2010 Average Daily Link Ridership by Month

Sound Transit has released updated ridership numbers for Link.

Since the SeaTac Station opened in mid December 2009 this is the first month that we can compare ridership numbers for a full year. The figure above shows average ridership and the figure below shows total ridership aggregated by month over the last year. To me the thing that jumps out most is the large variation of Saturday ridership. I’m not a sports person so someone please tell me how this relates to events at Safeco and Quest.

Total ridership graph after the jump.

2010 Total Ridership by Month

Ridership peaked in July and was lowest in January and February, although I’m sure that is a reflection of relative newness of the SeaTac Station. I don’t expect year over year ridership comparisons to be useful for at least 3 or 4 months for that reason.

In general I think we’ll see employment based ridership, an important component of weekday ridership, follow the same trend as downtown oriented bus service, with added variation from summer travel driven by SeaTac, weekend sporting events and other events downtown.

51 Replies to “Link Yearly Ridership Trends”

  1. The weekend shift can probably be explained simply by holidays. My guess would be tiny ridership on the Saturday after Thanksgiving followed by a stronger than normal Sunday, high ridership on December Shopping Saturdays, and the fact that both Dec 25th and 26th counted as Sundays. Given so few days in the sample (4-5 Sats/Suns per month) that’s probably enough to produce that seasonal flip.

  2. The chart on this page is fairly ridiculous, since it does not adjust for the different number of weekdays in each month. For example, there were 21 weekdays in Sept., Oct., and Nov., but but 23 weekdays in December. That is why there was higher total weekday ridership in December than October or November. However, the accurate gauge of ridership, AVERAGE boardings per weekday, fell again in December to its lowest level since April.

    Average boardings per weekday in December: 20,968. That is down almost 1,000/weekday from November, meaning that average weekday boardings have fallen every month since peaking in July.

    What I get for total ridership for Central Link in 2010 is: 6,965,146.

    What I get for average boardings per weekday for 2010 is: 20,972.

    Did ST put out those figures? If so, what are the official numbers for total boardings in 2010, and average weekday boardings in 2010? If not, what numbers did this blog come up with?

      1. I don’t see where ST totaled up ridership for 2010, or calculated average weekday boardings for all of 2010. Do you have that information? Or, is it on that December ridersihp sheet, and I am just missing it?

      2. Unless you want to split hairs I would just add up the Weekday, Saturday and Sunday ridership for each month and call it good.

    1. I don’t know why you are so worked up about ridership. Boardings data always vary. The truth of the matter is that the number of users is a measure of tertiary significance. What’s important is the TOD, and with continued SHA investments that is increasing.

      1. I think it goes without saying: The first priority of public transit is providing access for folks between locations. Development consequence are a benefit but not the number one goal. That being the case everyone measures transit effectiveness by some measure of ridership. An individual data point of riders per month may be of secondary significance but overall trends are crucial. If transit ridership doesn’t rise, over the long term I don’t most folks are going to consider LINK worth the investment. That’s critical because we’re not done building the system out and the voter’s are going to be asked to fund future phases.

        Even measured across the axis of development and I admit the time scale and economy make this hard to measure yet, the continued SHA redevelopment of New Holly, Othello etc. is not much to boast about yet. This process started prior to LINK being constructed and is totally publicly funded. Until wide spread private development occurs we won’t have much TOD attributable to LINK. TOD should theoretically also accompany rising ridership (although not necc. the reverse).

        Put another way if density were the only goal all the the money spent on LINK would have been more effectively spent on a combination of development incentives and zoning changes and across a different area than the MLK artery.

      2. Does any of it matter at all, since it’s already built, they’re building more of it, and presumably they cannot stop building it.

        You might as well write articles about how much you dislike I-5 for all the good it would do you.

    2. Norman, this curve looks a lot like most annual ridership curves, except that the year-end on a stable-ridership route looks just like the year-beginning before it. You can see we ended the year higher than we began – ridership is increasing. There’s an annual cycle, and accepting that is an important part of the path to making useful comments here.

      1. Ridership is nowhere near where ST projected it would be. I suspect you are aware of this.

        Also, on this blog in July, there were many posters who assumed that average weekday ridership on Link would continue to increase every month, indefinitely, as it had from January through July. I actually predicted that ridership would fall after peaking in the summer, while many other posters thought it would just keep increasing. One popular opinion at that time was that October would be the peak month, I assume because maybe that is the peak ridership month for Metro buses?

        So, I’m not sure what your point is, considering that ridership has declined since July, just as I predicted.

        There is a pretty good chance that average weekday ridersihp will be even lower this month (January, 2011), than it was last December. As someone already wrote on this thread, it will be several months before year-to-year ridership comparisons are meaningful.

        I would be curious to know what you expect average weekday ridership on Central Link will be in July, 2011, for example. In July, 2010 it was about 24,145/weekday. That was the highest monthly average in 2010. ST is predicting a very large increase in 2011 compared to 2010. What is your prediction?

      2. You’re right, the ridership is lower than expected, and there are a lot of reasons for that, the economy being the biggest. I don’t expect a huge ridership jump in 2011, but I do expect that each month will be at least a few percent higher ridership than the same month in 2010. We’ll see.

      3. My prediction is that more people will ride it as time goes on and more stations are opened. How’s that?

      4. If Link follows local trends in other transit modes, then January should show a significant increase over the July-December losses.
        Overall, bus ridership in the region is nearly the same as 2008, but the trend for buses is a drop from Oct-Dec, then a 10% jump in Jan.
        I’ll let others play crystal ball, but just note that ST has only 6 more months to get some good numbers in the can, before they have to publish their ‘before and after’ study with the FTA. That’s where all this matters, as New Starts grants for ST are hanging in the balance. Those funds are even more competitive with the R’s holding the purse strings, and many other transit systems are competing for the same dwindling pot of money.

      5. Ridership increases in 2011 will mostly depend on external factors: employment, gas prices, tourist arrivals, nice weather, even Mariners attendance. If any of you are equipped to competently pick those, you’re wasting your time hanging around on STB.

        Longer term, development, natural sorting of people who like rail into the SE, and more Link lines will improve ridership on the existing segment. Before then, those trends will be swamped by short-term dynamics.

      6. The monthly ridership trend for Tri-met’s light rail lines MAX looks very similiar to Link’s with a peak in July. I don’t know how to set up the link for you, but it is available through their web site. I would think the summer peak is due to tourists and families on summer outings for both systems. Maybe some sporting events as well. Portland’s AA baseball stadium is on their line.

  3. I think the Saturday “shift” is really a return to normal (Sat. exceeds Sun. demand) after the snow related anomaly in November.

    1. Saturday exceeds Sunday availability (of transit), not demand. People go out on Sunday as much as they do on Saturday, but on some routes there are only half as many buses. Sunday morning may be a low point as people sleep in and go to church, but by 1pm it’s in full swing as you can see in the parking lots and highways.

  4. I was referring to the “Total Ridership Graph”, not the chart on the top of this page, which does show average weekday boardings.

  5. I would expect a weekday drop off in December because of the huge number of people that take vacation time between Xmas and New Years. Last year the numbers were flat because Airport Link openned mid-month to provide a boost.

    1. Yeah, and you can see it in the ridership reports agencies release for other systems. Sounder sees a similar curve.

  6. The November valley may have a little to do with the roll-out of one-car service on weekends. I remember Erica Barnett’s OMG-people-are-having-to-stand! photo and editorial. Others may have been thinking the same and avoiding the train, until they realized the trains were nowhere near crushload. But the numbers recovered quite nicely in December, vindicating the decision to right-size the trains. (Or did Link go back up to two-car trains on the busiest shopping weekends?)

    It would be interesting to see week-by-week comparisons showing whether one-car trains had a noticeable impact, but then it would still be hard to figure out if ST correctly predicted when there would have been lower ridership anyway.

    Saturdays plummeted since summer, while Sundays lulled a little, because the Seahawks play on Sundays. This doesn’t bode well, though, for the Huskies’ fan base south of the canal.

    The Seafair boat races also had an impact, as a fleet of shuttles ferried spectators between Link and the Lake Washington waterfront.

    1. “(Or did Link go back up to two-car trains on the busiest shopping weekends?)”

      I can’t say for certain, but I think this may be possible. I remember at various times seeing two-car trains and thinking “hmm, I thought they were supposed to be on one-car service right now,” but I wasn’t really keeping track.

  7. Price of gas graph for comparison. I don’t see any obvious correlation. November is the only real outlier in the ridership graph; if that month were around the level of October or December there would be nothing really remarkable. I find Bellinghammer’s explanation most plausible.

    1. I was going to bring that up but I didn’t. If gas prices continue to increase we might start to see some impacts although I think the fact that parking capacity is just about maxed out will limit P&R growth. I would expect gas prices to impact ridership for Vanpools and Sounder more than Link.

      1. I would expect complicated results from increased fuel prices, not a simple and direct “let’s all jump on transit or walk or bicycle” correlation. Trips could not be made, or individuals could move to regions with lower fuel prices, or spending elsewhere could be sacrificed, or combinations thereof.

      2. I agree, reading anything into month-by-month Link data is fraught, and trying to correlate it with gas prices is doubly so, but I figured someone was bound to ask.

        Does ST have the ability to break out APC boarding data by station? That would be a gold mine of information, and in the long run it would pay off when deciding how to structure and interline North/South/East Link. Unlike the non-trivial case of bus boardings, this seems technically feasible, as you can, if nothing else, just ask the operator to push a button at each station; moreover you only need to do it on a handful of trainsets to sample the whole system.

  8. I notice on the ST passenger estimate summary that’s linked to that one of the column’s is headed ‘estimated passenger count’ I wonder how accurate the estimates are? If I’m not mistaken I think a lot of the counting is done by electronic counters on the doorways of the cars. I suppose it’s possible that if two people went through the doorway at once they might get counted as one. Basically I just wonder what the margin of error is on the passenger numbers.

    At the end of the day though ridership seems to be increasing, so something must be working. Well done, ST.

  9. Combining weekdays together will always have a smoothing effect since you have 5x as much data as a single day. A single outlying data point on a weekday (say, from a sports event) will be smoothed out by the other 4 average days. That’s my guess about wild Saturday and slightly wild Sunday.

  10. It’s been said before but I’ll say it again. First-year ridership figures for a 50-100-year system are meaningless.

    How many motorists drove on I-5 during the first 12-18 months of its existence? How many people believe those numbers are meaningful or informative today?

    1. This is also like evaluating I-5 when half of it was built. Until we build out to Northgate, we’re missing three of the biggest destinations that Link will cover; moreover, these corridors have huge immediate ridership plus growth potential, whereas the RV was largely chosen for longer-term potential and other reasons.

      1. But, Link light rail was sold to the public based on ridership projections which have proven to be wildly optimistic so far.

        If Central Link is this far below what ST projected ridership in 2010 would be, why should anyone believe ST’s projections for U-Link in 2016, or East Link in 2021? Or ST’s absurd projections for any segment, or the entire system in 2030?

        How can anyone believe ST has any idea what ridership will be on Link 20 years from now? Those figures are little more than a wild guess, or whishful thinking.

      2. As you are perfectly well aware, all mass transit modes in Seattle have experienced declines in ridership over the last two to three years, which could not reasonably have been accounted for at the time ST’s Link predictions were made. Whatever ST’s faults may be, I have far greater trust their efforts than your irritating and disingenuous bloviation.

      3. If the choice is a FTA-validated model or your wild generalization off of one data point, I think I’ll take the model, thanks.

      4. Bruce, you can delete “mass transit” and replace “ridership” with “volume”. Fewer jobs = less people commuting by just about every mode, except possibly by bike, which I think is still growing from it’s limited base.

        Norman loves to slam Sound Transit for not hitting their estimates. But I don’t believe he has ever acknowledged that we are in the worst recession in 80 years. The fact that Link ridership is growing at all in this economic climate should be proof of the demand for mass transit.

    2. “How many motorists drove on I-5 during the first 12-18 months of its existence?”

      My friend says it took ten years to fill up because people just didn’t work in the direction I-5 went. People didn’t know what to do with the freeway; they had picnics on it at first.

  11. A few simple observations to add to those here:

    –less people work during the holiday period from Thanksgiving week to New Year’s, usually there are more people consistently working downtown in January and traffic counts and transit ridership usually climb.
    –Baseball is a huge draw over any sport simply because they play so many more games and has a diverse age, gender, and class makeup in its fan base. 81 games vs. 8 for football, or 30 for soccer.
    –Tourists are increasing in number. The number of suitcases on the train each day mean that many are choosing to come to Seattle without a car.

    1. I think pretty much 100% of tourists who fly into SeaTac are choosing to come to Seattle without a car. Kind of hard to fit a car onto a passenger airplane. And tourism always peaks in the summer and hits its low point about January each year.

      According to yesterday’s TimesWatch in the Seattle Times, Sea-Tac airport passengers in the past 12 months were lowest in February, and 2nd-lowest in January. The peak month was July with about 3.25 total passengers. January had about 2.2 million and February about 2.0 million. December 2009 had about 2.5 million. December 2010, at about 2.6 million, was just slightly higher than December 2009.


      I couldn’t find the timeswatch chart for yesterday’s paper online, but this chart from the middle of last year shows about the same thing: arrivals at SeaTac peak in July/August and have their low point in January/February each year.

      The M’s have not yet revealed any solid season ticket sales numbers for 2011, but a few months ago, they said that season ticket sales for 2011 were down compared to 2010. Don’t expect very good attendance at M’s home games this season.

      1. This may be news to you, Norman, but many airports have businesses known as “car rental” places. Even today, people can choose to rent a vehicle to take into Seattle, even if they didn’t bring it with them on the plane.

        Which is good news for you, because you think that people driving in automobiles alone is the best possible thing for society.

      2. This may be news to you, Martin, but tourists don’t rent cars at SeaTac just to drive them to downtown, and then park them until they want to return to the airport. They rent cars when they want to use them to get around our area while they are here — something they can’t do on Link.

        In other words, Link does not compete with rental cars.

        Or, maybe you think tourists do rent cars just to drive from SeaTac to downtown, and park them until they drive back to the airport? Or, maybe tourists visiting Seattle don’t want to travel anywhere except between SeaTac and downtown through the Rainier Valley, so they wouldn’t need a rental car?

      3. Actually Norman, that is exactly what my family when they came to visit me. They didn’t want to drive in a strange city, so we just went and picked them up (they came to visit my wife and I, so it’s not like they would be going anywhere without us). Too bad Link wasn’t up and running then, God only knows how much money they wasted on the car and whatever the Sheraton charged.

        Only trip they actually used their car was for my wedding, and then they stayed over on the Eastside.

      4. “Or, maybe you think tourists do rent cars just to drive from SeaTac to downtown, and park them until they drive back to the airport?”

        That’s exactly what some visitors did before Link existed; I can list anecdotes from friends. They would probably take Link now if they visited again, but would never have taken buses. *shrug*. I admit that this class of visitor, the one heading only for downtown, is probably a fairly small one, but it likely includes a fair number of people travelling on business.

        Link is competing with rental cars, to some extent. You can argue about how large an extent.

  12. I would add that connecting buses to Link decrease potential ridership in the Rainier Valley. Anecdotally, our family would use Link more if the 8 ran more frequently. In addition, as discussed frequently on this blog, the east-west connections in the Valley downright suck. (< technical transit jargon) Many who live along Rainier have to take the 7 to Mt. Baker and then transfer to go downtown, actually adding to commute times. If Metro worked on some of these issues, ridership would on Link would increase. I don't know many who prefer the 7 to the Link, but if it is too inconvenient, then the 7 it is.

Comments are closed.