October 2012 ST Ridership

I dig the new format of the Sound Transit monthly ridership reports:

There were ridership records all over Sounder and ST Express, partly because the bus figures now count rides that were formerly in the Ride Free area. Year-on-year increases in weekday ridership were 15.8% for ST Express (to 57,555) 12.2% for Sounder (11,828); 3.2% for Tacoma Link (4,119); and 12.0% for Central Link (27,254). The Saturday and Sunday splits for Central Link were 19,911 and 17,235, in the same ballpark as the entire ST Express system.

About Martin H. Duke

Martin joined the blog in Fall 2007 and became Editor-in-Chief in 2009. He is originally from suburban DC, but has lived in the Greater Seattle area since 1997. He resides with his family in Columbia City and works as a software engineer in Lower Queen Anne.


  1. There seems to be a bit of an inverse relationship between ST Express and Central Link. Is this because of the tourist factor from the airport?

    • I’m not sure it’s exactly inverse. As with comparisons to KCM seasonal variations, there are lots of different routes in play that each behave in their own way.

      Over the time span shown, ST bus ridership dip in December; there may be some explanation in these routes carrying lots of office workers that take time off in December. The Central Link swoon is more in the early part of the year; this probably corresponds to low airport activity and few events at the stadiums.

      IIRC Metro buses tend to have a ridership swoon in the summer when UW empties out. This may be why ST ridership dips as well (but less than Metro’s, since most of the core U District service is Metro).

    • Ben Schiendelman says:

      Central Link doesn’t serve the UW. When it does, you’ll see the seasonal variation shift to be closer to what you see from ST Express.

  2. David Seater says:

    Is it just me or is the plot missing a legend and scale for the left side?

  3. So a fair observation is that the lower the capital investment, the higher the percentage gain in ridership (16% v. 12%)
    So we should be investing even less?

    • And why are we investing in a system that will open in four years when the world is ending in ten days?

      • Exactly. Surely we can live with diesel buses for another 10 days? No need to invest in the future at all……

    • Express busses are only “lower capitol investments” if you assume all the roads and highways they use were built for free. Which is not true.

      • Not so. ST spent money on the direct access ramps at Kingsgate and elsewhere. They are spending money on the I-90 HOV lane restriping project. They spend money on P&R lots (deemed a highway use). All of the money ST spends on highway improvements is a a pittance compared to Central Link. Even if ST paid fuel taxes which would be their share of highway construction and maintenance the investment in capitol would still be negligible because most of it is shared rather than exclusive ROW. It points out however what a huge mistake the purchase agreement was with BNSF for Sounder’s shared ROW.

      • Or if you don’t count O&M costs.

      • Just so we don’t foster any bad habits:
        Capitol vs. capital
        As a noun, capital refers to (1) a city that serves as a capital of government, (2) wealth in the form of money or property, and (3) a capital letter. As an adjective, it means (1) principal, (2) involving financial assets, and (3) deserving of the death penalty. There are other definitions of capital, but these are the main ones.

        Capitol has two very specific definitions (outside Ancient Rome): (1) a U.S. state legislature building, and (2) the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. State capitols are located in the capital cities of U.S. states, and the Capitol is located in the capital city of the U.S. If you’re not talking about any of these capitol buildings, then the word you want is probably capital.

        The Capitol building located in Washington, D.C. is spelled with a capital C, but state capitol buildings ordinarily don’t have the capital C (which is not to say that some writers don’t capitalize them anyway).

      • Andrew Smith says:

        Just to pile on to what mic said, Capitol Hill is spelled with an “o” not an “a”.

      • Going back to Bernie’s comment:

        “ST spent money on the direct access ramps at Kingsgate and elsewhere. They are spending money on the I-90 HOV lane restriping project.”

        Phase 1 and 2 involved a lot more than restriping. I expect there will be some dirt moving around for phase 3 as well.

        “They spend money on P&R lots (deemed a highway use).”

        But not all P&R lots. For most Sounder stations, the cost of parking was allocated to Sounder. I think Tacoma Dome Station is an exception that had a lot of the cost of the parking structure allocated to ST Express. And of course, P&R expansions at Link stations will come out of the Link budget.

        It brings up a question though. If P&Rs are a highway use, can WSDOT funded P&Rs use gas tax money?

      • can WSDOT funded P&Rs use gas tax money?

        Can and do.

      • “All of the money ST spends on highway improvements is a a pittance compared to Central Link. ”

        I’d hardly call $1 billion in ST Express capitol expenditures a pittance.

      • ST has spent a billion dollars on highway improvements? Where did it all go?

      • Well, exactly, Bernie. The capital investment in trains is visible. The capital investment in roadways and buses is… well…

    • Did you miss the part about the increase in ST Express ridership being due to the fact that boardings in the former RFA are now being counted?

      • Boardings in the RFA have always been counted. Otherwise the 550 ridership to Bellevue during peak hours would have been reported as near zero. What’s possibly changed is counting rides that are completely within the RFA which in the case of ST has got to be so low as to be lost in the noise.

      • So you didn’t read the report, either.

  4. Sounder North has flatlined! Time to take it off life support.

    • Ben Schiendelman says:

      I don’t think Sound Transit has the legal power to do that.

    • Martin H. Duke says:

      A 33% increase is flatlining?

      • Andrew Smith says:

        Yeah, this works in all kinds of ways. For example, “my salary has flat-lined. I only got a 33% raise this year!”

        “My family size has flat-lined. We only have 33% more people this year!”

      • Yep, as this graph shows, a gain of 326 riders out of a daily ridership of 112,000 is a rounding error. You can, at great expense keep shouting CLEAR but it’s not going to change the outcome.

      • Martin H. Duke says:

        As are many of the ST express routes. Do you want to eliminate those too?

      • “My family size has flat-lined. We only have 33% more people this year!”

        Exactly. An increase of one person in a City of 650,000 is a rounding error.

        Yep, as this graph shows, a gain of 326 riders out of a daily ridership of 112,000 is a rounding error.

        Bernie, you’re clearly not dumb enough to think this is a useful way to do the math. Why the deliberate obfuscation?

        I think most people here would agree that Sounder North is not successful, and that while a 33% increase in ridership isn’t trivial, it’s not enough to change our overall view on the subject. We also all know that for legal and political reasons, axing SN isn’t at all a likely option in the near future (so, we might as well try and make it less wasteful, within reason).

        I’m not sure who, exactly, your venture into laughably dishonest statistical interpretation is for. If there are SN enthusiasts here, I haven’t noticed them in the comments or posts.

      • The wonderful thing about graphs is that they are visual. You don’t need a calculator to come up with some stand alone statistic like “grew by 33%”. A simple glance at the graph and it’s hard not to equate Sounder North with a flatline on a hospital monitor. Take from that what you like. It’s true that mayors of cities love the train and because of the makeup of the ST board it’s hard to kill a project which benefits their constituents at the expense of everyone else in the taxing district. But the more ways you can show what a hideous waste of money this train is and always will be the better the chance of making a change.

        (so, we might as well try and make it less wasteful, within reason).

        Throwing good money after bad is not reasonable; it’s the definition of insanity. The sunk cost fallacy is in full force. Since crunching the numbers hasn’t worked maybe a picture book can get the faithful to see reason.

      • The wonderful thing about graphs is that they are visual. You don’t need a calculator to come up with some stand alone statistic like “grew by 33%”. A simple glance at the graph and it’s hard not to equate Sounder North with a flatline on a hospital monitor. Take from that what you like.

        What the chart visually conveys is that SN boardings are very low compared to the rest of ST service. Because of this, the scale of the of the change is not visible to the naked eye. If your point was that SN traffic is (still) too low to justify the expense, you’d have no argument from me, or most people here (again, we didn’t create the political and legal obstacles to abandoning SN).

        But the word flatline implies volition and change. It suggests it’s not moving. Movement, to state the obvious, is relative; and 33% growth in a single year for an established, largely unchanged service is substantial–it’s the opposite of flatlining.

        Just admit you didn’t bother to check before you made that claim, and you were wrong. It’s OK, we’re all wrong sometimes. And you’re not wrong that SN is still a poor investment of resources, so it’s not that big of a deal. But don’t insult our intelligence by pretending the ‘flatline’ claim makes a damn bit of sense.

      • Throwing good money after bad is not reasonable; it’s the definition of insanity. The sunk cost fallacy is in full force.

        That’s why I said “within reason”. I didn’t find the justification of the $150 parking spaces very persuasive, but rejiggering bus service to better connect with the train is the sort of thing I’m talking about.

        But the more ways you can show what a hideous waste of money this train is and always will be the better the chance of making a change.

        So is this basically an admission that you’re happy to lie about trends in SN ridership, because you think the lie will serve the noble cause of building support to scrap it? If so, I’ll make a note to not take your comments seriously in the future, and encourage others to do the same. I like the comment section here because most people value honest and serious analysis. Let’s leave the propaganda to the politicians and have a serious conversation. No one is claiming this 33% ridership increase is a game-changer that makes SN a worthy use of resources after all, so your dishonest spin wouldn’t be persuade anyone of anything they didn’t already know, even if your audience had been dumb enough to fall for it.

      • I honestly don’t know why you think looking at this and noting it’s similarity to a flatlined EKG is dishonest. The graph is what it is, draw whatever inference you like.

      • Martin H. Duke says:


        Again, your assertion should be that ridership is “low compared to Link and South Sounder”. If they graphed just North Sounder ridership the Y-axis would be about 2k and it wouldn’t be flat at all.

        And of course individual ST Express lines would be in the same boat and would look tiny. So let’s eliminate most of those too.

      • Again, your assertion should be …

        Yes, and when I want you’re opinion I’ll give it to you ;-). Martin, you have the power to post a blog entry with whatever data you’d like. If you feel this graph distorts reality why not give us your vision. Maybe graph a few ST express routes along side Sounder. I’d love to see say the 512/513 along side North Sounder and 556/574/586/590 along side South Sounder.

      • If you feel this graph distorts reality

        The graph doesn’t ‘distort reality’ it’s just not at a scale that in which all data visually registers. Again, you’re clearly intelligent enough to grasp this simple, obvious, utterly banal point, so please stop pretending otherwise, to justify your misrepresentation.

      • You can see it however you want. I don’t feel the need to be condescending or resort to backhanded complements; which I guess proves my point.

  5. Wow, North Sounder really looks pathetic on this graph. I new it was bad, but this makes it look worse.

    • *knew

    • On the bright side, it wouldn’t take too many people to double their ridership, blowing all other modes out of the water for percentage gain.
      I just love numbers and graphs to get MY point across.

  6. I swear all of that ST Express growth has been on my 550. Most trips are pretty full and my last, around 5pm, is consistently packed with passengers being turned away at Pioneer Square or CPS. I’ve been telling passengers about my commute on the Jubilee line in London. AM Rush = Trains every 1 or 2 minutes, 6 cars then (increased to 7 since) all fully packed. I was lucky if I could squeeze onto the 3rd train.

    I’m guessing that trip is the 9-5 crowd getting off work.

    • One thing I would like to see improved upon is that the Seattle->Bellevue routing seems to be all built around people who live in Bellevue visiting Seattle, rather than people who live in Seattle visiting Bellevue.

      That may have made sense 20 years ago when people living in Seattle had little reason to visit Bellevue, but in recent years, downtown Bellevue has become a bigger and bigger shopping and employment center, so this has changed.

      Now, if you look at the bus network, the 271 connects residential neighborhoods of Bellevue with the U-district. On the other hand, anyone who lives in Seattle and works in Bellevue is faced with the problem that all the Bellevue->Seattle buses only go to commercial areas of Seattle, rather than residential areas on Seattle. Which means it’s virtually impossible to find a place to live in Seattle where you can get to work in Bellevue without having to transfer.

      The 550 has a similar problem. Bellevue->Seattle, it works pretty well, (assuming you have a car to leave at South Bellevue or Mercer Island P&R and don’t have to deal with the terrible bus connections). Seattle->Bellevue, on the other hand, you have to go through downtown Seattle in order to use it and if you live in North Seattle, you have to also go considerably out of the way to use it as well.

      So, suppose as a post-520-construction-restructure, the 271 were split at Bellevue Transit Center, and suppose the western segment of the 271 were thru-routed with some north Seattle route, such as the 31, 32, or 44.

      Now, it would actually become possible to choose a place to live in Seattle other than the middle of downtown where a one-seat ride to downtown Bellevue is available. Yes, the one-seat ride from the southeast portion of Bellevue, and Issaquah to the U-district would be lost, but I don’t think these riders would be missing much. Why? Well, first, the 271 today has a 5 minute layover at Bellevue Transit Center, both directions. So, you’re effectively paying the transfer penalty just by going through there, even though you’re not actually transferring. Next, the 271 routing east of Bellevue TC, especially once it gets past Bellevue Community College becomes very circuitous. Issaquah->U-district is already faster taking the 554 to downtown and transferring to a 71/72/73 than slogging it out on the 271. Once the 71/72/73 segment gets replaced with Link, the downtown-and-transfer option should become faster than the 271 from Eastgate as well. Third, casual observation from having ridden the 271 from the U-district to Eastgate a few times (both weekday and weekend) have suggested that there are very few thru-riders at Bellevue Transit Center. Almost everyone on the bus gets off here and an almost entirely new group of riders gets on.

      Today, I do agree that the Montlake exit ramp would make such a route unreliable, but assuming the Montlake lid is complete and buses can use the HOV exit, plus the HOV lane across the 520 bridge itself, such a route might become reasonably reliable in the future.

      • The other part of the 271′s problem is slogging through Medina. It should be moved to Bellevue Way or 405. I hear that’s Metro’s long-term goal so I don’t know why it’s taking so long, unless it just doesn’t have enough money to put a van route in Medina. The 271 is a vestige of a 1970s route strategy where buses were allergic to freeways and would only get on at the last possible entrance and off at the first exit, even if it meant going through a low-density single-family area with few on/offs. All Bellevue-Seattle routes used to do that; now the 271 is the only one left.

      • The problem with moving the 271 is the traffic jams on 520 at rush hour. I read somewhere – I think it’s the Bellevue Transit Master Plan – that the 271 is extremely time-competitive with the 555/556 (on 405 to 520) during peak periods, and sometimes it’s even faster. I’d be willing to move it if necessary, but I’d need to see time statistics.

      • Yes, the 271 is two different routes that really don’t match: a circuitous local route between Bellevue and Issaquah via BC and Eastgate, and a trunk between Bellevue and the U-District. Ideal service span and frequency is completely different. It’s a good route to split. And if you did split it, and after the Montlake reconstruction, it might work reasonably well to through-route it with something relatively reliable and central like a truncated 373. (The 44 is way too unreliable to through-route with anything, and the 31/32 already have a nearly ideal through-route.) Through-routing freeway routes is often a very dangerous idea, but maybe post-reconstruction 520 will be reliable enough to allow it to work.

      • According to Google driving directions, the 271′s routing between the 520 bridge and Bellevue Transit Center is only 2 minutes longer than a Bellevue Way-based routing would have been.

        In practice, which routing is faster would depend on which access point has a shorter line of cars getting on and off the freeway and which routing will cause the bus to stop more often for loading an unloading of passengers.

        Given that Bellevue Way has more ridership potential than Medina and is a more obvious route for SOV’s to get to between 520 and Kemper-Freeman-land, my intuition is that the current 271′s routing may actually be faster on a local-stop bus, even if Google claims the other route is 2 minutes faster on a car.

        On the other hand, Bellevue Way has 2 lanes, while 84th has one, so if a queue jump were put in at the right place, Bellevue Way could potentially be quite faster during the peak.

  7. Why don’t they just make Sounder North free like Tacoma link?

    • To expand: If Tacoma link charged a fare, it would definitely have lower ridership. But they can’t because it’s basically a parking lot shuttle for TDS station (I would know, I used to ride it every day). Just like Tacoma Link, Sound North is basically a parking shuttle from giant, free park and rides.

      Someday Tacoma Link will charge a fare, but it needs to provide a greater service first. I think the same thing can be said about Sounder North.

    • I’ve suggested this on several posts in the past. If the train has lots of unused capacity, but the parking is full and adding more parking costs $150 per month per space, why not turn the pricing on its head – make the train free, but charge the same amount as what is currently the round-trip train fare to park in its park-and-ride lots.

      Price it this way and all of a sudden, the private sector becomes willing to supply some additional Sounder parking without ST needing to spend additional money subsidizing it. Yes, those people aren’t paying for the train ride, but the marginal cost of carrying additional passengers is near zero and if greater train ridership means fewer peak trips on the 510 and 511, ST saves money that way.

      • Of course for this proposal to work, you’d need strict time limits on the street parking nearby the station to prevent it from being clogged up every day by commuters.

Sign in or create an account to save your credentials and make commenting faster.

You may want to read our comment policy.