stvsmetroSTB posts a monthly update on Sound Transit’s Link Light Rail ridership and Quarterly updates on Express bus service, and I thought it might be interesting to create a similar post on King County Metro’s ridership. We’re often excited about Sound Transit’s new service plans, but ST is still a very small player compared to Metro. Metro serves 3 times the number of riders of SoundTransit (that includes buses and light rail) and is the 7th largest bus system in the country (and the second most used Trolley Bus service in the country!), so it is important to keep a close eye on Metro.

metrobymonthAs you can see from this chart, Metro’s ridership isn’t moving fast. Average weekday riders are flat between this year and last, and have been up approximately 2% per year for the past 4 years (after a 2% decline caused by the recession).  Those small ridership changes are despite the deployment of RapidRide, big fare increases, various restructures, and the small service reductions of 2013.

2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009
Jan 399,659 391,165 382,570 346,481 367,442 368,984 378,489
Feb 403,660 396,446 386,026 384,704 363,735 360,624 367,692
Mar 398,675 396,159 386,284 373,495 365,156 364,532 373,790
Apr 408,368 407,430 401,121 390,652 380,261 364,905 381,236
May 414,693 415,463 408,461 399,030 389,018 371,357 385,628
Jun 399,673 396,597 388,215 385,084 375,049 360,476 370,254
Jul 396,465 392,605 381,570 373,882 364,403 353,249 364,223
Aug 387,251 382,214 370,386 364,909 357,025 346,108 347,649
Sep 390,296 399,363 386,868 382,395 365,628 357,702 357,929
Oct 421,955 415,086 403,681 393,665 392,552 382,314
Nov 399,668 394,393 383,972 373,625 349,807 360,059
Dec 359,928 354,129 338,578 340,088 329,071 329,071

metromaIf you had a goal of increasing Metro’s ridership  by 10% in a year, how would you do it? In a future post, I’ll delve into some specifics about Metro’s ridership to show where the weak points are and what can be done to improve ridership.

94 Replies to “A King County Metro Ridership Update”

  1. King County Metro actually doesn’t have the most used trolleybus service in the country… that crown belongs to the San Francisco Municipal Railway (MUNI). According to the APTA report you linked, MUNI’s trolleybuses carried 6,037,800 passengers in October 2014, while Metro’s trolleybuses carried 1,805,900 passengers in the same period.

    1. MUNI also has more trolleybus routes and they cover a greater percentage of the city, so that’s partly why their numbers are higher.

      1. the second most used Trolley Bus service in the country!

        Out of how many, four? Are we really even 2nd if you combine the Boston area. Don’t get me wrong, I love the tolley buses but most systems gave up on them around 1960 which is why they are so expensive to purchase. And of course the reason most transit agencies gave up on them was that maintaining the overhead lines was so expensive. Besides the air quality benefit for people in the city Seattle has the added benefit of cheap hydro power which is municipality owned. It’s going to be up to Seattle and SF to develop cost effective off wire systems that are attractive elsewhere. And the bar is being raised with the improvements of hybrid buses.

        Oh, wait… in a couple of years everything will run off of hydrogen fuel cells so why bother :=

      2. There are 5 trolleybus systems in the US and the differences in average weekday ridership between them are huge:
        1) San Francisco Municipal Railway (San Francisco, CA) – 176,800
        2) King County Department of Transportation (Seattle, WA) – 74,000
        3) Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (Philadelphia, PA) – 22,100
        4) Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority (Dayton, OH) – 8,600
        5) Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (Boston, MA) – 4,600

        Source: 2015 Q2 APTA Ridership Report (https://www.apta.com/resources/statistics/Documents/Ridership/2015-q2-ridership-APTA.pdf)
        Note: The Boston ridership figure is only for the trolleybus routes and doesn’t include the Silver Line BRT which uses dual-mode (electric trolley & diesel) coaches.

      3. The absolute ridership numbers are meaningless without knowing the size of the cities, how much of the city they cover, and what percentage of bus routes they are. If we had trolleybuses on the C, 5, 11, 26, 28, 31, 32, and 48, our numbers would be closer to SF and Vancouver.

  2. What would I do for a 10% annual increase? Remove fares for all of the efficient routes. I’d add a big boost to property taxes a bit before this to ramp up the number of buses and drivers. Yes, it would cost more, but the cost would be small compared to our car infrastructure.

    1. What are “efficient routes”?

      Who rides “efficient routes”?

      Why do people whose local routes are “efficient” deserve free fares, but not others? What about people whose routes might be “efficient” by your preferred metric, but for decisions they have no control over?

      Instead of dividing free vs. non-free rides by route, what if we determined the “efficient” times and days to ride? Would that be more or less fair?

      1. Metro already distinguishes between ridership-based routes and coverage routes, so that’s a simple definition of efficient vs inefficient routes. Metro’s service guidelines say to spend most service hours on efficient routes and to periodically reorganize routes to make them more efficient (e.g., more frequency on the highest-ridership streets),. But it also says to reserve some hours for coverage routes, meaning low-ridership routes in neighborhoods that would otherwise have no bus service. As Metro has made the frequent network more widestpread, coverage route are more or less those the routes that are half-hourly or less weekday daytime, except those corridors where two 30-minute routes combine for 15-minute service. Of course, some 30-minute routes are really underservice rather than coverage routes: the service guidelines report says they should be increased but Metro doesn’t have the resources to do so.

        Making the efficient routes cheaper or free would encourage people to move to those areas if they want the most bus service, and would accurately reflect the cost of providing the service. So that’s the argument for it.

      2. Yeah, that’s what I thought. It’s an absolute load of nonsense.

        Routes and their ridership are not intrinsic characteristics of each neighborhood where they stop. They have a lot to do with Metro’s decisions about what routes to run. Metro has eliminated quite a few branches in the last few years, and introduced replacement service that’s struggled to attract riders. Many of these restructures yet were the right thing to do, as they introduced more frequent service that has proved popular. But if Metro introduced differential fares to broadly similar neighborhoods that it serves differently by choice it would be a disaster. They’d lose goodwill with the people that subsidize them, the vast majority of whom don’t live along “efficient” routes.

      3. How is this different than choosing Link routes? Look for the density and jobs, connect them in intelligent ways. Those are your efficient routes, and what you can ramp up service on.

        Yes, those same routes correlate to the routes that Metro routinely identifies with ridership numbers. And for most cases you could just use Metro data. But I understand your concerns about existing vs. potential ridership. At least verify using models, if not fully plan frequent/free routes using these models.

      4. “Metro has eliminated quite a few branches in the last few years, and introduced replacement service that’s struggled to attract riders.”

        The old branches struggled to attract riders too; that’s why they were eliminated. A single-family area with large-lot houses is not going to have a lot of ridership, one because there aren’t a lot of people who could be riders, and two because the kinds of people who buy a house with a garage are more likely to drive. If you want to significantly raise ridership, you have to relax the restrictive zoning that’s hindering it. Join the urban villages islands into larger medium-density areas with two dimensions so that they’re more like Chicago and San Francisco and Vancouver; that’s the way to get maximum ridership and maximum value from the buses.

  3. Just noting that this appears to be boardings, and that any rider transferring has more than one boarding when making one trip.

    When Link begins picking up portions of trips that were all on Metro, we’ll see the ST numbers go up but the Metro numbers won’t fall by the same amount. That’s because a rider today that just boards Metro once may instead board Metro once and transfer at Link — so we’ll have two boardings for the same trip where today we have only one. Link opening will show higher boardings but that doesn’t mean more riders; just more transfers.

    1. Good point. That suggests that things are even worse than we expect. If we were really building a very successful, very complementary bus and rail system, then we would see higher numbers on both. The riders who used to just take will now take the bus and train. But new riders who drove will not take the bus and train. But we aren’t seeing that, which means that so far, things aren’t that good.

      Looking at boardings is not necessarily a great metric. A better one is the percentage of people who ride transit for their trips. That isn’t everything, either (you can improve the system greatly and still not see an uptick in ridership) but it is a good metric for our system (since we are nowhere near transit saturation anywhere).

      1. If you can factor boarding totals down by the percentage of transfers, you can get pretty close to actual trips being made.

        Boarding data by route or even bus is very important to determine how productive or crowded a route may be.

  4. One idea I’ve had is to re-brand the notion of a “transfer” to be a more explicit promise of 2 hours of transit boardings for the fare. This doesn’t require a policy change so much as a marketing push. You pay $2.50 with your ORCA Card and can then do unlimited rides within your zone as long as you board within the next 2 hours. This would make it clear that you can do either a long trip which requires several buses, a round trip on the same bus, or several short trips with errands in-between.

    Combine this with a $8 fare cap on trips for the day and I think the fare system would seems a lot more friendly and understandable to tourists.

    1. “Marketing push” . . yes, YES . . Metro needs to do a much better job at marketing itself in 21st century terms and connecting with culture.

  5. For the city of Seattle

    1. Grid the system
    2. Signal priority
    3. Off board payment
    4. Free orca cards

    City wide Transit signal priority should be at the top of SDOTs list. If you want more riders you have to take big steps to improve the experience of riding a bus.

    1. #2-4 are terrific suggestions.

      Signal priority and off-board payment touch on the overall concept of reliability, which I suspect is a beef that all riders have with Metro. Current queue jumps last only 3 seconds and are barely enough time for a 60 footer to get through, leaving several behind to merge on their own. I think off-board payment is something that Metro is dabbling in. They tested our ticket machines on 3rd ave earlier this year (I wonder what they learned from the data they gathered..)

      It’d be great if ORCA readers were installed in the back doors too.

    2. If any place needs off board fare payment its Pike & 4th, it can take literally 5 minutes to load a bus… I’ve used a stopwatch to count

  6. Why is it that Metro ridership growth has been so flat? I would have expected much larger gains based on what ST. has been seeing.

    Has Metro hit some sort of ceiling of diminishing returns? Or are they simply mis-applying their resources?

    I’m a bit surprised by this.

    1. Discouraging but not surprising.
      Metro gave up some of it’s highest producing routes (550, 194) to ST and re-invests the hours gained into less productive bus service feeding the HCT lines being built in many cases.
      In addition to that, by 2030 about 60% of all trips will involve a 2 seat ride (ref:ST2 EIS), meaning both agencies get credit for a passenger. Multiple counts on ‘linked trips’ as the system evolves actually means fewer unique passengers using the system. So you could say the combined riders are pretty flat.
      Metro’s ridership has not even kept up with population gains since 2009, but freeway traffic has certainly seen double digit gains. Overall mode share for Metro has been falling.
      Getting a 10% bump in ridership is a tough nut for Metro. They have had some great success stories with most of the RR routes, but that’s about it.
      Maybe they could take back Airport Link, reinstate the 194 and get the state to go 3+ on I-5. That should get them pretty close to a 40k daily bump.

      1. Sorry, Mic, but resurrecting the 194 is never going to happen. Frankly, as a former 194 rider, I don’t want that to happen either. Though slower than the 194, Link is much more reliable and able to bypass the summer traffic that clogs SEA and Hwy 518. Additionally, the 194’s that came from Federal Way were often late arriving at SeaTac and quickly filled with SEA workers and travelers.

        However, you touch on an interesting idea: investment into low-productive routes. I think Metro has always done that in the past and is doing so less recently. We all now there are routes that could use scaling back and their resources diverted elsewhere. Where do you think is the biggest drain on Metro’s resources – n terms of routes?

      2. Re “Metro’s ridership has not even kept up with population gains since 2009, but freeway traffic has certainly seen double digit gains.”

        We’re looking at the lowest gas prices since 2009 as well.

      3. @mic,

        I don’t know. Even with the HCT and feeder route stuff going on it is still an improving economy. You’d still expect to see a bump even on lower performing routes just due to the improving economy. Yet Octobers numbers less than for 2014, and almost at the level of 2013. Maybe an anomaly?

        And all this despite service retoration and the continued rollout of new service like RR?

        Strange.

      4. Joyce has a good point. Gas prices are the lowest they have been in recent years. Combine that with Metro’s less-than-stellar reliability and we have many people willing to drive again. Just look at the 405 tolls. They reached $10 because the demand was so high. People are willing to pay for their time.

      5. @Reyes,

        Yes, but if Metro’s anemic numbers were purely a function of low gas prices then you would expect ST to be seing the same low growth rate. Yet ST is seeing strong ridership growth across all modes.

        So there is a huge disconnect. Strange.

      6. But there have been routes with major ridership gains since 2009, such as the 40, 31/32, C, D, E, 49, etc. So if the total is flat then that means other routes lost just as much. The 550 was converted in the 1990s so it’s long out of the numbers. The 194 was converted in 2009 so it would be relevant, but at the same time one 15-minute route can’t explain all these others. The 40 alone was a new corridor with the same daytime frequency as the 194 had but it probably has more riders.

      7. Metro’s ridership has not even kept up with population gains since 2009

        The Census Bureau estimates that King County’s population grew by 7.7% between 2010 and 2014. Metro’s ridership grew by 10.4% during that same period.

      8. Lazarus, low gas prices combined with unreliable service may be the perfect motivator for Metro riders to return to their car. I cited the recent $10 tolls as an example that people are willing to fight traffic themselves if Metro service is continues to be unreliable. This is purely from a downtown-centric, 9-5 viewpoint, but my own experience this past summer with Metro has been the worst in a long time. Several times it has taken a half hour to move 2-3 blocks in the CBD. This, of course, made outbound trips super late. There were several occasions where I was forced to ditch the 301 and settle for the E because it was so bloody late. So if others experienced the same thing, they may have ditched the bus and drove instead.

        Of course, this is all based on my own experience. There’s also another possibility that Metro riders are shifting to ST?

      9. I don’t think it is surprising either. How soon we forget.

        Remember that as of a year ago, Metro was looking at the possibility of service cuts. The summer sales tax proceeds helped stave that off, then came the Seattle Prop 1 funding that was voted on in November 2014.

        In January 2015, David Lawson wrote an STB article where he reported that June 2015, Metro would increase some service around the edges but during the September shakeup (last Saturday of Sept FWIW) that would be when we would get more bus runs.

        I think you have to look at the capacity during the commute – if it close to 100%, it is going to be very hard to push it to 110%.

      10. 2009 to 2015 pop grew 9% and MT grew 8%. Point being that just keeping up with normal growth isn’t ‘growing’ the system, but just reacting to more people to deal with. I’d be happier with a real shift in mode share from cars to transit. It’s been stuck at 4% of all trips in the region.
        Of course I was kidding about bringing the 194 back, but does anyone remember the ST ‘Before and After Report’ after Link started? Not only did ST take over a highly used route 194), but MT plowed all those hours saved, plus some more into the same area. None of those routes are as productive as the workhorse that got retired.
        There is very little low lying fruit for MT to pick anymore.

      11. Biggest drains on Metro’s resources?

        Traffic congestion. Witness the peak period 8.

        The solution isn’t going to be cheap.

  7. Fast BRT-level RapidRide routes deployed in tandem with Pronto expansion w/ docks at the BRT stops and in surrounding neighborhoods. From almost anywhere in the 1/2 mile walk-shed (say around 95th Street, commute times would look like 5 minute ride, 5 minute wait, 20 minute trip, 5 minute ride = 35 minutes. A similar walk/bus commute can take 70 minutes or more with local buses and transfers or with a long walk to or from an express bus. Or you have to make the lifestyle choices of living and working on the same express route or carrying your bike everywhere (which is what I begrudgingly do). You also end up with a multi-scale walk/bike/bus/rapid transit/(even car) multi-modal neighborhoods that attract businesses and apartments.

    Just expanding Pronto along with the Roosevelt HCT this way would put almost everything from Aurora to Lake City Way in the 10-minute bike-shed. And obviously at that point you could choose to head to the Aurora RapidRide routes or the express routes via Lake City Way and I-5. The extended “reach” of the RapidRide lines makes it all the more valuable to invest in full BRT features like exclusive lanes. Virtuous cycle.

    1. Pronto at RapidRide stations, now there’s an idea. Almost as good as Pronto stations along the Burke-Gilman trail, So what’s the holdup?

  8. Metro is poor at marketing.

    Their ads are cheesey and don’t connect well with local Seattle culture. Compare TriMet’s website to Metro’s and you’ll see a distinct difference not just in aesthetics, but tools such as blogs, rider clubs technology. Simply put, Metro must get with the times in reaching out to the current culture and speaking to the general public as a retailer would. Unfortunately, this is hard to accomplish when Metro is a direct function of the government (where creativity is squashed).

    I do have a theory for Metro’s slump: perhaps service unreliability is turning riders into drivers?

    1. Anecdotally, the bus experience for me has degraded the last few years. I’ve been riding Metro for about 20 years and the last few years it seems like it’s become more inconvenient and more unpleasant. I’ve been driving more or walking more since buses have more unreliable on the routes I take. Also, for some of the restructures have made riding the bus less pleasant. For one, consolidation of the 6th and Pike stop with the 4th and Pike stop means that it takes forever to drive away from 4th and Pike and the bus is packed.

      Another issue I think might be hurting Metro is that when buses are restructured to require a transfer. This is acceptable with a frequent network (which we don’t have). But if you are being to ask to make a connection to a 30 min frequency bus (or a bus like the 8, where they are bunched 3 together) the time suck makes it more appealing to drive if one has a choice.

      I also think people’s bus manners have been getting worse– being more aggressively pushy to get on the bus for a seat, people refusing to move back so more people can get on the bus, people hovering at the back doors not letting people by. Then again, I could just be me becoming a grumpy old man.

    2. It’s 5:30 p.m.

      You have to get from Ballard to Capitol Hill.

      Do you really wanna slog through traffic on two or three buses with absolutely no priority?

      Nah, just drive.

      It’s 6:30 p.m.

      You have to get from East Green Lake to Greenwood.

      Easy, take the 48.

      Wha?! 38 minute delay? Three are running bunched up, then another 20 minutes and another 3 running together.

      Nah, just drive.

      You can identify similar scenarios on most of Metro’s routes. We will need so much more priority than Metro or SDOT has proposed if we want to get anywhere in the next 20 years.

      1. @SeaStrap – I could not agree more. I often do the same thing, and even for shorter distances. South Lake Union to Capitol Hill… oh, the 8 is delayed 10 minutes, I’ll just spend $6 and take an uber. It’s only $3.50 more than the bus.

    3. More walking to work is a factor, I’d say. Downtown, SLU, and Pike-Pine have added so much housing that many more workers can easily walk to their offices instead of riding the bus.

      At the same time, Seattle is becoming ever richer, which skews discretionary trips towards car transportation and away from transit. I’m surprised how many people take Uber from, say, downtown to Capitol Hill despite no shortage of transit options.

      Finally, there is the issue of fare increases. $99/month is more expensive than many cities and is nearing NYC prices ($116.50/30 days).

      1. Alex, more people take uber from downtown to cap hill because of its convenience and relative low cost. Again, for $6 you have door to door transportation on a private car. This is only a little bit more expensive and certainly more reliable during evenings and weekends.

        If Uber introduces uberpool in Seattle, I fear Metro Transit ridership will take a hit. In fact, uberhop that was introduced last week will have an impact on Metro Routes along the new uber hop routes.

      2. Perhaps only this competition will force the hand of SDOT and Metro to assign more dedicated lanes. Look at the ridership growth of the E. It works, and nothing else will at this point.

  9. How can Metro ridership be flat when the surveys show that among downtown workers, a much higher percentage of them are commuting by transit than before?

    Something isn’t adding up.

    1. Ya. I agree. Expanding population base. General and broad based economic recovery. Expanded service. And flat ridership?

      What gives here? Is there something we are missing?

      1. I think specific route numbers might be highly illustrative of what is going on. When I took a look at Sound Transit’s route level report I noticed a significant bump in East Side ridership:

        540 Kirkland-U. District up 29%
        542 Overlake-U. District up 14%
        545 Redmond-Seattle up 5%
        550 Bellevue-Seattle up 6%
        555/556 Issaquah-Northgate up 9%

        These are growth rates that are out of whack with the rest of ST’s ridership trends, in fact the north end routes from Everett are actually seeing a decrease in ridership. Everett to Seattle, for example was down by 3%!

        I wonder if there is some major shift from east side routes from Metro to Sound transit and if that is having a significant impact on the flat/decreasing ridership.

      2. It’s not just the survey of downtown workers either. The ACS data shows a significant increase in transit mode share among those living in the city of Seattle over the last 4-5 years.

        Significant increase in population + significant increase in percentage of people commuting by transit but flat ridership? It can’t only be ST ridership increasing, as it’s serving suburban commuters mostly (except Link).

  10. With freeways blocked solid both rush hours every work-day of the week, I-5 from Everett to Olympia, I’d ascribe Metro’s problems to freeway conditions, rather than the other way around.

    My choice for frequent trips from Olympia to Seattle and back would to be to ride the bus the whole way. But by 6AM, northbound lanes are clouds of red tail-lights. Meaning real risk of being trapped aboard a bus ’til all connections are missed.

    Including lunch. So lately I’ve exclusively had to drive my “Freeway Free” route through Steilacoom and Point Defiance to the parking garage at Tacoma Dome. Best I make the 8:10 am Sounder- also Freeway Free.

    If I miss that, I’ll take the 574 to the Airport, and ride in on LINK. But bottom line is that I-5 is pure creeping Hell at that hour, making transit’s every freeway bus schedule into birdcage carpet.

    My own “take” on how fast this mess developed is that people being priced out of Seattle have relocated along I-5 to the boundaries of our whole region. Maybe beyond. But still forced to keep same jobs they had.

    Metro’s chief problem is a service are of steep hills and narrow streets that can’t be widened by anything but enforced lane reservation and signal pre-empt.

    And now, for suburban or non-CBD service, blocking conditions that can only be cured by swiftly added diamond lanes- as happened years ago when passengers demanded, for the first time, at least a little relief between Seattle and Tacoma.

    But what does everybody else think about my jammed-by-home-price-refugees theory? And true or not, what are we going to do about freedom-free freeways?

    Mark Dublin

    1. “My own “take” on how fast this mess developed is that people being priced out of Seattle have relocated along I-5 to the boundaries of our whole region. Maybe beyond. But still forced to keep same jobs they had.”

      Good take. I think there are several factors involved, one being this socioeconomic one.

    2. The buses need their own freeway lanes period. Not lanes shared with HOV vehicles.

      The solution is not complicated.

      1. Anecdotally, the HOV-3 lanes on SR520 are doing perfectly fine, even in the height of rush hour. (They just don’t stretch far enough… but that’s another problem.) That’d probably be marginally more politically possible.

      2. Switching from HOV-2 to HOV-3 in most places would clear up a lot of the problem. But Olympia doesn’t want to hear about ejecting 2-person vehicles from the HOV lanes except where space is as extremely limited as 520.

      3. Actually, they do want to make them 3+, just after all the HOT Lane electronics are in place. That’s a real money maker for them. 57 cents goes to the vendor and the rest of the variable toll (each way, each day) goes to WSDOT – up to $10.00 a trip each way in some cases.
        I’m guessing conversion of all the HOV lanes is high on the Christmas List in HQ-Oly.

    3. Mark,

      I think you’re exactly right, and it’s only going to get worse. There is simply not enough room in the Northwest for everyone who would like to live here. The secret is out: the whole rain thing was a scam to keep people away! We’re Northern California with a bit colder winter.

      Not only that, but we are a region which is pretty reliably left-of-center, so intelligent people who care about social justice, science, and environmental sanity want to come here to be shed of the puffed-chest goose-steppers of the Modern Right.

      Since the country is just about 50-50 Blue/Red, there’s no more room (or water) in California, and New England doesn’t create enough jobs for the folks already there, there are a lot of thinking person living in places like Missouri who are thinking long and hard about moving here.

      So the City needs to turn itself into San Francisco — only twice as big — as quickly as it can, with red lanes and frequent service all over the place. I just got off a fourteen minute ride on the 38 Rapid from Japantown to Kearny — about two and a half miles through the CBD — at peak of the peak! Now that’s some good bus operations!

      If the effyouseeking legislature won’t “let” the City tax itself enough to do it, haul the State into court. Sure, the City is an administrative unit of the State, so it can’t make heroin legal. And it makes sense for the State to forbid the City from issuing bonds beyond some reasonable percentage of its current tax revenues; it’s the State which would pick up the pieces if the City over-indebteed itself. But for the State legislature — or the envious voters in the rest of the State — to forbid the City to raise revenue in any Constitutional way to whatever degree it wants seems to me to be an arbitrary limitation on representative government.

      And I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the State Supreme Court agree.

      And so far as the Burbistas seeking to work in Camelot, there are a few opportunities to lay commuter tracks on old railbeds, including things which have been converted to trails. They’re not cheap to operate, but a ten car train of bi-levels can haul several ferry loads of drivers. But forget about all-day and evening bus service to those exurbs. The Burbistas all have cars, and they all want to drive them whenever they can without having to sit in traffic.

      How we provide peak hour service to everyone who could benefit from it is a technical discussion and certainly a political one. But one bottom line negotiating position should be that nobody has a “right” to access to a job in a specific location if it means that someone closer to that location has to be deprived of their home or squeezed out of the existing roadway structure as a result. The “pioneers” in the outback should be at the end of the queue for existing infrastructure.

  11. If the premier line is experiencing declines, I suggest this is a sign of Transit Saturation.

    Sans orders of magnitude higher density, we’ve done about all we can in providing the areas that need it fast transit.

    I suggest that pouring more money in the form of new building might be wasteful.

    1. It regularly takes half an hour, or more, to get from Jackson Street to Stewart Street at rush hour. And over forty minutes to get from UW to Ballard.

      What was that you were saying about fast transit where it’s needed?

      1. Good for you. But I’d hate to do it every day with a full-time job, and most people would agree with me.

      2. And what’s more, note that almost no one is just traveling from Jackson to Stewart – that’s the start of a much longer commute, also on crowded streets or freeways.

    2. So what is your solution to the region’s transportation problems then? Doing nothing is not going to fix the problems.

      1. I suggest we not do more of what we’ve been doing, but do something else.

        I like the Uber ridesharing system. I would integrate that into Metro.

        I would build away from Seattle and link it up with fast rail.

        I would effectively put a “cap” on Seattle’s infrastructure, but offer alternative cities to move to which are more right sized.

      2. I suggest we not do more of what King County Metro has been trying to do [e.g. serve the selfish narcissists out in the suburbs], but do something else.

        I hate the Uber ridesharing system: it is a way to exploit underemployed people who happen to have a decent car. I would outlaw it.

        I would stop serving the suburbs, and make them hitchhike. A little humility is in order.

        I would stop revenue sharing from the tremendous fountain of tax revenues generated within the City of Seattle and make the residents of other cities pay their own way.

      3. @John Bailo.

        Your solutions are really, really stupid. Sorry for not being more diplomatic, but in this case I can’t.

    3. I think we need more uber and lyft services in the city. I use Metro/ST a few times a week, and use uber almost daily, especially if i need to get somewhere after 9pm or on Sundays.

      I’d love to see UberPool and Lyft Lines permeate the city!

  12. This may be a case of Sound Transit simply poaching from Metro. Not just Link, but the ST express buses. Last time I checked, those buses carry more than Link (and Metro buses carry way more than both). I really don’t see much of Sound Transit that is complementary. Link is just now at the stage where it is frequent, and even then, mostly just at rush hour. The route does not work well with bus service, and that isn’t Metro’s fault, necessarily. Rainier Valley is simply incapable of a lot of east-west service to go along with the north south route. At Mount Baker station the transfer is horrible. At Beacon Hill the train is heading east-west. In all those cases it is often an either/or proposition — take the bus or take Link.

    The express buses are similar. They tend to serve Park and Rides (even ones within the city, like at Roosevelt). You can use other bus service to connect to it, but most don’t. They just drive.

    Something to consider if we decide to build out. Will be giving people a better transit network (which should lead to higher ridership) or are we simply moving people from one vehicle to the other (and spending billions in the process)?

    1. Not that I’m completely opposed to improvements that don’t lead to higher ridership. There are plenty of places (typically in economically depressed areas) which have very high transit ridership. You can make improvements and not see an increase in ridership. But based on most of the transit patterns I see (and the areas served) I see little of that. The folks on the 7 just stay on the 7. Other folks a street over just take the Link. Overall transit ridership should be way up right now — the fact that it isn’t is not a good sign.

      To paraphrase Jarrett Walker, this is what happens when the bus people don’t talk to the train people.

      1. U-Link is not very complimentary. North Link is better (although Northgate is awkward). I’m not sure about East Link. Within Seattle, Lynnwood Link could lead to huge improvements in the overall network, assuming a NE 130th station.

  13. “If you had a goal of increasing Metro’s ridership by 10% in a year, how would you do it?”

    Metro/Seattle:
    1) No fares onboard – only Orca validation (maybe at the bus stop)
    2) Dedicated bus lanes
    3) Free or cheaper Orca Cards
    4) Better East/West connections (do nor funnel everything via Downtown)

  14. Oh, how to improve ridership on Metro:

    Change HOV 2 to HOV 3. I remember when the bus lanes were added up north. Lynnwood transit ridership skyrocketed. Changing the HOV 2 to HOV 3 would do the same and allow for more service. There are probably more expensive, more involved changes as well, but that is by far the cheapest.

    1. The buses need their own lanes period. Not HOV2, HOV3, or even HOV6.

      This forcing the buses to share lanes is nonsense. In other regions buses have their own lanes. Why can’t they in the Seattle region.

    2. According to a WSDOT presentation at the PSRC last week, Metro has seen 5% ridership increase on their I-405 routes since the HOT lanes went in. Community Transit is up 12% in the same area. Lots of happy transit riders on those routes, and it’s still very early.

  15. Jason, excellent start. A few analytical questions about ridership that might be posed to Metro, SDOT, and perhaps others – one hopes to get “hard” quantitative answers, rather than hand-waving.
    1. What impact did the Sept 2014 cuts have?
    2. What impact has Prop 1-funded service had? What impact is expected in 2016?
    3. What impact is expected due to U-Link opening and related restructures (as currently planned)?

    As to increasing Metro ridership – though I’m not sure that’s exactly the right question – start pricing congestion, starting with tolls on all lanes of I-5, I-90, I-405 and then on driving in Seattle roughly between the Ship Canal and I-90.

    1. 1. What impact did the Sept 2014 cuts have?

      None. The drop was when the bubble burst in 2009. Metro changes are so slow that they’d already missed the big drop in ridership. That’s thanks to clueless politicians that run the show who issued statements like, “now that people have lost their jobs they be relying more on transit”. People take transit to their jobs and if they’re laid off they don’t make that trip… DOH!

      The restructure squeezed a really marginal increase in productivity by providing political cover to kill some service that should have never been created. But we’re back to spend it if you got it. The root of the problem is Metro forced to Kowtow to elected officials that never ride transit but see it as a way to garner support from vocal minority voting blocks. Often it’s the sacrificial pawn to low income census blocks even if it means losing the queen. By that I mean the decisions actually hurt the very areas they are claiming to help but the story board from the special interest groups over rides reality.

      1. Somebody carve that in stone: to be placed on the KC Courthouse lawn.
        Rarely is any information productive to not making the same stupid mistakes over and over again is ever shared with the public.
        RR-A doubled service hours but only got a 50% increase in rides.
        RR-F How’s that one doing (don’t ask, don’t tell).
        Rt 42 cost how much to kill, measured in empty bus seats moving around each day, and is that fight rearing its head again.
        Nuff said.

  16. Why the big drop in Metro ridership between October and December? The decline shown is something like 15% of total system ridership.

    Surely 15% of Metro ridership can’t just be students? And if it is, then what happens when U-Link opens and starts serving both the UW and SCC?

    1. October is always the peak for reasons mentioned in previous posts. People stop riding the bus when it’s cold and dark. A 10-20 minute walk to the bus when it’s light out and not raining is a plus. That same walk in the rain when it’s dark and you’re life is endangered by drivers with fogged up windows and worn out wipers… not so much.

      All traffic is lighter around the holidays (except malls on Black Friday). People take essentially a week off around Thanksgiving. As it gets closer to Xmas people take time off because they are traveling or relatives are visiting. Or, you’ve just got a ton more errands to run and there’s just no comparison between bus vs drive in terms of time… like 2 hrs vs never.

  17. It’s not necessarily the case that the people who aren’t riding Metro or ST are driving. Some are walking, cycling (including taking Pronto). I take the bus every day, but I take a Pronto every day to get to the bus. If Pronto covered more of my commute, I would not take the bus some days at all. On rainy days, the buses down Dexter are far more packed with people riding four or five stops to get closer to SLU jobs, while on sunny days they’re not because those people just walk. And there’s nothing wrong with that (and the buses need to be scheduled to accommodate them when they don’t want to walk, or else we don’t have an actual transportation system in the region).

  18. Thanks Jason! What is the source for this data? It would be really interesting to see how reliability, service levels, etc. come into play – if reliability is decreasing due to increasing congestion, that would be an interesting explanation for the slow growth. It would be interesting tor graph the change in reliability vs the change in ridership (subtracting off regional ridership growth trend, perhaps). How big of a bump do routes get when signal priority and ROW investments increase reliability? Does increased congestion along a corridor mean people don’t take the bus b/c the time is just too slow, or more people do, because there are more people traveling along that corridor?

    I suppose this is probably beyond the data that metro releases, but I’d love to dig into it. Especially on really crowded routes, to see if you’re bumping into capacity limits. I really hope that Metro collects data on how often buses turn away passengers because they’re full.

  19. The only way to improve ridership is to change the way people think about it. Out west, transit is considered something for poor people. On much of the east coast, and in Europe, it’s just another piece of city infrastructure that everyone uses. With that mindset comes efficient systems design and economies of scale. I like the idea of a marketing blitz suggested above. A $3/ gallon tax on gas would be even better, but of course that’s political suicide.

    1. Yes and No. I would say the bus in Seattle has a better image than most places in the US including many/most places on the east coast. Its not east coast vs west coast, its how urban the city is and therefore how necessary the bus is to get around. There’s a lot of east coast cities where only the poor ride the bus.

  20. “If you had a goal of increasing Metro’s ridership by 10% in a year, how would you do it?”

    – Congestion charge to enter the city. Make transit more attractive by making driving less so
    – A non-stop Downtown to SeaTac bus
    – Lower fares for trips in the city, higher fares for suburban trips.
    – Make more lanes exclusive transit lanes during peak times.
    – Move the 8 off of Denny
    – Keep the 43 the way it is

  21. I have to wonder how the end of the Ride-Free Area increased boarding totals for Downtown Seattle routes. If a rider had an unlimited ORCA Card Downtown, they had to start tapping the card as of September 2012. On the other hand, I’m not sure if Metro counted ride-free riders before September 2012 in their overall totals.

  22. A look at the Region 10 Transit Database featuring the cost of service for various modes:
    http://www.ntdprogram.gov/ntdprogram/cs?action=showRegionAgencies&region=0
    speaks volumes:

    Cost per trolley bus revenue hour: $147.72
    Cost per diesel bus revenue hour: $159.43

    So, the trolley buses are actually slightly cheaper to operate for the equivalent number of hours.

    Cost per trolley bus revenue mile: $21.60
    Cost per diesel bus revenue mile: $13.29

    As noted above, the trolley buses are on average slightly cheaper per hour than the buses, so why the greater expense for those per mile?

    The trolley buses are mostly dense urban routes that spend huge portions of their time sitting in traffic. Thus, a huge number of service hours are spent going nowhere – so much so that a cheaper mode to operate per hour actually costs nearly double per mile.

    We can talk off-board payment and ORCA card fees and all that, but the reality is that sitting in traffic is both eating Metro’s lunch money and making the service extremely unattractive to use.

    1. Do the operating costs include depreciation of the vehicle? If so, most of the trolleys are likely fully depreciated and the cost of operating trolley buses might jump significantly when the new trolley fleet is in service.

  23. car2go has definitely replaced Metro for me when time matters. Example: the 40 is supposed to frequently travel from right outside my door in “downtown” Ballard to a stop that is an easy walk to my friend’s house in Broadview. the reality is that on weekends it is delayed beyond its frequency and if i want to arrive on time i need to get a car. in the reverse, i don’t mind stumbling through the skinny or nonexistent sidewalk to get to the bus stop home, but when that’s added to a 45-minute wait for a 15-minute ride home, again, i’m going to get the car2go.

  24. Make the youth fare one dollar, or same as senior fare. Reinstate the kids-ride-free-with-paying-adult specials on weekends ans holidays.

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