Yesterday Sound Transit released its June ridership numbers, and Link appears to have found its new equilibrium: 65,000 weekday riders. Weekday ridership was nearly identical to may (down 0.7%), while total Link ridership of 1.8m boardings was up 1% over May 2016. These figures still represent 69% growth over June 2015. However, June did set one Link record, being the first month in which Link averaged 40,000 Sunday riders.
On-time performance has slowly degraded in 5 of the 6 months this year so far, falling to a low of 88.6%. Interestingly, since bus volumes are down due to the ULink restructure and because Link isn’t taking any additional tunnel slots, Sound Transit attributes the decline in performance to passenger crowding slightly increasing dwell times.
Sounder continued its healthy climb, with 16,000 daily boardings (up 11% over June 2015), while ST Express (slow growth) and Tacoma Link (slow shrinkage) continued their recent trends.
75 Replies to “Sound Transit June 2016 Ridership: Link Finding Its New Normal”
Metro finally got the message to post some ridership numbers of their own, throwing up 6 months worth last week.
KUDOS to ST for keeping the lights burning in their own accountability center.
Metro ridership has been fairly flat over the last several years, hovering just over the 400,000 mark for annual boardings, and up about 1% per year since Link began service 7 years ago. This is not keeping up with population growth and certainly not with revenue increases over that period.
The spine doesn’t work very well without a growing bus system to feed it. Period.
Wouldn’t Link be slowly cannibalizing Metro ridership? And same for ST Express, if they’ve been adding service over the 7 years
AJ, wouldn’t “rescuing” be closer to the truth? I don’t see very many people climbing out of the pot, especially missionaries. Also fairly sure that same riders as before are riding surface routes to nearest station.
As planned, and much faster than it was when they had to ride these buses the whole route in traffic and bad weather.
Ha, fair enough Mark
It’s hard to add ridership if there is no more room on the buses and no more room to add buses. At that point, the only solution is new dedicated right-of-way.
And running trains in those tubes, not buses that require navigation.
San Francisco has right idea in theory. Bus-camera-policed bus only lanes. Though somewhat lame in practice. Major trolley bus route almost vertical uphill stopped dead when Bus-only expired ‘way before midnight- when rush hour finally ends.
One block from two-story Market Street tunnel carrying both Muni-Metro and BART. We’re also a big city now, as the First Nations said and resulted in the name of the Point…ALKI. Soon will be. Meaning circulatory system with both arteries and capillaries. And Ride Sharing.
So, since 2011, Seattle’s population is up about 12%, King County’s population is up about 10%, and Metro ridership is up about 9%.
I would expect Metro ridership to be doing better than this.
There’s at least 3 factors I can think of. First, Link has obviously replaced some bus trips. On some trips I make, I previously took 2 buses, now I bike to Link.
Secondly, though I don’t know where to find firm numbers, my subjective feeling is that I see more people biking than I used to. Personally, I had gotten a bike again in January or February, and started riding, partly out of frustration with my neighborhood’s Metro service, though after the March restructure, I am using the bus much more.
Thirdly, for less price conscious people, Uber/Lyft, and (probably to a lesser degree) Car2Go/ReachNow have replaced some bus trips. For some people it’s a matter of having a faster trip time, or not having to wait as long for a ride, while for others it’s a matter of less cognitive overhead- not having to do any trip planning themselves.
Choosing Car2Go/ReachNow doesn’t necessarily mean you’re “less price conscious.” With two or more people short trips are competitive with or even cheaper than Metro, assuming you don’t have an employer-provided pass.
I think part of your pattern has to do with where that growth is allowed to occur.
All the new condominiums at the far north end near the Seattle-Shoreline border certainly aren’t getting spectacularly great new transit. They have RapidRide, or in some places there is an express on I-5 in traffic. Neither is especially great.
Considering some of the limitations of how far the new residents are being put from anything, those gains are good. We suffer from the same terrible land use planning down here, and TtiMet is only getting about 2% or so gains in ridership..
An increase in bike travel would be consistent with patterns seen here and in other cities. If you scroll down this page, you can see some interesting numbers on bike trips: http://iqc.ou.edu/2013/10/22/the-latest-bike-walk-and-transit-usage-data/
Those are commute trips, by the way. I would imagine that bike travel is the opposite of transit, in that there are people who rarely commute by bike, but bike to other destinations (making the numbers for bike travel less impressive than it may be).
Seattle has also had a lot of development in Ballard, SLU, Capitol HIll, and increasingly in the University District, which all, at least theoretically, have better transit service than most neighborhoods. This is what makes Metro’s (relatively) slow ridership growth disappointing to me.
mic’s point is that if they are cannibalizing, then it is a very flawed system. To be clear, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is terrible. There are plenty of cases where substantial improvements to transit don’t lead to more ridership. In this case, though, I don’t see it.
Link ridership is still small relative to bus ridership, and transit ridership overall is still not that big. This is despite the fact that Link already covers the most important, most productive sections. When it comes to transit potential, downtown Seattle, the Central Area and the UW are huge. If this was gold mining, those would be considered the mother load. Of course ridership is up (way up) but that doesn’t mean the miners know what they are doing. It only means they stumbled across the American River, and now think they can drill anywhere and have the same results.This wouldn’t be so bad if they actually took advantage of this rare opportunity, but they missed some of the key veins. They managed to spend billions digging right under the Central Area, yet they only have one stop.
This is why you aren’t seeing (and probably won’t see) a giant jump in transit ridership. If I’m in a hurry and want to get from First Hill to Rainier Valley, I’ll just drive Boren. If I want to get from 23rd and Cherry to the UW hospital, I think I’ll either take the same old bus, or pay for parking (as I always have). Obviously there are plenty of trips that are much faster, and these have resulted in a small overall increase in transit ridership, but since we haven’t added very many stations, and the stations themselves are horrible from a bus to train perspective, you just aren’t seeing the big switch from cars to transit. It wouldn’t surprise me if Uber/Lift has increased faster than transit ridership in the area.
I don’t see it changing much in the future, either, with or without ST3. Of course you will have increases, as well as many areas that will be substantially better because of the improvements. But there is no way we get to the Vancouver type transit numbers (roughly three times our transit ridership per capita) because we aren’t building anything like what Vancouver has built. The Vancouver system puts bus to rail integration front and center. Despite the fact that they have close to 400,000 riders per day (a number we won’t reach until ST4 or ST5) they don’t plan on everyone having to choose between a bus or a train (they are OK with folks taking both).. There is no way they would have ignored a NE 130th station, or — worse yet — completely messed up one of the biggest transit intersections in our system at Mount Baker. It still blows my mind that so few people use that stop, until I remember how terrible it is.
With ST3 I see very little that would be added. A couple stops in the core (inconveniently disconnected to other areas) and that is about it. It will be up to Seattle (SDOT) to do the heavy lifting when it comes to improvements in transit, and they have a much smaller budget to work with.
Very well said. The best fruit has now been picked, so get out the ladders and reach for more as the spine extends further and further. Lots of rotting fruit laying all over the place from ST1 and 2.
A formerly vacant piece of sidewalk next to a stadium that is only occasionally used is hardly what I would call the most important segment. UW is an important destination, but it sprawls out over a vast area, and none of that is close to the station.
SLU and LQA have about as much potential as UW currently does due to the huge number of routes that cross a line going to those locations. U District is going to be as useful if not more so as the current UW station thanks to UW forcing it into a pretty bad spot.
U District is going to a great addition to the network, and Northgate is going to be a game changer for Community Transit’s commuter buses, but I think RossB & others are are really underestimating the significance of East Link. Bellevue is getting three true urban stations that will serve a huge job center and a rapidly growing residential neighborhood, and Overlake will be a fantastic endpoint anchor with Microsoft. More importantly, it will completely change the way people view cross-lake travel, much like U Link makes people rethink getting between downtown and the UW. I think the induced demand is going to be huge, as people can get quickly in and out of Seattle and Bellevue for a lunch, a quick business meeting, a dinner with friends, etc.
As for ST3, “a couple stops to the core” will integrate SLU & Uptown into the network and are going to be significant. Those three stations are three stations of a “Metro 8” line that really matter. The fact the line continues to Ballard is a worthwhile investment but is frankly secondary to the three underground stations.
Will Sound Transit end the car centered transportation system in Seattle? No, that depends far more on both SDOT/Metro/RapidRide and Seattle zoning rules than anything ST can or will do. But ST is an important part of the regional puzzle, and I think ridership will prove that out
A formerly vacant piece of sidewalk next to a stadium that is only occasionally used is hardly what I would call the most important segment.””
UW has some 30,000 commuters every day, and more people going to the medical center. Those who don’t want to drive, bike, or walk must take transit, and from several origins Link is the fastest or only way to get there (e.g., the 43 is no longer available). The miscellaneous small businesses in Uptown don’t have the same ridership draw as a large institution like UW — people are more likely to take transit to a large institution because it feels proper, it’s a network hub (“all roads lead to Rome”), the institution promotes it, and the U-Pass discount is so huge. 30,000 commuters means that even a formerly vacant piece of sidewalk next to a stadium is an important segment. (It also means the station should have been closer to the everyday destination, not the one used six times a year.)
“So, since 2011, Seattle’s population is up about 12%, King County’s population is up about 10%, and Metro ridership is up about 9%. I would expect Metro ridership to be doing better than this.”
Metro’s expansions to keep up with population were cut in 2000 with initiative 601, which forced the planned RapidRide routes to be less ambitious than planned. Metro protected the RapidRide routes and squeezed other service instead. For the next fourteen years it was one whack after another, with oil reaching $150 a barrel in 2008 and then the crash and recession. Metro couldn’t expand service hours beyond those dedicated to RapidRide, so the several reorganizations during that time were hour-neutral rather than hour-positive and required tradeoffs: increasing frequency in one place but decreasing service in others. That’s not the way to maximize ridership; the way to maximize ridership is to increase service hours so that every area can have the frequency its ridership will bear. We finally reached a stable point in 2014 with the revenue lost in the recession restored, and now it’s increasing gradually as the economy booms. But the county had an opportunity in 2014 to supplement the service hours countywide and it refused. Seattle subsequently passed its own proposition to do so, which has led to adding buses to overcrowded routes and congested routes and 15-minute evenings on routes that were previously 30-minute, thus making them more useful to riders and encouraging ridership. So far the other cities and the county have not seen fit to do likewise.
@Glenn, You’ve obviously never tried to ride your bike across that “vacant piece of sidewalk”; something that’s required if you’re riding the Lake Washington Loop. As for your “vast area” description, as someone who frequently had to make it from Health Sciences up to Bagley in the ten minutes between class periods all I can say is wah-wah-wah! And point out that the station is next to the greatest number of parking spots available to students and the garage that serves UW Medical Center.
Stadium Station is a misnomer since pointy ball is the smallest generator of ridership; obvious given the current numbers before the season has even started. Whether or not it or the U-Dist have greater ridership numbers depends on how well bus transfers are integrated. Consider that most people that live in the U-District are walking distance from everywhere they normally travel. Far more people commuting will use Stadium Station because it’s closer to their destination with Health Science/UW Med Center being the #800 gorilla. But also realise that Brooklyn is also a long hike from the HUB.
I was’t disputing most of what Ross wrote, but only this:
Those 30,000 UW commuters are scattered over essentially a full square mile of area. One point on the fringes of that doesn’t mean you can check the box and declare it served.
If most productive is a measure of how many riders will benefit, there are some pretty huge gains to be made by giving the thousands coming into downtown from the north an alternative to crowded surface streets.
I see what you are saying, Glenn, and to a certain extent I agree. I’ve often been accused of being too verbose in my writing, because i try to be exacting, and in this case, I went the other way. The stretch from downtown to the U-District is by far the most important section, and this only gets you 90% of the way.
But it is still 90%. The U-District station will be huge, and make a big difference in how effective this section will be. But it is only one station. If you are on Campus Parkway (where huge dorms dominate the skyline) or the middle of campus it will be about the same (either a long walk or a connector bus). For others it will be a shorter connector bus, or maybe even a short walk. For many this trip will be significantly faster, but for a lot of the people you are talking about, it will be about the same.
So yes, I agree, you can’t just pick a point on the fringes and check the box. But you can’t just pick two points, either. You have to have a system in place that allows more people to quickly walk to the station, or one that integrates really well with the buses. I really don’t see that with this section (or any section, really) even though the U-District stop is much better than average (for Link).
@Mike — Metro’s expansions to keep up with population were cut in 2000 with initiative 601, which forced the planned RapidRide routes to be less ambitious than planned. Metro protected the RapidRide routes and squeezed other service instead. For the next fourteen years it was one whack after another … . That’s not the way to maximize ridership; the way to maximize ridership is to increase service hours so that every area can have the frequency its ridership will bear.
I agree, which is why folks like John Niles make a very good point. Ridership isn’t everything (as I mentioned before). But it is a good starting point. Link has not resulted in a huge increase in transit ridership (despite huge money spent on it) while at the same time ridership took a huge hit because of Metro cutbacks. It is fair to ask if we are doing the right thing. What if we addressed the biggest bottlenecks, while at the same time greatly increasing service. Just the latter would have a huge increase in ridership, I would guess.
For example, I know someone who commutes from the Northgate area to the Georgetown campus of South Seattle college. He drives and I asked him why. The short answer was “I have to transfer and it takes too long”. The long answer is that despite the 41 being very fast and frequent, the connection on the other end is not. The 41 goes on the express lanes and then through the tunnel. For a trip to downtown, the train won’t be much faster, if at all (in the morning). But if they doubled frequency to that part of Georgetown, suddenly the trip is competitive, with or without Link.
Keep in mind, I wouldn’t do that. I think from an infrastructure standpoint, we need to do more than spend money on surface improvements. We certainly need to spend more than the piddlly amount that Seattle got with Move Seattle. I am pretty John feels the same way (he is on record as supporting the bus tunnel). I agree with all that, and unlike John, do believe we need more rail. But there is a lot to be said for just making do with some paint and lots and lots of service hours.
Bernie: “Stadium Station is a misnomer since pointy ball is the smallest generator of ridership; obvious given the current numbers before the season has even started.”
Pointy ball, and small round ball, and large round ball with hexagonal polka dots, and exhibitions.
“Whether or not it or the U-Dist have greater ridership numbers depends on how well bus transfers are integrated.”
I think UW adherents are more than half the riders, judging from the number of people who got off the 71/72/73X at Campus Parkway, and the number who got on between 41st and Campus Parkway. UW station serves all of campus even if it’s a long walk or short bus ride from the northwest part, because the alternative is the 70 or 49 which take 2-3 times as long and are prone to traffic congestion. So pretty much all the UW riders and most of the U-District riders are already on Link, so when U-District station opens about half of them will switch to that station and a few more people from Latona and Wallingford will come, but the bulk of UW/U-District riders are already on Link.
“What if we addressed the biggest bottlenecks, while at the same time greatly increasing service.”
Yes. I focused solely on frequency because it made the illustration silmpler across several scenarios, but the same thing applies in reducing bottlenecks, which is similar to digging a tunnel. (Although not as effective because surface buses are limited to the speed of adjacent car lanes.)
“despite the 41 being very fast and frequent”
They must not take it southbound in the afternoon. It meanders down to Banner Way before getting on the freeway. Later in the evening it uses the I-5 entrance at Northgate Way but that’s still a lot of time-consuming turns and stoplights and some lingering traffic.
It’s not surprising that train dwell time is longer than before LINK got under the Ship Canal. This is probably the first time that most Seattle passengers have ever ridden our system at once, or anything similar, and don’t yet have the “feel” for it.
I think this situation will improve a lot this next year, as passengers get used to this many of each other. Though gotta say, compared with other cities with more rail experience, and riders, our heaviest loads would make San Francisco MUNI cut service for lack of ridership.
Recalling Pittsburgh however- where DSTT architects cut their teeth on similar space constraints- we’re going to have to give our passengers some friendly “close-order drill” to negotiate. Especially how to arrange themselves on platforms so boarding and de-boarding cooperate and not conflict.
Maybe the little Seat Hog can help, once he’s gotten some racks to store his luggage. Or- I know!- a cute Board-er collie nipping people into proper formation. Or maybe K-9 can train some of these to find explosives too. Also leaving teeth-marks on fare cheaters.
But it’s also years past time to slap the National Public Radio bad-numbers-bemusement out of KC Metro’s DSTT traffic control. Tunnel buses need vehicle-herding dogs of their own, with somewhat sharper teeth and less-lazy shepherds. I wish I could get some commentary help on this issue, if not to these pages, then to King County council-members.
Over 26 years next month, lame operations by themselves haven’t pressured any more improvement than Sound Transit has over its delayed trains. So sulking ’til the buses leave – which could still be awhile- moves no passengers anywhere except to Lyfft and Uber. Which won’t move any faster when those displaced buses join them. See recent posting on reserved lane compliance.
Maybe some country has herding dogs that can bite through tires, to get people out of those lanes and intersections.
Well our heaviest loads currently aren’t even what the system is designed for yet. Just wait until the Northgate and East Links are opened up :)
Might have to start seeing 4 car trains during rush hour.
With all four crush-standing-loaded. Still think seatless or folded benches car could help decongest other cars re: bikes and luggage. While also carrying many standees.
Has anybody seen another system anywhere in the world where rush hour transit is any different? But BART and DC Metro are beneficially painful warnings. Maintenance deferment time needs to be zero.
Trains or buses, pretty much like elevators, people will tolerate standing on a moving vehicle. And the faster it goes, the more they’ll put up with it. But stuck could cost the company some broken plastic over emergency door valves. And also windows, especially the sealed ones if the air conditioning goes down.
Or the (First Hill Streetcar) driver who never gets out of his air conditioned cab to check if passengers are fully roasted or if they need more oven time.
Sean: ST does not yet have enough LRV to run four car trains or even a consistent three cars, as long as they stick with six-minute headway. They have 62 LRV in the fleet.
I was going to say that but he did say Northgate and Lynnwood. The rest of the cars should arrive will arrive by then, or at least by Lynnwood.
And delaying the arrival so that it can all be one big order keeps your taxes lower. Just in case you were one of those complaining about rising property taxes.
The seasonal variation is undoubtably completely different with the U now on-line. It will take a year at least to understand that.
How many other transit agencies manage to put out monthly ridership reports?
It looks like ST’s ridership growth over the first year of U-Link will end up being larger than the TOTAL annual ridership of either Pierce Transit or Community Transit (each, not combined), based on Zach’s ridership comparison post last fall. But I’m having trouble readily finding the 2015 annual ridership for either of them.
The other thing I notice looking back at Zach’s October post is that the increased daily ridership due to U-Link is far exceeding the old total ridership of the combined Metro routes 71/72/73, the three routes that no longer express downtown.
Link is also picking up a lot of Capitol Hill riders. It’d be interesting to see new ridership numbers for the 8, 10, 11, 43, and 49.
It should be noted that only the off-peak 43 involved pushing riders onto Link. The rest are riders voting with their feet.
That’s what I’ve been waiting for. Metro has been bullish on the 49, positioning it as the most frequent and 24-hour route on Capitol Hill. Has it worked? Was the one report of ridership plummeting true? How is the 10 doing in its new role?
Anecdotally, I have observed people still riding the 49. Outside of rush hour, the 49 is often a faster way to get from the U-district to capitol hill than taking a bus to the UW Station and transferring to Link, especially if one’s ultimate destination in Capitol Hill is Broadway and Roy, rather than Broadway and John.
In the middle of the night, when Link isn’t running, some kind of shadow bus between downtown, Capitol Hill and the U-district is necessary. The 49 takes the most logical route for such a shadow bus to take, as it takes the most direct route between places where somebody traveling in the middle of the night is likely to go. Directness is important here, as it directly translates into the service frequency that is possible with just one bus. The 49, as it is, maintains almost hourly service between 2 AM and 5 AM. Replace it with the 43 routing, and service frequency would likely have to drop to every 90 minutes or so.
on monthly ridership…
There are others that do it,
You had to go all the way to Hamptons Road, VA to find another agency that publishes monthly ridership reports?
I suppose that isn’t much different than rail critics having to go to South America to find a bus rapid transit system that works. Maybe with the labor being cheaper, they might also do better at publishing monthly ridership reports.
No, I just thought the format was interesting and the content of falling ridership on all modes over 4 years alarming as they do too. I’d like to know the data is there to spot trends to make mid course corrections.
If closeness is what you want, try Portland, OR, for monthly data.
Closer still you ask? Do your own homework.
I find curious the Sound Transit management churning about overcrowding and capacity on Central Link now that U-Link is open. As a follower of Sound Transit’s light rail since it was a gleam in planners’ eyes in the 1980s, I thought the general expectation for ridership north of downtown Seattle was HUGE, like man, the ridership is going to be insanely great.
I remember an insider telling me in year 2000 that the line from downtown to UW would be the most well used light rail in America on opening day.
But now with it happening (sorta, actually just meeting expectations, not beating them) there seems to be a capacity worry, raised at the Sound Transit Board meetings on July 28 (full Board) and August 4 (Ops committee).
One ST management response to my great surprise is (quietly) raising the definition of “crush capacity” from 200 to 250 per rail car. When did that happen? Was there a press release I missed?
Another fact of the moment is that there are just not enough Kinkisharyo rail cars to keep loads comfortable in peak on Link. How did that happen?
Is this all a plan to make Link look really, really popular, making rail cars in peak the equivalent of a clown-stuffed Volkswagen with a couple bicycles and suitcases in the mix? Are we on plan, on time and on budget?
To answer your last question maybe you missed the memo, but U-Link was ahead of schedule and under budget. And apparently Angle Lake is under budget too. That is pretty impressive on the part of ST.
As per ridership, not the dashed red line in the above graphics. That is the ridership target, and Link is beating it. That is very good news.
Regarding crush load being 250 as opposed to 200, maybe it is just a vast left-wing conspiracy on the part of ST to make Link look even better than it already is. You know, a conspiracy on the order of the global warming houx, or having the Dems run Trump as an R just to scuttle the party and get Hillary elected. You know, something like that.
Translation: I don’t take your comments very seriously. There is an election coming up and you’re just concern trolling against ST3
Lazarus: Does “concern trolling” mean I’m against ST3 but won’t admit it? Let me fix that by admitting that I will be voting NO on ST3, and my reasons for that tend to leak out in the things I write in social media.
As for the U Link and Angle Lake extensions being built on time and under budget, that depends on ones starting point in time for keeping score, a point so well known on this blog that I wonder why you felt the need to emphasize that Sound Transit rebooted in 2001 and has been more or less on schedule since then by leaving lots and lots of contingency time in schedules created since then.
As for ridership forecasts, the agency has only very recently begun sandbagging its forecasts so it can come in high when the actuals occur. I hope readers here would admit that ST setting the overall average 2016 weekday ridership forecast some months ago at 51,800 on Central Link with U Link opening in March and Angle Lake in September is patently obvious low balling to look good when the real numbers come in. I have provided my worksheet for making this claim at https://t.co/cHnXNz4npG
The only budget and schedule that matters is the budget and schedule that is set when the project is given board go ahead to proceed. Using any other yardstick is purely non-sensical.
Regarding project contingencies, having such things is not a vast conspiracy on the part of ST to look good, it is in fact nothing more than prudent project management. Proceeding on projects of this scope and with this many unknowns without contingencies would be insane.
But there is a mega project that is proceeding without contingencies and with a very agressive schedule – it’s called the DBT. I really don’t think that such a project is a model for how to do things, and in general that is probably true of most WSDOT projects.
Abandoning the high performance standards of ST for the low standards of WSDOT isn’t exactly what I would propose for the path forward for either agency.
“the line from downtown to UW would be the most well used light rail in America on opening day.”
The word light is doing a lot of work in that sentence. Most American light rails run on the surface like MAX or MLK, so they’re no faster than a bus would be along the same route. So people don’t have an extraordinary reason to use them like they do with grade-separated rail. Link is among the best light rail in the country, but it’s likely near the worst compared to heavy rail metros. This will change as ST2 and 3 are built out and the surface segments become a 10% fraction of the total. It may still lag behind heavy rail metros but it will be much more useful and comprehensive than it is now or other American light rails are.
As to why other American light rails are mostly surface, that’s really a “light rail creep” akin to BRT creep. Before 2000 the top priority everywhere was low capital costs, and that was weighted higher than ridership, speed, travel time, frequency, or eliminating car-train and ped-train collisions. (Or, they just didn’t understand how surface-running would affect these other factors.)
In the mid 2000s the feds started awarding grants to light rails with high passenger-mile scores, which privileged mostly freeway-running suburban lines like Denver’s and Dallas’s. But that was after 2000 so it wouldn’t affect the situation then.
“there are just not enough Kinkisharyo rail cars to keep loads comfortable in peak on Link. How did that happen?”
Predicting the future and millions of people’s decisions is inherently uncertain. Is Link attractive enough to skip the 49, especially with the gap between U-District and UW Stations? Some people could go either way, and they didn’t know until it opened and they tried Link, or maybe even they believed they’d do one thing but ended up doing the other. Expecting ridership to match a predicted number is not reasonable. What you can do is measure the convenience of the train vs alternatives, and assume that ridership will tend to converge on that number in the long term. And remember that if you make something 50% faster and more frequent, it will lead to a more than 50% increase in ridership, the same way grandmothers ride bicycles in Amsterdam more than they do here. The low ridership estimates that led to fewer trains being purchased may have been because of people like you who were ready to pounce on ST if its numbers didn’t reach expectations or trains looked empty. Those kind of public expectations create an atmosphere of fear and timidity that does not allow the most robust plan to emerge, unlike say Germany or Scandanavia where the agency just measures what the city needs, the public says great, and they just do it.
“U-Link was ahead of schedule and under budget.”
John will immediately say that it’s still less than the original ST1 promise in 1996, which expected a longer line in shorter time for less money and higher ridership (for the entire 45th to SeaTac thing). But of course, ST was reorganized after that, a new CEO came, ST’s predictions became conservative, and voters approved the new estimates in 2007.
However, this “ST didn’t deliver what it promised in 1996” is the same kind of thing as “ST didn’t buy enough trains” and “ST’s ridership is still below what it promised the feds for grants”. All of these are effectively blaming people for being unable to do the impossible; i.e., predict the future with 100% accuracy. Who knew in 2000 that oil prices would rise to $150/barrel and then fall to $30? Or that all the tech companies would converge on SLU? Or how popular inner-city housing would be with millenials? All of these affect ridership in one way or another.
The biggest legitimate criticism of ST1 is that that the board didn’t quite know what it was doing, nobody above ST made sure it had more transit-network expertise (both in network design and usability, and in estimating probable contingency risks and costs), and the public did not give it a better mandate from the beginning. A better mandate would have been an urban-focused network, a complete regional+local plan with phases, and timelines for all phases (if voters approve X in 2000 and X in 2005, and the economy does this and this, then Ballard will get HCT in X, Lake City in X, Lynnwood in X, and the Central District in X). So there were mistakes all around but that’s past history; what matters now is the revised 2008 plan.
Mike Orr: Thank you for an interesting and comprehensive response.
I’ve never heard the claim before, “if you make something [transit presumably] 50% faster and more frequent, it will lead to a more than 50% increase in ridership.” There must be additional conditions needed to make that true.
Seattle and the overall national and world socio-technical environment has changed a lot since the 1980s when the Seattle rail network was beginning to be planned, that’s for sure. I’ve moved my own thinking toward considering what’s going to be possible with more automated use of roads that most likely will be under severe government controls compared to today. See my recent work along these lines at http://endofdriving.org/2016/05/30/transit-leap-paper-wins-ctrf-conference-award/. ST3 is a bet on the future. Place your bet according to your conscience!
Your “what matters now is the revised 2008 plan” is interesting, if that is what you literally meant. In my “concern trolling” to stir up anxiety about ST3, I do find that the governmental eagerness to double down on the 2008 ST2 plan with the biggest local tax hike in U.S. history well before the 2008 planned network is halfway in operation to be very troubling. The case for ST3 would be much stronger eight years from now with ST2 in operation doing all the wonderful things promised in 2008. But the rush is on.
It makes me wonder if the Sound Transit leaders (who are our general government leaders simultaneously) are worried about ST2 cash flow being enough to get ST2 done. Grabbing so much public resource so soon is a matter of pushing to the front of the line to get at the resource trough ahead of other needs.
>> what matters now is the revised 2008 plan.
Well how convenient. I wonder if the folks in charge of Bertha are thinking the same thing. They should make a public announcement, claiming that the tunnel will be done in five years. That way, when they finish in a few months, they can brag about being “way ahead of schedule”.
I agree though, it really doesn’t matter. What’s done is done. Except that when you look at the details, you begin to wonder what the hell the agency is doing. Why isn’t Mount Baker station blowing the socks off of SeaTac, as anyone who studies transit would expect? Oh yeah, they built a horrible station. Why did it take an active community effort for them to build a station at NE 130th (years after the deliver rail to places like Shoreline) when it is obviously important to anyone who knows how to read a map. Why didn’t U-Link double (or even triple) ridership? After all, it connects the two biggest destinations (downtown and UW), it came with Metro truncations that have essentially forced a transfer, and manages to go through the most urban area in the state (the Central Area). The Expo Line in Vancouver is shorter, has fewer stations, yet carries over 250,000 people a day. Why isn’t this carrying at least 100,000?
The simply answer is that it designed poorly. It skipped stations that are essential for bus integration, while simply omitting all day, urban destination.
Do these estimates matter? Probably not, except that Link has been wrong before, and the assumptions that go into extremely high suburban ridership are just as ridiculous as ignoring the fact that of course you will get decent ridership for the most urban line you will ever build (but only because they aren’t interested in building more). It all points to seat of the pants planning, and “let’s build it and hope it works, ignoring common sense and all examples elsewhere” design.
>> The biggest legitimate criticism of ST1 is that that the board didn’t quite know what it was doing,
They still don’t. That is the problem.
John: ““if you make something [transit presumably] 50% faster and more frequent, it will lead to a more than 50% increase in ridership.” There must be additional conditions needed to make that true.”
It comes back to marginal riders. When a bus runs hourly, sometimes it fits my schedule, but sometimes I’d have to wait 50 minutes for it, or 59 if I just missed it. If I know it’s going to be that long a wait, either I go another way, or postpone the trip to another day, or don’t go at all. If I’m with someone and they can drop me off at a bus stop, and I don’t know the schedule because I don’t usually take that bus, then I might take it if it’s guaranteed to come in the next 15 minutes, but not if it might come in 25 minutes or 50 minutes. Then there are people who won’t get out of their car for an inconvenient bus but will for a convenient bus. If people were robots programmed to take a us only if it comes within 15 minutes, then you’d expect an increase from 30 to 15 minutes to double the ridership, and a lesser increase from 60 to 30 minutes. But there are other factors in people’s decision, and the fact that a bus is guaranteed to come in 15 minutes all day and evening, or a train every 10 minutes or 5 minutes, makes additional people choose transit. Or at least it tends to. The A doubled frequency over the 174, yet the last statistic I saw was a 50% ridership increase rather than 100+%. That’s where your other factors come in. For instance, nothing is open around UW station at night, so it doesn’t matter if there’s a train every 30 seconds, people aren’t going to go there. Pacific Highway is a ton of not-very-walkable strip malls and large-lot houses, so there’s only so many people willing to go to that environment or not drive within it. That may be why ridership isn’t higher there.
John: “Your “what matters now is the revised 2008 plan” is interesting, if that is what you literally meant.”
By 2008 I meant what it implies about the schedule of the existing projects and ST2 projects.
I didn’t include ST3 because it’s not approved yet, so nothing is committed to.
John: “I do find that the governmental eagerness to double down on the 2008 ST2 plan with the biggest local tax hike in U.S. history well before the 2008 planned network is halfway in operation to be very troubling…. It makes me wonder if the Sound Transit leaders (who are our general government leaders simultaneously) are worried about ST2 cash flow being enough to get ST2 done.”
It’s similar to what we did in 2008. We voted for ST2 a year before ST1 opened. That was a step of faith by voters, and during the worst crash since the Depression. And as you know, ST3 was going to be the about same size as ST1 and ST2. It was doubled because of overwhelming public input that people wanted a certain amount of service now, and they want certainty on when it will arrive even if it’s way out in 2041. That allows cities to plan, and gives them an incentive to follow through with their upzones knowing the transit will be there. The sprawl we’ve gotten in e.g., Bothell and Lynnwood, I think was because there was no certainty when or whether it would ever get HCT. That’s why we should have had a comprehensive regional+local phased plan at the beginning.
I won’t re-argue the specifics of the ST3 plan because you already know the arguments for and against.
RossB: “Why isn’t Mount Baker station blowing the socks off of SeaTac, as anyone who studies transit would expect?”
Because Mt Baker does not have hundreds of flights a day and tens of thousands of workers. The highest-volume stations were always going to be downtown, UW, the stadiums, and SeaTac. (UW is tricky because the ridership will be split between UW Station and U-District Station. If it were only U-District Station, then it would be a big booming station. With both U-District and UW Stations, each one will be half a boom.)
RossB; “Why did it take an active community effort for them to build a station at NE 130th (years after the deliver rail to places like Shoreline) when it is obviously important to anyone who knows how to read a map.”
Because the politicians and most of the public have different priorities than you. The average person is driving on 405 or is on I-5 in about Shoreline, not living in Pinehurst. It’s not an “urban-focused” system because it wasn’t intended to be. But given that, it’s really excellent that it has underground stations in Broadway and the U-District and Roosevelt and that it serves Rainier Valley. If we’d built a Denver-like system like Link’s first draft, it would have been all on I-5 in Seattle beyond the DSTT.
RossB; “manages to go through the most urban area in the state (the Central Area)”
“They managed to spend billions digging right under the Central Area, yet they only have one stop.”
Link does not go through the Central Area. The Central Area does not plausably start until south of Madison or Union. Or if you mean central Seattle (everything between the Ship Canal and e.g., Jackson Street), Link has several stops, and ST3 proposes several more.
John: “The case for ST3 would be much stronger eight years from now with ST2 in operation doing all the wonderful things promised in 2008.”
It comes back to certainty. People want certainty on what’s going to happen and when, even if it’s out to 2041. They want a minimum level of coverage and service, and the 15-year plan wasn’t enough. Also, there’s 8 years of planning that would be lost, which would postpone the first opening dates eight more years. People think we need the lines yesterday or ten years ago, and waiting until 2028 is already a long time, waiting eight years longer is just too much.
Also, as I’ve said before, I think there may be a bit of unacknowledged flexibility in the last projects, Issaquah and Everett. I think it’s more about getting something than getting the exact plan, particularly for Issaquah. In the late 2020s the cities and region may be willing to modify those projects a bit, possibly in a lower-budget BRT direction, or feeder-like, or surface LR in the middle of Snohomish’s wide high-speed arterials. If RossB is correct that these cities will never ever have more than pathetic light rail ridership, and if some guarantee can be given that buses will not be stuck in traffic, then perhaps in the late 2020s the cities will become more interested in rethinking the projects. They may not believe this now, but who knows what future councils and mayors will think. In the meantime having the promise of a Link line gives them a card in the pocket and guarantees that can’t be taken away from them as a fallback.
“They may not believe this now, but who knows what future councils and mayors will think.”
Going further with this, we can look at the Tacoma extension. Why does ST prefer a light rail extension knowing the travel time to Seattle will be 70-80 minutes? Because Tacoma and the Pierce subarea have been adamant that they need a line to the airport to attract companies, and to get workers and shoppers from south King County, and it’s only secondarily about going through to Seattle. Why do they think that? Because that’s what companies have told them, and the public elected those politicians and not others. And Pierce has been saving up for the Tacoma extension since 1996, so they’re very very sure about it and serious about it. But, what people think in 2016 is not necessarily what they’ll think in 2026. If the public mood in Pierce changes, they’d pressure their politicians differently, and the politicians would change their positions or there would be new politicians. So that’s the opportunity for those who want to modify the furthest extensions: work on that.
But we (meaning I and the STB community in general) have looked far and wide for Pierce and Snohomish residents who support alternative plans and can’t find any. The two main camps are “Spine+Paine or Bust” and “Highways not Transit” (and its litle brother, “No Taxes for Anything”). No movement supporting frequent BRT from Lynnwood and KDM/Federal Way or a Paine Field shuttle or some other alternative. For a Pierce alternative fhe time may be getting short. If ST’s line is to open in 2030 that means a movement for change would have to arise by 2020 if not sooner, and if it’s not happening now it’s unlikely to happen in the next few years. But for something happening in 2041, the no-return point is around 2028, and by that time a current 6-year-old will be 18 (voting age), a 25 year old will be a 47 year old, and a 55 year old will be a 67 year old. So they might change their minds in that time.
“if you make something 50% faster and more frequent, it will lead to a more than 50% increase in ridership”
I suppose I should account more for the fact that some of those riders did wait the longer time to take the less-frequent route, so that if the route doubles its frequency it makes it twice as convenient for them but they’re not new riders. So maybe that puts the automatic gain closer to 50% than 100%, if we assume that half the people on the new runs are relieved unstressed former riders and the other half are new riders who wouldn’t have used it before.
In that case, some bean counters might say the number of new riders is not impressive, and not enough to justify doubling the frequency or digging a tunnel. But I consider rider convenience important in its own right. A well-functioning city has a convenient transit system that’s always there when you want it. That maximizes the city’s commerce and the citizens’ cultural life and health, which is what the city is supposed to do. I think that U-Link North Link and 45th Link are worthwhile because of the existing riders even if there are no new riders. Because an area like Ballard to the U-District should have rapid transit, just like its counterparts in San Francisco and Vancouver and Chicago and London do.
To agree with Mike Orr, remember that Sound Transit is building a system that meets the needs of the community, as defined by our political leaders (who presumably reflect the wants & needs of the voters). Maximizing ridership is not a goal of Sound Transit, and to complain that building the Spine isn’t the best way to boost ridership kinda misses the point.
@Mike — We can argue semantics if you want, but I would consider Capitol Hill part of the Central Area. I certainly called it that when growing up. I went to Minor, Madrona, Meany and Garfield. I hung out with the same kids — it wasn’t until I went to Garfield that I saw a significant number of white kids. I know things have changed, and Capitol Hill has gentrified, and become more of a destination separate from the rest of the traditionally African American area (presumably from realtors who worked hard to differentiate the areas). But again, semantics.
How about this designation instead: East Seattle. People might get confused (and think you mean east of Lake Washington) but if you know your streets, it actually is a pretty good designation. Basically, every street and avenue with an “East” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Street_layout_of_Seattle#/media/File:Seattle_WA_Directional_Zones.svg). Now look at a census map, and you can see that the area is really essential if you want to cover the dense parts of Seattle: https://www.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?webmap=a18f489521ba4a589762628893be0c13&extent=-122.4326,47.5532,-122.1791,47.662
So, again, Link has put one station in that area. While the station itself is great, there is only one. Making matters worse, the station happens to be terrible from a bus interaction standpoint. This means that things haven’t improved much for the vast majority of folks who live or work in East Seattle, despite spending billions on a light rail line in that very area.
Keep in mind, Forward Thrust had three stops, instead of one. The Metro 8 subway, if it is ever built, would certainly have a couple more. Both systems would not only directly serve more people, but provide the kind of bus to rail integration needed to make a huge difference in transit ridership.
“Why did it take an active community effort for them to build a station at NE 130th (years after the deliver rail to places like Shoreline) when it is obviously important to anyone who knows how to read a map.”
Because the politicians and most of the public have different priorities than you. The average person is driving on 405 or is on I-5 in about Shoreline, not living in Pinehurst. It’s not an “urban-focused” system because it wasn’t intended to be.
THAT IS THE PROBLEM! Look, it isn’t about Pinehurst. Who gives a shit about Pinehurst. Pinehurst is just your average Seattle community (not super dense, but not sparse either). It isn’t about Pinehurst, it is about Lake City and Bitter Lake! Look at that census map again, and you can see that Lake City has plenty of people. Now look north. There is nothing like even Pinehurst in Shoreline, let alone Lake City. We aren’t talking about a brand new line here, we are simply talking about a stop, which they completely ignored, because they completely ignored density as well as bus integration. They completely ignored it with Mount Baker, despite the fact that the 7 is right there! The 7 is our second most popular bus (being barely edged out by one of our RapidRide runs). Yet where they cross — what should be an extremely popular transfer — is so bad, so awful, that it lags almost all of our stops.
That is the problem. They have different priorities indeed. They aren’t building an “urban-focused” system, they aren’t even building an effective one. You can’t build a system that ignores both density and bus integration, and expect it to be worth the money. It just won’t work. It never has, anywhere.
You’re arguing about political priorities, which is a different question from whether Link is effective for what it was intended to do. The average Pugetopolan does not care about service the densest census tracks the most, he’s most bothered by the congestion on the freeways and wants an alternative to it. So Link is designed to be that alternative. It will be reasonably effective at that, as effective as it can be given the last-mile problem due to the regional land use. Whether it’s worth the money is another political question that has multiple answers. To those who really want an alternative to freeway congestion, yes it’s worth it. You can think of Link as building two freeway lanes, because that’s how rapid transit functions with its limited stations. If we just built two GP lanes, we’d have more of the existing problems and they’d fill up with cars and not move people. But if we build two rapid transit tracks, then we offer another kind of service alternative that has never been here before, one that doesn’t require a car, concentrates pedestrians, and that can move more people per vehicle size. That gives people a greater variety of choices. Some would say it’s worth it.
RossB – I’m not convinced that the Central Area is crying out for additional transit investment. Madison BRT will be a huge step forward and is getting some ST money. Judkins Park station is going to serve the southern Central Area and from what I read is designed to be infinitely better at bus transfers than Mt Baker. 23rd Ave is going through a complete redesign and is a designated bus corridor. City Center streetcar will make the First Hill street car significantly more useful.
Would it have been better if U LInk had put stations at Broadway & Pike and Madison & 23rd before heading to UW? Sure, but unfortunately that ship as sailed. There can be some healthy debate about how far east the proposed Madison stations should be, but it’s only one station and everyone agrees it should be at Madison to integrate with Madision BRT.
John’s criticism of ST overplanning or underplanning reminds me of Goldilox. The projection is too low. This projection is too high. I’m sure John’s dislike of transit has nothing to do with how imprecise transit agencies’ projections are.
Not to mention the narrative that failing to meet a projection is portrayed as a broken promise, having more than sufficient capacity is portrayed as waste, and having not quite enough capacity is portrayed as incompetence. There is no winning when a transit opponent plays this Catch-22 game.
OK, here are my ridership predictions from 2011. I’m a little on the low side. I hadn’t factored in as large of a population growth within the city of Seattle. I guess I believed all those stories about housing being unaffordable :-)
Dear Bernie: Good work, and I don’t think you are low. Don’t forget that the all-year 2016 daily weekday average includes two months and some more weeks when U Link wasn’t open and winter prevailed, the typical low season for Seattle light rail.
My own methodology described in the spreadsheet cited above came up with 57,500 for all of 2016. Seattle Subway was pushing me to go even higher with overly fantastic claims for Angle Lake starting in September. You don’t have Angle Lake included, it would seem.
My estimate was for U-Link and didn’t try to factor in months prior to it’s open. It was a best guess for a monthly average after U-Link opened so I guess if we’re splitting hairs would be the average on the anniversary of it’s open. I’m low on ridership and like I said that’s because I was low (quite low) on my population growth estimates; especially for Seattle.
The ridership numbers are good. It’s what should be expected of the magnitude of investment we’re making in light rail. The take home message should be that when you put high capacity grade separated transit (i.e. subway) where it belongs… surprise, it works. When you put it in stupid places and whine about needing to upzone where nobody wants to build… not so much.
Might be best use of comment space, and commenters’ time, to spend a couple of years observing operations before making any declarations of either victory or failure at all. Starting with fact that September 15 1990 opened service on some unprecedented solutions to some singular problems.
We got the hardest part of a whole region’s transit-building, an excellently-engineered rail tunnel through Downtown Seattle, in two years, stations and all, after a year relocating utilities. Best description of caliber from top-level engineer: “The heavy side of light rail.”
Meaning graded and curved for suburban-speed trains, while superbly operable by buses in many directions. Starting with poles on the roof. At high street speed. Without any steering assist, mechanical or electrical.
With only intractable operating delays owing entirely to KC Metro’s dropping designed traffic control two weeks into operations. Give ’em Hell on this one, John. You can’t overstate the right-wing-justifying liberal waste. Let Dori Monson and the Seattle Times Editorial Board have a well-deserved vacation.
DSTT in turn got regional transit a seismic breakthrough: the dual-power bus service offered enough single seat rides to persuade suburbs who considered Seattle itself illegally alien to give it the subway needed to start the project. Thirty years before they’d get Train one. Top that with any deal with Mexico about the wall, Donald.
Above all, giving ourselves a system a system that carried passengers from opening day, with every additional step providing passenger service while the following one was being built. Normally, especially through terrain and tight spaces like ours, requiring years of service consisting of lines and dots on paper.
The Rainier Valley-Sea-Tac line was never expected to haul very heavy. We built it first because it was technically the easiest. The new 8-minute ride to Westlake under the Ship Canal produced pretty much the increase we expected. But nowhere near what 45th and University will do. Same in spades for Northgate- a long way from prospective north terminal.
Point you might consider, John. By my reading of history, transit systems never owe to the foresight of dispassionate leaders- though Jim Ellis really created ours in his head after World War II. Generally, subways are blasted through mud, rock, and broken pipes by the combined fury of tax payers who can no longer afford to be stuck in their own traffic.
So real reason we’ve taken so long is that through both Forward Thrust and the years up to now, we had neither the ridership nor the tax base to get real rapid transit. Problem now is that a couple years of real estate speculation have created a Syria-level refugee problem that’s blasted thirty years’ regional planning to Aleppo-grade rubble.
Turn some speculators into a tax base, though, and if we can’t get our former population back, we’ll be able to build them the system they need to get back. Or, like I do, consider Olympia to be Upper Southern Ballard.
“So real reason we’ve taken so long is that through both Forward Thrust and the years up to now, we had neither the ridership nor the tax base to get real rapid transit.”
Gernany has U-Stadtbahnen in cities the size of Spokane or the Eastside, and half-hourly S-Bahnen around cities the size of Seattle, and regional trains at least a few times a day through all the rural areas of the country. Forward Thrust failed not because of lack of ridership or tax base, but because it couldn’t get a 66% supermajority. If failed for political reasons, because it was the automobile age and people thought transit was unnecessary. If people were concerned about the capital cost, there were plenty of unexplored ways to economize, such as in those expensive freeway projects that passed simultaneously.
And just a few years later when the oil embargo hit, northern Europe responded to it by investing in transit and bike lanes and high gas taxes with the goal breaking the dependency on oil imports. The US and Seattle went the opposite direction, and doubled down on highways and cul-de-sacs.
“Problem now is that a couple years of real estate speculation have created a Syria-level refugee problem that’s blasted thirty years’ regional planning to Aleppo-grade rubble.”
We needed comprehensive, German-style transit in 2005 and 1995. Failing that, we at least needed a way to get around that was competitive with driving for at least the city-to-city and urban village-to-urban village travel and was immune to traffic and car accidents. The need didn’t just start in 2012. What has happened is that congestion has gotten gradually worse and the population has gradually increased, so that while in 1970 and 1995 it was no big deal to take a bus on Eastlake and Roosevelt or from downtown to Lake City even if you had to wait half an hour for it, or drive from Seattle to Lynnwood (since there were no ST Express buses and the CT buses were peak-only unidirectional), now it takes twice as long and every couple weeks it melts down with an accident. That makes people more willing to consider alternatives they didn’t before.
Mike, I think several of your points also confirm some of mine. Forward Thrust lost decisively in 1967, and was brought back in 1972, where it passed but with too few votes. Five years between elections.
Given last results, if enough people had really wanted the system, a third election probably would have passed it. No doubt the massive set-back not long after at Boeing did transit a lot of damage. As it would have done if the 1972 vote had passed.
As it was, work on the DSTT started about 1983, and, correctly, I think, building the system in progressive stages. With enough support, as I mentioned, to get suburbanites to help pay for a very strong start toward rail, long before they’d ever get to ride on it.
But any comparison between transportation and mode split between the US and anywhere in Europe has to take at least two things into account. One, all distances are shorter, and cities of all sizes more compact than here.
But, more important, the USA after the Second World War was a country of empty space incomprehensible to a European. Where, rapidly increasingly, the average person could buy a car. It’s taken a long time for Europe to achieve the second one.
And from what I saw in southern Sweden and Norway the last several years, now that large percentage of Europeans finally can afford cars, sprawl, traffic jams, and shopping malls are eagerly appearing. McDonald’s and all.
In spite of the excellent urban streetcars and subways, and Southern Sweden’s high speed electric regional trains over distances roughly comparable to the ST service area. Exactly what I think we’ll end up getting when we get past Everett and Tacoma, if not before.
Over the decades, people change their living patterns both because they have to and because they want to. In1972, this country still had so much room that a sprawled life still meant freedom. Now- number of automobiles themselves are biggest threat to it.
Both we and the Europeans are out of room for a car culture. Difference is that we’ve got more room to be out of. My point about pro-transit energy in Seattle is that it now has enough people finally becoming enough constricted to demand and pay for subways. In a place where they’re hard to build.
By the pics, Berlin, like most of the world, looks wide and flat by comparison. But, word to the politicians and their voters, the present real estate situation really could cost us several decades of land use disaster. Including the effects of its inevitable collapse.
Lead article in this week’s Stranger hits the coffin nail on the head. Present speculative explosion is to a healthy market as dysentery is to digestion. To me, worst thing is that nobody seems either to have seen it coming, or made plans to do anything to protect ourselves.
Or even thinks there’s anything we can or should do about it. As if this were an earthquake or a tsunami, instead of a market occurrence as predictable as a highway collapse or a train wreck. Its repair will be the chief transit project for the foreseeable future.
One good thing: In November, we’ll have two opportunities for action the same day. Perhaps the most important one not ST3, but the chance to elect new leadership for both transit and the region it’s presently tunneling under.
“But any comparison between transportation and mode split between the US and anywhere in Europe has to take at least two things into account. One, all distances are shorter, and cities of all sizes more compact than here.”
That only partly applies. People have the same need to get from their home to work and other errands regardless of the shape of their cities and the distance between destinations. What Europe’s compactness does is make transit more efficient: it can fulfill people’s trips using half as much energy and miles of track, and it can reach more of the residential areas and industrial plants effectively. That efficiency leads to lower costs, making it easier to run it more frequently for extra convenience. But we can’t just build a European-sized system that reaches half the community, so that people can take transit halfway to their destination but no further. Transit has to serve people’s entire trips or it’s not effective. That means some combination of U-Bahn, S-Bahn, and complementary bus routes between Everett, Redmond, Tacoma, and all the cities and neighborhoods in between — even if the area is twice as large as a German metropolis and half as dense and with more cul-de-sacs. It will cost more to build and operate, but the fault of that is our poor land use, not the transit system. The answer is to fix the land use and build infill and put trails through the cul-de-sacs — not to leave the transit system so skeletally minimal that it takes an unreasonable hour or two to get around, or so frustrating that people go back to their cars. If somebody lives in Smokey Point or Monroe or Snoqualmie Ridge or Maple Valley, then they have arguably put themselves beyond what a trunk transit network can serve, and they have done so out of choice rather than necessity (for a larger house, not because there are no less-expensive areas to live in). But if somebody lives in Ash Way or Canyon Park or Kent or Federal Way or Tacoma, that’s well within the metropolis as it has grown and it should be part of a robust frequent transit network. Especially since that’s where those who can’t afford Seattle or Bellevue move to, and are Seattle’s janitors and teachers.
Which by the way, I don’t understand your move to Olympia as the only place affordable. Is there really no apartment in Renton or Tukwila or Kent as inexpensive as Olympia or what Ballard was in 2010? Surely there must be places in Tacoma, which though it’s pretty inconvenient is only half as far as Olympia, and on this side of the JBLM traffic jam.
Mark Dublin — That’s a tour de force of a comment. Thanks. I think I followed you mostly.
One part I didn’t get, probably because I don’t follow this blog closely enough, is your historical note, “operating delays owing entirely to KC Metro’s dropping designed traffic control two weeks into operations.” What happened to which modes as a result of the the “dropping designed traffic control” in a little more detail, and in what time frame?
John, on opening day, the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel was equipped with an internal signal system by which supervisors in those booths that look like control towers at both portals each had a board of toggle switches with which they could have dispatched buses from staging lanes into the Tunnel in discrete order.
The original idea was to have buses grouped into “platoons”, which would operate more like trains than individual vehicles. Having the system pulse like a heart-beat, not dribble like a drain. Passengers could have known where to stand. And no bus would have had to, or been allowed to stop twice, standard practice for third bus into a zone on the street.
No question these operations would have required considerable training, practice, experience and coordination. No system had ever done anything similar before. And above all, the DSTT would have required an entire operating team drilled to cooperate.
When trains arrived- and several years of joint rail and bus operation were expected and planned for- the tight coordination required might have seen bus and rail operators formed into their own work division. Now, there are literally no places on property where both sets of operators can physically meet.
No question this would all have cost a lot of money, involved long negotiations with the union, and more intensive training and practice than anything conceived before or since. I think the decision to treat the DSTT as two streets a couple stories underneath two others was really settled when original number of buses was cut in half before service opened.
Which I think owed to a belief that the trains would be in there fast enough to let the bus phase be as fairly short. Over the years, proposals for improvement were often greeted with: “Well, the buses are only temporary.” Remembering the economy of the ’90’s, I think trains arrived about ten years later than planned.
Another good caution for the future- especially right now. As I’ve said, I think our approach of getting each part of the project carrying passengers, and transitioning smoothly into the next one, is good for handling exactly the uncertainty of the last, and next, thirty years.
So I think that the more we can “stage” ST3 operating developments so every opening day starts with opening train – and bus-doors. To me, good start would be to finally initiate DSTT dispatch control, coordination, and training.
And some hard negotiation with the City to leave Convention Place in bus transit service until trains replace it. Combined with above control, we might even be able to add buses and coordinate service so both vehicle modes run on time and out of each other’s way.
But another example: Since I-5’s opening between Downtown Seattle and Northgate, express service has never had rush hour bus lanes in both directions. Results as you’d expect and long experienced.
So as the machines dig toward Lynnwood, it would be good to give passengers Lynnwood and north some express service worth the name to ride on for a couple of decades. At the Seattle end, buses could have reserved lanes through the Mercer rebuild.
Lot of “sweat equity” for this whole approach, and some very stubborn, determined and respected leadership system-wide. Since I think Maggie Fimia supports Tunnel buses as much as I do, she’d be good in the control tower at one of those Portals.
As recognition of her days on the Council when she and I helped design Seattle’s only Bus Rapid Transit system to date thirty years ago, we owe it to her to signal the first “Provisional” ST3 platoon into the tubes.
I have asked Mark several times to explain his statement that the DSTT was designed for more train-like operations but the features have never been used, and he has never done so. This is the closest, but still I don’t understand it. The buses have been platooning since 2009 when Link started: they come in batches based on stop bay, and the 2015 reform allows inbound buses that usually use the near bay (the Eastside bay) to use the far bay (the north/south bay) for the exiting hordes. Both of these supposedly make buses get through the tunnel faster. So what’s missing? What would the people in the control towers do that they’re not doing now? What would a more efficient platoon look like?
Mark is stating that in his opinion the platooning of buses is not working as well as it could be if operational dispatching from a control center worked better. Mike Orr is asking good follow up questions.
Which raises a related question for Mark and other close observers of bus operations on city streets — how well does the Metro bus control center (such as it is) work for alleviating the natural tendency of bus bunching of close headway buses to occur in peak? I have observed some bus bunching on the RapidRide D. I have never seen the route indicator on the front of a Metro bus say “please board next bus following” (or some such) which I saw on arterial BRT lite buses in Vancouver, BC some year ago.
Mike Orr – There is no way bus supervisors stationed in either booth at IDS or CPS to communicate directly with any bus operator. Those booths are only used as an office for personnel. Between busses arriving early and holding for time or much more common, platforms filling up with busses where you end up with outbound service which must stop at Bay A or C having to wait for multiple pulses to finally. Load the passengers waiting for them – all the while with a train waiting for all of them to clear before it can finally enter the station. Lather rinse and repeat at every station northbound and southbound and the six minutes headway is gone and the time space for the next platoon of busses evaporates in front of the next train.
An actively controlled system would prevent wasted cycles – all busses stop once at each station and no busses would enter a portal station (IDS from south or Westlake from north) if there isn’t clear platform space for them to occupy.
Fix that and then we can work on getting rid of fareboxes on busses while in DSTT and customer service handled on the mezzanines and maybe station agents to assist wheelchair boarding. All to get the dwell time for busses down to less than that required for trains. Then we can keep busses in the DSTT along with rail until East Link opens for business.
Remember how Sounder equipment wound up in a bunch of different cities on short term lease?
I’m wondering if ST could get a few light rail cars from elsewhere for a while to reduce the crowding?
The 1,500v supply might not be such a big deal. TriMet is running MAX on 900v on half of the substations. With the S70 being intended for suburban service, and 1,500 being a common overhead voltage in France and The Netherlands, getting the standard Sidmens S70 to run on 1,500v might be just a simple set of jumpers on the power taps on the static converter.
Having to train the maintenance staff on new prodedures, buy parts for just a few non-standard LRVs, and set aside separate space for these non-standards would be a serious endeavor. And poor branding.
There are much simpler in-house solutions, such as yielding on the pretense of 6-minute headways, and just running 17 3-car trains at the best headway they can run at. Still ST is convinced the cost of running longer trains for 6 hours in the middle of the day isn’t worth it. As peak expands to cover more of the afternoon and more of the evening, that calculation will shift, and eventually it just won’t be worth the trouble to change up consist lengths.
The Siemens S70 is already under discussion as the next fleet order. They’ll need a stock of S70 parts at some point anyway.
Also, it might be nice to see what passenger reaction is to several seating arrangements. Passengers didn’t like some of the things in TriMet’s 400 series cars, so the 500 series got a different arrangement.
It would be good if they could avoid the whole “Oops, that doesn’t work so well with our mixture of bikes, luggage, baby carriage and (for Puget Sound anyway) kayaks” situation.
I would like to see more relevant numbers, such as how many passenger miles? This is a better gauge of how transit is working. 10,000 people riding from Capitol Hill to Westlake (1.1 miles or 11,000 passenger miles) doesn’t make as much impact on POV use as, say, University Of Washington Station to Stadium Station (5.2 miles or 52,000 passenger miles.)
While Metro passenger counts appear to be the same, applying a similar metric would likely show a decline in passenger miles.
Now, as far as revenue is concerned, as a majority of customers use a monthly pass, the income would likely be the same in Metro’s case. In Link’s case it is mileage based and there will be more income because of that. Metro routes that have been truncated at the Link University station are added to the Link numbers and stay the same on Metro’s side.
There are 3 kinds of lies…
“Sound Transit attributes the decline in performance to passenger crowding slightly increasing dwell times.” Yep. Anecdotally, it seems to take quite a while to load/unload these trains when they’re full. Between bikes getting on and off and the suburban-style seating arrangement it’s not rare for a departure to be delayed. This will only get worse even though we’re at ST’s target capacity.
Time for more cars! (and tear out some seats please)
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