Image via wikipedia
Image via wikipedia

Link broke another record this month. For the first time ever, Link’s 12 month moving average growth rate passed 12%. It’s been consistently over 11% since December of last year but now it has crossed over the 12% mark. For a system that was supposed to be growing at 2-3% about now, that is impressive. It looks quite possible that by the time the extension to the University of Washington opens in 2016, Link will be on target to meet pre-Great Recession projections.

April’s Central Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday boardings were 31,072/23,904/17,304, growth of 15.0%, 11.4%, and 24.5% respectively over April 2013. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 12.4% with ridership increasing on both lines. Total Tacoma Link weekday ridership declined only 0.9%, it appears the bloodletting is slowing. Weekday ST Express ridership was up 5.6%, with most growth occurring on East King and Pierce County routes. Total Sound Transit boardings were up 9.4%. Complete April 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.April14WeekdayApril14WeekendApril14GrowthApril14MvgAvgApril14MvgAvgGrowth

26 Replies to “April 14 ST Ridership Report – Still Going…”

    1. Glen – not dis-agreeing with your data on Portland. But… just returning from a week there, I have these observations:

      – Getting an all day pass (senior citizen) for $2
      – traveling around downtown… never being more than a couple of blocks away from… streetcar, red, blue, yellow, green… AWESOME!!
      – new dedicated bridge coming on line soon – transit, biking, pedestrian only – connecting east and west across the Willamette.
      – It was SWEET!!

  1. Ridership exceeds the 2009 projections, but is only 1/3 of the 1997 projections when this line was approved. A long way to go to restore Sound Transits credibility.

    1. ST in 09 and ST in 97 were two completely different agencies. I’d say ST has earned back plenty of credibility. Much more than WSDOT or Metro.

    2. Was the 97 projection including U-link? Cause when U-link comes online, ridership may get pretty close to that.

      1. Yes. So the 1997 projection that JayH thinks we should be comparing to hasn’t even been built yet.

    3. What were those 1997 projections for?

      I know our local anti-transit group made similar complains about MAX. However, you have to do some fact checking to really see what is going on. They complained that the first MAX line was way over budget, but in reality they used budget numbers for an initial planned 10 mile line, when what was built was a 15 mile line. They claim the same MAX line had an estimated higher ridership, but the numbers they use were produced during the 1970s gas rationing years. Naturally, once that mess had cleared up a bit the demand for transit dropped.

      So, 1997 sounds like it was a really early estimate for a set of lines that may or may not resemble what was built. 12 years is an awful long time for lots of planning changes to happen to ones of these projects.

      1. Not quite overdelivered. It was about what was expected, once the final proposal was put in place. The people who say it didn’t meet original expectations use expectations from the very early years of planning, before a final design was selected.

  2. Keep in mind that the ’97 projection assumed an earlier opening for Link. Translate for the years delayed opening the line, and the numbers get even better.

  3. FWIW, April is the seventh consecutive month Link has gained more boardings than ST Express. I’m talking absolute count, not percentage.

  4. It’s great that Central Link is increasing ridership this past year faster then past years, when comparing prior Aprils! It looks like a service success.

    Still, this report shows Central Link farebox recovery plummeting to under 20% for the first time! There needs to be some hard questions why ridership increases, yet farebox recovery drops so much. It’s just non-sensical – especially this past month compared to even March. Did ST make a mistake this month?

    1. More passengers transferring from buses means more passengers on Link, but due to the fare sharing formula those added passengers might not contribute the same proportional amount of money into the Link farebox income.

      At the same time, it looks like Puget Sound Energy seems to have received approval for increasing its commercial energy rates in 2012 and 2013.

  5. Apparently ST changed the way they calculated tarebox recovery:

    Farebox recovery continued to decline in April, falling below the 2014 target. Accounting of the 2013 reconciliation caused April costs to be high; we expect to be at the target by year end.

  6. It appears that the second derivative of the Weekday Ridership chart has been positive (the rise in ridership is consistently greater than the month before) it’s clear that the airport is a good south end anchor. The whole thing is going to leap upward when U-Link opens, but extensions beyond the “core” between the U-district and airport are sadly not going to reap the same benefits.

    Now those extensions, if well used by the bus agencies around them, will dramatically lower the per-trip costs for trips to and from those three activity centers. But once Link heads north from the Ave station and south from Sea-Tac, ST will be in the realm of diminishing returns.

    1. Northgate is pretty important. Not least because, similarly to Mount Baker, the location of the station will change expectations for future redevelopment on the mall and office park sites.

      There are a bunch of ways you could define the “core” of Seattle or of our present or future mass transit system. I think any reasonable one that includes the airport also includes Northgate.

      That’s to say nothing of other places we might reasonably build trains — I’d guess we’d agree that some are more important than extensions north of Northgate or south of the airport.

      1. Lynnwood Transit Center Station will be the southernmost station north of the canal with easy access from the freeway for buses to pull off and then layover. Mountlake Terrace Freeway Station has the unfortunate weakness that the buses have to keep going a while more, and it will be a looong walk between the bus stop and the train station platform.

        Regardless of what the SIP says now, I think an upshot of Constantine’s directives is that CT and ST will put their heads together, and realize bringing their collective armada of commuter buses south of the county line isn’t worth the cost, and Link will do a great job carrying all the commuters currently riding CT’s 400 and 800 series routes, and ST’s 510 series routes. 28 minutes from Lynnwood TC Station to Westlake (Link’s projected travel time)? That’s the 511’s best possible travel time, dropping as low as 41 minutes on the schedule. Commuters will side heavily with taking the train and dropping their monthly pass cost due to the transter.

      2. CT is not a party to Constantine’s directive AFAICT. CT has already been leaning toward truncating all its commuter routes.

  7. Is there any way to figure out the origin of these increases?

    (1) Population growth in regions served by LINK.
    (2) Increased use by airport travelers (as tourists become familiar with and trust it)
    (3) Motorists who switched to LINK (the preferred source)
    (4) Shift of riders from bus routes to LINK.
    (5) The addition of stations (200th)
    (6) ?

    1. I’m wondering this too. Who are these new riders and why did they choose Link? Are people gradually switching from cars or other bus routes, even though the bus routes haven’t changed much since 2009? Did they recently move to Seattle (so they didn’t switch from anything)? Are more airport visitors choosing Link? [1] Have they long wanted to live on rapid transit and specifically moved near a station?

  8. Randall O’Toole at the libertarian Cato Institute just published another screed about “low capacity, high cost” rail transit. He included Link in that fair and balanced characterization, along with San Francisco’s Central Subway, the rail line in Honolulu and the Regional Connector in Los Angeles. It would be interesting for someone to comment on his piece, particularly in light of these statistics.

    1. Thanks for the heads up on the new O’Toole report, which as usual is based largely on National Transit Database numbers. It’s posted in pdf on this page:

      Seattle’s University Link is called out in the executive summary as follows: “Heavy rail costs far more to build than light rail, but the capacity of light rail to move people is far lower than heavy rail. In fact, the terms ‘light’ and ‘heavy’ refer to people-moving capacities, not the actual weight of the equipment.
      “Recently, a number of cities in the United States and elsewhere have built or are building a hybrid form of rail transit that can best be described as the worst of both, combining the cost-disadvantages of heavy rail with the capacity limits of light rail. Seattle is building a three-mile subway that costs nearly six times as much per mile as the average light-rail line.”

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