Rail Would Sink the Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID) Funding Package


Seattle Light Rail Opponents Fail to Force an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Light Rail Changes to the Downtown Bus Tunnel


Unresolved Issues With the Link Light Rail FFGA


Link Light Rail Initial Segment Should Have Been "Not Recommended" in the FTA New Starts Rating


Three Ways That Subarea Equity Is Threatened


Twenty-One Mile Link System Cost Overrun Trending Toward Five Billion Dollars


Seven Billion Dollars and No Way to Pay (Yet)


Trains in the Seattle Bus Tunnel Will Reduce Quality of Transit Service and Make Downtown Congestion Worse


Least-Cost Transportation Planning Papers by Dick Nelson and Don Shakow. These papers apply to transportation the kind of thinking that pulled the region back from the nuclear plants of WPPSS.  Also called integrated resource planning.


"The Sound Transit 'starter' system need not be a rail line in Seattle"...Prescient 1999 Op-Ed in the Seattle Times by Dick Nelson, Jim MacIsaac, and Dick Morrill


We Told You So: Classic Essays from Past Years on Puget Sound Area Transportation Issues


Dick Nelson on Transportation and Land Use Performance: Seattle vs. Portland


Alternative to Link Light Rail Proposed by Former Seattle Transit Official Chuck Collins


Dick Nelson on major issues in Destination 2030, the Puget Sound Regional Council's Draft Metropolitan Transportation Plan


Emory Bundy or Aaron Ostrom: Which Environmentalist is Right?


Jim MacIsaac's Analysis of Destination 2030


Unresolved Regional Transportation Issues, including the SR 520 corridor.


Critical commentary on the RTA Plan, pre-1998


Perspective on the Roles and Activities of Various Participants in the Fall, 1996, RTA Campaign


Innovative Transportation Technologies (including Monorails)


Light Rail including information on Portland's MAX system


Commuter Rail


Sound Transit Regional Express and County-Run Bus Systems could become Bus Rapid Transit


The Regional HOV System


PITF Editors Suggest Improvements in the City of Seattle Transportation Strategic Plan


Encouraging Carpools and Vanpools


Transportation Demand Management (TDM)


Telecommuting, Teleservice, and Other Telesubstitution


Intelligent Transportation Systems Track the location of buses on your home or office computer so you know if your bus is still coming or already gone!


Land Use Issues - Transit Oriented Development


Road Tolls and Congestion Pricing


Other Approaches to Congestion


Transportation Finance


E-Mails and Letters to the Editors

bullet Reciprocal Hot Links

Contributions to this Forum are Welcome


About the Editors and Contributors        D                                                         


Last Modified: January 27, 2019

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