Just as transit ridership soars across the country, we see local numbers explode as well.

Sound Transit bus and train ridership continued to climb during the third quarter, with total boardings increasing by 21 percent compared with the same period last year. Normally, transit boardings decline during the summer compared with the other seasons, but the highest year-to-date monthly ridership was recorded in July, when average weekday boardings exceeded 60,000. Mid-summer gasoline prices that averaged over $4 per gallon clearly contributed towards this surge. Since that time, average weekday boardings have dipped slightly but are still much higher than one year ago. All service modes are experiencing growth, including Tacoma Link.

Thus far, the economic downturn has not significantly affected Sound Transit ridership growth, and recent monthly boarding totals are holding up well, especially considering the large drop in gasoline prices that started in late September. Bus overcrowding continues to be a serious issue, but there is evidence that the severity of the problem has eased somewhat during the months of September and October with fewer reports of crush loading and pass-up conditions.

ST 3rd Quarter Ridership

You can read the full ridership report on the ST website. Overcrowded buses should be eased next year as the 100,000 service hour increase funded by Sound Transit 2 (aka Prop. 1) goes into effect.

8 Replies to “ST Releases Third Quarter Ridership Numbers”

  1. Don’t be so sure that 100,000 hours is going relieve overcrowding. We transit nerds are fond of talking about induced demand when it comes to automobiles, but we sometimes forget that there is induced demand with transit as well. One of the single biggest factors in getting people to switch modes is frequency of service. The more frequent the service, the more convenient it is. Add 100,000 hours and you get more frequent more convenient service. As such, people start riding because its more convenient. Others start to ride because the buses aren’t as crowded (at first) as they used to be.

    You end up with a virtuous spiral (since more ridership is a good thing), but eventually you start running into the same problems Metro is running into, in that they just can’t keep up with demand when 80 percent of their revenue comes from taxes rather than fares. I bet those 100,000 hours fill up quicker than we think, and Link is a long way from being build out far enough to take the pressure off.

    Of course there are worse problems to have. :-)

    1. That’s an interesting point.

      Induced demand is a process that takes time, and additional bus service hours are going to come over the years due to ST’s tax revenues growing as the population does. However, service probably won’t grow at the same pace as ridership (nor population). The solution to induced demand on roads is expensive construction and more and more pollution — whereas expanding bus service is a heck of a lot cheaper and more green.

      But still, a great point. You can see a version of your theory at work with Metro’s 40-40-20 rule to provide more bus service to the suburbs — the King County Council seems to also think that “if you build it, they will come.”

      1. Actually, the solution to induced demand on roads is to narrow them. Widening them just creates more congestion. VTPI has a great study on this.

  2. My understanding was that most of the standing room only issues happened on city buses. That won’t be relieved anytime soon (if ever, thanks to 40/40/20).

    1. This report/post was specifically about Sound Transit buses. Their summary lists overcrowding as a concern for ST Express routes, and certainly a 17% increase in their bus service next year should help that. (ST buses don’t really operate in the city.)

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