Sound Transit Q1 2014 Report

Sound Transit didn’t lose any momentum in the first quarter of 2014. The system as whole was up over 8%. ST Express boardings rose 7%, Sounder 5%, Central Link 13%, and Tacoma Link was down 10%.

While overall ST Express weekday ridership was up 7%, the restructured Snohomish county route group was up over 11%. The 560 was up 15% and the Bonney-Lake Sumner Sounder connector up 17%. Cost per boarding was $6.45, down from $6.64 in Q1 2013.

Sounder was up 5%, with the north line up 21%. However most of the north line’s bump was due to the Seahawks parade. Sounder’s cost per boarding dropped to $11.72, down from $12.85 in Q1 2013.

Central Link had 29,919 boardings per weekday in its customary winter lull. Cost per boarding was $5.90, down 12.9% from Q1 2013 ($6.77).

Tacoma Link was down 10% on weekdays. Cost per boarding was $4.42 up from $3.61 in Q1 2013.

In a week or so I will post some analysis of Cost per boarding.

Full report here. My charts below the fold.

[Eds] There was a transcription error in the above summary. As originally posted Sounder and ST Express costs per boarding were inaccurate. They are now correct.

First, ridership by quarter:

Now the 4 Quarter moving average:

Costs per boarding:

Cost per boarding moving average:

Comments

    • John Bailo says

      Also, what percent of the Sounder cost per boarding is due to BNSF right of way costs (versus technology and operational costs).

      • GuyOnBeaconHill says

        ST’s 2014 budget shows Sounder operating expenses on page 43 of the document. Total operating cost is ~$42 million. “Purchased Transportation Services” cost $9.575,000 or about 23% of the total cost. The “Vehicle Maintenance” line is $9,794,000, so operations and maintenance cover about 46% of the total operating cost. Then add in “Security and Safety” ($4.2 mil) and “Maintenance of Way” ($1.2 mil) and you’re over 50% of the operating cost.

      • John Bailo says

        I hazard a guess that 98% of “Maintenance of the Way” is clearing mudslides for Sounder North.

        Also, Vehicle Maintenance for LINK is….$0. How?

      • GuyOnBeaconHill says

        John–MOW is usually the charge for routine maintenance and upkeep of the rail infrastructure. I doubt that clearing the mudslides are a significant part of ST’s MOW expense. If Link is getting free vehicle maintenance it must be because of the vehicle warranty.

        Doing the math, and dividing by the number of Sounder trips scheduled in 2014 (7,340), it shows that each Sounder trip requires $1334 in vehicle maintenance (Amtrak), $1304 in purchased transportation (from BNSF), $163 in MOW cost (BNSF) and $572 in safety/security costs (Securitas?).

      • William Aitken says

        Doesn’t Metro do the maintenence for Central Link>? If so I suspect the dollars for it are wrapped up in the Purchased Transportation Services line item.

      • Glenn in Portland says

        Some of those items are not necessarily recurring items though. Not too long ago ST put out a bit for complete overhaul of the HVAC systems on the Sounder cars, as they are old enough to qualify for mid-life overhaul. My guess is that other projects relating to the systems on the cars are being carried out as a maintenance line item, but are somewhat more long term in scope, such as that.

      • Al S. says

        It appears that the cost per boarding of everything but Central Link went down, while Central Link went up over 20%. It appears as though Sound Transit is probably reallocating its administrative and overhead costs to Central Link from the other modes. I’m not sure if this is a “correction” (that is that Sound Transit dampened Central Link costs in years past to deflect criticism) or if it is a de facto cover-up of the lack of ridership growth in the other modes (or a “re-balancing” away from the other modes to keep them from looking so bad in their performance statistics).

        Either way, the public should have an apples-to-apples comparison of what the numbers would be before this apparent accounting adjustment or it should be heavily footnoted that adjustments were made. Comparing one year to the next on this statistic in this report appears to be impossible in this format.

      • Brent says

        Cost-per-boarding for Central went down year-on-year and year-on-year moving average. It went up since Q3 2013, due to the annual cyclical nature of ridership. I don’t see any bookkeeping tricks there.

  1. Mark Dublin says

    I really respect anyone who can produce a report like this. Same with writing software, and civil drafting.

    Reason I went to SolidWorks- the little brother of the CATIA software Boeing uses to build the jetliners, is that I have to have a 3D picture in front of me to comprehend. I can’t “read” either numbers or two dimensional lines and get a usable picture in my mind.

    Also reason nothing on the Route 7 or anything else about bus driving scares me as much as the interpersonal atmosphere and likely career-terminating encounters in the average office.

    So here’s first question I can think of about this report: What exactly can anyone do with this information? For instance, what do Cost per Boarding figures and their variation tell the transit system as a guide to action?

    I doubt that I’m your only reader who could gain massively from this information. Many thanks,

    Mark

  2. Brent says

    For the uninitiated, are these cost-per-boarding figures gross cost per boarding before fare revenue, or net cost per boarding after fare revenue?

    • John Slyfield says

      The cost of operating how much it costs to operate. Does not take into consideration any revenue generated at the farebox. Keep in mind farebox revenue is usually substantially less than the fare typically charged use to transfers (yes they still exist on ORCA) and monthly passes.

  3. mic says

    Thanks for doing this. It’s a lot of grunt work. I’ll look forward to your analysis of why STEX has risen faster than Link over the past 3 years, both have retained about the same service hours, and yet Link cost is going down, while STEX cost is rising. I don’t think the purchased service from MT, CT, or PT has differentiated much in that period between the agencies. Also, ST shifted a bit of service from MT to PT for lower costs.
    Interesting!

    • Brent says

      ST Express cost is going down. A typo just got corrected in the post.

      Link gained more boardings — not just percent, but total boardings — than ST Express for each month from October 2013 to March 2014, year-on-year.

  4. Anandakos says

    There is cause for genuine celebration in these figures. For the first time Link’s cost per boarding is lower than ST Express’s. When U-Link comes on line the CPB will plummet and finally demonstrate why building LRT is a good investment where trips are dense, regardless of what the people at CPI bark for their daily fish from the trainers,

    • Bruce Nourish says

      Comparisons of ST express and Link boarding numbers are a particularly vacuous thing to get excited about. Today’s Link and STX are different services on fundamentally different corridors.

      • Brent says

        More importantly, Link is one corridor. ST Express is many corridors, some of which are still getting significantly better cost-per-boarding than Link. Take away the low performers, and ST Express could still whoop Link in CPB, but the overall system would be less useful and less politically popular.

      • Anandakos says

        Bruce,

        What you say is obviously true, but that doesn’t stop the wingnuts from doing a war dance against Link for being “more expensive than buses”. Do you want more Link? If so celebrate its efficiency at every chance you get.

      • says

        To Brent’s point:

        Relative ST Express cost per boarding numbers can be found in the 2014 SIP on pages 27 and 28. In short, the 550 blows the rest of the system out of the water for efficiency with the 545 and 511 next in line. The 550 is efficient because it’s a relatively short route linking two urban centers on a fairly direct route. The rest of the system reflects the difficulty of serving the sprawl of our region with public transportation – at least one without distance based fares.

        (The SIP numbers are “Purchased Transportation Costs” only and cannot be directly compared to the “Boarding Cost” in the Ridership reports, which include Agency overhead and other costs, but they can give a relative boarding cost for each ST Express route.)

    • Anandakos says

      I’m wrong, Link’s CPB has been lower than ST Express in the past many times. Apologies.

      However, the four quarter moving average chart shows that the gap in widening, and U-Link will cause a major inflection downward for Link. By the time North Link reaches Northgate Link will probably be less than half the cost that ST Express is.

  5. Bruce Nourish says

    Hey, check it out, it looks like restructuring service to put buses where riders are is an effective way to increase ridership at minimal cost. Good job, Sound Transit. Et tu, Metro?

    • Bellinghammer says

      Or how about the 590s? I’d love to see the 578 more closely resemble Sounder (axe Federal Way, add Kent) and see the 594 boosted to every 15 minutes with added stops at Kent Des Moines, Star Lake, and Federal Way TC.

      • John Slyfield says

        That would cost more money from the south king county sub area, extend the trips of both routes, all to save 20 minutes from kent station on an bus that operates once an hour.

      • John Slyfield says

        Once an hour on the weekends, and half an hour during the week. On Saturdays, with hourly frequency on the 578 and 15 minute service on MT 150, the MT 150 would do a lot better than the 578 for riders arriving at random times.

      • Josh F. says

        Are you sure that going to Kent Station would make the 578 slower? I used Google Maps to calculate the driving times between Auburn Station and 4th & Union via both Kent Station and Federal Way TC and they were exactly the same, so it shouldn’t make too much of a difference. To make this work however, Sound Transit would have to find the money to run the 578 every 30 minutes on weekends (at least to Kent Station).

        Also another tricky issue is that the 164 and 168 have to be staggered to run every 15 minutes combined on weekdays, so either one of those routes would be stuck with a long transfer time (20 min) to the 578. Nevertheless, as the 578 would be able to get from Kent Station to downtown in 30 minutes, compared to over an hour on the 150, it should still be worth it.

      • John Slyfield says

        And that’s the problem. The money is not there. You’d have to double the amount of 594’s in service (and that would all come on South KC’s dime), and increase service on the 578, again on South KC. I think the money is better served trying to get Link down to Federal Way. The fact is the subarea isn’t doing so well so they have to spend that money as best they can. 15 minute service on the 150 beats out hourly service on the 578 on Saturdays, and even 30 minute service on Sundays is a wash.

    • Brent says

      My count says Metro has reorganized a lot more routes than ST has to serve Sounder and Link, or to at least discourage bypassing Sounder and Link. There is obviously more work to be done on that score. The 592 beats the 42 hands down in sheer waste, and it wasn’t Metro’s idea to keep the 42 so long.

      Yes, the 560 reorg might move it from its position in the “Unsatisfactory” level of every single criterion, but it still is far from satisfactory in any performance measure. The jury is still out on whether the 567 reorg is a net negative. I’m cautiously optimistic about the 512, but I realize there are other factors, such as CT service reorgs, that are impacting that corridor’s ST ridership.

      Moving more buses to the 545 and 550 is a no-brainer, unless we have to debate “Will Douglas” about where those buses were pulled from.

      • Josh F. says

        The 592 isn’t as much of a waste as you think it is–the 592 takes 57-62 minutes to get from Lakewood Station to 4th/Pike in Seattle, whereas Sounder takes 80-85 minutes to make the same trip (with a connection at King St Station). Of course, I suppose the money could be spent more effectively due to the relatively poor productivity of the 592, but based on travel time alone the 592 is far less wasteful than the 540 and 542 for example, which save only a few minutes over the alternatives (and barely offer any savings when wait time is considered).

      • Brent says

        I see the 540 and 542 hanging on by a thread until U-Link opens, when there will be an influx of new riders on those buses headed for Capitol Hill, or even some 545 or 255 riders taking them if they happen to come first, and avoid the SR 520/I-5 congestion, while risking the Montlake Bridge(s).

      • asdf says

        The 542 saves an average of 5 minutes or so for people coming from the U-district or Green Lake over the alternative of transferring from the 48 to the 545. This could be construed as a waste, except that during the hours that the 542 operates, the 545 is already overcrowded, and could not accommodate all of the 545 riders without additional buses. Since the 545 is a longer route than the 542, simply replacing the 542 with more trips on the 545 would have to result in a net fewer total trips. With the 242 scheduled to die in the near future, a casualty of a failed Prop 1, the 542 will become more important.

        The 540, by contrast, carries much fewer riders than the 542, and those riders it does carry could be easily absorbed by the 255 without any additional trips. Also, unlike the 542, the 540 lacks a significant bi-directional source of ridership. I rode a reverse-direction 540 trip once and the bus had nobody on it except a couple of bikers – the same ridership as a deadhead bus going back to base.

    • GuyOnBeaconHill says

      Obviously Metro and Sound Transit use different metrics to define the productivity of their bus routes. So how many of ST’s bus routes would survive if they were subject to Metro’s productivity measures? How many ST routes would have survived the cost cutting measures at CT or PT? I would guess that the 545 and 550 (ex-MT routes) would largely survive untouched, but most of the other ST routes would fail some productivity measures and be subject to elimination or cuts if they were being funded solely by Metro, CT or PT.

    • says

      … with room for improvement: Quoting again from the SIP: “Route 540 productivity has declined over the past three years as ridership dropped and some passengers shifted to other services in the SR 520 corridor.”

      Riding a 255 to Evergreen Point allows an easy transfer to a 271, 277, 542, or 556. The 277 is due to be cut and the 271 eventually will skip Evergreen point, but there is room on the 542s and 556s for the 540s passengers. Reallocated hours on the 540 could further improve the 545 or possibly increase span/service on the 542/556.

  6. William C. says

    Nitpick: Is there a reason the 542 got listed as “Overlake-U. District” instead of “Redmond-U. District”? I’m assuming it’s just a misprint.

  7. Sam says

    Gangnam Style less than 200,000 views away from 2 billion!!! That’s less than a day!! Why aren’t more people talking about this here???

    • says

      To think, I’d never have known without a word from the STB comment section’s most plugged-in, relevant trendsetter!

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