"Luggage storage", by Oran

I repeat myself, but monthly ridership numbers are highly sensitive to small sample size issues, seasonal variations, and so on. Drawing conclusions from day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month comparisons is perilous, to say the least.

Yet commenters like to do just that, so I’m pleased to report that December’s weekday ridership numbers (pdf) increased from November’s 14,399 to 14,639, or less than 2%.  Saturday (12,626, up 28%) and Sunday (9,853, up 26%) were much higher than November.  All three numbers are well off the October all-time highs, generally a strong month for transit ridership.

If that’s not a small enough sample size for you, post-Airport Link the weekday mean was 16,684, which would be an all-time high if taken over a whole month.   Of course, that mixes a heavy air travel week with a light working week, so making sense of all this will simply have to wait.

Comment from Ben: It’s worth noting that the week after Christmas saw much higher numbers. Excluding New Years Eve and New Years, the last week’s average was over 18,000. I suspect we’re looking at an 18,000 or higher daily average in January.

79 Replies to “December Link Ridership Numbers Up Slightly”

  1. How come they can’t extrapolate ridership from the fare collection system?
    Wouldn’t that be more accurate?

    1. No, because some people are still paying via flash passes, and there are still fare evaders.

      1. But if the scanners are only doing a “sample”, isn’t it still better to at least have the numbers generated from the fare system to compare to?

  2. My even smaller sample of What It Seems Like When I’m On The Train showed dramatic (30% or more) increase in ridership after Airport Link opened.

    1. I wonder if the large amounts of luggage taking up seats make it seem like there are more riders than there are.

      1. I walk through the car I am in and count adults and teens every time I ride. Last night just under 80 on the 1732 from Westlake and just over 40 on the 1835 from SEA

      2. In my experience, it’s not the luggage, just more people in general! But I almost always see people with luggage now, and before it wasn’t as frequent.

        Now I just wish the people with luggage had luggage racks to put it in instead of putting it on the seats in a full car. Grrr.

  3. The really important questions is, “How long does it take for the novelty to wear off,”? The answer is about 4 months as evidenced by the lower numbers at just about that point after the first link opened. Along about April lets revisit those airport numbers and see if there is still an “increase”.

    1. It’s no secret that ridership dips during the colder months for all modes of transit, which is why one would typically evaluate ridership to the month a year prior, rather than one just a month prior.

    2. I don’t know if the addition of one station would really have any novelty value. I know that I didn’t ride down to the airport just for the fun of it as much as I did in the first months of Link.

      1. Yea, it certainly took me a while to finally make it down to the airport station and I doubt I’ll be going down there without a good reason in the future.

        OTOH I find myself going to Rainier Valley or Beacon Hill a few times a month for various reasons. Even though I live in North Seattle it seems like less bother to go down to Othello now than it does to go to Ballard.

    3. Cindy, apparently Sounder and ST Express have a novelty every year, then, because every transit mode has less traffic in those months.

    4. “The really important questions is, “How long does it take for the novelty to wear off,”?”

      Spoken as a true middle-class suburbanite who has the privilege of seeing transit as a “novelty.”

      [deleted, off-topic, ad-hominem]

      1. To be fair to Cindy there certainly was a bit of a novelty factor to both Link and the SLUT that caused slightly increased ridership the first few months. But I expect Link to follow the trend of other transit services in the area and show increased ridership year to year.

        Don’t forget there will be another ridership spike with the next service change as the 194 is eliminated and other service changes to better feed Link in SW King County are made.

      2. Yeah, let’s be fair. I commute by Link, but riding it south of Columbia City certainly is a novelty in which I have indulged for its intrinsic novelty value. That doesn’t color my impressions of the whole system, however.

    5. Don’t kid yourself. Even if there were a million weekday boardings, you still wouldn’t have anything nice to say about Link. I really have no time to listen to people who don’t ride transit regularly yet feel inclined to judge it.

    1. Yeah, the numbers will definitely dip in the summer, then. What you’re saying is that they only count riders in long pants, right?

  4. 16,684 per weekday after the SeaTac station opened is a lot better than the Seattle Times article led me to believe. They wrote:

    “However, total ridership for the 16-mile line between Westlake Center and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport averaged 15,080 trips a day during the last two weeks of the month…”

    I guess that includes weekends, also.

    16,684 is a pretty big improvement from what they averaged on weekdays in November — 14,399. Assuming boardings and deboardings at SeaTac about equaled out, that would mean about 1,150 people boarded and 1,150 people deboarded at SeaTac each weekday.

    What did ST project would be the average weekday ridership at the end of 2009, after the SeaTac station opened? And how many boardings did ST expect each weekday at SeaTac when it opened in Dec. 2009?

    1. I think ST projected 21,000 by the end of the year. The Monday after Christmas had over 19,000.

      Remember that ST didn’t know at the time when Metro would be making service changes. The 194 is still carrying a couple thousand passengers a day.

      Honestly, I think we’re right where we should be.

      1. How many of those current couple thousand 194 riders per day would you say are boarding or alighting the 194 at SeaTac airport?

      2. Based on what I’ve seen of the 194 a fair number of the riders outside of peak hours are traveling to/from the airport area. Peak hour is likely mostly commuters going to/from points South.

    2. I don’t think they ever announced a station projection except for one in 2030 (which was either 3K or 5K, I don’t remember what the Times reported). That always sounded low to me but what do I know.

      At any rate, the airport will be higher than usual due to a heavy air travel season and a novelty factor. On the other hand, not many people worked. I think it’s premature to guess what January ridership will be like.

  5. If you exclude holidays (12/24, 12/25, 12/31) and weekends, you can visualize a nice jump in ridership, but I’ll admit this is with a sample of just six days and under pretty rosy set of conditions:

    Average ridership for the days in red was 17,410, versus 13,399 before Airport Link opened.

    1. Interesting that the blue line was trending so closely to the red line. Wonder what ridership would have been if Sea-Tac station hadn’t opened on time.

    2. I’m excited about the prospect of the 194’s passengers switching over to Link. They will boost Link ridership numbers but probably not increase operating costs. I’d love to see a comparison of operating costs of Link and the 194 before/after the conversion.

      I look forward to this graph post-shakeup.

      1. The more important question is how much will the drop Metro’s bus operating cost. That’s where the “savings” is to be found.

    3. The 13,399 for weekdays in December before the airport station opened would be the lowest weekday count since Link started operations.

      1. That’s typical of December. It’s not relevant to compare month-over-month changes, this is why we match year-over-year.

    1. The route with the highest anticipated ridership is obviously U-Link/North Link. And the fact that you think 15 is 33 percent of 21 says it all.

    2. This line was built first because it was to be the most used of all the routes.

      That is simply not true. The UW to downtown link has the highest ridership of any segment.

      But no, ridership is something like 1/3rd of expectations.

      That is not true, the expected ridership was no where near 44,000 — not even in the area.

      I get the feeling you are making things up with no concern for the truth, either to spread misinformation or to purposefully troll. Either way, it is out of line with how we normally operate here and we will heavily moderate your attempts to misinform and troll if you keep it up. We are not entitled to our own facts.

      1. I’ve been following this transit deal since 1993 — when we first paid the 3 billion (it was spent, nothing happened).

        In fact, I went on record in Bellevue opposing light rail.

        You may now present a document showing the projected ridership BEFORE it was constructed.

        My recollection is that it’s much higher.

        If you consider that trolling…than so be it.

      2. Sound Transit wasn’t formed until 1996. Before then it was the RTA, and they definitely did not spend 3 billion dollars as they were just a group of elected officials that met occasionally to craft a regional plan to put to the voters.

        You’ve had several chances to vote against regional transit projects. You just happen to be in the minority camp who don’t approve. Sorry, but that’s the way democracy works. Deal with it.

      3. I believe there’s a projection somewhere that there will be something like 40,000 riders on the initial segment, but that’s in 2030.

      4. Blue Swan, in other replies I’ve pointed to the 2020 and 2030 projections. They include University Link. It’s now up to you to go look at the Sound Transit pages on light rail, because if you do, you’ll find ridership numbers.

      5. But you see if you take the highest ridership numbers in the Sound Move plan and compare them to today you’ll see what a disappointment light rail has been since it is only carrying 15% of the predicted numbers! Never mind that 5 of the stations in Sound Move haven’t opened yet (or were dropped in the case of First Hill), those stations represent roughly 3/4 of the predicted link ridership, and Metro hasn’t eliminated a lot of competing bus service.

      6. But the real disappointment is that we’ve already spend more than the entire Sound Move projected budget. Do you think it would pass if we traveled back in time and corrected the budget estimates (including bus savings that fail to materialize)?

      7. I think it would have passed. The idea is larger than the total cost to most folks. They mostly see it as a sales tax issue and not an over-all budget issue.

    3. Have you been to any city that has a fully implemented rail system? Have you seen how well it works together with a multi-modal system? A successful public transit system will have multiple means of transit, each serving a different purpose. You fail to see this, though.

      My money is that you are in an area that the Link does not serve and you are envy that you cannot use it on a daily basis.

    4. Are you trolling here?

      Depending on your point of view, Link ridership looks fine to me. Most trains that I have been on have been healthily full. I wouldn’t want a system of standing room only for 14 miles if that is what you were hoping for. I like comfortable rides where people look comfortable. I wouldn’t want to see Link become like the London Underground with the stench and bad air of close contact with others all cramped and crowded into small tubes. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Tube, but I prefer trains to be full but not overly full.

  6. More novelty is yet to come. The 128 will be LINKed in February. The buses stopping south of the airport terminal will all stop at SAStation instead. The 140 will be re-routed to provide quick access between SouthCenter and TIBStation, which will draw ridership from the 150, as well as make SouthCenter parking an adjuct park & ride with a short wait and short ride to TIBS.

    My money says the city will relent on the law against parking more than 4 hours around rail stations. The city is getting slammed hard on all the newspaper blogs, and nobody is defending the city’s position.

    I also foresee the Port of Seattle cutting some sort of deal to allow rail riders to park for cheaper rates on the 4th floor of the parking lot, in hopes of getting more parking revenue. The demand for parking lots next to rail stations appears to be much more than we expected. There really does seem to be a market of people who won’t make an effort to figure out their neighborhood bus but still want to ride LINK.

    I’m now confused on whether the 195 night owl route between SAStation and downtown will be started in February or not, but that will have a big impact on how many airport employees will ride LINK to work. They have to have transit available both ways, and to the same starting point, or they can’t make use of LINK.

    We’ll have to wait until March for the 574 to shift to half-hour or better headway, but I expect more people to take that option over many of the specialty commuter routes to southwest King County, if for no other reason than they won’t have to time their day around their neighborhood’s specialty route.

    And then there is the opening of BRT Line A from TIBStation to Federal Way P&R later this year, which will lure some specialty riders onto LINK and the Line A.

    It is way too early to think of the starter line as complete, or draw any conclusions.

      1. Oh good! I guess the Mayor’s trying to make up for his failed first 100 minutes (see the Stranger)

      2. Oh thank you! that’s an excellent news video, glad to see the city’s position is being challenged

    1. “I also foresee the Port of Seattle cutting some sort of deal to allow rail riders to park for cheaper rates on the 4th floor of the parking lot, in hopes of getting more parking revenue.”

      Possible, as it already happened for the Seahawks final home game last week.

      The 195 is not happening, not in February at least. It’s not in the approved list of changes for next month. I still think more owl service on the 124/RapidRide A will serve more people and more places than an midnight airport express run will.

      1. Almost nobody used the SeaTac parking garage to ride Link the Sunday of the final SeaHawks game. A lot of people did use the free parking at Tukwila station to ride Link to the SeaHawks game that day, however.

      2. I blame poor publicity on Sound Transit and the media who mostly did not get the word

      3. Could be. I have no clue how the economics of that work. I’ve never been to pro sports games. With the exception of the Chelsea v Sounders game when I bused in and it was Link’s first day.

      4. 4 people x $5.00 round trip fare on Link = $20. Some people will look at that number and say, “I might as well drive”. Personally, you couldn’t pay me $20 to drive around the stadiums during a ball game. Oh wait, I’m a bus driver, so you already do. Hmmm… Must rethink career choice or at least my choice of route.

      5. Plus, you had to pay to park at SeaTac. A reduced rate that day, but still about $2 per hour, or something like that. Parking at Tukwila is free.

        Might be cost-effective for someone going to the game alone, but very few people go to games by themselves. The larger the group, the less cost-effective transit is. 4 or 5 people in one car, sharing the cost of gas and parking is fairly inexpensive.

      6. Norman, the whole mess of parking and leaving with crush traffic is the real annoying part about going to these games, I imagine. Light rail might not end up being super cost effective, but definitely a heck of a lot less annoying.

      7. last time I walked past the parking lots around Quest stadium on game day, it was $25 to $35 to park. So the $20 ride for 4 people is still a win.

      8. I blame a piss poor performance by the team this season (and I’m not even a pointy ball fan). Buying out coaches contracts, $12M. Winning team… mmm, don’t know but better be a billionaire if it’s coming out of your checkbook. Maybe Pete Carroll will have the Huskeys in the Rose Bowl by the time U Link opens ;-)

    2. 1) If I recall, Route 195 is on hold until King County’s budget issues improve.
      2) Sound Transit’s current schedule book says Route 574 schedule is through February 7. What is this about March?

  7. From the 2010 Draft Service Implementation Plan, and I quote:

    The 2009 SIP projected that Central Link ridership would average about 15,900 weekday passenger boardings during the first six months of operation.

    So some people are calling it a failure? Well, two can play that game. I say success!

    On a more serious note, the samples from the end of December are encouraging because a lot of people were on vacation then. Either way, when the 194 goes away and 8’s headways are improved in February, we should see more riders.

    1. A note of caution, Sherwin. Average weekday boardings for 2011 are 33,800. That’s less than a year away before accumulations count towards the average, which is a pretty steep learning curve. I hope it happens, but really doubt ridership will double in the next year.

  8. I suspect it’s New Year’s resolutions in action, but the number of people on Microsoft’s Connector has gone up markedly in the last couple of weeks or so.

    We’ll see if it lasts through February…

  9. about the new 140 route between Tukwilla Station and Southcenter, anyone know how frequent the service is, and how long the trip to Southcenter is expected to take?

    1. I don’t know about the trip length, but it should have 15 minute service frequency, at least at peak.

    2. Route 140 will be every 15 minutes all day on weekdays and every 30 minutes during evenings and on weekends. Evening service will be every 30 minutes through the end of service, 7 days a week, instead of every hour like it is now. Also, the 140 is now planned to be upgraded to the RapidRide F Line, but not for several years.

      The trip between Tukwila International Blvd Station and Southcenter will take 8-10 minutes. Be careful with references not to confuse the Link station with Tukwila Station (Amtrak/Sounder), and which will also continue to be served by Route 140 in the peak.

      1. The connection between the two that regularly will be great. I plan to try getting to the airport with Sounder+140+Link just for fun.

  10. Off-topic (and thus subject to being moderated as such under forum rules). But I wanted to compliment the bloggers for instituting and consistently implementing comment moderation on the order of the system used at the USS Mariner Blog. While comment moderation might frustrate some, it clearly keeps the discussion on topic and at least mostly considerate. You’ll have to pardon me if I don’t buy into the whole, “the internet made it easy for everyone to be an asshole meme.” I come here to STB because I’m interested in a dicussion of the mechanics of and policy around public transit and transportation in this region, because it’s a central element of maintaining a pleasant and civil community in the face of huge and inevitable regional growth. I can handle antagonistic points of view, but those who persist in persnickety, “more logical than thou” personas, based not on facts but on little more than they’re own perception that they are simply right, do nothing but undermine their own arguments and longer term credibility as contributors here. If you want to be a schmuck, try on the PI or Times soundoffs for size.

    1. I appreciate it (and I think it’s relevant, I’m definitely not about to moderate you for making this comment).

      That’s almost all Martin’s doing. He’s taught me not to overmoderate, too.

      1. Thanks Ben. I like the free flow of ideas, even when I’m wrong. Just keep it civil, non personal, and we all learn something.
        “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” Thomas Jefferson

    2. How about a twice-weekly open thread? When I get an idea or question on Wednesday, it’s hard to wait till Sunday and I’ll probably have forgotten it by then.

  11. The airport station is a long-term good. My out-of-town cousins rode Link from SeaTac to Othello last week, and I didn’t know about it until afterward. They would not have taken a bus, and there has never been a direct airport-Rainier Valley bus anyway. This was not a novelty effect, but simply the fact that the train was available.

  12. I have friends who rode LINK for Christmas air travel who live on Bainbridge Isle. They thought it worked out great. And they were not 194 bus riders. So I would expect Decembers numbers to be higher.

    And it’s good that the city relented on the daily parking. One could easily argue that it’s perfectly legal for the port to charge a daily rate right next to the station and there would be almost no way to enforce it that you parked at the station and didn’t ride away in an airplane.

    I would expect that the port would make the 6th and 7th floors available for daily parking though. The 4th is way to convenient for a quick pickup at the airport.

  13. Drawing conclusions from day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month comparisons is perilous, to say the least.

    None the less there are numbers that demand attention. I think it’s pretty evident that the work commute traffic is way down between Xmas and New Years yet Link ridership was “through the roof”. Is this people returning gifts, shopping the post Xmas sales, taking a novelty ride? Maybe it’s a long term trend because of the extension to the Airport. I don’t know but it’s certainly some interesting data.

    The extension to the airport is important to be sure but just as telling will be when the bus reroutes are finalized. As long as it ’tiss the season, a football metaphor might be, “it’s early in the game but Airport Link has surged to a lead”.

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