In 2010, I wrote how the Puget Sound Regional Council’s (PSRC) Transportation 2040 plan estimated passenger rail would carry half of what Sound Transit officials promised voters in their 2008 ballot measure to expand light rail. That post is available here: PSRC says light rail will carry half of what Sound Transit told voters.

I also made a formal request to the Washington State Auditor’s Office (SAO) to conduct an audit on the differences in the forecasts. In my letter, I asked the SAO to consider some of the following questions:

  • What are the differences between the two ridership models?
  • Sound Transit officials partly justified their taxing authority by how many riders would use their system. If Sound Transit’s demand projections are flawed, how does this impact their authority to impose taxes? Are there any accountability mechanisms for voters?
  • Are there any regulations, contractual obligations, internal controls or policies that require coordination between agencies? If so, were any of these policies violated?
  • Sound Transit is a member of the PSRC. Did Sound Transit officials raise concerns about the differences in ridership forecasts during the Transportation 2040 process?
  • Generally, transit agencies with ridership models based on assumptions different than the regional MPO cannot use those forecasts to apply for Federal grant funding. How do the differences in ridership projections affect the ability of Sound Transit to apply for Federal grant funding? How do these differences affect the Federal grant funding that Sound Transit has already received?
  • Almost all transit agencies and most MPOs create technical committees or peer review committees to provide independent assessments of their ridership forecasts. Does Sound Transit or the PSRC have such technical committees or peer review committees to provide independent assessments of their ridership forecasts? If so, do these bodies coordinate and how was such a large discrepancy missed?
  • The MPO must also review and approve applications for Federal transit grants, as well as Transportation Improvement Plans and Long-Range Transit Plans. How can the PSRC sign off on Sound Transit’s previous and future grant applications with such a large discrepancy between different ridership forecasts?

Yesterday, the SAO informed me they will perform the audit and they will likely choose a contractor next week. To their credit, the SAO also expanded the investigation to include the agency’s cost and revenue projections, which as we have pointed out, are also suspect.

The SAO estimates the audit will likely be completed by October.


[Reprinted from the Washington Policy Center blog; photo credit: alexabboud]