Tuesday, September 30, 2008


James Robert Deal
September 30, 2008

Seattle buses are jam packed, and we need to expand the fleet. (See Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “Region’s Buses Overflow,” September 7.) To do that Metro proposes to raise fares and sales tax, and Sound Transit wants to raise sales tax to build more light rail, all of which will hurt the people we want to help. To find a solution we should look outside the box, in this case, outside the bus. Look at all those mostly empty cars driving by. We need to make use of their spare capacity.

I would propose a ride sharing plan in which we would use our computers, cell phones, and pagers to connect those needing rides with those offering rides. Such a plan could be implemented in a few months and at low cost. A ride sharing program could easily get a quarter of the vehicles off the roads and freeways. We could increase average occupancy levels, currently at a paltry 1.31 persons per vehicle. We could reduce total fuel consumption and meet our commitments under the Kyoto Protocols.

Congestion pricing might perhaps also be utilized in conjunction with ride sharing, however, the rising cost of fuel is acting as a form of congestion pricing and so too would an increase in fuel taxes, which I advocate, and so congestion pricing by the mile might not be necessary.

Ride share riders would take an orientation class on proper behavior, pass a written test and a criminal background check, and be issued a ride share ID badge with their photo on it. Ride share drivers too would be trained and licensed and get a badge too. Their vehicles would exhibit ride share medallions and might have dashboard GPS computers which would tell them where to make pickups and deliveries consistent with the drivers’ intended routes. Some kind of sign would be posted in or on their vehicle to indicate where drivers are going. Part-time drivers might start their trips to work early to allow time for pick-ups and drop-offs. Taxi drivers and others needing work might work full time as ride share drivers.

We already have excellent ride share programs, but they run fixed routes at fixed times and carry the same riders every day. My proposal is flexible: It would give us door-to-door service, from wherever we are to wherever we need to go—from home-to-transit center—from transit center-to-office, from office-to-lunch, from lunch-to-office, from office-to-gym, from gym-to-grocery, and from grocery-to-home. Our children could get rides to and from school, daycare, and the ex-spouse. A person needing a ride could hold up his or her ID badge and waive down a ride share driver.

My theory is that if public transportation would deliver a better service, more people would ride it. I certainly would.

Riders would pay a reasonable monthly fee, perhaps based on passenger-miles used, more than for a standard bus pass, but definitely cheaper than riding solo in a single occupancy vehicle. Ride share drivers would get credits and be paid at the end of each month for each passenger-mile they deliver. No money would change hands during trips.

To go to Bellevue for a seminar, I would ride to the Lynnwood Park & Ride in a public van or private vehicle carrying two or six others. There I would pick up a fast bus to Bellevue Park & Ride, and from there I would pick up a ride share which would carry me and two or six others to our ultimate destinations, all in the same quadrant of Bellevue. The two or six cars my fellow passengers and I would normally be driving would stay at home burning no fuel and taking up no space on the roads. We would all get to our destinations a lot faster than we would if we drove alone or took buses and made transfers in the conventional way.

To hold a job it is usually necessary to drive a car, a heavy financial burden for some. Those without vehicles are handicapped by immobility. If we had the kind of ride sharing program I am proposing, families could sell some or all of their vehicles, which would raise their effective standard of living. We could take a nap on the way to work or listen to music or maybe work on our laptops. Our general anxiety level would drop and our quality of life would rise.

Underused bus routes could be replaced with door-to-door ride share service. Bus drivers would double as ride share drivers. They might drive Metro vans and serve major venues, running flexible routes, taking people and their shopping bags all the way home. At night, drivers would wait until riders are safely inside. Riders would feel more secure and so more of us would use the system. Most ride share drivers would be private citizens driving their own vehicles. At night most buses would be parked, and smaller vans and ordinary cars would provide customized, door-to-door transit service.

Buses are packed in Seattle but not elsewhere. Ride sharing is not less but more important in smaller towns, suburbs, and rural areas where densities are low and fixed route bus schedules do not work well. Ride sharing should be implemented on a state-wide basis. People should be able to share rides over long distances. Traffic congestion and comprehensive transit solutions are not just local issues.

Here in Lynnwood it is embarrassing to see so many buses driving by mostly empty. In large part we have a “pretend” bus system with drivers putting in their time burning diesel fuel, driving around in 30,000 pound buses carrying almost no one.

The only full buses I see in Lynnwood are the express commuter buses. Those who ride them generally drive solo to the Park & Ride and fill up a parking lot the size of a subdivision. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have ride share drivers bring commuters in groups of two or six to the Park & Ride?

We accept our traffic jams, our prodigious fuel consumption, our acres of parking, and the doubling and tripling of our population, perhaps because it is all we have known. We cling to the belief that we have to build something expensive to solve our traffic congestion problem—light rail, monorail or more freeway lanes. No, we can solve our problems before we build any of these things, simply by utilizing our road and vehicle capacity more efficiently.

Sound Transit proposes that we tax ourselves to extend light rail north, south, and east. Building out a complete light rail system might be a good thing to do some day, but it is certainly not a quick fix and certainly not the first thing we should do. Moreover, if we fail to implement a ride sharing program first, perhaps along with congestion pricing to encourage and subsidize it, light rail will never make a significant dent in the problem. The expensive solution is not always the best solution.

My full proposal is lengthy, so I have posted it for your further consideration at: http://www.comprehensive-transportation.blogspot.com/.