Sound Transit and Metro have released their 2017 ridership numbers, and they paint a rosy picture for our regional transit system amid a national decline in transit ridership (particularly among buses). The two agencies alone carried 155 million total passengers within King County; add estimated figures from Pierce and Snohomish counties and the number of total transit trips taken in 2017 increases to over 190 million. Leading the way is Link, which averaged 72,028 weekday riders and carried 23 million total passengers, an increase of 22 percent over 2016’s huge ridership. Sound Transit’s ridership grew by 10 percent overall, with only a small decline in ST Express ridership holding it back.
To put things into perspective, Link is now ~40 daily passengers away from surpassing the Minneapolis–St. Paul light rail system, which averages 72,064 riders on 23 miles of track. Even without the boost from the Northgate Link extension, ridership could come close to – or surpass – Denver’s RTD light rail system, which carries 75,900 daily riders over a sprawling 59 miles of track.
More numbers after the jump.
In the ridership reports for Q4 and December 2017, Sound Transit notes that declining ridership at SeaTac/Airport Station can be attributed to Angle Lake taking over as the terminus and preferred transfer point for A Line riders, leaving pure airport and SeaTac usage in its wake. Expect to see a similar drop for Angle Lake once (or if) the Federal Way extension opens, and perhaps even for University of Washington Station when Northgate Link opens. Q4 ridership itself was below ridership targets, but strong ridership earlier in the year puts Link over its budgeted 22.9 million boardings; as a bonus, the cost per boarding has dropped to under $4.00 and the farebox recovery reached 42 percent, well ahead of Sound Transit’s target of 35.6 percent. Sound Transit is forecasting another increase to 49.7 million riders systemwide for 2018, with Link carrying 25.2 million, based on natural growth and new development at stations.
Link took over as the largest mode in Sound Transit’s system ridership statistics about 22 months ago, and over that time has continued growing while ST Express has declined slightly by 0.5 percent. Some of this can be blamed on the closure of Eastside park and rides for East Link construction, which has lowered Route 550’s Q4 ridership by 10 percent and Route 545’s by 5 percent.
For Sounder, the North Line experienced a modest drop of 1.1 percent, while the South Line grew by 5.5 percent. The Sounder system now carries over 17,600 daily riders, good enough to leapfrog Miami’s Tri-Rail and Utah’s FrontRunner, and come close to the Virginia Railway Express system serving the other Washington. Tacoma Link also had a modest increase of 3.6 percent over 2016’s abysmal numbers, putting it about equal with the 2011 ridership but below the line’s peak of 1.024 million riders in 2012.
Metro is also reporting modest increases in their ridership, which includes RapidRide and the South Lake Union Streetcar. RapidRide ridership increased by 4.2 percent to 20.7 million, with the E Line leading the way at 17,200 daily riders on weekdays and followed closely by the D Line at 14,200 riders. Routes to South Lake Union are carrying 1.4 million weekday rides annually (an increase of 5.9 percent), while ridership on routes serving University of Washington Station increased by 3.3 percent to 520,000. Assuming continued growth – even with Link replacing some of the most popular routes – Metro could very well reach the all-time high of 130 million passengers set by Seattle Transit in 1944, helped by wartime gas rationing and a shiny new trolleybus system.