Credit: Sound Transit

Sound Transit’s ridership continues to rise, fueled mostly by light rail expansion, according third quarter ridership numbers released by the agency last week. Ridership across the system was up 6.5% over the same quarter in 2016.

In an accompanying press release, Sound Transit lauded current year-to-date ridership in 2017, up 26% on Link and 12% across the entire system compared to the same time period last year.

“The ridership gains within our region are very significant in contrast to recent ridership reductions in many other regions, with Sound Transit services seeing some of the strongest growth in the nation.”

All transportation modes posted ridership increases, except ST Express bus service which declined 0.6%. ST Express posted the same ridership decline last quarter and once again, ST attributes that decrease to low fuel prices, “which tends to depress bus ridership.”

Light rail ridership continues to climb, showing strong growth of 13.5% during the third quarter compared to the same time period last year. Overall this year Link ridership is up 26%.

Credit: Sound Transit

ST attributes the increase to two 2016 service expansions, including the opening of Angle Lake Station, with roughly 1,100 parking stalls, at the end of the third quarter last year.

However, Link ridership slightly underperformed for Q3, with the 6,352,260 boardings “slightly outside the quarterly target” of 6,591,656. Ridership did meet the current year to date target.

Boardings at the Tukwila International Boulevard and the SeaTac / Airport Stations continue to decline, 6.3% and 13.2% respectively comparing third quarters of 2016 and 2017.  All year boardings at both stations have decreased compared to similar time periods in 2016.

According to the third quarter ridership report, “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.”

Eight of the 16 Link stations in the Seattle area saw a double-digit increase in boardings this quarter compared to the same quarter last year. Rainier Beach saw the largest percentage increase of boardings at 17.9%.

Sounder ridership was up slightly, 2.7% in last quarter compared to last year. However, the weekday average was up 5.7%. All the ridership growth on the Sounder came from South Line, which was up 6.4% in daily boardings, while the North Line posted a decline of 0.2%. ST credits the growth on the South Line to two new mid-day trains added in September 2016.

A slight increase in Tacoma Link ridership of 3.2%, compared to the third quarter of 2016, is attributed to an increase in special event services.

31 Replies to “ST Q3 2017 Ridership Report”

      1. The student ORCA cards may have been responsible for some of the increase. There are lots of activities for school age kids in the Rainier Beach area during the summer.

    1. Starting from such a low number, a small increase looks bigger. It’s only around 300 people a day.

      1. 300 people a day is still a big increase. Bigger than many of the stations, including all of the other Rainier Valley stations. More to the point, it doesn’t explain why you would see such a big increase in percentage terms. It’s not like the station is new, and folks are just getting used to it. Nor is there big growth there, allowing it to “catch up” to more densely populated areas. I think Bruce’s explanation makes sense — the bus restructure was responsible.

    2. Right, there doesn’t seem to be any other explanation than the restructure, since residential/business there has been a slow trickle. Unless a couple hundred students have started riding Link to Rainier Beach High School for other reasons. The previous 106 and 38 alignments discouraged taking Link to Renton because if you took Link from Westlake to Rainier Beach and just missed the 106 you’d have to wait half an hour for for the next one, or time your trip to the half-hour mark, when you could just take the 101 or 106 from Westlake to Renton and it was a one-seat ride and they alternated 15 minutes apart. Now it’s Rainier Beach that has 15-minute service to Renton.

      I suspect there are also people riding the 106 from Renton to mid Rainier Valley, although that’s irrelevant to Link ridership.

    3. There is a new townhouse development on the West side of MLK at Trenton St. On google it looks like it’s probably about 70 units. I’m not sure when it was occupied, but it seems like it would have been over the last quarter. II would think it is a significant factor in the increase as well.

  1. “ST contributes the increase to two 2016 service expansions, including the opening of Angle Lake Station, with roughly 1,100 parking stalls, at the end of the third quarter last year.”

    These posts should really go through a copy edit before being published.

  2. The smaller 6.6 percent gain at UW is not a surprise to me. Students are typically not locked into commute modes and are generally quicker to change, which they mostly did last year.

    It makes me curious if ST forecasts take this aspect into account.

  3. It appears that the bulk of the Link gain is because of Angle Lake’s opening. The roughly 3700 more boardings there likely means that there were 3700 people deboarding at the station. That’s 7400 total. The system as a whole shows 9100 total growth.

    Granted there was station switching that was part of that 7400 and different attendance patterns at games, but an overall less than robust 1700 average ridership growth for Link shows that we may be reaching a ridership plateau (especially when considering that overall population and employment growth is also happening, which also adds riders).

    1. Al S. , main overall effect of present population and employment growth is the paper-shredding of at least thirty years’ regional transit planning.

      Also creating the linear plateau we’d have if we flattened the linear scrap-yard between Centralia and Everett, and Colman Dock and Snoqualmie Pass.

      While at least doubling the expanding residential developments along every sidewalk, and under every road bridge in the region.

      Which will definitely raise our ridership as soon as these residents can find work at wages that will allow them to both buy homes and ride the transit their fares will pay. In addition to the car tabs on the vehicles where they presently live.

      Work, and earnings, that will become available when those profiting from above growths agree to pay the taxes they rightfully owe for the cost of their excellent financial condition. Though in all fairness, it’s only right and just that in return, a net worth of $100 billion should certainly qualify for same green and white ORCA card like mine.

      In appreciation for the South Lake Union streetcar, he can have mine, on condition that nothing happens to Kakao Cafe, half a block north of the Harrison-Thomas NB streetcar stop. And a block west of some of his properties. Moka’s is already the basement of a glass box that probably contains Darth Vader’s Seattle office.

      Mark Dublin

  4. I had submitted a question for Frank and Martin’s podcast asking why ST is so slow in getting their ridership reports out, and in the process, mentioned this specific report. (I haven’t listened to the podcast yet so I don’t know if they actually addressed the question.)

    In so doing, I also noted the unfavorable results with regard to Link. As you can see, ST missed their estimates for Q3 on several parameters by significant amounts. I find this troubling due to the months involved, and yet there’s nothing really said about it in the report’s narrative.

  5. Yikes. 9% below target for the quarter seems pretty bad. Short story: good transit policy starts with good land use policy. Sound Transit cashed in most of the chips our region has in terms of dense housing and jobs (UW to ID) in previous years (or ruled them out, RIP first hill :’-( ) so future growth is gonna be weak. I think U District, Northgate, Ballard and West Seattle are the only future stations that’ll perform well, and most of that will be switching from buses (still a good thing! But less impact than net new riders). All the suburban stations will be failing boondoggles in terms of capital cost per rider.

    I do hope the Rainier Valley can keep up same station growth with new construction and maybe a gradual shift as transit riders seek it out preferentially over car commuters. Growth this year was surprising, though it still might be reflecting UW students shifting their housing choices in a one-off move.

    1. There are still acres and acres of under-developed or undeveloped parcel in Rainier Valley that are close to light rail stations. I understand that most Seattleites would prefer to live north of Jackson Street, but the reality is that much of Rainier Valley is ripe and ready for more development.

      1. Yes! Though once you’re “acres” away from the nearest station, it won’t be a very tempting commute if it involves a 20-minute walk. Still, based on the sky-high prices near Mt. Baker, Columbia City, etc. stations, I think you’re wrong that demand is weak for such housing. I continue to suspect that legal restrictions are holding back construction.

    2. As to the future stations that will do well…you should see all the construction around the roosevelt station. I think this one will be very successful too.

      1. Oops! Yes I actually meant all of the Northgate extension, brain fart on leaving out Roosevelt. And in fact I think that’ll be even more truly new rides than Northgate which will be more truncating bus lines and replacing express buses. If Metro restructures to make super frequent connections at Roosevelt, it might really ramp up Wedgwood and Green Lake transit ridership overall. It’ll be a huge improvement for reverse commuters who are slammed every day by going against the express lanes.

      2. Yeah, the three new stops of Northgate Link (45th, Roosevelt and Northgate) will all have good ridership. We should see an increase not only in Link ridership, but transit ridership overall. In some cases, the train just replaces the bus (e. g. the 41 as a means to get from Northgate to downtown) but in other cases, it is a huge improvement. Not only for the reverse commute (as you mentioned) but for other trips. Northgate to Roosevelt, the UW or Capitol Hill will be much faster. Same with Roosevelt to UW or Capitol Hill. Roosevelt is largely residential, but Northgate has a lot of medical employment, as well as the college that will be connected via a pedestrian bridge. Those are the types of trips that will see the biggest improvement in terms of speed, and lead to the big increases in overall transit usage.

        But in most of the suburban areas, there won’t be much of a network effect. We are seeing that already. The average ridership per station for the three stations outside the city actually went down. That has occurred even though one of the stations is by the airport! You would think that all the people going to the airport from the three new stations would be more than enough to make up for the fact that SeaTac is no longer the terminus, but it isn’t. Meanwhile, not that many people must be going from Tukwila to Angle Lake (which really isn’t that surprising).

        I think East Link will perform reasonably well. There are a lot of people who ride the bus back and forth to the East Side, and they will switch to the train. I don’t think Lynnwood Link will get that many. Only about 1,000 people board headed for Seattle each day, and far fewer from 145th and Mountlake Terrace. I would imagine you’ll see an increase just because the trip will be much faster, but you won’t see much of a network effect. There just aren’t that many people going from Mountlake Terrace to, say, Roosevelt. let alone 185th.

        So I guess it all depends on how you look at the system. If you get excited because a subway carries 100,000 people a day, then get ready to be thrilled. If you think one of the most expensive subway lines in North America should carry way more people than that, then get ready to be disappointed.

      3. “In some cases, the train just replaces the bus (e. g. the 41 as a means to get from Northgate to downtown) but in other cases, it is a huge improvement.”

        The 41 corridor is a huge improvement too. 12 trains per hour all-day compared to 4 buses. No more meandering down to Banner Way to get on I-5 southbound, or doing the turn-turn-turn in traffic to the Northgate Way entrance. No more traversing Stewart Street when the express lanes aren’t going your way. The only downside is it will be a 2-seat ride from Northgate North (which I go to five times more often than the mall).

      4. @Mike — Yeah, I mentioned the “reverse commute”. So did JTinWS. Trying to get from Northgate to downtown in the evening is terrible and that is why I called it (and other trips) a “huge improvement”.

        But getting from Northgate to downtown in the morning is fine. The buses are crowded, but run quite often. They are also very frequent. Not from Lake City, but from Northgate — which is the only place the train will go. From Northgate Transit Center, the bus runs every five minutes (which is actually better than the train). Almost all of these buses go up to 5th and 125th (none of the trains will do that). The point is, for a rush hour commuting trip from Northgate to downtown, the train won’t be much of an improvement.

        But that isn’t the only thing a subway system should do. It should enable that same resident of Northgate to get downtown in the evening, or to the U-District, or to Capitol Hill. That is where the big improvement will come from. That is what an urban subway is all about.

        Of course none of this takes into account what changes will occur to the buses. They will run a lot more frequently, which will enable, for example, people to get from Northgate to Lake City more than once every 15 minutes (hopefully).

        As far as 12 trains per hour all day, I doubt it. Right now the train runs every ten minutes, and it already serves the most important areas (UW, Capitol Hill, downtown). The Northgate Link changes will bump ridership, but I doubt you will see trains running every 5 minutes all day. Maybe every 8 minutes, but I doubt every 5, since 5 would require turning back half of them.

      5. Once Eastlink opens and the blue and red are interlined from ID to Northgate and eventually Lynnwood, It was my understanding that peak times would see a train every 3 mins and and every 5 minutes during most off peak periods.
        Is that not the case?

    3. Bellevue, Overlake, Redmond, and Lynnwood will be robust; there are several hundred riders making do with creaky buses that will be relieved to switch, and have more all-day frequency, and others will join them. The Spring District might perform well too if they end up being as transit-enthused as their neighbors on the 550 and 545. The middle-class tech suburbanite has become one of the biggest group of riders, and Eastsiders will also take Link to ballgames to avoid parking fees and they can also afford the game tickets. South King County will probably have mediocre ridership like it does now, especially because the distance from those stations to the hotspots in central Seattle, north Seattle, and the Eastside are longer than from other areas.

      But we always knew that the highest-ridership axis was downtown – Capitol Hill – U-District – Northgate, with honorable mention to Seattle-Bellevue-Redmond. So we shouldn’t be disappointed if it, gasp, matches our expectations, and the other stations are lower-volume. Don’t get depressed about ST3 suburban stations; remember, it’s the network as a whole that matters the most. The existence of those stations means it’s easier to get seamlessly to those parts of the region, which some people do a lot, and a lot of people do occasionally.

      1. Yes, Bellevue and Redmond will probably do well too. I’m mostly just depressed that so many suburban stations will be locked in to low-ridership destinies by parking lots and local land use control preventing the only thing that actually grows ridership: dense housing and jobs. And because this quarter’s ridership was 9% below target. Maybe that’s just statistical noise but it does not sound like “gasp, matches our expectations.”

        I guess I’m also still blubbering into my drink that ST3 rejected the Ballard-UW route, and that First HIll was left out. “We always knew” that downtown to U district was highest ridership but I think the ship canal strand was the highest ridership left on the cutting room floor for ST3, and I will continue to think ST’s models failed to correctly capture how much better that line’s growth potential was than places like Issaquah. It reminds me of the perennial growing gap between the PSRC’s growth predictions for Seattle and basically every suburban node — Seattle has raced ahead by actually densifying, and most of the outlying dense growth is always just another few years away.

    4. I disagree about the assessment that the suburban Link routes will be failures. As certain business segments that are lower paying see more and more workforce get priced out of the city, I do think we’ll see a Bellevue effect happen in Federal Way… basically a new “downtown,” and I think that a lot of the dilapidated areas around the future stations will quickly redevelop into high density housing and retail for those workers who choose to live in apartments. My industry doesn’t pay entry level or mid career workers enough to buy in to the Seattle housing market, so I do expect more and more companies to have satellite offices, and those that have them to grow them faster than their downtown counterparts.

      I can’t see how Bellevue could perform badly. Downtown Bellevue is high density, and connects well to a Microsoft campus poised for growth and a Spring District and Overlake poised for a complete overhaul. Most of the apartments I’ve seen in the Spring District/Overlake/Crossroads were overdue to be torn down… 10 years ago. Not maintained, often mold or insect infested, built of poor quality materials, and very low density, with half of the land use taken by asphalt parking lots. A great place to build some very high density housing, near tons of jobs, just between Bellevue and Microsoft.

      1. I do agree that a lot of employers will shift growth to satellite offices as they can’t afford to keep up downtown commercial rent (and competition for space) driven by big players like Amazon. And yeah, most middle-class employees can’t afford to buy a home in Seattle or Bellevue. But the growth of residents and offices in the suburbs will almost entirely raise car commuting, not Link commuting.

        Imagine you’re playing darts and before starting you draw a big X on the board with chalk: two big lines crossing in the center of the board, extending out to the edges. Now throw 2 darts at it, representing a home and a job. If I told you both darts are in the bull’s eye, the conditional probability of the darts both being on a chalk line are maybe 60% if the chalk line is thick: this person has a 60% chance of being able to ride Link to work! But if you knew both darts were in the outer half of rings, the conditional probability of both being on the chalk lines is minuscule, maybe 2% squared.

        Yes, employers will not just throw darts at a map. But it’s a competition to get space near a Link station, for both them and their employees. If they know most of their workers can’t afford to live near Link, they’re better off saving a fortune and getting an office with abundant parking (which isn’t possible on the cheap near Link). I looked for housing near Link in Columbia City 3 years ago. Totally unaffordable. I ended up in West Seattle instead, which is only affordable for now because of the reputation for terrible commutes.

        That stretch of East Link definitely has some interesting potential. The rash of surface parking lots covering most of the land you describe means there’s room for improvement, but it’s contingent on Bellevue saying “damn the torpedoes [of NIMBY anti-density pro-parking voices] and setting a very different course on land use than they historically have outside downtown.

  6. What were ridership (which is usually same number as drivership) for I-90 this amount of time after its opening? Assuming its potential feeder grid of streets, highways, and arterials had been identical to LINK’s.

    All three projected LINK corridors are barely branches of a network that’ll probably last about a hundred years. Though if history is any guide, will be a historic old-fashioned scenic railway for the quaint Central Puget Sound neighborhood.

    In view of Star Wars’ ambiguous time frame, we might want to look carefully at the town of Vader, I think on the Amtrak corridor between Centralia and Portland. Is it all that’s left of the capital city of the Evil Galactic Empire after the Old Republic was overthrown? Named after Mayor Darth who wore his signature costume so he could talk like his hero, Henry Kissinger?

    (Based on at least one episode, average trooper likely volunteered to get his mother out of slavery in the Old Republic. Anybody know another Republic at least half of whose population either had slaves or was getting with their credit union to finance some?)

    Or is it where Darth is right now being born to a 17 year old girl barista about to get fired for insisting on wearing a dress and wasting her local guy customers’ whole day on a thimble-full of coffee pudding with some Italian name like some guy from Seattle told her to go online and check out.

    Movie never said how much better their version of a pregnant slave got paid. I-5 corridor states will doubtless change when the Republic of New Southern Sweden starts using it as a defense runway for the 2090 model of the Saab jet fighter in every agricultural storage structure (barn) that makes Putinia think twice about invading.

    Thought you’ll notice that the cows aren’t any more scared of the stratosphere-scraper wind turbines with rotors ten miles across than they were of the ones in Skane Province now. Anyhow, think of I-5 border to border as half the first runway. Die Young and in Poverty….damn, wrong Star-thing. Point still holds about ridership stats.


  7. Sounder Southline is notably busier than it was 3 years ago when I started using it. Gone from being moderately full to standing room only if you’re not there 10 minutes early to grab a seat.

    Credit where its due, since the timetable re-org they have made a noticeable effort to keep on time, still dreaming of the holy grail of better integrated bus connections at Sounder stations.

  8. I can testify from personal experience why ridership stats aren’t higher in south-most LINK stations. After 9AM, both stations have full parking lots, walled in by traffic same speed as I-5, except wider side to side.

    Cure, or at least help? When Sounder gets to Dupont, should help. Though Dupont needs some more parking. Same with Olympia-Lacey. And/or ST Express Olympia to Lakewood (for Sounder connection) to Sea-Tac. Fifteen minute headway 574 Tacoma to Sea-Tac Airport.

    Wire the Rainier Beach terminal loop west to the LINK Station. And put the 107 back along the lake, terminating it at the station. Also good terminal for the 106. Tukwila? Somebody from there jump in here. Good chance increased ridership will justify all of these.


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