MTC Executive Director Questions SMART’s Ridership Forecast

In 2015, SMART went before the MTC Regional Advisory Board of San Francisco and petitioned for additional funds to add another train car and carry more riders. The problem is that SMART was applying for funds meant to reduce greenhouse gasses and it used its total capacity to base its GHG reduction, not its actual ridership.

The MTC told SMART they overestimated their GHG reduction by 30-50 times the actual amount.

Residents caught on and called SMART out on their troubling practice, writing "of course, none of the expected ridership, based on SMART’s own projections, will exceed the capacity of the two-train set. And since train capacity won’t limit ridership for the foreseeable future, adding third cars will make zero difference."

Misleading projections and overestimations are nothing new for SMART.

1:36- SMART: “What bothers me is that SMART has had funding problems because the quarter cent sales tax has not produced enough money for the entire project, and they haven’t had their hand out like other agencies in the Bay Area.”

2:32- SMART 2: (claims their GHG reduction was higher than any other train projects that got funding and should have been an overriding consideration in granting them the funds)

3:03- MTC: “That’s a very important point and I’m going to respond to it… These GHG reduction numbers are self-reported by the projects’ sponsor so there’s a number of calculations they have to go through, there’s a number of variables involved and different questions, and there’s a verification process that the Air and Resources Board and the State goes through, generally making sure that the variables the project sponsor are using are fair and backed up by evidence.

SMART is already up and running, so [the funds] are not getting SMART started, it is adding capacity.

What staff look at, one of the variables for GHG is ridership so actually looking at the incremental ridership that would be added with the addition of the cars. What SMART did instead of included the capacity, not ridership, the capacity of the entire line for that variable. Which, you know we thought was potentially, not the way we would have done it. And it’s certainly not the way the other project sponsors approached this question. So while the GHG reduction is higher, and that is the number that is currently in their application, we just wanted to point out that this is subject to verification by the state, and we’ve had some discussion at the staff level with SMART about the assumptions that they use.

4:55- SMART: “I can understand that it’s not apples to apples, but please give some consideration to the numbers that is a factor even if it’s not 100% accurate.”

5:40- SMART 2: “You have estimates you have given, your estimates of ridership for greenhouse gases. What would they be?”

MTC: “So I’ll just kind of point this out. The ridership, not to get too much into SMART’s business too much, because this is their business and they hired their own consultants to do this analysis. But you know the estimated forecast for SMART in terms of their whole line, its in the range of 2000-5000 a day. So that’s currently, that’s what they have with two-car sets. Now if you add a third car, I think you can make some sort of estimate that may or may not draw additional riders. It may, but we’re adding capacity to the train so it may.   So, the number that SMART uses was over 30,000 so that, and the number that that is, is the total capacity of the whole line, literally squeezing everybody on it so there’s no room to move. So that’s the capacity, and that’s the number that was used in the GHG calculation. It’s over 30,000, I think if we had done it the number would have been THIRTY to FIFTY times lower than that.”

SMART: “And that was my point, based on that if you went 50% lower does the GHG reduction drop to the same ratio? That still doubles our numbers compared to the rest.”

(sidenote: So MTC tells SMART their calculation is 30-50 times too large. SMART responds, OK but if you just cut it in half…”)

MTC: “There are other variables involved in the calculation, but it would be considerably lower than that, and considerably lower than the other transit calculations.”

7:35- MTC 2: “Maybe Bob if I can just chip in. As you know we’ve got four projects, why don’t’ we recommend all four projects, why are we picking on SMART, right? I do think there is some concern that when smart opens for business, they may not have full trains. And I think the better way to approach this request is to see how they do, if the trains are going to run, and if they are leaving people at the train stop, then we are going to be the first guys helping them find new cars. I frankly do not think that’s going to be their problem… Before you bump up a system, why don’t you try running it and see how it attracts riders. And once you do, then I think you’re going to have a much firmer ground to request funds from the state.”