December 2012 ST Ridership


Sound Transit’s December 2012 ridership report is out, and once again shows healthy year-on-year gains for most services. As a bonus, December closes out the yearly stats. ST Express’s year-on-year numbers aren’t directly comparable because the end of the ride free area means that intra-downtown trips are now counted.

December’s Central Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday boardings were 25,084/17,356/15,984, increases of 3.8%, 23.4%, and 42.6% respectively over December 2011. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 4.7% (despite historic mudslides on the North Line) but Tacoma Link was down 7.7%.

For the year as whole, every service except Paratransit saw gains over 2011. All but Tacoma Link gained more than 10% over 2011.


  1. djw says

    What do you make of Central Link’s merely modest improvement on weekdays, compared to huge gains on weekends?

    My first thought it a growth in TOD and/or people moving to better take advantage of link in their daily lives, rather than just commuting?

    • lazarus says

      I would suspect the difference in ridership growth on Link for weekday vs. weekend has more to do with repetition than it does with TOD.

      Daily commuters who commute along that route every weekday, 260 days per year, were quicker to learn the new system and adapt to it, as opposed to occasional weekend riders who don’t ride the system consistently enough to learn its potential and adapt to it quickly. Thus there should still be much ridership growth potential on weekends, but weekday ridership should be more mature.

      But despite the spectacular growth in weekend ridership, the actual base ridership is still much, much higher on weekdays.

    • Matthew Johnson says

      djw, I think it mostly has to do with Dec of last year being an outlier. While data is limited, in both 2010 and 2012 ridership declined from November to December, but in Dec 2011 it increased.

      This chart isn’t updated with this year, but you can see the difference between 2010 and 2011 (2012 follows a similar pattern to 2010).

      (Edit) Does this work?

      • says

        Matt Johnson beat me to it, but I think December last year is an outlier. If you assume that ridership that month should have been a value somewhere between November and January, then it’s more like 10% year-over-year weekday growth.

        Still, it does appear that weekend growth is higher.

    • GuyOnBeaconHill says

      In 2011, December 24/25 fell on Saturday and Sunday, which likely depressed ridership on those days. In 2012, December 24/25 were on Tuesday and Wednesday.

      • Jason Mitchell says

        Also—and I admit I’m relying on my rapidly deteriorating memory here and not digging up weather archives—this December was mild and snow-free compared to the last couple years. Probably impacts weekend choice ridership more than the daily slog.

  2. lazarus says

    Interestingly enough, Central Link carried about 55% of what ST Express carried. This is pretty impressive considering that Link is (currently) only 15.6 miles long and only serves one route.

    And, if you believe the ridership estimates for Husky Link, once the line to Cap Hill and the UW opens in 2016 Link should be carrying more riders than both ST Express and Sounder — COMBINED.

    Pretty impressive.

      • Brent says

        I dunno. The remaining big pieces of UW Station are going up fast, and the track laying is supposed to be done by summer. The only heavy work left will soon be the big pieces of Capitol Hill Station. Will the line open early if construction and testing is done well ahead of schedule?

      • Mike Orr says

        Yes but I wouldn’t count on that now. There was a year of contingency time built into the schedule, and as of one of the Brooklyn open houses last year that had shrunk to nine months. If everything goes quickly, it may open several months early. But don’t hold your breath for it.

      • Mike Orr says

        Er, I’m not sure now if he was talking about University Link’s or North Link’s contingency buffer.

  3. Mac says

    Keep in mind, ridership essentially is irrelevant. The farebox revenues aren’t a big piece of the operating costs, and they play no role in capital spending. That’s why the agency is easing away from forecasts.

      • Nathanael says

        Ridership certainly matters in political terms: it determines whether people are going to support the system.

        The declining popularity of driving is, sooner or later, going to kill many of the subsidized road projects in the US.

        Vox populi matters.

    • Brent says

      Fares do play an indirect role in capital spending. Sounder is more expensive than the Metro express buses to Tukwila, Kent, and Auburn, and more expensive than the ST Express buses to Auburn, Sumner, Puyallup, Tacoma, Lakewood, and Everett. However, a Community Transit bus costs more than Sounder to Edmonds, and the same as Sounder to Mukilteo. (Maybe that’s part of why the Edmonds politicians are so ferociously defensive of North Sounder.)

      Sounder ridership may be suffering from an ideology-based fare system with no market study. Restructuring ST fares might push Sounder ridership up, and make a small dent in overall operating expenses.

      Oh, and throw in a cash surcharge, would you please?

      • Mike Orr says

        You can’t talk about cost per rider without also noting that Sounder and Metro are not even remotely equivalent. Sounder is three times faster to Kent than the 150, and twice as fast as the peak-express routes. Not sure how to compare Auburn since the 578 doesn’t run when Sounder does, but it’s probably twice as fast as Metro’s peak-expresses if there are any left. So you can’t just look at Sounder’s higher cost per rider without also noting that it’s giving a significantly larger travel-time benefit. (And that its fares are already higher than Metro or ST Express.)

      • Anthony says

        The reason Edmonds politicians are making such a big stink about keeping the Northline is because the train is the easiest way to get to Edmonds from downtown Seattle.

        Not sure why we keep debating that part over and over…now the money subsidizing part I can understand why the argument continues there.

      • John Bailo says

        Sounder may be more expensive but at the same time one has to wonder why so many city bound express buses do not simply terminate at Sounder stations instead of making the full trip on I5 up to Seattle…

      • Bernie says

        the train is the easiest way to get to Edmonds from downtown Seattle.

        As long as you only want to go south between 6:00-7:30AM and north between 4:00-5:30 on days when it’s not raining. How much more bus service would they get for the same money?

      • Mike Orr says

        Edmonds politicians may be saying that, but then there are other factors unique to the northline. It’s a single track on a steep coastal hillside that’s prone to mudslides, it has a one-sided “driveshed”, and it’s close to only a small fraction of Snohomishites. None of these apply to the southline.

    • says

      “The farebox revenues aren’t a big piece of the operating costs, and they play no role in capital spending. ”

      Ergo, even if they run empty, no problem!

    • josh says

      Ridership is extremely important to funding. Not because of farebox recovery, but because riders are voters, and funding is politically allocated. If you want more money for your transit agency, you want a large, satisfied ridership base.

    • David Seater says

      For Metro farebox revenues cover over 25% of the operating cost on average. I’d hardly call that “essentially irrelevant.”

  4. Doug says

    I’m wondering why Paratransit is down so significantly and if there should be concerns about compliance. Anybody have thoughts on that?

    • Brent says

      Per the asterisks in each monthly, quarterly, and annual report, ST was paying for more of the Metro Access rides than it was required to do so. Once they got the distance from Link corrected, their share dropped a bunch.

      Though it strikes me that there can’t be all that many Access rides that start and end within the (mile-wide?) zone for which ST shares responsibility with Metro.

  5. Brent says

    Tacoma Link is a classic example of adding a stop without adding an extra vehicle, leading to increased headway, leading to lower ridership. :(

    • says

      The problem isn’t adding another veichle — it’s not having the track infrastructure to support running more trains. The long stretch of single track between Union Station and FHS makes it all but impossible to run three trains concurrently on the line without one sitting at the end of double track for long periods of time waiting for the next northbound train to get by.

      • Brian Bundridge says

        I don’t know about that. The Waterfront Streetcar would run 4 vehicles at a time on the line, all a matter of timing. They did have 2 meet points however.

        Figure if the timing was done correctly, they could do a 3 car run but a limited period, if the operators followed the instructions given.

      • Brian Bundridge says

        No denying that. Shame too, they could’ve easily done 12 minute runs, but my understanding from the operators (may or may not be true) is because they didn’t have the funding to restore the 6th vehicle to run 4 streetcars on a daily basis. (4 running, 2 spares)

      • Bernie says

        they didn’t have the funding to restore the 6th vehicle to run 4

        You need a 50% spares ratio??? Maybe they should consider charging people to use it; or maybe just start charging for the 2,283 parking spaces.

      • Bernie says

        Oops, never mind. I can see needing that level of spares when you’re running vintage vehicles. OTHO, this was primarily a tourist line or for spontaneous trips along the WF. So it wouldn’t be the end of the Mayan calendar if you aim for 12 min headways and fall back to 20 on the occasions that half of the fleet is out of service. Water under the seawall now I guess as I see little chance Seattle will ever restore service and Metro sure can’t afford it. Maybe the guy that owns the Seattle Wheel could put together a group to fund it?

      • Mike Orr says

        “this was primarily a tourist line or for spontaneous trips along the WF”

        Read, this was primarily a tourist line. 20-minute headways do not allow for “spontaneous trips” unless you see the train coming or memorized the schedule beforehand. Waiting at a streetcar station is precisely what people don’t want to do, just like at bus stops. But at the waterfront there’s the added factor that many people have only a limited time to enjoy the waterfront, and the clock is ticking while they’re waiting for the streetcar.

      • asdf says

        Historically, it has always been the case that during nearly all times of day, the odds were heavily in favor if a Pierce Transit local buses showing up before the Tacoma Link train that would take you to the same destination.

        Next fall, thanks to Pierce Transit budget cuts, this will cease to be true anymore, especially on evenings and weekends, which makes Tacoma Link suddenly a lot more important that it used to be in terms of actual transportation mobility. Come this fall, Tacoma Link and Sound Transit express buses will be the only weekend transit service between Tacoma Dome station and downtown Tacoma.

  6. Transit Guy says

    I’d like to see data on ridership per revenue hour, in each mode. That would help us better understand the ridership changes.


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