Beyond 2018, Sound Transit plans to stop expanding ST Express and Sounder services to focus on light rail expansion and bus route restructures, according to the recently released 2018 Sound Transit’s Service Implementation Plan (SIP) draft.
“The extensions will be the catalyst for changes in the bus network around the light rail extension and its stations,” according to the 245-page plan. A major restructuring of buses that cross Interstate 90 and SR 520 are planned for 2018 and 2019 respectively.
The SIP includes in-depth route and corridor performance data across the agency’s system. Here some highlights.
ST Express Bus Routes
Sound Transit operates 28 bus routes in the region and the 2018 SIP analyzes each route, ranking them by boardings per revenue hour, boardings per trip, subsidy per boarding, and passenger miles per platform vehicle mile.
Route 550, Bellevue to Seattle, was the agency’s top-ranked bus route, while route 560, Westwood Village to Bellevue, rounded out the list in last place.
Sound Transit said the agency uses these rankings to determine what routes might receive service enhancements, if funds are available, or be considered for elimination or restructuring. Sound Transit, which added 15,000 service hours to ST Express in 2017, currently has no plans to invest any more in the coming years, according to the SIP.
On Route 550, which has an average of 10,754 daily weekday boardings so far in 2017, ridership has increased 11.5% since 2014. Weekend ridership hasn’t changed much since 2014, growing roughly 2.5% on Saturday and less than 1% on Sunday.
The average subsidy for the route is $3.03. According to Sound Transit, only one eastbound afternoon trip exceeds capacity.
The Lynnwood to Seattle, route 511, which sees roughly 2,000 boardings each weekday, was ranked second in performance by Sound Transit. Ridership along this route has barely grown in the last three years, adding just 22 boardings since 2014. The subsidy for the route, which offers no weekend service, is estimated at $1.94, the lowest fare subsidy in Sound Transit’s system.
Eastside routes tended to perform well, with the 545 Redmond to Seattle route and the 522 Woodinville to Seattle routes ranked in the 1st quartile. All the routes in the top seven began or ended in Seattle except route 532 (Everett to Bellevue).
Weekday ridership on the worst performing line, route 560, has declined 8.2% since 2014. The average subsidy for the route is $8.01. Weekend ridership has also taken a hit, with Saturday boardings down 22.3% and 14.4% on Sundays.
Also towards the bottom of the list is route 586, Tacoma to the U. District, ranked 27th out of 28 in performance. In 2017 the daily weekday boardings for the route averaged 457, with ridership on the route declining 25% since 2014. Route 586 has the highest fare subsidy estimated at $10.76.
Other U. District routes, including route 540 to Kirkland and route 541 to Overlake, also ended up at the bottom of the list.
Ridership on Link continues to rise with average weekday boardings increasing by 16% in the second quarter of 2017 compared to the same quarter in 2016. In 2016 Sound Transit opened the University Link extension, which now accounts for nearly a quarter of boardings. Westlake remains the busiest, experiencing roughly 11,500 boardings during the week in the second quarter in 2017, up 15.5% compared to the same quarter in the previous year.
At all stations, except for the Tukwila/International Blvd and SeaTac/Airport stations, boardings continue to rise. Boardings at the Airport decreased by almost 15% since 2016.
Sound Transit contributes some of the dwindling ridership at the Tukwila Station to the opening of the Angle Lake Station which resulted in riders switching to that station, using it as a park-and-ride alternative to the Tukwila station. That new station might also account for declining ridership at the Airport Station.
“While we can’t say with absolute certainty, we believe that the opening of Angle Lake station shifted access and connection patterns in the southern part of the Link,” wrote Kimberly Reason, spokesperson for Sound Transit, in an email. “For example, it’s likely the case that some riders who used to access Link at SeaTac and/or Tukwila light rail stations shifted to Angle Lake.”
Weekend ridership is also increasing on Link with the average weekend boarding doubling since 2014. And in just the last year, the average Saturday boardings rose 23.5% with Sunday boardings jumping 31.3%.
Sound Transit estimates the average fare subsidy per boarding in 2016 for the Link was $2.78.
Ridership on the Tacoma Link system was down 3% between 2014 and 2016, but in 2017 boardings across the system rose 3% over 2016 levels.
Weekday boardings in 2017 are up almost 5% compared to 2016, with weekend ridership showing strong growth with boardings up over 50 percent on both Saturday and Sunday. Sound Transit estimates the subsidy along the line averages $4.10.
Sounder Commuter Rail
Along the north line, weekday boardings have increased 46% between 2014 to 2016. Ridership has since flattened to 1,676 average weekday boardings so far in 2017, an increase of just 1.7% over the previous year. Sound Transit estimates the line’s subsidy per boarding is $11.45.
On the south line, which has over double the stops and nine times the ridership, ridership expanded by 28 percent between 2014 and 2016. Sound Transit said that trend is continuing with average weekday boardings growing 4% between 2016 and 2017. Two round trips were added in September 2017, to combat overcrowding after two trips were found to exceed capacity. The line’s estimated subsidy is $6.67.