Photo by Atomic Taco
Photo by Atomic Taco

[UPDATE: Raw data (pdf), if you insist on doing detailed analysis on incredibly noisy numbers.]

As always, I want to point out that month-to-month ridership reports don’t mean very much and are subject to seasonal variations and small-sample-size issues.

Nevertheless, weekday boardings slipped from 14,931 to 14,852 from August to September.  Weekend numbers (and more) are in Scott Gutierrez’s post at the P-I.  If I had to speculate, I’d say the week and a half of operations post bus changes, plus school opening, were canceled out by fewer and fewer things to do downtown as we head into fall, plus a reduction in joy riding.

In other news, the automated passenger counting system is fixed.

65 Replies to “September Link Ridership Numbers Flat”

  1. So, for comparison, how many monthly riders do various bus routes carry (7, 49, 15, 550, etc.)?

    1. As of 2007, the 48 was #1 at a little over 13K/weekday. All other routes are below 10,000 per day. No ST express route is much above 5K.

  2. I know you guys have probably posted this before, but could you remind the me (and the audience) what the projected ridership was for this period in time?

    1. From Sound Transit, weekday ridership projections:

      21,000 by the end of 2009
      26,600 in 2010 after Airport Link opens (likely after the 194 goes away and RapidRide A line goes online)

      1. Doesn’t seem like the trend line is gonna hit that 21k mark for end of ’09. Care to crunch the numbers (or tell me where to get them so I can do it)?

      2. I wanted to edit this post, but Martin told me no.

        The way ridership is counted, the September numbers are unusable. Only a few train cars actually have counters – it takes a month of sampling to get a number with a reasonable confidence interval.

        We’ve heard the actual post-service change jump is more like 3000 – but it’s going to take a month of sampling to know.

  3. I ride the train a few times a week to work – and for what it’s worth, the train rides I do (7:30ish a.m. – 3:30ish pm) have been much more crowded in September compared to August. I definitely noticed an uptick in school kids riding the train.

    1. I ride every weekday in am and pm rush hours between Beacon Hill and University Street, and the trains have been noticably more crowded since the September 19th Metro service change (plus UW fall quarter started Sept 30). So maybe the October #’s will show a significant increase over September.

      1. I don’t know that I’d expect the UW to make too big a splash in ridership. It’s still a ~1hr ride to the UW from Othello with a transfer. I would expect the vast majority of UW to live in areas not serviced by Link.

        All that said, profs and grad students are usually willing to live a bit farther away, and undergrads may use the train for pleasure trips, so I may well be pleasantly surprised. But I wouldn’t expect significant UW commuting traffic until University Link opens.

      2. I did some Othello to UW trips. Some by the 48 from Mt Baker (slow and still unreliable) and some from Downtown on the 70-series express routes. If you’re traveling in the same direction of the Express Lanes, it’s almost as good as University Link. The wait time is short as both services run every 10 minutes during the day.

      3. It takes just a tiny bit longer than U-Link to get from Westlake to the U District, but then it winds through the U District for a while so that if you’re going from Westlake to 45th & the Ave it ends up taking 15-20 minutes, whereas U-Link will take 8 for that same trip. I can’t wait!

  4. In the picture at the top of this page of a LINK car, I would say there are about 6 people in this end of the car. Is that about right?

  5. Let’s not forget the service revisions. After the September change, the average was 16,121 boardings. Of course, the aggregate over the entire month won’t reflect that. Those last several days also only includes one day of school commuters for UW, the first day of term.

  6. I am sure that once Link opens to SeaTac at the end of the year that ridership will expand dramatically as well as be subject of course to seasonal traffic movements.

    One thing to bear in mind with regard to the airport, is that SeaTac is continuing to expand its international focus with more Delta flights expected to Osaka and Beijing in 2010 as well as additional flights from Seattle to Amsterdam for the summer months. Most of the overseas destinations have travelers coming to and from Seattle from parts of the world more used to train travel than we are here and so are perhaps more likely to take Link than any other mode of transportation into Seattle. Of course, we have to offset this with the fact that the airport Link terminus is not at the International Arrivals and Departure point for the airport so I am hoping that the Port of Seattle and Sound Transit will be running a coordinated campaign to make travelers aware of Link as an option. Domestically, however, Link’s airport terminus is well situated for Alaska Air travelers and Alaska holds about 60% of the flights into and out of SeaTac. Its all bait and switch, but my main point is that international travelers will be more inclined to use Link than perhaps domestic travelers will.

    Either way, I am sure we will see Link passenger traffic improve once the central Link line fully opens in December.

    1. In any case, the SeaTac Link signage had better be pretty damn good. I’ll be extremely disappointed if not.

      1. Yes agreed! Still given that signage to the airport from surrounding freeways is not good, I don’t hold out the best of hopes but this is way off topic and I hear the same answer all the time, that drivers get confused by too many signs and that it is federal guidelines that we don’t post too many signs – an argument I disagree with as far as airport signage is concerned, but like I said, I digress…

      2. Expect to be disappointed. :( The Port of Seattle has no short-term monetary interest in promoting Light Rail, as an alternative to the current lucrative parking fees and contracts with taxi/rental car companies. “The system” doesn’t want you to know how to get to downtown for only $2.50. Note how the escalators and atrium at the south end of the terminal lead towards the cruise ship/charter bus area, and away from “public transportation.”

        It will be up to Sound Transit, transit fans, and “the media” to inform people about the link. And it will take very strong political pressure for Sound Transit and the Port to invest in improvements to make the air/rail connection actually convenient – i.e. climate controlled walkway with moving walkways (instead of it beeling only a secret for those wanting to save $22.50 on a cab).

  7. I continue to be a bit worried that ridership is so far below expectations. Is there any chance that the opening of the airport line by itself will add the 6000+ projected riders by the end of the year?

    1. I have never worked out how they can even come up with their projections or what formula they use for working it out. It is easy with Sound Transit taking over an existing route – say like the 550 bus from Bellevue as they jsut use Metro’s figures, but with new routes – and essentially Link is one of these – it seems so much more difficult to come up with projections. Marketing and outreach and known census tract figures combined with hope seems to be the order of the day, but beyond that, I don’t really know how they come up with projections.

      I am sure that SeaTac will not provide Link with the 6000 daily shortfall, but I am sure that the numbers will improve to healthy levels.

      Sound Transit might also do well to reconsider opening up the deferred station at Boeing Access Road and or working with Tukwila on connecting the station there to Southcenter.

      1. Tim,

        Metro has really detailed by-stop ridership data. I’m sure they have a clue on how many people board a bus near a station to head downtown.

      2. Well I didn’t say Metro didn’t have those figures, but Link is still a new route that has new as well as existing elements to it. It just always seems to me that if anyone is throwing scorn at Sound Transit, it is usually at their projected ridership figures. I am interested in how they come to their figures and yes, I am sure it is thorough, but mistakes have been made in the past – such as with the old 570 ST bus from the International District to the airport via West Seattle. That route was one of the first to be cancelled so I am curious how they thought it would have worked and how they came to their ridership figures for that route?

      3. The old 570 from ID to West Seattle was a political creation heavily promoted by a certain West Seattle politician. It was not based on some huge unmet need.

        Metro already served the majority of this market well, so there was little rational for the route. But implemented it was.

        Ridership was terrrible. Consequently, it was cut in the first in-depth analysis of how ST routes were performing.

      4. I honestly can’t think of why anyone would use Boeing Access Road Station… Even if there is a transfer to Sounder, who lives in Kent or Tukwila and works in the Rainier Valley? Even if it does get some people, it certainly wouldn’t justify the couple hundred million dollar expense.

      5. I’d rather see a station near 133rd in Tukwila with another park and ride instead of the Boeing Access Road station. That way the 150 could terminate at 133rd and they could double the frequency of buses to Southcenter and Kent.

    2. Cascadian – I really wanted to edit this post. The end of September numbers were over 16,000. The AVERAGE of September is mid 14000s. The trend does not look like these numbers suggest it does.

    3. Also consider the numbers in the projections probably don’t anticipate a recession, especially one as severe as the current one. With around 10% official unemployment and even higher structural unemployment numbers there are far fewer people going to work every day than a couple of years ago.

      Unfortunately anything less than posting numbers well ahead of published expectations right out of the gate will be claimed as a failure by critics. Of course Central Link could be seeing 140,000 riders per day and there would be some calling it “a train to nowhere that nobody rides”.

      1. I know you’re being flippant, but we couldn’t see 140,000 riders a day. With 248 trains you can’t carry any more than 99,200 riders with 2-car trains.

  8. forgive the naive question – I have a transit pass and have ridden the link light rail a few times, but have not yet figured out how to “pay”. I just get on and have my pass ready in case I get inspected.

    How do I pay with a flexpass, and are my rides not getting counted?

      1. Doesn’t seem hard to me. There are “how to pay” guides in every train in the Sound Transit guide.

    1. If you’re using a “flex pass” such as those carried by County employees or they type of “flash pass” that is a monthly or yearly card, your ride is being counted (the infrared scanners count riders, not payers). Having your pass ready for an inspector – much as U-Pass users, Puget Pass purchasers, transfer holders (until year’s end) is just fine.

      U-Pass is going to the same electronic card system that Orca uses next year. I know of no plans to convert current Flex Passes to the new system.

    2. Flex Pass will be converted to ORCA Business Passport. Microsoft and a few other companies already did.

      Once it becomes an ORCA I think they want you to tap in and out, even if it’s an unlimited for everything pass. They need to track usage to appropriately bill the company or organization providing the transit benefits.

      1. But with Orca, you can track transfers, station on/offs and other useful performance measures that could be used for service improvement.

    3. JAT,
      Just get on and have your pass ready in case the fare inspectors come on board. The automatic passenger counting system will count you (by a sampling method). When your flexpass is replaced with an ORCA card, then you need to tap on at the yellow card reader when you board and tap off when you alight.

  9. What is the average length of trip for those 15,000 riders per day on LINK? Does anyone have that information? Are a lot of those people riding just between Mt. Baker and Beacon Hill, for example? Or between Beacon Hill and International Stations?

    How many riders per day are boarding and deboarding at Tukwila?

    Is Sound Transit giving any breakdowns like that? Or just the number of boardings per day?

    1. There’s no way of knowing that for now. All the infrared counters do is see how many people step on board.

      As of last month, the daily utilization rate of the Tukwila P&R is 82% or around 490 of 600 spaces. Does it mean only 490 people are riding through Tukwila? Absolutely not. There are a number of other extraneous factors that influences ridership outside of P&R utilization.

      1. Thats not true with the counters. I’m sure its the same on the LINK trains, but on Metro Coaches…..the APC coaches, they count boardings and deboardings, and it keeps track of the coach with the transponders along the route……just like how the tracker works. So the tracker knows where which part of the route is light, or busy, and which stops are busy or not.

    2. Moreover, even the aggregate ridership numbers are projections based on a sample. If you tried to break it out further the numbers would have huge error bars.

  10. So the average per weekday dropped by 79 pass/day. Excluding Labor Day there were 21 weekdays in September so this represents a drop of only 1659 passengers. Yawn.

    But look at the data:

    Labor Day itself saw only about 8000 riders – a drop of 6500 passengers compared to a typical weekday.

    So the question is, “how did they categorize Labor Day?” If they counted Labor Day as a weekday then it fully explains the drop in the weekday average and then some.

    However, if they counted Labor Day as a weekend day then I’d look at the ridership numbers for Friday the 4th and Tuesday the 8th. If ridership on those days was also down then the decline was undoubtedly due to bleed-over from the Labor Day holiday – people not riding Link because they were extending the three-day weekend by taking Friday or Tuesday off too.

    It wouldn’t take much of a drop on Friday and Tuesday to fully explain the 1659 passenger decline, and I wouldn’t be surprised if any bleed-over affect extended well beyond just these two days. Remember, for many families Labor Day represents the last real vacation opportunity before the start of school.

    October will have better data. But then the M’s didn’t make the playoffs so maybe October will be unique too.

      1. Ah, real data, nice.

        But look at the Tuesday after Labor Day – ridership was down approx 2400 passengers on that day alone. And it was still down about 700 passengers on Wednesday.

        So I’d say that the “drop” in weekday average was purely due to the affect of Labor Day. In fact, given the small size of the decline I’d say that average ridership would have actually gone up if it wasn’t for bleed-over from Labor Day.

      2. That’s not real data. I’m still not sure why Sound Transit is publishing those numbers – they’re a statistical extrapolation from sampling on a few trains. I’ve been told that it takes a month of those to get accurate numbers for weekday ridership.

      3. The weekdays before the service change show a baseline of ~14k/day. After the service change there is a dramatic increase to ~16k/day. That week after the service change averages out with the weak numbers from the Labor Day spill over to make the September numbers look flat but I’d expect 16k plus through October. My question is how much more can be done with service changes?

        Mid 2010 projections were for 26k. I doubt they ascribe all of the 5k increase (21-26k) to just people going to the Airport but a good portion of it must be.

        Baseball doesn’t seem to do much for the numbers but then attendance was pretty poor toward the end of the season. Soccer fans seem to be 2X more likely to use Link than Pointball fans.

      4. Bernie, the service changes that will improve connections to Tukwila IB are almost entirely unimplemented. Moreover, Metro’s waiting for 194 service hours to be freed up to complete the rollout in the Rainier Valley.

      5. So it sounds like there’s still quite a bit of potential just from planned route changes. I’d call Feb. 2010 close enough to “end of 2009” for ridership projections.

        Where can you find ridership by route? In the performance reports they give riders per revenue hour. Using that and the weekday schedule for the 194 I come up with around 3,800 per weekday. What’s really impressive is how consistent the ridership is throughout the day; exactly what’s needed for Link.

        I think I remember reading that there are something like 80,000 arrivals and departures daily from SeaTac. A large percentage of that is business travel on weekdays so you’d only have to pick up about 2% of the airport travelers added to my rough estimate for the 194 to reach 5,000. I think a business traveler is much more likely to hop on the train if it’s direct from the terminal than hassle with a bus transfer.

      6. Metro tends not to release raw ridership data. Adam obtained a 2007 report back when he was at Orphan Road, which is what we’ve been using.

  11. In the retail world, a “new store” is generally not considered “mature” in sales volume until it has been through 3 Holiday seasons. At that point you can easily see growth (or lack thereof) over two or three full years and get an idea of how successful it will be long term. I am not suggesting that Link is a retail operation – far from it. However, just for fun, can we check back in January 2012 to have this discussion? It is really almost pointless at day 96.

      1. Absolutely – but they mean little until we can at least do year over year comparisons. Remember, we are 3 months into the life of a system that you, Alex, will get to enjoy for your entire life. You don’t change much each month of your life, but year to year you do, a lot. Link will too.

      1. Tim, you must be a youngster.

        Someday, we’ll have to tell you about the dark days of the mid-1990’s and Large Donald of Algona.

  12. Everybody keeps talking about the extra riders from the 194 in Feb, but remember that alot of those riders are Seattle-Federal Way riders, not just airport riders. And keep in mind, those Seattle-Federal Way riders won’t take Link to Rapid Ride either. ST Route 577 will begin two way all day service along with the 578 which will alternate trips to make 30 min service, non stop between Fed Way TC-Downtown. So Link will definatly pick up the airport 194 riders, but not those who use the 194 between Seattle and Federal Way.

    1. And while I’m on the point of the Expanded 577/578 service……I agree with the change, BUT…..what about the Star Lake & Kent-Des Moines Frwy Station Commuters. The 194 wastes about 20 min going through the airport, so rather than an hour ride, 577/578 cuts the ride it down to about 30-35 min between Fed Way and Seattle. So I think they should revise routing to serve Kent-Des Moines & Star Lake. It would add mabye 3-4 min running time each trip but still continue to serve the park and rides & connections from local routes on Kent-Des Moines Rd & S 272nd. Otherwise, 577/578 not serving those freeway stops leaves the options to only peak hours routes, and force those people during midday, night, and weekends to catch 574 to the airport, then transfer to Link. So yes, we aren’t leaving those stop high and dry, because 574 picks up the service, but add those two freeway stations to 577/578 seems like the right thing to do. We are trying to keep people off I-5, not take away their off peak direct route to Downtown. But thats just how I feel. Mabye someone here can suggest that to Sound Transit or Metro Routes Planners.

      1. I guess it depends on how many people use those stops during off-peak hours. I’ve used the Kent-Des Moines Freeway stop during the afternoon and been the only person there. It’s probably not an inconvenience to a huge number of people to make them take the 574 and transfer at the airport during off-peak hours. People who use those stops during commuting hours can just take the 177 or 179.

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