Q4 2013 Sound Transit Quarterly Report

2013Q4-BoardingsMvgAvg-ALLAnother quarter, another strong showing of growth, with Link in the double digits. The system as whole was up 7%. ST Express boardings rose 4%, Sounder 5%, Central Link 14%, and Tacoma Link was down 4%.  Year to date (this being the last quarter) the system as whole was up 8%. ST Express boardings were up 8%, Sounder 8%, Central Link 11%, and Tacoma Link was down 2%.

While overall ST Express weekday ridership was up 5%, Snohomish county routes took a hit.  This could be due to the 510/512/513 restructure, although CT adding 30 additional commuter trips a day likely had a large effect.  While the 566 saw it’s service hours cut, riders moved the 560 and new 567 so overall ridership in the 167 corridor was up.  In general East King and Pierce County routes had the highest gains.  Cost per boarding was $6.70, up 6.3% from Q4 2012.

Sounder experienced strong weekday growth at 7% but lower event ridership on the weekends brought down the overall ridership to 5%.  Sounder’s cost per boarding dropped to $12.34, down 12.7% from Q4 2012.

Central Link had 29,360 boardings per weekday in its customary winter lull. Cost per boarding was $5.44, down 20.4% from Q4 2012.

Quarterly Ridership Reports have a ton of useful metrics not covered in the regular monthly releases, and are well worth reading through.  Later on I will post some analysis of Cost per Boarding.

My charts below the fold.

First, ridership by quarter:


Now the 4 Quarter moving average:2013Q4-BoardingsMvgAvg-ALL

Costs per boarding:2013Q2-CPB-ALL2

Cost per boarding moving average:2013Q4-CPBMvgAvg-ALL


  1. Charles B says

    Happy to see the costs keep going down for Central Link.

    Its interesting that Tacoma Link’s costs are so low given its low ridership. It must not cost that much to run it.

    • Seattleite says

      Coincidence that Tacoma Link is the only service Sound Transit operates itself instead of contracting out to Metro, Pierce Transit or Community Transit (who then subcontracts it to First Transit)?

      • Anandakos says

        Why does ST contract out Link operation? Does anyone know? It seems to me that a proper division of responsibility is for ST to run the rail operations — including the Seattle Streetcar — and Metro the buses. There has to be a large organizational inertia — maybe even outright hostility — within Metro’s middle-management against rail.

        These are bus guys and have been for decades. There’s probably lots of jealousy against all the publicity that Link, Souner and the streetcars get, especially the “rider’s eye view” pieces in the media about how nice the new rail equipment is.

        Any ideas?

      • aw says

        The fact that ST countracts out Sounder operations to BNSF and maintenace to Amtrak makes sense to me. BNSF owns most of the route, so their engineers and conductors are already familiar with the tracks, control points, operating rules and the dispatchers. Amtrak already has a maintnance base in Seattle and has employees that are familiar with maintaining passenger equipment. There’s no need for ST to duplicate all that in-house.

      • Will Green says

        Anandakos: I think there are a few reasons.

        – The DSTT: Metro owns it, Link uses it, and shared operations means there’s a need for close coordination between bus and rail operations (achieved at the Link Control Center, which is currently co-located with Metro’s Transit Control Center). I’d imagine it’s a bit easier to have the coordination when everyone involved has the same boss and similar reporting structures.

        – Rail Operations experience: Metro actually operated rail for some time before Link came online, though on a smaller scale, with the South Lake Union Streetcar and the Waterfront Streetcars.

        – They already exist: Sound Transit (outside of Tacoma Link, a very small operation) has no real operations experience, nor does it have the organizational structure setup to handle employing tens or hundreds of operators, maintenance staff, supervisors, administrative staff, etc.

        – Sound Transit is a capital agency: they build stuff, generally, and not an operating agency. Focusing on that one thing (building projects for the public) and outsourcing the other (operating the system) lets them focus on project management and do it well.

        Certainly there would be advantages to having ST run many of it’s own services, and I can totally imagine that happening in the future. But, for now, contracting out operations (despite the high costs charged) has some logic to it, as well.

      • Glenn in Portland says

        Contracting out happens quite a bit, even in older agencies. BNSF operates regional rail services for Chicago Metra (it runs all day so it is more than just commuter service – though certainly that is a peak period), and even owns a number of the cars. The cars are marked BNSF or Union Pacific as to their ownership.

        Kelios (a French company) is the contract operator for the MBTA regional trains, and MBTA has been around a while too.

        So, length of time in existence or shear size of operation doesn’t mean much in terms of if there is advantage to having a contract operator or not.

        Bombardier (the builder of the Sounder coaches) and Herzog (a railroad construction and track maintenance contractor) also do passenger train operating contracts for various groups. So, there are a number of these groups out there and the arrangement isn’t that unusual in the case of main line trains.

    • says

      Tacoma Link doesn’t cost much to run mostly because it’s a really short route. Each boarding represents fewer miles or minutes of travel than on other routes, especially ST routes. It would be more comparable to short local bus routes or Seattle’s current and future streetcars.

      The difference in length could be accounted for by measuring cost on a per-hour basis, or a per-passenger mile basis, but that’s not what these particular stats do.

  2. Glenn in Portland says

    Any thoughts on the deal with Tacoma Link? The web site says they are still not charging a fare, which is what I would have thought would have caused that.

    Pierce transit service reductions?

    • Ann Dasch says

      Link will start charging a fare in Tacoma in Sept 2014, but that was announced months ago. Some riders change their transit behavior before a fare change is implemented.

  3. says

    So… CT’s 30 additional trips are on pretty popular routes, perhaps representing 50-60 boardings per trip? So the high end would be 1500-2000 boardings on those trips per work day. There were something like 62 work days in Q4 2013 (though some around the holidays had reduced bus service and lower ridership). So I’m going to ballpark 100,000 boardings on these trips.

    617,828 riders used ST in SnoHoCo in Q4 2012; 559,170 in 2103, a difference of 58,658. Not all the riders on the new CT trips were previously ST riders, but surely some were. So I’d rate the possibility that CT are significantly responsible for ST’s SnoHoCo decrease at least plausible. It would be interesting to see a breakdown of forward-peak vs. other, and whether introduction of off-peak 512 service between Everett and Lynnwood TC has had any impact on CT 201/202 or Swift.

    • asdf says

      It is natural for people headed between Lynnwood and downtown to simply take whichever bus comes first, be it a Sound Transit bus or a Community Transit bus. More Community Transit buses obviously means that the Community Transit is going to happen to come along first more often.

      • says

        Yeah, I agree (except for some particularly cost-sensitive or crowd-averse riders). Was just checking that the numbers were about the right size.

  4. RossB says

    Good numbers. I wonder how long it will take Link to pass ST Express? My guess is a few months after we add the most important part of the system (UW to Capitol Hill to Downtown).

  5. SounderBruce says

    So, CT is starting to add service after the major cuts during the Recession. How long will it take for skeletal Sunday service to return on core routes?

    • William C. says

      Says Community Transit’s blog:

      if sales tax revenue trends hold, Community Transit should have capacity to add about 7,500 hours of new service this year, 25,000 hours of service in 2015 and 7,000 hours of service in each year from 2016-19. For perspective, the agency cut 160,000 hours of service a few years ago. But this level of new service is enough to fund some level of Sunday/holiday service and some improvements elsewhere in the system. Over the next six years, that is…

      Expect the first proposal to come out in April for this fall’s service change. The more substantial increase will be in 2015; a proposal for that service change is expected to come out before the end of this year. Again, for perspective, before Sunday/holiday service was cut in 2010, there were about 28,000 hours dedicated to that service.

  6. says

    Hey Will Green. I think ownership of DSTT will change to Sound Transit after the U link is open. So will Sound Transit take over Link operations when this happens since they are in charge of the control centre of the tunnel?

    • Will Green says

      I believe ownership transfers—someone more familiar with those agreements can probably correct me if I’m wrong — but only when busses are totally removed from the tunnel. That could happen when U Link opens, but realistically I don’t see that happening before 2019, when the IDS switchback track will make it impossible (or at least difficult) for busses to use the tunnel.

      There is a backup LCC at the Forest St. OMF that can takeover for the primary LCC if it should go offline for some reason, and there are a few documents (though I can’t remember exactly which ones at the moment – Service Implementation Plan, maybe?) that imply that once the tunnel goes Link-only in 2019 (at the latest) the OMF LCC location could become the primary.

  7. John Bailo says

    Sounders weekend numbers may have been affected by the success of the Seahawks. Higher prices and lower seat availability as well heeled Seattlites and out of town fans buy tickets. In the threads fans are already complaining about the new pricing.

  8. pnigh says

    You might answer this in your further Cost Analysis, but rather than the cost per boarding (which adds the variable of customer use), what is the cost per boarding capacity? In other words what is the cost per seat* available. This would be measured as Total Costs / (total trips * avg capacity per trip). This is a real measurement ST cost inputs. Are these increasing or decreasing (they should be decreasing)?

    *By ‘seat’ I simply mean how many people can ride the bus at a given time. I assume there is an assumption that probably includes some amount of people standing.

You may want to read our comment policy.