Will my son even know what this is?Seriously, I am about to run out of superlatives to describe Link’s growth. I realize it’s probably gotten a bit boring for most of you, but please try and keep in mind that what has been happening the last three years is simply unheard of. No line has ever been about to go into its fifth year still recording double digit growth.

Even odder, the growth is increasing.

  • March 2011 to 2012: 1959 additional boardings
  • March 2012 to 2013: 3106 additional boardings
  • March 2013 to 2014: 3434 additional boardings

Last month I told you that Link had already met its daily monthly ridership goal for 2014. Now it looks like Link will reach its 2015 goal by the fall of this year.

March’s Central Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday boardings were 29,919/22,365/16,917, growth of 13.0%, 7.7%, and 15.8% respectively over March 2013. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 4.8% with ridership increasing on the South line while 61 mud slide related cancellations drug down North numbers. Total Tacoma Link weekday ridership declined 10.2%. Weekday ST Express ridership was up 8.7%, with most growth occurring on East King and Pierce County routes. Complete March Ridership Summary here>

As I’ve been saying all year, go look at the actual report. Lots of great stuff in this new format and much more information than in my post.  My charts below the fold.


46 Replies to “March 14 ST Ridership Report – Need a Thesaurus”

  1. Well, it makes a little bit more sense with the reported growth of Seattle as a place.


    According to the US Census Bureau, Seattle proper added 17,770 people in the period July 2012 to July 2013 (to 652,405), the fastest growth rate of any “large” place on the list. (Because the table threshold is 50,000 people, Seattle actually places 38th with a 2.8% rate; however, only 9 of the places with greater growth rates are more than 100,000 people, and none are bigger than 250,000. Table here: http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=bkmk)

    It’s not difficult to think of that single data point a bit more holistically, to drive some fanciful thinking about the Link ridership numbers. If the city added that many people, how many people have moved to the metro area? This table is for 2012-2013; what about the year before, and what about this year?

    Seattle is growing; it’s not hard to make the connection that Link use grows just the same. Not that it’s a problem, or anything :).

    1. Before Link came in, how many of those new arrivals would have moved to the Rainier Valley?

    2. @Adam: Yeah, plus we start from an artificially low base [Hint: look at Metro’s ridership numbers for 2007 through 2009].

      1. The artificially low base is true, but a context is needed.
        1. Link has been dinged for its low ridership numbers, without context, since it opened. So – welcome to the other side of that pillow.
        2. That low base accounts for rate of growth the first 2-3 years. The rest is unusual. There has been minimal TOD in the Rainier Valley – a lot of this growth, it would seem, is behavioral. I personally would love to see ST do a walkshed study of those RV stops. It is WAY more than 1/4 mile.

      2. I agree that light rail stations draw a lot further than the 1/4 mile that is commonly accepted. When Buffalo opened their line, they had a much lower ridership than they expected. When they did a detail analysis, they found most stations drew from much further than they expected, but their feeder bus arrangement was bringing far fewer passengers than they expected.

    3. Huh? In the best year Seattle grew something like 2.8%, but we are seeing 13% growth in Central Link ridership. It’s hard to imagine how a 2.8% increase in general population could realistically lead to a 13% increase in Link ridership.

      And, yeah, if the majority of new residents left their cars at home and took Link instead then you could see something like this, but wouldn’t that imply that Link is working extremely well? Growth in the city without growth in road demand/infrastructure? That is transit and urban planning Nirvana.

      Congrats to Link and ST — this is very good news.

      Now bring on Husky Link!

      1. Except, if that 2.8% growth is more concentrated near Link stations, you would expect something like the 13% figure.

        I think it would be interesting to see one of these reports analyze investment around Link stations. When the first MAX line opened, within a few years there was somewhere around $1 billion in investment near the stations in Far East Portland, and that was back when $1 billion was a lot of money. It was unheard of for that type of real estate investment to be made in the long neglected regions of east Portland.

        I would expect Link to have a similar experience.

      2. Except, if that 2.8% growth is more concentrated near Link stations, you would expect something like the 13% figure.

        I don’t know if that’s true, but if it is, it’s an even better reason to paint Link’s growth a significant success story: it’s inspiring some TOD despite the staggering negligence of the council regarding upzones in the station’s walksheds.

      3. People are parking their cars in Rainier View and south Beacon Hill and walking to the stations, like those long walks at football games. At first there was a lot of resistance to Link in Rainier Valley because of the lack of frequent feeders, the construction disruption, making intersections right-turn-only, etc, but people are starting to warm up to Link over time.

  2. This is the first year where March ridership was actually less than February ridership. I wonder if there was a football game or something like that…

    1. Since weekday numbers are down (weekend is up) I’m guessing it was the Seahawks parade bump in Feb?

    1. Ouch, you’re going to get smacked down for using Atlanta – didn’t they get our Forward Thrust money? Yeah, that’s the ticket.

      1. No, it was the archaic WA state supermajority rules. It actually passed something like 54-46. Our transportation system would have been dramatically different if it had been funded under 50%+1 rules. The lines on that proposal were in almost all cases better than what we have (or will get).

      2. MARTA has been running for decades so it has picked up the ridership Link hasn’t yet. People can’t move immediately after a line is built. They move and change jobs naturally over several decades. Each time they do, the ones who would take rapid transit are more likely to move near a station. The ones who don’t, don’t; they look more at the house size and color and freeway access. The result is a slow migration of transit riders toward trunk stations.

        While we’ve lost a lot in not having rapid transit since the 80s, on the other hand technology and urban planning have improved since then. We would have gotten heavy rail with larger, noiser trains and more disruptive right of ways, possibly slower, with stations in possibly worse locations, and unwalkable 80s development around stations, and high-floor trains.

    2. Not a downer at all, just the difference between a first segment and a complete system. I would expect Link ridership per mile to also double, or more, when it’s operating between Lynnwood, Redmond, and Federal Way.

      1. Few Atlantans would call MARTA complete, but I agree that the bigger the network the more useful any given station. Still, I’m not championing MARTA. Atlanta metro get’s so much wrong in terms of land use, road building regional government. MARTA ridership is stigmatized. Nor is MARTA itself well run. There’s been some recent TOD stuff, but most stations are park and ride wastelands. The bus network has withered to fund rail operations. Link, in progressive, geography constrained Seattle with its vibrant downtown (where most trips will likely terminate even after the expansion), expensive parking and congested freeways should be crushing MARTA and I don’t understand why it isn’t.

      2. Not only is Marta a complete system, but it has been operating for decades. First segment was opened in 1979, so they have a 30 year jump on Puget Sound. It has been operating long enough to have developed building patterns around stations.

      3. Ha! If you want to compare to MARTA, at least make a complete comparison….

        MARTA ridership growth is very low compared to Link’s double digit growth. In fact, if you want to compare directly you could make the case that Link ridership growth is running 5 to 10 times higher than for MARTA!


        And, yes, the data is not for the same period, but if you look at any given month and compare to Link’s sustained double digit growth, you will see that Link far surpasses MARTA in any reasonable measure of growth in ridership.

        But this is a comparison of heavy rail to light rail, a full system to a starter system, and mature system to a new system. So no comparison between the two systems should be taken too seriously.

    3. Haha, since we’re throwing out non comparables: I expect Link ridership to TRIPLE per mile by 2020.


      1. @Charles,

        Of course; U-Link will only increase the mileage of the system by about 25% but is expected to more than double total ridership.

      2. Yes — U-Link + Central Link were pegged at 75k riders by 2020 while only adding minor mileage to the . I personally think they will blow that number away considering the population growth in the U District and Capitol Hill and the growth of Capitol Hill as a destination (it always has been, but never like now.) My sunny guestimate is based on 90k riders, so maybe a bit less than 3x/mile. But still — huge growth is what I think we’ll see the second U-Link opens (and double digit increases on U-Link alone each of its first years would be the norm.)

    4. Its true that MARTAs per-mile ridership is more than double Link’s. But Link is moving up the charts now. Its ridership of 1,900 weekday boardings per mile is in the same league as the Denver, Phoenix and Charlotte light rail systems, and the SF MUNI streetcar system, not far behind Portland. Link now handily beats the Dallas, St. Louis and San Jose systems. (that last one isn’t hard – my 2010 data shows the Cleveland and San Jose light rail systems have the lowest ridership-per-mile in the country).

      1. The most ironic thing about San Jose light rail is that its rush hour looks like Link on a slow evening. Plenty of seats available.

        It even has stop strips like buses, because some stations are so low-volume it won’t stop unless somebody presses the strip.

      2. Actually, San Francisco’s ridership per mile is closer to 6,000. Wikipedia had previously insisted on using route miles (which produces a system length of about 71 miles), rather than track miles like every other Light Rail system on that list.

      3. @FDW

        It might be a good idea to explain why route miles are so much greater than track miles in San Francisco. The Muni Metro subway carries five lines from Embarcadero to the junction just east of Church Street and three west to West Portal. The only line which doesn’t share trackage with others for half its length is the T Third.

  3. Spell checking software has made a terrible speller out of me. Grammar too. I wish I had a nickel for everytime i typed ‘your’ instead of you’re on STB, or an edit function (hint, nudge)

  4. “but please try and keep in mind that what has been happening the last three years is simply unheard of. No line has ever been about to go into its fifth year still recording double digit growth.”

    Matthew, that would suggest you went back and looked at all of the first light rail line segments around the U.S. and examined their first few years of ridership growth. Have you?

    1. Methinks a good deal of this double-digit ridership growth can be attributed to opening the initial segment at the depths of the Great Recession, and then we grow out of that recession in our slow but steady recovery. Had things been the other way around, I shudder to think what Link ridership trends might be!

  5. Probably all of the above are true. But a couple of things in addition:

    1. Wonder how first five years of MARTA ridership compared with LINK. Even for most extensive and expensive transit service, it takes awhile for most people even to notice it’s there, let alone adjust their travel patterns to use it.

    2. The year LINK opened, the outlook on the US economy was about like it would have been out a LINK window if something went really, really wrong a quarter mile downgrade from Tukwila International.

    3. A lame economic recovery is better than a dead one- so stats are good news for future. Since present conditions are a trillion percent political and zero percent about the actual condition of the country- failing a Force 10, ridership working life of LINK should be just fine.

    Mark Dublin

  6. Once again, there is higher ridership but not higher farebox recovery. March monthly ridership is up by 12.5% but farebox recovery is the same as 2013 – and below target. How is this possible?

  7. Anyone know what’s going on with Tacoma Link? It seems to have been hemorrhaging ridership for the last couple years.

    1. I rode it a few months back, and I didn’t notice much new development going on along the line (unlike what we are seeing in Seattle). Maybe that has something to do with it?

      Also, it might be worth looking into how Tacoma’s economy is doing. Link was not doing so well in the beginning when Seattle’s economy was not in as good of shape as it was now.

    2. Doesn’t help when Pierce Transit has made huge cutbacks – that affects the whole network down there.

    3. As others have said, “Will the last person in Tacoma please turn out the lights.” Pierce County has no industry. I believe State Farm moved into some or all of the space Russel vacated but that’s just reshuffling desks from elsewhere in the county. Tacoma is having a hard time transitioning from an industrial economy. It’s major “industry” is healthcare which is largely dependent on government benefits. With the military winding down I expect more hard times to come. When you build a rail system who’s market value for fares is zero what would you expect?

  8. The reason Link has been able to keep growing is because it’s initial ridership was abysmal. ~3,000 people a month works out 100 more people a day. That’s great if you’re a restaurant. Not so impressive for a $2 billion dollar public works project. Seattle I was told today by someone who works in the DT real estate industry is the fastest growing city on the nation. He quoted something like 19% growth but I don’t recall over what time period that was. Link’s growth is lagging behind what would be expected given the influx of population and the growth in jobs. Until U-Link opens it will continue to be a sledge hammer cracking peanuts. The RV stations are virtually vacant most of the day. You’re left with an airport shuttle and a DT circulator with the bonus of being a big benefit for fans of professional sports.

    1. This was covered in comments above. The population growth rate from 2012 to 2013 was 2.8%. The Link year-over-year growth in weekday boardings was 13%. Link growth outpaced population growth, possibly explained by more people moving into housing near Link stations compared to other areas.

    2. I believe you are confusing monthly totals with monthly weekday averages, Bernie. The report estimates that total monthly boardings on Central Link increased by over 91,000 (from 733,058 to 824,711). The 3,000 is the average increase on a weekday.

  9. Some rough commuter math:

    If someone moves close to a train station and becomes a regular commuter on the train, that adds roughly 500 boardings on that train per year. It would take roughly 2000 such new riders to add 1 million boardings per year.

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