The Metro restructure that accompanied the opening of Sound Transit’s University Link was the most significant service change in a generation. It undid decades-old travel patterns, killed a handful of routes, and created several new ones. It was rightfully controversial, and we covered it each step of the way (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). And though we’ve seen release after release of Link’s ridership numbers, we’ve been wondering how broader travel patterns have changed. Though the final report on the March 2016 restructure won’t be presented to the King County Council until March 2017, we finally have some preliminary ridership numbers.
Net New Boardings
Metro, Link, and Metro-operated ST Express routes are up by 6% overall, or an additional 27,900 daily boardings (through the end of Q2). Bus ridership on restructured routes is down by 9,100 boardings (as is expected when many routes are deleted), but the net effect of the ULink restructure is an additional 18,800 boardings per day, of which 15,000 are new boardings and 3,800 are bus-rail transfers.
Northeast Seattle Winners
Northeast Seattle travel patterns were altered drastically by the restructure, and the area saw the largest route-level ridership changes. Some routes were deleted (25, 30, 66, 68, 72), but most restructured routes doubled in frequency, bringing 15-minute service to NE Seattle for the first time.
- Route 44 is up 20%, from 6,900 to 8,300 per weekday. We’ll have to wait until stop-level data comes out, but it’s likely that East Wallingford and UDistrict riders are making the trip down to UW Station to transfer.
- Routes 45 and 48 are up 7%, from 12,200 boardings for old Route 48 to 13,100 for Route 45 (7,200) and Route 48 (5,900) combined. Despite disruptive construction on 23rd Avenue, on-time performance also improved drastically. Route 48 went from being late 23% of the time to just 11%. Yay for splitting up long routes.
- Route 65 is up by 42%, from 3,100 to 4,400.
- Route 67 is up by 159%, nearly tripling from 1,700 to 4,400. This is down by 400 boardings compared to the old 66 and 67 combined, but that’s mostly made up for by…
- Route 70 is bursting the seams. Ridership is up 75%, from 4,400 to 7,700 daily boardings.
- Route 372 is up by 58%, from 4,800 to 7,600.
- Routes 541 and 542, serving the Redmond-UW corridor, are up by 61%, from 1,800 a combined 2,900. And the two routes are only taking 4% of Route 545 boardings away, as that route fell modestly from 9,800 to 9,400.
Northeast Seattle Losers
- Routes 63 and 64 have been slow out of the gate, though Metro says their ridership is starting to grow. Route 63 (Northgate to First Hill via SLU) has just 400 boardings per day. Route 64 fell by 25%, from 800 to 600 riders, despite adding SLU to its route.
- Route 78 is fighting with Route 22 for the lowest ridership Seattle route, clocking in at just 200 riders per day.
- Routes 71 and 73/373 – truncated to UW Station with a similar frequency – fell by 60%, from 11,800 combined riders to just 4,800. Route 71 riders, all 1,700 of them, are voting with their feet to take frequent arterial service to UW Station on Routes 65 and 372, or to Roosevelt on Route 62. Route 73 riders north of 65th Street seem to be walking to Route 67 (up 159%).
- Former Route 72 riders in the Upper Roosevelt area didn’t get much replacement service beyond a boost in Route 372 frequency and an added ST Route 522 stop. But the 522 didn’t gain any riders, remaining at 5,300. So those riders are either walking to Route 372 or not riding.
Capitol Hill Winners
Capitol Hill routes near Link generally lost riders, while those a little further from Link gained riders. The time travel advantage of ULink is big enough that the walkshed appears larger than standard planning assumptions. People are willing to walk to good service.
- Route 11 is up 38%, from 3,400 to 4,700. The #11 is likely absorbing demand on Pine Street east of Broadway for former Route 10 riders unwilling to walk to Link.
- Route 49 is down 1%, from 7,200 to 7,100. So why is it a winner? Because as the most direct service between Capitol Hill and Downtown prior to Link, we at STB expected it to fall further. It seems like more people than expected are using it as feeder service to Link, or are continuing to use it as a one-seat ride. Because frequency was boosted from 15 to 12 minutes, buses are 25% less full. Enjoy those uncrowded buses, y’all.
- Routes 8 and 38 are up 6%, from 9,700 to 10,300. But the “L8” has finally seen some on-time improvement, from being late 37% of the time to 27%. Baby steps!
- Route 43 is a shadow of its former self, and ridership is down 85%, from 7,000 to just 1,100. So why is it still a winner? With just 16 remaining trips per day (plus a few in-service deadheads that don’t go downtown), the 43 is still averaging 60+ riders per trip.
Capitol Hill Losers
- Route 10 is down 28%, from 4,600 to 3,300. Most riders on the route are within 1 mile of a Link station, and many of them seem to be walking to Link.
- Rapid Ride is quietly booming as a brand, with the C/D/E lines now combining for 41,000 riders per day, up 20% from a year ago. Paid for by Seattle voters via Prop 1, the March extensions of the C and D lines seem to be drawing riders in Pioneer Square and South Lake Union, and the E-Line continues growing (up 12%) despite not being extended.
Too Soon to Tell
- The Fremont/Greenwood/Wallingford restructure is complicated. On the one hand, ridership fell dramatically on Routes 26 (-25%) and 28 (-30%), but by using Aurora they also serve fewer stops and provide a generally faster trip. Meanwhile, Route 40 grew by 23%, absorbing a lot of the local Fremont to Downtown demand formerly served by Routes 26/28. And new Route 62 jumped out of the gate with 6,500 riders. We’ll have to wait for stop-level data to evaluate just where this part of the restructure is losing and gaining riders. My educated guess is that Fremont-Downtown service is up, and non-Downtown trips on Routes 26 and 28 are down significantly, and that the lion’s share of Route 62 ridership is coming from south of Green Lake.
Finally, here are all the Seattle routes with more than 5,000 boardings per day: