Public Interest Transit Forum -

Archive: Q&A on the Seattle Monorail Initiative From a Leading Supporter and a Leading Opponent, October, 1997

Before the Seattle Monorail Initiative passed in October, 1997, the Public Interest Transit Forum posed five pertinent questions to Dick Falkenbury, initiator of the Monorail Initiative, and Mike Luis, Vice President, Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, a spokesperson for the opposition. Neither saw the responses of the other before writing the responses they provided below. Both gentlemen also contributed statements to the official Seattle Voters' Pamphlet.

Question 1. What transportation market(s) would the elevated transit system serve and how many daily or annual riders will use it? How many would be new transit riders and how many would be folks who would otherwise ride on Metro?

Falkenbury response to question 1: When you, the Monorail rider, get on at 107th and Lake City Way, at 1:07, you will be downtown at 1:17 -- no traffic jams, pedestrians, or accidents will stop you. Faster than any other system. And guaranteed. We expect a minimum of 100,000 riders per day.

Luis response to question 1: No ridership figures have been released, and I assume there are none. Some of the analysis of the RTA light rail line might yield useful figures for the eastern monorail line.

Question 2. How do we know that the corridor alignments and station locations that are specified in the ballot measure provide the public development authority with sufficient flexibility to design a cost-effective in-city rapid transit system?

Falkenbury: The corridor for the Monorail simply goes where the people are living within walking distance of the stations. The second criterion was to go where transit use is already heavy.

Luis: The station locations are totally random and are not based on projected ridership. Since the City Council can amend an initiative after two years, however, there is flexibility in the highly unlikely event this thing gets anywhere near construction.

Question 3. Will farebox revenues cover all costs? If not, where will revenues come from to pay capital and operating costs?

Falkenbury: Farebox revenues cover 20% for most systems; 80% of most system costs (including Metro) are drivers. Because this Monorail type system will not have drivers (like Vancouver's Skytrain), it will make money. And the stations are designed to be commercial centers -- lattes, newspapers, dry cleaners, bike repair and grocery stores, etc. -- which will generate a lot of money.


Question 4. As an in-city system, would the elevated transit system complement or compete with the Seattle components of the Regional Transit Authority's plan for a regional mass transit system? How and where?

Falkenbury: The RTA's light rail system will somewhat parallel the Monorail along the U District-Downtown-Rainier Beach corridor -- if it ever gets built.

Luis: Pretty obvious, looking at a map. Note also that the West Seattle line will compete with a new RTA express bus route.

Question 5. Compare the cost-effectiveness of the proposed elevated transit system to street-level light rail and to underground light rail.

Falkenbury: The elevated system called for in our Initiative will move at an average speed of 45 mph, will cost one-fifth to operate and one-fourth to build and the stations will generate income. Light rail will take 15 years to build, go 14 mph average (according to Federal Transit Administration statistics) and will cost $9 for every rider that boards.

Luis: I have no idea. Nor do the proponents.

What does the PITF mean by cost-effective?

We define two measures of cost-effectiveness:

(1) The operating and capital cost of the project per passenger trip, net of costs associated with changes to the existing transit system produced or necessitated by the project, and

(2) The operating and capital cost of the project per new transit rider created.

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Last modified: February 07, 2011