Sounder Bruce (Flickr)
Sounder Bruce (Flickr)

Amid the breaking news last week of the Sound Transit 3 Draft Plan Update, Sound Transit’s Q1 Ridership Report got a bit buried. The Q2 report will be far more consequential, being the first one with a full quarter of ULink ridership, but even so there are interesting (and mostly positive) trends from the Q1 data.


Even with just 2 weeks of ULink service, Link ridership was up 27% from Q1 2015with 3 million boardings and an average weekday ridership of 38,371. Subtracting the two weeks of ULink service returns a 12.5% growth rate over Q1 2015. Q2 may be the first quarter in which Link ridership exceeds all ST Express routes combined, but we’ll have to wait and see.


Sounder set a new quarterly record, breaking the 1 million boardings mark with a weekday average of 16,292. The South Line was up 15%, and the North Line up 12%. But the South Line remains an order of magnitude larger, with nearly 11 times the ridership of the North Line.

ST Express

Total ST Express ridership grew just one percent, with 4.4 million boardings and a weekday average of 62,509. Most routes added a small number of riders, but a few lost riders, including Routes 522 and 574. Route 586 lost 19% of its riders, partially driven by UW students shifting to the 590s+Link in the final 2 weeks of March. New service on Route 541 only existed for one week of Q1, and it didn’t start quickly out of the gate, with just 2,215 riders, or 443 per weekday.

Tacoma Link

Tacoma Link lost 5% of its riders. Tacoma Link has lost ridership in 4 of the last 5 quarters, though total decline has been small.

51 Replies to “Sound Transit Q1 2016 Ridership”

  1. Digging into the weeds of those ST Express routes:

    Route 522 is in increasing competition with route 372, with its popular new connection to UW Station, and doubling of frequency. We’ll see just how much route 522 drops in Q2.

    Regarding route 541, UW wasn’t in session that first week after the opening party, so the 10-11 boardings per run doesn’t mean much yet.

    Route 574 changed up its path in SeaTac, so that if you transfer to route 574 at Airport Station, you have to catch it at the northbound bay and ride around the figure 8 through the airport before heading south, making it less competitive with the A Line for trips to Federal Way TC. The Angle Lake Station restructure should solve that problem, but we don’t have a date yet for when the restructure will happen, since we don’t have a date yet for when Angle Lake Station will open.

    Route 586 reversed directions for the morning runs, but did not for the evening runs, going to the U-District before going through campus. Still, trying to go from the U-District to downtown during evening rush hour would have been an exercise in sitting in the I-5 reverse peak parking lot. The other thing that happened is that 586 no longer serves Commerce St in downtown Tacoma. It just starts at Tacoma Dome Station.

    I was disappointed that the proposal to send some buses from Tacoma Dome to the north end of Seattle’s Central Business District via the Seneca off-ramp did not happen, but perhaps ST wanted to see how far 586 ridership would collapse first.

    1. That routing for the 574 has been there a good while. It’s actually easier than catching the A because to even get to the A, you have to cross International Blvd twice, to the east via the sky bridge and to the west via the crosswalk, so you walk by the northbound 574 stop anyway. If you want to go the northbound 574 stop to go south, you just need to use the sky bridge. It’s a shame that there is no stairway directly from the bridge to the bus stop on the west side of international.

      1. For most transfers, the missing stairway may become much less important after Angle Lake Station opens. Riders transferring from Link and trying to catch the A Line southbound will use TIBS or ALS. Riders trying to catch route 574 southbound will board at the south terminal station or use ALS. I have no idea what will happen with routes 156 and 180, but I do hope Kent Station is in line for some sort of quick and frequent connection to ALS, while not taking service away completely from S 188th St.

      2. They won’t change the 180 to go to ALS instead of the airport. It isn’t worth removing local service along a street (S. 188th St.) just to make it so someone doesn’t have to use poorly-built stairs and cross the street. That would be like moving every Mt. Baker station route to terminate at Columbia City station instead, because of the bad bus-train connection.

    2. Angel Lake “restructure”? This is what I’ve been fearing, mainly that Metro & ST will make ALS a terminus for some routes. What do you think is in store for a restructure?

    3. I know that I’m one of the riders not on the 522, but I would think that the 522 would get some pickup from the 85th st stop, begun the last couple days of q1. In addition, I’d also compare it to 312 ridership. I noticed that during Jan and Feb the 312 and the 522 buses were becoming equally full. Used to be that the 522 was stuffed to the gills and you could easily find a seat on the 312.

    4. Keep in mind that on the weekends and holidays the # 372 only operates between Lake City and the U District and does not go north of NE 130th so anyone who boards the # 522 north of there will probable not transfer to the # 372 and then again on the UW Campus and walk to the Light Rail station if they are not going south of the downtown area.

    5. I’ve ridden the 541 several times in the Microsoft-commuter direction. It started out mostly empty, but after a few rounds in the afternoon of waiting in a long line for the 545 and seeing the 541 come by first, people have slowly started to give the 541 a chance. Now, a typical trip runs with about 70% of the seats full.

      It would be interesting to see how the 541’s ridership compares in the morning vs. afternoon. I suspect a fair number of Capitol->Microsoft commuters are riding the 545 all the way in the morning, while riding 541/542->Link home in the afternoon. The reason is that the 545 serves the Capitol Hill stop only in the morning and afternoon trips allow you wait at one stop for either a 541, 542, or 545, whichever comes first, which the morning trips do not.

      1. On the other hand, for those with a Seattle-Microsoft commute from downtown, the opposite pattern may be emerging. I’ve switched to a Link to UW station, then 541/542 to campus in the mornings instead of the 545; but afternoons may still end up on 545 bus by taking whatever arrives first out of a 545 or a 541/542 and Link.

        For a Belltown/Pike Place Market resident, the Link and 541/542 combo is mostly time equivalent to the 545 during peak times, but I prefer to get in some physical activity climbing escalators out of the UW station versus just sitting on a crowded bus waiting on left turns to collect lower Capitol Hill riders from the Bellevue Ave stop.

    6. 522 has also been affected the last couple of quarters by really nasty construction at one of the major pickup points in Kenmore, at Cat’s Whiskers and Bothell Way (61st Ave and SR522). That’s a secondary park-and-ride location as well as a decently busy stop on its own, and the way the temporary stop westbound has been set up has been pretty discouraging to use.

      It should be cleared up in another couple of weeks, and I’d expect 2nd quarter to show that dip as well. Third quarter might be interesting tho’.

  2. The last time I rode Tacoma Link, it was pretty empty. Like the voice announcements but the look of Tacoma Link (the zillion lights on the damn thing) is annoying not not attractive, at all.

    The other thing is that there isn’t much to do in Downtown Tacoma and the City of Tacoma isn’t making any headway in improving downtown.

    The biggest improvement to the area will be when the Elk’s Lodge gets rebuilt by McMenamins, it’ll be an actual destination to go to.

    Really Tacoma needs to start investing in the Dome district. There isn’t a lot in that area but there could be a lot of potential if they put the money and upzone the area.

    1. The best thing will be when the extension to the Hilltop opens in 2018ish, which should increase ridership quite a bit – it will make it finally useful.

    2. Ever since I first saw Tacoma in 1974, the CBD has been weird in the same way. While Dupont and Mountain View look like they’re designed by aliens desperately trying to imitate human cul-de-sac dwellers, Tacoma looks like a prosperous small modern city with a terrific location and a better-than average urban freeway system. And four world-class museums.

      And it doesn’t look run down or worn out in the slightest. So, within however many dimensions are necessary, where are the people? If they’d been permanently kidnapped, there’s be nobody to keep the buildings in such good repair.

      So my guess would be that instead of aliens, like in San Jose area VTA territory, tectonical/electronic gravity waves from Mt. Rainier leave Tacoma population about a millionth of a degree out of focus.

      Point being that passenger slight adjustment to passenger-counting algorithms and instruments will show that in another dimension, streetcar extended to Steilacoom (it used to be!) is already carrying standing loads.

      Like Snoopy’s wide-eyed psychopathic lady owner Lucy Van Pelt would say after she once again flattened Charlie Brown by pulling the football away when he kicked it:

      “Isn’t science interesting?!”


      1. Charlie Brown and Snoopy object to Lucy being considered Snoopy’s owner. She’s a bad psychiatrist too.

      2. >> She’s a bad psychiatrist too.

        Pretty good rates, though (even adjusted for inflation).

      3. When Woodstock was depressed and Snoopy took him to Lucy for counseling, Lucy said, “What does a bird have to be depressed about? Birds are care-free!” and just dismissed his problem out of hand. And still charged 5c.

    3. There’s entirely too much parking and similar dead space in downtown Tacoma.

      1. Tacoma Mall opened in 1965 and killed downtown. The same thing happened to Everett when Everett Mall opened. No stores = no reason to go there anymore.

      2. This is basically it. It is always possible to find plenty of parking in downtown Tacoma, and it doesn’t cost very much when it isn’t free, so people going downtown have no incentive to take a bus. If we start replacing parking with buildings, then transit ridership will go up, even before we take into consideration the residents of and visitors to those buildings.

      3. SeaStrap, Eric, and Brian, Joe, there’s no question Tacoma has a lot of available parking. And that a mall opened in 1965. Which my math says was 51 years ago. Other places have gained more malls in five decades and still stayed alive.

        Still doesn’t explain why physical plant has stayed in such good condition. Neighborhoods uphill from the city too. Most normal thing is that some expensive housing has developed along the waterway.

        Problem isn’t stores moving to the mall. Problem is that the people who shop at the mall don’t have anyplace to work near Downtown. It was when the kind of work that gave your average bus passenger a living went away that the city found itself with so much room to park.

        So it’s only natural that people who can still earn a comfortable living there have no problem at all being there during a work day. And that places whey work can afford good upkeep. Suggesting a certain priority to me that when more people can once again make a living there.

        Fifty years should be long enough to have bid a long fare-well to a bygone. So would appreciate somebody telling me what you would need to see before you move to Tacoma. Me? Industrial design firm with some small machining.

        And some transit at last north and south to give my workers a choice of residence their wages can afford. More or less what Tacoma used to have since last industrial economy died. How soon city gets a pulse back will say a lot about how much use public transit really is.

        Because fifty more years like the last, and this country will be exactly as great as what Donald Trump can make a deal to trash out and sell for scrap. Meantime, let’s hear some other ideas.

        Mark Dublin

      4. @Brian In Seattle

        Though interestingly, Everett Mall is slowly dying as more of its customers continue to drive to Alderwood Mall instead.

        If Everett invests in bringing more people to downtown, I think more businesses may return. Probably at the cost of what is left at Everett Mall.

      5. Its amazing to me how Downtown Tacoma in particular was killed by the mall. Some cities get annihilated by the mall and others manage just fine. Tacoma was definitely one of the worst and so quickly too. I think its retail was for the most part all gone by the 1970s save for a Woolworths. Seattle, Portland, Spokane, Salem, OR, Victoria, Vancouver all still have downtown retail, while Tacoma, Eugene, Everett lost theirs to the mall.

        Tacoma is also a perfect example of having lots of parking and people still don’t go downtown… because there is nothing downtown but parking. Shortly after the mall opened and downtown went into decline you can tell they got hysterical about “we need parking at all costs!!!!!” and tore huge swaths of the heart of downtown down to build those two hideous eyesore brutalist garages that couldn’t have been designed any worse to repel people and project a negative deserted scary feeling of downtown. I suspect the geography and location of downtown was a big part in its decline and how easy it is post I-5 opening to just bypass downtown, most of the neighborhoods are located closer to the mall plus the freeways pretty much funnel traffic to the mall too.

        I enjoy walking around downtown and the inner neighborhoods like Hilltop and Stadium, there’s some amazing historic architecture and Wright Park and the Seymour Conservatory in it is really nice. McMenamins should do wonders to that north end of downtown which I think has so much potential.

      6. Downtown Tacoma’s truly brutalist structure is I-705. I’d love to see that go down.

      7. Look, it may be snotty as hell to talk about the Tacoma Aroma, but honestly that was such a thing and it absolutely kept me away from downtown Tacoma until the paper mill got cleaned up and the air cleared out. Most of the time now it’s fine! But – oh gods, I remember going through on the interstate in the back seat and getting hit with that and just gagging until we got past it.

        If you want to talk about why Tacoma’s downtown didn’t survive the mall, you might look this simple environmental issue.

        Which of course means that downtown is just screaming with potential, now that the air is better. It has gaps and issues and such but when I’m down there, I see opportunity. It needs work, but the potential is there.

      8. Roughly the same time that the Tacoma Mall opened, so did I-5. This made it possible to live in Tacoma and work in Seattle. At that time it was an easy, consistent 30 minute commute CBD to CBD. Over the years we’ve seen businesses relocate from Tacoma to Seattle, slowly turning what was once a thriving city in its own right, into a new form of post-urban bedroom community.

  3. This will also be the last quarter for awhile that official ST paratransit ridership drops. ST will now share responsibility with Metro for certain trips near U-Link.

    1. We got a copy from Sound Transit the day they published it online. Apparently a web outage over the weekend caused ST pages to revert to a previous state, so the report is temporarily missing.

      1. Thanks for the info! I was curious about some of the nitty gritty details and I couldn’t find the full report.

  4. This may be an inappropriate place to park these thoughts but… I’m of the view that transit agencies need to advertise their services and the benefits of. It’s well worth it in congestion relief for all to spend relatively few dollars extolling the benefits of commuting via bus and even using public transit to run errands.

    Certainly I have some prep time that I am able to use riding into a photoshoot and “chimp” on the way home from a photoshoot. I’m sure a little marketing on the productivity increase of riding a bus instead of driving would go a long way.

    Oh and one last thing: Fighting for this can only help us get ST3 passed ;-).

    1. Riders unaware of transit that’s already there and usable are one thing. But if people’s own experience shows them that they personally can’t use transit when they need it, and also enjoy it, PR budget is wasted.

      When last my wife and I were seriously interested, we were told we’d need enough capital to last a year without a single sale. From what I’ve seen and experienced, it takes about the same amount of time for the public even notice a transit line at all.

      Really think transit needs to “take a leaf” from the time when streetcar companies were developers themselves. Pretty much like every very large corporate interest behind the Interstate Highway System these last, say, fifty years to seventy years.

      By experience including and following the Second World War, enormously private investment invariably follows a gigantically public start. Resulting from a collapse beyond private ability to fix. Pretty much like Detroit right now.

      So will quit ragging on the millions of bright motivated young people who rightly consider their time better spent on professional knowledge and skill than politics this election. By 2020, nation-full of capable ambition trapped in un-repayable debt will give this region what gave LINK its start:

      Vision behind machine-shop eye-protection.


      1. As to, ” if people’s own experience shows them that they personally can’t use transit when they need it, and also enjoy it, PR budget is wasted.”

        ABSOLUTE AGREEMENT. We need safe, fast & reliable transit – Sounder North is only relatively fast.

  5. If I parsed the numbers correctly, Sounder North’s slow but steady growth is finally making the line’s ridership a little more respectable. It’s hard to confirm until the report is actually posted online, but I think Sounder North may now have roughly 200 riders per train. Still embarrasingly low, but it’s better than it has been in the past. unfortunately, the only way to really “fix” the line is with a major investment of additional infrastructure (infill stations at Shoreline, Ballard, and Broad Street, extensions outside ST boundaries to Marysville and Snohomish, additional landslide prevention, etc.), and the Paine Field detour has soaked up all of Snohomish County’s available funds. Unfortunately, it looks like Paine Field will be a similar drag on system ridership in ST3.

    1. Dave F;

      I generally share those views. I also notice I’m about the only soul using Sounder North – now that the wet season is over – to get to/from Everett Station & Mukilteo. The lack of marketing this particular service is really… tacky considering the gagaism of the politicians for this… inefficient, scenic mode of transit.

    2. I think ridership will continue to rise, though. BNSF, WSDOT and ST finally have the landslides under control and it runs reliably now. It takes some time to recover from the bad reputation caused by that and people will gradually start giving it a second chance. Also, some of the improvements that go with South Sounder might allow more trains to the north – and if Marysville joins the ST district, giving them a station or two is a no-brainer and a decent ridership boost.

      BTW, I think the powers that be at STB should consider running a post about the future of North Sounder.

      1. It seems to me that the future will feature a lot more cross-Sound passenger ferry traffic. Which should mean steadily-increasing ridership for Sounder.

        Mark Dublin

    3. Let me add as well regarding Sounder North – this is about Trimet’s mini-Sounder North called WES from the BikePortland Blog:

      The line between Beaverton Transit Center and Wilsonville costs TriMet $135,000 per week to operate and serves something like 900 to 1,000 people per weekday.

      That comes out to a cost of $14.83 per boarding in April, compared to $2.68 per boarding of a frequent-service bus line or $2.36 per MAX boarding.

      The Oregonian reported Monday that the regional transit agency was agreeing this week to spend another $2 million to buy and retrofit two rail cars
      . . .
      In October 2013, when gas cost about $3.50 per gallon in the Portland area, WES ridership topped out at 10,700 boardings per week, the equivalent of 1,070 round trips per weekday. Operating costs that month were $12.16 per boarding-ride — still about five times more than the cost per ride of a frequent-service bus line.
      . . .
      WES doesn’t strengthen the argument for rail transit through suburban areas. At least, that’s the position of Keith Liden, a local planning consultant who wrote us Wednesday to bring the Oregonlive article to our attention:

      I love the concept behind WES, but it really highlights the problem (again) with how we allocate transportation money. Transit is especially dependent on supporting land use and infrastructure to make it cost-effective. However, too many of the WES stations are not easily accessible by foot or bike, and there’s not enough density/mixed-use nearby. The article suggests to me that TriMet is in denial regarding station area land use and accessibility by talking only about gas prices. It would be better to spend the $1.5 million partnering with station area jurisdictions to address the land use/access deficiencies.

      If we made a capital investment in a Springwater Corridor West, instead, we probably would have over 9,000 cyclists per week at greatly reduced cost. Our region needs to spend less time chasing windmills and rainbows and focusing on more basic and cost-effective transportation solutions – one of which is spelled b-i-k-e.

      Folks, part of the problem is real damn simple: If we had an elected Sound Transit Board we could start really pushing back against the Snohomish County delegation’s insistence on rail transit without density responsibilities. I will do what I can Thursday but my ship the USS Katie Higgins is only a little ship in a battle against ships of the line, best served putting out brush fires in the great North by Northwest and of course… of course… KICKING COER MISOGYNISTIC A**!

      1. I’m not sure that it’s really fair to compare Sounder North to a line connecting a suburb smaller than Everett to an exurb smaller than Edmonds.

    4. Ridership is low because there’s only 4 trains a day! Most of the people complaining about Sounder North I bet haven’t been on it in years, if ever. The trains carry very good loads.

  6. So this does not include viaduct closure dates right? Think sounder saw a big bump on those dates.

  7. Oh, and in addition to the work goggles, an collections-threat in one hand and a sharp, heavy wrench in the other. Or enough computer-smarts to make undeserved and ruinous debt literally go away. The revolution that the downtrodden desperately need is always won by the trapped, cheated, and enraged young, skilled and able.

    Why I’ll never let anybody under sixty give me their seat.


  8. It’s notable that these large increases were at a time of remarkably low gasoline prices. In other words, this is not being impelled by cars being too expensive to drive on a per mile basis. I presume it’s a combination of “traffic sucks”, “there is better service than there used to be” and “young folks who are spending all their money on housing taking the bus because their employer pays for the pass.” Those are the right incentives to take transit; gas prices go up and down.

  9. What would it take to get Sounder South its own set of tracks on the BNSF RoW and/or ST to upgrade the UPRR between Seattle and Tacoma to make that the main freight line?

  10. A 27% increase in Link ridership from Q1 2015? And with only 2 weeks of U-Link ridership included in that stat? And with those 2 weeks being the most anemic 2 weeks for U-Link (before commuting patterns shifted and before the Metro restructure)?

    Holy cow. can’t wait to see Q2 with U-Link fully in operation for the entire period.

    Will also be interesting to see how the seasonal ridership variation changes now that the UW is so directly served.

    Was at U Village QFC over the weekend and was looking at the historic photographs. Husky Stadium station is in exactly the same spot as the old trolley stop from the early 1930’s. They had a turning loop back then instead of a turnback, but how interesting to see how we have come full circle.

    How long to 100K?

    1. I bet we’ll see seasonal peak shift from August to October. The difference wasn’t huge in years past, and with our typical nice weather the first half of October, plus UW going back into session, I expect the overlap to boost that month to the top.

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