Last week Sound Transit released its 2nd Quarter ridership numbers. While agency ridership was up 6.8% overall over the same quarter last year, that masked a lot of variance. Link was up 14.5% (over a quarter that had U-Link stations but not Angle Lake), but ST Express actually dropped 0.6%, a setback ST blames on low gas prices. Sounder was up a modest 1.6%.

Weekday Link boardings were up to 73,907. The line was just short of 6 million boardings for the quarter. The average train had 233 boardings on a single run.

The three most popular stations are Westlake, UW, and Capitol Hill, in that order. Rainier Beach, Stadium, and Sodo have the fewest weekday boardings.

41 Replies to “ST Q2 2017 Ridership Report”

  1. The jump in boardings at Capitol Hill Station by 23.5 percent is powerful, in contrast to a much flatter 5.6 percent at UW. I suspect that while students switch transit paths quickly, other residents take more time to switch.

    It’s also notable that Capitol Hill Station boardings have now surpassed the Aurport and have jumped much further ahead of University Street and IDC stations.

    1. There are a ton of people riding Link between Capitol Hill and UW (and also downtown). During peak evening rush hour, southbound 3-car trains are filling to standing room at UW and half the train exits at Capitol Hill with an equivalent number getting on to continue south. This is without classes in session.

      I think it’s gaining momentum because for UW students/employees, large sections of North Seattle no longer offer the commute or price advantage that they used to. There are UW grad students living in Columbia City now.

      To me it signals the tremendous potential of additional Link routes within Seattle such as Ballard-UW and Metro 8. It also signals that overcrowding will likely become a major issue between UW and Westlake after Northgate Link opens. We need to start pushing the idea of an additional elevated line along Aurora to bypass UW.

    2. I’ve posted for quite awhile that the highest ridership segment in the ST3 system is between Westlake and Capitol Hill, as shown in ST2 documents. It’s shown on page 2-11 of this document:

      ST has not released a similar diagram for ST3. ST3 appears to make this overcrowding worse as the LQA and SLU tripmakers will ride the new rail line to Westlake to head north.

      Just two days ago, I even suggested moving the northern Link transfer station from Westlake to Capitol Hill and described how to do it on another post. No one showed much interest.

      Some have advocated for buying vehicles that allow for riders to walk between vehicles which can add also a bit to capacity and allow a rider move from a jammed car into a less jammed one.

      I guess not enough people smell the coffee (or the smell of riders – some with takeout food – in a jammed light rail car) yet.

  2. is it just me, or does it look like Angle Lake Stn is taking riders from Seatac and TIBS?

    1. It implies that at least 1000 people at day were accessing Sea-Tac/Airport station for non-airport reasons, and have now switched to Angle Lake. This surprises me. Paying airport parking rates to commute into Seattle? Walking up from the surrounding neighborhood using the staircase at Intl Blvd & 176th? Being dropped of at that corner, and now being dropped off at Angle Lake instead?

      (I’m referring to the table of boardings at each Link stop in the linked performance report.)

      1. The airport offers game day parking, so maybe is some of those getting displaced, averaged over time?

    2. The SeaTac street elevator has been on and off but mostly off. So people who won’t or can’t use the stairs are getting off at other stations, and sometimes taking the A to SeaTac.

      How much has the parking space fullness changed at TIB?

    3. That is precisely what ST said is the situation. To quote the document:

      The decline in average weekday boardings at SeaTac Airport station is attributed to the station no longer being the southern terminus. Many boardings that were previously seen at TIBS and SeaTac are now occurring further south at Angle Lake.

      Sounds reasonable to me. This also shows how ridiculous it is to provide so much free parking. People are using it, certainly, but prior to that, people either paid for parking at SeaTac, or were dropped off.

      I will be curious to see detailed numbers. Specifically I want to know how many people are getting off at SeaTac on the northbound train. I could easily see a savvy person parking at Angle Lake, and then commuting to SeaTac. That would be cheaper than Wally Park (or any other parking lot).

      1. You make an interesting point. What protocols does ST have in place so that parking at Angle Lake doesn’t become long term parking for outbound SeaTac travelers (in lieu of off-site places like Wally Park or the one that has come to dominate IB, Master Park)?

      2. “Can I leave my car for as long as I want and for any purpose?

        At most lots signs indicate the maximum allowable parking time, usually 48 hours. Maximum parking periods are enforced by law, and violators may be towed.

        Park and ride lots are intended to serve the community by providing a convenient, safe transfer area for transit, carpool and vanpool passengers, cyclists and pedestrians.”

        I know that doesn’t quite answer the question — I can’t tell you how well that is enforced.

      3. When I arrived at SeaTac from a plane flight in mis-afternoon a few weeks ago, I saw a large number of low-wage SeaTac employees headed south to Angle Lake.

        I think it’s partly because Link does not run early enough, so workers drive to Angle Lake in the mornings and ride Link one station to work once it opens.

      4. What portion of airport workers do you think live directly along Link anyway?

        I have no idea what the airport’s employee parking situation is; if a lot of people are P&R-ing from Angle Lake then that must be less expensive, more convenient, or more available than the employee parking! That’s about the same thing you’d say about any employer that people P&R to, ‘eh?

      5. I have to park my car at a P&R when relatives come to visit, since I’m more able-bodied than they are, and it’s marked as 72 hour limit and I go up every 3 days or so for two weeks and move it to a different spot in the same building, and I’ve never gotten a ticket or warning of any kind (and I always back in so my car’s a bit more noticeable than most). I suspect they’re not very well-policed at all.

  3. The lowest boarding average for any station is 1983 and that is the only one below 2100. There are seven between 2100 and 3000. That’s actually pretty great for a light rail system. and it demonstrates pretty even utility in every lower volume station now in the system.

    1. Yeah, that is unusual. I think our long stop spacing has something to do with it. Our ridership per mile is not great, but our ridership per station is pretty good. It is kind of like the difference between Muni Metro and BART. Muni actually has higher ridership per mile (4,602 versus 4,290) despite the slow running times. Yet BART has way higher ridership per station, because the stations are so spread out. With BART, the worst performing station is Oakland, the only station below 2,500. So they, too, have very few really poor performing stations. To put it another way, despite all their problems, Muni manages to have very high ridership per mile because they have so many stations in an urban area.

      I also think the particulars of our system keep the bottom from dropping out. I am a bit surprised that SoDo does as well as it does (there just doesn’t seem to be much down there). But with the rest of the stations, the numbers make sense. I think that has something to do with the fact that this is a hybrid system (like BART) but without the long distance trips into the suburbs (yet). There is a very big gap between Tukwila and Rainier Beach, making it operate more like commuter rail (fast). You typically see a drop off in suburban stations as you move further out, and that was the case with Tukwila. But that speed advantage prevented it from dropping off too much. Meanwhile, the next station is the airport (and a booming airport at that). So again, the drop-off wasn’t that much, as Link was extended south. The new terminus (at Angle Lake) is — like all termini — reasonably popular.

      My guess is if we end up with some stations that are really low, they will be in the south sound. As you move further south, you lose the speed advantages (with the additional stops). But more to the point, even if is reasonably fast, it is still a really long trip. There are only so many people that will commute that long. Making matters worse, there is very little before you get there (unlike the north end, where you have the UW). You have the airport, but even that doesn’t generate huge numbers. You have about 6,000 riders going there, and that is from a line that has four downtown stops, a fast connection to the UW, and several other stops along the way. My guess is that ridership for a stop like Star Lake will be close to 1,000, with most of those riders taking the long slog into the city.

      1. Sorry, I should have said that the worst performing station for BART is the Oakland airport. Obviously stations in Oakland perform really well. Of the top ten stations, two are in Oakland, one is in Berkeley, and the rest are in San Fransisco. My guess is Oakland stations — even with the poor one at the airport — average more riders than any city other than San Fransisco.

    2. “With BART, the worst performing station is Oakland”

      Oakland City Center? Is it less of a city center than its name imples? Are the Oakland stations so close together that the other stations are diverting part of the walkshed?

      The main story in south King County is pent-up demand. Before Link people drove downtown, then they drove to TIB, and now they drive to Angle Lake. It won’t stabilize until Federal Way comes online because I’ve met people from Auburn that drove to TIB at the time and are waiting for Federal Way. So most of the P&Rs will be well-used, but one or two of them may get an eventual drop. It will be interesting to see how much Metro’s long-term network changes things. We might assume that KDM, Star Lake, and Federal Way will perform like Angle Lake (plus people going to Highline CC and switching from the Federal Way expresses), and that anything above that will be due to Metro’s feeders and more frequent grid.

      “I am a bit surprised that SoDo does as well as it does”

      The onesies and twosies must add up. I use SODO for Costco and rare excursions to Sears, Probably a lot of people commute to the scattered industrial jobs, and Angle Lake may be boosting that.

      I expect 145th to be pathetic (besides the BRT transfers), and the Issaquah-ish stations, and Star Lake and Fife. Snohomish County will probably hold up, because the population is more centered around it, the fewer highway alternatives, and more competitive travel time. Maybe you and I can ride to Everett someday and see how well those stations are doing.

  4. The airport station actually had a drop of 14% year over year. i wonder if that’s due to the trains being crowded leaving weslake, meaning people who could afford the Lyft/Uber fee went that route instead of crowding onto the train with their baggage.

    Is there another explanation?

  5. I noticed that the Federal Way Link document forecasts 36,500 ridership for three additional stations.

    That’s 18,300 boardings or an average of 6,100 per station. That average is higher than the Airport Station in the ridership report and 70 percent higher than Angle Lake is in this report. Is this reasonable for the station activity forecast, now that we have this real-world reporting as a source for comparison?

    1. The forecasts only make sense in a world of network effects. Each additional station that opens makes all other stations more useful. (This explains the jump in usage of Stadium & Sodo stations since the opening of U-Link) However, given the >40 minute travel to downtown from these stations, it is hard to picture extensions to Lynnwood and Bellevue driving higher boardings in Federal Way. Now, the ST3 extension to Tacoma could do the trick, since there would be destinations in each direction. It is hard to see 36,500 boardings in this segment from ST2 alone.

      1. Just a thought, how many people work at the airport, including surrounding businesses, and where do those people live? How do they currently get to work? That is one piece of the puzzle.

        Another piece of the puzzle: as housing affordability in Seattle and Bellevue gets worse, more of the people not earning top dollar will be displaced to Federal Way, Kent, and other outlying areas. This coupled with Federal Way and Kent’s openness to high-rise development and dense housing could be the other key. This makes a commute more feasible. There are no signals that anything meaningful is being done to address housing affordability in Seattle.

      2. I think what’s driving the “high” ridership on the Fed Way extension is the combination of large parking garages with 2 stations, the massive TOD potential at 2 of the stations, and Federal Way’s own downtown plan that they’re executing.

        Commuters from Pierce will siphon into both stations with parking garages, and densification is beginning to intensify in the urban core of Fed Way.

        Basically there’s a lot of good stuff happening down there that will continue for the next 10-20 years.

    2. “The forecasts only make sense in a world of network effects. Each additional station that opens makes all other stations more useful.”

      That’s something people miss when they say thaf after the next Northgate boost, each additional extension will have diminishing returns. But it’s not just commuters to downtown but also people going the U-District and everywhere else along Link. So the Federal Way extension will not just benefit Federal Way to downtown but Federal Way to UW, and vice-versa. Maybe nothing will equal the U-Link and North Link boosts, but that doesn’t mean each one will get progressively smaller either.

      1. But you really haven’t added anything for someone headed from Federal Way to the UW. If you wanted to do that trip right now, you would have to transfer. But most of the time you would get there just as fast, if not faster than taking the train from Federal Way.

        A better example is looking at the stops along the way. Now folks in Federal Way will be able to get to places like Rainier Valley and Tukwila much faster. Unfortunately, I don’t think very many people are headed to Rainier Valley from Federal Way, and those that are won’t be tempted to go there, even when the train is added. That is because it is still a long trip.

        That makes it different than in the city. A lot of people do take trips within the city, to places like Capitol Hill, Northgate and Rainier Valley. This is because, even if it isn’t for work, going there is reasonably convenient and fast (or will be with Link). Northgate to Capitol Hill will be 11 minutes, which is why I will visit Capitol Hill a lot more often.

        As with U-Link, extensions with the city benefit everyone, in a way that extensions to the suburbs don’t. Getting to the UW from everywhere is easier now, and that, in and of itself, is probably more important for someone coming from Federal Way than extending Link that far south. The 577/578 + Link is much faster than the 577/578 + 71/72/73, while a one seat ride on Link is again not much faster than the 577/578 + Link.

        As Link moves farther north, you have similar benefits up to Northgate. After that, you do have diminishing returns. You just don’t have that many people headed from Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace or even Lynnwood to another stop in Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace or Lynnwood. If not for the fact that Northgate (without substantial investment in HOV lanes and ramps) is difficult to get to, it would make a fine terminus. Since Lynnwood does have HOV lanes and ramps, it is fine as a terminus.

        At that point, though, you will have very little in the way of additional overall ridership as you move farther north from there. Express buses to Lynnwood will be just about as fast (if not faster) and the point to point trips along the way are simply not very popular. There just aren’t that many people going from Ash Way to Mariner for example. Even Ash Way to Lynnwood has very low ridership — a whopping 22 trips a day (15 on, 7 off) occur on the 511 between Lynnwood and Ash Way. Everett to Ash Way isn’t much better, with 62 trips a day occurring (and that’s for all of the Everett stops — South Everett, Broadway, Everett Station, etc.). It is better than Evergreen Way to Eastmont though. That averages one — just one — rider per day.

      2. “But you really haven’t added anything for someone headed from Federal Way to the UW. If you wanted to do that trip right now, you would have to transfer.”

        You take the 197 if the timing is compatible. That stops at KDM P&R, Star Lake, Federal Way, and southwest Federal Way, so basically everything south of SeaTac. Not only is the schedule limited but the freeway traffic is unpredictable. When I took the 71/72/73X every day (not in the express lanes), at least one or twice a week it would be 10-15 minutes late, and once or twice a month it would be 20-60 minutes late. Here you have the same kind of thing, only four times the exposure to mishaps. If you can’t take the 197 then you’d take something like A+Link, but Federal Way Link will be more streamlined than that and more frequent.

        “Express buses to Lynnwood will be just about as fast (if not faster)”

        There has never been an express bus from south King County to Snohomish County (except the Boeing specials). You have to take a bus or Link downtown and transfer. Partly because Link is unfinished, and partly because Metro’s feeders to the closest station are anemic/nonexistent. When people can take a short feeder in the south county on uncongested streets, and Link the rest of the way to Snoho or Bellevue or north Seattle or wherever they’re going, they will. Especially when it runs every 10 minutes all day.

    3. >> Is this reasonable for the station activity forecast, now that we have this real-world reporting as a source for comparison?

      No, it is ridiculous. Network effect doesn’t work when you have extremely long trips from the suburbs. UW station is very popular (as mentioned above) because so many people are using the line to get to Capitol Hill. Imagine the ridership if they added a First Hill station — it would be much higher. That is what city subway systems do. It isn’t about the rush hour commutes, it is about the people that take the train (or bus) all day long. That just doesn’t happen from Federal Way to, say, Rainier Valley, or even downtown Bellevue. People won’t take a spontaneous trip from Federal Way to visit the new brewpub in Columbia City, let alone Bellevue Square. You might have people commuting to Bellevue from Federal Way, but not huge numbers. You will have to spend over an hour on the trains, and that doesn’t count the time spent getting from home to the station, or the time getting from the station to work. That is a horrible commute, and not that many people will endure that.

      Of course the area will grow. But right now the city is growing much faster than the suburbs (in absolute number) and I see no reason why that will change. This is while the city has artificial, outdated and highly controversial zoning laws that lots of people want to change. Those that defend those outdated laws keep losing election battles — it is only a matter of time before the regulations get modernized, and more people are allowed to live in the city.

      Besides, if the suburbs grow, there is no reason to believe they will grow that much, that far south. You have places like Renton, White Center and Burien, all of which are relatively affordable and all of which are substantially closer. In Renton they have resisted truncating the express buses at Rainier Beach, because it will take longer to get to downtown Seattle. In Federal Way it will take longer, no matter what they do.

      As with our entire system, you can get a pretty good feel for future Link ridership by looking at current bus ridership. Ridership from the UW has been high, and this was expected, once they took away the bus service. The 71, 72 and 73 took a lot of people from the UW to downtown. The 43 took a lot of people from the UW to Capitol Hill. Now those buses are gone (or in the case of the 43, might as well be gone) and the riders have switched. I’m sure you have gained a few new riders, but the time savings (especially from the UW to Capitol Hill) are significant. Even after you make the transfer, getting from the UW to Seattle Central College is much faster than the old bus route, and faster than driving at noon. You won’t be able to say that about Federal Way, as many will miss their old express bus.

      There really are only two significant destinations for people who board at those stations: Downtown Seattle and SeaTac. Even if the rider is headed to the UW or Bellevue, they will go through downtown (as they do now). So, we can get a pretty good idea of how many riders will board there, by looking at some of the current numbers.

      For the 574, these are the number of riders that board, headed towards SeaTac:

      Federal Way — 244
      Star Lake — 25
      Highline College — 24

      Again, it is possible that Link (being a train) will cause ridership to the airport from these locations to increase. But just look at how many riders take the train heading south from these spots:

      Columbia City: 479
      Othello: 556
      Rainier Beach: 384
      Tukwila: 502

      With the exception of Tukwila, not all of these riders are headed to the airport. Tukwila, meanwhile, serves as a handy way to avoid paying for Wally Park if you are taking a flight for the day. You have fewer than 400 riders taking the train to SeaTac from Rainier Beach (and probably similar numbers for Othello and Columbia City). These are all areas that are more densely populated than the stations south of Angle Lake. Optimistically, I think you can expect around 500 people a day taking the train up to the airport, which would represent an enormous increase over the number that take the bus there today. That works out to 1,000 round trips per station.

      Things get a little trickier with trips to downtown, but at least one of the stations is covered. The 577 and 578 operate as an express from Federal Way to downtown Seattle. If it is replaced by the train (which will be slower most of the time) then those riders will likely switch. It carries less than 2,700 riders a day back and forth to Seattle.

      With that in mind, I think you are lucky if you get 4,000 from the Federal Way Station. If the 574 is any guide, you will get lower ridership with the other stations.

      Oh, and what about Tacoma? Well, again, the 574 is a good guide. Here are the riders heading south from the various stops:

      Federal Way — 191
      Star Lake — 15
      Highline College — 32

      There are actually fewer people from those stops headed to Tacoma than there are people headed to the airport. It barely moves the needle, really. Again, 4,000 per stop is being really, really optimistic for those stations.

      1. “People won’t take a spontaneous trip from Federal Way to visit the new brewpub in Columbia City, let alone Bellevue Square.”

        People have relatives. They attend social groups, music shows, instruction, and businesses that are in only one location. If the best kickboxing teacher is in Kirkland you go to Kirkland. If a store or repairman’s only northwest location is in the big-box city south of Southcenter, you go to Southcenter. If one college has the right program or the best teacher or schedule or has an opening, you go there. Your job may be anywhere, it may change a couple times a year, and you may not know where the next one will be. I as a Seattleite have to go to a suburban library to check out or return a book from King County’s wider selection. The numbers may not be as high as Seattle or a theoretical urban network, but people do travel everywhere all the time, some people more than others.

        “For the 574, these are the number of riders that board, headed towards SeaTac:”

        If you ride the 574 you’ll find out why. First it’s 30 minutes, with no service at all after 10pm. Second it spends signfiicant time getting off the freeway to its stations in Federal Way, Star Lake, and SeaTac, with traffic lights and roundabouts in between. I try to take the 574 to Tacoma because Link, but it can be so annoying that I take the half-hourly 594 instead (from Seattle to Tacoma), or A (from Federal Way to Angle Lake if the 574 isn’t coming soon).

    1. Not that I know of. It should be pretty easy, too, given the payment method. You can infer some information when they release their yearly report. That at least has station and direction data. So, when Link ended at SeaTac, about 500 people a day took the train to the airport. But there is no way of telling how many people took the train from Rainier Beach. About 400 took the train headed south, but some of them could have gotten off at Tukwila.

  6. Wonder if the drop in ST express was also from reliability problems. It’s starting to feel like bunched busses is the norm

    1. From experience, Ben, that’s another one of those tweed motoring hat, MG left-side-of-road driving, stiff upper lip, Understatements. God already saved the Queen by closing her Wallingford office.
      Angle Lake is being framed for passenger-theft. Parking full by ten.

      Real felonious boarding culprit is hundred mile long linear lot between Centralia and Everett. Whose combination-parking-violators-and- passengers far outnumber ours, even though we don’t ticket for milkshake spilling while texting while killing terrorists on video.

      Elephant-in- the -Room cliche perfect description- except that from the air, I-5 resembles an overfed python also containing the elephant. Speaking of which, maybe reason Sea-Tac boardings are down is that the Tower won’t let them land ’til midnight. Same result.

      OK, will shut up about hydrofoil jet boats, but grooved rail joint-use Tacoma-Olympia busway still on the table. Sounder to same station? Just build the parking, run ST Express past the Capitol, just do it.

      Call I-5 and all else paved by its name. It’s Houston without the water. And like ever other major public expense from transportation to schools to mental hospitals, high speed prosperity of Seattle and its region means we need it, we pay for it. And we give you your real estate license and corporate papers, you pay your share the bills your profits incur for the rest of us.


  7. Frankly I don’t understand why ST takes so long getting certain reports out, the subject one here included. The June monthly ridership report was published on Aug 3; this quarterly performance report was published Aug 24. This would never be acceptable in the private sector at publicly-owned companies.

      1. This exactly illustrates the cultural problem with the ST Board and senior staff. The Board and senior staff appear to not want to take time to discuss the findings of this report — and prefer to roll it out only in time for the meeting so there are few questions that are asked.

        Why not release the reports a week before the meeting, and send the board members an advanced copy in an email? That way, there can be some review and questioning about the report and its findings. The way that it currently works, there is no opportunity to do that!

      2. Thanks for the info. I don’t mean to be flippant, but what purpose does the current process serve? Does the Operations Committee need to sign off on the report before it’s published and released to the public? What sort of data scrubbing is needed each month and what’s the reasoning behind that? Imho, once the agency compiles the monthly/quarterly numbers and has an appropriate level of confidence in their accuracy, then the data should be released to the public. The subsequent analysis and discussion should ensue both at the agency management level as well as at the appropriate board committee, but that shouldn’t slow the release of the information.

        I agree with the poster Al S. above as well.

      3. A few further things:

        1. When U-Link first opened, ST was sending out messages about daily ridership within a few days of the days that they were recorded. THIS PROVES that they could release the total boarding information within a week if they wanted to do so! I could understand that the station and Express line quarterly reports take some time (the APC analysis that Board Nerd mentions), but that shouldn’t apply to the monthly reports. Frankly, just accounting for Orca taps, farebox totals and ticket vending machine purchases should reveal at least 90 percent of the boardings within hours after the end of a month — so a preliminary estimate should be almost automated by simply comparing the results to the month or year before..

        2. BART, with it’s antiquated magnetic ticket system, still manages to report station pairs just three days after the end of the month!

        3. As for the station ons and offs in the quarterly reports, it’s only daily totals from 16 stations! The data can’t be that hard to sum! Does it really take 8 weeks to scrub that and compare to boarding taps and ticket purchases at each station? Maybe the DSTT joint taps are an issue, but they can’t be that big of one.

        4. If there isn’t confidence in the numbers, the results can simply be labelled DRAFT until there is better assurances. Staff could also simply round them to the nearest 100 trips. Given occasional fare evasion, the last two digits are speculative anyway.

      4. I concur. Take Valley Metro (Phoenix area’s transit agency) for example. Besides having a better laid out and intuitive website imho, they get these types of reports out much sooner than ST currently does. They also have an interactive data portal for ridership numbers.

        This agency’s FY begins in July and per the course they already have their July numbers reported.

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