Included in SMART’s 2006 environmental impact report were ridership projections for the proposed 14-station, 70-mile rail line between Cloverdale and Larkspur. Here are the highlights of that 5 1/2-year old study. No tables were provided for earlier vs. later years.
- Average weekday ridership = 5,041
- Average AM (or PM) peak ridership = 2,451
- Southbound AM peak ridership = 1,531
- Northbound AM peak ridership = 922
- Number of Sonoma residents riding trains in the AM peak = 2,041
- Number of Sonoma residents taking trains within Sonoma in the AM peak = 1,809
- Number of Sonoma residents taking trains to Marin destinations in the AM = 230
- Number of riders taking train to the ferry in the AM peak = 119
In February 2011, the SMART board accepted an updated ridership study prepared by Dowling Associates. The study included a ridership forecast for the Santa Rosa-San Rafael operating segment that included ridership to and Cotati Road stations in Petaluma as these had not been deferred (aka eliminated) at that point. Tables were provided for 2015 and 2035.
Readers should realize at the time the projections were prepared, SMART had not announced a delay in the start-up. It's unknown why 2035 was chosen rather than 2029, the final year of the 20-year, quarter-cent sales tax authorized by Measure Q. Growth in ridership between 2015 and 2035 is based on the assumption that most of the population and job growth projected by the Association of Bay Area Governments for Marin and Sonoma counties locates within about 1 mile of the proposed rail stations, an assumption that is subject to signfiicant pushback from local jurisdications as it implies far greater densities and far more development than currently exist in these areas.
Dowling’s projections were very different than those in the EIR, and eventually they were rejected as unreasonable by anyone who scrutinized them. The best statement was made by SMART’s Vice-Chair Judy Arnold of the Transportation Authority of Marin board, memorialized in the TAM minutes.
“Commissioner Arnold noted that although the updated ridership projections don’t seem to match original projections, a joint review of the Dowling report between SMART, MTC and Dowling resulted in agreement that the numbers were incorrect.”
I’ll use the projections for 2015 to illustrate why SMART's vice chair made such a statement.
- Average weekday ridership = 2,860
- Average AM (or PM) peak ridership = 1,399
- Southbound AM peak ridership = 691
- Northbound AM peak ridership = 707
- Within Sonoma County during AM (or PM) peak = 34
- Sonoma to Marin in AM peak = 425
- Marin to Sonoma in AM peak = 498
A close look at the figures for the updated ridership reveals multiple anomalies. For example, Dowling projected more commuters getting on trains in San Rafael going northbound than arriving in San Rafael. But the biggest whopper is the number 34 for the number of rail riders boarding and getting off trains within Sonoma in the morning. Even a SMART critic like me expects more than 34 riders within Sonoma County in the morning peak hours.
What does this mean?
- Three years after voters approved Measure Q, there exists no valid ridership study for the rail segment that the SMART board intends to construct.
- Without a valid projection of ridership, there can’t be a valid projection of fare revenues. Without a valid projection of fare revenues there can’t be a valid financial plan.
- The SMART board intends to issue about $175 million in bonds early next year. It hasn’t yet produced a updated financial plan incorporating a ridership forecast that it thinks is reasonable.
Think about it.