Photo by Oran

I’m slow to get this up, but for a while ago John Niles obtained the February 2011 Link ridership numbers: 20,577 weekday, 12,520 Saturday, 10,628 Sunday. This is basically flat from January.

The weekday figure is up 23% year-on-year from 2010 and down for weekends, and we’re at least in apples-to-apples territory now. However, short-term factors are likely to overwhelm long-term trends, so it’s premature to draw many conclusions.

84 Replies to “February 2011 Link Ridership Numbers”

  1. I want to see how much of an affect gas prices will have on March-August Ridership levels.
    Speaking of which, as it’s mid-April, have they released March yet?

  2. “but for a while ago”

    I would expect March data any day now.

    I think the relationship between gas prices and ridership won’t be nearly as strong for Link as Metro’s service. Most of the people in the RV for whom transit meets their needs are already using it, I suspect. People aren’t going to change from riding the 7 to riding Link because the price of gas went up. I could imagine more riders coming in at TIBS and on Line A perhaps.

    I do wish there were monthly traffic stats for SeaTac airport. Oil prices probably depress airline traffic, which I think is a fair chunk of Link’s ridership — especially on weekends.

    1. “Oil prices

      …and TSA zapping and molesting everyone including 6-year-old girls…

      probably depress airline traffic”

      FIFY!

    2. If you mean airline traffic, there are monthly stats for international and domestic arrivals and departures at SeaTac airport. The Seattle Times reports that once a month.

      1. Nice link — less than 0.4% difference year-over-year.

        February 2010->2011 Domestic: 1,894,558 -> 1,895,656
        February 2010->2011 International: 198,714 -> 205,903

        We’ll have to see how that plays out over the next few months.

      2. Jeffrey, I’m not sure where you got that figure for Feb. 2010 domestic. On the chart I linked to it gives that number as 1,834,558.

        So the totals I get are:

        Feb. 2010: 2,033,272
        Feb. 2011: 2,101,559

        This is a difference of 68,287, or an increase of about 3.4%. Still not much of a difference, from 2010 to 2011, but SeaTac is probably happy with the trend.

    3. I had no idea that the airport served so many passengers, Norman. I was curious about what percentage of airport users (employees or passengers) use Link each day. Here are some *rough* numbers:

      The port says that about 75% of its passengers are using SeaTac as their origin or final destination. Using a ballpark figure of about 1.8 million passengers a month using the airport, that means about 45,000 passengers are arriving or departing each day and could conceivably use Link. The airport has an additional 22,000 employees or so who could be added to the mix each day. All told, that seems to be about 60-70k people a day who could conceivably use the Airport Link station. Of course, many of those are coming from far away, or are coming at odd times of the day or night, and Link is not a good option for them.

      The Airport Link station boarding numbers from last summer showed that ~5000 people a day were actually using the station. Even ignoring for seasonal variation in airline passengers coming through Seatac, the overall Airpor LInk use rate seems surprisingly low to me. I haven’t seen any mention of ridership by station for more recent months. I wonder if the use rate has gone up at all more recently? Anecdotally, I’m using Link more often these days and driving less. I love the ride to and from downtown, but I hate the downtown transfter to bus, which is often late and night and often feels very unsafe, particularly at Westlake (which I’ve essentially given up on for personal safety reasons – 3rd and Pine is incredibly sketchy at nighttime).

      1. I agree with your main point, but I might change your numbers a little. If there are 22,000 employees at SeaTac, that would be a potential 44,000 trips per day, since employees would be making a round trip, and thus using the SeaTac Link station twice per day. That makes the potential trips ending or starting at SeaTac Link station close to 90,000 per day.

        A couple of related anecdotes, since I know the regulars on this blog really love and appreciat my anecdotes:

        I spoke with a couple last summer who were riding Link back to the airport who had gone into Seattle and back out to SeaTac during a layover on their trip from Florida (Miami?) to Hawaii. I forget how many hours they said their layover at SeaTac was, but apparently it was several hours — long enough to take a quick visit to downtown Seattle and walk around a little. So, even SeaTac passengers whose trips do not begin or end at SeaTac might use Link, and they would use it twice, because they would be making a round trip during a layover. That makes the number of potential Link users at SeaTac even larger.

        Secondly, a friend of mine who lives on Queen Anne works at SeaTac airport, and when I asked him how he got to and from work he said, “I could take Link, but I usually drive.” Driving is just so much faster than taking a bus to downtown, then going down into the tunnel, then taking a 40-minute Link trip to SeaTac. I can usually get from my home on Queen Anne to the SeaTac terminal curb in 25 minutes driving, using the viaduct.

      2. I should also add that the 1.8 million you use is the winter time number. In July and August last year, SeaTac had about 3.2 million total arrivals and departures each month. That comes to about 107,000 per day. 75% of 107,000 is 80,000 potential rides per day on Link from passengers. Adding the 44,000 potential daily trips from employees gives around 125,000 potential trips per day to and from SeaTac airport in the peak summer months.

        I wonder what the total boarding/alighting average per day on Link at SeaTac station was last July and August?

      3. I don’t understand how 22,000 employees, who probably work 5 days/week, could possibly equate to 90,000 trips/day.

        Many airport employees have cheap or subsidized parking (which is something that should be ended or at least taxed.)

        All I can say that is that ever Link train I’ve been on has had a significant number of people headed to/from the airport, and the waves of people on the walkways through the garage validate that.

      4. I feel slightly terrified to be synergizing with Norman here, but I think an estimate of ~60-120k people a day using SeaTac is probably reasonably accurate; certainly good enough for this conversation. The most recent data I have suggest that about 5000-6000 people a day pass through the SeaTac Link station. To me, this indicates that there is probably some low-hanging fruit for further Link ridership in the form of airport passengers/workers. Anecdotally I know plenty of well-educated people who have never taken Link to the airport and always drive instead (often using 99, ironically enough). I attest to the many advantages of Link whenever I can with the hope of turning some of these people into at least occasional transit users.

        The good news is that the infrastructure is there if demand increases due to gas prices, or increased word of mouth, or better advertising, or the crumbling of road infrastructure, or whatever.

      5. “I don’t understand how 22,000 employees, who probably work 5 days/week, could possibly equate to 90,000 trips/day.”

        The 90,000 includes the passengers arriving and departing, who also could use LINK. Obviously. And those are the February figues. In July and August, the number goes up significantly.

      6. “How does your friends car not get towed from the terminal curb?”

        I think Carl answered that for you. Employees have their own parking at SeaTac. And, you are aware, that Link does not drop passengers off at the curb, are you not? The Link station is beyond the farthest parking spots in the parking garage.

  3. Does Metro do similar monthly reports? I clicked around a bit on the website but I only see the detailed annual reports and whole-system monthly summaries.

    1. Not that I’ve ever been able to find. I have a public information request in for the raw performance numbers (basically all the stuff used to compile the annual performance reports) in spreadsheet form, and they said it will take a month to process my request. I’ll post it when I get it…

      1. You too!
        Metro’s website sort of implies they are going to do monthly performance data as a way to better serve the public.
        http://metro.kingcounty.gov/am/reports/monthly-measures/
        But without any data posted for this year, I guess they just plan to post it yearly, which doesn’t really help over the annual performance report they used to do.
        Anyway, I’m still waiting for my question to be answered.
        Tri-Met does a wonderful job of monthly reporting on all modes, plus they try to analyze the reasons for trends. Kudos to Portland, again.

      1. And what exactly is joshua looking for, and why? Monthly ridership by each route? Is there a reason to believe that some routes differ from the general trends?

      2. “Is there a reason to believe that some routes differ from the general trends?”

        Blatantly obvious ones.

      3. Actually I was interested in how a brand new route is doing, MT 309 First Hill Express via SLU.

  4. Ridership will increase now that both the Mariners and the Sounders are in season.

    Still, that 20K weekday level is only two-thirds of what the agency budgeted for in the 2011 TIP. Starting off this deep in the hole doesn’t bode well.

      1. The Mariners set new Safeco Field attendance record lows in 2 of their last 3 home games. Attendance is down significantly from last year.

        ST’s ridership projections on Link for 2011 are just patently ludicrous. Why do they set themselves up for certain failure? Is there some particular motive ST has for setting ridership projections that they have zero chance of attaining?

      2. Mostly to give you something to exercise your brain about. Studies show that mental activities like counting and writing can stave off dementia in old people. It doesn’t always work though.

      3. Do you ever have any intelligent comments to make? Or, you think your little banalities are clever?

  5. “and we’re at least in apples-to-apples territory now.”

    Is this actually true? Were there no changes to Metro bus routes to help boost Link ridership after February 2010?

    Was RapidRide A operating in February 2010? It might be bringing more riders to SeaTac and Tuwila Link stations than the 174 did.

    Was all-day parking for Link riders in lots around MLK Link stations and Beacon Hill legal in February 2010? I thought that was a fairly new policy.

    1. In that case, there is no such thing as an apples-to-apples comparison. Unemployment now and then are different. Royal Brougham street has been changed dramatically. The Mount Lake Terrace station just opened, that might have an effect. There are those funny new lollypop signs on stations platforms indicating where the train will stop. Heck, a dog may have farted near Columbia City Station. What on earth is THAT going to do to ridership?! It’s not 100% reflective, but its the best we can do.

      1. Are you really suggesting that altering Metro routes to serve Link stations has nothing to do with Link ridership? Or are you saying that no Metro routes have been altered since February 2010?

        And parking at Link stations has nothing to do with ridership?

        I have to say, that is a really foolish post.

      2. Hell, on my lunch break I might go down to SODO Station and fart. If ridership goes up next month, we’ll know why.

      3. So Norman, you have any hard facts that parking and Metro bus changes have effected ridership? Not just “it has to be true!”, but real numbers or evidence. My “foolish” point is there are a million variables that effect ridership beyond a few bus schedule changes and a place to park. Many of which cannot be measured and are simply random. No bus or parking changes between now and March 2012 may lead to a 10% increase in ridership. How does one explain that?

        Bruce, Link can use all the help it can get. Fart away!

    2. So because more people might have access to light rail now then the same time last year it’s not fair to compare ridership? That’s the dumbest statement I’ve ever heard from you Norman, and that’s saying a lot. Using that logic would give you a million reasons to dismiss ridership growth, so I can see why you believe it.

      1. This is hilarious. So, then what are the factors that meant that prior to February, comparing 2010 to 2011 ridership by month was NOT “apples to apples”?

        Martin’s statement, “we’re at least in apples-to-apples territory now.” certainly implies that before “now” we were NOT in “apples to apples territory.” So, what changed in February to make it “now” an apples to apples comparision?

      2. In addition to the opening of Airport Station in December of 2009, a whole bunch of bus routes were redirected to serve stations, starting with the February 2010 pick.

      3. Brent, you seem to know what happened with bus routes. My question is were any of those changes to bus routes made after February 2010? I do know that the 194 still operated for the first week of February 2010, so that alone made Feb 2010 different from Feb 2011.

      4. There was also the opening of the A Line in October of last year, which doubled the frequency of the old 174.

  6. Ok. I’ll try a different tack. Let’s assume that nothing has changed between Fevruary 2010 and 2011. It truly is an “apples to apples comparison.”

    Then what is the general consensus on this blog on why ridership is up 23% on weekdays, and down whatever percent it is down on weekends, between February 2010 and February 2011?

    Is there anyone who would like to give a serious answer to that? I am honestly curious what you think is the reason. I have to be away from computers for a few hours now, but I am hoping at least someone here will give me an honest answer to that question.

    And do you expect this same 23% weekday increase will continue for every month of 2011 compared to 2010?

    1. Well the city raised the price of pet licenses this year, which probably caused fewer people to own dogs, lowering the number of dog farts within the walkshed of the Ranier Valley stations.

      1. So, in Bruce’s world, ridership fluctuations on Link are just random, and cannot be attributed to anything. lol

    2. It’s amazing how befuddled you get over simple concepts. Of course things change, the world is not static. What Martin means by apples-to-apples is that nothing major about Link has changed, no new stations opening, no changes to the schedule, no fare increases. What changes around Link is out of the control of Sound Transit and can influence ridership in a myriad of ways, there’s no way to do a case-control study of ridership. If ridership goes up – it’s considered ridership growth, regardless of what outside factors caused the growth.

      1. So then, there is no way ST can have any idea what ridership will actually be on any light rail line they are planning, since “What changes around Link is out of the control of Sound Transit and can influence ridership in a myriad of ways, there’s no way to do a case-control study of ridership.”

        So, therefore, ST’s projections of U-Link ridership and East-Link ridership, for example are merely guesses, designed to get public support.

      2. “What Martin means by apples-to-apples is that nothing major about Link has changed”

        So, going from 2-car trains at all times to one-car trains on evenings and weekends is not a “major change”?

        Or, that was out of ST’s control?

  7. Ridership on Sounder has been steadily increasing so far. My usual car went from a good half full to averaging 90 to 95% full for seated passengers. Should be really interesting when gas continues but we in the valley do pay more for petrol. Myself having a premium only fueled car have been taking Sounder to work (In Seattle once again!) so it’s been real nice to take the train.

    Normally in the first car (behind the loco) on Train 1506N and 1509S)

    1. With Premium already $4.00+ gallon, I can see why. Problem is, with Metro, Diesel is going up too, unless they were able to hedge on it. Also, something I thought was odd with SOUNDER. A few months ago, I read about a Florida commuter rail operator signing a contract for new locomotives plus options. The options, could be picked up by Sound Transit. I was wondering, does Sound Transit really need a locomotive that does 400hp more than the current F59PHI? Although a newer engine would be better, and Diesel regs are getting tighter.

      1. Metro is not currently hedging diesel prices.

        Fortunately, Link and my local trolleybuses do not require diesel :-)

      2. My first inclination is to say yes, they need a unit with higher HP. Especially if its gonna help on any serious climbs, which seems to be where these four-axle units have a hard time.

        As for Link, why the silly one bike rack option, and it faces the totally wrong direction. I wish they would have made that similar to Oregon’s light-rail, there are spaces for two bikes and easier to get on/off the train.

    2. What? You mean you think there is an actual reason for that ridership increase on Sounder? Bruce and Zed think ridership increases or decreases are totally random, and that it is impossible to find any reason for them.

      1. Au contraire, I suggested it was negatively correlated with dog farts. You should gather some data on the subject to test my hypothesis.

  8. So, now that there are Link ORCA readers on the tunnel platforms, I have a new trick for when I am taking an intra-DSTT trip: I tap on, catch the first bus that comes, and then tap off when I alight. It boosts ST fare revenue, but not the ridership estimates.

      1. Ridership estimates are based on APC boarding data; they count bodies, not fares. In a previous post, Norman expressed concern than large dogs were erroneously being counted by these devices. No word yet on whether these dogs might have farted.

  9. I’m really trying to understand why our light rail is so costly to implement.

    Seattle’s new light rail system is by far the most expensive in the U.S. at $179 million per mile

    At the other end:

    At the other end of the scale, four systems (Baltimore MD, Camden NJ, Sacramento CA, and Salt Lake City UT) incurred costs of less than $20 million per mile. Over the U.S. as a whole, excluding Seattle, new light rail construction costs average about $35 million per mile.[23]

    Now the article also mentioned things like tunneling, poor soil. Ok. But to me if we had chosen routes that were roughly level and didn’t involve all the twisting and turning, we could already have a light rail that ran the breadth and width of King County by now for the price of what we have already spent!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light_rail#Costs_of_light_rail_construction_and_operation

    1. As you may have noticed, the areas in this city where people actually live and work in large numbers are not level and have no inexpensive right-of-way options. Hence all the tunneling.

      1. Is the airport at the same elevation as downtown?

        How about downtown Bellevue?

        How about Northgate?

        It would seem an equally valid way of doing LINK would be to optimize it along level ground, and use buses to do the “up and down” stuff, obviating the need for tunnels and underground stations.

      2. I don’t know what the elevations of those places are, and I’m not going to Google that information for you, either. But gradual elevation change is manageable to a rail system. What isn’t manageable are steep hills and water crossings are doable only at great expense. There is no flat path between downtown and Capitol Hill, similarly between there and the U-District. After Northgate, Link could follow the freeway, and it’s distinctly possible that it will. The flat path north out of Downtown that is not prohibitively steep is Aurora, which misses the U-District and Capitol Hill — our biggest corridor, hands down.

        The difficulty with Bellevue is the very large body of water called Lake Washington.

      3. “Is the airport at the same elevation as downtown?”

        No. And I hope you would know that given that you live in a valley whose west side is defined by the hill that SeaTac sits on.

        “How about Northgate?”

        Nope.

    2. Your first mistake is assuming that all light rail systems are identical and therefore comparable. Link is more akin to a light metro or “Stadtbahn” as they’re called in Germany than a typical American light rail system. Most light rail systems built recently in the US have been built on abandoned rail ROW, along freeways, or in the street and therefore have little ROW acquisition costs or expensive civil engineering. If you look at recently constructed rail lines (of any sort) with similar amounts of tunneled and elevated ROW the cost of Link is not out of range. In fact, the line that Portland is currently planning for construction is more expensive per mile than Central Link, and they’re the kings of light rail construction.

      1. My understanding is the line you’re pointing at (the River line) used
        existing but upgraded freight railroad for the majority of it’s run, so it’s much closer to a Sounder style train than a Link style train, but there’s not enough capacity on much of the existing freight rail around here to really support a high rate of operations and not a lot of space to expand that capacity in many places (ie, rail hugging coast lines, the downtown rail tunnel, etc) without substantial work.

    3. Our freeways aren’t cheap either. I-90 between Downtown and Bellevue ran about $1 Billion per mile in 1980’s dollars – I can’t imagine what it would cost to build today. That said it’s a serious apples to oranges comparison – one that you no doubt will spin in favor of automobile and bus modes.

      Suffice it to say, we’ve got some pretty nasty building conditions around here with all the hills, water, and glacial till laying about.

    1. [Gratuitous thread hijacking warning]

      South Parkers’ best route to get to the airport still involves backtracking downtown, or at least to Beacon Hill Station. But with Link, average total wait+travel time has improved.

      We hope Metro will open up talks about realigning south central Seattle routes to provide better connections to the south end of Link.

      1. I am not sure I would go downtown to get to the airport if I lived in South Park. I would probably consider taking a bus from South Park to Burien and transfer to a 180 or 560. Or possibly take the 60 to White Center and transfer to the 560.

      2. The problem, Kaleci, is headway. I would be quite averse to planning a trip based on transfering to a bus that only comes once an hour, when I already have experience with an hour-headway bus never showing up.

        Going to Burien isn’t terrible, and there are multiple ways to the airport from there, but, unfortunately, they aren’t interlined to create a multi-route trunk between Burien TC and the airport. In order to do that, the 560 would need to have the same frequency as the 180, and they would need to be offset from each other almost perfectly.

        Still, taking the most frequent route from South Park (the #60) to the most frequent line to the airport (Link) seems a safer bet for purposes of worst-case scenarios, which I would certainly factor in when I am trying to catch a plane.

        Having a 132-type route that continued down Military Rd S to TIBS, and catching Link, would be much faster than any of the other options.

    2. If you were going to the airport from downtown on a bus, you would not drive through the Rainier Valley — you would take the route the 194 took, which averaged around 30 minutes between Westlake and the curb at SeaTac terminal.

      They could have easily added a new bus route down the Rainier Valley going all the way to the airport for people living in the Rainier Valley. On that bus route going to the airport from, say, the Othello Station, on a bus would probably take about the same time that trip takes on Link.

      Difficult to see what your point is. With buses, you can have several different routes, including Express routes, like the 194. Link has only one route, whether you are going to the airport from downtown, or from Othello.

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