In 2018, Sound Transit continued to avoid the national decline in transit ridership, according to the agency’s latest service numbers.

Link light rail’s ridership grew a solid 6.1% in 2018, with 24,416,411 boardings.

Link’s service mostly met or approached Sound Transit’s internal targets, though 10.4% of Link trips didn’t match their target headway, or the two minute cushion the agency grants every trip. That number should improve starting next month, when buses (and their time-consuming boarding) move out of the downtown subway tunnel.

The entire system saw a record 48,217,826 boardings in 2018, a 2.9% increase from 2017. ST Express buses and the Tacoma Link streetcar both lost ridership in 2018, but every other part of the system grew, and ST Express only lost 1% of its 2017 ridership. Tacoma Link lost a significant, but not alarming, 7.6% of its ridership.

21 Replies to “Record Link ridership in 2018”

    1. Link ridership is usually boosted in the summertime, when kids are out of school people like to get outside more, so usually every year Link ridership peaks in summer. Also, the variation is greatly exaggerated by the fact that the vertical axis of the graph doesn’t start at zero, it starts at a little under 220, which is kind of a pet peeve of mine, because you can make a graph greatly misleading by not starting the vertical axis at zero.

      1. Summer also has more sports and tourists are also a big factor – seems like word is out that Link is a good way to get downtown. I’ve met a number of tourists taking Link for the first time coming in from the airport.

      2. It would be interesting if it could be broken down by day. That way, you could see stuff like cruise ship arrivals, Mariners games, Bumbershoot, etc.

  1. The 6.2 percent number is great considering in that I don’t think any major increases in frequency occurred (although more three-car trains were run starting in June 2017).

    Some of it definitely appears to be the Mariner ticket promotion (ticket = free ride).

    As totals get higher, percentages go down for the same numerical increase. When an average day went from 30k to 33k, that was 10 percent. Going from 70 to 73k is only a 4.3 percent increase. It’s the numerical (1.4 million) more annual riders that is perhaps the trend that is a more sustainable one to emulate.

  2. Will a truncation of route 255 be enough to make a statistically significant dent in Link’s ridership?

  3. This is what happens when bus service is altered to intentionally force people to use the toy train. When the 255 truncates many of those trips will be forced to link and be counted as train trips.

    1. Just because you think it’s worthless doesn’t mean it actually is. One seat rides aren’t a thing that are very much sustainable anymore. And there’s absolutely zero question, Link *is* faster.

    2. What service changes were there between 2017 and 2018 that truncated routes to force transfers? As far as I know, none, meaning this would be organic growth

    3. Are there definite plans for truncating the 255? The upcoming service change with the closing of the tunnel will have the 255 on downtown surface streets.

      I’m actually hoping they’ll truncate 255 to UW Link, especially after the Montlake freeway station stops close, which would eliminate the 255 as an Eastside-UW option or 255+Link as an Eastside-Downtown option, if 255 were to continue to go downtown.

      1. Yeah, if it happens, it would be in September, not March. The good news is that for the interim period, buses will continue to serve the Montlake Freeway Station until the construction crews actually close it. The latest I heard for when this will happen is June.

        If the 255 doesn’t truncate, then Kirkland->UW starts to become very annoying outside the limited hours that the 540 is running. There will be a 542 to transfer to, but outside the rush hour window when you have the 540, the 542 is unlikely to be running more often than every 30 minutes. I haven’t heard anything about how the schedules will line up, but due to random unpredictable delays (e.g. Mariners game traffic, Montlake bridge opening), I don’t think there exists a schedule alignment that wouldn’t result in 15-20 minute waits (minimum) at Yarrow Point at least 20% of the time.

        The train->bus transfer, if the 255 is truncated, however, is much more reliable. Link operates in a dedicated right of way, and has a proven ability to run on-time, even when the streets are congested, even in the face of large crowds of people trying to ride it. The 255 will just be coming from a layover spot a few blocks away, on streets which, outside of Husky Football games, aren’t really congested (except for the one block where there’s a bus lane).

        When both pieces are reliable and running at decent frequency (Link runs every 10 minutes, and the evening/weekend frequency of the 255 would get boosted to 15 minutes if the truncation happens), a transfer really isn’t that painful. It’s when you have to roll the dice and, every so often, have to wait 20-30 minutes that transfers become painful.

  4. My brain is better at processing the riders per day numbers – can you provide that data with weekday, Saturday and Sunday breakdowns?

    1. For 2018, Central Link averaged 67,000 riders per day, up from 63,000 in 2017. To figure out average weekday and weekend boardings for the year, you would need to look at each of the monthly ridership reports for 2018, until an annual report comes out that has that data.

      In December 2018, average weekday boardings were 68,000; Saturday boardings were 42,000 and Sunday boardings were 38,000.

  5. Meh. As I commented on a thread last week, Sound Transit missed their annual ridership target for Link as well as their average riders per trip target. And we are still a long way off from the original Central Link 100,000+ average daily ridership projection the agency made for 2010, some nine years ago now.

    1. The 107,000 ridership target in 1996 assumed stations at Boeing Access Rd, First Hill, and NE 45th St. If those were added it, I’m guessing ST would be around there.

      1. Setting aside Tacoma Link ridership entirely….

        The following is taken from the July 2012 Central Link Before & After Study final report, specifically table 5-2, “Central Link Ridership – Actual vs Predictions”:

        Milestone – Conclusion of AA
        Scope – 20 miles, NE 45th to S 200th
        No. of stations – 21
        Ave weekday boardings – 105,000 by 2010
        Annual boardings – 32.0M by 2010

        Milestone – Conclusion of PE
        Scope – 20 miles, NE 45th to S 200th
        No. of stations – 18
        Ave weekday boardings – 102,600 by
        Annual boardings – 31.3M by 2010

        Milestone – Actual as built
        Scope – 15.6 miles, downtown to airport
        No. of stations – 13
        Ave weekday boardings – 23,900 (Q4 2011)
        Annual boardings – 7.8M (2011 total)

        Thus as you can see ST’s ridership projections were wildly overestimated, even within the confines of the reduced scope. And now nine years later from the initial target date, the system has failed to mature to the revised ridership levels. Obviously the elimination of some key stations like First Hill and the northern terminus at NE 45th played a significant role in reducing ridership on the initial segment.

  6. Maybe just a one month blip, but the December YoY numbers are pretty underwhelming compared to the full year. Just a few up 1‰

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