photo by Mike Bjork

The parlor game of watching Central Link ridership continues. Although month-to-month figures are victims of small sample sizes, seasonal variations, and so on, the Times reports weekday boardings are up to 15,965, up from 14,639 in a holiday-filled December.  That’s just over 1% short of the all-time monthly high of 16,192, achieved last October in a traditionally high month for transit.

The figure is over 10% short of Ben’s prediction from last month of 18,000.  It’s also over 20% short of a years-old projection of 21,000 riders by the end of 2009, although we don’t actually know what assumptions went into that figure; it presumably didn’t foresee 10% unemployment.  [UPDATE: This July press release suggests 15,900 by the end of the year, which is right on.  I still don’t have a document that says “21,000” at my fingertips.]

127 Replies to “January Link Ridership Up”

    1. Some of the STB bloggers—Oran in particular, I think—keep citing this discrepancy, but then posts such as this evening’s still reference the 21K number. So, is there an official STB position on which ridership estimate should be considered valid? Thanks in advance for clarifying…

      1. They’re both correct numbers. 15,900 was the projected average for the month, and 21,000 was the projected “peak” for the month. We were about 1,000 off of each.

    2. Well, they’re right that they got it wrong. Sort of like Central Link being on time and on budget. Yep, it got done when it got done and it cost exactly what we paided for it. As long as you’ve got whitewash you can paint whatever you want on the side of the barn. If projections are low then ST is lauded as being “overly conservative” but if they’re high then it’s “unforseen circumstances” or “incorrectly reported”. They’re all just a SWAG folks. No better or worse than the stock market pundits that use fancy modeling to tell you what the Dow will be at a year from now.

      October seems to be a high water mark for transit. I suspect it has a lot to do with vacations (lack there of) and collages kicking into high gear. Florida shows a similar trend. And they don’t have the cold rainy thing to whine about. Summer, people go on vacation. November and December are big holiday months. But January is a “back to work” month and along with March and April should be some of the highest numbers of the year.

      Gas is still relatively cheap. Predicting gas prices over the course of a year is a crap shoot at best. If you know what the price of oil is going to be a year from now then you should be very very rich based on the purchase of oil futures. I doubt ST invests any of their money in oil futures which tells you how much to expect from ridership projections one year or even five to ten years out. But when you push things out that far you’re looking at development trends which, as we’ve seen with Boeing employment and the growth of the eastside as a job center, can be totally wrong as well.

      The moral of the story… build fixed guideway systems where there is existing demand instead of placing bets on the price of oil (energy to be more precise as oil could be irrelevant), future employment (will MSFT go the way of DEC and Boeing shift it’s production overseas) and development patterns (will it be hip to live in the city or telecommute and raise your own vegetables).

      1. Bernie,

        I think there’s a difference between really large error bars and being a pure

        I agree that serving existing density is the best bet. However, when a line is specifically built to spur future density it’s ridiculous to make judgments about it 8 months in, especially during a recession that has made credit hard to come by.

      2. You know, once U Link and especially North Link opens, the ridership critics are going to have to find something else to whine about. Why? Because even if the line to Northgate misses its early ridership projections it will still be one of the highest ridership lines in the country. With the trip only taking 13 minutes between Westlake and Northgate, the density along the line, and the latent transit demand North of the Ship Canal I doubt the line will be missing its numbers either. In fact I’d say there is a good chance the line will blow right past it’s initial estimates (though that is purely speculation on my part).

      3. ah, Chris, no worries about complaining about ridership numbers for the whole line with UW extension. The complaints will just focus on the cost/rider/mile. Which because ST has to actually dig a tunnel and pay for it, instead of being given one, will have numbers that are near ridiculous.

        Does that mean I’m against spending the money for tunnels and pillions to get the train out of traffic, heck no. It’s the only way to make this from just a mass transit system to a rapid transit system. And a rapid transit system will have great ridership numbers because not only will the subsidized fare attract riders, the time savings will too.

        Which is why this forum should continue to push Bellevue to put a tunnel in for the downtown station. And it should support Mayor McGinn’s proposal to have Light Rail on the 520 bridge the day it opens.

  1. I wonder if these two factors came into play. In January, KC Metro fares went up and no more interagency transfers accepted. Would that affected ridership. In some cases, it is cheaper to ride LINK than take KC Metro.

  2. “That’s just over 1% short of the all-time monthly high of 16,192, achieved last October in a traditionally high month for transit.”

    Last October the SeaTac station was not open. This January, it was open all month.

    What is the theory on why October supposedly is “a traditionally high month for transit”?

    1. Traffic in any and all modes will inevitably drop. It’s not really that October has the highest ridership of any month, that’s usually reserved for June/July/August, but October usually becomes an outlier because November and December are sharp drops due to holiday travel and lack of workday commuters on numerous days in either month, thus depressing the average.

      1. So where does January fit in? How should January compare to October, for transit systems, normally? Would you expect January to be lower than October? Higher? About the same?

        By the way, the webpage you linked to says that, “Average weekday ridership is forecasted to rise to 26,600 in 2010 following the December 2009 opening of light rail service directly to Sea-Tac International Airport.”

        Does that mean 26,600 by the end of 2010? Or, as soon as the SeaTac station opens, which it already has?

      2. Norman, why don’t you actually do some research on your own? Sound Transit posts ridership reports regularly – you can answer all of this.

      3. I figure there are people here who know the answer without having to research it, so it would require no effort for them to just type the answer here. I also thought people on this forum liked sharing information like that with the public.

      4. Norman, you always want people to back up their data, so why would you take someone’s word for it versus just looking it up on your own?

      5. This is a stupid argument to pick with Norman, there are lots of other arguments to have with him, but him asking a question is not one. Sometimes facts like when this ridership projection is for are hard to find on ST’s website. I believe, however, that I saw something a while ago that said it is for June.

      6. Norman:
        “So where does January fit in? How should January compare to October, for transit systems, normally? Would you expect January to be lower than October? Higher? About the same?”

        Sounds like he’s asking for hypotheses/predictions – not data mining.

        I for one, with little background, would expect January to be lower because there’s Martin Luther King Day, New Year’s and just that general post-holiday malaise. One wakes up on winter mornings and drives sometimes. Just a hypothesis.

      1. Ben, Norman is wondering why ridership is traditionally up in October, not questioning the fact that it is or isn’t. And a quick glance at the last few fourth quarter ridership reports from ST don’t give any reasons why October should be busier than any other month.

        Norman, my only thought for why October would see an increase in transit use is that’s when UW and presumably some of the other schools start up. Worsening weather might also see more folks opt to use transit instead of walk or bike.

    2. Norman,

      I believe October is a big month because there are no major holidays, school is in session, and very few people are taking vacation. Moreover, it hasn’t gotten so cold and dark that people aren’t willing to stand outside and wait.

      I suspect Link might see a different pattern. I suspect the high will be in the summer, because it doesn’t serve all that many schoolkids and I think there will be a big bump from people going downtown in the evening for Mariners games and other activities. But that’s speculation.

      Also I think all of these factors are and will be overwhelmed by the employment numbers.

      1. The APA (and, by extension, APTA) don’t necessarily say that October is a high month for transit, just that it becomes an outlier because it’s the last full work month AND is used as the leading month in most quarterly reporting standards that include two low transit usage months.

        Do we know any nerds who have that recent APA encyclopedia of planning? The huge glossy one with all the pretty pictures. It talks about it in the sections about transit ridership.

      2. Actually, Link does serve a lot of school kids, from what I have seen. You are right about M’s games helping ridership, however.

        I expect a big jump in February, partly from the 194 being eliminated, and some from the Olympic games in Vancouver, which are bringing in some air travelers to SeaTac. Also, recently, there has been a large surge in the nunmber of security personnel riding on Link trains, due both to the tunnel stomping video, and due to the Olympics. I saw a DHS guy riding a Link train in the tunnel, and he said they were doing that because of the Olympics — they think the Olympics might attract some bad guys to transit in Seattls.

        Overall, I would say the January ridership figure is tepid, at best.

      3. Norman,

        IIRC the schools that are served are Franklin and Rainier Beach (sort of). Most attendees are along the Rainier corridor and so take the 7. Even among those on MLK, the bus youth fare is cheaper and so tempts a lot of kids to take the 8. The 8 also takes you to RBHS’s doorstep, unlike Link.

        But I don’t have data.

      4. You are right that along MLK Jr Way, the bus is better than Link for many trips.

        At certain times of day — around 2:30, I think — lots of kids from Franklin High board Link trains at Mt. Baker. Many of these kids ride only to Beacon Hill station, where they get off. I am talking groups of 30 or so kids boarding each Link car on north-bound trains. I assume this happens over a period of time, and not just on one Link train per day. I have seen it happen around the same time on south-bound Link trains at Mt. Baker station, also.

        I have never exited Link at Mt Baker at that time of day and just stood on the platform for an hour, counting how many high school kids board Link trains over the course of an hour, but I suppose I could. It is sort of an interesting question to me, but not sure if it’s worth an hour of my time to check out. I wouldn’t be surprised if Franklin High kids total several hundred boardings per day — half in the am going to school and half in the pm leaving school.

        Sort of wish I had not brought this up. Now, I’m almost obligated to sit at Mt Baker station some afternoon and count high school kids boarding Link trains, which is not something that excites me. Anyone here feel like doing that, and letting us know what you find out?

      5. I really don’t think this kind of detail matters enough to invest an hour in it. The number of high school kids doesn’t prove much of anything one way or the other, certainly not in the worth it/not worth it debate you have with people here.

      6. I know that quite a few Garfield students who live in the Rainier Valley ride Link to the 48 or 8 every day. And once a little while after school I saw several dozen Franklin students waiting at the SB 36 stop across the street from Beacon Hill Station, although I suppose they could have taken the 38 lol. Students who live 2.5 or more miles away from their school get a bus pass from the school, and the school district negotiated a deal with Metro/ST to have those passes be valid for full fare on Link, despite their 75c value, so it isn’t more expensive for a lot of students.

      7. Excellent video and photo, Oran. I think that pretty much confirms what I have seen from riding Link trains past Mt Baker station around 2:30 or so — lots of teenagers board trains in both directions around that time of day. Pretty long dwell time with that many teenagers boarding one train. By the way, did anyone hassle you for taking pictures at that station? I take pictures on Link trains occasionally, and I once had a Franklin High kid accuse me of taking her picture, and she was not pleased about it. I just wanted a shot of all those kids in one car — not of any particular kid. But one student took offense.

        I don’t really feel like spending an hour at Mt. Baker station, either. But, the only way we are going to have any idea of who is actually riding Link trains is to find out ourselves. I see no indication that ST plans to come out with this sort of detail.

        And I do think that would be interesting to know. But, even if I spent an hour counting kids at Mt. Baker, nobody on this blog would believe my figures anyway. he

        I think it might be more interesting to spend an afternoon at SeaTAc station, and count about how many people are boarding there, and how many of them are coming from the terminal, and how many are coming from the neighborhood or bus stop. But again, even though this would be interesting to know, sitting around counting people coming across the sky bridge from the airport and coming across the sky bridge from the bus stop is not my idea of an exciting afternoon.

  3. Between the economy’s general impact on transportation ridership and automobile traffic and it’s particular impact on redevelopment along Link in south Seattle, I don’t find these numbers troubling at all.

  4. We can start making real (as in meaningful) comparisons this coming fall when we have a full year of data for this-month-last-year measurements. That will take into account everything that influences ridership in a given month of the year: summer months, people ride more to the sports stadia, and get out more in general, so of course raw numbers will be higher than the damp gloom of the winter months, when people stay in more to stay warm and dry. Seems like common-sense statistics to me.

    1. and the late arrival of Seatac station won’t necessarily help the cause of sound statistical practices, either.

    2. Given the economy and the sometime slowness of some Northwesterners to adopt to anything new, could we please stop fussing about this untiuk say, January 2012? Far too many brain cells and far too much space on this blog have been used endlessly discussing a few hundred riders at station X and few other hundred riders in Month Y. Can we please give it a rest and focus some more brain-power and blog-power on some really important issues like that tunnel and that 520 bridge proposal?

  5. Oh, come on now! This was supposed to be the month that got all the upswing from the new airport station!

    To say that it only went up 1 percent and is *below* a month when there wasn’t airport access is just reprehensible since for months you guys went on and on about “waiting for SeaTac” access.

    1. John,

      It went up 8%, as the Times article indicates. Read my December ridership piece and see if your comment about “waiting for Seatac” is accurate.

      1. And ridership will go up even more since Metro didn’t do their re-routing until partway through February. The first good month of ridership data will probably be March.

        Note that SeaTac Station was on time – actually it was early if you consider ST’s promise of “end of December” to mean the last day of December.

      2. I think ST’s “revised” estimate for last December was 14,913 — not the 14,,639 you quote. That lowers the % change slightly.

  6. I know this is a transit blog, but I have to wonder about the usefulness of posting the monthly Link ridership numbers. It seems like every time they are posted, the conversation pretty quickly devolves into a) “what were the numbers supposed to be again?” or b) “monthly data is meaningless right now – we need to get a solid year of service beneath our belts first” of c) “there’s lots of good reasons why the numbers aren’t currently as high as they should be” or d) “the numbers are never be as high as predicted. Link is an unmitigated failure! We just need more roads/more BRT/more !”

    I’m a big fan of this blog, it just seems like the conversation around Link ridership numbers never advances very far…

    On a related note, what happens if 2 to 3 years down the road the Link ridership numbers still aren’t meeting to the projections? Do they scrap the line? Stop work on U-Link/East Link? Spend more money on marketing? Or is the main potential impact of not hitting projected ridership numbers a loss of public mindshare and increased ammunition against future efforts such as ST3?

    1. I would doubt that they would scrap the entire project. Besides it’s only one portion of the entire planned rail system.

      Note: I’m not calling you out Keith, just making a generic observations since I’ve moved out to the NW and I think it falls inline with your initial thread. You raise great points on what others will point out on this blog.

      It really irks me that people here in the NW fail to see what can actually be accomplished with a fully functional *multi-modal* transit system. It will take more than just one rail line and a few months to realize this. Look at NYC, DC, London, Paris, Tokyo, etc. They all rely on multiple methods of transportation; they all have multiple rail lines that have their own dedicated right of way; they all utilize buses. More importantly, they have transit systems that work and move people to destinations in a quick manner.

      You cannot tell me that the buses here are quick when it takes me close to an hour to get to Alki Beach from Queen Anne or 30 minutes just riding the 3/4 to downtown to go barely 2 miles. And somehow that is acceptable here and we ignore other alternatives.

      I really hope that ST can ignore the nay-sayers and NIMBYs and press forward with their plans. We can’t let the results of one line determine the future of public transportation here.

      1. I recently used the Long Island Railroad and the “Train to the Plane” in NYC and I agree with you.

        The LIRR is a far cry from what I remember growing up…sleek modern cars, airline style seats, quick travel with few delays, trains showing up on time and running all day long.

        The Train to the Plane (JFK) is actually well integrated with Jamaica Station (which is also a subway stop).

    2. Keith,

      Since the July numbers came out I’ve said every single time that the numbers are essentially meaningless, and anyone drawing definitive conclusions about Central Link from these is a fool. But judging from the length of the comment threads, people are interested, and as the post says it is an interesting parlor game.

      1. Wait, so when this system was sold to the people based on ridership, those numbers made sense.

        But now that it’s already bought and paid for, suddenly it just doesn’t matter?

        Are you sure you guys shouldn’t be in the used car business?! Bait and switch…cut and run?!

      2. Well first, Central Link was never supposed to be the high-ridership portion of the system. At least in comparison to the ridership of the Downtown to Lynnwood portion of the system. I’m more than willing to put those up against any light rail system in the US. Even if that line falls short of expectations by the same percentage that Central Link has the ridership will still be very good.

        Second Central Link is getting far more riders than any bus line in the region. So again it isn’t what was expected, but it is still isn’t bad when put in context.

        Finally what would you have ST do? Stop all work on the rest of the Link system? Stop running Central Link, sell off the cars, and pull up the tracks?

      3. You say that Downtown to Lynnwood is going to be the high-ridership segment, I’m just curious, have they come out with any Northgate-Lynnwood ridership projections?

      4. There are some numbers for Lynnwood-Northgate in the PSRC long-range plans, the ST long-range plan, and the issue paper ST did of LRT on 99 instead of I-5. Of course the numbers are a bit rough at this high-level of planning.

        As I recall in 2030 about 55,000 riders per day will be crossing the county line on Link. Considering that exceeds both the 2030 numbers for Central Link from Stadium South and East Link I find that rather impressive.

      5. Wow I hope they get those numbers, that would be great. I suppose already there are a ton of buses going at peak times from Lynnwood Transit Center to Downtown.

      6. Chris,

        You said, “I find that rather impressive”.

        I find it rather delusional. Where are those 55,000 riders per day going to board and alight? There are only going to be two stations north of the county line at that time. Those are gonna be SOME bus queues.


        Not “a ton”. Not even a hundredweight. In fact, there are exactly 21 on CT between 6 AM and 8:30 AM when service ends southbound in the morning and about the same number northbound in the afternoon peak.

      7. Hey, I’m just stating what I’ve seen in the PSRC 2030 plan and in the ST issue papers. I admit I was a bit surprised. I’ve also heard from ST staff that the plan for the North Line is to make the Lynnwood TC the “new Northgate”.

        On the other hand the population density and transit share for downtown Seattle commuters in South Snohomish County is higher than you might think. Furthermore there are a fair number of buses in both CT and ST paint jobs crossing the County Line on I-5 every day. I don’t know the ridership or the bus count but those buses are certainly are full entering and leaving downtown Seattle during rush hour.

        I suspect the plan is to eventually turn all of those ST and CT runs from Snohomish County to King County at the first Link station they run across on I-5.

      8. Don’t forget about the Snohomish-UW CT commuter routes. There are about 30 during peak that pass by either Lynnwood or Mountlake Terrace P&R on I-5.

      9. The ridership numbers that matter are 2030 and beyond. That’s usually what’s used to sell the system.

      10. Right. The system was sold on ridership estimates that can’t be confirmed until a decade or two after the system is built. Ridership estimates for 2030 are patently absurd. They are no more than guesses, at best, or simply propaganda (just pick a number that sounds good to voters) at worst.

        How can anyone possibly have any idea about anything in 2030? When we voted on the first Link segment back in the 90’s did anyone foresee the “great recession” hitting in 2009? And, by the way, when we voted on this Link segment 15 years or so ago, what were ridership projections for 2010 back then?

        Basing multi-billion dollar investments on what may or may not happen in 2030 is foolish, to be kind. There are all kinds of things that could happen in the next 20 years which could alter transportation in ways that nobody can envision today. Twenty years ago, how many people were telecommuting?

      11. Well those future use projections are used to sell road projects too. What if they’re wrong and nobody uses the 99 tunnel or the 520 bridge in 20 years? Is it worth the billions of dollars these projects cost?

        On the other hand it is a pretty safe bet that over time the regional population is likely to increase, density will increase, traffic congestion will be worse, and transit ridership will increase. At least these are the assumptions anyone doing transportation (and other) planning in the region are making.

      12. Not true. The 99 tunnel and 520 bridge are being sold on the current viaduct and bridge being unsafe. The new ones are being built for now — not for 2030. We are being told we need to build them as soon as possible. The bored tunnel is actually a reduction in capacity compared to the viaduct.

        I think this is total bs, myself. I think the viaduct would last for another 50 years, with just a little reinforcement. I think the bored tunnel is a terrible waste of money. The 520 bridge might more urgent, though.

        But those are “replacement” projects, to keep the highways we have operating. They are not new highways.

        But, I would agree that nobody can predict how many vehicles might be using any highway in our area in 2030. A lot can change in 20 years.

      13. Norman,

        There’s a lot of space between “there is great uncertainty” and “it’s pointless to try to guess.” Using consistent methodology, it’s possible to evaluate the relative value of various projects, which is ultimately what we’re trying to do here.

      14. Norman,

        Seriously? Do you have any engineering qualifications to pass the judgment that “with just a little reinforcement … the viaduct would last for another 50 years”? Because as it happens, I do, and given the design and construction of the structure there is just no way “a little reinforcement” would prevent another Cypress Freeway-style collapse in the magnitude of earthquake this region’s geology is capable of producing. There’s also that other wee little issue that the structure continues to settle, but I suppose that’s just a minor detail.

      15. Marin: So what is WSDOT’s estimate for number of vehicles that will use the new 520 bridge or the bored tunnel in 2030?

      16. Dave, I attended presentations by retired highway engineers who I believe actually built the viaduct, and they were convinced that the current viaduct could be retrofitted and last several more decades.

        If we get a large earthquake, a lot of infrastructure in this area is going to fail. Can’t prevent that. In the last earthquake only a couple of sections of the viaduct suffered any damage. Most of the viaduct was not damaged at all. Those sections which were damaged have been repaired and reinforced. Just drive south on the lower level of the viaduct and you can see the piers which have been reinforced.

        The viaduct is no longer settling at all. The few piers that were settling had “micro pilings” put around the original pilings to shore them up, and that has worked perfectly to stop the settling.

      17. “Basing multi-billion dollar investments on what may or may not happen in 2030 is foolish, to be kind. There are all kinds of things that could happen in the next 20 years which could alter transportation in ways that nobody can envision today. Twenty years ago, how many people were telecommuting?”

        Like flying cars, jet packs, teleportation, etc?

        As long as the horizon year is set at 30 years forward, adding new lanes to the freeway will always be the answer.

        There is no need to ‘sell’ a new lane, or build density around the access points. It’s just there, and you immediately get 2000 ‘new riders’.

        One of the interesting conclusions I came to when we did the C/B analysis on the I-405 Corridor Program was when it showed the alternative chosen (2 lanes & BRT in each direction), paying off within the 30 year horizon, things returned to the situaation as they are now just about at the 30 years. What was interesting was that 3 lanes each direction (Alt 4), and 1 lane each direction & Light Rail (Alt 2), had the same c/b ratio. It was negative, but still the same.

        I remembered the civil engineering quote I heard on a documentary about the Mississippi River, and the attempts to control it. “Given enough money and concrete, anything is possible.”

        What I realized is that you could build either system, with about the same payback, but the question really is:

        What do you want the place to look like when you’re done?

        By the way, the payback time for Alt’s 2 & 4 was in the 30-40 year timeframe, not 50+ as is the common perception.


    3. [whining about comment policy]

      The one number that has not yet been presented is paid ridership. Where are the LINK card and ticket vending machine sales numbers?

      1. I’m actually quite curious about this myself. Of the dozen or so times I’ve been on the Link (Westlake to at least Othello) I have only asked once to show my fare.

        I realize the payment system is a bit screwed up because buses also run in the tunnel, but this system will inevitably need to be changed. We can’t continue on the honor system.

      2. The honor/validation system works well all over the world. There is no reason it can’t work in Seattle too – we aren’t any more or less dishonorable than anybody else.

        I think the main problem with the system is short term. Most Seattleites aren’t as worldly as they would like people to think they are, so this idea of pay-before-you-board on the honor system actually confuses a lot of people, and it doesn’t help that buses are free in the DSTT but Link isn’t.

      3. Actually, honor based fare collection systems do about as well for fare compliance as turnstile based systems. Even with no fare inspection most people will pay the proper fare most of the time. As fare inspection increases fare compliance goes up. You don’t need to check every rider for every trip, just often enough that most riders are afraid of getting caught.

        Is it possible to ride Link without paying? Sure it is, but eventually you will be caught and you will have to pay a $124 fine too.

      4. I ride the sounder several times a week.

        I would say that only 1 in 10 times have I been “carded”…and of those times only in the last month was my ORCA card verified with a handheld reader.

      5. On one ride from Seatac to Westlake I was asked for proof of payment three separate times by three separate sets of fare inspectors, and personally saw at three people fined for riding without proof of payment. I can guarantee that they’ll make sure to pay their way before riding again.

      6. Here’s your info, courtesy of ST/PITF.
        Total Revenue for 2009 was $2.4 mil. The monthly trend shows ORCA sales increasing through the end of the year, as expected.
        Average fare paid is 97 cents.
        Average cost per ride $8.72 (excluding dep. and debt)
        Farebox recovery rate: 11%

        Average Weekday boardings for Central Link in 2020 estimated at 42,500 (page 24, attachment 2 of FTA Full Funding Grant Agreement, executed on 10/24/2003)

      7. Average Weekday boardings for Central Link in 2020 estimated at 42,500 (page 24, attachment 2 of FTA Full Funding Grant Agreement, executed on 10/24/2003)

        I believe the 2020 numbers assume the completion of U Link. Those two stations are going to add a lot of riders to the DSTT portion of Central Link and a few more to the stations South of there.

      8. No, that’s not right. Central Link ridership is projected at 40,000 in 2016, (before U Link opens), so the 42,500 in 2020 would be about right for normal increases expected by growth.
        Central Link did 2.5 million boardings in 2009 (half year) and is projected for 9 million for next year. That’s a really steep curve IMHO.

    4. The discussion generated by the posting of monthly Link ridership may be pointless, but it’s still interesting to know. You don’t have to pay attention to the comments if you don’t want to.

  7. Anecdotal information is worth about as much as you paid for it. But having said that, I am noticing more and more people on Link when I ride it now. I generally do not ride in the peak direction at peak time — in fact, I often ride around 10 or 11 at night. And I am seeing a lot of trains even that late at night with most of the seats full — at least, in the car I’m sitting in. That’s pretty impressive for a late night run.

  8. My admittedly subjective, non-statistical observation is that trains seem fuller in Feb, maybe as a result of the Feb bus changes. It will be more interesting to interpret the Feb and March ridership numbers.

    1. With the Federal way 577 running express all day direct to Seattle instead of having to take the 174 to the LINK, I would expect some less than expected ridership.

      1. Uh no. I ride the Fed Way-Seattle route quite a bit and I can tell you no one was taking the 174 from Federal Way to a Link station. The only exception is probably those who catch that bus closer to Des Moines, and I doub ttheir habits would change any because backtracking to FWTC won’t save them any time.

        What has changed significantly is the discontinuation of the 194. There were many people who took the 194 to the airport all the way through January. I don’t have a good estimate on how many more riders will be on Link now that it’s gone, but I would be surprised if it didn’t have any impact at all. I know I’ve seen a lot more people with luggage getting on those trains at Westlake than I did a month ago.

      2. Your statements seem to be contradictory, are you saying that you think the deletion of the 194 has increased ridership or decreased it?

      3. Since the change was not until early feb, it wont be fully reflected until March’s numbers are in. I think you’ll probally have just as many LINK riders on that segment as you did on the 194 however, not all riders from the 194 will make the switch, but others will be attracted by the benefits of light rail to make up for it (Frequent service, fixed infrastructure, etc)

  9. The 21,000 figure is boardings, not riders, a extraordinarily common error that I’ve seen even transit agencies goof up. For all we know, they could have been projecting one person to ride around 21,000 times in a day, though that’s impossible.

  10. Just thing everyone has missed here, which has a potential for increasing ridership quite a bit is the bus tunnel. What about all those riders taking buses from one tunnel stop to another. What if there wasn’t any buses in the tunnel? What if there was only light rail? There are thousands of daily riders that continue to use the buses, most likely since they’re free and more frequent than the trains. If these riders were taking link from tunnel station to tunnel station, I am sure you’d see a large increase in ridership.

    1. A lot of people are already riding Link trains from one tunnel stop to another.

      But, if this sort of trip increases, what good does that do? As you note yourself, those are trips that people are currently taking on buses. How does putting those very short trips on Link trains instead of buses benefit anyone?

      By the way, those trips within the tunnel are supposed to be paid trips on Link, whereas they are free on buses. I doubt anyone is currently paying for those tunnel trips on Link, but if ST starts enforcing fares on trips within the tunnel, that will hurt a lot of people who now take those trips for free, when buses stop running in the tunnel, and those free trips have to be paid for. Those people may just take free buses on surface streets instead of paying to ride Link inside the tunnel.

      The fare on Link for any trip inside the tunnel is $1.75 for adults. That’s pretty steep for riding a few blocks.

      1. “How does putting those very short trips on Link trains instead of buses benefit anyone?”
        Well, for one thing they won’t have to wait for a bus. For another, they’ll move to the high-capacity rail and won’t clog up the slow-loading buses.

        “The fare on Link for any trip inside the tunnel is $1.75 for adults. That’s pretty steep for riding a few blocks.”

        I completely agree. Plus you have to pay before you go down to the tunnel, which may mean you’re paying yet riding a bus. Meaning probably almost nobody pays – they either wait for a bus or steal a ride for a stop, risking a ticket.

        By the way, has anyone heard of any rider getting a ticket for riding for a single tunnel stop?

      2. Back in the autumn I saw inspectors get on at Westlake and ask a guy for Proof of Payment which he did not have. Thye started writing the ticket before we got to University Street and pulled him off the train there. Silly exercise which seems to have stopped; now I see most inspectors south of Intl Dist Station.

      3. “Well, for one thing they won’t have to wait for a bus.”

        In the tunnel, buses came about every 50 seconds on average before Link started. Link trains come every 7.5 minutes at the most frequent. So, if you are talking about “wait times” in the tunnel, they were shorter with buses only.

        I agree that nobody who is riding Link inside the tunnel is paying for that trip. And, around 15 percent of all Link boardings are people who only ride within the tunnel. I don’t think those tunnel trips should even count as “boarding” for Link, since they are meaningless.

        If you don’t count trips which begin and end inside the downtown tunnel, Link boardings for January were about 13,600 per day for trips that began or ended outside the downtown tunnel.

      4. Where did you get your 15% figure? How do you know that nobody in the tunnel pays? How many of these people have passes? How many people swiped upstairs, then took a bus?

      5. I ALWAYS tap in and out when I ride the train the the tunnel, and whenever I use the tunnel I use Link.

      6. If you have a pass of some form “paying” $1.75 for a trip in the tunnel isn’t a big deal. It also isn’t a big deal if you are transferring from or to another service within 2 hours.

      7. Right, but does either of these apply to the majority of downtown single-tunnel travellers?

        I have no idea, but when I worked nearby a tunnel I’d use it every day to get around the city (this was before Link was running). I didn’t have a pass and wasn’t transferring.

      8. I have asked several people who got on north-bound Link trains inside the tunnel (which means they had to get off inside the tunnel, also) why they chose to ride Link, when buses are free inside the tunnel, and every single one of them told me they thought the Link trains were free inside the tunnel, also. In other words, they were not paying for riding Link, as they should have. One person even volunteered to me that, if she had known she was supposed to pay on Link, she would have waited for a bus, instead of paying for Link.

        I think most people just believe that Link is free inside the tunnel, and the ones who know it isn’t free, know that they are not going to be checked for fare inside the tunnel. But, I don’t think anyone is actually paying to ride Link just within the tunnel, as they are supposed to. And trips within the downtown tunnel represent around 15% of all Link boardings.

      9. Norman,
        What source from Sound Transit do you have that trips within the downtown tunnel represent around 15% of all Link boardings?

      10. Norman,
        I’d imagine quite a few people riding Link in the tunnel have passes, so it costs the same to them as a bus (that’s why I ride Link in the tunnel). Also, everyone I know knows that Link isn’t free in the tunnel… there are signs and announcements to pay.

      11. I get the 15% figure from my own station-by-station boarding counts on well over 100 Link trips now, at all times of day and night, in both directions. A lot of people who ride just within the the tunnel get on or off Link trains at International station — they get on north-bound trains there, and off south-bound trains there.

        ST should have boardings at each station, but they have never divulged that information, to my knowledge.

        Any one else have a different number?

      12. So you keep track of not only how many people are getting on and off, but where each individual person got on and off? I don’t think I’d be able to do that for one trip, let alone a hundred.

      13. No. That is not necessary. On south-bound trains, everyone who gets off inside the tunnel, traveled only within the tunnel. On northbound trains, everyone who gets on inside the tunnel travels only within the tunnel. Not necessary to keep track of individuals.

        So, on northbound trains, total of boardings at International, Pioneer Square, and University stations = total number of trips within the tunnel. On southbound trips, total number of deboardings at those 3 stations = total number of trips within the tunnel. Not necessary to keep track of individuals. Just trips within tunnel divided by total boardings on each trip.

        And I write down my departure and arrival times at Westlake and SeaTac. Thas is how I know the averager trip time for that trip on Link is about 40 minutes.

      14. Link relieves buses from the task of getting many Sounder riders to and from King Street Station. Remember standing loads and long wait times at stations before Link? Or on surface streets when the tunnel was closed for the retrofit?

        These riders may consider their ride in the DSTT on link “free” if they use the ORCA card. But it is the capacity of link to easily accomodate peak loads even for short distances that shines here.

      15. These might be many of the people who ride Link just within the downtown tunnel, then. Is that what you mean? They just ride Link trains between International station, and other tunnel stations? Or what?

        So, are you saying that buses always arrive at International station full, but Link trains never arrive full?

      16. Its another poorly thought out nuance in ST’s new regional fare policy. With the placement of the Pylons for ORCA you cannot decide to ride “whatever comes next”. You have to tag onto LINK ahead of time, or take the bus. I suppose you can ride link and hope the fare inspector dosent come aboard…

        Of course i always thought the distance based thing was kinda odd for LINK as well. I cant think of any other system off the top of my head that has a distance based structure like LINK’s. usually they seem to be a flat fare vs Zone or distance based as in ST’s case.

  11. I really don’t pay any attention to month-to-month ridership. Year-to-year is more meaningful and I’m sure those will go up as more local along the line take to the trains. Now, when again are the trains going to three cars from two? I hope we don’t need to wait until U Link service begins for that. When Sounder began, there were very few trains compared to today. So ridership of course went up when more trains were added. Trains can’t be added to Central Link, but the length of trains can and that alone will increase ridership. But let’s be blunt. Except for those who are going to the airport and those who live along the line, there is not too much excess potential for that segment. Except for train fans like me who like to ride the line just for the fun of it, there will be many hundreds of thousands in the area who will never ride that route. BTW, I plan to visit Kubota Gardens in the spring. Instead of driving, I want to take Link and get off at Rainier Beach station and walk from there. How long would it take me to walk?

    1. We have to wait until U Link begins because the Pine St Stub Tunnel (where the trains reverse direction downtown) is too short for 3-car trains because of U Link construction. And plus, I don’t think we have enough cars. Lol you seem to be saying there isn’t much potential because the only reason people would ride it is to get to the neighborhoods and airport along the line, isn’t that the case with all transit routes?
      I think Kubota Gardens is about a mile from Rainier Beach Station, so 15-20 min.

      1. Thanks for the info. I only meant that there is not a whole lot of places of major interest between downtown and the airport. No zoo, no university or college, no malls (southcenter anyone?),no parks, no major tourist attractions, etc. from SODO through MKL to Sea-Tac. Nothing that would bring a major influx of non-residents and non-air passengers. So any talk of large numbers on this particular stretch is IMHO not too realistic.

  12. The interest of some people, friends and enemies alike, in parsing month-to-month ridership data never ceases to amaze me.

    I wonder if highway watchers 45 years ago had the same interest in month-to-month traffic fluctuations on the initial segment of I-5 (which didn’t go to the airport, btw). I think not.

    1. Indeed – where were all the “number crunchers” when I-5 opened and was almost empty (except at rush hours)) for a decade?

      1. You have the numbers on this? I’m curious since the common philosophy is that every road is built under capacity demand which of course fuels building more roads.

    2. Transit guy,

      I completely agree, which is why every post on this has the disclaimer at start.

      But people are interested, so we write it up.

      1. I don’t think most people care about month-to-month fluctuations in ridership numbers, other than for the fact that many Link supporters have been saying “just wait until bus schedules along MLK Way are changed”; “just wait until SeaTac station opens”; “just wait until the 194 is eliminated”; and so forth. I think that is the only interest in month-to-month numbers — that significant changes have been occurring which were supposed to have major impact on ridership numbers. I think a lot of people are very interested in February and March numbers, to see how eliminating the 194, and changing other bus routes is affecting Link ridership.

        But, my interest is not in month-to-month changes. It is in just ridership numbers in general. This is a $2.6 billion system that is averaging around 16,000 boardings per day.

        I also don’t think ST’s ridership projections are important at all. I just look at this:

        Central Link cost about $2.6 billion and it is averaging around 16,000 boardings per day.

      2. Dude, the investment in Link was not predicated on what the ridership was estimated to be 6 months after the system opened – it was predicated on what the ridership was estimated to be in 2020 and 2030.

        The current ~16K ridership is actually fairly immaterial (despite your attempts to make it seem otherwise).

      3. Norman,

        I agree that the month-to-month stuff is silly. I also agree that the “higher ridership just around the corner” stuff is silly, and I’d like to think I personally have mostly avoided it.

        If we spent $2.6b and flatlined at 16K/day indefinitely I also agree that would prove that Central Link was a poor investment, although it would still be a substantial increase on the buses that served those corridors.

        But of course this is but one component of a system to be built, and component that pretty much explicitly is dependent on more development in the MLK corridor to pencil out. As Central Link connects to more destinations and development happens, I think volumes will increase to the point that it will be a good investment. But of course that’s a subjective judgment you’re not likely to share.

  13. You are right about subjective judgment.

    What do you think the total ridership on the various bus routes which Central Link has displaced all or parts of was? Which routes would you say Central Link has replaced all or parts of? 42? 48? 174? 194? Not all of those? More than those? It’s not like Link has replaced just one or two bus routes.

    How many other routes were changed to funnel riders onto Link, basically forcing those people to ride Link at least part of their trips instead of buses? Link is getting boardings that are people being forced to transfer to Link, instead of staying on their bus. Thus, for those trips, there are twice as many boardings — one on the bus and one onto Link — but no increase in transit ridership, actually. Just people forced to board twice on one trip, instead of boarding just once.

    Of course, as more components are built, the cost will increase to well above $2.6 billion. The next segment to U.W. is supposed to cost around $1.9 billion for just over 3 miles, I believe, or around $600 million per mile. As more segments are built, the cost grows to several times $2.6 billion.

    1. It’s a complicated analysis. I tried to do it and basically failed. It’s difficult because there’s no route that exactly followed the path of Link. I think you get all the 42 riders that used to be headed downtown, and 194 riders on Seatac-DT. Also, a smaller number of people that used to take the 36, 39, or 106, but by no means all, because those routes cross Link rather than follow it.

      As a SWAG, I’d say the 36/39/106 diversion to Link is equaled by those who are taking buses to replace the 42 or 194, making it essentially 42+194, which IIRC comes out to about 8K.

      1. That level of detail will come in mid-2011, when ST fulfills a requirement of the FFGA, to report on 5 areas of before/after project criteria.
        That’s how FTA measures success of their grants.
        Where the riders came from, and how many new riders are part of that study.
        ST will have two full years of data under their belt to work with.

    2. If someone is being “forced” to transfer onto Link, that implies the service hours that used to take them downtown are going somewhere else, meaning that new riders are benefiting from the redeployed service.

      Surely you understand network effects. One $5 billion system is worth much more than two $2.5 billion projects that don’t connect.

      1. To further illustrate your point, Martin, how could one attibute an increase in ridership on Route 140 which now operates on a much quicker routing between Burien and Southcenter due to Metro’s ability to redeploy hours from Route 194 and create a new route through McMicken Heights where Route 140 used to go? That’s an increase in ridership on the bus system because Link was built.

      2. Exactly my situation. The closest bus route to me is the 8, but I almost never took it because it didn’t go south of Cap Hill after 7pm on weeknights and not at all on weekends. With the service hours increase for the 8 and its routing past 3 Link stations, it’s pretty easy for me to connect to Link when heading to the airport.

        Not to mention how nice it is to have a bus that’s 1/2 block from my house on one end and a short walk to the Columbia City Alehouse on the other. :-)

  14. When stop-level information is available, one could compare the total number of passengers getting on and off along Martin Luther King from before Link (Routes 42 and 48) and after Link (Link and Routes 8 and 42). Maybe getting the numbers this summer so that all the information is available from this current schedule can be collected (with the 8 running every 15 minutes) and comparing it to Spring 2009. It might be interesting to see if corridor ridership is up. Just a thought.

  15. Cyclist Mike said “I realize the payment system is a bit screwed up because buses also run in the tunnel, but this system will inevitably need to be changed. We can’t continue on the honor system.”

    lazarus replied: “The honor/validation system works well all over the world. There is no reason it can’t work in Seattle too – we aren’t any more or less dishonorable than anybody else.”

    While we like to think of Americans as honest, I got some interesting perspective on this in the last few years. (I hope I haven’t posted this already.) A while ago I ordered a book from a German bookstore online. At the end of the order process, they didn’t ask for a credit card. I thought that was weird, but figured maybe once they got my address they rejected the order because it was overseas. I figured the book would never show up.

    Some time later, the book arrived, with a notice in German that basically said “This book is our property until you pay for it. If the book is acceptable, please pay for it. If not, please return the book.” They sent a book overseas without being paid first, just trusting me to pay! I can’t imagine a modern American company doing this. (I know companies used to sell things “on approval”, but it’s certainly not common nowdays.)

    Then we went to Germany and I saw some other examples of people there being generally more trusting than Americans in similar situations — for example, being served currywurst and told “no worry, just come back and pay when you are finished eating,” while at a stand next to a train station where the seating table was fully out of view of the stand’s proprietor. An American fast-food cart operator in a busy, mobile location like that would have asked for money first to avoid a dine-and-dash. It really made me think, and wonder if our culture has gotten somewhat poisoned by distrust of others. Are we less honest than other societies, or are we just less trusting? Or both? And what does this say about Americans?

    I suppose that topic is far beyond the scope of STB. But when people argue that the honor system will never work, this is what I think of.

    (I think the honor system can work, and I believe most people are honest. But when the buses go out of the tunnel, I kind of wish we’d put turnstiles in the tunnel stations, just to help keep non-riding troublemakers out.)

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