Sound Transit's Claims About Light Rail's Environmental Benefits Are More Than a Little Dubious

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The Central Link light rail line is one-year-old today. And, like any parents who see their toddler's ability to hold his head upright as a sign of genius, Sound Transit seems to be heavily overestimating Link's accomplishments.

On the colorful, free, round-trip ticket the agency handed out to riders today, Sound Transit says 6 million riders rode Link in the past year, resulting in "1.8 million gallons of gas saved" and "93,000 barrels of oil saved." But scratch that claim even slightly and it doesn't add up at all.

As the agency acknowledges in a recent press release, those numbers are based on the assumption that, were it not for light rail, every single one of the light-rail passengers' trips would have been made in a single-occupancy car--a completely baseless assumption.

According to ST Spokesperson Bruce Gray, the agency derived the savings figures by dividing the total estimated number of miles traveled by Link riders by the average miles-per-gallon of a mid-sized car (43,644,739 miles/23.4 MPG=1.8 million gallons of unused gas).

But, of course, it's likely that the majority of light rail trips would have previously been made on a Metro bus, not in a car, as light rail reduced, eliminated, and/or improved upon Metro routes like the 194. Gray acknowledges that this wasn't factored in, cautioning that the numbers were based on estimates and are only intended to "provide a snapshot."

A very deceptive one at that.

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