"Link and SR599", by Atomic Taco

October’s Central Link ridership was down slightly from September, at 22,079 per weekday, 14,010 per Saturday, and 12,323 on the average Sunday. As we head into holidays and bad weather, it seems likely that July’s 24,145 will be the peak ridership for 2010.

Although I’m told October is a peak month for transit system-wide, it may very well be that summer has more demand on an airport line.

47 Replies to “October 2010 Link Ridership”

  1. My completely unscientific analysis of sporting-event driven ridership. Still seems to be somewhat of a trend with Sounders fans riding Link.

    Sounders home games:

    10/2 (Sat.) 16,800 (highest Saturday in October)
    10/5 (Tue.) 22,059 (US Open Cup Final, not a full 36k Sounders crowd)
    10/12 (Tue.) 22,947 (highest Tuesday in October)
    10/15 (Fri.) 25,954 (highest single day in October)
    10/19 (Tue.) 22,546 (meaningless Champions league match, low attendance)
    10/31 (Sun.) 12,472 (playoffs, not sure why the ridership was rather low except that being Halloween may have hurt non-game riders)

    Seahawks home game:

    10/24 (Sun.) 15,037 (by far the highest Sunday in October, ~20% more than any other Sunday, but this was the only Hawks home game of the month)

    1. October 2009 ridership was 16,129 (weekdays), 12,307 (sat), 11692 (sun). That’s a fairly impressive y-o-y boost.

      1. You do realize that the SeaTac Link station was not open last October, right? The SeaTac station opened December 19, 2009.

        You think it’s meaningful to compare Link ridership in October 2009 without a station at SeaTac to ridership in October 2010 with SeaTac station operating?

        Last month about 30% of all trips on Link either began or ended at SeaTac station.

      2. That shows something interesting: there’s been a large boost to weekday travel, a much smaller boost to weekend travel. Is that all SeaTac? That would be odd and would indicate that the airport is not that popular on weekends. Or it could be that commuter usage is starting to build — commuter usage does tend to build slowly.

      1. Among the other variables is the concentration of population to the North and East considering the airport’s location and access points.

    1. It’s underground, so it runs full speed and more frequently than Link. The suburban commuter buses were reorganized to meet it rather than competing with it.

      By the way, here’s the official frequency: 5am-11pm: 4-6 minutes, 11pm-1am: 10 minutes.

      1. Sam wouldn’t be too happy with reorganizing suburban commuter buses that way. He would say it “artificially” increased use of the Canada Line.

      2. Sam can pay for commuter buses that parallel the train.

        Although I do think transit fans sometimes get too excited about eliminating one-seat rides. The longer the common segment is, the more consolidation is justified. Surrey and Federal Way are obvious. Rainier Valley, Renton, and Bellevue are borderline. It’s easier to justify it at a bridge, for instance the U-district (3 miles) and Bellevue (10 miles). But it’s less easy to justify it in Rainier Valley even though parts of it are further than the U-district.

      3. Surrey and Federal Way are obvious.

        When Link reaches them. If you’ve tried going from Federal Way to Seattle with Link only going to the Airport (I have), the time is almost double that of an express bus. The trip on the 577 is about the same as the Airport-Downtown segment alone.

      4. The Canada Line is actually slower than Link. It’s perceived to be faster because there is no mammoth freeway between YVR/Richmond and downtown Vancouver to compare it to, or to run express buses on. People in Vancouver also don’t seem to be turned off by transferring the way people here do, although there was a fair amount of grumbling when all of the express buses that used to offer direct service to downtown were terminated at Richmond Brighouse station.

        For comparison both Richmond Brighouse and YVR are only 9.5 miles from downtown Vancouver via the Canada Line, compared to 15.6 miles from SeaTac to downtown via Link. The trip on the Canada Line takes 25 minutes and 36 minutes on Link.

      5. The Canada Line is also in a tunnel most of the way, so you can’t see cars creeping past the train going a couple miles an hour over the speed limit.

      6. Sorry, I wasn’t thinking clearly about Federal Way. I meant that transfering to a trunk route there is a good idea, rather than having all the far-south buses come to Seattle. And the express buses will probably be needed even after Link because Link becomes time-uncompetitive somewhere around Des Moines. (Sam of course would say that Link becomes time-uncompetitive around Othello, and would reinstate the 194.)

        Link south of 200th will be faster than Link north of 200th due to being fully elevated and wide stop spacing, but it’s unclear if it can make it to Federal Way in 50 minutes. (It’s already 37 minutes to SeaTac.) So Link will mainly be for medium distances, not Federal Way to downtown. Except for people who hate the freeway or worry about freeway bottlenecks.

  2. To be honest, I’m not sure I see Link’s numbers increasing that much before University Link opens in 2016. Development in the RV is slow, and there just isn’t enough density.

    Can you imagine how much ridership would in crease if there were stops in Belltown and LQA? I know it would require a ridiculously expensive tunnel, but that 1-2 miles between Westlake and LQA would double ridership, IMO.

    Commuter system, commshmuter system. There need to be stops in Belltown and LQA. There are two of the densest neighborhoods in the Northwest and they are very close to other dense neighborhoods nearby, not to mention top bridge and tunnel destinations. I live in LQA, if I could hop on th light rail easily Id go to Columbia City way more often

    1. I disagree. I think we will continue to see slow but steady gains in ridership on Central Link. The density is there, and people will continue to adjust their commutes and in-fill development will continue (slowly) to come on-line.

      And don’t forget, as we come out off the Great Recession the vacancy rate in DT Seattle will drop. Currently the vacancy rate is at about 20%. Just getting that down to even 10% will represent thousands of more commute trips in and out of DT. That will surely boost Link ridership without any need for new construction or TOD.

      I wouldn’t do anything to extend Link to LQA at this time – it’s just not a priority and wouldn’t add nearly as much ridership as the Cap Hill/UW line will add, and it certainly wouldn’t compete with bringing Northgate on-line. Bring the monorail into the general fare/transfer structure and call it good for now.

      1. I’d suggest running a streetcar line along 3rd Ave. from end to end if we want to see increased ridership along there. It could use the same stops that already exist there. Heck, if it were to use a trolleypole with the existing overhead, capital cost would primarily be tracks, vehicles, and a loop at each end.

        Ah, dreams. I doubt it’d ever happen.

    2. Aaron,

      I would love it if our bus system(eventually LINK system) would travel to Seattle Center/Queen Anne from outlying areas. I know many of my co-workers here near Seattle Center live on the Eastside and would love to be able to take the bus, but there’s no way they want to take one bus to downtown when they get off work around midnight then wait for the bus to take them to Bellevue or Kirkland. For myself, I have to drive either to Northgate or along Greenwood to take a bus into work.

    1. Hmmm.. Big ladder,……low flying airplane,…..really good jumper, ……fell off the roof,
      I give up.

  3. Does anyone have recent South Lake Union Streetcar ridership numbers? I could get them from Ethan if you’d like? When the plaza is completed connecting light rail, streetcar, monorail and bus…we may see a bump. Once the First Hill Streetcar goes in, I am sure we will see numbers grow on the Central Link line. And when this recession is ever put to bed and more development occurs along the Link line as well as better bus connections, this will also contribute to higher ridership.

    My biggest gripe, and I will continue to gripe about this, is there needs to be an additional station at Graham Street. I would also love the Boeing Access Rd Station built (but this is out of ST’s control) and a station at 133rd in Tukwila, which will have to be included in ST3. The addition of these 3 stations will increase ridership.

    1. I would guess that the numbers for the SLUT have been rising since June when Amazon.com started moving from the Pacific Medical Building to Paul Allen’s new digs. Amazon employs a lot of people. I think there are 3 of 6 buildings filled at this point and that they will continue to fill over the next couple of years as the leases on the old space run out and the new buildings are finished.

  4. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/flatpages/businesstechnology/timeswatch2010.html

    You may have to click on “Travel and Transport” under “Times Watch” to get to the charts I want to link to, which are: SEA-TAC PASSENGERS and HOTEL REVENUES month-by-month in our area. These charts should give a pretty good clue as to how Link boardings at the SeaTac station might vary throughout the year.

    In the SeaTac passengers chart, it shows that July (3M domestic) and August (2.9 M) are easily the two highest months for travelers into and out of SeaTac, and January (2M) and February (1.8M) the two lowest.

    In the Hotel Revenues chart, for Downtown Seattle, it shows that July ($150/room) and August ($146) are the two highest-occupancy months, while December ($57) and January ($64) are the two lowest-occupancy months.

    What this suggests to me is that Link boardings at SeaTac will likely continue to fall the rest of this year, and bottom out around December, and January-February of 2011.

    Also, as Alex documented, weekday pro sports events in Seattle are now over for 2010, as far as I know, until next spring, so that will have a downward effect on Link attendance, although most of that has already been felt, with Mariners games basically ending in September (there were only 3 M’s home games in October 2010: the 1st, 2nd and 3rd of October).

    So, I would expect to see further declines in Link ridership in November and December, as tourism in our area continues to decline heading into winter. If we get any really bad weather this winter, which some forecasters are predicting, that will also likely have a significant negative effect on Link ridership — even if Link trains keep operating in a snow event, many people won’t be able to get to and from the stations, and a lot of schools and businesses will close, anyway, so there will be no reason to travel if there is heavy snow.

    1. Great post Norman. I wonder if previous years are so cyclical, with such large swings in both airport and hotel usage between winter and summer months?
      RapidRide A ridership is supposed to start reporting data at the end of this month, or so their blog says. It will be interesting how they are meeting their targets of a 50% ridership increase in just 5 years.

      1. I don’t know where to find them online, but I have seen these same charts in the Seattle Times Sunday paper for years, and both SeaTac and downtown hotels are cyclical every year, just like they were the past 12 months. The numbers change, of course, but the peak months are always in the middle of summer, and the valley months are always in the winter. I doubt this comes as a surprise to anyone. I just wanted to document this here, and show how dramatic the swings are from summer to winter.

    2. Yeah good info. I would add at there is a good amount of holiday travel but mostly family related so people are more likely to be staying with people they know, not in a hotel.

  5. Day by day Central Link ridership is plotted at http://www.bettertransport.info/pitf/Linkpassengercount.htm.

    Ridership on Central Link is down for the 3rd consecutive month.

    It’s pretty clear now that the 2010 ridership target of 8.1 million is going be missed by about a million riders. Blame the recession, right?

    In response to a previous comment, I’ve also created a chart from U.S. DOT National Transit Database data showing the monthly ridership on all of Seattle-Tacoma’s street railroads, a pdf linked at http://twitter.com/JN_Seattle/status/4636644535697408 .

    1. But system ridership compared to same period last year is up and the overall trend since system start is up. The system is still very new and we don’t have enough experience to gauge long term trends and seasonal variations are reasonably expected.

      I’m intrigued by the idea of an intermodal station near Boeing Access Road that if combined with frequent Sounder service (e.g. at least hourly) and bus service (at least 15 minute intervals to Southcenter/Tukwilla) could have a major impact on ridership and displacement of auto traffic.

    2. And from personal observation, the train that passed me last night in the tunnel was seat full and standing but with room.

      I would expect that with the rainy weather the Southend bicycling group is switching back to LINK. That may not be all that many riders but it has some effect.

    3. John, can you also include Sounder and Monorail ridership as well, since they are also technically trains. I’m curious what the daily ridership for all 5 systems would equal:

      Central Link – 22,000
      SLU Streetcar – 1,800
      Tacoma Streetcar – 2,800
      Sounder – 10,000?
      Monorail – 1,700?
      Total – 38,300 (my estimate)

      Wasn’t the Waterfront Streetcar averaging 1,000 a day when it was mothballed in 2005?

  6. Because of it being the holidays and the expectation of a snowy/stormy winter should make December’s ridership be the greatest. Light-rail will be the only form of transportation in the Greater Seattle area that can run efficiently in snow… in a snowstorm Link’s ridership will sky-rocket.

    1. I predict just the opposite. In a snowstorm, nobody will be able, or willing, to get to and from Link stations. SeaTac airport might well be shut down, so nobody will need to get out there. Schools will be closed, so nobody will need to get to and from schools. And many businesses will be closed, so those people won’t need to go to work.

      And, I think it’s questionable just how major a snowstorm Link will be able to operate in.

      How far would you walk in a snowstorm to get to a Link station, and why would you do it if schools and many businesses were closed?

      1. All the schools and many businesses were shut down during the snowstorm two years ago, but people got out and were on the street, and in spite of Seattle’s grossly inadequate snow response effort. Same will happen in the future, and as has been noted, Link will continue to operate — essential switches now have heaters to keep them ice-free and operational, and trains can be kept operating around the clock so the tracks and overhead wire don’t ice up to the point of disabling the system.

      2. The number of people “out and on the street” during the worst of the snow event two years ago was far less than the number of people out and about during “normal” winter weather. Many people just stayed home. The same thing will happen during the next bad snow storm in Seattle.

        I almost would like to see a (short-lived) major snow storm in Seattle this winter, even though I hate snow in Seattle, just so we can see what happens to Link ridership during a snow storm, and so we can see if Link, indeed, can operate a normal schedule in heavy snow. Speculating is entertaining, but it’s always interesting to see a real-world event play out.

        One thing I wonder about Link in freezing rain and snow is how the elevated sections ill be affected. Bridges always freeze over badly in very cold weather, because the cold air is underneath the road (track) bed, as well as above it. Ground level roads and rails have the relatively warm earth below them to keep the temperature from getting too cold. But with cold wind circulating all around the elevated tracks, there will likely be snow and ice accumulating on those elevated tracks between each train that goes by. I would think this might affect traction between steel wheels and steel rails.

        But, we don’t know what the effects will be up to now.

      3. Hopefully Link will run fine in the snow. As for ridership, we can wait and see. People did go out during the snow but they stuck to their own neighborhood. Some people will still be going to work, and the valley floor is flat so people near MLK and Rainier will be able to get to the station. Not east of Rainier though. But people not working will mainly be going to supermarkets and restaurants, and Link is not well suited for this within the valley unless you happen to live near a station and your store is near another station.

      4. It’s quite rare for rail lines to shut down in snowstorms (tornados and hurricanes and mudslides are another matter). Main causes I’ve heard of, from common to rare:
        (1) Frozen switches (eliminated with switch heaters)
        (2) Power lines downed (requires sticky, heavy wet snow).
        (3) Workers unable to get to the rail line
        (4) Rails cracked due to freezing (very unusual with modern tracks)
        (5) Amounts of snow so large, falling so quickly, that they can’t be cleared with available equipment (I don’t think Link has a blower train; does it have a snowplow?)

        As noted before, iced rails and wire can be cleared by simply running trains along the track, except under very specialized circumstances — and most designs of ordinary train can plow away a normal rate of snowfall, even if it goes on for a long time.

      5. I think the opposite would be true. It would be easier to get to a Link station if you’re in its walk-ability zone. . Also, you could spend 2 or 3 hours trying to get to the airport by car in snowy/icy weather or your friend can drop you at a link station and you’d get there much faster. You could take a taxi to a link station and pay less in fare than going all the way to the airport.

      1. There are plenty of Northern European cities with street-running trains that have no problem with regular snowfall. I don’t know why everyone thinks that Seattle and Link are so unique, all they have to do is copy what has been done a hundred times before and everything will work fine.

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