Photo by SD70MACMAN

[UPDATE: As pointed out in the comments, riders who access Link by bus will generally not be “new to transit”, but will not count among the 1.2m “lost” from buses. For reasons described before, I don’t think this is a particularly big group. Nevertheless, we should add this to the 7/36/39/106 riders described below and consider 5.8m rides to be a ceiling on the new riders figure.]

Towards the end of this Erica Barnett takedown of the Washington Policy Center was this tidbit:

Metro attributes [reduced ridership] to several factors, including the loss of 87,000 jobs in King County during the recession, four fare increases in four years, lower gas prices, and the opening of light rail, which lowered ridership by 1.2 million rides a year.

That’s out of a total of 6.96m rides on Link in 2010, implying over 80% of Link trips are new to transit. I asked Metro Planner Jack Lattemann, the source of the figure, how this quick-and-dirty estimate was computed, below the jump:

About 1 million annual riders were on former Route 194 between Sea-Tac Airport and downtown Seattle that has been replaced by Link. (Another 250,000 annual riders who used to ride Route 194 in Federal Way are now counted as part of ridership on Sound Transit ST Express routes 577 and 578.)

The remaining 200,000 annual riders were those who rode portions of former routes 42, 42X, and 48 along the M.L. King Jr. Way South corridor between South Henderson Street and Rainier Avenue South. About 60% of the riders on these former routes were within 1/4 mile walking distance of one of the Link stations along M.L. King. As Route 8 continues to gain more riders along M.L. King over time, this figure will shrink.

(I have not had time to analyze the fall 2010 data at the stop level so I can’t say yet to what extent Route 8 has made up some of the ridership loss.)

This estimation problem is hard because there are buses like the 36, 39, and 106 that prior to Link opening crossed the tracks  and headed downtown. Link also pulls some riders off the 7. I’d guess the true number was a bit higher than Lattemann’s estimate, but it’s a good start.

63 Replies to “Bus Riders Moving to Rail”

  1. If those numbers are to be taken literally, we would’ve been better off directly duplicating 194 with rail instead of running it through the Rainier Valley, as you’d get another 50,000 riders.
    Not to mention those currently served by route 574 traveling between Federal Way and the Airport.

    1. I don’t understand what you mean. You couldn’t have gotten to Federal Way by altering the routing.

      1. You could bypass the Rainier Valley and express along I-5, providing a trip of nearly the same time as the 577. This would also allow you to eliminate other routes such as 177 and 179, and possibly truncate others.

        With the routing the way it is now, Link will never be faster than route 577.

      2. Link is not designed to be faster than the 577. It is not commuter rail. It is a hybrid urban-regional trunk line.

      3. Yes, you can trade positive land use impacts for speed. No, it’s not a good idea, because in the long run, you get more riders out of changes in land use than you do from going faster.

      4. Tim, I think you’re missing what Martin is saying.

        You could bypass the Rainier Valley, sure, and just make it an express airport-downtown route, but half of Link’s ridership gets on or off in the Valley. So that would have a pretty serious negative impact on ridership.

        And the airport was the MIDPOINT of the old 194, not the terminus. To duplicate it with rail would mean stretching it down south to Federal Way; something there was never a budget for.

      5. More precisely, construction south of SeaTac has to come out of South King’s money, and South King is flat broke. If we’re lucky, we might get S 200th St by 2016, but ST hasn’t even ventured a recent estimate of when anything south of that might get built.

      6. I think you’re looking at my argument wrong. The point is, if we take those numbers LITERALLY, we would have higher ridership on a line that stretched to Federal Way.
        The point was not “we should have built a line from Downtown to Federal Way”, it’s just that if we did the current numbers show higher ridership for that type of line.

      7. I don’t see how you can extrapolate the above data to reach that conclusion. South King is a totally different urban/suburban environment than the RV.

        Even if ridership were slightly higher on balance, I’d still oppose it on land use grounds, for the same reason that I’d like to see link go up Aurora rather than I-5.

      8. I’m not sure what you mean by “literally” in this case, but I think it’s fair to say that the ridership on the the Federal Way routes exceeds that on the old 42/48 MLK segments.

        How you can infer what the “rail bias” bonus would be, or why you would compare two alignments with radically different cost and subarea profiles, I’m not sure.

      9. Unlike some of you, I don’t care about a minute of two of time savings and in fact would prefer MORE stations on the initial line (Graham, Boeing Access, 133rd/Tukwila) amongst others.

      10. Being as the Sounder transfer at BAR is dead, has anyone at ST expressed an opinion on the idea Oran tweeted of a BAR Link/I-5 transfer station?

      11. I think a S. 133rd station would be better for transfers than Boeing Access Road. SR-599 would allow direct access to I-5 & I-405 and buses headed to the valley, like the 150, could use Interurban Ave..

      12. Hear, hear, Mr. Arnold—especially regarding Graham. Hopefully an infill station at that intersection can be folded into ST3.

      13. The geography at BAR dosent lend itself well to such a scheme for a LINK I-5 buses, or Sounder connection, although, i think such a scheme is a good idea. Its not the most pedistrian friendly of areas, plus it would involve a LOT of verical movements and some fairly healthy distances to make all the connectons work, unlike Milbrae station on the BARTD/Caltrain where its all in one compact spot. If you wanted to improve connectivity anywhere, i think Southcenter would be the ideal location. you could shoehorn a HOV stop in relativly easily by the lovers store i would think as the freeway isnt far from the surface street and its relativly wide through there, than implement a tukwilla station to Sea-Tac Airport connector bus stopping at Southcenter and TIB (importaint for the amtrak passengers wishing to transfer air-rail, as much as some people on this blog love transfers (a little too much it seems), its not so much fun dragging luggage around). A much more cost effecitve plan until light rail could be extended out there (a link light rail shuttle service prehaps)

      14. Which other buses besides the 150 are there that could use the 133rd station? There’s an on-again, off-again bus past the Gateway office park, and the 150 could be reconfigured to go up East Marginal Way (to downtown?). I have some trouble seeing the worth of spending millions on a station for just one bus.

    2. Exactly. I think we should have reserved rail for limited stop, high speed regional travel and used buses for everything else.

      We should have built the monorail with about ten major stops…Alki Beach, downtown, Bellevue, Kent, Redmond, U District, Northgate, Airport. Completely separate elevated track.

      1. its a hybrid urban-regional trunk line.”

        commuter rails cant be hybrid urban regional trunk lines??

        is it all in one county?? if so is that regional??

      2. “I’d still oppose it on land use grounds, for the same reason that I’d like to see link go up Aurora rather than I-5.”

        whose land gets used going up aurora?? it looks quite packed. there appears to be more space for rail along the interstate./

      3. “Exactly. I think we should have reserved rail for limited stop, high speed regional travel and used buses for everything else.

        We should have built the monorail with about ten major stops…Alki Beach, downtown, Bellevue, Kent, Redmond, U District, Northgate, Airport. Completely separate elevated track.”

        what would this do differently than the current and proposed rail plans??

        less train stops (but more capacity??) and more frequent (and perhaps shorter) bus routes…than the current??

  2. There are actually bunch of new apartment rooms coming open around Mount Baker and Othello Stations. I bet they go fast.

      1. There are also the rooftop ads on apartment buildings in Tukwila. It’s kind of funny because there doesn’t seem to be a way to get from TIBS to the apartment without driving or biking.

  3. “That’s out of a total of 6.96m rides on Link in 2010, implying over 80% of Link trips are new to transit.”

    That is hilarious. How in the world could anyone possibly come to that conclusion? Many, and probably most, Link riders transfer to or from buses, or both to and from buses. Therefore, those trips do not reduce bus trips, because those people still ride a bus. They are just forced to take part of their trips on Link now, instead of taking a bus (or buses) the entire way.

    For example, people who used to ride the 174 from Federal Way to downtown Seattle now take RapidRide A to SeaTac or Tukwila and transfer to Link to get to Seattle. This does not reduce ridership on Metro buses at all, but those Link riders are not “new to transit.” They used to take one ride on the 174 to get to Seattle. Now they still take one ride on RapidRide A, PLUS one ride on Link to get to Seattle. Same number of bus rides, but an additional ride on Link as well.

    There are many Metro routes like this that have been truncated at Link stations. The people who ride those buses now have to take Link part way on their trips, but that does not reduce the number of bus trips they take!

    Jack Latterman also does not even consider the 12% or so of all Link trips which never leave the downtown tunnel, all of which were probably previously taken on any of the many BUS routes which traverse the downtown tunnel every day. So, lower ridership on all bus routes which use the downtown tunnel can partially be attributed to Link. This is true of most Link trips between the tunnel and Stadium and SODO stations, also, which were, and still are, served by many buses.

    I mean, really. Are you kidding me, Martin? You seriously believe that anything close to 80% of Link riders are new to transit? lol Come on. Think about that statement a little bit.

    1. A 2008 Kinki-Shayro Light Rail Vehicle on LINK is still a whole bunch nicer than a 1979 MAN/AM General on old route 174, Norman!

      1. What does that have to do with anything?

        But, are you saying that Metro was still using 1979 buses in 2010?

      2. And it now takes one LINK operator to move 296 (74 times 4) seated passengers versus the 50-odd that the MAN Articulated held.

      3. “And it now takes one LINK operator to move 296 (74 times 4) seated passengers ” I didn’t realize Link was running 4-car trains. I thought they were still only operating 1- and 2-car trains.

        And the cost per boarding for Link is more than twice that of the Metro routes it replaced.

        Besides, operator cost is a tiny percentage of the overall operating cost of Link. Even when they go to 4-car trains, that won’t have significant impact on Link operating costs.

      1. Before the mid-1990’s, Evenings and Sundays, it was your only choice if trying to get from Tacoma to Seattle or v.v. or to/from Sea-Tac.

      2. Yeah, I know, I was one of the unfortunate who had to use the 174 as part of a 4 bus journey between Tacoma and Seattle on the weekends.

    2. Norman,

      If you read the whole post you’d see that I cast some doubt on the figure.

      You make a good point about transfers from buses not being new riders, so that’s another reason to consider 5.8m new rides a ceiling. I have no way of characterizing the figures involved, and I refrained from doing so. As usual you are strongly inclined to believe whatever makes Link look the worst today.

      1. 80% was, and is, a ludicrous figure.

        “I don’t think this is a particularly big group. ”

        I think that is by far the biggest group of people who ride Link: people who used to ride a bus, or still do ride a bus and transfer to or from Link.

        I would say the people who ride Link who are “new to transit” are a distinct minority of all Link riders. And a large part of that group is strictly due to the new park and ride lot in Tukwila. Just adding that park and ride lot without Link, would have put those people on buses to Seattle to avoid paying to park downtown. But that parking lot did not exist before Link. So, I would credit those “new to transit” Link riders who use the new parking lot to the free park and ride lot, and not to light rail. When you build new park and ride lots, you get new bus riders.

      2. There are tons of unsupported assertions here, but the Tukwila lot has 600 spaces, so you’re looking at 1200 rides per (busy) day (~5% of the total) plus carpools, minus cars parked there for multiple days until recently.

        I’m not sure why you want to strip out all the actual features of the Link project when trying to figure out how many riders Link attracts.

  4. Norman, when ST and LINK was approved, yes, Metro was using 1979 buses, albeit in rush-hour only service. The later 1983 MAN Artics were in service until much later and in all say service.

    Level platform boarding (think bikes/wheelchairs/strollers) and Proof-of-Payment fare collection, with the vehicle operator ensconced in the cab has noticeable benefits to operations.

    LINK is a far more efficient way to move people, and becomes a catalyst for economic development along its route.

    1. Well, that is demonstrably false. Compare the operating cost per boarding of Link to Metro buses, and you will find that Metro buses are far more cost-efficient at moving people than Link.

      1. You’re estimating cost-per-boarding rather than cost per capacity? Yes, when the link trains run only at 20% capacity, they’re not as efficient as the buses. It’s called building for the future. When the full system is completed, and the Link ridership is at or near capacity during rush hour, the cost per boarding will decrease significantly.

        You’re comparing the mileage of a semi truck to the mileage of a pickup. Yes, when loaded with 1 ton of bricks, the pickup truck gets better mileage and is cheaper to operate. But haul 20 tons of bricks with each system (using 20 pickups or 1 semi), and compare operating costs.

    2. I trust you’ll be retracting that statement when Link is built out to Northgate and the cost per boarding drops significantly below busses?

      1. Remind me, has anyone got the expected numbers for when link opens to the U of W? I suspect the cost per boarding might become cheaper than buses right then.

    1. As petrol creeeeps rapidly toward US$5/gal and then $10 you can bet drivers will move to rail AND buses. Our dear friends on the peninsula will see to that in a backasswards way, but you can bet it will happen.

      1. …and the cost per boarding will improve for ELECTRIC, high-capacity rail (and get worse for buses) as the gas price goes up…

  5. “Bus Riders Moving to Rail”

    this was the intent right?? reduce some types of bus routes to get those on rails???

  6. “And the cost per boarding for Link is more than twice that of the Metro routes it replaced.”

    does the train move more people in a cheaper way than busses??

    if more start to ride the train/tram does the cost per boarding go down less than if more people were on busses??

    ie a several trains can move 10 thousand people cheaper than several busses?

  7. It helps rail ridership that the #194 to/from the Airport was dropped, cornering the market for Link. It would’ve been interesting to have them both operating for several months or more to see which mode riders would have favored, especially given Link’s high frequency of being delayed.

    1. Link’s crap on-time performance is entirely due to the busses clogging the tunnel, especially on-peak when busses sit backed-up for minutes at a time. Metro controls the tunnel until 2016 and I suspect that ST is just sucking it up in the interim. Once they kick out all or most of the busses, I expect Link to work pretty close to clockwork.

      How long did the 194 take? Link takes 36 minutes from Westlake to SeaTac, and the 124 takes about 40 minutes from 3rd & Union to TIBS. Not only that, but Link serves a much denser catchment area in that same time.

      Losing the 194 for the 124+Link is a small loss for people close to SeaTac (who now have to transfer at TIBS) and a bin win for the Ranier Valley and a small win for downtown. And that’s just a travel-time comparison: when you consider Link’s improved ride quality and future improved reliability, it’s a bin win for downtown and a massive win for the U-District and Northgate.

      1. Those buses clogging the tunnel move twice as many people as Link. Yeah, thinks would flow a lot better if you only move a third as many people.

      2. That’s a poor excuse for nitpicking, Bernie. The highest ridership busses in the tunnel are to the U-District (by far the biggest group altogether), Northgate and Bellevue. The busses that aren’t replaced will be moved to the surface, which is a much better place for them anyway. The 150 and 106 are the only major routes that aren’t likely to be replaced to any extent by Link in the next decade.

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