Today, we should all remember that ridership takes time. Sound Transit projects 25,000 riders on weekdays – but that’s not until the end of the year.

Today, and probably for the next few months, Link will look like a ghost town. That’s totally expected – we’re drawing a line from zero today to 25,000 at the end of the year. In late August we’ll probably have 5,000 weekday riders, in September 10,000, October 15,000 – maybe it won’t look exactly like that, but it takes time for people to choose to try something new.

All these things we talk about with light rail – the confidence that it’s always there, the reliable travel time, the comfort – these are learned slowly. For each new rider, there’s a tipping point: a bus breaks down, a car accident, a day of really bad traffic. These inconsistencies in other modes of transport teach people to try the train, but they teach it a little at a time. In the meantime, the train will run like clockwork, showing a little more every day that it’s the most reliable option.

The real ridership gains will start next year, when Airport Link is open and it starts getting warmer. The catch basin for a station gets bigger when the weather is nicer and the walk is pleasant – new people will ride, and once their schedules are set, they’ll stick around through the winter.

For now, ridership will be light. I know you all know this, but this is a good time to remind your friends and coworkers reading the Times – we didn’t build this for just 2009, or even 2019. We built it for 2109.

137 Replies to “Don’t Worry, Be Happy: This Is Expected Ridership”

  1. Thank you for this reminder. I’m so tired of the naysayers–it’s really good to check in with like-minded folks who are excited. This is a beginning. And a darn cool one.

  2. I agree also! We built the system for future generations and we will be seeing impressive numbers in years to come. This is only the beginning….

  3. Yep, until people start realizing where it goes and how they can fit it into their daily commute, it won’t have the immediate ridership that some people expect.

    I’m glad it’s here, and I’m using it again tonight to actually get to the airport! Thank goodness it’s here. No more are the days of $45 cab rides or insanely long rides on the bus!

    On another note, this now makes getting to Columbia City for lunch from downtown DOABLE! It’s only a matter of time before businesses start seeing an increase in people traffic.

    1. They’re going to see me a lot at Tammy’s Bakery. :) I’m lazy, so it’s easier to get to than walking up to 12th and Jackson from ID Station.

      1. A friend of mine who grew up in the south end took me to Tammy’s Bakery a few months ago and it’s probably the best around. Problem is I didn’t know it was Tammy’s Bakery until I went there today and a ‘OHHH’ moment happened. Mmm, mmm… WIN!

      2. I’m going to have to try that place tonight.

        I went to Taco Bus today … it was very good but it is a bit of a hike from Mt. Baker Station (~10 min each way) and they had a long wait today, so unfortunately it is not going to be a regular stop unless I take my bike with me. Yes I could take the 7 but who knows how long I’m going to have to wait for the damn thing just to go 1/2 a mile.

      3. Is that the Taco Bus I saw at Othello this weekend? The really long one, where you get on board?

      4. I’m speaking of Tacos El Asadero located at 3517 Rainier Ave S. Which I believe is the first Seattle area taco truck/bus and still one of the best.

        However I believe the Taco Bus at Othello is run by the same people. Even with the longer trip time on link, hitting that location should be faster.

        I did find some really good Somali food near the Othello Station last night. The place doesn’t look like much but the food was cheap and excellent. I had goat for the first time and found out I like it!

      5. Ben,
        Yea there are a ton of Mexican, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, and Somali all up and down the Valley. I also found at least three Filipino places up near the Beacon Hill station.

      6. … ton of Mexican, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, and Somali groceries and restaurants that is.

    2. The post makes an important point, that it takes a year or two for ridership to stabilize. Some people don’t realize their trips match the train, others want to move near the train or get a job near the train but can’t yet, etc. Some also wanted to see Link in regular service before committing to a decision. It’s like the situation of a gas-price increase causing people to buy smaller cars. It happens, but not right away. It happens when the car reaches the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced (whether for performance or vanity reasons). So similarly when people move or change jobs: Link will be one more factor in their decision.

      1. Oh, and I won’t be going to Columbia City for lunch, but I will be going more often for dinner on Fridays. And thanks for the recommendation of Tammy’s Bakery — I hadn’t heard of it before.

  4. I think another thing is that folks need to see that they can actually park at Tukwila at a reasonable hour.

    1. You bet, man! I’m actually seeing if I can somehow ride light rail as part of my commute.

      1. For me, it’d be the #11 to MLK and Madison, #8 to Mt Baker Station, then Link to Westlake Center – what a commute just to ride Link. I’ll try it just for fun one day.

      2. I’m thinking I’d do the 60 or the 9, hop on the train to ID, and get my 545 from there. I live right next to Broadway.

  5. With Link, my new apartment has not only M Street Market, Uwajimaya and IGA in walking distance, it has a quick hop trip to QFC, Viet Wah and Safeway.

    1. In all the light rail hooplah (I love it and rode it both Saturday and Sunday) we do and have had commuter rail for some time. The Sounder doesn’t get much press lately. It too started slowly, with two trains on the Tacoma route. Look where it is now! I only wish it stopped in Ballard so I ccould use it to commute. In any event, I plan to take the Central Link after work and alight at Beacon Hill so I can get a good look at the station, ride the elevators and briefly explore the neighborhood.

      1. how long is the walk from any link stop to viet wah along mlk? i thought that was almost exactly in between 2 stops. (or is there another viet wah i don’t know about)

      2. The MLK Viet-Wah is at Graham St. It’s just less than a 10-minute walk north from Othello station. I’ve only shopped at the ID location. The MLK location looks huge compared to the ID one.

        The ID location slightly less far up the hill on the north side of Jackson.

      3. The Ballard idea is really great, especially with the Link to connect you from King St. to the rest of downtown. Has there been any discussion of a Ballard stop?

        Maybe if they can speed up some other portion of the run from Everett so the overall trip doesn’t get slower, and they can add a 15 second stop in Ballard… That trip from Ballard to downtown would be significantly quicker with the train, and would serve to mollify those residents until a Ballard/West Seattle Link line or a Fremont/Ballard streetcar can be built.

      4. A Sounder station in Ballard is on the books, but it’s not clear whether it would really add enough ridership to justify the expense. There’s also not much space for parking. I think we’ll have to see Sounder North ridership mature for a few years before anyone’s going to talk about it.

        Now, ballard to west seattle light rail, on the other hand…

      5. If only the Seattle Monorail people hadn’t been wedded to a particular transit technology and had simply looked at ways to get better transit service to Ballard and West Seattle.

      6. We DID look at better ways to get better transit service. Folks in 1/2 of the corridor overwhelmingly said “elevated transit” and elevated was competitive with streetcar as the desire for the other half.

        Add to that the expense of tunneling any portions or the complications of TWO water crossings, and monorail simply made the most sense in the corridor at the time.

        And I still happen to believe it will be a tough sell to bring light rail to West Seattle — unless it comes up from Burien instead of from Downtown or SoDo.

    2. And Red Apple! Not that it warrants a special trip, necessarily, but it’s another grocery store on the route — directly across the street from Beacon Hill Station.

    3. Don’t forget the Beacon Hill Red Apple right across from the Beacon Hill Station.

    4. Wait… M Street (Madison and 8th), IGA (3rd and Pine), AND Uwajimaya (5th and whatever south of Jackson) in walking distance? Especially with the long, uphill climb to the first of those, including maybe possibly crossing I-5? Am I missing something?

  6. God, it’s like watching your friend hold their newborn. Godspeed Seattle! Give your new system a big hug for me and think of all of us in cities still struggling in the dark ages.

    1. I have not yet hugged or kissed a train, but perhaps I will do that for you. If I do, I’ll make sure there’s a photo.

  7. Wait till school starts on September 9. Franklin and Rainier Beach are served by Link, and Franklin students have already been using Metro to get to school, and students from the south end will ride Link to access schools in the north end – they won’t be late for class anymore! (Hopefully…)

    Then when UW starts any UW students living in the south end can use Link to transfer to a 71, 72, 73, 74 bus.

    1. Yep, and from Rainer Valley taking Link+bus to UW is already faster than the 48. It’s only 5 minutes better by the schedule, but anyone who’s taken the 48 knows it’s always behind.

      1. Plus, the 42 currently is scheduled to take 10 minutes between Othello and Hanford St, but LINK can cover part of that distance in 4 minutes, Othello to Graham St. Then there is once a transfer to LINK is made, the 42 will be faster. Then again, it will also be truncated in a few months.

    2. Forgot Cleveland High School, It is astride the 60, which I believe will still pass by Beacon Hill Station.

    3. “Then when UW starts any UW students living in the south end can use Link to transfer to a 71, 72, 73, 74 bus.”

      That’s BEFORE U-Link opens. After U-Link opens ridership during the school year could be MASSIVE.

    1. Congestion drops with only a few percent drop in traffic. We’ve lost an equivalent of like 500 riders a day (by percentage).

  8. Small minds think the world revolves around their personal commute. Small minds also believe today is the future, and nothing will change once they are gone.

    These are the people the Times headlines appeal to: intellectually lazy, self-centered “common sense” Americans.

    1. I see no problem with being intellectually lazy, self-centered, and having common sense.

    2. They think that they can appeal to the masses with disinformation. I wonder how many people chose not to ride because they don’t want to be accused of wasting somebody else’s money. I have heard everybody call it a waste for 13 years now. Gas Prices might be going down right now, but they are definitely not going to stay that way. By the way, anybody remember what the price of regular unleaded was in November, 1996? Saturday, it was $2.79, and remember, Metro’s Diesel Prices have been fluctuating in the past few years too. Whatever Seattle City Light is charging for electricity used by LINK, it will be cheap compared to the Diesel Cost.

      People laughed at SOUNDER’s low ridership, called it a waste of money, only two trains a day, inconvenient commute times, that was September 2000. Today, SOUNDER has pretty much arrived, and they are even using the rolling stock more efficiently today. The problem is, those who opposed this project only care about now. The long run, oh, that is for the next election, or the next generation.

  9. Any observations about the tunnel riders and the confusion over the free ride zone today?

    1. Someone got a ticket (and stubbornly insisted he was in the RFZ).

      Excuse my French, but this guy was being a complete a**hole (I wouldn’t be surprised if he was drunk). There were three of us ladies sitting in the train car and he was trying to hit on all of us (the other two were married and I’m not ready for even a boyfriend)

    2. Maybe they should have a huge banner at every platform entrance that says “Fare Paid Zone. Proof of payment required beyond this point for Link trains.” just like in Vancouver.

      1. The only sign in the tunnel stations about the ride free zone that I’ve noticed is a TINY little green sticker that they’ve affixed to the poles on the bus bay signs (where a Link rider isn’t going to notice it) that say “Ride free zone – 6 am to 7 pm – Buses only”.

      2. I think there’s a filter here. People who know about the tunnel also know more about transit than most, and they’re normally regular users. I think in two weeks it’ll be very few people who don’t understand what to pay.

      3. That makes sense. Those of us who congregate here on STB know that trains are not free, ever.

      4. They do and they’re considering eliminating free bus service, the opposite of what we’re doing here, but they got a pretty comprehensive inner city rail coverage that we don’t.

      5. yeah and its gonna confuse the hell out of people having a fareless zone in seattle just for buses and a fareless zone in portland just for rail. plus the way fares are paid on the buses on metro is confusing. pay when you get on, pay when you leave. then it seems after 7 you pay no matter what when you board. also i bought a link ticket today r/t for $3.50. how does it work for transfering to metro bus? especially when it is $2 peak fares.

      6. Link signage is a little lacking. They would do well to have “fare paid” signs as Oran pointed out. Also, there ought to be some cool, easily-recognized logo that goes on the outside of stations, particularly Beacon Hill. The “T” doesn’t really do it for me, since places like Park and Rides get the T sign but major transfer points like Campus Parkway don’t get it – I’m still not sure what the T means. And if there’s a good sign for Link, I missed it…

      7. The T is the Regional T which means a connection to the regional transit (Sound Transit) network. It identifies all Sound Transit facilities plus a bunch of other agencies’ facilities that ST serves.

      8. The regional T really isn’t well recognized. I really think it should be the ST logo or something instead.

        Matt, do you have to pay fare to be on the platforms?

      9. All of the Link stations will have designated “fare zones” which will include the platforms. The reason there is no “fare zone” signage in the downtown tunnel is because it is Metro’s turf.

  10. I took Link from Westlake to the ID, and paid using ORCA. I COULD have just taken a free bus in the tunnel, but well, you know.

  11. Those working or living in the south-end like myself will probably need to need to wait until there are actually bus routes to the International Blvd. station before we ride. For example, anybody who works at Southcenter will be waiting until February 2010 when the 140 route change will begin providing service to the station.

    1. If only they can push that up. Then there are some calling the bus changes a massive cut in service. I think tying the 36 and 14 into LINK at Othello Station and Ranier Valley is something that is long overdue. The 7 needs a relief valve.

      If only the bus changes could have taken effect over the weekend too.

      1. Those bus changes are something of a service cut – but they prevent those routes from seeing a heavy service cut next year when the rest of Metro gets slashed.

      2. Yeah, it’s weird to get used to riding the bus and Link a certain way and have it change a bit later.

  12. I didn’t notice at any of the stations this weekend, but are there (or will ST implement in the future) some form of train arrival system so riders waiting at the station or checking online know exactly when the next train will arrive or be able to see them on a map? Similar to the Streetcar, I suppose.

    1. Schroeder: Yes, there will be a “next train arriving in ….” sign. It will be working in a few weeks.

    2. That would be nice especially when U-link opens.

      I wish that when the Link is running at 15 minute intervals that ST would actually specify the time that in comes or at least say something like Link comes at :05, :20, :35, :50 (if that where that case for that station) after the hour I wouldn’t want to wait around for a max of 14 minutes.

      1. Totally agree. Even at 7.5 minute intervals, if it takes 6 minutes to bike from my house, I don’t want to wait. Theoretically, 7.5 or 10 or even 15 minutes are intervals that ought to work for just showing up, but the theory doesn’t feel like it applies for me. I think I am going to mine the schedule information on Metro’s Web site using route 599 at the Columbia City Station and print myself a timetable for my own personal use – maybe I could sell it to fellow Link riders. In Vienna, the U-Bahn comes at 2-3 minute intervals, and they have a timetable.

      2. Can anyone explain the reluctance to have a printed schedule with actual departure times on it? SLU Tram does not have a schedule brochure and when I have an errand to run, I’d like to know the actual time the train is to depart. Cannot be that difficult to provide this information to the riding public.

      3. You mean a printed one with all the departure times? I’ve seen the Route 98 timetables on the SLUT and elsewhere. It only lists the service frequency.

      4. This is interesting, because I thought they would. Trip planner will, and of course you’ll know from the signage at the station. Perhaps there will be a paper schedule eventually?

      5. DC does that, but I’m kind of against it. Part of the point of trains is supposed to be short headways; you show up with the confidence that the wait will be short. You shouldn’t need a schedule for light rail–especially if they’re not doing them for BRT.

        On Paris’ 14 line, the headways are so short that people actually prioritize getting on at the right spot (to be positioned for the station they’re getting off at) over getting the first train that comes. I wonder when that will start happening here. :) I knew exactly where to stand to get off right in front of the correct escalator in DC.

  13. Listening to Ken Schram and John Carlson on AM1000 today was so tiresome.

    “I can’t believe they didn’t put in Park & Ride lots”

    “You’ll be paying for this albatross for a long time, half a cent of sales tax and a car excise tax”

    “It won’t even reduce congestion”

    1. Figures. On the last point, didn’t they already say that several times. What, they want to think they are vindicated. So short term, yesterday was only the end of the beginning of a long struggle. U-District by 2016, Lynwood by 2023, and if they are still on the air in 2023, Carlson and Schram will still say the same thing.

    2. Don’t worry, when the Link eventually beats ridership projections they’ll conveniently forget that they ever said anything bad about it and find something else to grouse about.

      1. Carlson for sure, remember, he ran for Governor once. Plus, it might make ridership projections in February 2010, Vancouver Olympics. One of the reasons they pushed up Construction of the Airport leg. At first the Airport leg looked like it would be 2011 before it opened. Then it was pushed up when Vancouver got the 2010 Winter Olympics. Central LINK from the Airport will connect to Amtrak at King Street Station.

    3. Listening to Ken Schram and John Carlson is always tiresome. Ken Schram is the real albatross here. I can’t believe that guy gets paid for his opinion.

  14. Well the Seattle times comments are running hot and heavy…probably more commentors than riders. These people need to get out and actually ride it before complaining.

  15. I bet you some people would take the bus instead of light rail if they’re hopping from like westlake to international district cuz its free ride during free ride hours.

      1. No, they priced all the tunnel stops the same to any given destination, to keep people from taking the free bus to ID in order to save a quarter. It creates an odd situation for some destinations though.
        I live between Mt Baker and Beacon Hill Stations, and that’s where the first incremental fare increase happens coming from downtown. So you would think that if Westlake-BH is $1.75, and to MB is $2.00, then surely ID-MB should be down to the $1.75 price but it’s not. It’s a moot point for me as I have a flexpass, and I split the difference anyway – walking downhill in the morning to MB, and walking downhill in the afternoon from BH.

      2. It seems a lot like our zones. ID to Evergreen Point is two-zone, so is Montlake to Evergreen Point (on the 545).

  16. Well, if we’re really talking reminders here, Ben…

    It was NOT built for 2109. I get your point; but you still don’t need to exaggerate.

    And Schram and Carlson help push us to remind folks that it was NOT built to reduce congestion on the freeways.

    It was also not built to take people out of their cars, which is why there are no park-and-ride lots except for the end stations (Tukwila, now, and SeaTac soon), where people would be expected to need the help to get to the stations.

    1. Oh, it wasn’t built for 2109? Then when is it built for, exactly? Every station along the line can be extended, just as the NYC Subway was extended. We’ve built to higher standards than most of the big cities did when they first built systems – our platform lengths are higher than NYC or Paris were when first constructed. We built higher capacity than the rest of the light rail lines in the US have.

      Schram and Carlson are worthless hacks. Congestion on the freeways doesn’t matter – total congestion does. When you’re talking about economic benefit, you have to look at an entire corridor, and how much time per capita is being wasted. Light rail reduces that – no matter how stopped up the freeway is, when a big slice of people are riding the train, that’s exactly the same as a bunch of wide-open lanes.

      Taking people out of their cars is EXACTLY what it does. A park and ride lot only takes people out of their cars partway – it doesn’t do anything to get rid of the cars, just makes their trips shorter. Building stations without park and rides lets density grow up around them, and that means fewer cars total, and of course all the other community and health benefits that come with higher density living.

      You must realize that one car that doesn’t get built is as good as two or three cars at a park and ride?

      You have got to stop being bitter about the monorail. When you make comments like this, it’s apparent you’ve completely lost your way.

      1. As I said, Ben, I get what you’re trying to say. It will hopefully be around in 100 years. But it is designed for, say, 2050.

        And my bitterness about the monorail has little to do with critiquing anti-transit folks like Schram and Carlson. Did you read what I wrote, or were you just too quick to defense?

        Your point about being planned for the 20-30 years hence when density will have grown up around them and future riders won’t need cars is exactly what I meant about it not being built to take people out of cars.

        When critics like John Niles complain that rail cannibalizes riders from buses we shouldn’t try to defend against the comment, we should point out that this is PRECISELY what rail should do. The majority of new riders at the start of Link will be from buses… but those riders now have higher frequency, more capacity, and greater reliability in their trip; and, ideally, this should free up bus hours to either provide more frequent service to/from the station areas or more bus service elsewhere. (This is a good point, by the way, for folks who complain that a rail line doesn’t serve their particular neighborhoods.)

        As transit advocates, we should all know that TRANSIT DOES NOT REDUCE CONGESTION. Of course, adding a new lane of freeway will not reduce congestion in the long run either.

  17. I rode the light-rail today from Mt. Baker to downtown and back, and it wasn’t nearly as empty as I expected. Both cars I was in had at least 30 people (meaning maybe around 100-120 total?).

    Also, I saw a group of people not buy tickets at Mt. Baker and just walk right onto the train. It really doesn’t seem like there are many safeguards against this kind of thing, and lord knows the city needs the money!

    1. They could have had passes or tickets purchased elsewhere which were still valid. And they may have been challenged by a fare inspector once on board – that’s how this works. But I think that it will be a while before we see enforcement ramp up – they’ll be focusing on educating people about how to pay, making sure the ticket machines are working correctly, etc.

      Also, Sound Transit is not the city.

      1. I meant sound transit, don’t know why I said the city (I guess because Ive been reading about the city’s budget woes!)

        From the conversation they were having it was apparent they didn’t buy tickets…

      2. I had a colleague who rode in today from Mt. Baker. (This might be a permanent switch for her!) She was looking for a place to use her Metro paper tickets to buy a ticket, and then thought she’d put it in somewhere when she exited the station Downtown. Ooops!

      1. Until ridership is very high, they’re just feel-good. They cost more than the fare evasion they prevent until you’re moving a lot of people.

    2. When the buses are moved out of the tunnel I think that Sound transit should install fare gates

      By the way when all the buses are moved out of the tunnel shouldn’t Sound Transit became the owner/operator of the tunnel. They will be the only ones using it.

      1. I think it would cost Sound Transit a lot of money that they would not recover by installing fare gates, and that we should let them decide to do it when it would make financial sense. Right now, those things cost more to operate than they’d save.

      2. I believe Sound Transit is already the owner/operator of the tunnel. I think the handover happened roughly when the renovation started in 2005.

    3. the honor system works well all over the world … but it needs to be enforced.

      1. You don’t have to enforce it very much. The point isn’t to catch every fare evader – the point is to catch them often enough that there’s risk.

  18. BTW, I didn’t see one transit cop on my trip today. Not at the stations, and not on the trains. I saw only security guards. Where are the transit cops?

  19. Also, one rent-a-cop did ask people to show their tickets during the ride. But he then said not to worry, that there is no penalty if you don’t have a ticket, but he would still like to see it if you have it.

    1. They’re going easy on people at first. You don’t want to piss off your new riders, they’ll learn to pay soon enough.

  20. Nobody complains (well, except for the usual haters) when the bus is half or less full. Who spread around the idea that these trains are supposed to packed all the time, anyway (rhetorical question)? And, more importantly, I never hear people moan when I-5 is operating at a quarter of capacity. MAX (as an example) is an established and well loved system, and on my monthly work trips down there, ridership can be highly variable at non-peak times.

    I can just see some crackpot trying to put the kabash on LINK expansion since “nobody” rides it. I bet LINK numbers will grow just like Sounder did, and those trains are packed.

    1. That’s right, those trains ARE packed, and they are getting people out of their cars, and cars off the freeways. And they are originating from, and traveling through areas that aren’t densely populated. You hear people all the time on this blog say this or that future routing wouldn’t make sense because there isn’t the density to support, I know they don’t really know what they are talking about (even though it sounds like the do because they use transit jargon).

      1. Generally, when I talk about future routing not making sense, it’s because there’s another future route that makes more sense sooner, or that the future route would run through an area that can’t be redeveloped easily, or because it’s one of those spur ideas people have that would mean 15 minute peak headways.

    2. No one complains when the HIGHWAYS are half full–or less. Just look at all that wasted I-5 capacity right now at 10:15 at night! What a waste; we should never have built I-5! Hmm…

  21. No surprise, but the Times is printing blatant lies about Link usage. Their article says “The 600-space lot at Tukwila International Boulevard Station was about half-full around 1 p.m.” I was there right at 1pm and there were only a few spots available. I had to hunt around for one. There is no way someone would honestly have looked at that lot at 1pm and said it was “about half full.” It’s no wonder it has taken us so long to get rail in this area when the chief newspaper will print lies to support their biases against rail.

    1. A lot of the article was just hearsay too. “Well we heard from someone who said that they saw ten people get off the train in Westlake this morning, therefore ridership is low.”

      I was actually quite surprised at how many people were on the six trains that I rode this afternoon, I had to stand on my last trip from Beacon Hill to downtown around 1:00.

  22. Hi Sam,
    I saw a sergeant with the King County Sheriff on the Mt Baker platform about 8:30 along with a King County Sheriff squadcar patroling along the tracks in SoDo shortly thereafer.

    1. I see and hear buskers in Westlake Station pretty frequently. On the trains? I don’t know if that’s a good idea. For the same reasons that headphones must be worn and cell phone talk is discouraged.

  23. Once buses are fully re-routed to take advantage of Link, we’ll see ridership surge. The 140, for example, does not currently connect with Link, but in a few months it will stop serving the airport and will start serving the Tukwila station. Right now it is more than a half-mile walk from the nearest 140 stop to the Tukwila station. Once that happens, ridership will increase from all over the South End.

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