Off the Chart.

With no major projects opening I don’t think anyone expected 2013 to be a huge year for Link.  Everyone was wrong. In the fall it was revealed that the University Link extension to Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium will likely open 6-9 months ahead of schedule and $100 million under budget.  And now we know Link’s ridership grew 11.3% over the year.  It was projected that Link would average 27,900 weekday boardings in 2013.  When it was all said and done the number turned out to be 28,953.  It’s hard to imagine how this past year could have been any better for the young system.

December’s Central Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday boardings were 29,659/20,921/18,462, growth of 18.2%, 20.5%, and 15.5% respectively over December 2012. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 14.2% (up 8% on the South Line, 18% on the North Line).  Total Tacoma Link ridership was up 0.3% with weekday ridership declining 2.3%.  Weekday ST Express ridership was up 4%, with most growth occurring on Crosslake, South King and Pierce routes.  Complete December Ridership Summary here.

Yes, that’s correct.  Link’s ridership grew 18.2% in December to bring the yearly growth rate for 2013 to 11.3%.  My charts below the fold.

DEC13WeekdayRidership DEC13WeekendRidership DEC13WeekdayChangeDEC13WeekdayMovingAVG2 DEC13WeekdayMovingAvgChange

71 Replies to “2013: The Year of Link – December’s ST Ridership Report”

    1. This could very well depend on what kind of season the Mariners are having. The paltry crowds at Safeco in recent years haven’t done much for ridership.

    2. The Sounders have 3 home games in July. That’s going to add quite a few boardings. Plus, two of those games (Timbers 7/13 and Tottenham 7/19) are going to be games with the full stadium open.

      1. Are Spurs likely to have anything like a full squad available less than a week after the World Cup Final?

      2. That depends, the players who don’t make the knockout stage should be there. And Spurs there are a lot of players on the squad who won’t even be at the World Cup. Their Brazilians (Sandro, Paulinho), Belgians (Dembele, Vertonghen, Chadli), and Argentinans (Lamela) probably won’t be with the team. Though with a new manager, the squad could look entirely different by then.

    1. Interesting numbers in the Quarterly Data.

      The cost per boarding for ST Express went up and is now 23% higher than the cost per boarding for Link.

      Customer complaints per 100k boardings are 16.9 for ST Express, but only 1.5 for Link.

      Additionally, the on-time performance of Link increased to 95.9% — a full 10 percentage points better than for ST Express. And Link would probably be much better than the quoted 95.5% if it wasn’t for Joint Ops in the DSTT – Joint Ops is the main driver of unreliability for Link.

    2. I’m quite concerned by the decrease in Snohomish County express bus ridership (510/511/512/513) after the restructure this year. One would think that the restructure would have attracted more riders due to increased frequency and connectivity. Perhaps either (1) the increase in travel time to Everett deterred former riders, or (2) reliability to Lynnwood worsened. I was a strong supporter of the restructure, but this experience shows that:

      *More infrastructure (especially direct-access ramps, bus only lanes, and signal priorities around transit centers) must be built so that express buses can offer faster and more reliable service. In this case, the Lynnwood and Ash Way direct access ramps must be completed ASAP.

      *Service must be time-competitive with the automobile for it to attract many choice riders: travel time is almost as critical as frequency.

      1. I think it’s a spurious correlation. If you look at the Q3 2013 report, ridership on the north I-5 corridor was down 10% year over year, without any restructure. I think the drop in ridership on that corridor can be explained by other factors, such as the huge cuts that CT made to their network in 2012.

      2. And it will be interesting to note that as ct adds back a lot of its service what will happen to ridership then. The fact that the transit on ramps at ash way face south only is problematic and that only the 511 and 512 can access them (the 532 enters i5 too close to make it over).

        Also another point should be made: last fall ct made some modest improvements to its commuter buses which do compete with st express service there which could explain a drop in ridership with st. The service change in fall 2014 and fall 2015 will have ct adding significant service so that could further hamper st service there but it will still be useful and a worthy investment. They are still some of the best performers in the system especially peak.

      3. The commuters mostly won the service battle, so local routes took the hit. But then, CT got a state mobility grant, and added even more commuter service.

        The 510, 511, and 513 had to compete with the extra commuter runs. The 512 found itself connecting to an increasingly skeletal local network.

        Off-peak riders will need to organize to get service back.

        Long-term, Link will be the second coming, but CT still has to rebuild the local network so people can connect to it without having to find scarce parking in the middle of a freeway.

      4. We’ll they lost another rider this week. I’ve given up taking the 512, and am carpooling, I’ve cut my travel time by 50 percent. Transit does not work for my commute.

      5. Public service announcement: Judging from her other comment, Diane lives in King County. This means that either her commute goes to Everett or Lynnwood (traditionally not served well by transit), or she commutes off of peak hours (which means she’s very fortunate to find a carpool).

        Or she’s not telling the truth.

  1. Ack…everything but Central LINK had big declines!

    Express buses and Sounder down by about 7% each!

    Even paratransit down 3.6%

    1. Only for avg. Sunday boardings. Sounder and ST Express were up for total and avg. weekday boardings.

    2. That’s only on Sunday, thank goodness! Overall YTD express bus is up 7.6%, and Sounder up 8%. Tacoma Link and paratransit are down by 2.3% and 1.9% respectively, but I’m not worrying about those.

      1. Ok, yes sorry.

        Reading it sideways I assumed the last column was some kind of summary grand totals.

      2. The paratransit figure is about the cost-sharing formula between Metro and ST, not actual paratransit ridership.

      1. Yeah, I believe that was assuming everything from 45th to S. 200th—including a First Hill station and maybe a Graham St. station—was completed by 2006.

      2. Yep. It’ll be interesting to see the post-U Link numbers (though those will still lack “North Link”).

    1. Sound Transit was reorganized after Sound Move so it’s of historical interest only. Revised projections were approved by voters in 2008, and supercede those made in a 1990s crystal ball before any light rail in the region existed. Now the public has a better idea of what its impacts are, and can more accurately predict whether they’d use it if it went near their neighborhood.

  2. Could we possibly see an extension of Link hours? Runs later into the night possibly at least when U Link opens? I feel like that would be welcomed. Also (hopefully this isn’t too off topic; tried to search for answer but couldn’t find it) will SeaTac to Husky Stadium be a single seat ride?

    1. It will be a one-seat ride. Multiple lines won’t come into play until East Link opens. The current draft schedule is (A) Lynnwood – 200th full time, (B) Lynnwood – Redmond peak hours, (C) Northgate – Redmond off-peak.

      Currently the first morning run starts at Stadium southbound because the DSTT is closed until 5am. I don’t know if University Link will make it open earlier, or if UW will have no service before 5.

      Extending Link’s hours into the night owl could be something for ST3. It would cost money, and it would cut into track maintenance time. But ST’s long-range plan does envision 24-hour service someday, someday when it’s running from Tacoma to Everett.

      1. Well one seat ride will be fantastic and clearly makes sense for UW football season. With the UW Med Center it seems like it would be great for it to run before 5am. 24hrs would be great but at least some kind of 230am last run, at least on just the weekends, would be awesome for people going out on Capital Hill or U Dist. I say take that extra $100 mil to operate a few late runs. I bet it’s a hit.

      2. Metro buses will be out of the DSTT when ULink begins operating, so that creates an opportunity for longer tunnel hours, earlier than 5 AM and after 1 AM. No more issues between Metro and ST re tunnel operations and maintenance.

      3. University link opens in 2016 1q. Buses will be evicted from tunnel in 2018-2019.

      4. Sounds like there won’t be a one-seat ride from the East Side to the airport, though — transfer at International District, then? (I’m thinking that will require changing platforms, too?)

      5. Adam – for a cross-platform transfer, you could stay on until CHS.

        J. Reddoch – that works from downtown Bellevue or S. Bellevue, but not for other East Link stations.

      6. Not only will it be a two-seat ride to the airport, but you’ll have to go up to the surface at International District and back down to the southbound platform. ST doesn’t think enough people will transfer there to make it worth reconfiguring it for a center platform, and it’s planning to put in a turnback track for deadhead trains that will make a center platform impossible. ST’s shortsightedness is stunning because in cities with real subways the quality of train-to-train transfers is given high priority.

      7. Yeah, I don’t have much faith in ST’s planning for this, either — I believe there will be more than enough interest in the East Link-To-Airport to have made any number of ideas viable. Instead, it’s been made as logistically difficult as is possible. (The actual impact may only be a few minutes, but that’s not the point. If it isn’t both quick and simple, it won’t gain the traction its supposed to.)


      8. Wouldn’t people headed from Bellevue to SeaTac simply take the 560 instead? I know it doesn’t run as frequently as Link, but it probably saves enough travel time to make the extra waiting worthwhile. Given that the 560 also serves Renton, I don’t see it going away after East Link, regardless of the transfer quality on Link.

      9. If you miss the southbound train while walking to the platform, you’ll have to wait for the next train. And both of those segments are the lowest-frequency segments.

        People will take the 560, but that just means it’s a lost opportunity to make the most of our rail investment.

      10. Seattle-airport transit usage is high. Bellevue-airport transit usage is low. Making an excellent transfer would not only entice riders from the 560 but increase Bellevue’s overall airport transit usage, which should be ST’s goal.

      11. Operating frequencies on the 560 – especially off-peak and weekends – make it less attractive than a 2 seat Link ride with platform change.

      12. if the 560 is running at 30 minute headways and your destination is actually downtown Bellevue, the saved time is probably enough to make 560 beat Link. On the other hand, reduce the frequency of the 560 to once an hour and change the final destination to a Link station northeast of downtown Bellevue (meaning that the 560 would require an eventual transfer to Link anyway), the calculations changes completely.

        It should not be overlooked though, that even with an ideal center platform at the ID station, a Link trip from Bellevue to the airport would still involve traveling considerably out of the way through some of Link’s slowest sections.

        If we had to do it over again, routing Link through SODO and tunneling through Beacon Hill was probably a mistake. Had Central Link been designed with East Link in mind from the get-go, Ranier Station would have been built with a y-junction, with one branching going to Bellevue, the other going elevated along Ranier to the current Mt. Baker station, where the existing routing would resume. The additional cost would be easily paid for from not having to build a tunnel or station under Beacon Hill.

      13. “Wouldn’t people headed from Bellevue to SeaTac simply take the 560 instead?”

        Nope. If they don’t drive, they’ll take Link.

        This has been proven in other cities. Given the option of an all-exclusive-ROW rail route with an inconvenient transfer, and a somewhat faster bus route which has to deal with *mixed traffic*, people will take the rail route.

        This has repeatedly surprised planners. Planners in Los Angeles didn’t expect the mass of transfers to the Expo Line — they thought people would take direct buses, and people preferred to take multiple trains. Like people do.

        People care ridiculously much about on-time performance. So people, when planning, act as if the “regular runtime” of a route is its worst-case performance — or if not the worst-case, then, say, the 10th percentile performance.

        Reliability pays off in spades, and the 560 isn’t going to be in exclusive ROW all the way from Bellevue to SeaTac, so there will be some bad 10th percentile runtimes.

        I realize there are HOV lanes, but HOV lanes aren’t bus lanes and can have their own congestion. From WSDOT: “The HOV lanes on I-5, I-405, and westbound SR 520 are so well utilized that they are usually congested during the peak periods and no longer meet our established performance standard of 45 mph…. WSDOT is working to address both over- and under-use of freeway HOV lanes through conversion of HOV lanes to HOT lanes.” So the plan is, apparently, to introduce even more congestion into the HOV lanes by allowing single-occupancy vehicles who pay tolls onto them.

      14. Had Central Link been designed with East Link in mind from the get-go, Ranier Station would have been built with a Y-junction

        +1. I’ve been staring at those maps myself, wondering what planners were thinking. It would be sort of sad to miss SODO and Beacon Hill… but the cost savings, which would pay for Belltown or maybe even First Hill and a bit of the Central District, would be worth it.

      15. This option was considered in the EIS, but rejected. Oran may have more details.

        From my perspective, Beacon Hill Station is a great asset, and Rainier Freeway Station is an afterthought that wouldn’t be worth serving if it weren’t so conveniently placed. As time goes on, it’s possible that BHS will be just as important as Capitol Hill Station will be. In both cases, I’m very happy that Sound Transit had the forethought to send the train to where the population center is, rather than choosing a routing that would be cheaper and easier but that would serve way fewer people.

        The only thing I’d change about Central Link is grade-separating the segment along MLK, and upgrading to driverless operation. But we can do that any time we want; nothing about the design of Central Link precludes this.

    1. I concur with this sentiment. While his posts were annoying, they were a fun way to hone our arguments for people who are slightly less dedicated to their ideals than Norman.

    2. As Dori Monson would say “A sure sign the end is near”, when STB posters are pining for Norman.

      Hey, who knows, he could be still posting under any alias.

      Ah, the beauty of the internet.

      1. Well I miss him too. Even if he called me all kinds of names. His arguments were cogent within the framework of his myopic vision. As a community we should welcome contrarian viewpoints and not simply be an echo chamber of orthodox viewpoints.

        Alternative views give opportunity to consider their veracity, or to at least sharpen ones arguments.

      2. Except when the person continuously derails thread after thread. How many times a week do we need to explain how cars are subsidized too? Norman offered nothing of value after we had all cut our teeth on that argument and only served to distract and anger people. This is a community of transit supporters and activists, not a debate society. After a certain point the same tired trolls become tiring and if you have nothing more to offer you lose your privileges.

      3. Charles,

        You’re thinking of John Bailo. ;)

        IMHO, Norman had no interest in contributing positively to the community. He said the same thing in every single comment. A commenter who could be replaced with a bot isn’t helping us do anything but get angry.

    1. Yup — Link is already really close on the net subsidy level. The average fare per boarding (AFB) for Link is just over $2/boarding while the AFB for KCM is just over $1/boarding. It might be possible to have a lower net subsidy per ride before U-Link opens.

      Once U-Link opens, all bets are off – Link’s per rider costs will drop below KCM (or any other bus provider) permanently. The cost per boarding on LInk will drop to under 1/2 of what it is now. They are expecting to nearly triple ridership while only marginally increasing operating costs (more vehicle hours, electricity to move 4x trains train, a couple more stations to secure and maintain.)

      We (Seattle Subway) really want the new lines (Ballard, etc) in Seattle to be driverless — there is the potential for 0% net subsidy which would mean a fully self sufficient system. Hugely positive potential impact to the local economy.

      1. We (Seattle Subway) really want the new lines (Ballard, etc) in Seattle to be driverless — there is the potential for 0% net subsidy which would mean a fully self sufficient system. Hugely positive potential impact to the local economy.

        Just to be clear — the goal is not self-sufficiency for its own sake. I think we all agree that transit is a social good, and one that’s worth funding with public money. Rather, the goal is to make the most efficient use of our money. To the extent that we can build lines that have a low level of subsidy, or that are even profitable, we can use our limited pool of money to subsidize other services. We can have a bigger network if we use our money wisely.

      2. One issue with driverless trains is that if it allows the secondary lines to run every 5 minutes like Vancouver, it will get into a situation where the highest-volume lines (Central Link and East Link) are less frequent than the lower-volume lines. That will make people wonder what kind of inverted logic Seattle has, especialy when they’re waiting 5 extra minutes for a central line. There would even be people transferring to the secondary lines, or using them even if they’re more indirect, to avoid the wait.Then it would look particularly silly that we hadn’t made the central lines driverless.

      3. Mike, That frankly sounds like an Awesome problem to have. I’d take that problem over the current problems any day.

      4. The frequency of the U Link and North Link segments would be the combined frequency of East Link and Central Link. Those northern segments could be run at better than 5 minute headways. Since the high frequency portion includes the high usage DSTT, it doesn’t sound so dumb to me.

      5. The problem isn’t that West Link would be too frequent. It’s that Central/North Link would be limited in frequency because of a few short-sighted engineering decisions.

        ST cites the at-grade portion of MLK as the frequency limiter, but that section could theoretically be replaced someday by an aerial track, once the population shifts to have the stations surrounded by transit supporters/riders. Once that happens, the missing ventilation shaft in U-Link and the failure to reconfigure ID Station to three platforms could rise to become frequency limiters. Retrofiting U-Link to add that missing ventilation shaft would involve serious long-term service distruption. Reconfiguring ID Station after East Link opens for service would also involve serious service disruption. The engineers should not have used a sub-100-year lifespan window to justify a small (and artificial) short-term savings.

        U-Link is expected to come $100 million under budget. How much would it cost to condemn the necessary property and build the ventilation shaft NOW? I can wait a few more months before U-Link opens in order for it to be completed right the first time.

        How much more would it cost to build a flyover track for East Link trains to turn directly onto the southbound track to the SODO Operations & Maintenance Facility?

        More sections of Link could become driverless someday, with alignment changes, but the present-day board has made some decisions to knee-cap the capacity of the current sections. The present-day board still has some time to undo those decisions without much impact to service.

      6. Building a full wye south of ID station instead of the pocket track would also enable a direct service from East Link to Sea-Tac.

      7. Then it would look particularly silly that we hadn’t made the central lines driverless.

        It is particularly silly that we didn’t. It would look like the truth!

      8. So can someone either point to a description of the claimed cost savings of driverless systems? The questions I have include:

        1) given that there is a whole chain of labor from systems managers, shift supervisors, maintenance techs, safety officers, FEO’s, — what other positions in this chain can be eliminated or conversely, what other labor components would be required that aren’t with operator controlled systems?

        2) how would safety be maintained in a situation requiring evacuation of trains with no personnel on board?

      9. The cost savings from going driverless go up the more trips you operate. In many cases, it’s not so much about reducing operating costs with the current level of frequency. Rather, it’s about finding a way to dramatically boost frequency, especially during off-peak hours, while holding operating costs at their current level.

        For example, if instead of having a 2-car train operate every 10 minutes, we had a one-car train operating every 5 minutes, the total energy cost to operate the system would be virtually identical, but the system would be considerably more convenient for passengers, and ridership would increase as a result. Currently, this cannot happen because such a switch would require a doubling of the labor cost. Get rid of the drivers and changes like this become a no-brainer.

      10. But aren’t we already looking at 3 minute head ways in the DSTT and Northlink and the limiting factor to more frequency is infrastructure (vent in Ulink tunnel) and not labor, right?

      11. Remember, it won’t be truly self-sufficient — there are big “capital maintenance” projects which you need to do. Every 50 years, you need to rebuild bridges, and stuff like that.

        You need to accumulate funds for that, and it’s unlikely that you’ll get to a farebox recovery level where you can pay for all your depreciation out of the farebox.

        Even so, “operating profit” is excellent; for some reason politicians are more comfortable subsidizing big rebuilds of bridges or even track replacement than they are subidizing operator salaries. (I have no freaking idea why.)

      12. People are going on and on (in the media) about “driverless cars”.

        So let’s do a test run. Make Link driverless *with the current grade crossings* on MLK. This raises fewer issues than driverless automobiles — the crossings already have lights and gates.

        If people are OK with that, then maybe driverless cars will become a possibility.

      13. Vancouver’s Skytrain has been running every 5 minutes including evenings for over two decades, because the cost of doing so is no more burdensome than running a drivered train every 10, 15, or 30 minutes. Frequency is one of the top two or three factors in customer satisfaction and willingness to use transit.

        Yes, the combined International District-Northgate segment will always be at two-line frequency, presumably every 5 minutes or less, but that doesn’t help you if you’re in Ballard, Rainier Valley, SeaTac, or Bellevue. That’s why driverless trains on the Ballard line is important.

      14. No gates? Oh, right. I’ve seen photos of at least one gated crossing — maybe that was SODO.

        Well, that makes it an even better test for whether people will support driverless vehicles. :-)

  3. First Kick for the Major League Soccer season is a week from today, high noon, at Century Link Field. The ST website mentions that no Sounder service has been planned to Sounders matches yet this year, and taking Sounder to the Seahawks parade is still being promoted.

    I’m curious if the plan is to limit Sounder service to full-stadium matches only (which makes a certain sense, so long as people get enough notice to plan to take it, or just take ST Express, Link, Metro, or other modes). I’d love to know how Sounder performed on its night-match service last year. I’m also curious if ST is ditching sending Sounder to Mariners games.

    If more ST Express buses are planned to be on stand-by near the stadium, is there a similar plan for extra ST Express service to get to the matches/games? If so, how do riders find out about it?

    I notice ST blew past its budget on Link vehicle miles last quarter. This seems consistent with the Sounders and Seahawks getting some home playoff pairings, but also may reflect ditching the plan to roll back to 1-car consists on slow weekday evenings. That maneuver wasn’t expected to last forever as ridership developed. I know the official line is that 4-car consists cannot happen until U-Link opens, but track work has been completed all the way from Westlake to just south of Volunteer Park, according to the U-Link update posted yesterday. Is there any chance at all that the stub tunnel could be extended to handle 4-car consists in time for gridiron season, or better yet in time for Spurs and TImbers?

    1. From

      Sounder Train Service
      From Tacoma and Everett with stops in between, Sounder Trains will operate for select weekend matches with service to King Street Station, just a soccer pitch away from the stadium. Visit the Sound Transit website for more details.


      There are currently no Sounder trains scheduled. Ride Sounder trains to King Street Station, just a short walk from CenturyLink Field. Trains serve select weekend Sounders FC matches.

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