Sound Transit

WPPSS on Wheels

by Citizens for Mobility

What’s Wrong? What Needs to be Done?

 The current Sound Transit rail plan can best be described as WPPSS on Wheels.   Stated simply, it is a disaster.

What’s wrong with the Sound Transit Plan

- It will result in busses being dumped onto downtown surface streets, resulting in increased congestion and deteriorating air quality.

- In many cases transit travel times will be increased from their bus predecessors. This is true "in spades" for Eastside transit riders traveling to downtown Seattle, who, no longer benefiting from the bus tunnel, will have to crawl through surface street congestion.

- It will eat up all our transit resources for the foreseeable future, thus precluding more cost effective measures. This was the fate of Los Angeles, which embarked on a similar system, under guidance of some of the same individuals.

 What needs to be done

- If the goal is to provide an alternative to congestion, then finish and enforce (electronically) the HOV lane system, including gaps such as downtown Seattle to Northgate and across Lake Washington.

- If the goal is to increase transit capacity, then do the same. A busway with discharges and pick-ups off-line, actually has far more capacity than a rail line, particularly a surface "light rail" line. -- Also, add bus-only lanes on arterials, with traffic signal preemption.

- If the goal is to increase transit usage, then lower the price of riding the bus. The University of Washington’s U-Pass system has worked well. Expand and replicate this kind of program, lower the bus fare, and greatly increase the vanpool system.

- If the goal is to provide mobility for single occupant vehicles in addition to transit and HOVs -- a goal Sound Transit manifestly fails to achieve -- then convert our HOV lanes to HOT (high occupancy/toll) lanes (i.e. charge a "market clearing" price for SOVs to use whatever "empty space" is left over after use of these lanes by transit and HOVs), as is being done in San Diego, Orange County and Toronto. Far from needing subsidization, such a program adds revenue to the system.

- If the goal is to promote walkable, "neighborhood style" (so-called "new urbanist") development, then zone in such a way that new urbanist development is the easy and profitable way for developers to go.

- If the goal is to reduce transit-related air pollution, then convert the bus and vanpool fleet to compressed natural gas. Also, build bike paths.

- If the goal is to increase "access" which, to a certain extent, can substitute for physical mobility, then lean on TCI/ATT to allow any internet service provider to hook up to the cable system, as Portland is doing; and/or put in a publicly owned system, as Tacoma is doing.

The template for "what needs to be done" is essentially what this region did after the WPPSS debacle. Back then we pursued a mold-breaking, first-in-world "least cost" approach to energy production and usage. The analysis for a similar least cost approach to transportation has been developed in some detail. If we have the gumption, we have the opportunity to be first-in-world again.

As we said above, the Sound Transit rail plan is a disaster. There is also, we regret to inform, a not inconsiderable element of bad faith within the transit establishment in the plan's promulgation, since it knows full well that the books have been "cooked." Crucial elements of the plan, such as the capacity of the downtown transit tunnel, have been misrepresented to us. Stated bluntly, we have been lied to.

An honest assessment of the region’s needs, and the tools we have at hand to meet those needs, would not lead to the Sound Transit proposal. Rather it would lead to a system that provides us dramatically superior mobility, gives us higher environmental benefits, and does so for considerably less money. Before irrevocably committing our region to WPPSS on Wheels, let us pause at least briefly to consider the alternative.

The statement above was prepared by Citizens for Mobility (CFM), an association of concerned citizens dedicated to promoting cost-effective, environmentally-friendly mobility solutions to traffic congestion in central Puget Sound Area.

Go here for Citizens for Mobility legal filing of October 23

Go here for Citizens for Mobility analysis of the downtown Seattle Bus Tunnel 

WPPSS, pronounced whoops stands for Washington Public Power Supply System, which is now famous for defaulting on 2.25 billion dollars of government bonds for canceled nuclear power plants. Click here for one version of the story of WPPSS (outside site).

For further information or to contribute to CFM efforts please contact

Public Interest Transportation Forum home page.

Historic page from July 2000.