Earl proudly notes that last October its tracking showed its approval rating had not only reached its initial level, but increased by more than 10 points to 65 percent. For Sound Transit, honesty was the best policy.
"We weren't defensive. We didn't hide behind the errors," says Earl.
"We still have critics today that bring it up. And I'm like, yeah well.
"You know when I say to the public now that we are on time and on budget, most will say that's great. But the people who haven't liked us from the beginning will say, well not when you compare yourself to Sound Move [Sound Transit's initial plan]. And I'm like, yep, you're right. But, you know, when you have that kind of a screw-up and that's what you are always measured against, then you will always have screwed up.
"Had Sound Transit been more transparent when the first crisis hit, I don't think we would have had quite the credibility deficit that we thought. But they were so busy trying to solve the problem they weren't looking at the consequences. They were in a denial mode. So I think we took an extra credibility hit that we were perceived to be in denial for the first three or four months when the rumors started."
Anyone who does the routing for an agency can tell you how difficult it is. Now try doing that through four counties while connecting up with seven other local agencies. Sound Transit's ST Express bus system is set up as a long haul, urban center to urban center two-way transit service. This allows it to operate in conjunction with local agencies without duplicating their service.
Community Transit is the only local transit agency running service into Seattle from outside the county other than Sound Transit. While Community Transit does operate in the same area, it starts at different park and rides.
"There is only one or two park and rides I think where we both come out of," says Earl.
"The reason we do that is because the volumes are so high by [both agencies] affording to do some of the service we're able to just put more buses on the street in that corridor from south Snohomish County to Seattle. But even when it comes into Seattle, they route differently.
"[For example], I used to take a Community Transit bus because the second stop was about two blocks from [Sound Transit's headquarters]. I would be the last stop on a ST bus and the second stop on a CT bus, so they worked it so that together they weren't just following each other in the corridor. They met different needs for different people in terms of the stops.
"So actually I think we've done a pretty good job on the coordination so that on the customer end they can do easy transfers," says Earl.
Earl says the agency has had a flexpass since it was created that was good on all four of the major agencies in the region and is working on creating a smartcard that would work on every agency in the region.
"So we've tried to make it seamless and easy to understand for the public," says Earl.
"Overall ridership in the region is up for all of us. We're still trying to get better on all fronts about feeding the commuter rail system and restructuring some local routes. I think everybody has that fear that when you bring in rail, you're stealing bus passengers, and that hasn't proven to be the case with commuter rail. So some people, yes, are moving from one to the other, but overall ridership on bus and rail is up. So I'd say what we're doing is getting more out to everybody."
What I didn't realize when I first toured the Sound Transit was that while it has built the system, it does not operate it. The ST Express buses are operated by the local agencies they serve, but that wasn't as shocking as the agency's Sounder commuter rail service. It's operated by BNSF, the area's major freight rail company. I had to ask, a freight company running passenger trains?
"The good thing about BNSF is they know how to run trains," says Earl.
"They are very good at it and they know how to do capital infrastructure because we are doing both with the commuter rail, where we're adding to the infrastructure that is beneficial to both freight and passenger service. That was part of the condition.