Sounder fills up with new riders

More and more people are hopping on Sounder trains to commute between Everett and Seattle to avoid clogged roads and the pain at the pump.

The trains’ ridership has been rising rapidly since a new $10.2 million platform opened in Mukilteo on May 31. About 29,000 people took the trains in June, said Linda Robson, a spokeswoman for Sound Transit. That’s up 22 percent from May.

Ridership last month saw a 45 percent increase compared with June 2007, Robson said.

John Strehlow started taking the Sounder in Mukilteo about a month ago. After he gets to Seattle, the Mukilteo man takes a few buses to Redmond.

A round trip between Mukilteo and Seattle costs $8 for an adult. Strehlow said his commute is long, but it costs him nothing because his company pays for bus and train fares.

“Gas prices made me take another look at commuting,” he said. “There’s no surprise there.”

Sounder trains make three round trips between Everett and Seattle daily on weekdays. The trains also stop in Edmonds and Mukilteo.

The trains are stable and offer a free wireless Internet connection, Strehlow said. That allows him to get some work done.

“A ride is so nice,” he said. “You can actually use your laptop.”

Gas prices are likely to stay high, Strehlow said. More tax dollars should be spent to improve mass transit, especially light rail, he said.

The Sound Transit Board of Directors is expected to decide Thursday whether to put a package of transit projects on the November ballot. A $14.7 billion plan under consideration aims to tackle bus, train and light rail projects over the next 15 years in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties.

The measure needs a supermajority vote — at least 12 of the 18 board members — to make it to the ballot. Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon and Edmonds City Councilman Deanna Dawson, who are both Sound Transit board members, initially opposed the 15-year plan. They now support the plan after it was changed last week to include more bus service in Snohomish County.

The measure should bring light rail to Lynnwood by 2023, Dawson said. It also aims to increase bus service about 30 percent in Snohomish County, delivering immediate relief to commuters struggling with high gas prices.

“King County made some compromise on this,” she said. “We are very pleased.”

If approved, taxpayers in the Sound Transit district would pay an additional 4 or 5 cents of sales tax on a $10 purchase. The district includes the cities and urban parts of unincorporated Snohomish County.

Meanwhile, another round-trip Sounder train is scheduled to be added to the Everett-Seattle route on Sept. 22.

The new Mukilteo platform has a parking lot big enough for 68 vehicles. Marcia Aguero takes a ferry from Clinton to Mukilteo, where she switches to the Sounder to go to Seattle.

Aguero said she has to walk pretty fast to switch from a ferry to a train.

“I really support the public transit,” Aguero said. “It’s really nice to ride on a train. But the train schedule isn’t in sync with the ferry schedule.”

Aguero, a technical writer for a Seattle computer company, said she started using the Sounder last week partly because her company pays her $300 per month if she doesn’t drive to work. Aguero said she needs to commute only three days a week because she works at home two days a week.

The train takes her deep into Seattle past her workplace. Once she gets off at the King Street Station, Aguero said she has to take a northbound metro bus to reach her destination.

“My first week hasn’t been positive,” she said.

That the Mukilteo platform has no shelters concerns Aguero. She thinks about the winter rains to come.

Shelters and other improvements could be added in 2009, Robson said. A second platform also is expected to be built on the south side of the two sets of tracks. That should allow southbound and northbound Sounder trains to operate on separate tracks.

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