090216-st-suluFor once the most impressive aspect of the monthly ridership release isn’t Link’s continued and unprecedented strong growth but the release itself.  For the first time since I’ve been following this Sound Transit gave their ridership report a radical makeover.  So radical, I had to ask Sound Transit what the deal was.  I’m going to start off with my usual monthly summary, then the questions/response with Sound Transit’s Dave Huffaker about the update, then my usual charts.

January’s Central Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday boardings were 27,951/21,929/17,182, growth of 12.1%, 36.8%, and 35.1% respectively over January 2013. Sounder’s weekday boardings were down 1.7% due to disruptions on both North and South lines although strong weekend service brought total ridership up to 4.7%.  Total Tacoma Link ridership was down 6.7% with weekday ridership declining 5.3%. Weekday ST Express ridership was up 5.8%, with most growth occurring on East King and South King routes. Complete January Ridership Summary here>

It appears Central Link has reached a pretty historic milestone the last few months in that this is the fourth month in a row that Central Link has added more boardings, year-on-year, than all other Sound Transit services combined.  ST Express added 83,638 boardings, Central Link 112,228.  (Credit to Brent White for pointing this out).

Now for more information on all the new goodies in the new report:

Me: Would you mind giving me a bit of an explanation of what changed, why it changed, and do you see any more changes coming in the future?

Dave: Thanks for your interest. I am excited about our new format for our monthly ridership and performance information. As you may know, we previously had two separate reports that the Operations Department presented to the Operations & Administration Committee—one was the monthly ridership report, the other was our monthly modal performance data sheet. While they both provided a lot of data, I never felt that they conveyed the data in a real user-friendly way, and they also didn’t have the same look and feel to each other.

Much more of Dave’s response below, followed by my usual charts.

[Dave continued] We took the two pages that we previously provided and expanded them to eight pages. The first two continue to provide ridership data by mode, comparing to the prior year to date and providing information about average daily boardings. Page two provides trend charts for total ridership by mode, showing the current and prior years for comparison purposes. We follow that with one page for each of our operating modes, providing charts for some of our key performance metrics—on-time performance, farebox recovery, complaints per 100,000 boardings, etc. All of this data was provided in the modal performance data sheet previously, but in tabular format. Now we also have a small amount of space for some text analysis of the data. The next page provides data that has already been shown in the modal performance sheet, regarding parking utilization and fare evasion statistics. Finally, for those who were wedded to the old format, we provide the modal performance data sheet for the current year.

My goal was to convey the data both in the historical, data table way, but to supplement that with trend charts. The added advantage of the trend charts is the ability to bring in the previous year’s data set so you can see the trends both for the current year, but also compared to the prior year. In addition, the charts provide a better ability to see the data against the targets for the particular metric. Finally, with more space in the report, we have the ability to provide some explanations for unusual data points or trends. As we saw with the first O&A Committee meeting, these charts can provide fodder for new sets of questions and departure points for analysis.

My plan is to use this reporting format this year, adapting based on feedback received from our Board or as business needs evolve. Based on the feedback received, we will make sure that the data we show is clearly labeled and explained and most importantly, we will continue to enhance our analysis. We hope this new format proves useful for our Board and other interested people in the community.

You really should spend some time checking out the new format.  Seriously, click on this and check it out.  Lot’s of good information.  February’s numbers should be out soon, I look forward to seeing what additional information and analysis they’ll contain.  Until then, my boring old charts:

Jan14Weekday Jan14Weekday-Operationsyear Jan14Weekend Jan14Growth Jan14MvgAvg

35 Replies to “January 2014 Sound Transit Ridership Report – Oh My!”

    1. ?Que?

      Do we really have to stand in a queue to wait our turn to applaud, or are we waiting for John de Lancie (“Q”) to show up and cue the applause.

  1. But Link is obviously a train to nowhere that no one will ever want to ride. Right?

    1. As long as the Seahawks play a divisional game and the AFC championship with home field advantage…

      1. The weekend games may have some relationship to why Link weekend ridership is now exceeding ST Express weekend ridership.

      2. I can’t wait for February’s weekday boardings. They’ll be up 10% easily because of the parade. Metro’s too. I hope those numbers come out three days before the Prop 1 vote. Should be a nice reminder how good it is for a city to have an extensive public transportation system.

  2. I’m going to go out on a limb and make a prediction: Fare evasion will drop sharply over the next year.

    Here’s why:
    1. Gov. Inslee just signed Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2111 (as amended by the Senate) into law Monday. Repeat offenders will get citations handed to them, instead of getting to play games with refusing to receive them in the mail. This will also allow fare inspectors to spend half as much time as they have been sitting behind a computer in the office, entering data.
    2. Those who feel the need to evade the fare will hopefully get a low-income fare ($1.25?) starting March of 2015. I haven’t checked with ST what their plans are though, assuming Metro’s low-income fare program survives the Proposition 1 vote. I don’t expect ST to say much on the topic until after April 22. (This will, however, be a hit on ST’s fare recovery on all modes.)
    3. ST has told me they are reviewing various policies around ORCA. For starters, I’m sure they have gotten more than a few civl rights complaints about tap-on, tap-off, and cancel all being the same sound. Making these sounds distinct won’t just reduce “fare evasion” for visually-challenged riders. I think the vast majority of riders aren’t looking at the screen (and shouldn’t have to).
    4. For monthly passholders, I’m sure ST is eventually going to figure out the simple accounting formula for determining how many rode and forgot to tap on, instead of warning and fining passholders who have already pre-paid for as many rides as they want. To fine passholders is a very bad business practice. That said, taking care of point 3 is a higher priority, and in the works, I believe.
    5. Once 3. and 4. are implemented, fare enforcement officers will get to focus their time on talking to the true fare evaders.

    1. I hope that they fix the tap on tap off problem. Too many honest people screw that one up. I also don’t think a cancelled trip beep (when you tap at same station twice in five minutes) should be the same as a successful tap in beep. Also tap off beep could be different as well.

  3. Maybe Transit Isn’t Surging After All


    I liked this quote from the article: “Presenting misleading ridership numbers hurts the ability of transit advocates to actually advocate for transit.”

    Even if the numbers are up, to what end? Did Link take tens of thousands of cars off of I-5? McDonald’s numbers may be up year over year. That’s a success, right? But guess what else is up? Obesity. Diabetes. High Cholesterol. High Blood Pressure. Maybe giving Mickey D’s a standing O isn’t appropriate after all?

    ST’s numbers are as meaningless as if I opened up a grocery store in Seattle, forcibly closed down all my nearby competition because of “duplication of service,” then government levied an ever increasing tax on all other stores and food in the county, except if it’s purchased at my store.

    1. Sam, your standard of trolling is dropping. Your trolling is often entertaining but this one is just stale and annoying.

      Transit will never “take tens of thousands of cars off” the freeway, because new cars will just replace any that leaves. Transit enables growth despite the road network being at capacity. You can see that from the fact that I-5 traffic is staying the same and Link ridership is growing at the same time.

      Your McDonald’s analogy makes no sense. Transit does not cause health problems (or any sort of ill effects).

      Your store analogy also makes no sense. No one forcibly closed down anything, and taxes on vehicle drivers are lower now (and would continue to be lower if Prop 1 passes) than they were in 1998.

      1. I’m normally aiming for annoying, not entertaining, but okay, I’ll take your criticism. No more comments today, I promise.

      2. Transit will never “take tens of thousands of cars off” the freeway, because new cars will just replace any that leaves.

        In some parts of the world, good transit service has led to less traffic on the roads. France, in particular, had some awful traffic choking some of its cities in the 1980s, before a movement started to increase the quality of transit available in those cities.

        Of course, doing whatever they are doing in Europe might be a bad idea in the USA, because, you know, we wouldn’t want people to catch a bad case of communism or some other highly tragic disease that ends in -ism.

    2. Then explain total VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) for Washington state has declined despite a significant increase in population?

    3. That article is based on aggregated statistics across the entire country, and has nothing to do with Puget Sound as a region.

    4. So now Link is the cause of Obesity, Diabetes, High Cholesterol and High Blood Pressure. Who knew?

      Straw man propped up. Machine gun fired. Hay baled.

    5. The very next sentence after your “misleading ridership numbers” sentence begins a statement:

      Above all, they argue, the narrative that transit is surging distracts from the real mobility challenge facing U.S. cities: “driving is too cheap.” They write:

      Charging the right price for driving would give drivers a better-performing system, both by reducing congestion and raising revenue to help repair roads. It would help communities and the planet by reducing pollution. And, not least, it would help public transportation by leveling the playing field between transit and private vehicles. Increased subsidies for public transportation have neither reduced driving nor increased transit use. But ending subsidies to driving probably would do both.
      This is a point we’ve made time and again of late at Cities. Incentivizing transit use will only go so far without disincentivizing car use. It’s also why — despite our great interest in the future of transportation — we caution against getting too caught up in futuristic transportation. Many of the tools to ease the mobility problems facing cities can be found right here in the present.

      None of this is to dismiss the new ridership figures entirely. Again, the overall trends are in the right direction, and there are plenty of bright spots in the field.

      You like one sentence in this article, but are you prepared to also like what the rest of the article has to say?

  4. Link is climbing out of it’s over projected forecasts for the Full Funding Grant Agreement loan from the feds.
    2014 was projected at 39,480 daily weekday riders, so Jan numbers are only 25% short of the mark and 30% short a year ago. I like the trend charts too.

    1. Downtown didn’t reach the employment numbers of 2007 until late 2012. Still a long way to get back to where we SHOULD have been without the Great Recession.

      The amazing thing is how unprecedented Link’s continued double digit growth is. It’s simply unheard of for a system to be growing this much in it’s 5th year. It should be around 2-3% at this point. Instead the we’re talking double digits 16 out of the last 19 months! And the growth rate is accelerating! That’s just crazy.

  5. Ridership is up, that’s good. No need for Prop 1 right? Where are the boardings? Is the jump in numbers at the southern terminus stations or the RV? Or is it Amazon employees hopping the train to lunch? Does ST report passenger miles or better yet; cost per passenger mile? Anecdotally, I’ve been seeing much higher ridership on the Metro bus routes I use over the last couple of months. My bet is, a robust economy is driving ridership. That’s in contrast to the out of touch theory that after the collapse, way more people would be relying on the bus because they were out of work and strapped for cash.

    1. The full buses mean more buses are needed. Prop 1 losing will mean fewer buses.

      How do I know you don’t spend much time in downtown Seattle?
      “Or is it Amazon employees hopping the train to lunch?”

      “That’s in contrast to the out of touch theory that after the collapse, way more people would be relying on the bus because they were out of work and strapped for cash.” Could you cite the source of this straw hypothesis?

      1. “That’s in contrast to the out of touch theory that after the collapse, way more people would be relying on the bus because they were out of work and strapped for cash.” Could you cite the source of this straw hypothesis?

        That was Rep Deb Eddies response on this blog shortly after the recession.

    2. Westlake and SeaTac have seen the greatest increase in raw numbers, but the RV stations have had the highest growth rate.

      1. Well, Westlake is a given since it’s the terminus. It more or less just is where people are going to not where people are coming from. I’m more interested in the origination points. I’m a bit surprised that SeaTac can continue to grow since it’s parking was maxed out years ago. Without knowing the numbers it’s impossible to really know what “highest growth rate” means. Starting with one you have a 100% growth rate if you get two riders. A more meaningful measure would be percentage of system growth. If ridership grew by 10 and 5 were boardings in RV then that puts it more in perspective.

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