Superman, DC Comics. Art by Jim Lee

Last month King County Metro launched a new transparency/ridership campaign. The page is located here, it’s worth checking out.

While they provide their own bar charts showing the last year of growth, I took their provided data from the last 4 years and plugged it into the charts I regularly produce based on Sound Transit’s ridership reports. The results are startling. Seriously, wow. I don’t want to pat myself on the back too hard, but in terms of visualizing success, I haven’t seen stronger.

First a bit of refresher. In September 2012 KC Metro undertook a aggressive restructuring in Ballard and West Seattle around the introduction of Rapid Ride. These restructures were based on the County Council’s new service guidelines. And Metro’s restructures freakin’ produced. Yes, they were contentious. Highly contentious. Taking away transit, even lowly utilized transit, is a highly politicized action. However the results show that if you put those hours into high demand corridors you get amazing results. Assuming your goal is to provide the most amount of people the best possible transit options it works. It really, really, works. After looking at the below charts everyone reading this should write their KC councilmember and thank them for their courage and leadership.

To me, this seems to argue for more aggressive reorganizations. Fast, frequent, all day routes bring in riders. Who would have ever guessed? Hopefully now that Metro is in the position to be adding service they will put those hours where it will do the most good, the routes, corridors and services that people have voted for with their feet.

Nov15KCMWeekdayMvgAvgMore charts below.Nov15KCMWeekdayRidershipNov14KCMWeekdayGrowth

25 Replies to “New Metro Ridership Report – Up, Up, and Away”

  1. How much of this new ridership is a direct result of new residents? In other words, is any of the ridership gain attributable to what Metro has done, or would these riders have ridden the old routes if the restructure never happened?

    Not that I’m opposed to the restructure! (Except for taking away late night service to Ballard, and for Councilmember Rasmussen’s inability to stand up for the 24 reroute.)

    1. Yes, and before everyone gets too giddy over recent gains and what all that means, let’s remember that Metro’s Avg.Daily Boardings in 2008 were 412,991. Service area population grew over 100,000 since then. In terms of per capita transit rides on a daily basis, Metro still has a ways to go to catch up to 2008 levels.

      1. If you include the Link ridership that didn’t exist in 2008 and the growth in ST Express ridership, King County per capita transit rides have increased by a few percentage points since 2008.

      2. Fair enough. Do you want to add in combined operating costs to further make a fair comparison for how transit in King County is now, compared to 2008?

      3. Also, since Matt seems to be using Metro’s own data, if you want to do an apples-to-apples comparison of Metro’s average weekday boardings between 2008 and 2014, you should use Metro’s own figure of 392,232 average weekday boardings in 2008 (see page 6), rather than the 412,991 unlinked trips number you presumably took from the Federal Transit database.

      4. Wow, good job of dredging that one up from a 2010 report. Yeah, I used the number reported to the Feds, which is 20,000 daily riders more than the footnote in the report uses to explain the difference.
        2 Differs slightly from “typical” weekday ridership reported in FTA’s National Transit Database.
        That brings new meaning to the words, ‘differs slightly’ or a couple of RapidRide lines worth.

    2. I’m having a hard time seeing why it matters much. Demand is demand. Whether it’s because the population rises, or people decide to take more trips, or they start choosing transit over other modes, the proper response is the same: more seats for these riders. (And better routing, trains where appropriate, and moving destinations closer together and more mixed-use.)

      It’s the opposite with the car infrastructure. We can only provide a reasonable amount for essential and discretionary trips, but we can’t guarantee that nobody will face congestion, everyone will find a free parking space at their destination’s door, growing garages and houses don’t make areas unwalkable, and car pollution and resource depletion is insignificant. So just expanding highways and parking lots forever is not a solution — Los Angeles tried that. Then the question becomes, do we offer maximum transit mobility instead, or cap transit, or don’t offer it at all? More transit means more energy use, but at a lower level than driving, and society decided 130 years ago that transit was worth it. It wouldn’t hurt to set our transit level to Europe’s: many countries have decided that’s the right balance between offering mobility service and energy use. That would argue for a vast increase in service which would allow demand to reach a natural ceiling.

  2. Thanks for producing these charts, Matt.

    While everybody is writing their council-member, you might also mention options for increasing efficiency at Metro including accelerating retirement of paper transfers once the ORCA LIFT. Without money for new buses we’re going to need to keep the buses we have moving to get everybody where they are going. Every little improvement helps.

    1. Forgive my cultural ignorance, but what does the “T” stand for? “LIF” is Low Income Fare. I get that. Is the “T” Transit, Transfers, Ticket, Ticketing, Taxis, Tariff-Free (since there is no charge for applying, or for the card), Tax-Free, Trumps, Technology, Tarjeta, Try-to-come-up-with-a-fourth-word-to-complete-the-acronym, Trademark, Trouble, Tribble, Treble, Tap, Trips-Unlimited, Truly?

      Going through the FAQs, I see that Metro wants youth to get the youth card rather than the LIFT card, and yet $5 is charged for getting the youth card. What possible reason is there to charge for getting the youth card?

      Is anybody interested in a first-day ride to celebrate the LIFT, including rides on Metro, Link, the SLUS, and the two water taxis (although the LIFT fare is $3 and $3.75 on the water taxis, and obviously more for the rest of us)? That would be Sunday, March 1. Maybe end up down on the beach — on Vashon — to have a small bonfire to burn outdated paper transfers? At an end their reign is, and too long already has it been.

  3. I’m not going to argue against your conclusion — but you need to factor in the economy; it’s the biggest near-term driver of travel. Car driving and congestion has also gone *way* up during the past couple of years as the economy has heated up around here, exacerbated by construction effects on SR 99. So demand is up overall, and we’re back to a period we haven’t experienced for seven years or so when highways are congested again.

    1. Car driving and congestion has also gone *way* up during the past couple of years as the economy has heated up around here,

      Is this true? If so, it’s only the last year, maybe and a half. As of 2013 the decade old trend of declining VMT was still going on.

      1. Slightly declining VMT *per person*. But the per-person VMT is also related to how many people have had jobs to go to, so we’ll need to see if it continues, and either way the number of people is increasing.

  4. Do you know where I can look at data for individual bus routes? Is that available somewhere? I would love to see charts ranking individual bus routes. Hopefully this would list the number of buses that serve each route as well.

  5. Great news for Metro, although the data your present doesn’t support your specific conclusion that the increases were caused by the restructures. If anything it appears from the charts that ridership started rebounding earlier in 2012 (as the economy continued to improve) and continued to do so without a significant bump from the restructures but with a big bump in February 2013 when everyone took the bus to the Seahawks parade.

    Not to say that there isn’t data that would support a portion of the ridership increases isn’t out there – it just isn’t here.

    1. It’ll be interesting to see what the difference this February will make. Even if the seahawks repeat it’s unlikely that they’ll get the same enormous crowd they got last year.

  6. Agree with most of all of the above- though anybody giddy about a Dilbert-era chart needs to inquire if any item in the recipe for their last office-party includes a prescription from a pharmacy with “Green” in its name.

    Living so far outside Seattle, my usual visit has a narrow time limit. Ride in is too slow, but bus-to-Sounder transfer in Tacoma has a coffee stop, and misses worst of I-5 congestion inbound to Seattle. Same coming back- though last good “ride” leaves King Street at 4:12. Badly shortening visit.

    Don’t like implications of I-5 being jammed at my Olympia on-ramp at 6am- Everett passengers probably feel same. For either Intercity Transit 600’s or ST 592, a two hour ride for a 60 mile “express” trip is slow. But extra time here owes mostly to meandering routes on both service.

    Also, as a passenger, don’t really mind looking at five miles of red tail lights- through the window of 60 mile an hour transit. Never “bought” idea of evaluating transit by effect on traffic congestion. Systems worldwide have packed trains screaming past choked highways, the more populations, employment, and income increase.

    But transit assures that there’s at least one lane per corridor in which everybody is moving fast and smooth. By the thousands. So a traffic jam becomes less a fate and increasingly more of a choice. Letting working life keep moving “in the meantime” until living patterns adjust because driving sucks.

    But it really bugs me that for any Seattle errand off a LINK route outside Downtown, I usually can’t use transit at all. With a cab, at least I’m helping a worker earn a living. But 120 miles on my own odometer on account of a five mile ride at the end of my trip is worse than all those freeway tail-lights- because there’s no absolutely technical reason local service must be so slow.

    Every arterial block without both transit-only lanes and signal pre-empt is one more point off Metro’s achievement score, ridership or not. Squared or cubed by every year politicians don’t made it happen. Like, wow, like bummer having to vacuum these brownie crumbs out of my car rug. Hey, man, you sold me oregano!

    Mark Dublin

  7. My bus route has definitely gotten more crowded over the last 3 years which i would attribute mostly to the impact of the economy rather than anything else.

    True it’s just one route, but there has not been any other change to it schedule wise, etc.The only difference is the area’s economy, plus the impact of rising rents driving more people to live in more outlying neighborhoods than before.

    Still, good for revenues as the increased ridership, fare increase, and short term declining fuel costs should make for a stable financial picture.

  8. It’s good to see the stats. I have to admit that I had to dig for the route level data by scrolling through the appendices, and I feel that these data should be presented in the base report.

    I also wonder what will change when tens of thousands of riders move to Link when U-Link opens on Capitol Hill as well as UW. It appears that several of the lines that report overcrowding will be in corridors served by U-Link, for example. The integration plan is going to be interesting. How much service will be the status quo versus new service design and headways?

  9. Great and all but the bus in Seattle still sucks.

    Rode daily for years and back riding last week. In just a week:

    -Multiple commute hour no shows and oba doesn’t have info for X routes.

    -stuck in traffic just like cars!

    -while riding with 3 year old and bags, none of the sad pieces of rapid ride humanity offered me a seat

    -walkers and carts on stair lifts, 5 stops in a row

    -lengthy delay while the front of the bus screamed about who was more disabled.

    This was just a week. Imagine ridership if Metro was nice.

    1. Often that’s the case on the E when I ride it, while on Swift, the imaginary persons are everywhere on the bus in seats.

      1. There is no limit (except total space on the bus) for people with disabilities. There are a finite number of spaces where wheelchairs can fit, though. However, some of those wheelchairs (and some of the walkers) fold up, enabling more non-folding devices to fit.

        The number of spots where non-folding wheelchairs (and scooters and walkers) can fit varies according to floor plan, but in all my years of riding, I have never seen a rider with a disability turned away for lack of space for her/his mobility aid on a fixed route. I have seen large groups of ambulatory riders not be able to get on a crush-loaded vehicle several times though, and heard quite a few times of running out of room on the bike racks before the triumvarates were installed.

        That said, I’m all for more mobility aid slots. In practice, that means more room for passengers to stand.

      2. It is illegal to refuse to let a disabled person on a bus merely because they are disabled. (This actually happened fairly recently and the bus driver is being retrained.)

        There is only room for a certain number of large rolling devices (quite a few collapsable ones, but not very many ones which don’t fold), and the rule is first-come first-serve regarding those slots, just as it is with bus capacity in general.

    2. Disabled people are allowed, but they shouldn’t bring their bad-transit-etiquette walkers. They especially shouldn’t let their walkers jut into the aisle or the driver will say it’s not allowed and insist they move or pull the walker tighter in, even if it’s pulled in as far as it can go and there’s no place to move to because the seats with extra space are already full.

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