Link train at Tukwila platform, by l0st2
"Link train at Tukwila platform", by l0st2

[Update 1:09pm. Correction and further points below, in italics.]

Earlier, Ben took the position that it’s best not to get too worked up about ridership numbers at this stage, and I think that’s true whether the numbers are good or bad.

That said, Link’s first-week weekday boardings were just announced via press release as 12,000/day.  For reference, that’s slightly higher than the ridership of the 7 — Metro’s busiest bus route in the Rainier Valley and third-busiest overall, and one that serves a denser population.  Link would be second overall, slightly behind the 48.*   Of course Link has much higher capacity — vehicles are more frequent, much larger, and provide a longer span of service — so any individual train is likely to appear quite sparse at that ridership rate.**

There were 16,900 boardings on Saturday the 25th, and 16,100 on Sunday the 26th.  This was no doubt boosted by the many events last weekend, as well as first-timers who skipped out on opening weekend for one reason or another.

Sound Transit projects 21,000 daily boardings by the end of the year, as people figure out their commutes, bus service is realigned to better support Link, school starts, and some duplicate bus service is cut.  The 2010 figure (once Airport Link is open and the second round of bus changes happens) is 26,600.

There were 1,300 boardings on the airport shuttle bus per day, so about 10% of trips are airport trips.

And before you ask, boarding estimates are based on sensors that perform sample counts of people getting on the train, not on ticket sales and ORCA taps.

* Comparison is skewed somewhat by a lack of Link numbers for when school is in session.

** There are about 248 one-way trips per day, so the mean trip would carry just under 50 passengers, meaning about 1/3 of the seats were full on a 2-car train.

64 Replies to “First Link Ridership Numbers”

  1. By observation, large groups have already begun to replace private means of transportation and started using Link to get to the airport. Naturally, we shouldn’t be too concerned with numbers, but these are better than I thought. We should be happy with 10k+ riders within only 2 weeks.

    1. Agreed – I saw bunches of people (15-20, mostly families) in downtown boarding the train with luggage who transferred to the airport connector bus at Tukwila on Tuesday about noon. Once airport link opens, travelers will probably begin to ride in droves.

  2. Very positive news – it’d be really fun to know where the weekday ridership came from (bus, sov, carpool, new commuter to downtown, commuting between non-downtown stations, etc). I assume there’ll be surveys by ST as things settle in.

    1. Anecdotally, there are still tons of people on the 42, 42X, and 194, so these may very well be new riders.

    1. Remember that the 7 was split a few years back into the 7 and 49. I wonder if the data that says the 7 is the busiest route is from before the split.

    2. Thanks lodown,

      I had partial figures and forgot that we have that resource. Mistake corrected above.

      1. Yeah, the numbers on the 7 go down because of the split. And I know the numbers on the 120 have gone up dramatically since they increased frequency as part of Transit Now. Similar things have probably happened on other TN beneficiary routes…

  3. They weren’t just sensors – because those sensors aren’t entirely functional yet, Sound Transit staff were also hand counting. The hand count is being used to calibrate the sensors better.

  4. They could probably double the current ridership just by terminating the 194 at Tukwilla Station. That would have to help Metros budget crunch and get some 50+ buses off the freeway and out of the DSTT. Let’s see, 56 trips about 15 miles each way that’s 1,680 miles of bus travel eliminated. At 3 mpg that would be 560 gallons of diesel which I think translates into over 6 tons of CO2 dumped into the atmosphere every day!

    1. It’s too late to mess with the September service change, and the 194 is going away entirely in February.

      1. Isn’t most of the ridership on the 194 from Federal Way to Downtown rather than just the airport? And yes I was suggesting the 194 run just from 320th up to Tukwila. By “going away entirely” mean the southern part of the route will be renumbered or do they have other plans to make up this service.

        Any routes that use the tunnel should be at the top of the list for converting to Link feeder buses. If possible use the freed up capacity to restore tunnel access to routes like Kenmore.

      2. I think they’re going to move many of those riders to the 577. The other option will be to take Rapid Ride A to Link, a trip which has quicker headways but is otherwise slower.

      3. Martin is right but there are other elements to cover the south part of the 194. ST 577 and 578 will be options from Federal Way to Seattle with no stops. ST 574 provides parallel service with the 194 between Federal Way and Sea-Tac, and will get some additional trips in February to help accomodate 194 riders. 574 will be the replacement for Route 194 for riders from Kent Des Moines Park and Ride, Star Lake Park and Ride, and on South 188th St in SeaTac. The 574 will serve Sea-Tac Station so former 194 riders continuing to Seattle could transfer there.

      4. 577/578 are weekday peak hour only. The 194 has pretty strong ridership numbers throughout the day. I’m betting the 577/578 are already pretty dang full and ST can’t just add service to take up all of the slack. It would be nice though if they terminated at Tukwila instead of going downtown. That would make the route connect with the Sumner Sounder Station at one end and with the Tukwila Link Station at the other. And it would take another 28 buses out of the tunnel.

        I don’t know what ridership is like on the 574. That route will likely see a lot more demand if extended to Tukwila (although by the time the changed the route it might make more sense to just wait until the Link airport extension is complete). The 158, 159 and 162 also look like good candidates to terminate at Tukwila. Although there may still be need to replace some of the surface service it provides downtown perhaps that can be converted to electric trolley buses. It would be another Train to Train route.

      5. That’s actually exactly what they’re going to do–add more trips to both the 577 and 578. See pages 2, 3, 4:

        I’ve never rode the 578, but I used the 577 once; the last morning trip, and it was full. D60LF with at least a dozen standing. And no, it would not be nice if they terminated at Tukwila. The 577 is a 37 minute ride from the Federal Way Transit Center to downtown. Link is 34 minutes from Tukwila to Downtown. It takes more than 3 minutes to get from FWTC to TIBS.

        I’ve only been on a northbound off-peak weekday 574. It wasn’t packed, but it wasn’t empty. ST publishes all of their ridership numbers in a very detailed breakdown. I can’t find them at the moment, but if I do I’ll post back.

      6. Double the transit time is bad and would kill ridership. However, according to google directions “22.5 mi – about 27 mins (up to 40 mins in traffic)” so take 13 minutes as a typical (it only gets worse) real time traffic factor. Then take another 13 minutes (best case) for the bus to cover 13 miles of freeway from Seatac to Seattle and it’s pretty comparable. Part of the problem is the TOD fetish instead of transit oriented transit which would emphasis what trains do best which is move large numbers of people long distances quickly. A lesson to be applied to East Link; regional transit is not a streetcar!

      7. One issue with going through the Rainier Valley (I’m not saying problem because it was a conscious choice with benefits provided to many riders in that area) is that it makes light rail times slower than buses for riders as the line goes further south towards Federal Way. Even as Link is extended, travel times by bus will remain faster. Tim’s post about the 577 notes the fact that it is actually quite fast today (and very well-used), and as Link expands it will be extremely unpopular and possibly politically impossible to discontinue routes that are significantly faster just to feed people to Link. There have been a lot of complaints from people who complain that Link is slower than the 194, and the difference there is very small. The huge benefits of Link for the areas further south will be frequency, span, and reliability, not travel time. It will still be a hard sell to get rid of the peak express services from those areas, even if it makes the most sense in the overall transit network.

      8. Here’s the problem, though: all those travel time benefits will go out the door when 520, I-90 and the AWV are being worked on at almost the same time. Buses on I-5 and 99 coming up from the South End will be part of the expected multi-year slog.

      9. I believe the southern portion will be renumbered the 124, and terminate exactly as you suggest, at the station.

      10. The debacle of stopping the line just short of the airport and then adding it back as an extension may prove to be very fortuitous. I think Tukwila could be the one of the busiest stations rivaling individual downtown tunnel platforms.

      11. It will be very busy when Rapid Ride A begins service next year.

        From what I’ve witnessed it already seems like the station is well utilized throughout the day, more than I expected for opening week. I think a lot more than just commuters are taking advantage of the parking there to make trips into town. I’ve seen a lot of families coming and going at mid-day. It will be interesting to see what it is like next year. The original MAX line managed ridership increases for 16 straight years, I’m sure Link will do the same.

      12. Actually the 124 replaces the northern half of the 174, with Rapid Ride A replacing the southern half

    2. 2/3 of the passengers on the hybrid won’t fit on one of the shuttles with the rest of the folks.

      And I assume you mean making Tukwila the northern terminus of the 194, because that would suck if it was the southern.

    1. I was trying to quote this sentence:

      This was no doubt boosted by the many events last weekend, as well as first-timers who skipped out on opening weekend for one reason or another

      1. It is indeed part of the point, although the bulk of the ridership will be from daily use.

  5. I would also add that this weekend is Seafair Weekend, and people should try to ride Link to the Hydros, Blue Angels, Saturday night concert/fireworks show, etc. The north gate of the event is at Mt. Baker Beach, 0.8 mi from the Mt. Baker Station, and the south gate at Genesee Park is a similar distance from the Columbia City Station (although the spectating areas are relatively far through the beer gardens from the south gate).

    Speaking of Link and Seafair, and re: the ongoing I-90 issue, will East Link be allowed to operate across I-90 during the Blue Angels? Does WSDOT shut down traffic to the bridge because of driver distraction, or does the FAA order it closed so they can fly low above it (they close Seward Park for the latter reason). Any ideas?

    1. I always thought it was because of driver distraction and the inevitable bozo that would stop in the middle of the freeway to watch the planes. The catenary wires might require some changes to the flight plans. Wouldn’t want to demonstrate carrier landings without the carrier ;-)

      1. Thanks for the clarification with a source. Does this mean that the Blue Angels pilots are distracted by cars driving around on the ground? And if so, does WSDOT saying as much on their Web site amount to a breach of national security by revealing potential battlefield countermeasures? Anyway, they also clear all boats and swimmers from underneath their airspace as well. FAA rule in general is 500 feet above land, but that usually doesn’t apply to military, police, game wardens, etc.

    2. Matt, that is so funny that you mentioned that because I was thinking the same thing today when I saw a bunch of buses waiting in the line on I-90.

      I don’t think the restriction is completely for the Blue Angels to fly low but rather that if there was an accident that the forward momentum of any collision would not impact anyone. It probably came as a result of the air show crash in Germany in the 1980’s.

  6. What were the official estimates for the first few weeks? I thought we were going to be way below this in the first couple weeks.

    Sounds like ST did it right, and published conservative estimates for ridership. With any luck we’ll beat those final numbers too. =)

    1. We’ll see. I don’t expect us to beat the final numbers if gas gets cheap again.

  7. Not sure if anyone has posted this yet, but Seafair is encouraging people to take Link.

    “Take the Light Rail!

    Hop on the Sound Transit’s NEW Central Link light rail at the location nearest you to get to the Chevrolet Cup & KeyBank Air Show on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Take the light rail to the Othello Station and catch a FREE Seafair Express Shuttle to the front gate or go the green way by riding all the way to the Columbia Street Station and walk the remaining way to the main gate (approx. 1 mile). At the end of your Seafair day, take the Seafair Express Shuttle going to the Othello Station so you can catch the light rail home. Standard light rail fees apply.”

  8. The Minority Report.

    I think it’s just as important to find out who is riding Link, as how many. I hope Sound Transit is doing sampling to determine if the diversity of people who live along the line, is also represented on the train. This line isn’t just for those who are gentrifying the Valley (which some people consider a form of racism), it’s for everyone.

    1. There are no restrictions on ridership and trying to force a demographic scale on this line (or any line) could be considered red-lining since it would make the line appear as serving demographics rather than a neighborhood and would thus create a “forbidden zone” effect.

      Racism is obvious in statements like “why doesn’t X group ride this” and is part of a self-fulfilling narrative. You ask the question repeatedly and suddenly, since one group heard the remark-as-a-question “why doesn’t your group ride”, they all assume there’s a good reason. It’s part of the reason class plays so heavily into bus ridership in most cities, since the question is often “why are most riders poor” and “why don’t the middle and upper class ride buses”.

      It’s why the Seattle Weakly’s latest article is so fascinatingly racist, since it says “ONLY WHITE PEOPLE RIDE THIS, according to our first week observations, NO BLACK PEOPLE RIDE IT, and we won’t mention how many asians or otherwise ride”.

      Nobody should feel bad for riding or not riding.

      1. Let me put it in very simple elementary school terms: repeatedly asking someone “why doesn’t your particular demographic do this” will make them not do it themselves (or at least reconsider).

        In political circles it’s called push polling.

  9. About 1/3 of the seats full was correct. I did not see many boardings during the midday and alot of people still take the 194 based from my observations. However, I think when Link goes right to the airport, that will change.

    1. People taking the 194 are probably headed south of the airport and it doesn’t make sense to take the train to catch the bus that’s right in front of you. Summer heat might change that! Eliminating it will force the issue. Maybe not as simple or fast for some of the riders but vastly more efficient for Metro (money for nothing, Link is free… as far a Metro is concerned).

      1. For off-peak, it’s still cheaper to take the 194, and it’s probably preferable due to the lack of transfer.

  10. I hope the ridership numbers will beat Sound Transit’s prediction of 21,000 average a day by end of this year. ;)

  11. 10% of trips are airport trips, and airport link isn’t even finished! Assuming that number is accurate, I’d say the airport was a good starter destination. I’m always amazed when I visit cities without airport-to-downtown rail service (Toronto, I’m looking at you…)

    1. Hey LA doesn’t either, nor Denver, SLC or Sacramento. Phoenix comes close, but they’re building some sort of people mover. It also took Portland 17 years to get their airport line in and it took Vancouver even longer and we nearly beat Vancouver’s line to the airport! I do use BART when flying into SFO and love it!

  12. How has weekday capacity at Tukwila I.B. station been? Opening weekend it had by far the largest crowd, at least when I was there, with a 30 minute wait time. Since then I’ve heard of 30-45 minute lines at the TVMs. Is this happening daily, and is it simply a matter of not enough TVMs, or are the trains reaching capacity too? What about parking, is it filling up? If so, is it early morning or late morning that it’s hard to find a spot?

    I’m surprised how popular the TIB station is, but I can see how the “express” section from it to Henderson can seem like a real attraction in terms of cutting the total trip time. But if everybody from Burien to Renton to Des Moines is driving to TIB and riding Link, I can see potential capacity problems.

    Which is one thing I worry about Link overall, will it really have the capacity to handle all the people who formerly rode the 194/48/42/36/71/72/73/41 and 400-series routes? Plus the additional riders who refused to ride buses or find a Link segment that buses never served (e.g., Rainier to Intl Blvd)? The engineers have done a wonderful job and I trust their ability to calculate demand, but I still find it hard to imagine one 4-car train can replace that many buses. True, the train runs more frequently, but not more frequently than the 71/72/73 combined or the 400-series combined, and those are full several hours a day.

    Especially when last Saturday afternoon I rode a 2/3 full train from downtown to Columbia City. A time when you’d normally see moderate bus use but not standing room only. And those weren’t people going to the Torchlight Parade or the stadiums, because they were going the other way.

    1. Mike,

      When you’re running 4-car trains (800 pax total) and 2 minute headways, you can move 500,000 people a day from end to end. That’s more than the entire Metro system carries now, so I wouldn’t worry about capacity too much, especially since you’ll often carry 2 riders in a seat over an entire end-to-end run.

      1. To be fair, they don’t have the ability to run 4 car trains yet, and I have not heard anything about running less than 3 minute headways.

        That said, 3-car trains running at 3 minute headways have a capacity of 12,000 passengers per hour per direction. That’s equivalent to a 6-lane (each direction) freeway. They’ve got plenty of capacity.

      2. If you’re talking about replacing ridership on the 41 and the 70s you are talking about a period where they can run 4-car trains.

      3. I believe the plan is for 3 or 4 minute headways on the segment from downtown to Northgate as well. This should (hopefully) be more than enough to handle the demand. I’m not sure what the next step is if the segment from downtown to Northgate maxes out on capacity. Converting the I-5 express lanes to rail?

    2. Thanks. And the capacity at the Tukwila IB station? How are the TVMs and parking spaces holding up on typical weekdays?

  13. How does 12,000 daily boardings compare to first weeks of other recent light rail starter lines? Minneapolis is probably the most salient comparison, since they also opened a partial segment shortly before opening a later connection to an airport. It would be interesting to see a comparison with Houston, Phoenix, Charlotte, etc, too, though, if anyone has the data.

    1. For Lynx light rail in Charlotte

      Ridership levels have continued to surprise CATS managers and planners – pleasantly. CATS had originally projected an average ridership of 9,100 weekday trips for the first year of operation, but so far that number has consistently remained above 12,000, according to CATS officials. (See: Charlotte: New light rail line’s ridership exceeds forecast by 35%.) The line is 11 miles long from downtown to south suburbs of Charlotte.

      Hiawatha light rail in Minneapolis…gotta be glad we have prepared for 4 car trains while they haven’t. They currently have 37,000 riders per weekday with 2 car trains.
      2009 Expansion of existing stations
      During the summer of 2009, the existing stations on the line will be expanded, lengthening the boarding areas. This will permit the use of 3-car trains, instead of the 2-car trains that are the current maximum. This allows the line to meet the continually growing demand, without adding additional trains to the schedule, or adding more drivers. The expansions are scheduled to be completed by March, 2010. In 2008, passengers increased by 20% over 2007. And this is already 20% over the original projected ridership for the year 2020.

      1. I suspect that like CATS and Hiawatha, Link ridership will far exceed expectations. The real test will be next year after the Airport station opens and the first round of Link related bus service revisions are complete. I think Sound Transit is likely to be pleasantly surprised by the 2010 ridership numbers. I don’t doubt Central Link will hit it’s 2015 numbers well before then.

  14. I’m stoked for Seattle, really awesome that the city has a started LRT system. I just gotta brag though – our LRT numbers on all our lines are better than the 12k a day, in addition our streetcar handles about 12k a day. Which of course means our streetcar needs more frequency during the day because its like a sardine can and our light rail is doing pretty good considering it is limited to two car trains.

    Good thing you guys up north have a system able to handle 3 car trains. When things, as mentioned, get really rolling and that 20k+ number is hit those 3 car trains will be really nice. The blue line MAX in PDX hit I believe 30k some days and it is a sardine during rush hour…

    Sure beats the hell out of all those people pushed out into SOV cars!!! :)

    Best of luck on next steps… I’ll be reading.

    1. It’s a bit early to compare the two system’s ridership numbers. But overall, Link is a much higher capacity system. It will handle 4 car trains as soon as U-Link is done. Each car has a passenger capacity of 200, compared to MAX’s 166. That means 800 passengers per train for Link and 332 for MAX. Link is also mostly grade separated which allows for higher frequencies and less traffic problems.

      Sure MAX is quaint, but with Sounder + WSF + Future Link + the planned Seattle Streetcar expansions, Seattle has much higher transit ridership than Portland overall and will continue so in the future.

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