Sound Transit has released their May Ridership Report and Link is still going strong, up 11.9%.

Average daily ridership for Link in May was:

  • Weekday: 73,208 (+11.9%)
  • Saturday: 54,273 (+17.1%)
  • Sunday: 42,497 (+16.5%)

Other weekday modal ridership stats:

  • Sounder: 16,970 (+0.6%)
  • Tacoma Link: 3,570 (+3.6%)
  • ST Express: 65,853 (-0.8%)
  • Sound Transit Systemwide, +5.0% Weekday, +8.9% Total Boardings

My charts below the fold:

32 Replies to “May 17 Sound Transit Ridership – Still Strong”

  1. Remember this?

    “Assumes a growth rate of 13.5% each year for the next 19 years…unreasonable”

    Well we’re about 3 years ahead of that growth target now, with Northgate/East Link/Lynnwood yet to come online, and the fleet expansion beginning some time next year. We’re capped at our current train capacity, and yet we’re still beating Sound Transit’s expectations.

    Any bets for 2030 ridership?

    1. I would guess that once Northgate Link opens in 2021, monthly ridership will be between 90-100K. That also assumes a ridership-favorable restructure. I suspect that another 10-20K in natural growth of same-station pairs will appear by 2025.

      East Link will probably add about 40K (or 20K station boardings) more by 2025. Lynnwood and Federal Way will be doing well to add 25K each (or 12.5K station boardings) by 2025.

      That would put ridership about 200K (+/- 20K) by 2025.

      2030 is a bit harder to predict, as routes to West Seattle and Tacoma should open about then. Local operators and cities will have had time to restructure more bus routes and add better TOD and station access. Driverless assistance may also be functional by then, at least partially.

      A final comment is that all of the ST expansion pages have ridership, but it’s not clear what’s counted twice. ST should be answering the systems total question in addition to the segment forecasts.

      1. Certainly around the upcoming Roosevelt Station there’s an absolute frenzy of replacing single family homes with midrise (much with little to no parking), so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Northgate Link do quite well.

        While there are places in the country where light rail has been over time, over budget, and under ridership projections, Seattle hasn’t been one of them, not at all.

    2. The Auditor’s report sources say that ST forecasts 86.5 million annual riders by 2030. My quick (and pretty reasonable, given current parallel bus ridership and similar stations) forecast would be about 60-65 million by 2025. The 86.5 million is optimistic but still reasonable by 2030 even without ST3 projects.

      I’ll observe that the authors of the Auditor’s report don’t fully understand that many of these transit trips are just shifting to ST and not that the additional demand will come from mostly new riders. They look quite inept and biased.

      1. That was the purpose of Link though, to deliver mobility in high-volume corridors more efficiently and reliably. That includes both existing bus riders and new transit riders. As any corridor becomes high-volume — especially if it has physical bottlenecks like waterways and hills and narrow roads that require creating new right-of-way — it should be converted to rail, regardless of whether it adds new-to-transit riders. Because serving the existing volume of people is also important, and contributes to the city’s overall efficiency and mobility.

      2. Does anyone have any evidence that bus ridership is anywhere losing passengers because of LINK? Or LINK passengers who wish they had their buses back on their former routes? I doubt it.

        Of course bus feeder service has to be adjusted for “fit”. Like for any new machine. But good chance that these details are hard to read precisely because Seattle is growing so rapidly that there are more people going everywhere, and doing everything.

        Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, nothing I can stand. With a few exceptions for people and their work and creations, I hate the money-choked stagnation Seattle has become. And regret whatever work of mine encouraged its creation.

        None of my young passengers who used to ride my favorite electric route, the Route 7 can ever afford to live in Columbia City. Any more than I’ll ever be able to live in Ballard again. Or particularly want to.


  2. Link is gaining passengers faster than rents are rising in Seattle. In the 1970s when inflation was rising at 10% that was a very big deal. US economic growth is around 1-2%. Congratulations Link.

  3. Excited for more and more Link growth. There’s a lot* of apartment housing being built along the MLK corridor (finally!) which will keep adding to the numbers for the stations down here.

    * “a lot” being a very personal observation, as we probably still aren’t building enough housing, but there is way more activity and building going on around Rainier Beach (new condos/apartments right across from the station), Othello (Mercy housing, new Assembly 118 complex), and Columbia City.)

    1. Rainier Valley seemed to have stalled a couple years ago in terms of development. A lot of empty lots with not much going on. It is nice to see things moving again, and new homes being built. It is interesting to see various neighborhoods and the way the growth seems to occur in fits and starts. Lake City was growing rapidly, seemed to stall, but now is churning away at a fairly steady pace. Of course, a lot of places simply have to wait for the comment period to end before they actually start construction.

  4. Pedantic comment about writing numbers. If a number is between -1 and +1, could you please put the leading 0? The decimal point is so small it’s easy to miss, and the -.8% growth for ST Express looks like -8%. While -0.8% is much more clear.

    More on topic, I agree with others that it would be good to know how much of this is actual growth and how much is riders who used to ride Metro before the restructure. I suppose what I’d like to see would be the numbers with Metro and ST combined.

    But even that might overcount Link. If someone used to take the 71 from Wedgwood to downtown and now takes the 65 to Link, do they count as both a Metro rider and a Link rider even though it’s still 1 journey?

    1. +1 on the leading zero.

      In terms of the double count, doesn’t that happen now with any transfer? Metro -> metro, metro -> link, etc.?

    2. Accounting for the riders who changed from busses still doesn’t tell the whole story. If hypothetically all “new” Link riders came from busses, and those riders’ commute times improved by 25-50% and their commutes became more reliable, it is still a huge net improvement from the user’s perspective (pretty hard to get data to quantify, though!). Remember the downtown area has a majority non-SOV commute share, so even if it’s just downtown commuters who saw quicker travel times, still an improvement. Especially in light of what SDOT has done in an effort to save drivers a few minutes on Mercer (and even that was only in the morning peak). But I kind of doubt those people packed onto Link from IDC to University ST were previously all fitting in busses.

      1. Related to this is that it’s also cheaper to drive a train that can go an extra 10-20 more miles each hour (by moving much faster) than to drive a bus because an agency can operate at the same frequency with fewer vehicles. On top of that, it’s cheaper per rider to drive a three-car standing-room-only train carrying 400 to 450 riders compared to a standing-room-only bus carrying 60 to 90 riders.

        In other words, even if there wasn’t a single new rider, the improved travel time and reliability for riders and the improved efficiency of more riders per driver are a significant public benefit!

      2. All that is true, but overall transit ridership is a decent metric. You could easily build a system that would get people moving from bus to rail, where no one actually has a faster ride (streetcars, anyone?) but that probably wouldn’t be very popular. Which means that overall transit ridership wouldn’t increase. At the same time, in various areas, you might make transit significantly faster, yet people still choose to drive (or they mostly took the bus). In that case, it would be a significant improvement, but you would see no increase in ridership. The old standard that used to be required of all transit agencies seeking grants was basically time saved per potential commuter multiplied by the number of commuters divided by the cost of the improvement. But absent sophisticated metrics, total transit ridership is much better than simply looking at one mode.

    3. The units on the graphs are boardings (and in Link it would tap ons), not people, so yes, in that example above the trip would be 1 Link boarding and 1 Metro boarding.

      If you ran a errand on Cap Hill between Westlake and HSS, that would count as two boardings – tap on, tap off, tap on, tap off.

      I’m certain that ST has an average conversion between boardings and people that they use for internal estimates. All I can tell you is that’s not 1=1.

      1. Its not like we measure SOV usage based on how many lanes a single person uses or how many trips they make in a day.

        Why does transit require extra accountability?

        Its getting used a lot, and the trains are pretty full that’s what matters.

      2. Charles, it’s not comparable. The public doesn’t pay private drivers to drive on our roads no matter how many people are in the vehicle. Because the public subsidizes transit driver salaries, it’s an extra consideration appropriate for accountability.

      3. @Al S

        We subsidize the construction and maintainence of the freeway reguardless of how many vehicles are on how many people are in each vehicle per ton or where the vehicles are going from or to.

        We subsidize tranaportation as a public good.

        Trying to break down who uses what mode for what purpose is frankly a bit absurd. Counting the number of boardings is more than sufficient for measuring usage and is equivalent to the counters we use on roads to measure vehicle usage.

      4. It is also important to monitor things within a transit system to make sure that transit resources are equitably distributed. Consider the background issues presented in the successful Tutle VI lawsuit brought by the Bus Riders Union in Los Angeles, with severe bus overcrowding in poor areas was terrible, while nicer parts of town had no standing passengers. It’s very important to measure equity within the transit system.

  5. Al S. “The public doesn’t pay private drivers to drive on our roads”?
    Please have a look at the tax code and zoning regulations…

    1. I am not referring to the costs of sprawl. I am merely responding to the concept of a reasonable accountability of public employee utilization that needs more than user fees (fares) to pay for itself on a day-to-day basis.

      Sure the public pays to build roads (recovered in theory with gas taxes until recently), but those are lumpy expenses to increase capacity and not incremental costs that directly vary on a daily basis by demand.

      If you can come up with a method to measure SOV driver hour costs to the public on a daily basis, let us know!

  6. For future ridership and everything concerning transit, most important question should be how we organize ourselves to be flexible enough to handle a wide variety of conditions.

    Might want to check our present condition compared to what we planned for in 2004.

    Mark Dublin

  7. Let me point out (again) that the many voters for Sound Move in 1996 were told that there would be 105,000 daily weekday riders in 2010 with light rail operating starting in 2006 between Angle Lake and U District, acknowledging now the new station names. This was said in the 1996 campaign to be a conservative forecast that was most likely going to be beat by a lot.

    The early forecasts are apparently not going to be beat by a lot. Maybe by a little?

    Jumping for joy in 2017 over any forecast less than 110,000 per day in 2021 after Northgate finally opens, two stops beyond U District, is sad given the investment in time and money it has taken to get that light rail spine built. Why are light rail ridership expectations not growing along with growth in employment and population?

    1. I wasn’t in Seattle then, but the 1996 Sound Move assumptions appear to have included light rail all the way to Northgate (not just the U-District) — as well as added First Hill and South Center stations. Adding the Northgate segment will likely add 15-20K total ridership (7.5-10K boardings) and the two unbuilt stations would surely have provided another 20K in riders (10K more boardings) on a weekday. At least that’s the light rail proposal that I see on line. Adding these to the 73K listed here is 103K, which is pretty dang close to the 105K in Sound Moves — and this is only the May data! In other words, had the Sound Move light rail been fully operational today (2017), it would likely be around 108K to 113K.

      1. That’s not white right:
        “The RTA has identified reliable funding sources for building the light-rail line between the University District and SeaTac (South 200th Street). The RTA expects to find, and will aggressively seek, additional funding
        sources to build the segment of the light-rail line between the University District and Northgate. If additional funds are not found, the University District to Northgate segment
        will not be built. If voters authorize additional capital programs after the ten-year system plan is otherwise in place, this segment will
        be the first to be built under the new program.”

        It became apparent early on that the plan would be to build the light rail system between 45th Street station in the U-District and SeaTac.

        The 105,000 projection was for that segment and by 2010.

        Since the fiasco of Sound Move, ST has played a game of moving the goal posts and practicing revisionism.

      2. Conservatively allowing for 7K more boardings at First Hill and another 7K leaving, and 6K more boarding in the U-District and another 6K leaving, and 3K at SouthCenter and 3K leaving, that would be 32K more riders,

        32+73 =105K.

        That’s not even accounting for the assumed Sound Move stations at Boeing Access Road and at Convention Place.

        I just don’t see any problem with these forecasts except the year! I’ll even note that they appear to be 4 years after opening (and it’s only been a year for U-Link).

        I’ve been known to give ST a hard time about not disclosing forecast details well and many other things. Still, I don’t really see any technical inaccuracies with the 1996 forecasting work — even though that construction schedule was ridiculous and some stations that were planned were cut.

    2. Good point, John. I think the excitement over the numbers just shows how unfamiliar and some would say, provincial we are. The excitement reminds me of the Sounder soccer team. Yes, those guys are decent soccer players, but anyone in Europe would wonder why a city this size is excited about a second (or maybe third) division team. Despite the fact that the nearest big city is actually a very good model for public transportation, we seem to think that we are the first city to build a modern subway system from scratch. Maybe because they are in a different country, eh? So we fret when the numbers aren’t big, then jump for joy when they actually increase, and think it is because we are doing everything right. We aren’t.

      The main reason that the numbers jumped so much is because we simply added two station. Two. Yet those two stations happened to be:

      1) In a densely populated area.
      2) Close to the heart of town.

      Not exactly rocket science. It isn’t as if Sound Transit fixed all the problems that caused ridership to be relatively low, or that somehow people fell in love with Link, it is just that ST finally built the piece that should have been built first. Dave Earling — then chair of Sound Transit — proposed a line that went from Capitol Hill to Henderson Street and would carry about 60,000 passengers daily. “This is clearly the one that offers the highest ridership,” he said.*

      Of course the numbers for that particular line (if done properly) would probably greatly exceed 60,000, given the ridiculously high growth in both urban population and traffic in the area. That doesn’t mean we should pat ourselves on the back, especially since this was supposed to be build a long time ago. Nor does it mean that future light rail — to more distant and far less urban areas — will magically get the ridership numbers that ST suggested. When you really look at it, we are a city with a second division (association) football club, and a second division transit system. That is all good and well, except we unfortunately are paying first division prices. To mix sports metaphors, we are the Brooklyn Nets of transit.


    3. Thank you for reminding the “new” arrivals here about ST’s history of overpromising and underdelivering. Yes, 105,000 daily weekday boardings by 2006 is what we were sold as part of the Sound Move package we were asked to vote on. I have to laugh each time I hear a representative or ST supporter boast about the ridership numbers and the U-Link extension being under budget and delivered early. With the original north terminus of 45th Street in the U-District not opening until 2021, that would mean it’s 15 years late.

      1. If you’re going to be that precise, it’s going to be even further late – we haven’t heard any date at all for the originally-promised First Hill station.

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