Jan16WeekdayMovingAVGJanuary’s Link weekday ridership was 15.6% higher than the year before. In the last 4 months (Oct 15 – Jan 16) Link has averaged 13.9% growth.

It’s becoming quite apparent that the October 2014 to September 2015 ‘slowdown’ (for the first time ever Link wasn’t growing by double digits) was in fact simply a reaction to the massive growth rate of the prior year. From October 2013 to September 2014, Link grew an incredible 15.9%. A significant portion of that was likely due to the Mariners having a great season boosting weekday ridership on game days. When the Mariners quickly returned to form the next year those ‘lost riders’ partially masked the sustained steady growth of Link that was still chugging along underneath. Link has now returned to its regular double digit growth.

January’s Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday average boardings were 34,956 / 21,237 / 19,472, growth of 15.6%, -1.3%, and 3.4% respectively over January 2015. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 16%. Tacoma Link’s weekday ridership decreased 3.7%. Weekday ST Express ridership was up 2.4%. System wide weekday boardings were up 7.6%, and all boardings were up 2.4%. The complete January Ridership Summary is here.

My charts and some commentary below the fold.

Jan16WeekdayRidershipJan16WeekendRidershipJan16WeekdayChangeSomeone asked me what the 12 month moving average is, so I realized I’ve never really gone into what some of my charts mean. The 12 month moving average is the average of the last twelve months’ weekday ridership. So for instance the 12 month moving average for January 2016 is the weekday ridership average of all the months from February 2015 through January 2016. With ridership being so seasonal its what I came up with to see real trends over time.
Jan16WeekdayMovingAVGThis is  something new, the same 12 month moving average data but sliced into years. Is it helpful?Jan16WeekdayMovingAVGAltThis chart is just plotting out the difference between one 12 month moving average and the one from the year proceeding it. For example the 12 month weekday ridership moving average for the months of February 2013 through January 2014 was 33,234 riders. The 12 month weekday ridership moving average for the months of February 2014 through January 2015 was 35,998 riders. That’s a difference (or growth) of 2,764 daily riders.Jan16WeekdayMovingAvgGrowth

61 Replies to “Jan 2016 ST Ridership – Rumors of a growth slowdown are greatly exaggerated.”

  1. So, has Sound Transit stopped publishing station data? It has been a long time since I’ve seen how many people board or alight at each station (which I consider to be quite relevant in assessing these numbers).

    1. They never published station data. We asked for it on a few occasions, and haven’t done so in a while.

    2. The back pages of the annual Service Implementation Plans include boardings/alightings by station/stop for Sound Transit services, including Link, Sounder and ST Express. It’s pretty decent.

      1. Thanks Bruce. That is a very interesting report (full of lots of great information) but it pretty much confirms what Martin said. The latest report has ridership data (on a per stop basis for both trains as well as the buses) but only for 2013. I’m not sure if they stopped gathering data, or whether they just stopped publishing it (and either way, I wonder why).

      2. The latest report has ridership data (on a per stop basis for both trains as well as the buses) but only for 2013.

        Here’s a link to the Draft 2016 SIP.
        Appendix D: Stop Level Ridership Data information is from the Spring 2015 service change period. That is standard for the following year planning. Interesting is the ST 532 shows only 5 on/offs for Brickyard. The 535 has 122. Give how hard it is to access the P&R, especially NB it seems like a no brainer that the 532 should skip that stop. Also, the 550 is often thought of as being the heavy hauler on the eastside. But the 545 carries just as many people. While East Link will be a fine replacement for the 550 it would double the commute time for 545 riders; more evidence East Link picked the wrong bridge big time. About 10% of Links ridership is intra tunnel hops. It will be interesting to compare South Sounder ridership to East Link. My bet is Sounder’s will be higher.

      3. The stop level data in the SIP is always pretty stale. I doubt they have stopped gathering data.

  2. Actually, more helpful than seeing the 12 month moving average split into years would be seeing the other data graphed continuously. We now have enough years of data that the annual cycle is easy to see and distinguish from the long term trend.

    (If you wanted to go more complicated, you could also subtract out the effects of the annual cycle. There are a couple of methodologies you could use. I would fit a curve (probably exponential, but maybe polynomial) to a data set of complete years, which is going to give you an approximation of long term growth, without the effect of annual cycles. If you then subtract this from the raw data, you’ll see the annual cyclicity and deviations from the long term trend. If you fit a sine curve to this, or just find the average deviation for each month, you can use this to remove the cyclicity. If you subtract the cyclic its from the last curve we mentioned, you have just the deviation from the growth pattern; if you subtract the cyclicity from the raw data, you have something like your twelve month moving average, that shows the growth without the effect of seasonal cyclicity.)

    1. (I’m really busy right now, but I’d like to try this with next month’s data – could you email me the raw data that you input?)

      1. The raw data is just the monthly reports from ST. Are you asking for my spreadsheet where I have recorded it over time? If so hit me up at matthew dot james dot johnson at gmail and I’ll send it to you.

      1. Terrible Mariners games are easier to stomach when they aren’t charging like the team is supposed to be good. In past (sucky) years they’ve ran numerous $5-10 ticket deals, those almost all dried up last year. I’d happily pay $30 for a ticket if the team is in contention (and did in 2014), but not when they’ve been below .500 for months.

      2. Ryan,

        So, you’re arguing that demand for Mariner’s tickets is directly proportional to their success rate? That’s probably a provable hypothesis.

        So, if management wants happy fans they should apply a dynamic pricing algorithm and take the loss of revenue out of the players’ wages. Nothing like a little rewards/punishment scenario to get better performance out of typically seriously overpaid performers.

      3. 1. Baseball performance is complicated. AFAIK there’s no reason to believe players perform better for financial incentives; this is true in many kinds of work. Performance incentives can also be a source of bitterness, also true in other kinds of work.
        2. As long as money is pouring into sports (through ticket sales, sure, but also TV deals, merch, etc.) players, who are some of the few people involved with truly unique talents, and who have an age-limited earning horizon that can be cut short by injury, are right (economically and morally) to demand a big cut of that money.
        3. Young players, in their first six or so years before they become free agents, are typically underpaid for their talents; minor-leaguers do even worse, of course. Below minor-leaguers are rodeo cowboys (followed by the clowns, and finally the animals).

  3. Love the charts.

    +15.9% is a huge gain! Don’t know why ST Express only grew 2.4% over the same period, but it really shows the popularity of Link in an era of clogged freeways and Buses Stuck in Traffic.

    Can’t wait to see the spike that will be U-Link opening…..

    1. Yep. This is awesome!

      As to ST Express the city is growing at a ridiculous rate compared to much of the rest of the region… And while I have no way to prove it personally I suspect the fact is the buses are nearer to capacity to start with and don’t have as much extra room/capacity as Link does and can’t absorb as many people in a crush as comfortably.

      Also looking at the routes I frequent, the 550 and 532/535 are now standing room only in peak and often packed completely. I am hearing stories from my employees of “passed stops” and hour+ periods spent standing on other routes. Some of them have even time shifted commutes to avoid this and one person is now driving a fair bit to catch a lesser used metro route from a PR. At some level it is discouraging people from riding IMO, though it does as always point out the need for East Link and something to relieve 405.

      I was curious and was going to dig around for some type of peak hour load factor information for the various ST Express routes but haven’t done that yet.

      1. +1. Looking at the routes I frequent, the 545 and 542 are also standing-room-only for most of the day. I’ve regularly seen people standing on midday Saturday 545’s, and once in a while even in the late evening. And at peaks, there is literally next to no room for increased ridership.

      2. I’ve had to stand on many 510/512 runs, even on weekends. It’s getting pretty ridiculous now.

      3. Many Park and Rides are at capacity, which could be why some bus routes aren’t gaining more ridership. A prospective new rider can’t find a parking spot at his/her local P&R, and so doesn’t switch to bus.

      4. Maximum bus capacity would be my theory. The second you abandon people on the curb, you lose customers. Suddenly you no longer have reliability, which means you might as well drive. It sounds like ST could add more runs. That isn’t cheap, though, as many of those (I would imagine) are very peak oriented. But I think it is worth it (while it isn’t cheap, simply adding more service for a bus is often the most cost effective way to improve overall service).

        Park and Ride capacity may be an issue, but I doubt it. If your drive is hellish, then you find parking (one way or another). For example, I know there are plenty of people who park “upstream” of the 41. Rather than parking at Northgate (which is often full) they park in the neighborhoods along the way. Same with the Green Lake Park and Ride. It isn’t easy to find the neighborhood parking spot, but if you are willing to walk a few blocks, and be a bit savvy, I’m sure it can be done (for free). Things may be a bit different in the official suburbs (longer walks, less neighborhood options) but my guess is folks have figured it out. If that express bus makes sense (fast ride, no parking) then you use it one way or another — if not, then a fancy park and ride is not going to sway your opinion one way or another.

      5. I have noticed in North Kirkland some increase in obvious upstream side street parking, notably in several neighboorhoods surrounding Evergreen Hospital which the 252/257 and 255 go by, though few commuters ride the 255 from North Kirkland. Currently Kingsgate’s and South Kirkland’s parking gets “creative” about 7:30 and all spots that won’t result in a daily ticket or being towed are usually filled by 8.

        But I wonder if there is a sweet spot where if the PR’s fill *too* early you end up with people taking alternatives, whether that’s upstream parking or worse single passenger vehicle. We need to remember for many going to downtown (especially time shifted people) it’s not about the drive time but it’s about the parking cost of $14 to $20 a day. For example @ 7:30 it’s still usually a clean shot down Willows at 40mph to get on 520 and 405 is (depending on the traffic/weather) usually not a disaster yet south of SR-522 so a SOV is still an option at that hour, especially if your parking is free.

      6. @Kyle S
        What do you mean Sweet Spot? If the P&R is filling up before the morning commute is over, there is excess demand.
        But yeah good point, especially for downtown Seattle the savings on parking $$s is likely worth more to bus riders than the time savings. I wonder if Sound Transit has done any analysis on this? I wonder if by switching to managed parking, some people will switch back to driving downtown? There is certainly a tipping point – say if all P&Rs charged $25/day, some people would just drive downtown & pay that.

      7. Um, er, ah Joe, the 512 runs every 15 minutes during the base period on Saturdays. Don’t you think it might be a wee bit cheaper to cut that to 10 minute headways — or even 7 if needed someday — than to drop north of $7 billion dollars to buy a train set that will be considerably slower between Everett and Lynnwood?

        I’m NOT saying that Link to Lynnwood was a bad decision. In fact, it’s a very good one considering that there is no room for a transit center between there and Northgate and the freeway is a kazoo south of 244th/205th.

        But farther north than Lynnwood the economics are tenuouser and tenuouser to quote that master of English prose, George W Bush.

      8. Currently Kingsgate’s and South Kirkland’s parking gets “creative” about 7:30 and all spots that won’t result in a daily ticket or being towed are usually filled by 8.

        I am at S. Kirkland at 7:30AM every weekday and the lot is nowhere close to full anymore. And there are fewer cars when I return in the evening at 5:30PM. It was over capacity when the construction was going on and it seemed to remain that way initially after the fenced off construction area was removed. But that is no longer the case and all the auxiliary parking is gone too. Basically the two western most rows of the surface parking are empty. I haven’t gone in the garage (it’s a bus transfer point for me) but previously when I did drive the surface spaces would fill before the upper levels of the garage. Part of that I’ve been told is people feel less safe in a parking garage than they do in the surface lot where you are more visible.

        The buses into Seattle remain as full as ever, that is to say loaded like sardines. One explanation I’ve thought of is people are moving “up stream” or switch to the bus to avoid the tolls on 405 which would be layered on top of the 520 bridge toll. However, the 540 only goes as far as Kirkland and the 255 starts it’s run into Seattle at either Totem Lake TC or Brickyard. And the 255’s I see coming from Seattle in the evening still disgorge the majority of their catch at S. Kirkland and are mostly empty by the time they get to Totem Lake.

      9. Conventional wisdom says that if you build n more parking spaces at a park-and-ride, you carry n more riders on a round trip into the city (maybe more, if multiple people travel in the same car).

        In reality, the actual ridership bump is often a fair bit less than n. For every person who switches from driving all the way to driving to the P&R, another person will switch to driving to the P&R who formerly walked, bused, or got dropped there by a family member.

        The ridership patterns of route 255, in particular, seem suggest that people who live along the route further north and could easily walk to the bus are driving to the P&R to catch the same bus out of pure laziness, just to save a couple blocks of walking. Because, when the parking is ample and free, why not?

      10. For every person who switches from driving all the way to driving to the P&R, another person will switch to driving to the P&R who formerly walked, bused, or got dropped there by a family member.

        The ridership patterns of route 255, in particular, seem suggest that people who live along the route further north and could easily walk to the bus are driving to the P&R to catch the same bus out of pure laziness

        @asdf2
        What ridership pattern are you referring too? I find it unlikely that someone living close enough to walk or that has a kiss and ride commute would choose to drive a car a short distance when by your calculation the parking balance remains unchanged. Of course adding ridership with additional spaces assumes that the lot is already at capacity. I’d argue that you get more than a 1:1 increase per space because if it’s known that a lot will in all likelihood have a space available you tend to get more parking turnover rather than people that get there early and “hog the spot” all day.

      11. @AJ: By sweetspot I mean I’d rather see a PR get filled than have one be half empty. That half empty park and ride is a waste of our limitted transit dollars, but we don’t want it filling so early that the bulk of people who would use it do not as having no option. I too think that an unintended consequence of managed parking will be people who are avoiding paying for parking elsewhere (espcially those who only ride because of a free employer pass) will stop riding, especially those who have no tolls along the replacing driving route.

        @Bernie: I agree it’s much better @ South Kirkland now and I haven’t parked there in about 6 months since my schedule had to change. Last I hit the South Kirkland PR it was @ 8:15 and it was a last ditch hope against driving into the city and I had to park on the last row in the top of the garage. I do know that at Kingsgate there is a significant spike in arrivals between 7:45 and 8:00 as that is the last trips that will garuntee arrival in downtown @ 9AM most days. I expect South Kirkland has something similar.

        @asdf: The 255 is an interesting route, other than people SW of the Kingsgate PR for most everyone else the 252/257 generally makes far better sense at peak. If there are 40 people at Kingsgate @ 7:45 and a 255 comes it’s unusual for more than one person to get on. So it’s less laziness and more about saving a half hour in the trip to downtown. There is a reason why an express bus from North Kirkland has been studied by ST a few times now.

    2. ST Express is also essentially a mature product. Big office or residential tower above Everett Station bus platforms? Nope. Biggest development at Tacoma Dome was an automobile museum parking lot.

      There’s only so much that happens in the dead zones next to freeways.

      Some more use of double talls on some routes could be useful though.

      1. The fact that Tacoma and Everett still haven’t managed to revitalize their employer base after several times trying means that more people have to go to Seattle to find jobs, especially good-paying ones.If they do ever manage to get their act together or get lucky, more of their residents will work closer to home and reverse commuting will increase.

      2. I don’t know, I think it is a little more complicated than that. The entire region is growing. Driving doesn’t scale. It makes sense that transit should be growing, unless there is something holding it back. Traffic isn’t getting any better and parking isn’t getting any cheaper. I’m not saying Tacoma, Everett or the suburbs are growing as fast as Seattle proper, but they are still growing.

        Plus the routes are not entirely from a freeway park and ride to downtown Seattle. The 550 (the most popular ST bus) is a lot like the 41. It goes through the neighborhoods first, then visits a big park and ride and makes a bee-line to downtown Seattle. I’m guessing, just like the 41, it is standing room only and they are turning away riders once they get to the park and ride. Expand the park and ride if you want, but just like all driving, it doesn’t scale (and in this case, that really isn’t the main problem). Just add more service. Once you do that, riding that bus makes a lot of sense, whether the ride starts with a walk to the bus stop or a connecting bus.

        It seems like the big haulers — the buses that carry most of the riders — are like that.
        The 545 toodles around Redmond before hitting the freeway. The 522 goes through Lake City as well as the rest of SR 522. It isn’t until you get to the 511 that you find a bus that follows the classic commuter pattern (park and ride to downtown). But the 511 carries well less than half of what either the 545 or 550 do. The 512 carries even fewer.

        Maybe that is the answer for many of these routes. I know the park and rides are also the transit centers, which means they work for a transfer, but how well do they work? Not that well, from what I can tell. For example, if I’m coming from SR 99 in Lynnwood and want to head downtown, it gets a bit messy. Along 200th it is every fifteen minutes, which isn’t terrible, but making the transfer is not exactly pleasant (it is no steady stream of buses). Along 196th it appears there are no connecting buses (so you have to walk). For various places along 99, you have even more limited options. It seems to me that if you simply sent the 535 over to 99 (on any street) you would increase ridership considerably. Then you could bump frequency and really improve things.

        I know a lot of this stuff is just temporary. Eventually the train will come to some of these areas. But until then, it makes sense to increase service and consider stretching out the routes a bit.

      3. Ross,

        You’re advocating for a Seattle invention: BlueStreak Service: a neighborhood collector-distributor which also serves a park and ride lot before entering a freeway. The old “41 BlueStreak” (the namesake for the other “BlueStreak” lines) has remained essentially unchanged since its inception in 1970.

        I agree that it is a brilliant way to ensure that Park-N-Ride services have a reason to run all day. The best serve at least one vibrant area such as Lake City and north Northgate before calling at the P’n’R and getting on the freeway. Simple P’n’R-only buses have lower ridership than those which provide a one-seat service from the surrounding area.

      4. The entire region is growing, but the sprawl in places like Lacy north of I-5 and the western edges of Gig Harbor are downright hostile to any form of transportation.

        Park and rides can work for some of that, but an awful lot of people will just keep on driving once they are in their car.

        I’ve certainly been on some crowded expresses, but it goes a bit beyond overcrowding.

        Link goes through some actual neighborhoods. Some of those are seeing good development. People can have their car in for service, take Link one day, and realize the experience didn’t kill them. Some of those will be back for more.

        Some of those will decide they can do more than commuter trips on Link, and take it to events or restaurants or shopping. Those types of riders result in ridership growth faster than population growth because they account for more than two trips per day.

        This same set of dynamics doesn’t work as well for a number of ST Express routes. South Everett Park and Ride? In order to use ST Express you have to be able to *get* to ST Express in the first place, overcrowded buses or no.

        ( Yes, there have been two occasions I think when I found South Everett useful due to someone leaving me off on the way someplace. Give that same place access to local CT routes and it becomes a much more useful stop.)

  4. These ridership statistics are extremely valuable, and to an untrained eye look very good for a rail system with one line, going on seven years old. The line that the planners themselves always knew would initially carry the least passengers in the system, and was built first because it was technically the easiest.

    It’ll be interesting to see what the graph does on March 19. But I really wonder what the reading was on the first segment of I-5 seven years into operations. Does anybody even keep ridership graphs like these for roads?

    But I can’t see why anyone, especially any employer, is surprised that the express bus routes serving the exact same corridors planned for regional rail are completely packed. It’s a terrific sign how healthy this region really is. We’ve finally outgrown our transportation system.

    At pretty much the same rate as will a healthy kid past twelve. With same results for clothing seams. And blood vessels. Would be sadistic to tell the one-car-one-driver lobby we’re going to turn this whole business over to them to solve. But right now our whole economy requires we create a lot more transit ‘way ahead of schedule.

    Suggestion 1: on one segment of one freeway, ask the public to let one continuous line of traffic lanes become a bus-only at rush hour. With pre-empt at every surface-street traffic signal. And do whatever else it takes (experiments always cost a fortune) that we can promise the lane will carry more people with buses than cars.

    Based of 550 group’s stats, I-90 will be fastest to create, with most ridership already desperately latent. Of workers already desperately late.

    Because in addition to stats, this experiment will test a theory of mine after long rush hours of commuting: that along the same road, even with a standing load, a bus moving 60 the length of every rush-hour run will attract more voluntary ridership than a car moving zero. Right now, nothing to lose by checking, is there?

    From our business community: Next suggestion?

    Mark Dublin

  5. Interestingly enough, when you go to the actual ridership report it shows that Link is now carrying about 2/3s of what the entire ST Express system is carrying. That is amazing.

    Given the double digit growth of Link ridership compared to the anemic ridership growthof ST express, and with U Link coming on line, we will probably see Link ridership exceed ST Express ridership sometime in 2017.

    1. I think that is a sign that ST express needs some work. Some of the buses are fine, but some of them have obviously leveled off, and more service should be added. But to large extent it is an apples to oranges comparison. For example, the first five letters of RapidRide (a much maligned system) still carry more than Link. Considering the puny investment in RapidRide (and billions spent on Link) that *is impressive”.

      But just comparing ridership is silly. The first four numbered buses (7, 48, 36 and 8) carry more riders than Link, but that doesn’t mean the investment in Link was worth it or not. Source: http://stb-wp.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/01141338/METRO-AND-ST-RIDERSHIP.png

      1. Total riders is not the only metric. Productivity is very important. A line moving at 8 mph won’t be as productive as one moving at 30 mph – and require more subsidy to operate. It takes more vehicles and drivers. A vehicle can also carry more riders if there is a shorter time between the stops.

        As time goes forward, measures like riders per hour or rider miles per hour will grow in what we consider important.

      2. RossB and some others, just about every problem with ST Express is the result of its having to be stuck in the same traffic as everything else stuck in the service area.

        In a freeway network where one minor car-crash can gridlock (absolutely accurate meaning of the word) several hundred square miles of high-speed highways, the only way to keep any transit vehicle from being stopped or bunching, is to just plain get it out of traffic.

        And/or get the car traffic out of its way. Sounder, “spine”, and hydrofoil high speed ferryboats all have one absolutely necessary thing in common. Nothing by definition unnecessary in their way. Diamonds aren’t a bus’s best friends.

        I know that for many politicians on foreign policy “whatever it takes” means make a lot of threats and don’t bring back the draft. But lucky for us civilians in a well-off area of a rich safe country, we’ve already got most of the “whatever” for enough public transit to keep our economy alive.

        Starting with an existing urban and intercity highway system graded and curved for, what, 60mph minimum? For the reason of not being in freeway lanes, after March 19, LINK will be taking a very large number of people off of a part of I-5 most blocked.

        Every mile clears more artery, whatever the route through Everett. But we can’t leave hundreds of millions of dollars of military-grade highway space moving many miles of pollutionary scrap iron nowhere for the 30 years ’til regional rail gets built out.

        If we’ve got the emergency I think- and Kyle, I’d like your assessment of how bad- it’s perfectly reasonable to take one lane of a defense highway (it’s the word before “Highway” in the authorizing legislation) and make at least that lane move people as fast as the engineers intended.

        Until then, I think ST should start buying its fleet from MCI. Meaning seats comfortable for sleeping and bathrooms.

        Mark Dublin

      3. @Al S,

        You are absolutely right. Total volume is just the headline metric and doesn’t tell the complete story. But the other metrics tend to favor LR too, and that advantage is probably at least some of the reason that we are continuing to see double digit growth in LR ridership.

        For example, when a really “fast” bus route in the local area is averaging 8 mph the 28 mph average of Link seems almost like something out of science fiction. The natural tendency of the ridership base is thus to bias demand towards LR.

        We will get a real taste of what is possible when U-Link opens on the 19th. Even with the 33% time penalty for operating with Joint Ops in the DSTT, the transit times will represent an incredible time savings compared to any other mode. It will be huge.

        Then it is on to Angle Lake this fall, an all bus DSTT in 2017, and maybe 3 min headways in 2018.

        We are about to turn a corner…..

      4. I agree, Lazarus, that light rail with exclusive track is the most productive. I think that ST Express will actually get less productive over time as the paths that they use get more congested. Light rail is also more productive because one driver can carry 500 people in a four-car train while it takes 4 to 7 articulated buses to approach that capacity.

        ST should be at the point where exclusive ROW is the preferred investment, and any investment that does not include this should be questioned for its operational productivity. I have a hard time believing that routes with freeway hopscotching in HOT/HOV lanes will ever gain lots more riders or get more productive; they will get slower over time. On the other hand, light rail exclusive tracks offer many ways for ST to grow usage and productivity – longer trains, branch lines (two lines on the same track), better feeder bus service integration, station area development partnerships, etc.

      5. >> Even with the 33% time penalty for operating with Joint Ops in the DSTT, the transit times will represent an incredible time savings compared to any other mode.

        Nonsense. Absolute nonsense. There are only a couple extra stops. This makes the thinking on this really easy, as there are only a handful of new combinations:

        1) Downtown to Capitol Hill. From many of the areas only a block or two from CHS it takes less than five minutes to get to Westlake. Just going back and forth to the deep bore tunnel takes longer than that. Unless you are standing next to the station on Capitol Hill and are headed right by a different station downtown, you are better off taking the bus. Without a doubt there will be people who will be at the right place at the right time and decide to take the train, but the number of people who will actually see a huge end to end time improvement is very small.

        2) U-District to downtown. Similar story. If you are headed to south campus, or the hospital or a sporting event, then taking the train makes a lot of sense. It will be faster than buses ever were. But guess what? That wasn’t really where most of the people wanted to go. For people who are headed to most of the campus, or the surrounding businesses (or homes) it would be faster to take a bus. Who cares if your vehicle is super fast if you then have to spend a bunch of time getting to and from the station.

        3) U-District to Capitol Hill — We have a winner! This is it. This is the main beneficiary of the billions we spent. This is the type of trip that drives ridership. It is the type of trip that Sound Transit ignores. But it is only one. Absolutely, it is much faster, but there are only so many people who want to go from one tiny corner or Capitol Hill to a tiny corner of the campus (or take very slow connecting buses from farther away).

        Of course, there is the fact that this is a train, and you have oodles (OMG! almost 40,000!) of riders coming from places farther south. OK, not 40,000, some have just grabbed the first the first vehicle in the tunnel. But either way, there are still a bunch of people who are already on the train. They will benefit from this. But only marginally. Those headed to the UW avoid a transfer. So, rather than getting off the train, waiting a minute or two, then going straight to their destination, they will be able to leave the station at the UW, walk a few blocks, then take a bus. Sorry, that just isn’t that fast. The big game changer in this city happened a very long time ago — it was when the bus tunnel was built. That has saved more time for more people than anything Sound Transit has done (and that will likely be the case at least for the next five years)

        Look, light rail isn’t magic. It is only one tool in the toolbox. Use it wisely and it can completely change the transit dynamic. But as city after city has shown, just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come. For the type of investment we are making, we should be close to a quarter million daily riders (SkyTrain is close to 400,000). But we are nowhere near that, because we have failed to follow the basic guidelines when constructing such a system: urban stop spacing and build a bus network that integrates really well with the trains. Of course UW to downtown rail is going to popular. Anyone with any sense would have told you that fifty years ago. You would have to screw it up big time to have anything less than enormous numbers of new transit riders. ST seems to be testing that idea.

      6. Is there any reason to L shape any of the routes through the Husky Stadium station?

        Before MAX orange line was built, several routes were one seat rides from several places into Portland. However,,there were also a fair number of transfers between the routes for those going between the one seat ride corridors. Most of those were north-south to east-west transfers.

        So, when MAX orange line was built, lots of people lost their one seat ride to downtown, as is happening to the 7X series in the U district. However, TriMet rearranged the leftover bus route stubs into L shaped routes so those formerly transferring gained one seat rides.

        It doesn’t look to me like there is too much here that lends itself to that type of reorganization. The 7X series look like they are mostly north-south with no reason anyone would transfer between them.

      7. Ross, we’ll have to see on the downtown – Capitol Hill (or beyond) trip. Going into downtown in the mornings it’s a no-brainer to stay on the bus; but leaving downtown on the 11 is a miserable experience most days where it can take 15 minutes to get to Broadway on a bus that is crowded enough it may have skipped the stop at 9th/Pike. Although that stop is as close to my office as the one at 4th is, it only took getting skipped once to never do that again. I have on two separate occasions this winter walked home to Madison Park as fast (45 minutes) as the 11 took to get there, knowing this because none ever passed me.

        If you are coming from anywhere downtown other than Pike/Pine, why would you not take the train if you’re headed north of Madison? You’d have to transfer by bus anyway coming from the south so why not move your transfer to the Hill and get there faster? For me, the four block walk from the north to 4th/Pike will be replaced by a similar walk on Broadway, or a longer walk home from the 8 which I can catch right at the station. The average wait time for a train will be 3 minutes instead of the 7.5 (ha–it’s always delayed) for the bus. The trip itself will be 2-3 minutes to Broadway instead of 10-15 minimum.

        Yes, if you’re headed to Pike/Broadway the bus may be better as several routes do that, so wait time is (supposed to be) minimal. Anywhere past there on the 10, 11, 43, 49, etc. you will likely be weighing a very quick run up the hill on Link followed by a transfer against a one-seat ride on a jammed, uncomfortable bus that takes far longer to get through the most crowded part of the trip. It in practice may still be preferable to take the bus, but I am very glad that it’s only a week and a half until I get to find out.

      8. Perhaps for inbound trips light rail is a wash compared to existing bus service from Capitol Hill or the UW/NE Seattle. Unless of course you are someone who regularly gets passed up by full buses.

        Outbound, especially during the afternoon peak is where link is a clear winner. While the occasional trip is fast many end up slogging through gridlocked traffic especially for downtown-Capitol hill trips.

        Another factor is reliability, even if a majority of trips are currently faster on the bus, frequent delays and disruption due to congestion can easily sour choice riders on transit. Link is subject to far fewer delays

        Still we are unfortunately 5 years away from the system that will pay huge benefits for a large number of transit riders.

    2. Some of that is going to depend on making sure investments in rail pay off for ST Express.

      As an example, service hours are really wasted on ST Express routes south of Tacoma due to the perpetual highway mess at the I-5 / I-705 interchange. It makes the express buses north of there unreliable. In 2017, a parallel route becomes a passenger rail route for several trains a day. If single operator commuter equipment were allowed here, diesel light rail south of Tacoma could be a huge benefit for ST Express by getting them off I-5 at a price that is competitive with running a bus. It might not be allowed by the union, but it doesn’t hurt to at least try.

      ST doesn’t run service between the UW and Westlake, so there may not be too much direct service hours replacement network benefit for ST Express once ULink opens, but there could be some other network benefits.

  6. 2007 Roads and Transit Failed, while 2008 ST 2 passed, in large part because Sound Transit agreed to scale back the rail and invest more in buses that would benefit people now, rather than 20 years in the future. It appears like ridership has already caught up with the ST 2 investments, and unless service levels increase, it will be difficult for ST express bus ridership to increase much further.

    ST already admits as such with the “unfunded wish list” in their service planning document. Ideally, ST 3 would provide another service-hour infusion to the ST express bus service, but thus far, I haven’t heard much about it at all. I’ve heard talk about capital improvements to bus service, such as BRT on I-405 or SR-522, but I haven’t heard any talk of using ST 3 to beef up the frequency of existing routes. This is quite disappointing, and will almost certainly have an impact on ST3’s chance of passing in the polls. For the east subarea, especially, simply adding more service hours to existing bus routes would have a greater impact than more rail lines.

    1. I agree with asdf: ST needs to find more city pairs and connect them. All day half hourly Tacoma-Auburn-Kent-Bellevue service would be a fantastic first step. That’s what express buses do incomparably well.

      Yes, it’s expensive service to provide, so start charging more for it. We here in Clark County pay $3.90 per express trip with very little discount on a monthly pass (it’s for 20 days which in most months is accurate or even MORE than actually worked). But the buses are well-patronized because the save on parking in downtown Portland or on Marquam Hill.

      And if there are frequently standees mid-day on existing routes, absolutely cut headways to meet the demand. It’s impossible for a transit system to avoid standees at the peaks; it would be astronomically expensive to do so. But during the middle of the day if buses are filling up, that route is an absolute candidate for “frequent service”.

    2. Considering the different electorate (off year v presidential) I’m not sure you can pull any useful info about package size/makeup from the results. For instance, more people voted against ST2 than voted against Roads and Transit, it’s just that the the more progressive electorate pushed it through.

  7. Do you think (until U-Link opens on March 19, of course) that weekend ridership for the current Link route has maxed out, given the negative YOY growth for January? It looks like weekend ridership for 2015 also struggled to overtake 2014’s weekend ridership (failing in 4 out of 12 months)?

    Since Weekday ridership is clearly growing very consistently (there has only been one month in Link’s existence where weekday ridership was less than the same month the year before, namely August 2015), this tells me that Link is becoming much more attractive to weekday commuters, and either neutral or marginally more attractive to casual weekend riders.

    The good thing is that if it takes seven years to max out the lowest form of ridership, then that means that with U-link and Angle Lake opening in 2016, Northgate and Kent-Des Moines opening in 2021, East Link opening in 2023, and (pending voter approval) ST3 Link extensions opening a few years later than those (making the expansion cadence averaging to maybe 4 years), Link is expanding faster than ridership can slow.

    1. No. Not even close.

      First parts of the MAX blue line are 30 years old this year, and developments are still happening along it. Not as much as it used to now that Interstate Avenue and others have MAX lines, but they still happen from time to time.

      It could be anything from a different college or high school Christmas vacation schedule to slightly warmer weather making people go out of town on the weekend.

    2. Weekend ridership is, and has always been, heavily event driven. In 2014 and 2015, the Seahawks had two home playoff games on January weekends and, when there’s only 10’ish weekend days total in a month, two football games makes a huge difference. In 2016, the Seahawks didn’t have any home games in January, so there’s your ridership dip, right there.

      Some of the recent weekday ridership boost may also be attributable to ST switching from 8 trains per hour, during rush hour, to 10 trains per hour. Weekend service is operating under the same schedule as it was back in 2009.

    3. I have heard lots of chatter about how to park for Saturday nights on Capitol Hill. Parking is hard to find and/or it is expensive. I think that ST will see a big increase Saturday evening usage from all directions to Cap Hill.

      1. Plus the Saturday afternoon Husky games in the fall as a partner to the Sunday Seahawk games.

  8. While it is only somewhat on topic for this thread, please be aware that Mass Transit Magazine March of 2016 issue features SoundTransit.

    I’m not at all fond of the digital issues format that they are using, as it combines all of the disadvantages of paper will all of the disadvantages of digital media, but there it is.

    “Ahead of Schedule, Under Budget, Navigating through major expansion and an upcoming referendum”

  9. With July-August being the busiest months of the year, and U-Link being in full swing by then, I’m wondering if there are any projections for what we’ll see in those months this year. Week-day boardings of 50K? 75k? more?
    Also, will July-August remain the busiest months? Or will that shift to October, currently the 3rd or 4th busiest month (depending on year), but will now get a big boost when UW classes are starting up?

    1. On page 2 of the report, the Link target has an October peak, so it looks like they are modeling a more Metro like service pattern.

      1. It looks from that graph that Sound Transit has based their predictions on an 8 or so month ramp up period, which is reasonable as it takes people a while to change their habits (unless they’re forced to by their bus being truncated at a Link station). So their 2017 predictions could again have July-August as the peak months. Either way, it will be an exciting time to watch how this all unfolds over the next year.

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