Sounder Bruce (Flickr)

November was an incredible month for Link ridership, with 66,237 average weekday boardings, up 95% from November 2015. Though down from October’s 68,387, this represents the first November in which ridership was higher than July, continuing the shift away from seasonal tourist fluctuation. Recent weekend trends continued, with Saturday ridership surprisingly strong (+103%) and Sunday ridership surprisingly sleepy (+37%)

Other trends were not as happy. Sounder had a very difficult Q4, but mostly due to factors outside its control. BNSF construction just south of Auburn Station led to unreliable trip times, and on-time performance fell to 81% in November. Staff reported to the Operations Committee Thursday that Amtrak (Sounder’s maintenance contractor) failed to refuel enough locomotives on December 26, leading to cancelled trips the following day. Year-over-year Sounder ridership fell by -0.8% mostly due to losses on the North Line (-3.4%), as a switch in the order of 2 and 3-car trains led to overcrowding and customer complaints (which quintupled compared to September). Though BNSF construction will wrap up this month, Sounder has other operational challenges later this year, with likely service interruptions/bus bridges for the switchover to the new Tacoma Trestle this autumn.

Data and charts after the jump.

Average daily ridership for Link in November was:

  • Weekday: 66,237 (+94.8%)
  • Saturday: 44,130 (+103.5%)
  • Sunday: 31,243 (+37.2%)

Other modal stats:

  • Sounder,  -0.8% overall
  • Sounder North, -11.6% overall, -13.4% weekday
  • Sounder South, +0.4% weekday, +3.3% overall
  • Tacoma Link, +5.8%
  • ST Express, +3.1%
  • Sound Transit Systemwide, +33.4% overall, +29.6% weekday,

57 Replies to “Link Soars, Sounder Struggles: November 2016 Sound Transit Ridership”

  1. Great news on Link. These numbers should only grow as development continues around the stations.

    As far as sounder goes… since Sounder South continues to grow in spite of the delays from construction of more reliable track… I’d expect the second half of this year to be one of the best we’ve seen as both frequency and speed should increase somewhat.

    Could Sounder North go back to three cars? They did order more sounder cars for the new runs this year…

    1. Yeah, I feel like the underlying dynamic of Sounder hasn’t changed, despite this quarter’s turbulence — South Line rules, North Line drools.

      According to the foamers, there will be triple track all the way from Seattle down to somewhere south of Auburn, except for downtown Kent:,4033579

      Apparently, Kent is fighting BNSF on the third track through downtown. It’d be awesome if our electeds could work out a deal to permit that third main in return for grade separation projects in that area.

      Has anyone heard about the promised ST3 Sounder trips?

      1. Yeah… elevate or trench it through Kent. It would make everyone’s lives a bit easier.

        That’s probably what Kent is pushing back on.

        No one likes waiting for trains to cross the street…

      2. Yes. Sound Transit has ordered 9 new cab cars from Bombardier (they’re a new type without a door, that that places the engineer up higher and includes Crash Energy Management technology). It’s my understanding that the plan is to make all North Line trains 3-cars after those cars are delivered and make the South Line mid-day trainset 7-cars.

        That bit about Kent is interesting. I happen to live close to the BNSF mainline in Kent and I didn’t know the railroad was seeking a permit to build a third track through Downtown. I know Kent has been looking at establishing a quiet zone in Downtown. There’s $600,000 in the 2017-2018 budget for the project. I wonder if the town is holding out on approving the project until BNSF pays for the quiet zone improvements.

      3. Oh, in regards to: “Has anyone heard about the promised ST3 Sounder trips?”

        Nothing yet about the ST3 trips, but there are two ST2 trips coming in September.

        From the 2017 Service Implementation Plan (page 3):

        In September 2017, two new Sounder south line round trips will provide additional
        capacity and flexibility for customers between Lakewood and Seattle. The final
        schedule for the new round trips will be developed in early 2017 in coordination with
        BNSF Railway Company and Amtrak. Public release of the final schedule will occur
        ahead of the September 2017 service change. The two new trips will bring the total
        number of weekday trains to 13 on the south line

        It sounds like there won’t be much in the way of public process when it comes to what times those trains will operate.

      4. >> Yeah, I feel like the underlying dynamic of Sounder hasn’t changed

        I was thinking the same thing. South Sounder is a success, North Sounder isn’t. At first glance it isn’t obvious why (at least to me). But if you look at the detailed data though, it makes sense. A few things make this somewhat unusual for a commuter rail system:

        1) There is no straight shot. Typically a commuter rail system goes straight into town from the suburbs, and does so in very short order. But our geography is nasty, so the trains zig-zag their way to their destination. This explains why:

        2) Much of the ridership is not from a long ways away. Ridership from Tacoma is not that high. I think this is because it is often better to just slog away on the bus instead of trying to grab the next train. But ridership from Puyallup, Auburn, Kent and Tukwila make up for it. Those are the areas that are more of a direct shot, and don’t suffer from the geologic forces that make train travel from Tacoma weak.

        3) The stops along the way for South Sounder are in relatively dense areas. The spots I mentioned (Auburn, Kent, etc.) are really not that different from Tacoma. OK, sure, Tacoma itself is a bit more urban, but not that much. As it turns out, the station for Tacoma is nowhere near the small part of density that exists in Tacoma.

        4) It is slow from Everett, and there is nothing along the way. It is easy to assume that the problem with North Sounder is the potential for disruption. It is one slide away from cancellation. But that is only part of the problem. Everett itself has the same problem as Tacoma, in that taking a bus is faster nine times out of ten. But unlike South Sounder, there really isn’t much along the way. Edmonds and Mukilteo are both very low density areas and the situation is made worse by having waterfront stations. Fish don’t ride transit. You could drive to the station (of course) but parking isn’t easy, because it also happens to be close to ferry docks. There is potential there, but it would have to managed with elegance and grace that all agencies involved lack (so far). Drive to a park and ride and catch a shuttle to the train — wouldn’t that be lovely. But sorry, it ain’t happening. You also have the potential of ferry riders, but given the headways of both, that is a really tough task to pull off (do you really want to stop the train for five minutes because the ferry is running late?) It all adds up to a very poor commuter rail line, which is a shame.

        Personally, when Link gets to Lynnwood I would cut bait, and end North Sounder. I would imagine that North Sounder ridership would actually go down substantially after Lynnwood Link, as express bus service from all three stops to Lynnwood would be much faster than riding the train (even when you account for the transfer).

        South Sounder, meanwhile, probably needs more shuttle service. It is crazy to spend huge sums building a bigger and bigger parking lot, when the train only runs a few times a day. Just run shuttles the same number of times — guaranteed — and folks will figure it out. Add more train cars and you have a very cost effective system.

      5. Bruce, I suspect earliest and first purpose for Sounder North was to persuade Snohomish County to join Sound Transit at all. Followed by chance to use existing track for at least some passenger service.

        But I wouldn’t rule out the idea of an alternative to un-transitlaned-bus service to feed an I-5 ride from Lynnwood Transit Center at rush hour. And now I-5 yields even worse travel times to Seattle.

        I really doubt anybody thought that Sounder North would compete with the 512 between Everett and Seattle. I could be giving politicians and planners too much credit for foresight.

        But there’s a chance someone foresaw a time when there’d be enough all-day ferry traffic to justify frequent enough coastal train service that there needn’t be a train waiting for every boat.

        And enough fast passenger ferry service to create a commercial community on both sides of, and across, the water. I remember in the early days of planning, Seattle went through a Reggae period.

        Just maybe, somebody got the idea of the two Kingstons were already sister cities, or maybe the same one. Well, for awhile dreadlocks were in fashion- still see some. Misunderstood cultural reference, though:

        If you were “walking down the road with a ratchet in your waist”, and therefore really dangerous, it wasn’t because you’d just been to the True-Value hardware a short CT ride from Edmonds. Switchblades were all from Target anyhow.

        Climate change could bring this new coastal culture about. Though same phenomenon would also make Lynnwood Transit Center the new ferry terminal. In any case, by then freight track, or tubes, will probably run east of the Cascades.

        And inter-border passenger trains will have begun decelerating for Seattle at Marysville. I can also see a few decades of scenic railway from Vancouver BC to Olympia via Ruston. Maybe smoke-stack could work like an electric cigarette, except no more pollution mixed with the patchouli.


      6. I checked with the Public Works Dept. head for City of Kent, Tim LaPorte.
        BNSF has not applied for, and the city is not holding up, permits for a 3rd rail through Kent.
        According to Mr. LaPorte, BNSF’s bridge over the Green River just south of downtown Kent is only big enough for two tracks. Before they can complete a 3rd rail through downtown, BNSF has to get a new Green River bridge permitted and built.

    2. I don’t take North Sounder because CT refuses to time buses for it. Taking the 113 to catch the Sounder just doesn’t work. Either the 113 doesn’t run early enough or there’s a 25 minute wait for the train. In the amount of time you were on the 113 and waiting for the Sounder you can be 80% to Seattle on a 400 series bus.

      Time the 113 and I’ll ride the Sounder…

      1. Hit the nail there, if they want more people on Sounder Southline add more connector buses, simple. Parking lots are full by the second train in the morning, limited options for buses from Sounder stations.

        I have the luxury of choosing two different bus routes to get from Puyallup to where I live – even then its quite hit and miss.

  2. If there is only sounder north and sounder south and sounder north has fewer riders than sounder south, how can -3.4% on north combined with +3.9% on south on aggregate be a negative change?

      1. Typo, apparently. The losses on the North Line were far worse than I initially reported, -11.6% overall and -13.4% weekday.

  3. I think the Link numbers need context from Metro. How much of Link growth is actual growth of new riders as opposed to people who switched from Metro to Link during the restructure when buses like the 71-72-73 to downtown were cancelled?

    1. In truth, there is probably very little completely new ridership at HSS. After all, there’s little “there” there. It’s good for hospital workers and east campus riders and stupendous six or seven Saturdays per year.

      Are you trying to make the standard RWNJ argument that Link is a bad investment? If so, consider that most of the cost of extending beyond Capitol Hill (which was a no-brainer) will be recouped in lower bus operating costs in about fifteen years. When the three in-Seattle stations of North Link are opened bus operating costs will fall further as every peak-hour express originating in Seattle north of 65th and east of Greenwood will be truncated at a Link station. That will make all bus operations in downtown Seattle enormously more efficient by freeing up road space.

      You can natter on about the expansions of Link into suburbia, but its route north of Westlake is brilliant and will support significant growth in the City.

      1. Did you just call me a right wing nut job? Harsh, especially because I strongly support Link and am a lifelong liberal. I wasn’t casting any judgment at all on Link, just pointing out that this data presented in the article isn’t complete without also knowing bus data. If we’re going to have an informed and logical discussion about Link’s performance (which is usually the case on this site), then we need to know how the public transportation system is working. From the graph above, Link weekday boardings are up about 30,000 compared to last year. Here are some hypothetical scenarios when including bus data:

        Bad. Metro weekday ridership is down 45,000, a net loss in transit ridership. NE Seattle residents, angry about the loss of key routes and poor connections to UW Station have flocked to their cars.

        Average. Metro weekday ridership is down 30,000, leaving total transit ridership mostly unchanged. People in NE Seattle and Capitol Hill who used to take bus routes like the 43 and 7x series have gravitated to Link. But other residents keep riding the 49 and 76 and the new train service has had trouble attracting current drivers.

        Good. Metro weekday ridership is down just 15,000, meaning a large increase in system ridership. In addition to many (former) bus riders in NE Seattle and Capitol Hill switching to Link, their friends and coworkers have seen how convenient Link is and have flocked from driving to public transportation.

        What’s the true situation? I suspect something between the average and good scenarios. But we need the data to know. And there’s lessons in how well Link is picking up new ridership that will be important as more Link stations open in North Seattle, the northern suburbs and the eastside.

      2. The route north of Westlake is not brilliant. There is plenty of “there” there, it is just hard to get to.

        What would have been brilliant is something like the original Forward Thrust proposal. That would have had three stations between downtown and the UW, not one. The essential piece that is missing is a stop on Madison, either on First Hill or 23rd. Either one would have worked really well with the Madison BRT that is coming soon. That is part of the “there” that is being left out. With stop(s) in the area, it would easily lead to much higher overall transit ridership, as folks soon realized that getting to an entire region (not just small spots) is significantly faster. Right now it is much faster to get to the hospital (and lower campus) but the big value added is the trip from the UW to Capitol Hill. This is much faster, but again, the problem is it is only one small part of the Central Area*, as there is only one station and it is not well suited for buses.

        The lack of a stop at 520 is also unfortunate, but if the state and UW manage to cooperate and build a good set of bus-only lanes connecting the Husky Stadium Station with the freeway, it will be OK. With the exception of the Central Area’s dearth of service, most of the lack of brilliance is simply nickle and dime stuff that cost people a couple minutes here and there, every day. For example, the lack of an underground connection from the Husky Stadium Station to either the hospital or the campus. The funniest part is that they built elevated walkways … to a subway. These are things that may cost some ridership (in edge cases it might be faster to drive) but probably not a lot (nothing like the lack of a First Hill station). They just cost time (which was kind of the whole point of building the thing).

        North of there the nickle and dime failures continue. We spent way too much money moving the station away from the freeway, towards Roosevelt, considering that the balance of density is right under the freeway. Walk a few blocks north and east from the station and you enter land that will likely never have an apartment, while the apartment heavy area to the west is still adding them. Meanwhile, we were probably stuck with Northgate Transit Center, which is a huge shame considering how terrible it is for buses. A stop along Northgate Way would have been much better. After much work and effort, it does look like they will add a station at NE 130th, even though someone who is not at all brilliant can see it makes sense.

        All that being said, Link still works for that section. It would have taken a huge amount of effort, really, for it to fail. I mean they could have just skipped right over Capitol Hill (as some wanted) but that really would have been stupid. If you are going to build a very expensive light rail line, it should — at a minimum — include the UW, Capitol Hill and downtown.

        * I use the term “Central Area” to refer to the greater Central Area, which includes Capitol Hill. Basically I’m referring to addresses in Seattle that have an “east” in them. While it may be a stretch to say that with Forward Thrust stops the entire Central Area would benefit, it isn’t a stretch to say that most of it would. A stop at 23rd and Madison, for example, would mean that people from north of the ship canal could get to anywhere on 23rd or Madison very quickly. That, plus the added benefit of CHS would mean that most of the Central Area would see substantial transit improvement. That won’t happen, of course, as some of the most urban, densely populated parts of the state are ignored while we focus on places like Ash Way. Brilliant!

      3. @Larry — Good comment. I would like to know as well. Other data I am curious about: Where are the riders going? For example, as I see it, the big value added with U-Link is not U-District to downtown, or even Capitol Hill to downtown, but U-District to Capitol Hill. So how many south bound riders get off at Capitol Hill? This is important, because if those numbers are big, it shows just how important neighborhood to neighborhood travel is.

        Of course the big problem is that right now, we have a system that is chopped off in a weird way. If Link had a U-District station, we could look at the data in a more informed way. From much of the UW, it is still faster to ignore the train, and take a bus over to much of Capitol Hill. All it takes is several blocks either way and you are looking at a three seat ride versus a single bus (the 49). That might continue to be a problem — oh, how we could use a stop at Campus Parkway — but maybe not. In a few years people may figure it is just so much faster to take the train that they walk up the street a few blocks.

        As far as predicting the success of future stations with these stations, I don’t think we should read too much into it. There are just so few data points. We only added two stations, which means only a few combinations. The next significant urban improvement (North Link) will add three stations, which means more combinations. Plus the geography is different. Link curves around a bit, which means that a lot of trips just don’t make sense via the train. If you want to get to Rainier Valley from somewhere close to the UW, you might as well take the 48 instead of the train. But North Link is pretty much a straight shot. Not only will the train be faster, it will be much, much faster. Northgate to the U-District takes a while. Northgate to Capitol Hill takes forever. That will all change (and I am really, really looking forward to it).

        All those new stops are urban. This means all day, stop to stop demand (as opposed to “everyone just wants to go downtown in the morning” demand). It also means that alternatives are terrible. Try driving from Northgate to downtown (or Capitol Hill) in the evening and you know how bad it is. It isn’t any better with buses, either (because the HOV lanes are only on the express lanes). All of that adds up to good ridership, because the fundamental disadvantages of transit (wait time, getting to the stop, etc.) are minor compared to the slow car travel.

        Anyway, I’m not sure why we should think that the people who live here will respond to our transit system in a fundamentally different way than they do anywhere else in the U. S. and Canada. Urban systems that tie together neighborhoods and work well with buses are quite popular all day long. Suburban systems are only popular during rush hour, and even then never as popular as the urban system it feeds into.

      4. “the big value added with U-Link is not U-District to downtown, or even Capitol Hill to downtown, but U-District to Capitol Hill. So how many south bound riders get off at Capitol Hill? This is important, because if those numbers are big, it shows just how important neighborhood to neighborhood travel is.”

        I do. I can’t say how many others do. But UW-Capitol Hill provides an express that never existed. It’s what I’ve said forever: there’s a large market for transit directly between all urban villages, without meandering leisurely through the single-family houses and stoplights in between. Even thought I knew UW-Capitol Hill would be an unprecedented benefit. I didn’t fully realize until it opened that 80% of my Link trips would be that pair. The 49 is still probably popular between the northern U-District and north Capitol Hill, and if I still liked at Thomas I might take it more. But I have only taken the 49 there twice since Link opened: once from the U-District farmer’s market to the Capitol Hill library (north to north), and once last week when it was very cold and windy and it was evening so I knew there wouldn’t be any traffic.

        “If you want to get to Rainier Valley from somewhere close to the UW, you might as well take the 48 instead of the train.”

        You might do it once, but then you get frustrated that the 48 takes so long and stops at every single stop along the way. I sometimes took the 48 from UW to Columbia City in the afternoon ad it took forty-five minutes, and I couldn’t wait for U-Link to open. I had a friend who used to take the 48 from Mt Baker to UW. I’ve lost contact with him so I don’t know if he’d prefer Link now and wishes it were running then, but he probably would.

        On the other hand, going from UW to Trader Joe’s is a tossup and slightly favors the 48 because of the shorter walk up the hill. So I’d say the 48 is favorable south to around Cherry Street (because the 3/4 are abominably slow), And maybe Jackson if your destination is east of 20th, because the 14 is half-hourly.

      5. Ross, check back to 2012. I argued several times for Mezzanine level connection under Montlake to the Triangle Garage. Apparently UW didn’t just say “No”; they said “Hell, No!”. So far as the CD belly of the Forward Thrust line, yes, it would have been great for an urban subway system. But once Link became wedded to The Spine, there was no way that the suburban members of the board were going to support two more stations and an additional mile and a half for their folks headed downtown.

        And if they didn’t get what they wanted, there would have been no Link at all. This is a serious problem for you; you simply refuse to deal with political reality. There are more voters in the suburbs than in the City. There are more members on the ST Board from the suburbs than from the City. Them’s the facts and you have to thank your lucky stars that they were willing to stump up $30 billion to build the system (constant dollars).

        And Larry, my apologies if you’re not one. “It’s just taking ridership from the buses” is a meme that they use ALL. THE. TIME. So if you mention it, it would be a good idea to include some sort of demur that you are not implying that.

        From Zach’s link it appears that your estimate is right: somewhere between Average and Good. Increases total 10,100 while the 7X’s plummeted 7000, for a net gain of 3,100.

      6. @Richard – You need to figure out the difference between “fact” and speculation. You offer no evidence whatsoever that any of the agencies involved ever had a debate like that. There no record of people discussing the benefits of a more urban oriented subway line — something that would be better for everyone — with the city folk being outnumbered by those in the suburbs. Because it never happened. Their was no debate as to the merits of various stops. About the only thing that occurred was a last second abandonment of a First Hill stop, for reasons that had little to do with suburban preference, and everything to do with fear. Fear of cost overruns (which almost killed Link a few years earlier) related to soil conditions. No one was arguing that we should drop that stop so that the train could get to Lynnwood (or Everett) faster.

        Give the suburban leaders some credit. That is a really stupid argument. The time spent for a stop or two is minimal. The value added is huge. First Hill is a major employer — don’t you think someone from Snohomish County works there? Besides, let’s not ignore how light rail is being sold to the folks up north. The current route of Everett Link, which was insisted upon by Everett. isn’t a straight shot right to downtown. it will take a while for people who are trying to get into Seattle. But in exchange it goes to areas that Everett feels will develop as a result of the train. They basically argue that this is not a commuter rail system (with the costs of a subway) but a real urban subway that will not only serve its citizens well, but revitalize jobs in the area. Have you read what the mayor of Lynnwood has planned for the area around Link ( She basically hopes that it becomes another downtown Bellevue. Don’t you think that case would be strengthened if getting to Lynnwood would be easier? Don’t you think you could make a better case for these (relatively cheap) stops if you said something to the effect of “yes, it will take a couple minutes longer, but tens of thousands of additional riders will use the system, and have much faster access to your city”.

        But like I said, that debate never happened. As for more voters in the suburbs than the city, that is true in every city in the country. So what? That doesn’t preclude building something that works for both suburban and urban areas (like the system in D. C.) it just means that people need to be smarter. They need to look at other cities when building their transit system, and figure out what works and what doesn’t. Do you think the suburban voters that surround D. C. proper think the D. C. Metro is terrible, because there are so many stops on the way to downtown? Of course not. Quite the opposite. They know when they take a bus or drive to the nearest train station they can easily get just about anywhere (not just downtown).

        Besides, Seattle pays for 100% of the Seattle system. Why shouldn’t we get something worth the money? If not Link, then something that Seattle builds and pays for itself. It is absurd to assume that the only way that Seattle would ever be able to build a subway is by building something with major flaws in it because suburban officials are stupid.

        But that wasn’t even the point of my comment! It is one thing to make the claim (as you now do) that this is the best thing we could have built, given the political realities. It is another thing to claim — as you did — that this is simply “brilliant”. No, no it isn’t. The D. C. Metro is brilliant. Vancouver SkyTrain is brilliant. Link, like BART, has some good pieces, but is severely flawed and transit performance will suffer as a result.

      7. “But once Link became wedded to The Spine, there was no way that the suburban members of the board were going to support two more stations and an additional mile and a half for their folks headed downtown.”

        I don’t think it was because of that, The original Link alignment went along Broadway The original Link alignment went along Broadway and had stations at Madison, John/Pine, and Roy. The Roy station was deleted as unnecessary. Then ST had engineering anxieties about the Portage Bay Ship Canal crossing and had other financial troubles and it deferred the segment. Later when it determined the Montlake crossing was feasible and restarted the segment, it did not reopen the question of stations. Activists also didn’t raise a sufficient stink about it. STB was just starting and focused on ST2. Seattle Subway didn’t exist or was just starting and didn’t have any major victories under its belt (accelerating a Ballard line was its first victory, but that’s ST3).

        So it’s not that ST rejected those stations as much as it never considered them. It was down two stations (Roy and later Madison), and a new alignment brings new possibilities and neighborhoods, but it didn’t look at replacing the stations. This is where the spine mentality comes in: Broadway & John and UW are “regional destinations” and must-serve, while the other areas are just local and not ST’s responsibility. The biggest issue was probably cost: underground stations would have been millions of dollars each, and ST was trying to show it was keeping costs down after its fiasco. What was ultimately mssing was an urbanist on the board who would say, “We should evaluate another station or two in this new alignment”, but they never did. They felt they had fulfilled their responsibility in East Stattle and were focusing on ST2 which was being proposed then.

        “Apparently UW didn’t just say “No”; they said “Hell, No!”.”

        I forgot about that. The UW cited security headaches and expenses in having non-UW people in the western tunnel. But I think RossB was including that in “the state and the UW refusing to cooperate”. And the bridge is not really “go up to go down” because it’s flat on the west end.

      8. Oh, and I’m not sure how you get your “additional mile and a half”. By my math, if you added a couple stations — one in South Lake Union and one at 23rd and Madison — it is an additional mile ( I can just see the folks in Snohomish County dismissing that route. “Oh my God, that looks terrible! Our riders will have to suffer with a fast and frequent connection to all of Madison along with a stop at South Lake Union that no one will ever use!”. Please.

        It should be obvious that a line like that would have been better for everyone. Just play it out. You eliminate the most congested part of the 8, replacing it with the a subway. You could move the 8 to use Boren instead, which would mean a straight shot towards Rainier Valley. The 48 just gets beefed up — if you want to go from the C. D. to the north end of the 8 you just transfer at 23rd and Madison to Link. Once Bertha gets done, the 8 will be able to move quickly over Aurora, which means that every trip that currently involves the 8 would be substantially faster and more reliable, while you add an entire new, frequent corridor to the system (Boren). All of this would be done 25 years before “Ballard Link” and there would be fewer transfers. It would also mean that Ballard Link really wouldn’t be necessary (Ballard to UW would serve Ballard) but if you wanted to add that, then it would include Belltown, the most neglected neighborhood in our system.

        It really isn’t about suburbs versus city — it is about having a vision and knowing what you are doing. Sound Transit lacks both.

    2. Larry, it makes as much sense to argue that the Interstate highway system was a waste of money because it just shifted passengers from mud-paved roads. Railroads? More legitimate gripe.

      But unlike the thousands of citizens a liberal Democratic President and Governor of California loaded on trains at bayonet-point in the 1940’s, nobody forcibly unloaded rail passengers to their new automobiles after the war.

      No excuse that bus service feeding UW station is so bad. But still faster, more reliable trip than 71-series ride downtown. Grand-scale, improved travel counts as a rescu,e not a kidnapping.


      1. Larry, Metro already answered your question.

        From the Metro Ridership page:

        “The preliminary average weekday ridership in November was 1.5% below last November. As we saw in October, the data suggests that riders are continuing to adjust their travel patterns to utilize the extension of Link Light Rail to Capitol Hill and the U-District. The routes most related to U-Link and the March service revisions are seeing ridership declines at a slightly faster rate than in the Spring. However, ridership growth in the frequent network of routes in Northeast Seattle that was established to help riders reach UW Station did offset much of the loss in ridership on routes that duplicate U-Link. On all other routes in the Metro system, ridership is up about 1.5% this fall.”

        Overall, Metro ridership is down by 6,000 people compared to last November. But Link ridership is up by 30,000 year over year, so overall the transit pie is getting bigger.

      2. Could some of the “transit pie getting bigger” be double-counting, as a result of people transferring from bus to train to go downtown, when it used to be just a bus?

      3. Or new trips being created. Even if zero new people are taking transit, surely some people are taking Link for a quick trip when previously car/bus would have been prohibitively expensive/time consuming

      4. We also need to look at the values behind the benchmarks. Some people say a train is only justified if it adds a lot of new transit riders or jump-starts neighborhood revitalization. But when there’s a large number of existing riders, improving the quality of their trip and giving them more mobility (so they can get to appointments easier) is a benefit in itself. We should start with, what’s the right level of mobility for a city this size, and in the downtown-CH-UW-Northgate corridor, and in the 4th corridor? The answer tells us what kind of transit we should have.

        We should aim for something like New York on a smaller scale, where people wait only 5-10 minutes, their train/bus goes at a respectable speed to all the neighboring urban villages, it’s not overcrowded, and they can get to their appointments and other occasions easily. That requires a subway in those corridors because there;’s not enough road space for that level of service, and in some other corridors it requires more transit lanes and signal priority than we’ve ever seen. So if somebody says, “That train didn’t generate any new transit riders”, the answer is, “It still has another important mission: improving the city’s mobility for the high-volume crows that does ride it.” And giving the option to bypass congestion, for those willing to use it.

      5. Or, moves the same riders more cheaply, so that bus service may be added elsewhere?

      6. No that’s not all new transit riders Chad.

        There are trips that used to be a one-seat ride on Metro that are now two seat-rides on Metro and Link. Just because there are more boardings does not mean that actually more people are being carried by transit in total.

      7. “There are trips that used to be a one-seat ride on Metro that are now two seat-rides on Metro and Link.”

        There are also trips that used to be two-seat rides on Metro that are now one-seat rides on Link. And bus+train trips that used to be bus+bus+bus. The number of useful one-seat rides will increase dramatically as Link is extended,. And beyond that, fast/reliable train trips with a short bus segment.

  4. With the opening of Angle Lake, has there been a little bit of mode switching from ST Express or Sounder to Link? I also note that Angle Lake ridership details have not been presented by ST yet.

    1. Angle Lake has 1,120 parking places. Even if every car carries 2 people, it would be background noise to the 66,000 that ride Link every weekday. Without doing an illegal pry into ORCA data or doing a survey of license plate origins, I don’t see how you would ever be able to tell.

      1. I’m more asking about the issue for Sounder and some ST Express ridership changes – not just for overall Link demand. It could be dampening Sounder South demand growth, for example.

      2. Some real-time experience, Glenn and Al S. When I moved from Ballard to Olympia three years ago, with a few personally chosen transfers, I had a hundred percent reliable ride to Downtown Seattle.

        IT (Thurston County Intercity Transit) Route 44 from home to Olympia Transit Center, 600-series express bus to coffee stop in Tacoma, Tacoma LINK to Tacoma Dome station, and Sounder to Seattle.

        Avoided 594 because 594 could never avoid I-5’s worst, either direction.
        But would sometimes ride ST 174 to LINK at Sea-Tac, for occasional stop at Beacon Hill on the way in. Return, pretty much same in reverse. Though if I had to be in Seattle anywhere near 7PM, safest to leave car at Tacoma Dome. One $50 dollar van ride was enough.

        Now: Forced to be on I-5 only between Mound Road just north of the Nisqually, and Dupont. First gate to the Fort, classified “Freeway-Free” route at least to Tacoma Dome garage. Then either Sounder or 574.

        But for about a month now, various roads, arterials, and streets through Tacoma, choice of bridges across the Port, some good avenues through Des Moines, and back way to Angle Lake. LINK to UW and all stops in between.

        2-lane country driving is my only recreation- is there a Prius rally-driving association, or just NASCAR and Lamborghini? So 60-mile occasional round trip to Freighthouse, tolerable. 100-mile Angle Lake RT- go see “Talladega Nights.” Still professional challenge.

        Insight about personal travel choice: “In love with their cars” isn’t quite right. It’s in-built animal hate and fear of being trapped. I’ll drive ten miles or more out of my way to avoid a quarter mile of freeway where the region’s worst single driver can imprison me for hours.

        Only comfort is that this million-years-old survival reflex is what’s already shifting people to transit- not gas-prices, car depreciation, and last-by-a-mile, the environment.

        Day before yesterday, smog-covered blue sky said “Shame!”


      3. I feel like Angle Lake is too far West to really impact Sounder. If it’s pulling any riders away, it would be people driving to park by the train, so that would just free up a Sounder parking spot for a new Sounder rider (eventually)

      4. If the parking lot at Angle Lake is filled with 1,120 single occupant cars that would represent 2,240 boardings or 3.38% of the daily average of 66,237 Link boardings. This garage is of sufficient size to impact ridership on the line.

        Although most of those riders are probably going one stop to Sea-Tac.

      5. “Although most of those riders are probably going one stop to Sea-Tac.”

        That’s an assumption like “all the riders are just shifting from Metro”. It needs some kind of counting to confirm. There was a large pent-up demand for Link from Angle Lake to Seattle, by people in Kent and Auburn who found TIB P&R full, liked the fact that Angle Lake was a few miles closer, and weren’t going to take a bus from home. One of them was a former STB member in Kent who was eagerly awaiting Angle Lake Station, another was an Auburn couple I met at the Mt Baker club who drove in because there was no P&R closer than TIB, and there must be others like them. People parking at Angle Lake as a remote airport lot en masse is a hypothetical that hasn’t been proven with real people yet.

      6. Even 4% is background fluctuation noise and would not be easy to single out without Station data.

  5. Once again ST Link carried more riders than all of STExpress combined – both in the month of November and in 2016 YTD.

    Link has really become the workhorse of Local transit. Can’t wait for NG-Link to open. When that opens Link has a good chance of surpassing Portland’s MAX in ridership, and Link will carry its riders faster and more efficiently.

    Congrats to ST and Link. Great numbers, great trendlines.

    1. Ridership per day:

      Metro — 394,000
      ST Express — 63,000
      Link — 66,000

      Which is the workhorse?

      1. RossB, check out, say 1920’s rush hour photographs of, respectively, Downtown Chicago buses and streetcars, Interurbans north, south, and west, and long distance passenger trains on the Milwaukee Road and the New York Central.

        Bet first category contained far and away most ridership. And also horses, none of them ridden by girls with perfectly matching posture and attitude. That was up across Howard Street- a major electric rail center- in Evanston.

        Where one of those girls’ fathers, bird gun, hunting-jacket, whiskey-flask and all, gave our nose-for-brains purebred Irish setter political asylum in 1949. After his escape from a notorious Communist family in Rogers Park.


      2. Your assertion belies the reality on the ground. Buses Stuck in Traffic do in fact carry a lot of people, but nowhere in the state is there a system that can match Link for the pure volume of people carried at high speed, high reliability, and good economics.

        Link now carries more people than all of STExpress, and Link carries about the same number of people as all the RapidRide lines COMBINED.

        And whereas Link ridership has been surging ahead in leaps and bounds, Metro ridership has been stagnant or actually declining. 2016 does not appear to have been a good year for Metro, but it would be laughable to say the same about Link. Simply stated, 2016 was a breakout year for Link.

        But I get it, some people just prefer buses. And there will always be a need for buses in low density, low demand areas. But buses just can’t match the speed, reliability, or efficiency of properly designed urban rail in dense urban areas. And as Seattle grows and gets denser the advantages of rail only multiply.

        So, ya, Link is a real workhorse. If you don’t believe it, then go back and review the by route data presented earlier on this blog. Then reflect on the fact that Link ridership is up 90%. Say want you want, but 90% is a big number

      3. RossB: from that data, Link is the workhorse.

        Remember, Link is one line and Metro is, like, thirty gazillion lines (I haven’t actually counted them). If Metro only ran 6 bus lines, your numbers would indicate that Metro was the workhorse. But it doesn’t.

      4. @Nathanial — Workhorse definition (from Webster): a person who performs most of the work of a group task

        The key word here is “most”. If you differentiate it as I did (by mode) then it is obvious that Metro carries *most* of the transit riders. You can focus on various aspects of each mode (the number of lines, which one cost billions of dollars to build, etc.) but you can’t really call Link a workhorse when it carries a small fraction of the number of transit riders that Metro does.

        Speaking of fractions: Sorry, Lazarus, but 90% is not a number. It is a ratio. It means that ridership increased substantially when we finally built the most important part of the system we will ever build. This is no surprise, really. It is what anyone who knows anything about transit would expect. But given the fact that less than 70,000 people ride this thing, it merely means that we started with very low ridership. I’ve been working out and I can now do ten push ups, which is much better than my old record of five. But that still doesn’t make me the next Charles Atlas.

        We’ve spent billions on this thing, have done some major restructuring (the 71/72/73 no longer go downtown) and even with all that, we simply don’t have high ridership for an urban system. Even for light rail we are low. We aren’t even top ten ( To be clear, the info is out of date. We are #14 now. Big deal. Look at some of the light rail systems that are above us. Muni Metro (S. F.), San Diego Trolley, Max, even DART. Yes, DART, arguably the worst transit system ever built (for the municipality) exceeds us in ridership. Most of these cities spent way less on their system. Guess who else is above us? Boston. Not the subway mind you — that carries 560,000 people (that’s what a workhorse looks like, Nathanael) — but their measly little light rail line. It is only 6 miles longer than ours, yet it carries 223,000 riders a day. Why is that? This isn’t the key part of their system (again, that is their heavy rail). The thing isn’t a work of art, running like clockwork (far from it). The city of Boston isn’t huge (really not much bigger than us). Why does their system carries so many more people than ours, despite being only a bit longer?

        Because it has lots and lots of stops in the city. 74 to be exact. We have 16 total. Of course a good chunk of those were stations that Link simply inherited from King County, which had the good sense to add a bunch of stations downtown (I wonder sometimes what the transit tunnel would have looked like if ST built it — maybe three stations or so). Anyway, the problem is that Sound Transit has simply ignored density, ignored proximity, and ignored geography. It has failed to add the proper number of stops in the city, while it focuses on trying to reproduce the failures of BART and DART. When it had the opportunity to build the most important tunnel it will ever build, it simply blew it. No First Hill station and basically nothing for the Central Area. That is a whole lot of urban density that Link simply skipped. Oops.

        Just look at a little back of the napkin sketch I threw together ( This is by no means an ideal light rail line, but one I threw together. It would make sense as our first line. For about the cost of what we have now (probably a lot less) folks from all over lower Queen Anne would have a fast two seat ride to Capitol Hill and the U-District. Remember, after Bertha is done, the 8 will cross Aurora via Harrison (probably in its own lane) all the way to Fairview. Meanwhile, everyone who rides Link (from every direction) could get to various places in the Central Area very easily. Not only on 23rd and Madison, but on 15th. This means that not only is it easy to get to Group Health, but it also means that we finally run a bus line down 15th/14th, connecting Swedish Cherry Hill to Group Health (and Link). Guess what? The Central Area finally has a grid! Oh, and the 8? After crossing Aurora, and going to Fairview, it no longer needs to get on Denny (Link could take it from there). Instead it would head south, on Boren, providing a different (much faster) set of one seat rides that actually complements the fast light rail line.

        That would be just one of the many bus restructures, that would actually get people excited. No longer are people freaking out, trying hard not to rob Peter while paying Paul. You simply run buses in obvious directions, and suddenly everyone can get anywhere they want in the area very quickly. Every benefit I mentioned, by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with South Lake Union actually growing. That is simply a bonus, as the big benefit is that you have more urban stops and way better connections to fast bus service. It could have been done this way, but folks had other priorities.

        But what would have that meant for the region? For starters, bus ridership would actually go up! Of course it would. You’ve moved the 8 away from the most congested spots, and connected it really well to your subway line. Anyone who wants to get from the UW (or places north) to anywhere in the greater Central Area (Capitol Hill, First Hill, etc.) or South Lake Union would be able to do so very easily. People who used to drive from lower Queen Anne to the U-District would simply take a fast bus, then a faster train. The light rail system actually complements the fast parts of your bus system, instead of replacing them. Again, this probably would have been cheaper than what we have now (and a lot cheaper than what we are building).

        Which is why it is ridiculous that you think decreasing Metro ridership numbers is good news. It is scary. Again, we’ve just built the most important line in our system; the old fast buses have been removed; Metro has taken those savings and added a lot more frequency all over the place; and ridership is down! That is terrible. This is a system with very wide spacing that is largely dependent on bus to rail transfers (how else are you going to get to the train station) and yet bus ridership is down!

        But I get it, some people just prefer buses. And there will always be a need for buses in low density, low demand areas.

        No, you don’t get it. People don’t prefer buses. They take buses because they have to. They take buses because even now — after spending billions on a line remarkably close to their apartment, it does nothing for them. Because the rail line is not focused on serving the high density areas. Belltown, Lower Queen Anne, the Central Area (really densely populated ares) are ignored while we focus on the likes of Angle Lake or Shoreline. The density maps aren’t really that hard to read — Link simply ignores them.

        Finally, I don’t know why you keep fixating on ST Express. ST Express is tiny compared to Metro. So what if Link is now performing better than ST Express. That is an arbitrary group of buses, similar to Nathanial’s “If Metro only had six buses” idea (by the way, Nathanial — the top six Metro buses do actually carry more riders than Link’s two rail lines).

        But let’s look at ST Express a bit more, especially in the context of ST3. Keep in mind, Link just built a light rail line that replaced the 71/72/73. Those buses carried a lot of people, and now Link carries a lot of people. Soon Link will replace some of the other Metro routes (41, 76, etc.) as well as the most popular ST Express buses (550, 545). I would expect ridership to be high because the bus ridership was high. But what about ST3? Much of ST3 is suburban. Very suburban. For a lot of the areas, the ST Express buses do all the work. That is why I find it bizarre that you are excited about low ridership on those buses. Again, up to now, ridership has pretty much followed existing bus service, yet you are giddy because light rail will now replace routes that only carry a handful of people.

        Everything up to now has gone exactly as anyone with any experience or knowledge of transit would predict. Densely populated areas close to the central city have high ridership. But you are ignoring the fact that most of what we are building with ST3 won’t provide that, and hoping that magically — because it is rail — ridership from places like Fife and Ash Way will be the same as if we had stops in First Hill or Belltown.

  6. Anyone know when the bus ridership info will be releaseed? Would be really interesting to know ridership on E line, 44, etc

  7. Sounder struggles simply because of the lack of parking/transit options from key areas to the stations. If Metro and PT got a joint plan together and actually surveyed passengers, they’d be able to increase the ridership far more than it is today.

    1. Brian, when I moved to Olympia three years ago this week, Seattle was an enjoyable two hour all-transit trip, literally door to door. Now, if I’m don’t leave the Transit Center on ST Express 592 at 5:42 AM, for a reliable Seattle arrival I have to driver fifty miles to Angle Lake and ride LINK north.

      From worst possible close-range observation, the only course of action that won’t take decades – other than very-high-speed hydrofoil ferries – is to put Sounder into present station at Lacey. When track and switches are ready for Amtrak trains through Lakewood, I can’t see any reason that Sounder trains can’t do the same.

      What’s realistic rail time from Dupont? Twenty minutes? And by my car’s odometer and clock, should be 25 minute max express bus ride to Olympia Transit Center. Of course there’ll have to be IT routes from other centers. And definitely parking facilities. But lot or home, every rush hour car parked is by definition not on I-5.

      Considering irrevocably bad and worsening traffic on I-5, I think that by now there’ll soon be enough demand (understatement) to overcome any County or Agency-level resistance.

      Since I live an easy walk from The Dome and have also had one letter to The Olympian published and two minutes’ public comment to the City Council and even the Mayor, I think I owe this cause a lot more. So anything you can pass along here about railroading details, please put another comment here.

      Suggestions about the politics also appreciated, but I really think the more I know about railroad operations, the more persuasive I’ll be.

      Many thanks.

      Mark Dublin

      1. Sounder to Lacey is a pretty decent idea. It would need permission from BNSF (more traffic on the mainline) and some layover tracks at Lacey.

        Actually, BNSF would probably ask for a third track at Lacey. This allows them to keep the freight trains trundling through while the passenger trains are stopped. Freight trains don’t like to start or stop.

        It would be *better* to restore direct service to *downtown* Olympia, even by the current roundabout route, but that would cost more money.

        You know my long-term opinion: the demolished Northern Pacific branch to Olympia should be rebuilt. You can still *see* the trackbed — it’s a “trail” now. Run Sounder down that line, stop at Marvin Road, Downtown Lacey, downtown Olympia.

  8. Are they inconsistent across days of the month designations between years? In the report November 2015 was listed as having six Sundays and November 2016 as having four. I’m assuming the sixth “Sunday” is actually Thanksgiving, but then November 2016 should have five.

    If Sundays had had a higher increase then that would make sense, but it went the opposite way.

  9. Congrats to Sound Transit, this is totally awesome the link gaining in ridership.

    I’m hoping the Sound Transit Citizen Oversight Panel will in 2017 make a “Recommendation for benchmarks on Sounder North”. I can understand why this was put off in 2016, but quite frankly Sounder North needs some benchmarks.

  10. “Sounder struggles”? No. Sounder North struggles. Sounder South appears to be doing fine despite a TON of delays in recent months due to track upgrades. In fact, despite a constant headaches and delays related to the track work in Auburn, Sounder South saw a 0.4% increase in ridership. Not bad.

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