When calculating Link ridership, Sound Transit staff record the data provided by infrared electric eyes over the doors on some cars. Reading that data is something of an art – the sensors take some tuning and the data isn’t always perfect. It’s not just a “one” or a “zero”, we’re told – children register differently, for instance. Sound Transit controls for all this when calculating ridership – and sends out manual counters to be sure they’re getting accurate numbers.

As a result, though, sometimes ridership numbers are wrong. Sound Transit found two small errors in their counting methods – one for Tukwila station in the summer and one for Airport station (affecting late December data), and in both cases were throwing out good data that looked bad in the first pass.

It turns out (Excel), in fact, that December weekdays averaged just over 14,900 (300 higher than previously reported), with a peak day on December 28th with over 19,950. Weekdays after Airport Link opened were averaging 17,350. I’ve seen anti-transit activists claim as few as 12,000 weekday riders – don’t let them.

With ridership off by 15% in Portland, this looks pretty good. We’ll have to wait to know how far off Metro ridership is, but I’m willing to bet that without a recession, Link would be beating projections.

117 Replies to “Ridership Error In Your Favor”

  1. Where do you get that Portland ridership is off 15%? Is that 15% off some projection?

    Portland Max is averaging 114,600 trips per day, up 1.4% year-over-year, and their brand new green light rail line (their 4th light rail line) is averaging 17,042 trips per day, about the same as our entire light rail system.

      1. Every single friend I have in Portland, every one of them, is now unemployed. Degrees don’t help, either. That probably has something to do with all of this.

        On the upside, club nights are always packed. That’s one way to cope.

      2. With a 3T stimulus budget, unemployment for young people may become a way of life like in Europe. Be a “student” and party until your 39. Let us old folk run the banks and bureaucracies.

      3. Except more than a few of the “young people” I know are in their late 30s and early 40s.

        Way to go, you “old folk”, your lasting legacy will go down in the history books. Right down there with seceding from the union.

      4. Okay, I thought you were comparing to Portland’s light rail. Portland’s bus system is down 11.3% year-over-year (not 15%), and KC Metro bus service is down 10.7% year-over-year… Not a huge difference.


        It’s not fair to say MAX is down if you don’t include the green line. How
        much would Link ridership be down if not for the airport link?

        I’m not trying to be a stickler… I just think we should give proper credit to Portland for building a rapidly expanding, very high ridership, relatively low cost light rail system. The entire green line cost less and was built much more quickly than any one of the Beacon Hill, Capitol Hill, or Montlake stations.

      5. “How much would Link ridership be down if not for the airport link?”

        There is no year-over-year data to compare against to determine up/down ridership trends since Central Link has existed for all of 6-1/2 months.

      6. misha, it’s perfectly fair to point out that yellow, red and blue lines are way down.

        I’m not even going to click on washington policy center links.

        11.3% is still more than our light rail ridership is off of projections.

      7. And if you really want to play numbers games, how much in real estate costs is the Green Line not paying for because ODOT paid it for them in the past? It’s not really cheaper, part of the cost is just hidden.

        The green line stations will never have TOD and they’re built in the freeway trench. They’re horrible urban design, and I’m extremely thankful we built “Cadillac Rail” that will actually grow in ridership over time.

      8. Okay… I’m embarassed I posted a link to the Washington Policy Center, but I was just googling for a more readable summary of this PDF from the APTA, which is the data source. Looking at it closer, the APTA is comparing Q3 year-over-year data, which shows for 2009 Q3 KC Metro Bus was down 10.73%, and Portland Tri-Met bus was only down 10.02%. The 11.3% figure for Portland was Q4 year-over-year and I can’t find that number for Metro.


        I’m not playing “numbers games” at all… I’m comparing our bus system to Portland’s bus system. I’m comparing our light rail to Portland’s light rail.

        It’s pretty obvious that Portland’s light rail is much cheaper than ours, which is why they have 84 stations and 114,000 daily riders, while we have 13 stations and around 17,000 daily riders. They built on streets, we built in tunnels.

      9. You have to look at Portland’s costs in context. Much of Portland’s light rail was built on abandoned rail right of way mostly on flat terrain. We don’t have much of that in Seattle.

      10. And the 2 new stations added by U Link will add over 70,000 boardings a day by 2030. Just 2 stations! A surface route seeing Capitol Hill and UW would be too slow and never attract that much ridership.

      11. If you think Portland is unique, look one city further south. Besides San Francisco’s Market tunnel (similar to our downtown bus tunnel), their 6 light rail lines and 150,000+ daily riders use surface street stops. San Francisco is hillier and denser than Seattle. Their T Third line opened in 2007 with 19 new surface stations at a total cost of $800 million.

      12. The T Third isn’t finished yet though. The second phase is the construction of a 1.7 mile long 1.6 billion dollar tunnel through downtown called the “Central Subway.”

      13. @misha

        I think you are making everything way too simple. There are many factors that affect ridership of transit. Travel times, land use at stations, parking cost, etc. etc. There are examples in the US or abroad that you and I can used to make just about point we want to make, but unless you include the context any comparison isn’t too valuable.

      14. Zed: The Central Subway will cost $1.6 billion for four new stations and a projected 4,600 additional daily boardings. That makes my point.

        Adam Parast: I know there are many factors, but really, none of them trump building more stations as quickly as possible. We are far behind all of our neighbor cities in rail. We’re not going to catch up by going slower. 40+ new stations in the next 10 years should be the minimum goal. It won’t give us a premiere rail system, but at least we won’t fall much further behind.

      15. Misha, I have to disagree completely with the idea that anything fast is better than good slow. Yes waiting forever for a gold plated lines is also wrong, but we are talking about infrastructure that will last for a hundred years possibly. Not only that, the lines we are talking about are the basis from which further extensions will be built. Screw that up and all future lines will also suffer. Not to mention public perception.

      16. It’ll definitely last for a hundred years. It’ll possibly last for two hundred.

      17. There have been some articles recently about an “exodus” from coastal (blue) states to the interior. Oregon was mentioned in the top ten.

        So they could be seeing a population reduction as people migrate to where the jobs are. Places like Nebraska and Oklahoma have much lower unemployment rates (6% rather than 10%)

  2. I wonder if people scrutinized freeways by looking at the tiniest ridership decline. No one is going to react this way if the viaduct tunnel is built and no one will use it.

    1. Exactly – due to 100 years of indoctrination and socialization, we pay no attention at all to the ups and downs in auto traffic yet the media and antis go nuts if there is a 1% or 2% drop in rail or bus traffic.

      Auto traffic is down, don’t rebuild 520!!

  3. How would the recession, which has changed unemployement from about 5% to 10%, change weekday ridership by about 40% from a projected 25K/day to the approximate 15K/day? While workers/commuters are not the only riders of transit, I think there’s more to the story than just the recession as to why Link is not hitting its anticipated ridership numbers.

    1. 21,000 was the projected ridership for the end of last year and it seems we were at 17,500 for the end of the year.

      Common sense would tell you that the densest portion of downtown where Link terminates would have a higher number of unemployed and would lose far more to retirement, mass lay-offs, cutting of positions and so on and so forth.

      So being off by 3,500 riders a day isn’t too bad and nowhere near 40% as you suggest.

      1. Washington Mutual had thousands in employ downtown. Consider the multiplier effect, and there’s a large portion of your downtown workforce gone. That’s a good number of riders.

      2. Every aspect of the economy has shrunk and travel is very highly correlated with economic activity.

        Also don’t forget that redundant Metro service (194 which had close to 5,000 boardings a day) still has not been eliminated. I’m sure a good amount of people have switched over but a good amount still have yet too.

    2. Because your numbers are off. ST projected 21,000/day by the end of 2009. Although the numbers above are a very small sample size, by the end of the year we were close to 20,000. That’s around 5% off the projection.

      Moreover, ridership should decline more than employment, because unemployment reduces both gas prices and congestion. There are fewer potential riders, and fewer of those choose transit.

      Lastly, I’d speculate that the Rainier Valley, being more-or-less working class, is taking a disproportionate hit in terms of employment.

      1. Now that I live in New York, I’m sort of shocked that they would build an expensive rail line that was projected to have ridership of 21,000. That would be an above-average bus line here. It seems like they should have really just built U-link, which people will actually use.

      2. John, we had to build the maintenance facility, for one thing, and we couldn’t take on that high of risk until we’d done something lower risk first.

        Beacon Hill was kind of a testbed for U-Link.

      1. Yes. The 21,000 number was a number we should “hit” at the end of 2009. We’re a little below it, but we’re catching up.

      2. I knew it. I saw it in the 2009 Service Implementation Plan first. As expected, we’ve been beating that number.

      3. Once the additional bus reallignment occurs, I’m sure the ridership numbers will increase more.

        I also firmly believe a station at MLK/Graham is seriously needed. That station would pick up thousands of riders a day. ST also needs to look at a station in Tukwila at 133rd St.

        Eventually, I hope they turn Convention Place into a Link station and build the Boeing Field station. I believe other transit agencies around the world have added stations after their lines have been built.

      4. I’m confused about this, because I swear that all the literature said that it would have 21,600 boardings by the end of 2009, and 26,000 by summer 2010…

      5. Yes. There are two numbers here:

        One is the average we’d get to by the end of the year.

        One is the peak – the number we’d “hit” by the end of the year.

    3. Mount Baker Guy – the projection of 26,600 a day is for the end of 2010, not the end of 2009.

    1. Ben, I support your work and your moderation policy. I complained about the deletion comment saying my post was off-topic, when it wasn’t. I am now stating that it is not true that I was complaining about the moderation policy.

      I just think your statements replacing my posts were untrue. [deleted, comment policy complaining]

      1. It really wouldn’t hurt anyone to have one extra comment that sounds like it’s at least peripherally related…

  4. Sorry, but none of the ridership numbers for LINK are valid until after the realignment of bus routes this weekend which will end duplication of service. The forecasts were based on this, let it bear out in practice.

    1. Exactly. Also while the real-time information won’t bring thousands of new riders instantly, it certainly is part of the quality expected and its absence certainly doesn’t help ridership.

    2. I agree with this comment. I doubt very much that ST did ridership estimates for intermediate bus route configurations. Since Metro seems to be taking their own sweet time readjusting routes, I wouldn’t expect ST’s estimates to be valid until after Metro finishes their restructuring.

      But in any case, Link ridership is very near ST’s projections – if not above. I wouldn’t spend any more time worrying about the fuzzy math of the anti’s. Their math was bad before Link opened and nothing has changed after Link opened.

      1. Metro (and ST, PT, and CT) will continue to wait until new picks to make route changes. The pick process would become too convoluted for the union to implement if a lot of routes were changing in the middle of picks.

        I’ve witnessed how this process works.

        This is a process we’ll just have to live with.

      2. And it won’t matter to people nearly as much when we’re opening our fourth or fifth extension.

      3. Also the issue is they didn’t want to shut down the 194 till airport link was open. The other service changes weren’t funded until the 194 went away; hence the two-stage implementation.

      4. “picks” is when drivers pick their work assignments (what routes and runs will they drive) for the next service change, which happens 3 times a year about every 4 months. Changing routes and schedules in the middle of that cycle is difficult if not impossible (not sure on that).

      1. I was on the 194 on Sunday. Driver made no announcements, but said he was going to throughout the week. Seems like all drivers should have made at least one announcement between downtown and the airport for the last week.

        Talking to fellow riders, it was news to them, too.

      2. The fact that it’s still news basically just shows that outreach is good for some people, but for the most part, you just have to do things and let people figure it out.

      3. I rode the 194 to and from the airport today (Wednesday Feb. 3), and Metro had 2 men stationed at the airport bus stops (one at each bay) handing out literature explaining the changes in the bus schedules and answering questions about buses and how to use Link. They were also giving Orca cards with no money on them to people who wanted them. I listened for a few minutes, and it did seem that some bus riders did not know that the 194 was going to be discontinued starting this coming weekend.

    3. Can we please stop obsessing on ridership projections and numbers until Link is 3 years old? Please?

  5. What is the ORCA card numbers?

    They should be easily available.

    Those are the real ones that matter, as they represent people willing to pay to use LINK.

    1. True, but there are also Link riders who buy tickets with cash or credit/debit cards at the TVM.

      1. Ok. Take the two numbers and add them.

        What I’m saying is that both these numbers would be far more accurate and relevent than scanning people through the doors.

        More to the point: what are the numbers? Where are the numbers for ORCA/TVM ridership?

      2. Not really. Don’t forget fare evaders, people who still use flash passes, and little kids.

      3. 1) Flash pass: See mark-recapture link below.

        2) Evaders: My point is to measure paying customers

        3) Kids: My point is to measure paying customers, although mark-recapture for Adults with Child(ren) can be estimated.

      4. Crazy Man, there are still hundreds of thousands of flash passes out there. It doesn’t make sense to measure what you want to measure.

      5. Remember though, that there are still a significant numbet of passengers that received yearly flex-passes from their employers last year. I’m one of these (my current pass expires at the end of February, and will be switched over to Orca then). Until then, I would be an uncounted passenger if only using Orca/TVM data, as I don’t swipe my flex-pass anywhere, and only show it if asked by a fare inspector.

        I wonder how many others are still on old media waiting for their renewal date.

      6. I just started using an employer-issued ORCA yesterday.

        It feels good to finally be one of the cool kids.

      7. Yeah, I can’t wait. Our new Orca cards are to be distributed on the 15th of this month and go into effect on March 1. It’s funny but when I get off the train with a bunch of Orca holders, and they all tap out, I feel like they must think I’m evading the fare, as I walk past the machine.

      8. I’m hoping that my school will start giving out ORCA cards soon! It’s cool to have a different color/shiny thing every month though, lol.

    2. I disagree. The number of ORCA cards out there is larger than the number of ORCA users. There are a number of reasons to use ORCA, only one of which is to ride Link.

      ORCA is the required method of getting a monthly pass from employers, at least by April 1. ORCA is the only way to get a transfer between agencies. ORCA is a convenience to not have to carry change.

      I do hope the number of ORCA tap-ins and tap-outs is available, or its utility as a planning tool may have been overestimated.

      1. “There are a number of reasons to use ORCA, only one of which is to ride Link.”

        Right, but the ORCA card can distinguish each and every ride, so it can be filtered for LINK rides. More to the point, it can tell us things like who are frequent riders — as in, how many people are “commuting” using LINK (doing the same ride to the same stations every day).

        ORCA plus TVM can tell us how many are airport — single trip people.

        Again, these numbers are as relevant to me than just counting bodies in and out.

      2. Except it can only tell you about the commuters who are using ORCA, and not their annual PugetPass or their company pass or their Upass…

      3. As of December, ORCA’s being used for over 100,000 trips per day. That’s around 20-25% of all daily trips in the entire 4-county region. Not sure what percentage of riders are using ORCA to pay for Link.

      4. I was told in November that Link was up to some 50% ORCA use.

        ST rail services will be higher than average in general for two reasons:

        1) Offboard payment means the train leaves without you – there’s an incentive to make your payment quick.

        2) No transfers are issued – you’re likely to want to transfer to/from a bus.

  6. I actually spoke with one of the people that ST hired to do manual counts of boardings on Link trains. I met him on one of the trains a few weeks ago.

    He told me that the automatic counters ST was using were over-counting boardings by a small amount, compared to the manual counts — I think he said a couple of percentage points. They think the reason for this was that the counters were sometimes counting large pieces of luggage when people had their hands on the handles.

    He also said the offial riderhsip counts included ST personnel, such as the fare checkers who board light rail cars two or three at a time. I would think that ST employees, such as fare checkers, should not count as “boardings.” But, the automatic counters have no way of telling who people are.

    I have a question about ST official policy on counting ridership. Are small children counted? Let’s say those who are too young to have to purchase a ticket.

    And if small children are, or are not, counted in ridership, should they be? And why, or why not?

    Also, at Westlake station, every time a train stops, an ST employee steps onto the train to check for sleeping passengers. The driver also walks down the front car, and steps outside the train to get a signal from the other ST employee that the back car is empty. Do the automatic counters count both of these people going in and out the doors as “boardings” and “deboardings”? This also happens at the SeaTac station sometimes, also. At the very least, the driver has to deboard one car and board the other car to change cabs for the reverse trip. Do those count as boardings?

    1. Norman, I’ve been told that the counters are IR – so unless your luggage was very, very warm, it wouldn’t be counted. I could be mistaken, though!

      I believe that the operator switches the train to “going out of service” mode before they do their checks, so they wouldn’t be counted – but again, could be mistaken.

  7. Ben, as I mentioned, the ST employee who was manually counting boardings told me that the automatic counters are over-counting by a few percentage points. It was he who told me that ST thinks it is because the automatic counters are sometimes counting large bags with peoples’ hands on the handles. It is the passengers’ hands on the handles which give off the heat. (This is not MY theory — it is ST’s theory). Ergo, the luggage itself does not have to be “very, very warm” to be mistakenly counted as a rider. I would think this over-counting problem has become much more of a problem since the SeaTac station opened, and there are a lot more large pieces of luggage on Link trains now than there were before that station opened.

    At SeaTac, when the operators change ends, they exit/enter the same doors as passengers use, at the same time as passengers are boarding/exiting. So, if the trains are in “going out of service” mode, how can they count people who are actual passengers who are exiting and boarding those trains at the same time as the operators? Likewise, at Westlake, ST personnel often board the trains while passengers are still exiting, so how do the automatic counters tell the difference?

    What is the official ST policy on children? Are children who are too young to have to pay counted as “boardings”? If so, does that make sense?

    I would say the ST ridership numbers for Link are little more than ballpark estimates. They could easily be off by a thousand riders per day, or more.

    1. The way ST counts ridership isn’t any different from the way Metro counts ridership. They use automatic counters and statistical modeling and follow industry standard procedures. They have the raw data and they can be adjusted to correct for such anomalies. I think “easily be off by a thousand riders per day, or more” sounds ballpark to me.

      Why not count children? They are persons and they are riders. It’s like the question, do children/infants count as a passenger to allow use of the HOV lane? Yes, they do, in all states.

      You make a big deal out of counting operators and other ST personnel but is it significant? I don’t see this as a long term problem as ridership increases.

      1. Of course, counting ST personnel is significant. If they are counting operators changing cabs, the “checkers” at Westlake and SeaTac, the fare checkers boarding trains along the lines, and various other ST employees, such as the ST security personnel who regularly ride the trains, you could easily get around 1,000 boardings per day who are just ST employees who would not be making those “trips” if there were no light rail.

        If you want to count all children, then why not make them all pay? If young children are just the same as adults, then why not charge them to ride? If they are not the same as adults, then maybe they should not be included in “boardings”. They certainly would not be driving cars if they were not on Link. A five-year-old child on Link is not one car taken off the roads.

        You add up all the ST employees, small children, luggage counted as passengers, and you could be counting thousands of “boardings” per day which are not real “trips” that might conceivably be taking cars off of roads.

        I don’t know how Metro counts ridership. Where are the automatic counters on Metro buses? I have not seen them. They have them on all doors of every bus? If not all buses, then which buses have them, and where are they? Above the doors, as on Link?

        But I do know that Metro also keeps track of fare revenue. What is the fare revenue per day so far for Link trains? Or even fare revenue per month? Has ST published that yet?

      2. I’m not following your “counting requires payment or take a car off the road” argument. Allowing children to ride free and youth to ride for less encourages more transit use and improves their mobility. Why does it matter that it takes cars off roads?

        Roughly a third of Metro’s entire fleet (same proportion as Link) have automatic passenger counters. They have a tiny sticker on the outside saying “APC”. They used pressure mats but most have infrared counters mounted above the rear doors and a cross beam at the front door. The buses are rotated such that at least every trip is sampled once per service change period.

        “you could easily get around 1,000 boardings per day”

        Can you give me a reasonable breakdown of that claimed figure?

      3. I’m not agreeing with the rest of his argument, but Norman’s “1,000 daily boardings” of ST staff seems reasonable.

        From the Sound Transit’s weekday Link frequency there are approximately 124 trains in each direction every day.

        5:00 – 6:00am: 4 trains/direction
        6:00 – 8:30am: 20
        8:30 – 3:00pm: 39
        3:00 – 6:30pm: 28
        6:30 – 10:00pm: 21
        10:00 – 1:00am: 12
        Total: 124 trains/direction

        Double that since the line goes both ways and you have 248 trips/day. If you assume that the driver is counted when switching ends of the train at the end of each trip, that’s 248 “false” boardings. Three staff checking the interior of the train at each end adds another 744, putting the total at 992 boardings by ST employees per weekday. Add in random fare inspectors and it’s easily over 1,000.

        I haven’t ridden Link enough to know if those staff numbers are right, but it’s probably close. I think I saw more than three security guys clearing the train at Westlake, but I don’t remember seeing any at Sea-Tac.

        Having gone through all that, though, I don’t see why ST couldn’t do the same math and remove these boardings from the total before they publish it. Obviously they could know how many people they’re paying to board the train and account for that.

      4. Here’s why the end-of-the-line operator+checker counting argument/claim is bogus.

        The APCs count how many people get on and off at each station, keeping track of the load (how many people on the train) at any given moment. At the terminal everyone must exit the train. So the total load on the train zeros out by definition. Since the train knows how many people were on board and that the train has ended its run it doesn’t need to count how many exit or board. That makes it easier too, so the system doesn’t propagate “ghost riders” to the next trip. That’s what TriMet and other agencies do (TCRP Synthesis 77).

        So most of the “false boardings” are eliminated due to the way the system works. That leaves fare inspectors. The North American average inspection rate is 26% so that means around 120 boardings from inspectors in a day. That’s less than 1% of total daily boardings.

        As for manual counts, they have to count everyone because that how the machines do it. The manual counts are used to calibrate and validate the automatic counts.

      5. How do you figure that the train doesn’t have to know how many people boarded at SeaTac? particularly, if you are saying that the trains don’t count deboardings at Westlake? They have to count at at least one of the end stations for every train, don’t they?

        At SeaTac, drivers board trains at the same time, through the same doors, as passengers.

        If fare checkers check 1/4 of train cars, that is 125 cars per day (out of 500 car trips). Three checkers times 125 cars equals 375 fare checkers counted as “boardings.”

        Who knows how many large bags get counted as “boardings”? If there are an average of 5 large bags per car, that would be a potential 2,500 false boardings. If the automatic counters counted just 1/5 of all large bags as “boardings”, that would add up to 500 false boardings per day from luggage.

      6. “How do you figure that the train doesn’t have to know how many people boarded at SeaTac? ”

        I didn’t say that. I said at the end it doesn’t have to.

        Where did you get 500 trips? Over an 18 hour service day that’s 13 trips/hour/direction on average which is much higher than the peak frequency of Link (8 tphpd). I’m basing my trips off what David Seater posted above (124 trains/direction) which 25% is 62 inspected trips per day. Two checkers makes 122 and three checkers makes 186 counts, per day. That’s still around or less than 1% the total daily boardings and will become less significant over time.

        Who knows how many large bags get counted as “boardings”?

        Since you said the manual counter mentioned that, then they would have corrected the sensitivity of the APCs to reduce false counts. No big deal.

      7. Each train has two cars. The fare checkers board each car of each train (they hop off the first car and jump onto the second car of each train at a station). With teams of 3 fare checkers, all three of whom board each car, that is six boardings per (2-car) train. If they check 62 trains, times 6 boardings per train, that totals 372 boardings per day by fare checkers. I have seen this being done many times. That is how it works. I am using your estimate of 25% of trains checked.

        The manual counter said they had not been able to correct the APC’s to avoid false counts.

      8. Assuming 25% inspection rate and 1/3 fleet with APC, the probability of fare checkers being counted by a car equipped with APC is low, only 1/12 chance.

        All transit systems using APC will suffer these issues. No APC system is 100 percent accurate. Even manual counts have errors. The only reason you’re making a big deal out of this is to claim that ST’s ridership figures are inflated. As ridership increases your concern will solve itself as the claimed false boardings (if they even exist) become smaller and smaller as a proportion of total boardings.

      9. Your first statement is not logical. Fare checkers check about 125 cars per day. One-third of those cars have automatic counters. So, about 42 cars with counters will be boarded by fare checkers each day. ST then extrapolates from that sample to assume that 125 cars per day have fare checkers (or, an extra three “boardings” per day). If the system is not designed to count all the fare checkers, then how could it count all the “real” passengers?

        Many, if not most, transit systems also count fares, and fare revenues collected. When are we going to get some “fares paid”, and “fare revenues collected” figures for Link light rail? Those would be more meaningful numbers. Luggage, operators, and fare checkers don’t pay fares, so a count of fares paid would be far more accurate.

      10. The ridership numbers are estimates. Squabbling over whether or not an operator or fare checker was counted is pointless.

      11. Look, transit agencies all over the country use APCs on buses and trains to count passengers, including King County Metro. You go tell all of them about that.

        This is not a Link light rail problem. This is not a Sound Transit problem.

        How hard is it to understand that as ridership grows, operators and fare checkers become a tiny fraction of ridership. Luggage counts can be corrected using better algorithms to analyze sensor data, to say it can’t be done is pure BS. I know people whose research is in improving image detection techniques for counting pedestrians and cars.

      12. I’d bet that children who grow up accustomed to using transit will more likely continue to use transit as teens and adults.
        Norman – what’s your beef here? I’m having difficulty understanding this obsession with 1% or (far) less of ridership. Are you suggesting the state ought to buy car counters for every stretch of “free”way and each on/off ramp and have some inspectors there counting cars as well?? Please, there are larger transit issues here than whether the train driver is counted or not.

    2. Norman, do you have any basis at all for the claim that Link ridership “could easily be off by a thousand riders per day, or more”?

      1. I have given you the reasons in three posts here, now: automatic counters counting ST personnel; large pieces of luggage; small children. They probably even count a few dogs on leashes as “boardings”. Should ST fare checkers be counted as “riders”?

        There is even another issue that I have not mentioned yet, and that is the people who get off a Link car, and then get right back on the same car at the same station. That happens more often than you might think. And, of course, the fare dodgers who get off a train when they see fare checkers boarding, and then get on the next train at the same station, or just hop on the other car on the same train, to continue their trip. They count as another “boarding” even though they are taking only one “trip”.

        And I have not even raised the issue of all the people who ride Link trains only within the downtown tunnel. These are legitimate “boardings” and “trips”, but what difference does it make to them, or anyone else, if they ride a Link train between Westlake and International, say, or take a bus for that trip? I would say at least 10 percent of all “boardings” on Link trains are people traveling just between stations in the downtown tunnel. I’m not saying those should not be counted as “boardings”, but they certainly are not meaningful trips — they are no faster than the bus, and they obviously don’t take any cars off of roads.

      2. Remember that only a third of the cars have counters. These other factors should be accounted for in calculating ridership estimates. The raw counts don’t directly translate to the numbers you see in the spreadsheet.

      3. No, Norman, you haven’t given anyone a single reason why Sound Transit’s _published ridership numbers_ could be off. You’ve given a bunch of examples of how the _automatic count_ might differ from the actual count (and some bizarre reasons for why some riders shouldn’t count). For the umpteenth time—as has been discussed in this and other threads and every ridership story in every publication in town—the published ridership numbers are not the raw data from the automatic counters. As Oran mentioned above, Sound Transit uses statistical modeling and manual counters to serve as correctives for the automatic counters. If you and a random manual counter are aware of the need to correct for luggage, it is safe to say the trained professional charged with the responsibility of devising ridership estimates is aware of the need to correct for luggage.

      4. You might make that assumption, but, from talking with the people ST hired as counters, that is not the impression I got. They certainly gave no indication that ST was subtracting fare checkers and other ST personnel from their counts.

      5. Yes, Norman, I’m going to make that assumption and trust the transportation professionals analyzing data over you and some folks hired to count passengers. Call me crazy.

      6. By the way, Norman, it will be interesting to see if you have the intellectual integrity to use every argument you can think of to chip away at Swift and RapidRide ridership numbers when those start being published. I eagerly await your posts questioning what percent of Swift riders are fare checkers and transit cops and children and dogs and cats and students with backpacks on rollers and bus operators stepping off for lunch, to start the shift, to end the shift, and to stretch their legs.

      7. That’s why I don’t see this as a big deal. The issues with using automatic passenger counters are not limited to Link or Sound Transit, despite Norman’s attempt to make it so.

        Even if he does produce some credible numbers, I say so what? As ridership grows, that portion becomes smaller and smaller compared to overall ridership. And that’s assuming those counts are not excluded from the final tally.

        Not counting transit employees on duty is one thing, but not counting children is just plain absurd.

  8. And we shouldn’t discount the extent to which the economic collapse stunted redevelopment in the neighborhoods along the line. That’s a whole lot of missing ridership.

  9. So was there any reason given for why the calculated ridership numbers were off? I notice that it only applied to the south end of the line where passengers aren’t required to get off the train (as opposed to the north end). Are there really 300 passengers a day that ride to the end of the line, don’t get off, then ride back?
    I’ve rode to the end of the line and back a few times, but either got off to walk to the airport and back, or look around the TIB station.

    1. I take a joy ride 2 or 3 times a month (Martin caught me one day at SODO station) I get on and off happily along the way within my 2 hour time, and tap out at the same station I tapped in – I wonder how many times I have been counted and more importantly, Norman, why it even matters??

  10. “I wonder how many times I have been counted and more importantly, Norman, why it even matters??” It would matter if anyone cares how many people are making use of Link trains.

    I think this raises a very good point: what difference does it make what Link ridership is? This site keeps publishing ridership statistics. If ridership doesn’t matter, then why even have a thread about ridership?

    So, I would ask those of you engaging me on this thread: are ridership numbers important, and if so why? If not, why not?

    [deleted, off-topic]

    1. Are ridership numbers in and of themselves important?

      No. It is only one metric of success, highly volatile, and it is waaayyy to early to have any sort of perspective.

      Are ridership numbers something that the public at large PERCEIVES as being important?


  11. Does the number of riders indicate whether or not Central Link is worth the money spent to build it?

    1. Are you serious? First off by any measure it would be completely retarded to think that you could judge success or failure of what will be a DECADES, if not Century, lasting piece of infrastructure AFTER SIX MONTHS.

      Secondly to repeat myself, ridership numbers are only one metric from which to gauge success of a line.

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