Phoenix Metro Light Rail (wikimedia)
Phoenix Metro Light Rail (wikimedia)

From last weekend’s New York Times, Phoenix’s new light rail line is grudgingly praised by former opponents, and has very high weekend ridership by people with a new excuse to go downtown.

We’ve seen the latter phenomenon here, where the mid-August ridership numbers showed more boardings on Saturday than the average weekday.  More anecdotally, while riding the train and walking along MLK I can say that there are a ton of people on the train on any given weekend afternoon.  Sometimes that’s sporting event traffic, sometimes not.

Weekday ridership will catch up, as more people figure out how to commute with the train, weekend light rail tourists go away, and the winter brings fewer events downtown.  Nevertheless, I think this is an example of how rail is able to capture riders even when the drive downtown isn’t all that expensive or unpleasant.

73 Replies to “Weekend Ridership”

  1. I’ve only ridden the light rail on the weekend! Yes it is usually slower and arguably more expensive when you have a group of four+, but it is nice to not have to worry about parking etc.

    I live and work in Auburn. I usually end up driving to the link station because the bus routes on the weekend are pretty long to get to the light rail. I’d love to be able to take a bus direct from the Auburn transit center to the light rail on the weekends.

    1. Once Link starts running to the airport, the 180 should connect you directly. Unfortunately, the 180 stops running north of Kent after about 6ish.

  2. I really hope that Seattle’s LRT becomes a system over time that is highly integrated with the commuters on your bus network. Seattle has a great pool of people using its bus system but I worry about the ease of moving from one system to another. In Phoenix, we have a very low number of people using the bus system so we built 8 park and ride lots along our system. We therefore have plenty of free parking for people taking the system, plus we have a ton of free parking ALL around the stations on the rail which means people take it on the weekend to avoid paying for parking (tickets are cheaper than parking at ball games only). That’s why we have low numbers of commuters (they can park at work cheaper than riding lrt and only 2% take public transit in PHX).

    Phoenix is really embracing the people who travel on the weekends to the civic events downtown through partnerships with the largest venues. Our latest program in PHX involves a public/private partnership where passengers holding tickets to events at the large venues can use their tickets to the events as prof of payment on the train (this saves individuals time and money to encourage them to ride the trains), and the transit agency gets something like $0.30-0.50 for every ticket sold. I think its a good win-win, but a strange one… I want to see more people (only 27% now) using Phoenix’s light rail for getting to work… I do every day for school and for work.

    I think Seattle’s system will improve better over time and Phoenix will have to do a lot more than it currently is to get people taking the light rail to work (that’s when we have the highest frequency and highest investment in the system).

    1. Well, free parking really isn’t a good idea – even for people taking transit. That actually *does* encourage sprawl.

      ORCA definitely helps people go between bus and rail.

      1. Free parking is bad, but some amount of park-and-ride capacity (assuming it is not free, but still cheaper than parking downtown) at our rail stations can make the system accessible to a greater number of people. We should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Our first priority is political: we have to build a large enough constituency of people who believe they benefit from light rail in order to generate the support to raise taxes and build more of it. Park-and-rides are a part of that picture. Far better to have them drive for part of their trip than to have them drive for all of it.

      2. Good thing we have them, then! There’s paid parking (which is cheap!) at or very near Othello, Columbia City and Mount Baker Stations.

      3. park & ride lots also are land banking for future TODs once the system has matured. the free parking helps in the early years as the system is growing and developing its ridership.

      4. “assuming it is not free, but still cheaper than parking downtown”: that’s fine for transit centers that feed into downtown Seattle, but what about for people commuting elsewhere? I can park for free at my office in Bellevue. I take transit there from the same park and ride used by many who commute to downtown Seattle. At many park and rides you might also have a problem with transit users illicitly parking at nearby businesses if the park and ride started charging.

        How much do park and rides contribute to sprawl anyway? Isn’t sprawl driven more by factors such as affordability, desire for space, perceived quality of schools, etc.? I don’t ever hear park and rides blamed when people are bemoaning sprawl.

  3. A couple of weeks ago, on a Friday, I rode Link from downtown to the airport. (I had an 11:55 PM flight to catch.) I was pleasantly surprised to see how busy the train was at 10:30 on a Friday night. The train was nowhere near full, but just about every stop had at least one person entering or exiting. It was not just airport passengers, either. It was a very good thing to see.

    1. It’ll get a lot more full in February when the second round of bus changes goes through. :)

    2. 10:30 on a Thursday night (last night) was darned crowded going from Westlake to Beacon Hill (and beyond, I’m sure). I was kind of amazed how many people were on the train. It does seem to me that there are more people riding it now.

  4. Link was so full on my way home on Tuesday afternoon that a few people were standing, and a guy sat next to me! That’s when you know ridership is too high!

    Seriously, but anecdotally, it actually feels a little fuller each day. I’m not counting people, though.

    1. My ride home last night from Westlake to Beacon Hill had people standing by the time we left University Street, and every seat was taken at Pioneer Square – and there wasn’t even any events going on at the stadia! It was great to see.

      I agree that if seems a little fuller each day.

  5. I have mostly ridden it on weekends and I’ve always noticed that it gets quite full. I haven’t gotten a chance to ride it during afternoon peak when everyone says the trains are very full but I’ll try to sometime!

  6. You know, this brings up another thing that I rant about- That people ride transit on Weekends Too.

    Currently, our transit planners give us awesome (in most cases) service on Weekdays, though it can be a little skewed to be commute oriented *cough* ST Express *cough* Then we get to the weekend and Saturday service is a little gutted then we get Sunday service which in some cases is Non-Existent. Couple of interesting things to note here: 1. People who ride buses do not always have the option of just driving, as would seem to be the case of most of the commuters who can work in Seattle and live in Tacoma. No offense, but there it is. 2. People who do not have other means of transportation other transit tend to hold jobs that do not fit the 9-5 M-F template, and NEED the buses that run on Saturdays and Sundays. On the whole, transit agencies are hurting themselves by cutting routes short on the weekends. If you can’t afford to run FREQUENCY, at least run earlier in the morning and later at night. This whole thing goes for Link too, Surely MLK has lots of people that live along it that need to go places on Weekends Too.

    1. i believe on the portland streetcar saturday ridership can be the highest of any day of the week (depends on season).

    2. Well – Sound Transit just recently expanded service on the weekends:

      1) More 510 service on Sundays
      2) Expanded the 30-minute service on Route 511 on weekends (Mariner game on Sunday? Think Jackson Park at NE 145th St instead of Northgate)
      3) 15-minute service on Route 550 on Saturdays
      4) Expanded 30-minute service on Route 554 on weekends (especially Sunday)
      5) Link already runs every 10 minutes on weekends from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM

      It’s getting there.

      1. Probably one of two things:

        1) Ridership doesn’t warrant more frequent service, or
        2) Since ST has subarea equity rules, probably no money in South King to add service.

  7. The biggest way to increase ridership is by taking away bus options anf forcing people onto light rail. That is what they did to the 174. More proff that King County thinks that South End Residents are second class citizens.

    1. Yeah. Giving them a commute option that is much more clean, comfortable, and quick than a bus and then structuring bus routes so that they would feed into was simply awful. All those north-enders that the government really cares about get to take a slow stinky cramped bus every day.

    2. Looking at it from the other end, why should taxpayers subsidize less efficient bus routes that are redundant with rail? The whole purpose of Link was to consolidate those routes into an efficient and frequent trunk system. If you look at all the places where the majority of people don’t drive — NYC, London, DC, etc — it’s because they have comprehensive rail systems. They don’t have parallel bus routes every few blocks all going to the same place.

      And nothing happened to the 174 except they split it in half. Which was long overdue with or without Link. You can’t have a bus traveling 15 miles with people getting on and off at every stop and expect it to stay on time. That’s why the 7/15/18/43/150/226 were also split. The one thing I’m concerned about with the 174 is the elimination of stops when RapidRide starts. You need a local route as well as RapidRide for people who can’t walk as far as the RapidRide stops.

      1. So forcing people who get to downeown better on the 194 are just out of luck. I will be going from a commute that take about 45 minutes to one that is going to take about an hout and a half.

        Only 132 more days until we are forced herded on to Link.

      2. To joshuadf i ride the 194 to downtown to start work at 10;15 P.M. However, I try and get there no later than10 Because if you are not at least 15 minutes early it is the same thing as being late. My dad taught me that.

        To Chris, I catch the 194 at 8:27 P.M. at the Kent-Des Moines Freeway ramp.

        Only 132 more days until we are forced hearded on to Link.

      3. OK, I put it in the trip planner:

        Currently on the 194:
        WESTLAKE STATION – 9:27

        Currently on the 174/Link:
        (walk 0.4mi to)
        Arrive Tukwila Station 9:04
        Leave Tukwila Station 9:11
        WESTLAKE STATION – 9:47

        So the difference is about 20 mins, quite significant.
        7 mins are lost transferring which clearly sucks.

      4. I get off at convention place, which link does not go. I also have a 20 minute walk to work. If I take the 174/Link you suggest i would be late for work. I will have to catch the one before it. Less sleep.

        Also when I go home I catch a 194 at 6:15 and get home at 7:05 including walking from the stop. That will be longer on link. Less free time. Longer commute.

        Only 130 days until we are forced heardes on to link light rail.

      5. It looks like the current service on the 194 at Star Lake and Kent Des Moines Rd is being replaced with the 574 between Lakewood and Seatac.

        The good news is it looks like the 574 already runs a bit later than the 194. I don’t remember the exact plans for the February shake-up but the 574 might see more frequent service after the change.

        Transferring from Link to a tunnel bus shouldn’t be to hard to do somewhere in the tunnel, though ID station is probably the best place to do so. You say you currently walk 20 minutes from Convention Place, isn’t there a bus going near your work? Might it be faster to transfer to it? Or is it a matter of the schedule not really lining up?

        Still I understand not liking that your single-seat ride has turned into one with at least two transfers, even if they aren’t horrid as transfers go.

      6. It takes less time to walk than to wait for the 66. I just do not understand why get rid of the 194. Let the South enders like me keep the bus we use. It makes more sense to me than to force heard everyone on to Link.

        Only 129 more days until I am forced to ride Link.

      7. RennDawg,

        Stop with the “forced to ride Link” business; you still have options, just not an express one-seat ride. You could take the 174/124 combo straight to downtown, and at night it would be a one-seat ride. Alternatively, you could find your way down to the Federal Way TC and take the 578, which next year will be radically expanded to provide off peak service between FW and DT Seattle.

        I’m sure why this has to be explained to you, but the County is choosing to do this because there are other people who need bus service besides you: people who have only one bus that goes near their house, people who get passed up because the bus is full when it gets to their stop, etc. For Metro to continue to run an airport/Seattle shuttle when there’s a train that runs there about 3 minutes slower would be a criminal waste of resources. As for the Federal Way leg, you still have the 577 and 578 that won’t make you even stop at the airport.

        And by the way, for all your resentment of Seattle and Seattle interests, know that 194s that run in the off-peak direction are funded by Seattle subarea funds.

      8. You also might try the 70 or 71/72/73 local or 83 (depending on time of day). If you have a 20 min walk, one of those buses (which run to Fairview) may be able to get you to work faster.

        Another possibility that you’ve possibly though of: carpool. Anyone you work with or see on the bus regularly also live in the south end? Even if you don’t have a car available, if you can get enough people that work downtown at night (5-15) you can get on the vanpool waiting list:
        Bus service is by no means perfect, especially late at night, but there are options.

        When I was a grad student I lived about a few min walk from where I now work at UW. I was “forced” to move when I graduated and yes, it sucked (though the place I rent on the north end of the U-District is still fairly close–15 min bike ride or 40 min walk). Personally I think the UW should put a lot more work into non-student housing, but that’s not my call.

      9. RennDawg,
        You are starting to remind me of the whiners at ACRS who were bitching about losing a one-seat ride on the 42. This in spite of the fact that the combination of Link and the 8 provides better service to more destinations than the 42 ever did. For that matter it is a short walk from ACRS to the Mt. Baker Link station. Some of their clients might have trouble with the walk but I don’t think they actually care about that. Due to the layout of ACRS’ building on MLK they’ve already made it essentially a 3 block walk between the nearest bus stop to their front door even though the stop is on the same block as the building.

        In any case myself and others have pointed out some options to you. Including some options to speed up your existing commute by transferring to the 71/72/73 local in the DSTT. I doubt taking the 574 to the airport then transferring to Link is going to change your actual travel time significantly.

        I was living in Kenmore when the 307 was discontinued in favor of the 41 and 522. Some of the riders weren’t happy because they lost a one seat ride to Northgate, most of the rest were pleased because the 522 provided much faster and more frequent service to downtown. Some riders also weren’t happy because a number of stops were eliminated at the same time, but again for a majority of riders it greatly sped up the run.

        This isn’t to say some communities of riders don’t get overlooked when service changes get made. But you’re much better off engaging this in a constructive way. Such as asking what about current riders of the 194 who are traveling to and from Star Lake and Kent-Des Moines road?

      10. I don’t think it’s a similar situation at all. Maybe if the trip was the same time he’d be complaining about the transfer, but it sounds like it’s mostly the extra time involved. I doubt there would be any issue at all if Link was faster.

        RennDawg, it would be useful to know your actual destination block. Here’s an example for Boren and Thomas at 8:50pm:

        Current via 194:
        transfer in DSTT to 71 (layover of 9 min)
        Fairview Ave N & John St 9:58

        Since the 194 gets to Convention Place Station at 9:45, that’s about 10 min savings over your 20 min walk. You could also do the 174/124 at Martin suggested, though that takes you to Dexter which may or may not be closer to where you work.

      11. I just do not understand why get rid of the 194. Let the South enders like me keep the bus we use.

        Because everyone in the sub area is paying for Link (actually everyone in the ST taxing area if you count overhead) and they expect to see economies from decreased bus expense offset some of the cost. There’s also the issue of decreasing the number of buses downtown, especially those using the tunnel which everyone benefits from (you’ll be breathing cleaner air and have fewer delays), even those not directly served by Link.

        At least you’re so sure you’ll hate it that you’ll probably be pleasantly surprise :=

      12. Due to the layout of ACRS’ building on MLK they’ve already made it essentially a 3 block walk between the nearest bus stop to their front door even though the stop is on the same block as the building.

        The ACRS next time should move to the empty lot right next to the Mt Baker station instead of a building that doesn’t have an entrance from the street. What were they thinking!? Forcing people to walk farther from the bus stop, through a parking lot to get to the front door, which is in the back actually. They obviously weren’t thinking transit/ped first.

        The ACRS/Rt 42 case is a prime example of the permanence of rail transit. You know it’s going to be there and for a long time. It can’t change on a whim.

      13. The really sad thing is as far as I know the ACRS building on MLK was built for them. The people running ACRS chose to build their facility in an auto oriented an pedestrian and transit unfriendly manner. It was also built long after the locations of the Link stations in Rainier Valley were known. If they really gave a damn about transit access for their clients they would have chosen a location next to a Link station.

      14. First the profanity is not nessassary and as a Christian it is insulting. Second I am fighting for something that many people want. Most people who ride the 194 now want to keep riding it. I have ridden Link I found it to be very unpleasant to ride. (I admit that part of this is the panic attacks I get when we are near Tukwila. I cannot stand being that high up.) The 194 is a great route. Every thing that I do hate about riding the 194 will not change with Link. People still talk to the person next to them be yelling, people still think that everyone wants to hear there music so they play it so loud that you can hear it everywhere even though they are using headphones(that is against the law by the way) and people who are just inconsiderate.

        Also I’ve studied the issue. before I started my fight I checked everything. I talked to people on my commute. Look I am fighting for the option that is best for me. Yes that may be selfish. But, I am not the only one. I am just the only one to speak about it where it is not popular.

  8. Light rali is a slower commute if you live south of the airport. The old 174 abd the 194 are still faster in you like in Des Moines and Federal Way and the 150 is faster if you like in Kent. Also King County Government only cares about Seattle.

    1. I would never expect a 150 rider to try and take Link instead of the 150; it is obviously faster for them to just take the 150. I take the 150 to Southcenter all of the time, and I don’t even “LIKE in Kent”.

      1. There should be a bus from Kent to either the Airport station or Tukwika I.B. station. That would make it faster to get to Kent than the 150. The 150 somehow manages to take an hour to get to Kent, and 45 minutes just to get to Southcenter, even with the freeway segment. It has partly to do with all the turns required to get to Southcenter Mall, and the traffic in that area, and Metro’s desire combine Seattle-Kent service with Interurban service.

        Since Kent is the gateway to Auburn and southeast King County, why not have an express Seattle-Kent bus? Or, much cheaper, an all-day shuttle from Kent to Link. I would really like to attend events at the ShoWare center without taking the 150.

      2. The policy of Sound transit is that any bus that is compition for link is to be shut down. If they determin that the 150 is just that then it is gone.

      3. Sound transit has the power to shut down any bus route if they so desire. All they need to show is light rail is an alternative.

      4. “Sound transit has the power to shut down any bus route if they so desire. All they need to show is light rail is an alternative.”

        The reality is a bit more complex than that. Metro is free to do what it wants. However given the need to co-operate and the overlap between the County Council and the ST Board, Metro and ST tend to mostly be on the same page. This is helped by the budget problems Metro has where they are happy to shed service hours onto another agency where they can.

        After all if the goal was eliminating any “competition” for link then many other routes such as the 106 would have simply ended as soon as they got to the nearest Link station.

      5. Sound transit has the power to shut down any bus route if they so desire. All they need to show is light rail is an alternative.

        For a more direct reply: No, they do not have that power.

      6. Really, according to Bob ferguson of the king county Council, State law gives them that power. Several Metro Drivers told me the same thing.

        Only 129 more days until I am forced to ride Link.

      7. It’s too bad that Sounder doesn’t run with a more temporally robust schedule… considering that it takes a speedy 19 minutes between King Street Station and Kent Station. It’s not very often you can replicate that running time in a car.

      8. “The policy of Sound transit is that any bus that is competion for link is to be shut down.”

        Light rail didn’t shut down the 7, which is much closer to it than the 150 is. Any bus that does not directly go from one Link station to another is safe.

    2. Why would anyone take 174 instead of 194 all the way from Federal Way, even before light rail? To get to Seattle from the north end of Federal Way, I used to take 174 *south* to the FW Transit Center, and then transfer to a faster bus (usually 577) going north into downtown Seattle. That was faster than taking 174 north all the way.

      I always thought that 174 was for people who are only traveling along part of its route, e.g. somebody getting on in Federal Way and getting off in Des Moines. It makes no sense to me for anyone to want to take 174 all the way when alternatives existed even before light rail.

      1. Yeah, and they are going to greatly expand the operating hours of the 577 so you will always be able to get to Downtown quickly.

      2. The 577 is not going to be running at night when I would need it. I work at nights. So this bus is going to do me no good. Save the 194.

        Only 132 more days until we are forced herded on to Link.

      3. The 194 gets canceled in Feburary. I keep hearing that the 577 will be the same route. It is not going to be running when I need it.

        Only 130 days until we are forced heardes on to link light rail.

      4. I ran into someone looking for the 174 downtown Friday evening, even though there were two faster buses to the Federal Way TC at that time of night he really wanted a 174. He didn’t want to take link to Tukwilla Station so finally myself and the others who were trying to direct him, got him steered to a 124.

      5. These alternatives did not run at the late hours. You could take a 174 very late to get to Seattle. Later than Link runs now. that option is now gone.

        Only 132 more days until we are forced hearded on to Link.

      6. You know, I am actually very interested in why his commute from Kent is clearly getting worse.

        Was there a longstanding Metro policy to eliminate the late night routes when Link opened (see McGinn late night service post…), or is this only due to the budgetary problems?

      7. ” that option is now gone.”

        Not true, read the timetables! The existing 174 OWL trips departing S 320th at 12:53 and 2 am, arriving downtown at 2:05 and 3:03 am are still there. Plus you don’t even have to transfer or wait at Tukwila Intl Blvd station, it’s the same bus and trip and no layovers at Tukwila Link Sta.

      8. The 174 south of the airport is a hella scary experience after dark. I try to avoid it at all costs.

    3. The 174 is never faster and the 194 is only faster when there’s no traffic. Of course the 150 is faster from Kent light rail doesn’t even go to Kent. It makes sense to me that king county puts mist of it’s focus on Seattle. It’s the regions population, employment, shopping and retail center. 602,000 people live in the 84 square miles that is Seattle. The other 1,300,000 live in 2,000 plus square mile expanse of king county

      1. If the 194 is slower howcome everytime I take light rail it get me to the airport later than if i just waited for the 194 to come.

      2. It all depends on the time of day…and, for the most part, I would rather gamble with the sure bet timing of Link (and the better ride experience) than the 194. The 194 is fine if your heading south of the airport, but the train is a more pleasant experience for downtown to airport trips, especially when the airport station opens.

      3. Yes I am heading south of the airport. I love in Des Moines. If I take link and miss my connection (as it has happened every time i’ve rode link) I am stuck waiting a half an hour for the next one. I go from a 45 minute trip to an hour and a half.

        Only 130 days until we are forced heardes on to link light rail.

      4. Because the Airport Station isn’t open yet! We’ll see what people choose when it opens in December alongside the 194 until February next year.

        Good luck trying to cram onto a bus full of people with luggage. It’s not the first time I rode a 194 and that it got crush loaded before Pioneer Square station. I saw people with luggage got passed because the bus was full. Pity, they should’ve taken Link instead. How many people are choosing not to take transit to the airport because of that poor experience?

      5. Even now the shuttle bus/light rail trip can be faster if you’re 15 min or more from a 194 coming.

        That’s the other advantage the light rail has: more frequent service. Of course, that doesn’t help much if you’re transferring from a bus than only runs every 30 mins. I guess you’re a bit less likely to miss a connection.

      1. I did not just let my council member know, I let them all know. I’ve allready recieved an e-mail from Pete von Reichbauer. I as yet to recieve anything from my own council member the cowderly puppet of the Seattle elites Julia Patterson.

  9. Wow, we have come a long way. Not too long ago transit planners looked at commuters as a major source of ridership. Now we see so many suggestions to build transit where there aren’t any people, so the area can be developed, or run the transit when most people aren’t riding.

    And there could be a lot more truth in this than planners can realize. After 50 years of suburban sprawl and changing employment, the morning and evening flows of commuters may be ameliorated. How great would it be if the problem of two ridership peaks a day resolved into a pattern of regular day-long usage?

    Well, that would be a load off our minds, but it might pose some other questions. In the meantime we can at least remember that planners have to see some ridership to justify construction, and daytime employment, rightly or wrongly, seems to be the most plausible source of those projections.

    1. “Now we see so many suggestions to build transit where there aren’t any people”

      That has been happening for decades; it has just been invisible to the majority. I’m told that the first MAX line ran through open fields in Gresham, in order to concentrate growth there. Likewise Vancouver took a small suburban village (Whalley in Surrey) and built a satellite city around its Skytrain station.

      “How great would it be if the problem of two ridership peaks a day resolved into a pattern of regular day-long usage?”

      Most people will still work more or less 8 to 5. But they won’t all work in the historic city center (downtown Seattle). It will be easier to get far-flung office parks to relocate to suburban villages than to put them all in downtown Seattle. (Due to the cost per square foot, not to mention the undesirability of Seattle to many suburbanites.) Shopping and business really require most businesses to be open approximately the same hours. Otherwise you’d have to carry a huge schedule of which ones are open mornings, which ones are open afternoons, which ones are open evenings, etc. “Can’t call ABC supplier; he’s not open mornings. Can’t deliver to DEF; they closed at 2pm.”

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