Link’s weekdway ridership was up an impressive 13% in November. It’s looking like Link will finish up the year with around 8% growth. This is especially impressive when you consider that 2014 saw growth of 14.2%.

November’s Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday average boardings were 35,420 / 22,522 / 23,852, growth of 13.2%, 2.1%, and 9.6% respectively over November 2014. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 11.4% with ridership increasing 17% on the North line and 11% on the South. Tacoma Link’s weekday ridership decreased -0.1% with overall ridership up 1.4%. Weekday ST Express ridership was up .3%. System wide weekday boardings were up 5.3%, and all boardings were up 7.4%. The complete November Ridership Summary is here.

My charts below the break.



62 Replies to “November 2015 Sound Transit Ridership Report: Link up 13%”

  1. Spectacular. But in just a few short months these numbers will look like peanuts…. U-Link is going to bring huge numbers…..

    Question: Is that ST Express up by “0.3%”? Or 3%? Because a 0.3% increase in ST Express when U-Link is seeing 13% increases is a bit odd….

    1. 3.0%, from the linked PDF.

      And I completely agree with you about U-Link; I’m looking forward to seeing it! I don’t suppose that we’ll see post-U-Link ridership south of downtown charted separately, but if so, it’d be very interesting to see how the added connectivity affects ridership along the already-existing line.

    2. I agree that the ULink will have a massive boost to ridership for link, here’s a few interesting things to think about when looking at future ridership reports:

      1) Seasonality of UW Ridership. Its likely that there will be strong seasonal spikes in ridership along with UW class schedules.

      2) Metro vs Link. Since a lot of the new link ridership will be directly from former riders of the 70-series buses that will stop running downtown this march. Will this represent an over-all ridership loss from Metro, or will the newly invested frequency in NE Seattle create new ridership for metro that will fill in a lot of this former leading route?

      3) How much ridership (if any) will redirect to the Link/NE Seattle corridor from the 99 corridor, given the coming massive traffic backups?

      1. At the very least, there will probably no longer be a seasonal spike in the summer months.

      2. IIRC Metro as a whole has strongest ridership in the fall and spring, with a summer lull — Metro serves a lot of school trips. Link, which serves the airport and stadiums that sit idle all winter, has a winter lull (I think local travel generally declines a lot in the winter, too, with lots of people taking time off work).

        As Link covers more of the city its seasonal ridership patterns will look more like Metro’s.

      3. IIRC, October is the highest ridership month for Metro. UW is in session, workers are not commonly on vacation, no holidays.

      4. “Link, which serves the airport and stadiums that sit idle all winter, has a winter lull”

        Isn’t there some team that plays at CenturyLink Field that recently concluded its season?
        And Sounders will start up again before winter is over.

    3. Remember that ST Express includes a wide range of services. Some like the 550 and 512 have been getting strong growth full-time, including evenings and Sundays. Some like the 545 have been getting strong growth weekdays. Some like the 594 have been getting weak growth. The 577, 578, and 554 have been pretty empty when I’ve taken them, but other have said they’re wall-to-wall full peak hours. Then there are routes like the 560 that have little demand off-peak, the 566 which doesn’t run evenings or weekends and apparently doesn’t have enough demand to, and several peak-only routes.

      It’s not clear that our expectations for all-day routes should be the same as for peak-only routes, or that all all-day routes should have the same expectations. For instance, the 594 appears to be a similar corridor as the 512, so why hasn’t its ridership grown as much? Is it because of the slow routing between downtown Tacoma and Lakewood, and the frequent delays there? Is it because Pierce County doesn’t use transit as much as Snohomish County, or doesn’t go to Seattle as much? (That could be, given the longer distance and travel time.) Should we continue to hope for the 594’s ridership to increase, or just accept that it will be less-used no matter what? Do we need to do anything about the 566 and the peak-only corridors, beyond adding buses if they get overcrowded?

      It would be nice to see the ridership of the individual ST Express routes and how each of them been changing. And which ones are overcrowded when.

      1. I took the 594 a couple of weeks ago. It was 2 in the afternoon, and 20 minutes late due to the backup on I-5 south of Tacoma. It’s getting to be almost as intractable tangle as the Mercer Mess and should probably be given a name at some point.

        The bus was also nearly full.

        If the express to SeaTac had arrived I would probably have taken that instead, not knowing how much delay there would be on I-5. Slower on the timetable but at least Link is separated from I-5.

      2. I’ve heard from multiple sources that the I-5 traffic between Tacoma and Olympia is worse than elsewhere. Why is it worse there? Is the freeway undersized for the population? Do the locations of exit ramps and such cause excessive lane-changing? Does JBLM have a poorly designed entrance? Do people in southern Pierce County drive more than people in Snohomish or King County?

      3. I-5 traffic between Tacoma and Olympia is worse than elsewhere. Why is it worse there?

        It’s bad but nowhere near the worst. The exit for SR16 and DT Tacoma in general is worse (if they ever quit tearing it up it might get better). Neither is anything like the bottle neck at rush hour though DT Seattle or Renton to Bellevue. It’s bad because there are a lot of people that are trying to get to JBLM. Access to JBLM is very limited (it has to be) and there’s really no alternative to driving alone for civilian employees or active duty living off base. It employees over 50,000 people and there’s 30,000 retired accessing medical and other base services. In addition there’s more than 50,000 family members trying to get on/off the reservation. McChord main gate and Fort Lewis are ~8 miles apart. There’s no HOV lanes. Any surprise it’s a cluster?

      4. I’ve ridden the 594 a few times and, while the bus if fairly full between Tacoma and Seattle, the Tacoma->Lakewood section is pretty weak. But the fact that the Tacoma->Lakewood section exists impose serious reliability problems on the Tacoma->Seattle segment. Perhaps the off-peak 594 should simply be truncated in Tacoma (with increased frequency), while off-peak Lakewood would simply have to make due with the 574.

      5. Really, no alternative to driving alone to access JBLM? You’d think if anyone could organize a carpool program it would be the military…

        WSDOT, of course, is forging ahead with 509 extension, so there’s that form of “relief”: more lanes, more cars, more CO2.

      6. Never mind that Great Lakes has a Metra station, Pacific Fleet has a trolley station, and Camp Pendleton has an all-day bus from the Amtrak station through the base to city neighborhoods on both ends. But that’s too big-city for Washington State military bases, we’re only interested in car access here.

      7. Another factor not being mentioned relative to the Tacoma-Olympia congestion: lots of people here commute to work, not just JBLM, but to jobs in Tacoma, Fife, the industrial parks of Sumner-Pacific-Auburn-Kent-Renton, and State of Washington (Department of Health, WSDOT, etc) in Olympia/Tumwater. Transit access in the south Sound, particularly in Pierce County, is terrible. I, personally, can’t take transit to work, at least not efficiently. The only bus route serving my office is every 30 minutes frequency at rush hour (every 60 to 90 minutes the rest of the day), and it completely misses the Sounder (i.e., heading to work, I have to wait between 20 and 30 minutes after getting off the Sounder for the bus to work to arrive; heading home, the bus pulls in at the Sounder station just after a train left, so I must wait another 40 minutes for the next one).

      8. JBLM ought to establish public transportation services like the other bases mentioned by Mike Orr. Personally I’d advise a “gate” at Lakewood Sounder Station and an internal bus network on the base with Lakewood Sounder Station as the gateway to the outside.

        It’s obvious that both bases were originally designed to have pretty much no security whatsoever at the entrances and attempting to retrofit it has caused trouble.

    4. ST Express hasn’t seen any significant increase in capital expeness and most routes are at capacity during peak demand. Spend a couple of billion adding buses and new routes and you can bet your bum there will be more people riding. But ST wants to get out of providing subsidized bus service unless it boosts Link ridership. The agency was formed to build capital projects and mearly providing public transportation is below their pay grade. It’s not by devious design but they really don’t want to get sucked into providing anything but “premium” service that attracts “choice” riders; that is people that can afford to drive. Building expensive parking garages is something the agency is geared up to do.

  2. “Tacoma Link’s weekday ridership decreased -0.1% with overall ridership up 1.4%”

    …so fewer college riders and more folks riding it just for fun then? Not sure what to make of these numbers.

    1. What will be really interesting is when they finally start charging for rides in September, 2016. It looks like the fare will be $1.50 adult, $0.75 youth/senior/disabled. That is, if Tacoma businesses don’t spring for another couple years of free rides.

      I’d imagine many of the rides are people taking advantage of the free parking at the Tacoma Dome garage. $3 will still be cheap compared to most other parking options, but the tradeoffs will be different. And then it’s not nearly as nice an option for saving a couple blocks walk when it costs $1.50 for the privilege.

      1. And that discount disappears entirely if you have more than one person in the car that’s going to pay another $3 for the r/t Link ride. Then you’re going to start considering paying to park closer.

  3. What is driving the continued growth in Link? AFAIK, there hasn’t actually been a whole lot of residential development along the current Link corridor, so I can only imagine that Seattleites are self-sorting so that those who need to go downtown are moving along the corridor, or those already living there are rearranging their lives/commutes to take advantage of the convenience of Link. What else is driving it?

    1. Even if you haven’t seen a ton of big new buildings going up from the train in the last few years…

      1. New buildings fill up gradually after opening; buildings that were new a few years ago may still be filling in.
      2. There has been recent development in places like Columbia City that isn’t directly visible from the tracks.
      3. Even buildings that pre-date Link (both houses and larger buildings) probably have higher occupancy rates today.

      I’m sure “sorting” is a factor, too — a lot of those new buildings are pricey, and well-paid downtown commuters are more likely to be able to afford them (in aggregate — downtown has lots of low-paying jobs, too). Strong job growth downtown means more people are downtown commuters than before… and traffic and parking is tougher there than it used to be.

      Some of these trends would continue even if the line wasn’t extending to Capitol Hill and UW. Downtown, Pioneer Square, and even the stadium area are going to continue to add residents and workers for years to come. Columbia City’s growth has significant momentum, and even with the walk Link is a quicker trip there than the 7 for a lot of people.

    2. Thanks for your reply, Al. I have no reason to doubt you on any of those points. But are there any numbers showing degree of population growth along the Link walkshed? It’d be interesting to see how closely that reflects ridership growth.

    3. There’s also strong job growth in SLU, and some of those workers may be moving to Rainier Valley and taking Link.

    4. I’m only an airport user of Link, but it has become my primary airport transportation mode. Would need ridership data for Airport station to see I’m part of a trend, but I see more and more travelers and airport workers on my rides.

      I want save money for myself, so Link is the obvious choice. But I also use Link for work trips. The company is trying to cut expenses. Replacing 2x $50 cab rides with Link is a painless way for me to help out.

      1. Considering the large portion of people who don’t tap their ORCA when leaving the station at the airport (being used to having no difference in fare for doing so) I wouldn’t be surprised if the station-level data was skewed a bit there. Really hoping ST can do a bit of a campaign to remind people of the importance of tapping in and out when riding Link, especially as thousands of new riders get into the system with CHS and UWS opening.

      2. Maybe they could start by giving tap in/out a distinct sound.

        That’s a good idea but right now there’s a different sound when you tap in and add value to your ORCA card. Even though I’ve finally learned to ignore that anything other than the standard “bing” is a source of confusion. It could just “bing” and then say “value added” but there’s probably a Seattle law or policy that says it would then have to repeat it in 15 different languages. What is the translation for “Mind the Gap” :=

    5. I’ve been stunned at the 10%-ish growth every year for seven years now. Most of us thought it would level off after a couple years. The recession’s recovery effects should have been finished a couple years ago. Part of it is doubtless the general population growth and job expansions, but how do these percentages relate to those?

      Another possibility is that people are getting more and more sick of driving in traffic, so even with transit’s long travel times and transfers, it’s the least objectionable alternative.

      1. Initial ridership on Central Link was much lower than the original projections. In a certain sense I think you’re just catching up to the ridership which you should have had all along — there seems to have been some resistance to riding the train in Seattle, and it’s melted away.

      2. Without station boarding numbers it’s impossible to even conjecture a theory. It is possibly that the increase is a total fabrication. What matters is actual “trips” on transit. More to the point, trips that replace trips that would have been in an SOV. What we do know is trips to sporting events is a winner. There’s also tremendous growth in SLU and undoubtedly many of those employees are using Link. Just how they are using it we don’t know.

    6. Perhaps part of the uptick can be attributed to anticipation of the UW Link opening – as more people get priced out of Capitol Hill, Rainier Valley starts to look more inviting, especially knowing that in a few months you’ll be able to take Link back there for work, drinks, visiting friends, etc.

  4. I can’t see how more people would choose to ride Link just because of an increase from 7.5 to 6 minutes. That’s only 45 seconds less average wait time. Certainly not enough difference to base a decision on.

    1. I think the off-peak time is also boosted from 10 minutes to 8. It’s not perceptibly much, but it could make more people think Link is worthwhile when they try it, and that could convince them to use it. It probably doesn’t account for all of the increase but it could account for part of it.

      1. It is possible that more people that are hopping on in the tunnel to get onto *anything* are getting picked up by Link now instead of a tunnel bus. I’m just spitballing here, but for some amount of intra-downtown traffic I could see that being the case.

      2. The end of the ride free area removed the strong incentive to choose a bus for intra-tunnel trips. But that was four years ago so it wouldn’t explain very recent changes.

      3. The difference between 7.5 minute headways and 6 minute headways is more about improving capacity than reducing wait time. The difference between getting a seat and having to stand has a much bigger impact on people’s habits than an extra 45 seconds average of wait time.

        10-minute off-peak headways going to 8 minutes is news to me. Last I heard, only peak headways were improving, while off-peak headways would remain at 10 minutes until east link opens, at which point, the combined downtown->Lynnwood segment would run every 5 minutes.

      4. I think ST decreased off-peak headways temporarily until 2021 in order to avoid using 4-car trains. But when East Link comes online it’ll be back to 10 minutes. Although somebody said that ST has been promising the Eastside six minutes, so in that case Rainier Vallley would have to be be six minutes too to keep the headways even in the combined segment.

      5. Ryan’s theory makes a lot of sense. This is why it helps to have numbers for each station. Ideally you would have it for the buses as well. I think there are a lot of people who get in at one end of the tunnel and get off at the other. They catch the first vehicle, and more and more, it is a train.

      6. I seem to remember someone saying a long while back that intra tunnel trips were not counted toward ridership. Can someone confirm or deny that?

    1. Bingo! ST used to give station boardings; what happened? Is the increased weekday ridership Amazon employees using it for a lunch shuttle? I seem to recall at one point rides withing the DT tunnel weren’t added to the ridership numbers. KSEA continues to push more bodies through the airport as the economy gets back on track so that’s probably a big part of it. TIB has been parked out for years but as employment grows in SLU I bet a lot of people are using it as a kiss and ride lot + more people carpooling so each $40k stall is creeping above the 1.2 people average. It may seem counterintuitive but I bet if they started charging for parking ridership/use would increase. #1 people wouldn’t use is as a free place to park just to shuttle to the airport. I consider those trips as the same a the DT moving sidewall. #2 if they have to pay for parking there’s an incentive for coworkers to share the ride. #3 it will increase turn over, related to #1 & #2, so that the same spot might generate more than one trip per day (or less).

    2. What is KSEA, besides a radio station?

      The “not counting” may have been during the ride-free area when intra-tunnel passengers weren’t registered by the farebox. But Metro must have had another form of counting to monitor the volume and capacity in the tunnel.

      1. What is KSEA, besides a radio station?

        KSEA Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
        Seattle, Washington, USA

        KBFI Boeing Field/King County International Airport
        Seattle, Washington, USA

        Not sure if it’s always been that way but I noticed the change when I started using airport codes for weather stations. As far as I know even international baggage is still labeled SEA. Sort of confusing when KSEA is a radio station in CA; or is it now KCA since the state is west of the mighty Missip?

      2. California took the KSEA callsign? It used to be a Seattle station. How could the station owners have let slip an asset like that? Anyway, the airport is SEA. The weather station at the airport is K-something-something-something, but again that’s a radio station (although not a regular AM or FM station).

      3. KSEA (107.9 FM, “La Campesina 107.9 FM”) is an American radio station licensed to serve the community of Greenfield, California, since 1998

        Don’t remember any radio station in the NW with that call sign. Seems like it should have been a cool jazz station though.

      4. Yeah, all sorts of internationally coordinated things use allocated letters (or letter-number combos) to indicate the nationality of the thing in question. Broadcasters in the US prefix their call sign with W or K. U.S. airports prefix with K, and airplane registration numbers in this country start with N. Generally, the U.S. Is allowed to use K, N, W, and AA through AL as its prefixes for a variety of registrations. The French are given F, the British G, Canadians C, Germans D, Chinese B, etc. (“smaller” countries get 2-character codes or code ranges like OE for Austria or 4X for Israel). Airports, airplanes, radio stations, etc. will be issued these registrations or call signs, as assigned by regulatory authorities such as the FAA or FCC in the U.S., in a way that won’t create duplications anywhere in the world.

      5. The 4 digit airport codes are ICAO, used internationally to avoid duplication. The 3 digit codes are still used domestically. The US also uses PA in Alaska and PH in Hawaii, in addition to K.

      6. Here it is. 100.7 FM was KSEA “Easy Listening” from 1974 until 1991, which was the time I listened to commercial radio stations. (I stopped when a few large companies bought most of the stations in the country and dumped the variety of content, so I didn’t know the callsign had changed after that.) It’s now KKWF, Country.

      7. “KSEA” is the ICAO 4-letter code for SeaTac airport. All US continental airports start with “K” under the ICAO system. Canada “C”, etc It’s why when you fly from Seattle to Honolulu you are flying from KSEA to PHNL.

        Now don’t get me going on sailboats….

  5. Has anyone else noticed the decrease in ‘fleet availability’ percent for LINK? Down to 89% … Why?

    1. Decreased headways? But IIRC, those started in October not November.

      Hmm, have they started to run trains to test U-Link yet?

      1. They’ve been running trains for quite some time now to Capitol Hill Station. They are the same trains used on the runs from Seatac to Westlake. They just kick off the passengers and continue to CHS. I think just recently started running to UW Station in preparation for March opening. So that’s 15-20 minutes extra the trains run every trip without revenue service.

      2. I guess I don’t know the definition of ‘unavailable’…I guess it could be testing of ULINK, but I was more concerned that there were mechanical or other problems with the actual trains…

    2. The November Agency Progress Report (November, page 7) indicated that there is a fleet-wide repair in the tractor motor/ gearbox units of the LRV (Light Rail Vehicle). As of November, 31 have been repaired. Last month it was 27. Is the 89% down to or up from?

      FYI – Am I the only one who reads these Agency Progress Reports? :) Even if they are two months behind, they are pretty interesting.

  6. I was just reading in an ST budget document that they are adding 17,000 ST Express service hours starting in March. Is that 17,000 hours over the course of a year? If so that’s only ~65 hours per weekday which doesn’t go very far. Still, if I calculated it right that’s about a 3% increase plus they have to be saving a lot of hours with the Express Toll Lanes on I-405. Where is the extra service going?

    1. I saw in some rider news that the SIP includes some “reliability improvements”. In other words, adding time to schedules so the buses are on-time more. Do ST Express buses really benefit that much from the HOT lanes? What about all the 51x and 59x buses that have to fight through increasingly bad I-5 traffic?

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