Sounder ORCA Locomotive, by Joshua Putnam

Sound Transit’s second quarter ridership report out, which covers all of its services, is out. Sounder and Express Bus ridership is basically flat since 2Q 2009; Tacoma Link is way down; but the system’s overall ridership is up 47% because of the opening of Central Link, which now carries over half as many riders as the entire ST Express bus system.

On the other hand, all of ST’s modes aren’t meeting productivity targets set in the 2010 budget over the first half of the year. And ST is still using a pretty bizarre definition of reliability for Link, one that it’s failing with a miserable 77% on-time rate. The report points out that by a much more sensible headway-based metric (+/- three minutes) the performance was over 90%, not in my view good enough for rail, but much better than the headline number. See the 1st Quarter report for discussion of these reliability numbers.

20 Replies to “Sound Transit 2Q 2010 Ridership Report”

  1. If the definition of reliabiilty is that it leaves either Seatac Airport or Westlake stations >1 minute late, it would be interesting to know what are the numbers for each origin. If it’s mainly on time at Seatac, and the delays are mainly at Westlake, it would be possible to infer that conflicts with buses are causing the delay. Maybe if the time were expanded to 2 minutes, this metric would give a more useful picture.

    I agree that endpoint arrival metrics or headway metrics would be more useful.

    1. In fairness to ST, the 2nd Qtr on-time ratio is getting close to 90%, so improvements are indeed underway – ‘growing pains’.
      I parked under the Tukwila segments in two of the biggest curves last week, and no wheel squeal at all, just ‘whoosh’. Nice

  2. Does ST release boarding numbers on a per-station direction? It’d be interesting to know how people are using Link. Trips to/from the airport? As a downtown subway? Commuting to work?

    1. There might be some information on that in the 2011 Service Implementation Plan. They typically give bus boarding and alighting information in that report. It would also be interesting to see some data about connected trips that they should be able to get out of ORCA data.

  3. Cost per boarding seems to be a potentially dangerous metric.

    I imagine that the typical Sounder passenger travels 20 or more miles (primarily Kent, Auburn, Sumner, Puyallup and Tacoma to downtown Seattle.)

    I don’t know what distance the average ST bus passenger travels, but the number lumps together quite a mix of distances. ST 550 is 8-10 miles Bellevue – Seattle. ST 545 is maybe 15 miles Redmond – Seattle. Routes like the 590 series are more like 30-40 miles.

    Looking at cost per boarding without considering distance traveled could give very distorted information. In addition it doesn’t consider the revenue generated. Maybe a figure like unrecouped cost would be better.

    As for Link, another question is what costs are included. If full costs of maintaining the right of way are charged, then that will prevent an apples comparison to buses where they are not charged for maintenance of the roadway. Link costs per rider are shown as dropping as ridership increases. (Q2 @$6.75 vs. $7.13 year to date)

    1. From the Report(takes a bit of math to get it though and knowing how many vehicles make up the typical train ((2 for Link))really helps.
      Avg veh. trip length: Bus-26 miles, Link-15 miles, Sounder-31 miles (all approx)
      Avg Pax trip Lth on Link is about 7 miles, or half the total route distance. I’m guessing that bus and CR are somewhere between 1/2 and 3/4 the total trip length.
      As far as cost per mode, Link includes everything except depreciation and amortization of the loans. Adding road costs to bus numbers is only a direct cost IF you have to pay it, which Metro or ST don’t – directly. It’s a hidden cost, yes, but false accounting to say something you don’t have to pay should be charged to you. If that’s the case, there’s a boatload of charges that could be made against Link (construction carbon emmisions, fuel, etc) but nobody really wants to get that lost in the weeds, or at least not me.

      1. I come up with the same numbers. I would argue that track maintenance should be part of O&M for Link (and I’m guessing it is) since it is ST’s responsibility and Buses get a pass. For Sounder the track maintenance is built into the cost of leasing the ROW. What I’d really like is to see a breakout of Sounder North from South.

        Buses do a better job of cost per passenger mile if costs for dead heading are included in the total cost of O&M (which I think they are). Buses are the clear winner in areas served. How many ST Express stops are there in the system? Link is a single fixed route with a small number of destinations. Cost per passenger mile isn’t the end all however. The cost per mile in the CBD is very high on a marginal basis. So you have to assign a much higher value to providing that service than running down I-90 from Issaquah; especially during peak commute.

        It’s hoped that U Link will be more productive and have a benefit to Central Link so system wide cost of boarding should decrease. East Link will replace one of the most productive ST Express routes which will likely raise the average cost of boarding for ST Express. The question then becomes one of which mode provides the service for less.

        When you divide out the number of riders per trip and then use the multiplier of .5 for Link (two revenue vehicles per trip) you get an average ST Express route carrying 29 passngers per bus and each light rail car carrying only 35. Most trips would do just fine with single car trains (or a bus). Rail scales up really great. Unfortunately it doesn’t scale back (wouldn’t save much to run single car trains). Both modes (on average) have lots of excess capacity. Link needs a huge bump in ridership to benefit from it’s ability to scale up. ST Express has adequate capacity and the ability to cheaply provide new service where ever the demand might arise. It’s much better positioned to quickly take advantage of a future spike in fuel prices. And scale back when, as has always happened, oil prices drop.

  4. Tacoma Link is going to continue to take the hits, especially once Frank Russell completes their move to Seattle. This might provide an uptick for Sounder though.

    Sounder’s biggest challenge is to attract more ridership that connects from the bus system. The parking lots are all full, and thus any ridership increases will be based on the ability to add connecting bus service and/or encourage users to carpool to the stations.

    1. I see many many more UW Tacoma students commuting with Tacoma Link than anyone else.

      Of course, the vast majority of them are parking for free at TDS and using Link as a shuttle.

  5. Interesting that SLU Streetcar and Tacoma Link ridership are getting closer each month. I remember the Seattle line averaging 900+ riders a day and the Tacoma line averaging about 3,000 riders. That’s sure changed.

    I don’t think Russell moving may affect Tacoma Link that much and maybe, like another blogger stated, may help the Sounder and even Tacoma Link as well. If some of the Russell workers continue to live in downtown Tacoma, they may take Link to Sounder to Central Link everyday to commute. Not a bad thing for these people…get a cheaper place in Tacoma and enjoy the effortless commuting.

    1. It’d surely be better than a similar bus commute, but I wouldn’t call any 80-minute commute effortless.

  6. An interesting comparison would be to the Metro route #194 reliability from this standpoint: I hesitate to ride Link to the Airport due to its (what I think) high unreliability rate (23%, although I thought it was closer to 30%). If I’m going to catch a flight, all it takes is one problem along (most-likely) the long surface segment of Link, and I’d probably miss my plane, even aiming to get there 2 hours ahead of time. What was predictable was that this would be a problem given the unfamiliarity of dealing with trains for motorists and pedestrians alike, aside from mechanical breakdowns, the latter which one would expect. While the #194 used I-5, the on-time comparison of getting to the airport would be fascinating, at best a comparison of the same times of year.

    1. If they were to take the buses out of the tunnel, or build an adjacent tunnel for light-rail only, the reliability-rate would be 99% and the speeds inside the tunnel could double since the train won’t have to wait for the buses to move.

      1. Actually, the opening of U-Link may solve that problem, but not in the way we want.

        Right now, buses take twice as long at the platform, due to less doorspace. But once Link has passengers deboarding from one side of town and boarding to go to the other side of town, the train will take roughly twice as long at the platform as it does now. So, the platform time should even out.

        Nor will doubling the length of the trains create any pressure to push buses upstairs, since buses and trains aren’t allowed to use the same platform simultaneously.

        I don’t foresee the bus traffic in the tunnel being lightened up in 2006. I do foresee the 520 routes (255 and 256) terminating at UW Station, and some of the 70-series routes no longer going downtown, creating some space. But there are other routes in line to push downstairs as traffic upstairs becomes more untenable.

        I see the continued joint use as a good thing for Link ridership. With more buses in the tunnel, more people will have an easy transfer to Link. I don’t think there would be much time savings from removing the buses, anyway.

    2. “I hesitate to ride Link to the Airport due to its (what I think) high unreliability rate (23%, although I thought it was closer to 30%).”

      What do you mean “high unreliability rate”? There have been what, 8 or 9 blocking accidents in over a year of operation, and most have been cleared pretty quickly. Considering there are several hundred trains per day I’d say the reliability is pretty good and the probability that you’ll make it to the airport is pretty high.

      My bus has broken down twice on I-90 this year, yet I still take it to work every day.

  7. How do the numbers for ST buses routes specifically designed for rush hour commutes from the exurbs to downtown Seattle compare with LINK?

    So, include 577 Federal Way to Seattle, but exclude Kent-Bellevue.

  8. “[Light-rail] carries over half as many riders as the entire ST Express bus system.”

    Now the anti-rail morons get the truth! Build us more light-rail! I wanted to take the light-rail from Bellevue to Seattle yesterday, but I remembered there are 10 more years left. Ugh.

    1. You are arguing that a person going from Seattle to Bellevue would not take an express bus, but would somehow take light rail?

      More likely the route isn’t worth much to most people at all, and they should run even less buses and not build light rail at all except in the most dense parts of Puget Sound (hint: they already did).

      1. “You are arguing that a person going from Seattle to Bellevue would not take an express bus, but would somehow take light rail?”

        He’s stating it as a proven fact, actually — *he* would not take an express bus but would take light rail. It’s more typical than you imagine.

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