Welcome everyone to the return of Link Ridership posts. I took a bit of break and what do you know, ST went and opened up a couple new stations.

Turns out they are quite popular and not only are running at 2018 projections for ridership, but they appear to have broken the previous pattern. We’re in a whole new world here. Aside from its first few months of operations, Link ridership has always experienced significant seasonal variation, with summer peaks and winter lulls, but U-Link is reducing it sharply. For the first time since 2009, October ridership was higher than September. It’s obviously very early and we won’t see an solid patterns until a couple years of Year-over-Year (YOY) data, but it’s certainly interesting.

Average daily ridership for Link in October was:

  • Weekday: 68,387 (+84.3%)
  • Saturday: 42,440 (+90.4%)
  • Sunday: 35,769 (+48.6%)

Other modal ridership stats:

  • Sounder,  +3.2%
  • Sounder North, -3.4%
  • Sounder South, +3.9%
  • Tacoma Link, -0.3%
  • ST Express, -0.3%
  • Sound Transit Systemwide, +25.4% Weekday, +23% Total Boardings

The complete October Ridership Summary is here. Another milestone reached was that for the first quarter ever Link Weekday ridership surpassed ST Express in Q3.

Charts below the break.




51 Replies to “October 2016 Link Ridership Report – Whole New World”

  1. The October 2016 average ridership surpassing September ridership is especially noteworthy given that September had Link’s highest single-day ridership ever (101,000) on a weekday, nearly double average ridership for the month. October surpassed this high bar barely (by 29 daily riders).

  2. Any idea what happened to weekend boardings in October? Were there fewer weekend sports games?

      1. And only one Husky game (the first weekend was a Friday [September 30], a bye week and 2 road games.

    1. There’s another factor at play here besides Capitol Hill and UW Stations – Angle Lake Station. If you look closer, the 2015 ridership decline between September and October is roughly equal to the number of parking spaces at Angle Lake Station. So, the seasonal ridership lull in October could simply be offset by the opening of these new parking spaces – at least on weekdays.

  3. Any data yet on Metro bus routes serving Capitol Hill? Did the Link ridership surge come from Metro riders switching modes, or as I expect, this is mostly new ridership?

    1. Metro routes 71 and 72 were eliminated and route 43 was cut back to something confusing and mostly useless, so presumably all those trips moved to at least partially light rail.

  4. Curious about station numbers- especially Angle Lake. The parking garage is now 3/4 full most days but I anticipated it to be full every day by 7…

    Also curious about what a snow day could do ridership. It might set a record.

  5. I think that the lack of difference in Sept-Oct this year was attributed to UW not starting until late in the Month of Sept.

    1. Also, Angle Lake didn’t open until late Sep, so Oct had an entire month of the extra station, while Sep only had one week or so. Next year will a better indication, or even actually waiting for the rest of the winter months’ data to come in. I imagine we’ll see a moderate drop off for the Nov numbers.

    2. UW always starts the last week of September. It’s a few weeks later than semester-based universities, and the community colleges follow the UW.

  6. Lovely as always, Matthew. It would be cool to see a ridership chart superimposed over projected ridership.

    1. Hope the link works Jon.
      I’ve kept the chart updated for both Link and Metro since 2009, plus most of the ridership projections since 2008 (SIP or FFGA data).
      Link (Blue Line) is actual riders and very seasonal until UW opened.
      Metro (thin Black Line) is weekday divided by 10 to keep the graph.
      All the other lines are various projections over the years.
      It’s apparent that Link never hit its stride until UW opened, then blew out all previous projections in one fell swoop.
      Metro has been growing, but no where near as fast as Link.

  7. What I’m amazed by is that LINK is averaging almost 70k weekday boardings while MAX in Portland is at 116k with a much larger network. So LINK is achieving just under 60% the number of boardings of MAX with ~20 miles of track versus ~60 miles for MAX.

    1. Right. And the new segment (UW to downtown) represents only about a quarter of the distance, but over half the ridership. It’s almost like the most important aspect to a subway’s success is population density, not mileage. Crazy, huh?

      1. Though the RV section is finally seeing really significant infill developmebt, so I’d expect ridership to keep growing there at a faster rate than we’ve seen in the past.

      2. Density of stuff in general, plus speed compared to other methods.

        Our closest equivalent to Capitol Hill is Hawthorne / Belmont, but current plans see little transit improvements there.

        Our biggest privately owned employer is Intel, and they insist on building new facilities distant from any means of transportation.

      3. Yeah, density of stuff in general, plus speed compared to other methods. Density plus proximity equals ridership. Simple as that.

        For example, most classes don’t take place on weekend. So if this really was a case of students all heading off to school, you wouldn’t see much of a jump in weekend ridership this year compared to last. But Saturday ridership is up *higher* than weekday ridership! (Sunday is hard to measure, because there are fewer Sunday’s this month.)

        It isn’t just the commuters (for school or work) it is, well, everyone. Proximity plus density equals ridership. Something to think about before we build out this system (oh wait, too late).

      4. I’ve noticed that Capitol Hill is a popular UW student destination on weekends. They get an unlimited transit pass, right?

      5. Rainier Valley along Link gets upzones.

        East Burnside along MAX has had downzones discussed as there is talk of the school system not being adequate for more students out that way.

        The segment along Interstate 84 could be vastly better than it is.

        Beaverton to Hillsboro is zoned residential along it, with little thought given to where all those residents were going to want to actually go. Beaverton’s main transit center is surrounded by a wasteland of grocery store parking lots and a huge chunk of vacant land, while much of Portland has a housing shortage.

        The residential buildings Seattle has as far north as the Shoreline boundary gives me hope that Link will have better land use planning around it.

  8. I would be interested to see Metro’s ridership data for this same period so we can learn how much of the increased ridership is new vs. existing transit riders. (And how many are transferring between Link and Metro?)

    1. I’m waiting too. Metro lost its general manager right when U Link opened (he’s at Vancouver BC now) so thst may have delayed reports. There’s a new GM now so hopefully we’ll hear soon. I want to hear about the 10, 11, and 49.

    2. Ask and you shall receive … <a href="http://metro.kingcounty.gov/am/reports/monthly-measures/ridership.html"Metro Systemwide Ridership Data.

      Total Metro ridership in 2016 has essentially matched 2015 since U-Link opened in March, except for October which had a dropoff. Prior to March, 2016 was running about 7,000 boardings/day higher than 2015.

      So it could be that Metro is running about 7,000 fewer boardings/day than without U-Link, while U-Link added 35,000 boarding/day, so U-Link has increased the transit pie overall.

  9. One major fact about LINK is how new the system really is. And how different from anything most Seattle riders have ever been on before.

    First passenger load under the Ship Canal marked a new era, as ridership stats show. Metro deserves a lot of flak for not getting the feeder routes right. Should have been a very-little-brainer. And not that hard to fix.

    But anybody who misses the half hour ride down Eastlake still has the 70. Wish I had the 74 back but Boulevard Grocery isn’t only cafe north of 45th, and it’s a pretty walk.

    Would bet that when Brooklyn Station opens- there’d better be a decent corned beef sandwich somewhere close, or public will demand name change- won’t be any problem getting people to stand in the raised aisles at the ends of the cars.

    And might not be bad idea to have some more pontoons ready for Lacey Morrow ’til first EastLINK train goes over. Though life jackets under seats probably shouldn’t have their own message repeating the whole time every run.

    We’re really just getting started. Favor, though: don’t tell anybody there’s room at Angle Lake, because then there won’t be any left for me.


    1. I second the scorn of the u link restructure. NE Seattle is effectively being punished with 15-20 minute longer commutes, and inefficient transfers at shelterless stops in an effort to push ridership to husky stadium. I would be curious how the good old 71-3 tunnel routes compare to the u link bump. Very much looking forward to 2021 and transfers at the Ave and Roosevelt stations. But for the present, I miss the recent past.

      1. Agreed. Commuting from NE Seattle to Bellevue is much more painful than it once was. That’s progress for you.

      2. Might want to put some political effort into getting those feeder routes fixed before being resigned to years of misery.

        I seem to recall a concerted campaign a couple of decades ago to put an end to the independent Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle and give transit to King County. Major selling point: Transit will be run by elected officials.

        So don’t let all that distraction from badly-needed decisions on the very project that started our regional system go to waste. I can’t believe that only two taxpayers have a credible threat to vote somebody out of office on this matter.

        Good first step would be a whole mailing of hateful replies to usual form-letter excuse that they’ve taken it up with Metro officials. Nobody’s got the excuse of the Electoral College for outcome of that election.

        Each reply from your group could enclose a photo-copy of a check with council member’s next opponent’s name left blank pending start of their campaign. Desperate times require desperately overdue measures.

        Have read that different cultures find different things painful. Every trip to Seattle, I deliberately drive a at least ten extra miles to avoid one mile stuck in traffic. So it’s hard to feature how LINK ride to well-sheltered Westlake Station transfer to the 550 isn’t still better than 70-series past.

        But having driven 71, 72, and 73 when they had poles on the roof, I’d really like to see reasons why they all do what they used to, but terminate in the Route 44 loop at UW station. Maybe your intended victim, I mean council member, could explain problem with that in these pages.


  10. Interesting tidbit in the complete Ridership Summary regarding fare evasion:

    “Fare Evasion on Link increased marginally compared to October 2015, with final results of 3.23% exceeding the 3% targeted range. October Link boardings increased 78.4% compared to last year, resulting in a lower inspection rate on Link.”

    “Overall, combined fare evasion was 2.96%, within the targeted range of 3%. Fare inspections trended over 4% of all rail passengers in October 2016, below the targeted inspection rate of 10%.”

    This may suggest that fare enforcement is having trouble scaling up to deal with the heavy crowds on Link. Full trains make onboard enforcement difficult and slow.

    Something to keep an eye on. I do wonder how much evasion is intentional vs. accidental. Card reader placement remains sub-optimal at many stations and there are simply not enough readers, nor the appropriate visual cues to remind people to seek them out upon exit.

    1. For Portland Trailblazer games TriMet does its fare inspection at the platform rather than on the train. They also have temporary ticket sales booths set up so that people don’t have to stand in line to buy return tickets.

      On the other hand, TriMet doesn’t have a fare card yet, so fare inspectors are able to look at several hundred tickets pretty quickly.

      1. Every visit to Portland, Glenn, I wonder if cutting more trees, which can grow back, for paper tickets isn’t better all around than more Tar Sands and Bakken Oil for plastic cards.

        Thirty years of Tri-Met tickets leave me convinced that whatever ORCA and its ilk do for contractors and the accounting department, paper day pass beats them all hollow for passenger convenience.

        Also good tribal (I forget which one) term for effort to contain a .23% evasion increase: Letting the fence eat the crops. Still want that brown-ink balance sheet column: Cost of operating time lost versus amount of money saved.


      2. I hate using Portland’s ticket machines. I’ve missed trains waiting for a ticket to print or for them to decide to read my debit card. The ease of the Orca card has led me to ride transit way more.

    2. In the downtown tunnel, Fair inspection can take place on the platform. That’s why the entire platform is a fare Zone, and the Orca readers are up on the mezzanine

      1. Still a hassle when someone who arrives on Metro and wants to transfer to Link has to go way up to the mezzanine to buy the Link ticket, often missing a train.

      2. What are you two talking about? The downtown tunnel is not a fare-paid zone as long as there are buses in the tunnel. And for that reason, the are ORCA validators on the platform. If you’re going up to the mezzanine to buy a ticket, you’re doing it wrong. Get an ORCA card with an epurse and you can tap on next to where you board the train, and get a free transfer from the bus.

      3. I am talking about folks without an ORCA card–occasional riders as well as airport-bound visitors who arrive in the tunnel on a Metro bus and need to transfer to Link.

  11. The weekday boardings y-o-y % change chart is going to have an interesting shape over the next few years. I expect it will be up around 80% through next April or so, then abruptly drop down to the previous normal range. That is, until Northgate Link opens when it will take another step up.

    When the last couple of ridership posts came out, I wondered where Matt’s charts were. Welcome back!

  12. As Zach predicted last month, Link’s total boardings for the year have passed the total boardings of all 27 ST Express routes combined, even with ST Express having a 2.6-month head start.

  13. Link’s ridership growth is great but behind what I thought it would be. I thought 75K would be norm after U-Link opened. With a better operating plan and more fleet it could have been 100k.

    Link is more productive than Portland but still trails a city like Edmonton, which is a much smaller region and operates a much smaller transit system. And yet Edmonton LRT carries 110k per day. It does this with better frequency and longer trainsets.

    Point of my comment, Link could be carrying way more than it is if the current service were optimized. I enjoy reading the various comments above on ridership but to me until there is more off-peak frequency and more fleet capacity it will always be a system that lags behind its potential.

    1. Fleet capactiy is coming around 2019. The Intl Dist to Lynnwood segment will have twqice the frequency in 2023. I suspect that ridership in the new stations will be larger than in similarly-sized pre-U-Link stations, because the trains will connect not only to downtown but also to UW, so there will be two major destinations from each station. (And three if you count Microsoft.)

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