Thanks to John Niles over at PITF for the numbers.

As a transit advocate improving ridership is always great news.  What jumps out to me though is the extent to which Link’s current rate of ridership growth is exceeding prior estimates. The typical trajectory of transit projects of this kind is massive growth for the first couple of years, leveling out to 2-3% a year thereafter. This is, in fact, what ST had projected in prior Service Implementation Plans (page 105) for Link this year and every year hereafter until U-Link opens in 2016. But as ST spokesman Bruce Gray told the Seattle Times back in May, Link ridership ‘continues to mature’ and is still growing by double digits. The trend sustained itself through this past summer and into the fall with year over year increases of 12%, 9%, 13%, 12%, and 13% May through September.

Hopefully Sound Transit is identifying the cause of this continued growth, so they can refine future projections and if possible work to sustain this higher than expected performance. If Central Link can just maintain around 6% annual growth (roughly half its current growth rate), it will be back on track to meet its target of 45,000 by 2020, an impressive recovery considering the recession.

113 Replies to “September 2012 Link Ridership”

  1. John does some interesting analysis of ‘game day’ effects on ridership. The other trend I can’t figure out is why Link ridership doesn’t follow Metro trends from month to month. October is Metros biggest month, while Link is trending down for the winter. Game days and Seatac tourists make up a large percentage of Central Links customer base, so it will be interesting to see those effects dampened when Ulink comes online.
    Anyway, double digit growth is nice to see, regardless of where it came from.

    1. October for Metro probably reflects the start of fall quarter at UW, and to a lesser extent, the return of rainy weather pushing some summer bike/foot commuters back onto the bus. Link would pick up some of the latter riders, but not many of the former.

      1. Concur with 7less. The October Metro jump is probably due to the UW (along with Seattle Central) going back into session. Once Link gets to the U I’d expect to see a similar effect on LR, along with an overall increase in ridership.

        Per game day ridership, who cares if they are “game day”? A rider is a rider, and having game day riders use LR should sure help the Port of Seattle with their traffic concerns. But ultimately game day ridership should show up predominately in the weekend ridership numbers, and the story there is less clear anyhow.

        The big ridership gains are during the week, and these aren’t being driven by game day riders (the M’s aren’t exactly drawing very well).

        As for tourists making up “a large percentage” of Links customer base, this is both unsubstantiated and immaterial. A rider is still a rider.

      2. There are a substatial number of football games on weekdays too, especiallly now with the Huskys playing at CenturyLink Field. Sounders crowds have grown over the last four years too.

      3. “Substantial?” Hardly. The data covers the previous calendar year ending in November, and the Huskies played exactly one weekday game at Clink during that period.

        The other teams played a couple more, but it still doesn’t amount to much. And if it did then the POS and the ILWU wouldn’t have a leg to stand on – bring on the new arena!

        But riders are riders. Who cares if they are commuters, game-day, or tourists. A rider is a rider is a rider.

      4. By my count, the Sounders played seven games on Wednesdays from March to September. That’s more than a couple, perhaps less than ‘substantial’.

        Two of those were low attendance Champions League games, but one was the Chelsea match which filled the stadium. All of the regular season games drew more than the Mariners do on average.

    2. I saw that, and John did good work putting the numbers together, but I don’t really agree with the tone of the analysis which is that somehow game day riders don’t really count, or count less. When talk of the SODO arena first started midweek gameday traffic was one of the ‘anti’ sides arguments. If Link is taking more and more people off the road for the worst of the worst traffic days, how is that not real ridership? Isn’t one of the whole points of rail its capacity and ability to handle these type events?

      1. I concur wholeheartedly. I don’t have a subsidized monthly pass (I need to visit scattered construction sites around the region, so I get subsidized parking instead) — but I do ride Link to sporting events and pretty much anything else I want to do downtown, and I pay with my ORCA purse to do so (cash money!). It’s about the same distance to a Link station from my home as it is to downtown, but no parking costs, searching for parking, downtown traffic etc. My good friend lives in Maple Valley and works in Enumclaw–but parks at TIBS for games and rides Link in. Why wouldn’t we be as important as other riders? Our rides aren’t subsidized, we’re not driving (as far) and his kids love to ride the train with us. They’ll be supporting rail transit in the future!

        You’ll see more of this once Husky Stadium station opens, both for football and basketball. This is a GOOD thing! People who would not normally ride for whatever reason do to these events, and can see the benefits when it comes to election time.

      2. We were just talking about the success of Phoenix’s light rail and many lamented that Link is lagging behind…. and yet games day riders are HUGE for Phoenix’s METRO. NBA, MLB and college football and basketball. Why do these count less? As said above, a rider is a rider is a rider.

      3. Andy, I recently learned that METRO in Phoenix and the US Airways Center cut a deal back in 09 (which was recently extended) were a small portion of every ticket sold for all events (I believe it is around 20 cents) goes to METRO and in return on event days your basketball/concert whatever ticket counts as your Light Rail Ticket.

        Can you imagine if we did something like that?

      4. ‘Anc’–we kind of do that already–as part of the 1987 mitigation the UW had to do in order to allow construction of the north upper deck at Husky Stadium, the UW purchased shuttle service from Metro from 9 regional P&R/transit centers, and (I believe) one or two additional runs on various routes going to the stadium such as the 65 and 75. Part of the deal was that ticket holders can use their tickets as a defacto day pass on any route, not just on the special shuttles–the UW pays for that. On a typical game day some 20,000 fans use the service–it’s very popular.

        With the new Link station at the stadium, perhaps a similar deal to that you mention in Phoenix can be done–less buses will be needed, so maybe some of the ticket money can go to the rail system. I imagine they will pay for extra trains at any rate.

      5. ” If Link is taking more and more people off the road for the worst of the worst traffic days, how is that not real ridership?”

        The problem is not the riders that impressively fill the trains and DSTT on game days. The problem is that, as I read, 70% of spectators drive to the games. The vast majority are eschewing Link, the Sounder specials, the bus specials, and regular Metro/ST service. In some cases that’s understandable because they live in odd locations or have a whole carload of people. In other cases it’s stunning that so many people prefer the aggrevation of guaranteed traffic over transit or have never thought about transit. I assume the latter is a large part of it, that they’re just not used to taking transit for anything other than work.

        Whatever we can do to make transit more attractive to this double-digit percentage of “choice” drivers would have a big impact. But I don’t know what we can do. There are already shuttles from strategic P&Rs in every part of the county. I hear these shuttles are overcrowded and sometimes end too early, which probably discourages people fom using them. So that may be a place to start.

      6. Part of the reason for this is that unlike commutes to work, people usually travel to sporting events in groups. When most people in the group don’t already have a transit pass, the cost of public transit is multiplied by each person in the group, while the cost of driving and parking is shared among as many people as are able to squeeze into one car. The reality is, if you have a group of 4 people (none of which have transit passes), transit costs a total $20 ($2.50 per person each way), whereas parking could be had for as little as $5-10 if you’re willing to walk from a parking lot half a mile away from the stadium.

        To some extent, this is even true in denser cities. Several years ago, I was traveling through New York state with my family in a rental car and were considering making a visit to a Mets game as a side trip. We looked at what it would cost for 4 people to take a commuter train from New Jersey into Manhatten, then take the subway to the game, then compared it with the estimated cost of gas, parking and bridge tolls. Given that we were driving a rental car, making wear-and-tear immaterial, and that we we could pay the New Jersey prices for gas, rather than the much higher New York City prices, the grand total in transportation expenses worked out to be almost exactly the same. Reasoning that traffic wouldn’t be too bad on a Sunday, we ended up driving and parking for $10 at the stadium.

      7. The Sounders have 32,000+ season-ticket holders. It would seem that tying an Orca promotion to your season-ticket renewal would be a no-brainer.

  2. Low early uptake, I’m guessing — the people showing up now are people who were expected to show up a few years ago. Usually people flock to the rails in the first couple of years; but perhaps Seattleites are more resistant to change. Or something.

    1. Maybe they remember the days of the Interurban going through the Green River valley, with it’s EXPOSED third rail. Yikes!
      (ref: Warren Wing)

    2. It’s our zoning that’s most resistant to change. Going from 40′ to 65′ in a few isolated spots doesn’t really allow for growth.

    3. Part of it is the resistance to Link by Save Our Valley types. As the years go on, I imagine some of them are slowly warming up to Link. I know some who haven’t; they stopped taking transit downtown when the 106 was rerouted away from Rainier & Othello, they won’t take the 107 shuttle, and they want P&Rs at the Rainier Valley stations. Others who are taking Link are parking blocks away on side streets and walking to the station. They don’t know about the pseudo P&Rs (private pay lots) at the stations, and even if when you tell them, they’re not inclined to use them, either because they’re not official P&Rs or because they charge money.

      1. That’s just weak, driving rather than walking from Rainier & Othello to MLK & Othello (or, if that’s too much, taking the 7X). I have very little sympathy for those users.

      2. I’ve done hide and ride. Although now with my local route coming more frequently and later into the evening, there’s less need to do that.

      3. The answer to all of that is better local transit. We have this problem in the north end. You can’t take transit into the city at ANY park and ride early in the morning because by 7:30 they’re full. You either take a local very unreliable CT bus or you drive to the city.

  3. Ah, but you didn’t look at acceleration of growth. Going from 8% increase to 12% in two years implies we’ll get to 100% growth every year by 2056.

    Note; humor, not a claim.

    1. LOL. Yes, I think Matt’s implying it will still be a logistic curve, just a pleasantly steeper one than we had come to expect. The interesting question is at what rate of growth we’ll level off, not whether it will level off at all. 6% until 2020 seems tough but potentially doable.

    2. I ran the numbers. Assuming constant acceleration of 2% increase in growth per year, Link will serve the entire population of the state by 2032 and the entire population of the earth by 2046. By 2056 we’ll have 3.8 trillion riders. This also assumes the invention of a functional cornucopia and a banning of birth control. Or a boom in extraterrestrial immigration.

      1. Every Link car will have to contain a ‘black hole’ to absorb that kind of density after 2032. Talk about crush loaded.

  4. As a daily Link rider who has observed growth in ridership just since I began riding daily six months ago, I think part of it is that growth in the surrounding neighborhoods is accelerating. Columbia City has gone crazy just in the last year or two, and there has been significant growth in Beacon Hill as well. I hope the trend continues, and begins extending to the south part of the Valley!

    I think as the proportion of residents (rather than airport users) continues to grow as a percentage of ridership, you will also see Link’s monthly ridership patterns get a bit more similar to those of buses.

    1. I hope Metro grabs some layover and bus platform space by RBS, while it is cheap and plentiful, before everything gets developed. The more bus connections at RBS, the higher developers will be willing to build up.

    2. Is there any way to document growth in these areas, other than saying that it has “gone crazy”?

      Also, does increased usage by airline travellers (non-Seattle residents) play any part in this, as more travelers find out and trust LINK more to get them downtown?

      1. There are lots of ways to document growth. A lot of the lag had to do with that growth coming late due to neighborhood activists delaying zoning changes. Some of that is still yet to come.

      2. I don’t have numbers, but the volume of new apartments/condos/townhomes visible in the Columbia City area is astonishing. Older derelict SFHs have also been getting renovated and reoccupied in significant numbers.

      3. Imagine what it could be like if there were good signs at Sea-Tac saying where/how to take LINK!

      4. There are lots of “Link Light Rail” signs. The problem is they don’t say Link goes to Seattle. The signs at O’Hare say something like “Rapid Transit to City”.

      5. There’s not that many light rail signs. The first time I took it I had to go looking for it and finally asked someone that worked at the airport. I documented the whole process and took pictures. It’s pretty easy to miss. There are a LOT of signs pointing you to shuttles and parking though.

  5. For trend to continue, Link really needs 3 car trains at peak.

    Will the stub tunnel really be artificially shortened till 2016?

    1. The worst loads on Link are actually outbound in the early evening when they prematurely drop to 1-car trains.

      So far I don’t recall seeing a 2-car train with a crush load, even after a ballgame. I’ve been on a few crush-loaded 1-car trains.

      1. As a Sounders Season Ticket Holder, I have been on more than a few crush loaded trains. This is even after I pull out my ‘East Coast A-hole’ card and start yelling at people to push to the back and middle. It still blows my mind how many people will just walk in a door, look for a seat, then if they don’t see one just stop right there, forcing others to push around them or b/c Seattle is too ‘nice’ to push through people, just back everyone up.

      2. That’s because Mariner’s attendance sucks and non-Sounders events aren’t full of transit-oriented crowds (Huskies the exception).

      3. Seattleite, fair enough. I don’t tend to be downtown when Sounders games end, only Mariners games, which as Stephen points out are far less well-attended.

    2. I’ve seen 3 car trains pulling ‘backwards’ in to Stadium Station immediately after games let out (think it was a Huskies Game?). The consist would be coming from the long storage track just south of the station, then head back south. I’m guessing they retuned to the O&M after that.

  6. The increase is great news and demonstrates the power of having a reliable light rail system that operates on its own right-of-way! Does the ridership increase come from former King County Metro riders, a population or employment increase in the corridor, or new transit riders (perhaps driving, riding as a car passenger or using a taxi)? Is there any similar analysis of parallel King County Metro routes? I think that it might even be time for a comprehensive rider survey on Link that probes this.

      1. Yet Metro ridership has grown. I’m sure there are many that simply switched to Link, but that frees up service on Metro. Adding all ridership increase in the area would be interesting.

    1. ST did a rider survey a few months after the airport station opened, but I can’t find a link to it now. There was quite a large percentage of riders who never used transit before.

      1. Every time I go to the airport on Link I have to help people put their luggage in the designated area and point them in the right direction because they’ve never ridden it before. One guy tried to get on it with his brand new ORCA card which had no money on it. I guess he figured if he bought the card he could ride forever for free.

    1. Considering Sound Transit hassle large chunk of new funding approved by voters in ST 1 and 2 while Metro still hasn’t had full pre-695 funding restored (pretty sure even Transit Now is a band-aid compared to what was lost in 695) that seems like a logical shift. Big picture indeed.

      1. All those sources of revenue together, adjusted for inflation, don’t add up to the much larger car tab that was eliminated by I-695.

    2. It was supposed to take at least *some* riders from Metro, and this is a very good thing as it is cheaper and more efficient to move riders on LR as opposed to moving them on buses.

      1. Actually, when you count them all, it’s cheaper after 30-odd years. And since it’ll last five times that… it’s WAY cheaper than buses.

      2. Yes, “cheaper and more efficient.” And, yes, there are some upfront costs with any new infrastructure project.

        But in the case of light rail, the savings from O&M are substantial enough that usually the entire system (including upfront costs) ends up being “in the black” after about 15 to 20 years of operation.

      3. The purpose of Link isn’t just to have lower operating costs. It’s to make frequent, reliable transit available to a wide swath of the region. It’s also a single route that has many more destinations than any one bus route can do. This gives great benefit to the riders, and the fact that the riders can more conveniently get all around the region (or at least the part where Link is implemented) improves Seattle’s and the region’s commerce. These aspects don’t show up in Link’s costs and revenues but they contribute to the region’s quality of life, the way a library or park do. And like a university, it makes the region more attractive to employers and jobs, which further improves commerce.

      4. “And since it’ll last five times that… it’s WAY cheaper than buses.”

        Possibly… Hopefully… That said, the 550 is currently blowing Link out of the water on boarding costs. According to stats in the draft 2013 SIP, the 550 is down to $2.78 per weekday boarding while Link is UP to $6.20 per weekday boarding despite the ridership growth. Link boarding costs have been on a downward trend for a while so perhaps this is a temporary blip.

        This shows that a mature bus route can hold its own on costs up to a point. Adding riders to the 550 today would likely require additional bus purchases and relatively expensive “overflow trippers”, part time / “special” work while adding riders to Link currently only requires adding extra cars (at least when the Stub tunnel is completed). But these advantages will only get you so far… U Link will be the big test.

      5. Another way to add capacity to the 550 routing would be to add a new route that serves slightly different locations. Suppose ST created a new route that skips South Bellevue P&R, but stops at Mercer Island P&R and Rainier freeway station before hitting the DSTT. It could get on I-405 at NE 6th or SE 8th. It would be a quicker trip between downtown Bellevue and Seattle and might relieve some overcrowding from SBP&R.

        Since this would be a fairly short route, it could serve another location prior to BTC, maybe South Kirkland P&R or Houghton P&R.

      6. To refine the above suggestion a little bit…

        It’s probably better to use the SE 8th St entrance to I-405 instead of the direct access ramp on NE 6th because it would be difficult to get the HOV ramp at the I-90 interchange from NE 6th.

        If the bus could use 114th Ave to get to SE 8th, there could be a stop at Wilburton P&R.

    3. Metro ridership is still growing, albeit more slowly.

      The big picture is that demand for transit is increasing. Sound Transit is taking a disproportionate share of that demand, which is only to be expected, since Sound Transit is the agency that’s growing capacity at the moment.

  7. To put Link’s growth in context, it’s equivalent to taking one third to one half of the number of people crammed onto the 550 each day and adding them to Link. Without pushing other routes out of the tunnel the 550 is at the upper bounds of capacity while Link has ample room to grow once 3 and 4 car trains can be put into service. True BRT features would help the 550 tremendously by moving buses faster, but I’m not sure that’s worth the investment for the 10 or 11 years it has left.

    1. Link will also grow in capacity once the buses are moved out of the tunnel and LR headways can be improved. Ultimately there is a huge amount of LR growth capability available.

      1. Huge. Eventually we can run four car trains every two minutes through downtown – it’ll be the same as most Paris metro lines.

  8. I think a lot of this trend can be simply explained by employment. If you head over over the Bureau of Labor Statistics website and plug in either SMU53426440000000001 or SMU53426600000000001, you can see that employment in the greater Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area bottomed out in January 2010. Since then, there’ve been 100,000 new jobs added. Obviously not all of those are Seattle, but whatever proportion is Seattle certainly must have contributed to the ridership growth on Link.

    The timing of the local job growth appears to correlate very well with the Link ridership increases. This also jives quite well with initial ridership being below expectations, and that we’re actually just heading back to where things were predicted to be.

  9. We’ve always emphasized that most of our riders are work commuters and as Jeffery points out, when there are more people going to work, there will be more people on transit across the board.

    I’ve also seen the same thing as as David as a regular rider to/from Columbia City. More and more folks in the RV are riding. And some recent station-level boarding numbers back that up the anectodal.

    Looking at Feb-June 2012 station-level boardings, RV stations have seen some of the steepest weekday growth on the line when compared with the same period in 2011. A real standout is Othello Station – 22% up! Meanwhile, growth at our busiest stations (Westlake and Airport) is slowing down to 8 and 7 percent respectively. Here’s growth rates by station.

    Westlake – 8%
    USS – 12%
    PSS – 5%
    IDS – 10%
    STA – 4%
    SODO – 19% (!)
    BH – 17%
    MTB – 17%
    CC – 13%
    OTH – 22%
    RB – 10%
    TIBS – 9%
    SEATC – 7%

    Why is this happening? It’s a combination of employment, KCM service changes, ORCA adaptation and generall willingness to try a new option. It will be interesting to look at station-level numbers this time next year now that the KCM 50 is rolling.

    Also – we’re getting a better process in place to post our monthly ridership online without having to wait for the quarterly reports. Should make it lots easier for everyone to get good information in a timely manner. I hope you will all take advantage of it. Lots of page views will help convince our web folks it’s wanted.

    Bruce Gray
    ST Spokesman

    1. Bruce

      Several of us are looking forward to the Before and After study comparing ridership in the light rail market October 2008 and October 2011. When do you expect that to be published?


      1. The B&A study should be out before the end of the year. We’re still waiting on comments from the FTA since it’s an FTA-required report. It should have lots of good detail for all as a snapshot of factors impacting the first two out of a hundred of years of service.

    2. Thanks for the info Bruce. Interesting stuff. As a new Columbia City resident (April 12) I’m glad to see the Rainier Valley’s ridership picking up. I look forward to more TOD around the stations down here (if only there were some government entity that owned a lot of land around the stations that could be developed).

    3. Anecdotally, I have taken the east portion of the 50 a few times in the evening. It’s not as well used as the previous 34, but it is attracting a fair number of Seward Park riders. Whether they are enough to meaningfully influence Link’s numbers, I don’t know.

  10. Matt:

    Thanks for using the daily ridership numbers I’ve compiled in the Public Interest Transportation Center at

    Those are nice, educational charts you’ve created and displayed. I see economic recovery as a force in the growth of 2012 ridership over 2011.

    I have further analysis posted on the Public Interest Transportation Forum page above the archive of numbers, which are obtained month by month via PDA request.

    What we are seeing in the Sound Transit forecasting is a growing understanding by ST staff of where the light rail riders are coming from. This is shown by the inflation from 304 to 337 in the annualization factor, which is the ratio of annual ridership to average daily weekday ridership. Annualization is less than 365 because weekend day ridership on transit is less than on weekdays. ST is now using the extraordinarily high 330 in its future year light rail forecasts, based on strength of sports event ridership now experienced.

    In original pre-construction rail transit forecasting, it’s the average weekday ridership forecast that is computed from computer modeling, and then multiplied by an annualization factor of 304 to get annual ridership. A higher annualization factor means weekend ridership is more influential; there is an overlap between weekend ridership and event ridership.

    My professional and civic interest is in the benefit to cost ratio of Sound Transit’s work, especially vis a vis the investments still out in front of our region.

    The first $500 million Federal investment in light rail (that as part of Sane Transit and CETA I fought tooth and nail) was predicated on a forecast of 42,500 average weekday ridership by 2020 on the Initial Segment from Tukwila to Westlake Center without the Airport Station and without the Stadium Station and without further extensions. This is a now superseded conception of the future because in fact the two originally deferred stations have been added. Furthermore, three more stations are now committed to be added in 2016. Nevertheless, the benchmark remains and fulfillment of intention can be measured against it.

    As I show on the PITF ridership page, the growth trend Seattle light rail is on now gets to 42,000 average weekday in 2020 WITH the Airport and Stadium stations. Because of the high usage generated at Airport and Stadium Station, and thus a higher annualization factor of 330 instead of 304, ST is going to see higher total annual ridership out of 42K average weekday than would have been expected in 2002 when the Federal commitment was made.

    So in poking back at the State Auditor in the new audit just released yesterday, ST says (page 72) the audit “ignores a more important Central Link ridership forecast for the year 2020 that was also made in 2002 to support Sound Transit’s New Starts grant application, through which we earned a $500 million FTA grant. This forecast was for 12.9 million riders in 2020. If current Central Link trends continue, this total will be achieved by 2020, even without the extension to UW scheduled to open in 2016.” [ST could have mentioned the new S 200th terminus as well.]

    Reviewing: 12.9 million riders in 2020 divided by 42,500 weekday average riders = 304 annualization in the ridership forecast made in 2002 for 2020. 42,000 times the new realized annualization factor of 330 = 13.9 million.

    Go Mariners, Seahawks, Sounders, and Huskies! Hydroplane racing helps too. Damn good thing for light rail that UW Station is next to a stadium. Damn good thing for light rail that another sports venue will be built in SODO.

    Not to mention free airport parking with a rail shuttle to the terminal a mile south of SeaTac as well as a mile north.

    Discuss… taxpayer support for amenities in a wealthy community versus support for access to region-wide employment markets by people who don’t have a car.

    1. “Discuss… taxpayer support for amenities in a wealthy community versus support for access to region-wide employment markets by people who don’t have a car.”

      Gotta love them false dichotomies. Gotta also love people who make a living out of creating them.

    2. I read your comment three times, and I still don’t understand what point you’re actually trying to make.

      1. For those that hate Link and rail transit in general, even great news (double digit growth when 3% was projected) must be spun in as negative a light as possible.

      2. That’s exactly it — a lot of spin, trying to create a nebulous negative impression, but not actually saying anything concrete (except maybe “Link is a plaything for the rich,” which is really funny in light of how much abuse ST took over the decision to build in the Valley first).

    3. Hmm. I’m not sure that there is a desirable community anywhere on this planet where taxpayers don’t support amenities for the “wealthy” where the benefits can be enjoyed by all. We’re human, and any objective analysis of economic efficiency is going to be biased by one’s perspective.

      There’s no reason why LINK (or any other subsidized resource) can’t be successful and meet the needs of an economically diverse population, while not being fine-tuned to any group in particular. Our communities would be rather bland if we accepted (what I’m assuming is) the premise behind your discussion point.

      1. Thanks to all for the discussion. The following should keep it going for another day:

        What I am trying to get at in my final statement above about amenity for those with sports event tickets, and employment access for those who can’t afford event tickets, is the policy choice between investing $2.5 billion in one high quality, gold-plated train line with art-encrusted stations, and the alternative of using the $2.5 billion dollars plus to keep bus service going and maybe improving throughout the entire region, covering all the places where light rail doesn’t go.

        I do know at least a few other people in Seattle besides me who think there is a relationship between the financial troubles of Metro, PT, and CT on the one hand, and the billions being spent to build, over decades, what I believe (check me on this) is the USA’s most extensive and expensive light rail network (inverted Y shaped network). So far as I can tell, the management and staff of STB think there is no relationship at all, and the more train-happy at STB now want to spend billions more on trains beyond the ST Master Plan.

        The PSRC computer model showing bus ridership at four times rail ridership in 2040 after ST3 is implemented, and the same model showing an ST3 rail forecast for 2040 that is about 1/2 of ST’s forecast for the completed ST2 in 2030 needs explaining if it is anything other than a scary clue that the ST plan for the 100 year future is all booster and no (ridership) payload.

        ST and PSRC for over two years have refused to reconcile their dueling forecasts. Now the State Auditor at last is challenging ST’s optimism in the report issued yesterday.

        As a critic, I would be silent if Link light rail were actually on a growth curve that was anything like the 2002-3 forecasts that justified the money invested. Building Link was nuts even if it performed like the forecasts said it would, and now we are basically seeing it run at 57% of the forecast. See .

        Remember, 45,000 per day average weekday ridership on the present line requires roughly half of weekdays seeing over 45,000 riders.

        Does anybody want to bet that Link will never see 45,000 fare-paying riders on a single week day until after the opening of U-Link?

        So now I’m working on my long-range forecast of top ten excuses Sound Transit may use in 2016 when the opening of U Link and South 200th does not immediately double ridership, which I believe is the current ST and STB happy forecast (correct me if I am wrong about the forecast … lets say the forecast for summer 2017.)

        Number 1 excuse will be “just wait 100 years — you forget it’s a system for people 100 years from now. What happens now doesn’t matter.”

      2. John, bus service is inherently crappy. Provide good rail service for everyone or crappy bus service for those forced to ride the bus — that’s the real dichotomy. But you just don’t like rail.

        The PSRC model is too complicated to be useful.

        Link will probably hit its original 2020 forecasts more or less. You’ll probably have to look at the forecasts for the original “University Link + Central Link” plan (back when U-Link was supposed to go first) because that’s what will exist for comparison purposes….

        If U-Link doesn’t double ridership (not immediately, but after a year or two) I will actually be very surprised.

      3. Here is the challange for you John.

        Put a multibillion bus package on the table. Seriously. If you do I give you my word I will vote for it. I don’t think many others will, nor do I even think you can get the legislature to grant Metro, CT, PT, etc the authority.

        B/c that is really the issue. Rail CAN win. Rail HAS won. Rail will CONTINUE to win. People like, and people will vote for it. You’re running distraction about X, Y, and Z that could be done if only the money the people voted to spend on rail, is exactly that, a distraction. B/c the money voted to spend on rail is money that is be spent on rail. You can’t just divert it.

        But you know that. Truth is you just don’t like public transit. I’m sure if a BRT measure were on the ballot you’d call it gold plated as well, say local buses are all that is needed and BRT is just a waste of the tax payers dollar.

        No real point in arguing with your kind to be honest.

    4. John: You’re welcome. To be honest though one of the reasons I did this was to allow people to bypass your site but still get the information. While you have good data on your site, the layout is… confusing and I don’t like the negative spin you put on everything. Thus I tend to avoid it. Other commentors have mentioned the same thing. On top of that I think the year over year charts tell an important story, and really missed STB regularly posting them. The growth chart I added b/c it seemed relevant.

      Glad people are interested. Thanks STB for letting me post it!

    5. “Discuss… taxpayer support for amenities in a wealthy community versus support for access to region-wide employment markets by people who don’t have a car.”

      The same line goes to both. That’s the beauty of Link. It serves workers (downtown and some other places), ballgame fans, tourists, and poor people (by purposely going through Rainier Valley). If we take two of these (workers and tourists) and assume they were the primary incentive for Link, and that they on their own are sufficient to justify Link, then we get the other markets (ballgame fans, poor people) “for free”. No additional capital costs, and lower per-passenger operational costs for everyone.

    6. There always seems to be a correlation between the quality of the html and the quality of the message behind it. Perhaps a psychologist could explain why but that website is painful to look at.

  11. Caffeine is *not* working today, so apologies in advance if I’m being dense: the headline says “September-October” ridership, but the “October” fields in the graphs are blank?

    1. That’s my fault. It was the working title (October post on September Ridership) that didn’t get updated before publishing. Now it cannot be changed b/c it would mess with the RSS feed I am told.

    1. Interesting to see that misimplementation of ORCA gets named as one of the causes of bad forecasting.

  12. What do you think of the idea of TIBS offering long-term airport parking for a fee? Given the prices of competitors in the area, I’ll bet people would easily pay $10 a day to park there.

    1. The parking lot is already full, isn’t it? It makes more sense to me to keep the parking for daily transit riders.

    2. I agree with aw — if there were spare capacity, this would be a good idea. But there isn’t any.

    3. Except that people going to the airport are likely willing to pay substantially more to rent a parking space for a day than people going downtown would be willing to pay.

      $10 a day + train fare would provide a price point that would easily compete with MasterPark, WallyPark and all those other off-site parking lots for anyone that doesn’t have to travel to or from their car between 1 AM and 5 AM.

      By contrast, how many people do you think would be willing to pay $10 to park, plus train fare, to commute downtown for a day? The answer is no one – if you’re willing to walk a few blocks, you can almost drive all the way and park in downtown itself for that amount of money. Or you could use one of the zillions of other park-and-rides (or play hide-and-ride) and pay nothing but bus fare.

      To me, this is the free market saying that airport parking is a more important use of the space than commuter parking to downtown.

      As it is today, lots of people are probably parking at TIBS to go the airport anyway, as a 24-hour limit is difficult to enforce, especially for people who are only going on a one-day trip and are only fudging it by a few hours. Today, these people get airport parking for free. We should get something for it.

    4. But ST would be abrogating its primary responsibility, which is to provide rapid transit for South King County. If people can’t park at the P&R because airport patrons are filling up the spaces, then people from isolated neighborhoods without all-day buses can’t take Link, which was the purpose of the P&R in the first place.

  13. Matt:

    I’ve no interest in a multi-billion dollar bus package. Not needed. My modest suggestion is to stop spending so many billions on Sound Transit’s trains and use a small portion of it to keep up bus service from the existing four bus agencies — KC Metro, PT, CT, and ET — that also serve the Sound Transit territory.

    The rest of the billions pulled back from Sound Transit should go to other public needs, including the upkeep and management of roads on which most transit operates, the part of transit that carries the most people — buses and van pools. Within roads I include BAT lanes, HOV lanes, exclusive bus lanes, transit signal priority, parking enforcement, and so on. Let me note that paratransit, ridesharing, carsharing, taxicabs, and trucks also use roads.

    I’m also quite interested in so-called zero-based budgeting approaches that let transportation resource needs compete against non-transportation needs like education, health care, and public safety.

    Sound Transit is already advocating for more revenue authority or future appropriations of toll revenue, as are the four local transit agencies as well. See the presentation at from October 11. The title of that presentation, “Transit Coordination” is an insider’s joke.

    My basic ask is for the agencies of the region to deliver public transit service within the resource boundaries that exist now. I like public transit just fine, but I also like public transit to work within a resource budget that does not crowd out other government needs.

    Consider the concept of “taxable capacity” at .

    Yes, I’ll criticize gold-plated BRT just like I speak against light rail. Two funded studies I participated on vis a vis that topic are at With regard to the arterial BRT being run now by CT and KC Metro — Swift and RapidRide respectively — I don’t regard them as gold-plated, and they are fine additions to regional transit. My mild preference, however, would be that the transit upgrade resources that they consume be spread a little more widely across additional routes, as described in my research.

    My concern on how to do BRT is minor compared to my critique of what Sound Transit is doing to burn resources on items like Sounder North, East Link, and extensions beyond the established Records of Decision on the north-south light rail spine.

    Because ST3 is just around the corner, it’s not too early to discuss the shape of transit spending as informed by what is happening right now.

    So thanks again for focusing on light rail ridership in Seattle. Lets see how the winter goes!

    I do notice, by the way, that STB regularly digs deep into bus service improvement issues, a good thing that compensates well for the obsession to expand passenger rail service.

    John N

    1. And there’s the problem. Your priorities are (1) low taxes, (2) adequate bus service, (3) good rail service. Ours are the exact reverse. And because people with our priorities would be fools to abandon an operative plan for high-quality transit for the hope of decent buses, there is no constituency for BRT whatsoever.

      1. Martin: You are clear enough! Your list is apparently a good summary, in reverse order, of your position, so I will Tweet it.

        For myself, speaking just about Seattle, I’d say (1) reasonable taxes, (2) good bus service, (3) passenger rail service in special circumstances such as an iconic monorail for a World’s Fair, the Benson Waterfront trolley, or … uhmm … do elevators in tall buildings count? What about the automated underground people mover at SeaTac Airport? That’s smart. It’s on rubber tires but is guided by a rail.

      2. I think it is hard, even for rail critics, to claim the downtown/capitol hill/University District/Northgate corridor doesn’t need rail. To add more buses between these neighborhoods would either require BRT investments every bit as expensive as rail or turning limited road lanes into transit lanes which has proven to be politically very difficult. Not to mention some of the most congested areas where there simply isn’t any space for transit lanes (at least without tunnels or elevated roadways)

        I get it that you think rail transit is too expensive in all circumstances, but I would fight you tooth and nail if there was ever a real possibility that transit funding would be re-directed to roads or other non-transit needs. I voted for transit funding, not freeway projects, highway advocates can go find their own damn sources of funding.

      3. What Chris said.

        And I’ll add… We are facing more growth. We need more capacity. We can’t do nothing in the name of low taxes or we will face economically crippling gridlock. In another thread I brought up the example of DC — this is befalling them now. The city and certain well-connected suburbs are growing, but other suburbs and the exurbs are totally stagnant. With better transport, they could grow too.

        But making multibillion dollar investments in new roads, for the most part (with exceptions for solving specific bottlenecks), is a fool’s game. Expansions in the most congested parts of the metro areas would be just as expensive as a rail project while adding far less capacity. One new lane on parts of I-5 will accomplish nothing.

        Investing in buses can make improvements around the edges, but is not going to provide a true alternative. The best example to demonstrate this is the heaviest transit corridor in the metro area: U-District – Downtown.. The current buses provide an approximately 20- to 25-minute trip, depending on time. Despite running every 7 minutes during the peak hours they are chronically overcrowded. There is no physical way to improve the trip, or add more buses, without building a guideway. You can’t take away the I-5 express lanes, and you can’t build a BRT lane down the entire length of Howell and Eastlake. You can’t make people drive because there is simply no room for more cars. By contrast, University Link will make the trip in less than ten minutes with near-perfect reliability and with vastly more capacity than buses. It’s the only way to untie the knot.

        People with your position may have a point about things like Lynnwood and, to a lesser degree, Overlake. But denying the need for true high-capacity, high-speed transit in the city’s densest corridors is beyond obtuse.

      4. Let’s not forget that there are a lot of people who drive and will never set foot on a bus. They will however consider getting on a train. It’s weird psychology but it’s real. Riding a train makes you feel like you’re in a big city, riding a bus makes you feel like you’re on welfare.

        If you build transit only for the poor you’ll end up with poor transit. If you build it for people who have a choice you’ll end up with great transit.

      1. Exclusive bus lanes in peak periods (with right turns and business access allowed) often work pretty well to keep buses moving in congestion. Off-peak, as a RapidRide driver told me Thursday evening, dodging around parked cars is “part of the fun of driving.”

      2. Is it the exclusive bus lanes that are gold-plated, the parking in the bus lanes that is gold-plated, or the wierd mixed use of these lanes that is gold-plated?

        IMHO, the free parking that takes away an arterial lane is much more gold-plated than the bus lanes. Think of how much it costs taxpayers to have the buses run in slower, general-purpose lanes. Shouldn’t it cost something to park in those spots to off-set that cost?

      3. If you’ve ridden on the A Line, you may have noticed bus pull-outs in the Des Moines area. Does this count as a gold-plated transit capital improvement? Consider that it does nothing to improve bus speed, since buses have to then get any other vehicles in the HOV lane to yield so they can pull back into traffic, which is sometimes difficult, even though it is the law.

        Gold-plated transit improvement, or gold-plated traffic flow improvement: Which column does this capital project belong in?

      4. While I’m at it John: property tax vs. sales tax vs. value-based vehicle license fees vs. flat car tabs vs. full fare recovery. Which is the best and worst funding mechanism?

      5. I’m very familiar with BAT lanes, John, and could bore people to tears with their pros and cons in detail. They are an acceptable compromise in certain situations but are just that – a compromise.

    2. Decades of failed transportation projects (Forward Thrust, that whole monorail thing, etc.) has left Seattle an auto-dominated car hell–half a century to put even a modicum of noise walling along TOPS at Seward, let alone a proper lid over that sewer.

      Elderly? Young? Health (“ischemic episode” but still driving until the dump truck) or mental problems (flambéed grad students on Lake City)? Think cars are ethically a camel’s armpit? Too bad! Suffer through no-Hz buses and unwalkable streets between sprawled destinations, or be forced into an automobile.

      Buses? Meandering one-seats to nowhere, or unscalable stuck-in-traffic crush load trunk routes. Taxes? Low and regressive–the state cannot even muster a tax on a no-brainer like sugar. Health care? If only something could be done about all that sedenting in chairs. Public safety? Take cars off the road until Queen Anne is not masked in a grim late summer white haze–“must be the forest fires” said one it-couldn’t-possibly-be-my-car commuter.

      1. The allocation of street space between cars, trucks, buses, emergency vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, and parking is indeed a compromise. I have become fond of saying, the fight over street space is a fight worth having.

        I’m asked, “is it the exclusive bus lanes that are gold-plated, the parking in the bus lanes that is gold-plated, or the weird mixed use of these lanes that is gold-plated?” Answer, none of the above, but in general I support a mixture that finds the best use of street space for the various flows that need to use the street. I am generally in favor of stripping curb parking from arterials where it significantly slows either transit or general purpose traffic, with a recognition that peak periods are different than off-peak in the use of street space. It strikes me that I am reflecting existing urban policy in Seattle and other communities around here.

  14. Sound Transit has just issued “breaking news” on all September modes ridership,

    A September (only) ridership report is at which represents fulfillment on what Bruce Gray said in a comment above about ST initiating monthly reporting.

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