October saw the largest gain in Link ridership in a year. In fact it was the bookend to what at first blush looks like a ‘bad’ year for Link. For the first time since the line opened in 2009 Link was held to single digit ridership growth for a 12 month period. From October 2014 to September 2015 Link averaged only 6.4% year over year growth.

However that number is a bit deceiving. It is important to note that the year of Oct. 13 to Sep. 14 was Link’s best 12 months on record. Ridership grew 15.9% in that time period. A significant part of the higher than normal (normal for Link being 10-11%) bump was special event ridership. The year from Oct. 13 to Sep. 14 had three Seahawks weekday home games, a Super Bowl Parade and the first Mariners season since 07 worth talking about. Special event ridership is nothing to scoff at. Seattle’s worst traffic days are generally tied into afternoon events (and god forbid a fish truck turn over during one of them). Not only does Link take tens of thousands of cars off the road during the regular commute, but it takes the most cars off the roads on the worst traffic days.

Long story short, Link only had a no good very bad 12 months because the year before it had extremely higher than normal growth. Were the numbers to be revised down to average only 10.3% (the average for the prior year, Oct. 12 to Sep. 13), the 12 months ending Sep. 15 would have seen 10.1% growth. So calm down, ridership is still strongly heading in the right direction. And enough editorializing, here are the numbers.

October’s Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday average boardings were 38,297 / 22,138 / 25,205, growth of 17.8%, 0.3%, and 27.5% respectively over October 2015. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 9.8% with ridership increasing on both lines. Tacoma Link’s weekday ridership increased 0.4%. Weekday ST Express ridership was up 3.3%. System wide weekday boardings were up 8.1%, and all boardings were up 5.3%. The complete October Ridership Summary is here.

My charts below the break.


36 Replies to “October 2015 Sound Transit Ridership Report: Link up 18%”

  1. We should also consider the weather – it doesn’t look 2015 was higher than we’ve been thinking, but that october didn’t succumb to the wintertime fall off. Although it did on weekends.

  2. This marks the first time (other than 2009) that average daily ridership didn’t fall from September to October. In every other year, there were more average daily riders in September than October. This year the daily average was higher in October than September. I think that’s pretty interesting.

      1. Given the impact of sporting events on ST monthly averages, the ST marketing Dept should hire Ruchard Sherman to be their voice of reason and let the little old lady retire.

      2. @Al S,

        I like it. Or maybe have Sherman and The Voice of Reason duke it out over traffic…..there should be all sorts of creative ways to do this.

      3. Mr. Sherman rents a car from the airport. Ms. Reason heads to the train.

        Ms. Reason is on her way, while Mr. Sherman is on the shuttle to the rental car facility.

        Ms. Reason gets off the train while Mr. Sherman is at the front of the line, getting his keys.

        Ms. Reason is entering the stadium, while Mr. Sherman is just getting on his way.

        Ms. Reason is enjoying the game, while Mr. Sherman is held up by SPD. “I don’t care if you are Richard Sherman. The parking lot is full.”

    1. It will be interesting to see how the numbers of the bus system jump at the same time. Link will of course go up, but the bus access in NE Seattle will also increase to the point where many people who never would today would now consider using the bus to get around.

      1. I know I’ve been cynical lately, but I’m not sure if there will be much of a jump in transit usage. The big problem is the station at Husky Stadium. If Link went all the way to the U-District for this round, it would have been a much bigger, much easier change for the buses in the north end. I think there will be a major shift from the 71/72/73 buses over to Link, and decent numbers for Capitol Hill, but that is about it. A lot of the north end changes seem to work great for the Northeast part of town, but that is not a very dense area. I would guess those folks will continue to drive, especially when they realize the transfer to Link (if they try it) will not be that great.

        Some have argued that the changes in Capitol Hill are a net negative. Given the fact that it takes a while to adjust to new routes (and ridership sometimes goes down before going up) it wouldn’t surprise me if bus service overall is down for a while, then slowly starts creeping up.

      2. Link will see a huge jump when U-Link opens. It’s going to make the existing data on these charts look a bit anemic (to say the least).

        Bus ridership in NE/N Seattle will probably see a modest increase, but the big game changer will really be Link.

        There will be some exciting times next year….

      3. I hope that U-link is ready for Metro’s reorg on March 26. I think it is the acid test to see whether Metro and ST play nice.

      4. @baselle,

        ST will open U-Link as close to on schedule as they can – the opening really has nothing to do with Metro. The big question is will Metro cooperate.

    2. Thank the county council for allowing the routes to be restructured to serve U-Link, instead of having the routes emtombed in cement for all time.

      1. I don’t think anyone assumed they would be entombed for all time, but that the big change was going to be when Link got to the U-District (and Roosevelt and Northgate). That is when the day time frequency goes way up, transfers become much easier, and bus restructures are a lot more beneficial.

    3. and imagine how much more ridership there would be if the McGinn administration allowed more housing near the new Cap Hill station!

  3. I wonder if these ridership figures have anything to do with the reasons the freeways are blocked solid the whole work week? Or how people are reacting to either whatever is increasing the blockage, or the simple fact it’s there?

    Mark Dublin

  4. I’ve been using Link mainly to the Airport. Not only is it massively cheaper than a cab or parking, I’m not sure driving is faster during peak hours.

    My managers are also impressed with $3 Link tickets instead of $50 taxi rides on my expense reports. I’ve saved my employer at least $400 this year by using public transit. More impressively, I’ve probably saved time (avoiding taxi lines at the airport, no traffic on rail, etc.).

    1. I too have been mostly using Link for airport trips (4 times in October, surprisingly) and it’s just so much more convenient.

      Though, on the way to a red-eye flight out of Sea-Tac, I got stuck on a standing-room only 2-car train full of Seahwaks fans. Not the best conditions to be using Link as intended.

      1. @Brent White

        They already can run 4 car southbound trains for sporting events… just from the Stadiums. Its unfortunate that those were apparently not reliving the regular loads enough in this case to give more room in Bruce’s train.

      2. Bruce, if you were flying to someplace like New York City or San Francisco and told them about your LINK experience, they asked you why we’ve got such lame ridership.

        So there’s a silver lining for us. Four car trains will give us a standing load twice as big. Or more- when I drove the 60′ trolleybuses, Seattle passengers would resist closing up spaces a whole foot across!

        Now if you’d missed your flight because some idiot got his car hit by your train, you should have gone big-time to ST and the media, and told them to get those intersections under-cut before somebody like the US transportation secretary had this happen to him.

        And if you say it wit’ a Brooklyn dialect- the borough, not the LINK station- and told them this was da toid time this happened and that the whole system was for the boids- you’ll get some action.

        Same, with different dialect, for Mumbai, where rail transit has its own morgue.


  5. Did anyone else notice that for the third quarter of this year Link’s Cost/boarding dropped below $4, thus Link is now cheaper to operate than the busses are? That’s fantastic!

    1. That is key. Not only has Central Link become the workhorse route in the PS region in terms of ridership, but it is also carrying those riders more reliably and at similar to lower cost than other modes.

      Additionally, U-Link was always the LR segment with the highest potential ridership and the best economics. The surge of riders who will enter the system when U-Link opens will only improve the overall economics of the system as a whole.

      Additionally, removing buses from the DSTT will also improve Link economics as transit times in the tunnel go down and productivity goes up.

      1. The day when buses are removed from the tunnel can’t come soon enough. Rail will always be hobbled sharing the tunnel with painfully slow-loading buses. I’m concerned 6 minute headways on U-Link won’t be actually realized until then. I’ve timed Link’s advertised 10-minute off-peak headways as closer to 15 minutes (just under and just over 14) the last 2 times I’ve used it.

      2. @Under the Clouds,

        Concur. It is amazing to me that Metro thinks such unreliable service is acceptable, and it is amazing that Metro doesn’t seem to understand the effect they are having on Link (or that they just don’t care about it).

        But Metro will get kicked out of the tunnel in 2017 or 18 when construction starts on the convention center expansion. By then the majority of DSTT users will be riding Link anyhow, so maybe there is a chance to get Metro out even before then.

        Once Metro is out ST can speed up Link’s transit through downtown and improve reliability. And ST might even add a line from Stadium Station to Husky Station which would produce a combined 3 min headway on the interlined portion.

        The future looks bright, we just have to get there.

  6. When ST projects 50k daily riders between Everett and Lynnwood, remember reports like this – this is a line between downtown and the airport, connecting areas far denser than the area between those two towns.

    And be skeptical.

    1. Why be skeptical? When the line to everett gets built there will be far more desintations for riders than downtown Seattle. They’ll be able to travel from Everett to Downtown, Sea-Tac, Tacoma, Bellevue, Redmond, and possibly West Seattle and Ballard. This will vastly increase the number of people willing to ride – the network effect will make those kinds of predictions very viable.

      The current line is just that – a line, not a system. For it to get 40K/day on a standalone line with no real system backing it up is pretty incredible.

    2. Snohomish County will have park-and-ride lots. If we had 5,000 spaces in this corridor with half of those at an infill station at Boeing Access Road, those weekday numbers would surely be 10,000 daily riders more (at the expense of ST and Metro buses).

      Still, the forecasters project lots of SnoCo riders for a simple reason — more new households than new jobs in Snohomish County. The models have to tie work trips between homes amd jobs, and it’s very easy to manipulate them by assuming a greater numrtivsl jobs housing imbalance in Snohomish County..If there was a policy directive by PSRC to have lots more jobs in Snohomish County than homes, those numbers would plummet.

    3. Why would those riders jump on a train when they’ll be able to bus faster? Why would those riders do transit at all? Many don’t now. Why would we assume all those riders will head directly downtown? Will none of them work in Ballard or Fremont or Redmond, where many jobs are? Train won’t take them to Ballard without most of another hour wasted backtracking. Train won’t take them to Fremont at all. Train won’t take them to Redmond without going all the way through downtown first.

      Why do you trust the housing forecasts anyway? Do we think that the neighborhood activists in Lynnwood and Everett and whatever they call the bit in between are any more interested in density than the ones in Seattle?

      Why be skeptical? Because this lack of skepticism is determined to build a system all the way to the far end of nowhere that’s tied to a single line, is massively more expensive than express buses that could take people directly to Lynnwood, say, or Kirkland, or Redmond. Or a potential Ballard – U-district line. And it’s doing this at the expense of bonding capacity that could be building transit from where people are to where they want to be. People will take the mode that gets them there fastest. Even people who loooooove them some rail are, after the initial joy-ride, going to take the mode that gets them there a half hour sooner.

  7. October is always the peak transit month. UW opening, still decent weather and not dark. Football, Pointy Ball and Baseball seasons overlap, etc. Link ridership continues to grow at better than 5%/yr which is pretty amazing given that most systems tend to plateau after two years. Of course much has to do with Seattle being one of the fastest growing metro areas. Still, the “missing LINK” is all that TOD that doubled the cost of the line and doubled the transit time. It’s an airport/P&R to DT commuter rail + sports booster.

    LINK has gobs of excess capacity. If the money was thrown at ST Express buses, which no N. King county funds support, they’d be seeing the same sort of growth. When you’ve got full buses and don’t add any more buses well, yeah, you don’t see much growth in ridership.

    The fact remains that despite the huge capital investment that’s hamstrung transit spending for a generation Central LINK still doesn’t come close to moving as many people as ST Express buses.

    1. Actually, weekday boardings on Link should exceed boardings on ST Express sometime in late 2016 or early 2017.

      1. Yep, when U LINK opens it will be a huge success. I won’t fault ST on the route or “me too” with the number of stations between DT and UW. This is an example of mega spending that makes sense. OTOH, Beacon Hill remains “a work of art.” Take the Billion dollars it cost to tunnel under and build that station and instead put it toward ST Express and even with U LINK buses would be moving if not as many people winning hands down on miles moved and cars replaced.

      2. @Bernie

        I agree that the TOD at Beacon Hill has been anemic. Its starting to turn a corner, but its not even close to matching the kind of development going on in other stations. The zoning doesn’t help here because it caps out at 65 foot zoning, and only a few small lots near the station have anything like that level of zoning:


        I suspect there will be more development on average at the Rainier Valley stations than you’ll ever see on Beacon Hill unless there is a massive upzone to the surrounding parcels up there.

    2. Bernie is dead on. Look at the section titled “Unfunded needs” in chapter 5 of the SIP for a laundry list of ST Express trips that are needed. Sadly, the lack of political will to complete and enhance our HOV network only adds to the pain by bogging down existing buses in traffic. Even when we do improve HOV speeds for transit, people start petitions to bring back the good old days of clogged HOV lanes.

      1. I know people are PO’d about having topay to use a road when it’s every American’s God give right to drive for free but geez; can someone explain the “new math” for me:

        Vehicles must be 3+ person carpools for free access during commuting hours. Yet a pair of 2-person carpools provides the same gains in trip reduction as one 3-person carpool

        The way I count 3 cars carrying 6 people reduces the number of drive alone trips by 3. 2 cars carrying 6 people reduces the number of drive alone trips by 4. But the important number is cars on the road which is cut by HOV 3+ which was the only way to get the single lane north of 522 moving. The variable tolling let’s WSDOT keep that lane at full capacity. We’re seeing tolls bump up above $5 so people are voting for the HOT lanes with their wallets.

        I’ve been watching the travel times in the mornings since they opened the HOV/Transit/HOT lanes and they have been significantly improved from Lynwood to Bellevue. Using the GP lanes is about the same. The big difference is the north/south divide at 522 where there were no new lanes added by the restriping. On the north end travel in the single HOV/Transit/HOT lane is slightly better but the GP lanes are slower. But if someone is going all the way from Lynwood to Bellevue in the GP lanes they more than make up the lost time for the entire trip.

        I had my doubts about the retripe and the lack of merge lanes but it’s working fine. There’s less of the weave going on now because of lanes ending or being exit only. The one place where I’ve seen an issue is NB on the hill north of 520 where there is no longer a dedicated truck climbing lane.

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