Where transit boardings have fallen the most (blue) vs the routes with the least ridership loss (yellow) (image: King County Metro)

Via a recent Metro briefing comes a striking map of how Metro ridership has shifted in the COVID era. The 10% of routes with the greatest ridership losses all serve the Eastside or a few Seattle neighborhoods close to the water. Very nearly all of the 10% of routes where ridership has been most stable are in South King County (as of last week of March).

It’s not quite a surprise, of course, except perhaps that it’s so stark. Higher income commuters are mostly commuting to an office and those workplaces have shifted to working from home. On the other hand, those whose workplaces are still open and who are required to be physically present are mostly commuting from South County.

Metro ridership is down about 75%. After a series of reductions between March 23 and April 20, just 34 routes are still running at normal or near-normal levels. Another 81 are substantially reduced and 104 routes throughout the county are not operating at all.

Is the geographic shift in ridership a hint at the future? Post-pandemic forecasting is a risky game, but a sustained shift toward telecommuting would shift demand for transit away from cross-lake routes and toward the south. It would also make transit use somewhat less peak-oriented. Jobs outside offices are less likely to follow a 9-5 schedule. Recent declines in ridership have been less pronounced at peak hours.

Percent declines in boardings by time period. (image: King County Metro)

Transit demand normally spikes sharply at the AM and PM peaks for higher income households. It’s less spiky for low and no-income riders, either because their work is on different schedules or because they are travelling more for non-work reasons. Similar patterns are seen in ORCA usage, where ORCA Lift boardings are more evenly distributed through the day than non-LIFT ORCA.

Transit demand by hour during more normal conditions, with pronounced spikes in the AM and PM peaks for higher income households (image: King County Metro)

Metro’s Mobility Framework, adopted by the County Council last year, addresses disparities in access to transit by race and place. The voluminous analysis in the Mobility Framework Report points rather clearly to a reorientation of service toward South King County communities.

Transit accessibility composite map (image: King County Metro)

The map on right, for instance, is a composite scoring of households of color, low vehicle ownership households, and low transit access to services. It lines up uncomfortably well with the map of where transit demand has fallen the least and, by inference, where transit is most necessary.

How far that orientation might go has not yet been worked out – 2020 was to have seen much of the work of integrating the mobility framework into Metro policies. The complication is that the Council hasn’t yet figured out how to balance addressing disparate access against all the other considerations in setting transit service levels. In particular, some Council members have pointed to existing unmet demand in northern neighborhoods of King County. If that demand doesn’t re-emerge, or if Metro faces sharp new financial constraints, expect advocates for more transit access in the south to push for more extensive changes in Metro service.

51 Replies to “Metro ridership shifts hint at the future”

  1. I very much agree with the premise and conclusions of this post, but I do want to point out that a lot of the routes displayed as showing the highest ridership losses are peak-only routes that have (rightly) been cancelled. e.g., route 15, 17, 18, 37, 214, 219… I think Metro will definitely need to take stock of what post-pandemic ridership looks like in affluent communities which may shift towards more telework or car commuting, but for the sake of comparing routes in this article, I would prefer to see where the highest decline of ridership has occurred in all-day routes that are still in service. I imagine the results will still show the starkest drop in affluent sprawl areas in East King, as will it demonstrate the need for more service in South King.

    1. I should have noted (and I’ve now made an edit) that the ridership falls in the map were as of last week of March when the first service reduction had happened but before many of the outright cancellations. But there may still be some of that in the map.

  2. Based on this data, is peak hour ridership still above daytime? Or is ridership now flat over the entire day?

    I suppose what I’m saying is if peak hour ridership was originally double daytime ridership, then peak ridership fell from (arbitrary numbers) 200 to 40 (-80%) while daytime fell from 100 to 35 (-65%), so ridership would currently be flat all day.

  3. Dan, looks like for you, STB, and Metro Transit, it’s “Think About What You’re Saying” time. Refresh my memory, but except for an insultingly exception starting with an “E”, isn’t it State Law that we all stay home?

    Lord, I hope bulletin’s gone out to Maintenance systemwide to lose that “Essential Rides Only” signage before more than one waiting passenger changes the message with a rock or a rifle. Because message to our most loyal ridership, who are also the ones who need transit most, goes like this:

    “We join the Governor of Washington in really wishing you’d die someplace else besides aboard our service. But since the lifelong laziness and misfortune that has made you useless as a wage-earner is a proven fact (USA has worst social mobility in the industrial world) best we can do is order you to do what we say, the faster it changes the worse your disobedience.”

    My car-usage has well more than doubled since the law came out. Where I live, it’s a two mile walk to anything, and sidewalks are also somewhat violating Social Distance. Intercity Transit has gone to Advanced Reservation. But worst of all, given the universally strained condition of all our consciousness, I truly hate driving anywhere.

    Yesterday’s motoring ended with a thankfully minor collision with a very nice neighbor in my own car-port. So my word to everybody with a responsibility for transit, of course including this blog: It’s Essential to, in all ways, make that sign read “Thank You For Staying With Us.” Got it?

    Mark Dublin

    1. GREAT COMMENT—–MARK DUBLIN! Signed your homie In Spokane AKA Your Ego Buddy Mark Dublin

      1. Daryl, after 46 years….does the Davenport Hotel still have those wonderful pancakes I got there just before I crossed the Cascades westbound?

        Great to find a video from somebody who really loves and appreciates the Castle that contains the County Courthouse. Man’s on jury duty! Hope Spokane’s as proud of him as he is of Spokane!

        How’s transit?

        Mark Dublin

  4. And so many people on this group think that mass transit outside Seattle city limits is a big waste of money

    1. I don’t know anyone who thinks that. Certainly no one regularly comments on this blog (or writes for it). I think the general consensus is that South Sounder and suburban buses should be strengthened, not weakened. There is also widespread support for East Link.

      There are lots of people who think that North Sounder should be axed, but that is really a small subset of transit in that region, let alone outside Seattle (which is why folks want it to be axed).

    2. I’m more noting that because it’s peak-only, Sounder may not be the fairest solution for the Renton-Auburn-Kent corridor. This map suggests a need for all-day service to these places instead. I understand why Sounder is popular as an incremental service improvement, but it’s peak focus is always going to be limiting for these people.

      It also suggests that the people clamoring for South Sounder garage capacity are those preferring to avoid using Metro rather than transit-dependent users. At $200K just for one space, you could give away a few cars and operate them — or operate some amazing feeder bus service.

      It’s pretty obvious to me that ST politics and structure is driven by non-transit-dependent people.

      1. The combination of Sounder during peak and buses the rest of the time should work well. Whether an expansion of Sounder service versus additional buses is worth it depends on the costs.

        One of the things that isn’t talked about much is the fact that the train lines go through the town centers. The town was built around the train station (as is often the case). In contrast, freeway exits are largely arbitrary, which is running next to them is usually a mistake. Having the station built around a town is what you want. It means that the trains focus development where it really should go. You don’t have to reinvent new cities, hoping that they build enough housing and retail to look appealing. It means that buses that connect you to the train station also connect you to town. One of the more resilient buses on this map is the 168. A bus like that serves people trying to take the train (or express bus) along with people just trying to get to Kent.

        This is another reason why spending money on the park and ride lots is a bad idea. It strengthens ridership on the train, but doesn’t do anything for those trying to get into town. It treats the stop as nothing more than a park and ride, rather than the town center — a completely backwards approach, especially for cities that are more likely to struggle. Not only does it take away land that could be used for transit oriented development, but it weakens the potential for TOD in other nearby lots.

    3. It’s not that STB commenters think that transit in South County is a bad idea. It’s that too many of your neighbors do and therefore resent paying for it.

  5. I am very weary of using COVID ridership patterns to predict what post-COVID ridership is going to look like. Even with all the 21st century digital technology, there are still advantages to having people interact with each other face to face, in an office set up for work, without the distractions of home. Especially when companies have already invested large sums of money in office real-estate, which it would be foolish to just throw away.

    Also, while a *short-term* proposal to shift resources to South King, during the pandemic, may make sense, I am weary of a long term transit network that requires you live in a poor neighborhood in order to have decent transit service. If you want people who are not poor to continue to support paying for transit service with their tax dollars, it is much easier if they can see it as something that they can actually use, rather than merely a service for the less-fortunate.

    Obviously, there are limits, and some areas are just two sprawled out to justify much service. But, it is entirely reasonable for the denser areas on the eastside (e.g. downtown Bellevue/Redmond/Kirkland) to get 15-minute service connecting them to each other – and Seattle – once COVID ends.

    But, reading between the lines in this post, I feel like you are basically telling me that my neighborhood (downtown Kirkland) is too wealthy to deserve frequent bus service, and that I should cough up the money to buy a car so that the buses can be put to better use serving the poor.

    If you want people to support transit at the ballot box, you need to provide decent transit to all the neighborhoods with the density to support it, not just the poor ones.

    1. I am very weary of using COVID ridership patterns to predict what post-COVID ridership is going to look like.

      I agree. As I wrote below, this is a measure of transit resilience during a pandemic, not a measure of overall ridership in a pandemic, let alone a prediction for future ridership.

      We are under a stay at home order. That means that you shouldn’t drive, or use transit, unless it is for something really important. I’m not taking the bus, but except for grocery store visits, I’m not driving either. Basing transit use on current conditions is like saying traffic jams won’t exist five years from now.

      Transit ridership has dropped about 75%. Some of that is people working from home. A lot of it is people not working. But more than anything, non-work transit trips have probably dropped to near zero. Except for going to the grocery store or pharmacy, I don’t think it is happening. People aren’t taking the bus to school, or visit a friend, or going out to a club.

      That will all change once the pandemic is over. Transit ridership will increase, just like automobile traffic will.

    2. I agree asdf2, particularly about the work environment. There is a social aspect to the workplace that will not easily go away (and in some professions is vital). I think what we are seeing now is that while yes, some work can be done remotely and there are temporary advantages to doing so, many people are already jumping at the bit to get back to some form of “normal” including the workplace. Being at home 24/7 is not necessarily a healthy thing over time. At our firm we are planning on more flexible workspaces becoming the norm (this has already happened in some workplaces) so that people can take advantage of the new-found ability to work from elsewhere from time to time, but certainly not planning on a huge diminution of required office space. Even at a 10-20% reduction in required space there will still be a huge demand for transit to those job centers.

      All this, of course, doesn’t even touch the fact that a huge number of jobs must be performed at a specific place.

      As to your other points, there is no doubt that for those areas with high transit dependency we need excellent service – which we don’t have as of yet – but also that everybody needs to feel that they have ownership of the system, see themselves using it – if only occasionally as to a sporting event or the like – and are therefore willing to pay for it. This requires getting the “choice” transit user on board so to speak. Seattle has been fairly successful at this to date but if service drops to minimal levels I will certainly reconsider my car-free lifestyle and location.

      1. Working from home also requires a certain amount of dedicated space. The kitchen table works in a pinch, but not as a permanent “home office”. Even someone living by themselves in a studio apartment will feel cramped if their job suddenly moves in. So there is the extra expense of moving into a larger apartment or factoring in the home office when buying a house.

      2. Good point. A lot of businesses prefer it if people work at the office, and will limit the amount of time you are typically allowed to work at home (sometimes at zero). A lot of people prefer working in the office (I always did). But right now, both employer and employee have no choice — either work at home or don’t work.

      3. @GuyOnBeaconHill – absolutely correct, and we are already considering ways to include spaces like that to the greatest extent possible when designing smaller units in particular – there is going to be a demand that wasn’t really considered before, and developers will react to that. It’s one of the things I gave up when moving downtown – the “extra bedroom” caused too high of a price point – but next time I look to move it will be one of the considerations I look at strongly (along with transit and walkability, which I have now).

    3. I didn’t know Capitol Hill (link) and Northgate (2021 link recipient) were poor neighborhoods?

      1. The east side of Northgate, just north of the QFC, is pretty darn poor. Quite a few of those SFHs are run down rentals. The residents can’t get the police to come out there for anything less than a violent felony, so a lot of the crime is unreported.

      2. Very interesting in that looking at the home prices in that area, the poors apparently live in a sea of well to do homeowners. The poor apparently do an excellent job of blending in.

      3. Homeowners aren’t necessarily residents. The property values are high, the rentz are high, but the houses themselves? Pretty shabby. They’re not “blending in” if you know the area.

      4. The second diagram is surprising. Ridership fell:
        – least in south King County (expected)
        – second-least in southeast Seattle and White Center (expected)
        – third-least in the 148th corridor: Eastgate-Crossroads-Overlake-Redmond-North Redmond (surprising)

        Crossroads has for decades had the Eastside’s highest concentration of immigrants, working-class people, and 1970s apartments. I grew up east of Crossroads so I’ve seen it my whole life. However, I didn’t think it was as high as South King County or had spread to Eastgate, Overlake, and Redmond. Eastgate is lower-income than most of Bellevue, but that much? And Redmond, right around Microsoft and downtown Redmond, really? Redmond is the multifamily capital of the Eastside, and by some counts the densest city per capita in the state. But I thought those recent apartments were filled with tech workers and middle-income professionals. 140th Avenue/Place, which is between NE 8th Street and Bellevue College, has sprouted lots of apartments the past thirty years, but I thought students and middle-income people lived there. Maybe it was Crossroads spreading south?

        I’m also not sure what “low transit access to services” means. That the services aren’t in your neighborhood? That there’s few bus runs in the neighborhood? South King County has many residential neighborhoods where services are miles away and buses are every 30-60 minutes or peak-only, but the 140th-148th-156th corridors have the B and 245 (15-minutes full-time and daytime, respectively) , and a variety of services along those streets. It’s the single-family areas around them that have low transit access to services, and there ridership has fallen precipitously according to the diagram. So I’m not sure what’s happening in the eastern Eastside or whether it’s really comparable to South King County.

      5. Crossroads to Redmond transit use remaining high doesn’t surprise me at all. School bus stops on 148th load 20+ kids. The area is packed with service workers that are still commuting to jobs both along that corridor and elsewhere. I’d venture that most families living in apartments there are single or zero car ownership. They’re accustom to frequent transit with RR-B connecting to Overlake, DT Redmond and Bellevue TC.

  6. I’m struck by how the blue (biggest losses) map looks somewhat like the ST3 Link projects map. I realize that they aren’t the same thing — but it does make one wonder if our regional decision processes carry an anti-transit-dependent bias.

    1. I think it is more that the ST3 projects focus on commuting to downtown. More than anything, that is the theme for the big investments. Unfortunately, that is a short-sighted notion, as every-to-everywhere trips dominate transportation in this, as well as most large cities (before the pandemic). Creating a system that provides both is tricky, but way more likely to succeed than what they are building.

  7. I’ve been working remotely for the last 7 weeks and it’s real clear that there are hard limits to how much can be accomplished with video conferencing, Teams chats and email chains. Some jobs may be transferable to home settings, but I think most jobs are still going to need to be done in a common group setting. The job of the future will surely incorporate more video conferencing and possibly some work-from-home days, but the benefits of social interaction and group dynamics can’t be efficiently replicated with Zoom.

    1. Yeah, that’s the thing. Commuting for work is a subset of the transit trips. Working from home is a subset of work. Those that will continue to work from home is a subset of that.

      There are entire fields that are currently working from home, that won’t after the pandemic is over. Education, for example. Every school at every level in the state involves people working and learning from home right now. That will all go away once the pandemic is over.

  8. The diagram (both copied here and on the original PDF) is really hard to read. I don’t what they did (wrong) but I can’t make out the numbers, and enlarging doesn’t help. It looks like a picture someone badly scanned.

    Anyway, I can infer some of the routes, and it is exactly what you would expect, and what Dan wrote about. Express service to downtown has collapsed. In the north end, the express buses (15, 17, 18 and 76) saw huge reductions. On the other hand, the D, 40, 41, 44, as well as all buses that go to the UW are average. West Seattle is similar — only rush-hour buses saw decreases greater than average.

    It is only when you look at the routes that saw the least change that you really see the class divide. The E is a working class route, as is the 7, and most of the south end. If you looked at low income households, it pretty much matches the yellow on the map. One exception is the 49. My guess is folks have simply switched from using bus+Link, since both are a lot less frequent, and a one seat ride involves less contact.

  9. I think it would be worthwhile to look at new and old ridership patterns (not just the difference). I don’t know if we had a map of one before the virus. I’m thinking of something where the more popular routes have thicker lines. Then you could look at the new map, and the various changes. The map they have (showing which areas changed the most) is helpful, but can give a misleading view of current transit use.

    For example, it looks like the 168 didn’t change as much as most routes. This bus is more resilient than average, but before the virus, it only carried 1,400 riders. Even it didn’t see any decrease, that is still a pretty low performing bus, compared to routes that may have seen a bigger decrease.

    This is a measure of resilience during a pandemic, not a measure of overall ridership in a pandemic, let alone a prediction for future ridership.

    1. I agree there are a bunch of seniors that live in the Bellevue area
      and what those seniors need is great ….aren’t usually troublesome . They are loaded. And university students usually pretty good. For goodness sakes. Let’s be cautious kids college students are a little full of themself. But business pay students to get pass or partially. As a 79 year old enjoy

  10. I would attribute the lack of neither severe ridership decline or stable demand in most core routes inside the general Central Seattle area to lots of things — from work-at-home or layoffs to choosing to avoid a bus by walking or bicycling to shunning a bus ride because of lousy frequency to being able to live more like a village (able to reach nearby non-residential destinations).

    Rather than view transit service allocation as the issue, maybe we should look reforming land use to prevent large residential-only areas that force transit-dependent residents to use a bus to get almost anywhere.

    What would be really telling would be if a research effort that surveys people rather than make observations based on boarding numbers. Is there a long-term market for suburbs to rezone more as villages or not? How does this look in areas with different levels of transit dependency?

  11. asdf2, you’re first point pretty well “says it.” We’re under both attack and a siege by bristly little killers whose goal is to only leave enough of us alive that they’ll always have something to eat. Who keep their “cards” close to their spiky little chests if they have them. Go forecast!

    But discussion needs to add that, like me, it’s not only true but desirable that our average work-week, if not day, puts us both at the wheel of a car and in a seat on transit. Or standing in the aisle holding onto a metal post. Every tool to its use.

    Meaning that even if Lake Washington Tech wasn’t there, Kirkland motorists still need transit. For information and analysis, Sound Transit Blog is performing a valuable service. But us commentators can help if we house-break the tendency to both pick and fix on fights between transit user-groups. Best habit?

    Think like a region.

    Mark Dublin

  12. It’s interesting looking at that purple map. If the darker areas are a composite of some poor people of color stuff, then why is it the top of the map areas, filled with car-owning white devils that is getting all the light rail?

    1. Any chance it’s because, at this point in time, it’s where light rail is least expensive to build? Lynnwood and Everett good examples. Opening up this question, though:

      Might these stretches be better served by those purple high-speed electric Swedish bathroom-bearers? What US keyboard calls “Pagatag”, the Swedes add the little circle over first and third “a” and say “Pogue-atogue”.

      About the white devils, let’s just save that for an arctic Samoyed sled dog with a playful sense of humor. Know being answered only encourages you, so should just ignore.

      But for the good of our country, certain proven-lethal ideas have to be refuted whenever stated. If people who look like their forebears could possibly be from Northern Europe were imprisoned at same rate as those with darker complexions, jails would be a whole lot fuller.

      For the light-complexioned we’re discussing, many are indeed overworked, underpaid, and deliberately permanently indebted. Which every anti-racist has a duty to help them get free of.

      But their liberation might go faster if so many of them didn’t vote in droves for the very people, and party most adamantly opposed to any improvement in THEIR lives.

      So in the meantime….


      “Snowflake? Snowflake? Who’s a GOOOOOD dog and where’d you bury my slippers?!”

      Mark Dublin

    2. Sam, I am with you. We have to figure a way to eliminate the homeless issue from transit. I’ve given up taking transit in this city, due to the inordinate number of times a crazed smelly diseased homeless derelict boarded the bus. Transit should prohibit people that are hygienically challenged from any vehicle by arming bus drivers with pepper spray and tazers. Keep the homeless out of transit!

      1. The sad part is the real “homeless” are lumped in with the bums Seattle has attracted by spreading honey (the homeless industrial complex has become a multi-million dollar business with six figure salaries). The “homeless” are people often through no fault or choice are without a place to live. They are the group probably working or willing to work any job offered to them. They want a shelter where people aren’t doing and dealing drugs. Throw the bums out; both those squatting in public parks and those in elected office.

        As Dublin has pointed out repeatedly, many of the bums are mentally unstable and there’s a need to re-establish the mental hospital system. Others are making good money “passing the plate” at stop lights. Some are stealing anything they can to pay for drugs. Free transit, as we know from the RFZ, is part of the problem not a solution.

      2. William,, how are we going to separate the homeless from the non- homeless riding on the bus? Ask to see “their papers”?

        Bernie, there is no “honey” attracting the homeless to Seattle. The overwhelming majority of homeless individuals in Seattle are from King County. Seattle has the centralized services for them, a conscious choice made at the county level.

        Most shelters are strictly drug free, including alcohol and pot. Do you havd any data that points to drug use occurring in/at local shelters?

        Mental illness rates among the homeless, while greater than the US average, are still incredibly overblown. As in they are only 1.5-1,75 times greater, which certainly does not constitute a mental health emergency. Institutionalization also exacerbates the issue, as it piles on bill after bill, ensuring the homeless can not afford any kind of rent (even forced institutionalization is not free, one is charged a fee before one is discharged).

      3. William, have you ever used either pepper spray or a tazer in a fight, or ever in your life even been in one? Someone who has, preferably while in uniform, please weigh in as to likely outcomes, and casualties, when non-police pepper spray gets loose in a crowded setting, like, say, a bus? Elderly uninvolved bystander with a pulmonary problem….can you say “Negligent Homicide?” Taser’s at least “Murder Two.”

        ‘Nother thing the Fightin’ Daydreamers need to consider: How many friends of their adversary already have the “drop” on them, bladed and loaded with what? Know a bus driver’s own most likely outcome? Somebody’s going to shove their own bear-spray-can in their mouth and hold down the button ’til their fur falls out.

        Couple weeks before I took the wheel of my first Route 7, pathetically-trained driver got up and grabbed a kid who’d spat on him. Load had turned disorderly, but Training never got to the part about calling Control for enforcement. Offender’s fourteen friends inflicted brain-damage for life.

        Would’ve been killed if three women, teachers leaving a meeting at nearby high school, hadn’t boarded the coach and literally flung the attackers off both the driver and the bus. Not in their contract either, so they and their local joined our local in demanding, and finally getting, decent policing on Rainier Avenue.

        I’m also hearing the familiar anthem of forces too cheap to pay for decent professional policing, making up the difference by adding it to transit operator’s duties. Same stripe who’d cut school law enforcement costs by letting teachers “open carry.” Resulting small caskets, customarily closed.

        Incidentally, all fifteen of those almost-killers lived in a… HOUSE! So define exactly what “The Homeless Issue” is. As one commentator put it the other day, real Issue of the Age is what we’re going to do about the USA having become “A Failed State.” Think Western State Mental Hospital on grounds 4,000 by 2500 miles coast to coast and border to border. Author included both major parties.

        Been online and on phone line to your State Representative to fund Western Washington State into legality, let alone competence? If not, shut up and just do it.

        And when they hang up on you, get with your every elected representative who’s in charge of getting money for transit police and keep at them ’til they put you away for stalking. Though since thanks to COVID-15 they won’t even give you a cell, your can immediately get together with others for the necessary politics here.

        Riding transit or not, your choice. Pretty sure you and whatever city’s transit system you’re describing are doing ok in each other’s absence. And seriously, good luck in finding what you’re seeking most in life: People weaker than you to blame for all your problems. Just be careful about taking that attitude into a fight. Emergency rooms are not nice places right now and they keep you waiting while your mask is being hunted down.

        Mark Dublin

    3. Short answer on why light rail avoids transit dependent people: money = power.

      The whole “spine” thing is the effort of suburban business types and their friends on local councils to tie their city to the booming regional business hub of Seattle as well as Seatac. When ST3 is finished, there will actually be more light rail stations per capita in Bellevue than in Seattle, for example. There will be 26 stations within the limits of Seattle (at 750K) and 8 in Bellevue (at 150K). In other words, Seattle would have to have 14 more Link stations to merely match Bellevue’s Link per capita coverage.

      Then, if you read ST’s business-friendly Stakeholders Committee‘s (stakeholder = real estate holdings for the most part) social equity discussion of West Seattle-Ballard, ST brags about having only a few low-income census tracts are affected that may be impacted by construction (out of feigned concern) — ignoring how the options ignore transit-dependent areas in the first place!

      It’s a radical departure about low-income from the initial 1996 Link plan that served Harborview and “detoured” through the Rainier Valley. Now that light rail riding is trendy rather than for “those poor people”, the region happily pushes low-income folks out of the way so that they can get on first.

      It makes many transit advocates uncomfortable to admit it, but the inequity is pervasive at multiple levels. Why else would Kent or Auburn be content to put more expensive Sounder parking garages in their Downtowns for white-collar peak direction service (even when a decent number of those users live outside of the ST District) rather than rally for light rail or even frequent STRide service into their cities?

      I’m sure the counter argument is “but we needed to promise voters something to get the measure passed” will be raised. To that, I’ll merely point out that South King is East King’s de facto “low-income district“ and that if the subareas were merged out of fairness ST3 would be way different.

      1. “There will be 26 stations within the limits of Seattle (at 750K) and 8 in Bellevue (at 150K).”

        Hmm, that’s really about station spacing. Link’s spacing is 0.25 miles in downtown Seattle (appropriate, but forced by the pre-existing DSTT), 0,5 miles from East Main to 130th (Bel-Red is it called?), and 1-2 miles elsewhere. Downtown Bellevue is a large downtown, so we’ll give it that. The Spring District (Wilburton to 130th) spacing is aspirational: the powers that be want it to grow big and are hoping it will. What’s odd is that the U-District and Northgate don’t have that spacing, even though they’re supposedly urban centers like the Spring District. I think that’s due to the bias for new density vs old. (First Hill and Belltown were neglected for the same reason.)

        So what I see is, Link’s station spacing is pretty consistent throughout, across both denser and less-dense areas, and that accounts for the difference in stations per capita.

      2. Huh? The discrepancy is about spacing?

        I disagree . The discrepancy is about wealth through subarea revenue and the interests they drive them. Simply put, East King benefits from wealthier property, higher sales and more expensive cars per capita — the key ST tax sources. That gives Bellevue a much bigger bank to fund Link. That and getting away with promising less wealthy Renton (20 percent of East King population) only a parking garage that doesn’t have direct access ramps to feed a freeway bus service.

        To put it another way, Downtown Bellevue is served by light rail lines in three directions. Downtown Seattle is served by five rather than fifteen (even eight would be amazing). Two of those five still don’t get anywhere close to the Seattle city limits after ST3 completion and a third only has one station within the city limits.

        Then, East King has places (freeway corridors) deemed acceptable for light rail — so East King is willing to accept rail with only a short tunnel that doesn’t contain a station vault, saving hundreds of millions of dollars. The eagerness to add 30-60 percent more to the project costs for a half-mile tunnel and underground station in West Seattle or another tunnel under the Ship Canal is driven by wealth masquerading as neighborhood compatibility. It’s pretty well known that subways are generally 8-10 times more expensive than surface and 3-4 times more expensive than above-ground. I’ll even point out that light rail in the 405 corridor was never given serious debate because Newport residents would be horrified at an aerial line along 405 and wealthier Kirkland residents wanted to save their beloved trail.

        The influence of wealth = power with ST are pervasive. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It takes support from business interests to build any rail transit. Let’s just not deny that it exists.

  13. Good way to look at Sounder North? It’s a means of getting transit use out of an existing rail right of way. Not really there to only serve Everett. More to meet ferries, especially rush hour, from Kingston and Whidbey Island.

    Eventual outcome, however many decades we’re discussing? Electric bathroom-equipped streamliners like the purple ones in southern Sweden roughly following the I-5 right of way connecting Everett and, yeah, Olympia. OK, Centralia.

    Shorter term, more police attention to track through places like Sumner, where stalled car or unfortunate person can take down Sounder service for hours.

    Mark Dublin

    1. The problem with Sounder North is the cost. The subsidy per rider is extremely high. Express buses to Mukilteo, Edmonds and Everett (some of which already exist) would be a much better value. There are very few people who commute between stops, so I wouldn’t worry about that.

      Spending a bundle of very few riders means that other riders are left out.

      1. Sounder or ST Express? Even allowing for “police activity” in Puyallup and train-pedestrian tragedies in Sumner aboard which service is a passenger more likely to be immobilized? Without a bathroom.

        Granted, since Dave Ross has permanently yielded his time to Likes of Luke Burbank, KIRO Radio’s not what it was.

        But if time is indeed money, if we consider everybody’s time “billable” whether or not they wear a tie to the office, given present traffic conditions, rail right of way is worth what it costs.

        Mark Dublin

      2. But if time is indeed money, if we consider everybody’s time “billable” whether or not they wear a tie to the office, given present traffic conditions, rail right of way is worth what it costs.

        Not if it costs a lot, and benefits very few. That’s my point. Running big trains is expensive, as is the money ST pays the railroad. There are other ways to save time, like increasing frequency on bus routes. By any metric (involving time or not) North Sounder is a bad value.

    2. “It’s a means of getting transit use out of an existing rail right of way.”

      That was the original motivation for Sounder: it could be launched quickly and inexpensively because the tracks were already there. The quick part was true but the inexpensive part wasn’t because of high track leases.

      “Not really there to only serve Everett. More to meet ferries, especially rush hour, from Kingston and Whidbey Island.”

      Those are outside the ST tax district, so Snohomish residents shouldn’t be paying an extraordinary amount of money to serve them when said Snohomish residents don’t have anything comparable. You’re ignoring the fact that most of the subarea’s population lives near 99 and I-5; only a tiny fraction live near downtown Mukilteo or Edmonds. The appropriate level of service for that small fraction of riders and ferry commuters would be express buses. The money we’re spending on Sounder North is money we can’t spend accelerating Link.

      Everett-Seattle Link will have the same travel time as Everett-Seattle Sounder thanks to the fully grade-separated right-of-way. But it will also run full-time every 10-15 minutes and also serve the U-District, Nortgate, Capitol Hill, and with a train-to-train transfer Bellevue and SeaTac. That’s a lot more value than Sounder. Mukilteo and Edmonds benefit most from Sounder because it’s significantly faster than anything else from there, but only a tiny fraction of the population can use it. We shouldn’t act like they’re central Lynnwood or Edmonds Community College that should have above-average service.

      1. Mike, I’ve always seen Sounder as temporary. Using the track available until we can build the track we really need. And consider service outside the tax-district as an inducement to eventually join it.

        Giving places like where I live a “Taste of the Trains”, even if, as with DSTT, you have to start with buses. For me, “Greater Puget Sound Region” borders on New Westminster to the North, Aberdeen to the West, Beaverton to the South, and Ellensburg or Spokane to the East.

        Ideas you think ABOUT and ideas you think WITH. No penalties for size, and no rush about time.

        Mark Dublin

      2. @Mike Orr
        Points for your entire reply above. (Insert clapping emoji here.)

        We had this discussion on another thread just a couple of days ago as well. Those arguing to keep funding Sounder North were pretty unpersuasive in that conversation. I won’t bother to rehash all of what was previously said, but I will mention the one bullet point you’ve mentioned previously and in your reply above. The Sounder North corridor simply misses the great majority of the population here in SW SnoCo.

        I live in Edmonds. The Lynnwood LR station is half as far away as the Edmonds CR station, is easier to get to, will be available to use all day long, will give me a lot more stop/connection options and avoids the time-consuming doubling back from S Jackson St. The Sounder North stations in Edmonds and Mukilteo serve a very different (and quite small) market at a very high cost per rider.

        “The money we’re spending on Sounder North is money we can’t spend accelerating Link.”

        Now repeat this ten more times so it sinks in with the Sounder North advocates.

        *If this whole thread gets deleted for being [ot], that’s the way the cookie crumbles I guess.

  14. I hope they’ll look at other metrics, not just who took buses while a lot of people were working from home or not going to work, and many bus routes were either cancelled or service was reduced.

  15. Ross, if we did cancel Sounder North and replace it with ST Express, what would attendance stats be for protest meetings? Does that particular piece of service have any “Core Constituency?”

    Also extremely fair question to know who supporters are, as individuals. Also very curious which side of the water the support dwells on. If it’s “over the waves”… Estonian-sized hydrofoils are seldom grounded by landslides.

    By their nature, “Flag Shows” are temporary. How long has Sounder North been running now? If it’s only a cap-feather for anybody’s Chamber of Commerce, headware styles do change.

    Mark Dublin

  16. Bernie, same as with Sam, only real reason to answer you at all is that one of STB’s most important jobs is to help participants at the critical juncture of turning ideas we think ABOUT into ideas we think WITH.

    In tonight’s episode, the idea that, instead of the purpose of collecting cash fares aboard service being to finance the system (green pie-chart slice says 7%, doesn’t it?) their main purpose is to identify who-all does NOT get to ride.

    Term “free” is a misnomer whose true name is “Plain Flat Wrong.” We taxpayers are contributing the remaining 93% to buy ourselves transit service.

    Being independent and encouraged to experiment, Intercity Transit discovered- the hero actually did wear an eye-shade and glasses and sleeve-garters and use real ink on real lined paper- that cash-related items like handling, protecting, and accounting for coins and bills cost a lot more money than it gained.

    Behind bus steering wheel or train-controller, there’s also the insistent helpless tactile distress that lets a driver feel operating revenue- per-minute cost still classified- draining away like that red body-fluid as fares get discussed, argued over, and hunted out of pockets.

    The “Ride Free Area”- collecting no fares in Downtown Seattle but full fares everywhere else- had an ugly penalty attached.

    Outbound at rush hour, outside Downtown, the driver had to make every stop, and wait while every passenger stood blocking the front door, did their little treasure-hunt, disputes and all, and finally got off.

    Confession and Absolution: On the three-door “Artics”, average experienced driver simply announced over the PA that passengers were welcome to hold their pass up in the mirror and leave by any door.

    Watching the people carefully raising their pass to the mirror, being sure it was right-side-up- was heart-wrenching. Between drivers and company? Tacit agreement that Time was indeed Money.


    For judgments of moral fitness based on appearance, only way to identify the culprits here is the price-tags on their suits, which thankfully can now be obtained online without having to grab the guy’s collar right there on the stand and check.

    Let alone what-all besides COVID can be brought home from close formal contact in the royal chambers of one or two places we sell a lot of weapons to, and buy even more oil from now that we don’t need it.

    That courtly (literally) doctor you just shook hands with…..did Jared Kushner tell you he’d just gotten off the royal jet from the Kingdom’s Istanbul consulate after dismembering a critic of the king? Big problem getting gloves, you know….

    Guess there is a reason why the 574 from the airport should never be ALLOWED to set wheel in Olympia, new Transit Center Building or not!

    Give up, guys. But most of all, face it that especially in things like transit- and I guess the Armed Forces- paying taxes costs less than paying profits. Handled as designed, a public utility is OURS, with our own qualities and abilities the deciding ones.

    “The People’s Railway” was well-named. Though right now “Preventive Maintenance” needs more than one chapter of its own.


    Mark Dublin

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