Public Interest Transportation Forum

The 1996 Regional Express TV Ad was Seven Ways Dishonest

by the Forum Editors

In October 1996, the Editors of the Public Interest Transportation Forum saw seven dishonest claims in the 30 second Regional Express ad that was widely played on regional TV. Here is a transcript of the ad to remind you of what you may have seen. Click on a highlighted claim to jump immediately to the dishonesty further down on this page, or simply scroll down to see all seven points of dishonesty.

The TV Ad Transcript:


Voice only: For thirty years we've heard the same old arguments about regional transit.

[White lettering on a blackened screen:]

[The following list shown, not voiced]
It's too soon.
It's too late.
It's too much.
It's too little.
Less roads.
More roads.

[List fades to white lettering on a background of slowly moving bumper to bumper freeway traffic, five lanes in one direction visible.]

Had enough?

Regional Express
will reduce
rush hour traffic
53,000 cars a day.

Light Rail moves
as many people as
12 lanes of freeway

for millions less.

81 miles of new
commuter rail

20 new
express bus routes

And the "no" campaign?

Voice only: They'd have us sit here for the next 30 years.

Regional Express
YES RTA (not voiced)
It's time!

Paid for by Regional Express

end transcript of the TV advertisement

Here are the seven dishonest claims we see in the above TV ad from the pro RTA campaign:

1. "Regional Express" is a dishonest name. It implies fast. Light rail and commuter rail, the biggest expenditures of the rail-bus plan, are not fast compared to driving or bus travel when measuring door-to-door trips and including transfers between vehicles. In Portland, express buses operating in rush hour along a route parallel to the MAX light rail from Gresham are providing faster service to downtown Portland than the train, and attracting riders from the train. The biggest part of Puget Sound RTA is trains that are not particularly fast.

2. There is a clear implication in the combination of the picture and the words ("reduce rush hour traffic") that RTA will reduce traffic congestion. Not so. To their credit, no RTA government manager or board member claims that RTA will reduce traffic congestion. The pro-RTA campaign, however, comes dishonestly close to delivering this message to voters eager for congestion relief.

3. The ad's claim that Regional Express will reduce rush hour traffic by 53,000 cars a day when made against a visual backdrop of a few dozen cars stuck in a traffic jam makes 53,000 seem like a big number. In fact, the number of trips in the year 2020 will be in excess of five million round trips per day, that's 5,000,000. The vaunted traffic reduction from the RTA Plan would be just one percent, which is exceeded each and every year in the growth of traffic around Puget Sound. We need a Plan that does much more than RTA will do.

4. Furthermore, around 60 percent of the RTA Plan's reduced traffic will come from improved express bus service which we could and would have even without RTA. While new RTA bus routes will bring in most of the new passengers, expensive, low-performance commuter and light rail trains will absorb at least 70 percent of the tax and bond money. As environmental leader Emory Bundy testified to the King County Council, "The RTA's plan amounts to a surrender to worsening congestion. Its consequences will try the people's patience, pollute the air, and choke economic activity. Prodigious expenditures will be devoted to attracting 18,500 new train riders -- six-tenths of one percent of the region's population -- while the population growth will exceed 600,000 -- more than 30 times greater. Meanwhile, a plethora of more effective measures will be starved."

5. The claim that light rail will carry more people than twelve lanes of freeway is only true under these unrealistic conditions: if the trains are packed full with standing room only and moving at close intervals, and the freeway is carrying very few carpools and no buses. In real life conditions in cities like New York and Washington, DC, the Federal Transit Administration reports that buses on HOV lanes carry more people in rush hour than the high capacity subway lines in the same city.

6. The claim that Light Rail moves people for "millions less" obscures the fact that the proposed Seattle light rail tunnel under Capitol Hill and the Ship Canal will cost more per mile than most freeways and is the single most expensive component of the RTA rail-bus plan at $800 million or more.

7. The RTA proponents claim that the opposition has no alternatives. Fact is, the campaign opposing the RTA and a number of individuals have proposed many alternatives, including expanding the parts of the RTA Plan that are good and eliminating the parts of the RTA Plan that are bad. The real RTA campaign and this Web site are about voters choosing between a comprehensive government plan that wastes money and won't work, and a number of alternative solutions that cost less and are much more likely to produce results. The Regional Express web site makes the similarly dishonest claim that there are no alternatives to the RTA Plan.

Postscript: A second TV ad from Regional Express continues the trend of dishonesty. Particularly objectionable are the new explicit implication that the RTA plan will "solve" congestion, and (again) that the opposition has no alternatives, a claim also made by Regional Express in their web site. Alternatives to RTA are listed in this site.

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This page updated February 07, 2011.  Between the horizontal lines, this page is unchanged since 1996.