Travelers buying Link tickets at SeaTac on snowy Monday

November’s Central Link ridership slightly declined from October, at 21,913 per weekday, 9,933 per Saturday, and 13,112 per Sunday/holiday, on average. Niles has the full ridership breakdown.

Ridership on the Monday before Thanksgiving is the second highest on record at 29,351 boardings. It is unclear what effect snow has on ridership, with the snow storm coinciding with one of the busiest travel periods of the year. Airport Link did not open until December 18, 2009. Ridership on Thanksgiving Day was low as expected, similar to last year since most are staying at home or out of town. Sunday likely had many returning home to and from the airport. Ridership returned to average the following Monday.

Ridership numbers for Thanksgiving week:

  1. Monday, Nov 22: 29,351 (big snow day, Metro on snow routes)
  2. Tuesday, Nov 23: 28,504 (Metro on snow routes)
  3. Wednesday, Nov 24: 27,352 (Metro on snow routes)
  4. Thanksgiving, Nov 25: 9,385 (Sunday schedule Metro and Link, Metro on snow routes)
  5. Black Friday, Nov 26: 20,283 (Downtown holiday parade and Westlake tree lighting, Metro resumes normal routes)
  6. Saturday, Nov 27: 7,359
  7. Sunday, Nov 28: 17,333

53 Replies to “November 2010 Link Ridership”

  1. I can speak for my family, at least, that Link was the best way to get out of the airport on that snowy Monday night. When we swung by to pick her up from Westlake around 10pm, there were around 50 others waiting for a ride as well. :(

  2. The 9,933 average for Saturdays is the lowest Saturday ridership of 2010, by over 2,000/day.

    The Sunday average includes 2 Seahawks games when the totals were 16,989 and 17,333. The other 2 Sundays had 11,762 and 10,089. There were 2 Seahawks games in December, and one scheduled in January, with a possible playoff game in January, also. There will not be any Sounders or Mariners games in January or February, and only one Sounders game in March. No Seahawks games in February or March.

    Without the 3 high-ridership days in the week of Thanksgiving, whether they were due to the holiday travel or the snow, the other 18 weekdays in November averaged 20,832/day, a drop of over 1,000/day from October.

    There were 6 weekdays in November with ridership below 20,000/day, compared to 2 in October and zero in September.

    Total ridership for November was 565,469, down from 595,325 in October, and 701,989 in July, the highest month of 2010. That is a drop of almost 20% from July to November.

    If December has about the same ridership as November, total ridership for 2010 will be around 6.9 million.

    I expect January and February 2011 to both have lower ridership than this past November, since there are no huge travel days in January or February. I think it will be interesting to see if ridership falls below 20,000/weekday in either of those months.

  3. A couple of points about Central Link that ‘should’ be important to transit activists here at STB, because ST doesn’t exist in a vacuum. They are competing with other regions for rail New Starts funding, and Patty can’t just keep delivering the bacon with the R’s in charge.
    First, ST’s Full Funding Grant Agreement specifies an in-depth, Before and After survey after two full years of operation to compare what they said they would do and what they are actually doing. That’s where a bad report will hurt, as other regions compete for the same dollars. Lower than expected results will likely cost ST big bucks when FFGA’s are sought for ST2 funding. As of now, with nearly 3/4 of the two years gone, ridership is well below forecasts. The FTA would be well within their right to demand the models be ‘re-calibrated’ for all future projects to reflect actual performance.
    Second, as posted in the previous thread, FTA has some rigid guidelines each agency requesting funding must adhere to (
    Among those are depreciation of assets. I know this quickey phrase serves a lot of needs to diffuse arguements, such as “were building a system for a hundred years”, but that doesn’t fly in DC, which is where it matters. I’m sure someone will post something similar to debunk this opinion.
    So let’s look at the cost per rider quoted in the previous post (3rd QTR Stats, by Martin).
    Yes, Link is below bus costs when only operating costs are considered. But the Before and After report looks at both bus and rail costs of providing transit service, and includes depreciation and amortization of debt as well as without.
    Now the costs diverge significantly in favor of bus. Instead of reporting Link lower than bus ($6.53 to $7.47), one must look to the ST 2010 budget for fully allocated costs for each, which accounts for depreciation and amortization.
    Now, under that light, Link comes in at $17.04 per rider v. Express Bus at $8.47, which is just about double. The report will also look at Metro bus service that Link replaced, which averaged less than $4.00 per rider, fully allocated.
    I’m sure somebody will shout, “It doesn’t matter”, we’re building for the future. Well, so is every other transit provider, and I can assure you, when it come to competitive grants, other states won’t be so shy about pointing all this out.
    I’m not suggesting we rewind the decision clocks, but they are ticking away, and ST better figure a way to get a bunch more butts in the seats to pull off 33,000 per month starting next week.

      1. The 2008 Operating Plan, called for 32,600 riders per weekday average for 2010 and 9 mil riders per year.(page 33) That was reduced in later years.
        The 2010 budget reduced that to 26,600 per weekday, and 8.1 mil/Yr. It will likely come in at about 7 mil/Yr.
        The 2011 Financial Plan, called for 31,759 riders per weekday average, and 10.3 mil/Yr.
        If the 2008 forecast is followed, then 2011 should have seen about 35,000 riders/day. Now that estimates have been lowered to reflect actual conditions (fully appropriate when budgeting I might add)ridership is expected to be less, therefore less cost to plan for.
        So I used something between the original ridership estimate and current budget of about 33,000 per day to have any chance of building ridership to the levels forecast to sell the project to the FTA. That seems like a fair thing to do, as this post started out talking about the Before and After study due out next year.

    1. [Dead-horse beating alert]

      It doesn’t help that Metro continues to have the 101/102/143/150 bypassing a natural truncation point at Rainier Beach Station to duplicate-head downtown. No, that won’t make up the difference, but it would be a start.

      But given that ST doesn’t operate in a vacuum, I bet other light rail systems are suffering from similar failures to meet projected ridership.

      The amortized-cost-per-rider, though, is an embarrassing fact of life at least until U-Link opens. I wonder if that amortized cost is projected to drop significantly at that point.

      1. Rainier Beach is not a natural truncation point.
        I take exception with the “alert.” Mike is not saying “no rail no how.” Sound Transit is not meeting forecasts. Period. This is a significant problem for future New Starts grants. If nothing else it means years of bickering between the Feds and ST over travel demand model calibration and validation.

      2. I think Brent was referring to a frequent suggestion he makes, not me.
        In any case, at least he acknowledges the problem and has concrete suggestions for improving ridership. If other supporters, including POLS, were as energetic, maybe those seats could fill up before the damage is done, and funding becomes another relic of the ‘good ole days’.

    2. Speaking of things that do or don’t exist in vacuums, Mike, what I never understand about these posts of yours is what leads you to presume the feds won’t take the worst-recession-since-the-Great-Depression into account when considering Link’s ridership performance. The factors that have led Link to fall short of its ridership estimates have everything to do with federal incompetence and nothing to do with local competence.

      1. Great question Jason. If they look at just the local ecconomy, then Seattle has weathered the recession better than the rest of the country, as a general rule. Our Unemployment only rose about 5 pct., and transit ridership and VMT’s were relatively flat during the period, indicating people were still moving about. Population grew, and sales tax tanked. So people were still working (90 pct), and kept moving about.
        Now, compare that to other transit agencies around the US. Kind of similar to Seattle. Transit revenues down, some service cuts to balance budgets, while demand remained pretty flat.
        I won’t fault your federal incompetence assessment of things, as I agree with you, so given were pretty much like everyone else, but Central Link is falling further behind its trajectory to 45,000 weekday riders, while other new starts are performing better than us, I think it’s fair to say that future funding will be based on peer system performance. That’s the part that leaves Seattle at a disadvantage for new money.
        Another way to look at it, is this. There are other regions with a lot worse economic conditions than us. Don’t they deserve a bigger slice of the FTA pie to help with their recovery? That’s the reality of politics these days.

      2. Mike, it’s not easy to squeeze out an argument for this at the federal level, but consider that the Rainier Valley has likely been hit significantly harder by the recession than the rest of Seattle. I would be interested in seeing the unemployment rate specifically within neighborhoods served by Link.

      3. Have to admit I’m not intimately familiar with how other new starts are faring since the start of the recession (in particular any where ridership estimates were made pre-recession but all service started post-recession) but my first response would be along the lines of what Sherwin said.

        Every study I’ve seen shows minority communities have been hit disproportionately hard by the recession. Seattle as a whole indeed fared relatively well, but how did Rainier Valley fare? On top of that, we know for a fact that gentrification has slowed to a crawl and that a large amount of planned commercial and residential development has been suspended.

        I certainly concur that if U-Link—serving affluent and well-developed communities—had been built first and were missing its ridership estimate by this much there would be much reason for a doom and gloom forecast.

    3. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the FTA has no business factoring in depreciation and amortization between Link and ST Express, and for good reason. Link is primarily a capital project, so the debt service would mean a naturally higher amortized-cost-per-rider. Should we be surprised by that?

      1. Let me answer it this way. If your VP of Marketing uses a car for sales, and the choice is a Hugo or a Rolls, then he darn well be able to justify the 10x the price tag between the two – citing some benefit to out weigh the cost, such as higher sales figures to pay for it.
        Rail cost a lot more than buses, but should deliver lots more bodies, at lower unit costs.
        Same Idea.

      2. I think a more apt analogy is taking a private plane versus driving on a long distance trip. Or taking business class versus coach on an international flight. You could be a bean counter and decide that you can report spending less beans on the quarterly report or you could be a seasoned CEO and decide that certain modes and choices contribute better in the long run to productivity and your overall objectives even if they cost substantially more. Ultimately, while we could count beans all day the strategic value of fix guide-way transportation systems to public objectives is far more than what a curmudgeon will conclude by counting fluctuating numbers of passengers on a train and observing behavior that is bound to be found in any public setting.

        And all one has to do is travel the 1.5 miles of the DSTT by bus versus train to understand the difference in comfort, quietness, and ease of egress and ingress between trains and buses.

    4. What’s that depreciation schedule? Depreciation is one of the oldest ways to cook the books. Traditionally, railroad assets are, in fact, depreciated over 100 years.

      I’m sure the Metro analysis fails to account for depreciation too. :-P It might feature bus depreciation, but it certainly doesn’t feature road depreciation.

      Frankly, whatever the results are, someone who wants to make it look bad can cook the books to make it look bad by using inappropriate depreciation schedules. I don’t think that’s a reasonable thing to try to fight.

      I will agree with you that if ridership isn’t meeting projections, ST will be required to recalibrate its ridership model, which could hurt its chances of getting funding later.

      1. ST uses 30 years for depreciation. After 30 years, rails and light rail cars have basically zero value.

      2. And Metro does not have to build roads. The roads are there anyway, whether there are buses on them, or not. Whatever improvements Metro makes to roads — stripes, signs, repaving, etc. — are included in Metro’s costs, of course.

      3. Zero accounting value. They would still have tremendous value if we don’t have to incur their full replacement cost.

        If the Great Northern tunnel under downtown was depreciated over 100 years, does it have zero value today? If the original Mount Baker tunnels were decpreciated over 50 years, have they lost all their value? Even though the SR-520 bridge is due to be replaced, it still has tremendous value until the day it sinks or is replaced.

        And in all cases, the value of the right-of-way is intrinsic and goes up in value over time.

  4. So did Portland’s MAX system or even Vancouver’s SkyTrain system hit 25,000 riders on their initial 15 mile systems in first year back in 1985? Was there immediate TOD around each of their stations? Were the bus lines immediately fed into the stations. I don’t know the answers, but I would say for Portland most likely it’s a no to each question and possibly for Vancouver as well, though they have a larger population base.

    Ridership doesn’t surge overnight and estimates are, well, estimates. This is down economy, but it is improving. Wait until you see ridership numbers once the price of gas goes higher and when employers start hiring downtown. In addition, get rid of the “ride free” area and watch LINK numbers rise, especially in the tunnel. Too bad more buses don’t “dead end” at the stations much like most in Vancouver. If that happened, you’d see ridership rise much higher.

    People are still getting used to LINK, having to take a bus, walk or ride to a station. It takes time, but it is happening. The numbers are higher than they were last year at this time and they will be higher next year at this time. IT’s a beginning and a good start.

    1. Don’t see much TOD around MAX in general even now… Although obviously not a problem up in Vancouver.

      1. I thought MAX generated billions and billions of dollars worth of “transit-oriented development” around its stations. You mean to say that this is not actually the case? Some MAX stations have been there for 20 years, or so, have thay not?

    2. You could be right, or you could be wrong. There are a lot of dynamics at work with Link ridership.

      For instance, I am seeing more and more “bad behavior” on Link trains. I don’t ride Link much any more, but it seems every time I do, I see something that is at least midly annoying.

      For example, I rode Link one round trip this week. On the way to the airport my car was the normal mostly-empty, and everyone could sit by themselves, without anyone in the seat next to them. One youg woman did just that, and sat by the window by herself. But, between International and Stadium, another woman got out of her seat and sat in the seat next to the first young woman, even though most seats in that car were empty. I could not hear what the second woman was saying, but the woman who had been sitting by herself replied to her, “no thanks” two or three times. So, I assume this second woman was trying to sell something, or maybe panhandling. That second woman stayed in the seat next to the first woman until the first woman got off at Beacon Hill, looking none too happy with her experience.

      On my way back from the airport, at Rainier Beach, a woman got on by herself and started talking very loudly, complaining that her teenage son would not get on the train with her because he said she was embarassing him. She was talking loudly enough to be clearly heard througout the entire Link car. Almost shouting, really. And she kept this up, just talking really loudly to no one in particular, until she finally got off at Beacon Hill. This was particularly annoying, and the sort of thing that people taking Link from the airport to downtown are not expecting, and do not appreciate, in my opinion.

      And, of course, there was the incident, which I did not personally observe, thankfully, of the woman who relieved herself on a Link car, both #1 and #2.

      If this type of behavior becomes more and more common, and it very possibly may, I think it is the sort of thing which will cause some people to stop riding Link. Then, it could have sort of a snowball effect, where fewer and fewer “white collar” people will ride Link, leaving more and more “loud-talkers” and “panhandlers” to take the trains over.

      We shall see what we shall see.

      1. This is the sort of thing some people use as a reason for not riding buses. If Link has just the same sorts of bad behavior that is sometimes seen on buses, then those people might refuse to ride Link also.

        Does this make sense to you?

      2. Maybe she was protesting the lack of restrooms near transit.

        Which reminds me of another dead horse of mine to beat: Is that lack of facilities by light-rail stations a ridership deterrent?

      3. There are restrooms at SeaTac and Tukwila stations. Unheated restrooms. With stainless steel toilets without moveable toilet seats. In other words, the toilet seats are stainless steel. In unheated restrooms.

        Try sitting on one of those stainless steel toilets when the temperature is about 40 degrees. A very “bracing” experience.

      4. “Then, it could have sort of a snowball effect, where fewer and fewer “white collar” people will ride Link, leaving more and more “loud-talkers” and “panhandlers” to take the trains over.”

        And grouchy old men scribbling passenger numbers in notebooks.

      5. I have never seen a grouchy old man scribbling passenger numbers in notebooks on a Link train. You think that would annoy other passengers if it actually happened? lol

      6. I had a lady almost puke on me on a bus. Projectile-vomit on the seat I had just got up from…

        Noone in the bus looked too happy as I exited the rear door.

    3. Only reference I could find only stated 19,500 average weekday riders in 1986, which increased to about 27,000 average weekday riders in 1996 (year before the 2nd line opened).


      Unfortunately, neither of these sources are official trimet, but their stats on their website only go back to 1999.

      Was there immediate TOD? No. Is there TOD? Yes, quite a bit, actually. Along practically the entire line… even downtown Gresham, the terminus of the line, has seen quite a bit of mixed use development occur, and more is on the way. And it was 11 years between the first line opened in 1986 and the second line opened in 1997.

  5. Claremont Apartments (a low-income project at Rainier & Walden a couple blocks from Mount Baker Station) is supposed to open in January, Station at Othello Park is supposed to open in February, and Tamarack Place, the low-income apartment building along MLK next to Columbia City Station, looks like it’ll be opening very soon. All in all that’s probably around 500 units, so an extra 800 or 1000 people living within a couple blocks of the stations. It’s not a lot, but it’s also not nothing, especially given that two of those are low-income and apartment-dwellers in general tend to use transit more. Hopefully we’ll see a ridership bump at the Rainier Valley stations because of that. Of course, I think Station at Othello Park is around 4 times the size of either of the others, so that’s where we’ll see the biggest bump.

    It sounds like the Artspace project, located around 10 feet from the Mount Baker Station platform, will be breaking ground pretty soon, and a developer talked in a recent Seattle Times article about how he’s looking at breaking ground pretty soon at more Columbia City projects. So the TOD is happening, and that will raise ridership quite a bit in the long term!

  6. TOD got slowed down because of nuisance petitions timed to delay upzones by a year. I voted for someone in the last city council election who is a leader in a no-growth-inside-the-city organization. I promise not to make that mistake again.

      1. The no-growth-inside-Seattle organization is the Seattle Displacement Coalition. They do some good stuff and some nutty stuff (like oppose upzones around rail stations).

        The candidate was Rev. David Bloom.

        If you see a candidate endorsed by John Fox, ask that candidate how he feels about transit-oriented development and densification. Rev. Bloom was pretty forthright that he was against it. I wish I had known that during the primary election.

  7. I’m curious about Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Last year T-day was about 1/3 of normal weekday ridership but Black Friday was almost 20% higher. This year T-day was up to 1/2 of a normal weekday but Black Friday was slightly lower than a normal weekday. I’m guessing higher ridership on Thursday was because of people getting out after having been snow bound earlier in the week. The drop of on Black Friday could be because of the economy but I thought retailers were reporting slightly improved sales over last year? Perhaps there were many people that took Link last year because it was a novelty but weren’t impressed enough to use it again? Or, it could just be that a lot more people are using Link during the week so it’s much harder to “beat the average”.

  8. Merry Christmas to everyone, and here’s to a Happy (Transit) New Year.
    If you were suddenly crowned ‘Transit Czar of Puget Sound’, how would you change things around to ensure that Central Link ridership grew to meet it’s potential in the coming months and years before U-Link opens?
    Brent had some interesting thoughts on route truncation. I don’t think there’s any shortage of potential customers, judging by the traffic flows on our freeways each day. Waiting for Peak-Everything to kick in isn’t being very pro-active.
    Maybe a separate post around New Years Day, hangover and all, would be good therapy.
    A well thought out, vetted shopping list of things that can be done would make for some interesting discussions with legislators on Lobby Day, this February. Making better use of our sunk costs in transit is always a nice way to start a conversation in Olympia. Begging for higher taxes is a sure fire way to get tuned out this year.
    Anyway, it’s just an idea.

    1. A lot of the biggest ideas involve lobbying the County Council or the ST Board, or just the transit planners, rather than tilting against the Olympia hot-wind mill.

      If the goal is to increase Link ridership in order to ensure our competitiveness for federal grants (a goal which seems more and more important as “earmarks” go on the chopping block), then the most obvious solutions to me are:

      (1) Have overnight service on the Link route, either single-tracked on the nights with the most potential ridership, or a shadow bus route, or a mix of both.
      (2) Give Allentown and the rest of the neighborhoods that have to put up with the RBS to TIBS segment a bus route to get to those stations.
      (3) Listen to South Park, and our desire to have the 132 go to TIBS instead of taking the much longer twisty-turny route to Burien. And then also give the good folks along that twisty-turny route quick access to both Burien and TIBS.
      (4) Allow more commercial advertising (such as that for new residences around the stations) inside the train cars
      (5) Streamline the tunnel algorithm and take a couple minutes off of Link’s travel time. This would allow the number of trains during off-peak hours to be brought down by one. (I believe, with seeing only one train at a time at Airport Station during peak hours, the number of peak-hour trains may have been dropped by one with this pick.)
      (6) Restrooms by more stations.
      (7) Add more signage downtown, including at bus stops, pointing the way to the tunnel.
      (8) Toll all the roads leading into downtown. [The Seattle City Council has the power to do this.]
      (9) Even if wait+travel time increases a little, go ahead and truncate the routes than can be truncated easily at Rainier Beach Station. Besides helping Metro meet its bus-hour reduction goal, this will help ease up congestion in the tunnel. [I assume most of you have seen me beat this horse to death.]
      (10) Clone Norman!

      1. Thanks Brent for some really good ideas. I hope one of the bloggers picks up on the idea of a 1/1/11 ‘lets fix link’ posting. It could get really interesting, with just a few simple ground rules.
        Constructive, Positive ideas only.
        Realistic ideas (which leaves out an army of Normans :) or chaining prisoners inside each car to boost ridership – it wouldn’t take many.
        I’m working on the economics of a “Pre-Paid-Partners” program on some weekends. Lord knows every household has given mightily, so a few give-back weekends to say thanks wouldn’t hurt, and maybe they would try it on the weekdays.

      2. Thanks for bringing up the urgent need to raise ridership on Link or lose buckets of funding, Mike.

        One proposal I forgot to list, which I am pushing with the city’s Transit Advisory Board, is to add trolley wire from Rainier Beach High to RBS, to complete the #7 loop with Link.

        I hope the TAB can collect ideas and take seriously the threat to Link funding.

        Merry Christmas and Merry Festivus!


      3. Good idea. I’d use a couplet of Cloverdale, Renton Ave, Henderson, for bi-directional travel to meet link at Renton/Henderson. It’s a two block walk to RBS, not bad, and doesn’t require the trolley wire to cross the catenary. Alternately, replace the buses with the off-wire ones, and make the turns on MLK, with a stop directly at RBS.
        I’d also eliminate the wire up to Prentice, and use motor coaches for that segment. It’s a trade, but a good one.
        That idea alone, would feed lots of riders to Link, going both North and South.

      4. Duh, of course the 9 route is far better. Less wire, direct connection, no wire conflicts, simpler, one crossover, all right hand turns, buses already doing it, built in ridership, ….. on and on.
        Three heads are better than one, especially when one isn’t paying attention.

    2. The 9 has a lot less frequency than the 7, especially during peak hour, when the loop back to RBS is needed most. I brought up the 7 as the route needing to loop to Link because it is still the trunk line on Rainier and 9 is the less-frequent interline to Capitol Hill.

      There are a lot of permutations on the theme of how to handle The Missing Mile, so now hopefully the City and/or County can take a look (and not punt it to the TAB to issue a philosophical statement about it, some time long after the 2-year period is up).

      The proposals for realigning all the Rainier Valley routes had interesting points, but all I’m really looking for is a simple fix to a simple lapse that turns a potential southbound-to-Link trunk-line into a 2-bus ride (I refuse to keep using the phrase “2-seat ride” because such a ride is experientially much more like a 1-bus ride than a 2-bus ride, since there is, at most, one long wait.) or a long wait.

      1. I think the 9 routing to RBS is great, only using the 7 buses to use it, even to the point of eliminating the current layover spots and loop back on Henderson in favor of letting RBS be the terminal to start and end the 7’s, with the layover wire on Trenton. Anyway I’ve gotten way deeper in the weeds on your great idea than I intended. My apologies, Sir.

      2. No apologies are necessary, kind sir. I appreciate having someone else tag-team in running with this ball.

        The details about how to avoid the catenary/trolley-wire overlap are an essential piece to bringing the 7 to its natural new terminus.

        I offer my apologies to you for glossing over and misreading the intent of your last comment, good sir.

        Mayhap the New Year be one of increased efficiency, productivity (except for CO2 reflectors), and comradery on the passenger locomotive!

      3. Any time. If you want to bounce more ideas off me, I’d be glad to engage off the blog. I’m a retired trolley driver, and my wife recently a retired Metro route planner, so we do have a little insight.

  9. It’s pretty obvious, that if link light rail reached every town and neighborhood in Greater Seattle, just imagine how much better Seattleites could cope with snowstorms and blizzards. If rail could connect this entire region, this city wouldn’t have to come to a stand-still whenever it snows.

    I bet BRT was stuck in the snow while the Link Light Rail was screaming by at 50mph. INVEST IN RAIL! NOT ROADS AND BRT!

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