From the Sound Transit ridership dashboard

Last month, Metro reported an average weekday ridership exceeding 200,000 boardings. This is a mark that hasn’t been seen since the pandemic started, with the exception of last October (which typically represents the peak month of ridership in a year). More encouraging is that year-over-year growth is currently sitting at about 40%, which certainly trends with the lifting of pandemic restrictions.

Sound Transit has also clawed back much of its lost ridership, sitting just shy of 100,000 daily boardings in April. Central Link ridership is back to a respectable 66,000 boardings, although it’s unreasonable to make comparisons to pre-pandemic levels with the Northgate extension having opened just last Fall.

There’s some discussion about the effect of high gas prices on ridership recovery. From a recent KOMO article:

“If it gets up to like $7 a gallon I don’t know what I’m gonna do,” said Apollo Rising, Seattle driver. “I’m probably gonna use the bus a lot more.”

“We hear it sometimes on social media that people are choosing transit because of the cost,” said Sean Hawks, spokesman for King County Metro. “It’s $2.75 for a bus fare but even less expensive fare if you’re a senior, youth or have a disability or have a lower income.”

Many remember the summer of 2008, when drivers fleeing gas prices helped boost transit ridership to what were then record-levels. My suspicion is that we’re not seeing exactly the same effect now largely since many workers are still working from home.

As I stated last month, crossing arbitrary thresholds can provide feel-good moments but they should not be the barometer we use to gauge system health in a post-pandemic world.

105 Replies to “Transit ridership is slowly recovering”

  1. “More encouraging is that year-over-year growth is currently sitting at about 40%, which certainly trends with the lifting of pandemic restrictions.”

    While the “essential rides only” restriction might have had some impact on ridership, I really don’t see evidence that lifting the mask requirement had much impact. If anything, the lifting of the mask requirement on transit in April *slowed* the rate at which ridership was recovering. Personally, I immediately shifted back into essential-rides-only mode.

    The October bump was all 1-Line. The 1-Line added about as much ridership as the total number of rides on all other ST services combined. We know what happened that month, and it wasn’t the weather.

    The January dip may have been partially seasonal, but it was also the largest spike in cases by far (and I thought ridership had dipped by more than the charts show). I’d say ridership is depending largely on how safe or dangerous it feels to ride.

    1. I agree. This gets to Sherwin Lee’s point. We really have no idea what ridership will be in a post-pandemic world, since we aren’t there yet. We thought the pandemic would be over by now, but clearly it isn’t.

      1. I think everyone knows that AIDS continues to be a major killer in Africa. What’s your point Daniel?

    2. It may never be over. We missed the opportunity to snuff it out in early 2020. Now there continue to be new variations, vaccine acceptance has hit a ceiling, and large parts of the world no longer tolerate masks. Africa didn’t get vaccines for over a year, and now that they have them, people are refusing to take them — inspired by American right-wing conspiracies probably. So how would the virus stop evolving? Would it just evolve itself into a corner and disappear? We can’t count on that.

      1. Africans may not be eager to take the vaccine because they don’t see the need. Covid total cases and total deaths were unusually low throughout the pandemic in most African countries. Example, Kenya and England have roughly the same population. About 55 million. England had 179,000 deaths. Kenya has only had about 5000 deaths. It’s the same for many other African counties. Covid barely touched them. So if people aren’t eager to get the vaccine there, I think that’s why.

      2. Everyone I know acts like the pandemic is over. They are flying everywhere and going out to dinner and movies, including me. I am due for my second booster but don’t know whether I will get it.

        My two college age kids have acted like the pandemic is over since around summer 2020. One is home and the other returns Wednesday. I remember how scary that was to have college age kids return from school through airports pre-vaccine.

        Today I took the 550 home from work as I had to leave my daughter’s car at the mechanic as she arrives back from college on Wednesday.

        It seems like I have lived in a tunnel the last two years. As I was walking to the bus stop in Pioneer Square I called my brother in law who lives in Pioneer Square and we went to an excellent happy hour and ate sashimi while watching the Boston/Golden State game. Very urbany. I even saw an old college friend. The great thing about transit is you don’t have to worry about one more drink.

        I had forgotten how pleasant and meditative it is to walk. Most the stores and bars were closed but still I have walked these streets for 32 years. Lots of memories as we are moving away in two months.

        The 550 was stopped 1 and 1/2 blocks away but the driver waited while I sprinted which was nice of him. There were only four of us on the bus at 7:30 but the bus was very clean and everyone very “Eastside”.

        When I got off on MI the walk to my house is very non-urban but through a pretty park. It reminded me of living in Europe during graduate school when I walked everywhere with my head filled with Joyce and fantasies.

        It is hard to relax when you walk if you don’t do it regularly. It seems so slow. I couldn’t waste this much time every day taking transit but it was a lovely walk and ride.

        In today’s environment I can’t imagine how East Link will offer any benefit over the 550 —assuming the bridge holds up — but if it doesn’t the 550, 554 and other buses, just in the HOV lanes which the buses don’t use because there is no traffic, will work just fine. East Link was foolish mode for mode’s sake.

        As we drove across the empty bridge I thought this is what urbanists have dreamed of: the absence of cars, although they probably didn’t understand it would mean the absence of transit riders too, at least across the bridge.

      3. By the way, this morning I walked from 12th and King where my mechanic is to The Smith Tower, and then around Pioneer Square after work, and it looks like Harrell is doing a very good job removing the homeless from the streets.

      4. England had 179,000 deaths. Kenya has only had about 5000 deaths.
        Reported deaths; I be willing to bet England has a better system to track and a higher rate of testing than Kenya.

      5. I can think of several reasons a rider would prefer EastLink over the 550:

        1) Link is scheduled to run more often, particularly evenings and Sundays.
        2) Link avoids several stoplights in Bellevue and downtown Seattle, which the 550 has to wait at.
        3) Link loads and unloads passengers much more quickly than the bus, and doesn’t get delayed by random wheelchairs. The 550 can easily spend 5+ minutes loading passengers at Bellevue Transit Center. Link can board the same volume of passengers in about 20 seconds.
        4) Link will offer a one-seat ride between Bellevue and Capitol Hill, which the 550 never did.
        5) The 550 gets stuck in traffic whenever there is a baseball, football, or soccer game. Link will never get stuck in traffic.

        In addition to all that, Link will serve many other trip pairs within the Eastside, which the 550 never even attempted to serve. One of the most drastic improvements will be downtown Redmond to downtown Bellevue, replacing a 45-minute slog on the B-line with a 15-20 minute train ride. It will also unlock other transit commutes, such as Mercer Island to Microsoft. Today, nobody would consider doing that on transit because of the travel times, but when Link opens, such a trip actually starts to look reasonable, and can easily reach parity with driving whenever 405 or 520 is congested.

      6. Yes I agree asdf2. Link 2 will be better.

        I looked up the travel time from BTC to Westlake. On 550 it’s over 30 minutes (33-37 depending g). Link 2 Line will be 23. Of course, i wouldn’t be surprised if 2-3 more minutes get added for caution on the bridge crossing.

        I also think there is a perception of station safety at work.

        Finally, I think Judkins Park riders are supposed to be about 15-20 percent of the riders. It will be easier to transfer at Judkins Park than it is at Mt Baker today heading north. Plus the new 23rd Ave entrance is like a new station for that neighborhood.

        Of course, that depends on the line actually opening. I’m expecting the opening date in 2024 although the official opening date in the April progress report is October 8, 2023.

      7. “Link will offer a one-seat ride between Bellevue and Capitol Hill, which the 550 never did.”

        That’s me, taking Link from Capitol Hill to Spring District or Bel-Red. Currently a Link+B or Link+226 trip from 5th & Union takes 45-60 minutes, depending on how long I wait for the B. Coming back I have to get to Bellevue TC before 7:20pm when the last 15-minute 550 leaves; otherwise I might have to wait 30 minutes. And the 271 leaves at almost the same time as the 550 or later so that doesn’t help. Looking forward to East Link.

      8. Everyone I know acts like the pandemic is over.

        Based on everything you have ever written here, you live a very isolated life. I wouldn’t make too many conclusions based on the folks you hang out with. It reminds me of people who think Trump stole the election, because everyone they know voted for him.

        If you think we have fully recovered from the pandemic, you need to spend more time reading the news. These are not ordinary times.

      9. “Everyone I know acts like the pandemic is over.

        “Based on everything you have ever written here, you live a very isolated life. I wouldn’t make too many conclusions based on the folks you hang out with. It reminds me of people who think Trump stole the election, because everyone they know voted for him.

        “If you think we have fully recovered from the pandemic, you need to spend more time reading the news. These are not ordinary times.”

        Ross, to some extent we all live isolated lives. I would guess however mine is much less isolated than yours, certainly right now.

        Just look at the data for airline travel and restaurants. I have been through airports several times over the last year. People are going out. I have two college age kids — and am now living with them for the summer — so I see their lives too. Yesterday I took the bus, and walked around Pioneer Square. My kids’ groups virtually have no concern about Covid, and many had it.

        Unemployment rates are very low. Folks are back to work, altough they naturally don’t like to commute to an office, not because they are afraid of Covid but as the article AJ linked to they just hate commuting to work.

        Go to Home Depot or a grocery store or the mall or a movie theater or Pike Place Market, or a Mariner’s game, or to a destination like Hawaii or Sun Valley or a college town like San Luis Obispo, or a high school football or Lacrosse game, and any number of cocktail and dinner parties, and you don’t see many masks, if any, and large number of folks gathering, laughing, shaking hands, sharing food from a table, basically what they did pre-pandemic. The schools are fully open and the students and teachers don’t wear masks (and my wife works at Islander Middle School. They take the school bus to school, and it is packed. There are no restrictions on how the kids play or eat, or how they interact. Parents don’t spray them down with Lysol when they get home.

        [ad hominem]

        I understand some are still quite concerned about getting a milder variant of Covid, and some have compromised symptoms, but from what I see most citizens have decided to live their lives. Most believed the CDC when it lifted the mask mandate, as did the King Co. health director. The great think about America is you are free to make the decisions you feel are best for you. But Brent is correct: if you go out you will find lots of people congregating without masks, and if that makes you feel uncomfortable don’t go out, even with a mask.

        The reason this is relevant to transit is because transit ridership is at its new baseline. There is not a huge well of transit riders and commuters just waiting for Covid to go completely away to start commuting to the office or riding transit. That percentage is tiny, and if anything we will see fewer folks working over the next two years as a recession is coming.

        So transit has to plan for that, especially when it comes to operations budgets that are based on assumptions for ridership and farebox recovery that are not achievable. Some like buses can scale back, but some like Link will need more operations revenue, or less frequency.

      10. Fauci said the pandemic stage is over. I guess we’re in an epidemic stage between pandemic and endemic. Annual deaths are still several times higher than endemic diseases like the flu, large spikes still have the potential to overwhelm hospitals, and the risk and effects of long covid are becoming more clear. King County was at a Low covid level in April and early May, but has been Medium for several weeks, maybe two months. Most people on buses are still wearing masks, although it may be more in Seattle than the suburbs, with Bellevue in between.


        7 day average for infections in King Co.: 1352

        7 day average deaths: 2.

        The details for those who died such as whether they were vaccinated or co-morbidities are not revealed. My guess is the number of infections is higher but either asymptomatic or the symptoms were mild (certainly hospitalizations due to Covid are reported) which no doubt leads folks to assume Covid is not much of a risk. I have to assume that over the last 2.5 years I had Covid at some point but did not know it.

        Each person must assess their own risk tolerance and risk from co-morbidities and make the best decision for themselves about how much society to participate in. Ross probably has one point: I would not see or socialize with those like Ross who feel it is too risky to socialize or go out, so I am isolated from those folks.

      12. [ad hom]

        You already posted in the thread you would work from home since you are afraid of working in an office in King Co., you wear a mask outside the house, and sparingly take transit due to Covid, even today, or go out much. Then you post a link you suggest states 21% of respondents did not feel like life was back to normal, but then state my comment that at least in my world everyone is back to normal must be “isolated”. You don’t discuss the huge surge in airline travel, reopening of schools, sports events and so on.

        Or the main point I was making that it is unlikely there is a large percentage of workers or others who are waiting for Covid to totally disappear (despite a 7 day average of 2 deaths in King Co.) to rush back to transit. This is the new ridership baseline because the vast majority of citizens have returned to their normal lives, which includes not commuting to work, but going out and doing everything else they like to do.

        It isn’t about you. You are an outlier, which is fine. But if you ventured out you would see the world has returned to normal, and normal now includes much less commuting to work and hence transit commuting.

    1. Is there any ridership data on Link from January 2022 to June 2022? I would be interested to see if there has been an increase in ridership from October 2021 or that is the new baseline. Unemployment is very low today and the pandemic is over for most, or was in March, so the question is what is the new baseline on Link? I can’t imagine fuel prices are helping Metro’s operations budget.

      1. Huh, I wonder where Sherwin got the graph at the top of the post?

        Oh look, a caption with an inline link that leads to…

        They’ve got January through April posted. I presume they’re still processing May’s data. We’re not even halfway through June.

        We won’t have a new “baseline” until ~2026, after the openings of Link to Federal Way, Lynnwood, and Redmond have a couple years to get settled as a viable transportation option for people who can use it.


    The Urbanist tweets: “NEW: In an email to City of Seattle staff, Mayor Bruce Harrell has informed office workers that the City will be establishing a minimum of two in-person workdays per week in the office later this year.”

    As of this week, my office has ostensibly switched to a “Hybrid” home-office working model, in which full-time workers are expected to sit in-office 3 days a week, flexible depending on communication with supervisors and out-of-office fieldwork/travel.

    I imagine that by the end of this year, we’ll see most white-collar offices adopting “flexible” office schedules for most employees (2-3 days in-office to keep a desk, and running shared “hotel” desks for folks in 1-2 days per week), which will increase peak-hour transit ridership as the roads clog up again.

    I think the real indicator will be seeing how many office being renewing their monthly ORCA passes for employees, or if they’re going to pivot to the bare-minimum $50/month benefit required by the city.

    1. My niece works for King Co. She was given the option to work from the Kent Courthouse or from home (I think King Co. may sell the downtown Courthouse). So she opted to work from home and moved from SLU to Sammamish. Loves it as her condo is much larger and the area is much more vibrant.

      If you really want a leading indicator of office workers returning to the downtown Seattle market follow the sublease market for office space, not ORCA cards. I still go with the Stanford prediction of 2 to 3 days WFH, probably 3 in this area, on average, and right now we are at that, just not downtown Seattle.

      Unemployment in this region is I believe less than 3%. Those who need to commute to work are already commuting to work. The rest obviously don’t need to, and this really is not a labor market in which employers can dictate work schedules unless you are a minimum wage worker or maybe work in a hospital or job that has no work from home option. At least on Mercer Island those healthcare workers demanded a direct bus to work, the 630, the city will subsidize.

      1. “Need” to commute depends on the time scale. Most knowledge workers don’t ‘need’ to commute on a given day … but over months or years, connections atrophy and team dynamics can break downs. The value of in-person work (or a sophisticated and disciplined remote work culture) manifests over a longer time scale.

        I’m back in the office nearly 5 days a week … mostly because I moved and my commute is now <15 minutes. The data shows that the biggest predictor of return to work is length of commute:

        As for the sublease market, the rental data still shows an immense premium for Seattle and Bellevue CBDs, even with negative absorption

      2. The key in your link is the vacancy rate is 16.6% in downtown Seattle. That rate visn’t leases that the employer is not using because they are working from home. That is vacant office space. Many tenants (including us) are just waiting for our leases to expire. Landlords may say they are bullish but I can tell you none will let you out of your lease early, when several years ago they were asking to buy us out of our lease. No doubt a lot of the Seattle market is going to downtown Bellevue as well.

        I don’t think it is a surprise folks hate to commute to work, especially on public transit. If they loved commuting they would be back doing it considering they have returned to all the things they loved to do pre-pandemic, like travel or dining out. WFH has the double whammy where workers get back a couple hours of their lives every day, and employers save a ton of money on expensive urban leases. Seattle is hurt because so many eastside workers consider it unsafe, and I can attest it is pretty dead retail wise, during the day at least.

        The ST graph is a little misleading. It should include third quarter 2018 and 2019 ridership on Central Link, and have some notation that Northgate Link opened Oct. 2021 which accounts for the spike. The baseline since around July 2021 has not changed when Northgate Link is accounted for.

        Look, there isn’t anything ST can do about WFH, or downtown Seattle. But these are the new baseline ridership levels, and will be the same on Federal Way, Lynnwood and East Link, so ST and the region better figure out how to fill the gap in operations revenue from the reduced ridership and farebox recovery.

      3. AJ, I expect that Daniel doesn’t really understand the “creative collaboration” thing about software. I’m sure he gets — and appreciates — ideas from his paralegals and junior attorneys, but the law being the law, “original” interpretations are not exactly front-of-mind. Instead the quest is for the longest list of favorable precedents.

        As we all know, “same old same old” will not cut it in the software world. Well, it does in the “backend” where the accounting rules haven’t really changed much in centuries, and certainly not by programmers. But the stuff users see has to be slick, easy to use and quick. That doesn’t happen when a solitary programmer decides that the systems analyst is a hopeless socialist.

        Or whatever happens when things run so deliriously off the rails.

        Consumer software firms which don’t insist on lots of facetime will be Australopithicines soon enough.

      4. As a retired programmer, I can tell you that remote working has existed in the software world for a very long time. It is tolerated, but not encouraged. Some workers did it all of the time, because their commutes were bad (e. g. Bainbridge Island to Fremont). Most did not, although there would be plenty of people who would work from home occasionally. It was common to see people send out an email with “WFH” early in the day, mentioning that they are “heads down” on a particular project.

        It is also common for companies to hire overseas contract workers. Often these developers are very good, but with lower standard of living, will work for less money. Even then, it was common to have groups of workers working together (e. g. we had a team from Uruguay, although teams from India are more common).

        Yet even with all of that, the average company wanted people to be in the office (in America). Collaboration is a big part of software. At my last job I remember emphasizing that. I told them that if they wanted to isolate me I could do a good job, but if they wanted the best out of me, they should put me in a collaborative environment. I was never a superstar, but I got better over the years, and could really thrive in the right environment. I also hated working from home. Sure, it is convenient, but it was much easier to focus on work at work. If I had an IT problem I could easily get it fixed (yes, I could fix it myself, but I hated doing that). There is free coffee, too :)

        And yet right now, I would work from home. I don’t like wearing a mask all day, and I don’t feel like a typical office in King County is safe enough without a mask. I may be on one side of the curve in that sense, but I know there are plenty of people who feel the same way. 21% of the population feels like their lives are “not at all” back to normal, and 58% feel like it is “somewhat” ( Maybe that “somewhat” include people who work at home, but would work at the office if they felt like the pandemic was really over (2/3 think it isn’t over).

        Companies are largely aware of all of this. They want people back to work at the office, just because things function better. They are hesitant to put pressure on people to come back, for fear of upsetting those that will always want to work from home, as well as people like me. The former have always existed, and eventually some will be coerced to working at the office (as a career move, if nothing else). Hopefully it won’t be too long before people feel safer around other people (and people like me wouldn’t hesitate to come back to the office).

      5. “AJ, I expect that Daniel doesn’t really understand the “creative collaboration” thing about software. I’m sure he gets — and appreciates — ideas from his paralegals and junior attorneys, but the law being the law, “original” interpretations are not exactly front-of-mind. Instead the quest is for the longest list of favorable precedents.”

        Tom, during the pandemic I commuted to my downtown Seattle office five days/week while you were holed up in your house. I personally prefer in office work, and lawyers and law firms benefit from that collaboration much more than programmers, which is why so many programmers are still WFH and probably will forever. The law is a very people oriented job. Apparently Microsoft does not think full time office work is necessary for collaboration for programmers, and let’s face it programmers are not the most socially sophisticated folks in the world.

        But in this market it is very hard to make employees do what they don’t want to do. For this reason we are moving our office out of downtown Seattle after 32 years. We have offered subsidized parking (and will do that at our new location), tried hybrid schedules, tried WFH (which I agree is not as effective, and can be lonely), but employees were as afraid as Ross to venture out of their house (in the beginning of the pandemic), won’t commute to downtown Seattle even with subsidized parking when they can easily get a job in Bellevue, or don’t want to spend a couple hours/day on a bus or train post-pandemic if they don’t have to. I enjoy working in an office, but the young are different.

        Some transit advocates just don’t get it: you can’t make people do what they don’t want to do, at least not for long. Either transit offers an advantage of some kind or the discretionary rider won’t take it.

        You can’t make them take transit, you can’t make them spend two hours every day wasting their life on a bus or train in this job market, you can’t make them transfer, or charge them for park and rides on the eastside. If there is one fundamental flaw I have seen in most transit planning it is this incredible arrogance (usually by very old men who tend to become this way) that you can force people to do something that is not in their best interest, including riding transit. Then they seem surprised when the market undermines their goals, like Uber and restricting parking.

        People ride transit because they have to. WFH simply reduced the number who have to ride transit (work commuters) in half. Good for them. After closing schools for two years their kids need the extra time with their mom or dad. I am still in the office every day, and at our new location staff will come in more, but not 100% even if they live nearby. They are just as productive, and save an hour or two every day being on transit, which in their mind is about the worst way to waste your life.

      6. Daniel, I admit to not having been an attorney or paralegal, but except in unique instances, such as a Supreme Court appearance where one is HOPING to create “new law”, searching for precedents seems pretty solitary pursuit.

        I guess Bill over in Tax might have some insight that leads to a fruitful settlement in a case every so often, but in all honesty, aren’t you just aiming to flail opposing counsel with the sheer weight of your precedents?

        It seems pretty reference driven.

      7. Ross, I specifically excepted “backend” projects. I should also have included “tools” and “framework” creation, at least for senior programmers working on those sorts of “inside jobs”.

        But I’ve seen too many projects go awry when the programmers run the show and tell the users what they OUGHT to want.

        Processors and disks are so brutally powerful these days that lots of data storage and retrieval errors that used to be fatal can now be papered over with screaming fast search algorithms. But it’s not “free”.

    2. My company is settling on a baseline of 3 days in-office, with potential decreases for some jobs and personal situations. It’s not fully implemented yet but will be by the end of this month.

  3. Thank you for the Link Nathan. I think this data suggests a new baseline for ridership on Central Link that now includes Northgate Link. I imagine total ridership will go up after East Link opens (in 2024) since there is no ridership on it today, although it will probably be around 50% of pre-pandemic estimates, and mostly include bus riders whose bus routes were eliminated or truncated.

    Just like Martin’s research showed ST is estimating WSBLE will move 400 West Seattleites from their cars onto Link. ST’s ridership estimates were always inflated, but I don’t think you can blame ST for a pandemic and WFH that has removed the discretionary commuter rider from Link. If Central Link including Northgate Link has this ratio of riders compared to estimates I hate to imagine the ratio for Federal Way, Lynnwood and East Link, and that is going to strain operations budgets even if riders pay their fares.

    1. One change from 2019 is people don’t want to be in packed trains/buses with lots of standees, and ideally not share a seat with a stranger, to minimize the spread of communicable diseases. So the effective maximum capacity now is half what it was previously. Offices are also thinking about having more space per employee for the same reason. So if the East Link ridership projections we’re twice as high as they should have been as you keep saying, we’ll end up with the right capacity. I can confirm that Link between SODO and Roosevelt is getting back to standees and shared seats in the afternoon and PM peak.

    2. We really don’t know the baseline until after the pandemic is over. We figured that would happen by now, but it hasn’t. It may not happen until 2024, muddying the numbers in the same way that the numbers for Northgate Link got muddied (although not to the same degree).

  4. Yep the numbers are climbing.

    It looks to me that Sounder is the one that is having week recovery. Do we really need those expensive new South King garages (where a decent percentage of those cars come from outside the ST taxing district)?

    1. I think the Sounder ridership is indicative of commuter ridership versus general ridership. The weak recovery will remain as long as people have an alternative the heavy-rail train that only runs a few times a day.

      I guess Sounder North will run until Everett gets their Link extension, but ridership will remain terrible until then. I’d much rather see ST build TOD instead of parking garages, but that’d require the legislature allowing ST to build and operate as a residential/commercial landlord to subsidize the rest of its operations, like private operators do elsewhere in the world.

      1. ST can surplus land for TOD, so I don’t think there is a need for state action. It’s up to the local subarea politicians to reduce their demands for structured parking.

        Also, ST is to subsidize affordable housing to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, so parking is not the biggest political impediment for TOD to subsidize operations. Honestly, market-rate parking revenue (in a fully post-Covid world) is far more likely to directly subsidize operations that TOD (good TOD will certainly subsidize operations indirectly via higher ridership) … pre COVID the estimate for the parking management system was ~$20MM of net revenue year, once fully deployed across the region (so all ST 1 & 2 parking, plus other big regional garages like Eastgate)

      2. I’m always skeptical of the ROI for a parking garage. ST’s parking garages will cost upwards of $120k per space (and much more for some projects!

        Which more likely to pay for itself: a parking space (averaging 400 sq ft including aisles and ramps) or a studio (also comfortably average at 400 square feet) aimed at young professionals near a high-density transit station?

        Regarding my statement in support of ST-run housing – I meant that if ST could operate housing/offices for the same profit that developers do, I think that would go a long way towards stabilizing ST’s revenue and operations. Admittedly, my understanding of how private operators abroad are able to fund their transit operations is poorly developed, but it makes sense to me that the model that built the large private streetcar systems of the turn of the century (land investment and building sales reinvested into increased service and network expansion to enable accessibility and increase value of previously low-value land distant from commercial cores) isn’t a totally terrible model.

      3. Pre-pandemic ST was looking at charging to reserve park and ride space at the Mercer Island park and ride since it is one of the busiest, or was. The rate was to be $120/month.

        The problem was $120/month (20 to 22 work days/mo. if you used every day) plus round trip on the bus equaled about $12 to $15/day total, negating the main advantage transit has over driving when commuting to a place like downtown Seattle: cost. Easier to simply drive to work and park, especially when East Link won’t go to many of the main work areas.

        It also was unfair to the less wealthy transit rider, when transit is suppose to be about “equity”, at least in theory. My thought was why are we subsidizing this agency to the tune of $142 Billion if they are going to screw the less wealthy rider. How tough are finances at ST if you need to charge for park and rides, many of which you didn’t even build (pretty tough I have found out).

        Finally it penalized places like Mercer Island that agreed to host a park and ride (which was not universally accepted when built) when Metro refuses to provide any kind of first/last mile access to the bus stop on MI despite the high level of taxes we pay that go to transit.

        So very few signed up for the reservation system. Then the pandemic hit.

        In the future I think charging for park and rides will be problematic. Some areas like the eastside simply won’t have the ridership, and even if they did — and the park and rides were full — they would demand private employer shuttles, subsidized parking from their employer, a bus like the 630, WFH, all the remedies that were invented during the pandemic. The commuter transit slave is gone.

        Other areas don’t have the money. Would ST charge for park and rides in the Rainier Valley?

        I suppose ST could try to renege on its promise to build park and rides on the eastside (although I thought some on this blog feel ST 2 and 3 are etched in stone, at least when it comes to WSBLE), but eastsiders would not ride transit if it required a feeder bus Metro could never afford to provide to such a huge area, and my guess is commuters from Issaquah to Seattle will demand one seat buses from their city council, and Issaquah usually gets what it wants when it comes to ST. Like the 554 going directly past East Link directly to Bellevue Way.

        The problem is the PSRC’s vision of TOD is dead with the loss of the commuter (especially to Seattle) and all the alternatives to get to work used during the pandemic. If you don’t need transit, transit-oriented development is kind of dumb, and what we are really seeing is a deurbanization across the region, with King Co. losing over 1% of its population in 2021, which is a high number.

        The reality is those park and rides in ST 3 probably won’t be necessary. What the subarea does with that revenue I don’t know. I don’t really think of The Spring District as transit-oriented development since I doubt many working or living there will take transit.

        The thing to focus on is not TOD, but actual ridership on Lines like East Link and Federal Way Link which I think will be anemic, and whether King Co. continues to lose population because the PSRC’s TOD vision is based on steep population increases. As we saw in a recent post developers are having a hard time selling TOD, and a single parking space in Belltown just sold for $54,000.

    2. I think the issue should not be whether or not to charge everyone for parking.

      The issue should be whether the structure is still needed at the arbitrary defined size.

      Then the issue is whether out of district residents should get free station parking. I’d be in favor of a system that exempts district taxpayers from paying.

      Perhaps more innovatively, I’d be ok if cities control the parking. That way they could set up whatever strategy they wanted and collect revenue to pay for maintenance and patrolling. Someone has to pay for the ongoing costs of those garages.

      1. I think, once EastLink starts up and ridership picks up, parking fees will be important to spread out the demand between the parking garages. If the parking areas at South Bellevue and Mercer Island are full at 7 AM, while the parking areas at Eastgate and Issaquah are empty, that will be a sign that a small parking fee at the Link stations is necessary to give drivers and incentive to park further back and ride the bus.

        Of course, if ridership does not pick up enough for the South Bellevue garage to fill up, even being free, all of the above becomes academic.

  5. It is significant that the increase in light rail ridership in Oct. was greater than the total ST express ridership, which also had a slight increase. This should put to rest the arguments that 1) light rail ridership would increase mainly because of forced transfers from busses, and 2) light rail would mainly just scavenge the bus ridership.

    Finally, another thing I would hear, that 3) ridership would only increase by as much as the parking capacity. Clearly, there are not 20,000 parking spots available at those 3 stations–not even if you include all of the park-and-ride lots along I-5 with busses feeding into light rail.

    1. Regarding point 3: the deep questioning of the necessity of park-and-ride garages at stations is due to the extreme cost of parking vs simply handing the land to an Affordable TOD developer – the data appears to show that, as you say, park-and-rides are not necessary for a station to have good ridership.

    2. Given the changes that are happening outside the transit world, I don’t see how you can make any conclusion like 1, 2 or 3. You will have to wait until the numbers return to pre-pandemic levels, and then look at them.

      Even then, other than item number 3, we would have to look at more data to make any conclusion. For example, let’s pretend we live in an alternate world where there is no Covid (or it is snuffed out quickly in China, before it gets out). It is quite likely that ridership from Northgate to Capitol Hill shifts from the 67 to Link. But it is also quite likely that ridership between those two places increases as well. To make either conclusion we would need to look at stop data for Metro and Link, neither of which is easily available. (I can get stop data for Metro because I know someone there, but I don’t know how to get the ST data).

      The third item would be easier to determine, as long as ridership is below parking capacity. But once it exceeds it, you then need data on parking as well. For example, you could have 3,000 riders a day, but a parking lot that holds 2,000. The lot could be full, or most people arrive on foot/bus. The former suggests that parking lots are crucial, the latter the opposite.

      But as of right now, all of the data is meaningless, because the numbers haven’t recovered (i. e. the pandemic is clearly still effecting transit ridership, as it is other aspects of the economy).

      1. Ross, granted we don’t have the final “post Covid” numbers on any of this, but as far as Northgate Link opening, there is really no other contributing factor there. And the numbers are not even in the ballpark for 1. and 2. to be rejected. As for 3., if anything, the fact that parking *is* readily available *at* the station (Thornton Place), and in every Snohomish County park and ride lot, and yet ridership increased by more than the available parking spots, would seem to make point #3 even stronger. Remember, there are not 20,000 park and ride spots *in total* between Northgate and Everett, let alone at Northgate itself. The daily ridership *increase* on Line 1 in October was over 20k. Ridership is well exceeding parking capacity, *and* the parking capacity is not being fully used.

    3. The only ST Express routes Link truncated were the 51x and 522. The 41 probably had more ridership than any of those, and the 4xx are still going downtown.

      The 67 doesn’t go from Northgate to Capitol Hill. I used to do that from 65th to Capitol Hill. You had to take the 67+49 and it took forty-five minutes, or take the 67 down to UW station but that wasn’t much better. Now it takes nine minutes.

      ST Express is depressed probably because office occupancy is low. Also, the 550 was the highest-ridership route for decades, but now the 512 has surpassed it. That seems to indicate that a lot of Snohomans are going to blue-collar jobs and errands.

      1. The 67 doesn’t go from Northgate to Capitol Hill.

        Good point (brain fart). I was initially thinking of a trip from Northgate to the UW. But then as is often the case, I focused on the biggest time improvement in Northgate Link, which are trips to Capitol Hill. Your analysis is correct, and shows how complicated it is to suss out the data. It might be relatively easy to see how many people switched from the 67 for trips from Northgate to the UW (as well as Northgate to Roosevelt, and Roosevelt to the UW) but much tougher for trips from Northgate (and Roosevelt) to Capitol Hill.

        Ultimately, it is easier to look at overall ridership, but there are so many factors it is tough to isolate the influence of Link. For example, when UW Link was added, it coincided with an increase in funding for Metro, making it tough to see how much of the overall increase in ridership was due to one or the other.

      2. Also, the 550 was the highest-ridership route for decades, but now the 512 has surpassed it.

        Where is the data for each bus? The last Service Implementation Plan I can find is for 2020 (right before the pandemic). The 512 had around 4,400, while the 550 had over 7,000.

      3. The 512 is busy all day and has become more frequent than the 550 to avoid overcrowding. On Sundays it was officially every 30 minutes but actually came every 15-20 minutes, a situation that was finally officialized in the schedule last October. If the 550 is numerically more, it may be because some of the 512 riders are diverted to the 510 and 511 peak hours, while the 550 has no comparable routes.

      4. If the 550 is numerically more, it may be because some of the 512 riders are diverted to the 510 and 511 peak hours, while the 550 has no comparable routes.

        OK, I get you now. At least I think I do. A few years ago, the 550 > (510 + 511 + 512). As of the 2020 Service Implementation Plan, that was no longer true. Mostly this is because the 550 ridership went way down.

        Is that what you meant, or do you have more recent data?

      5. I don’t have numbers; I don’t know where to get them, or what to compare them to to determine whether they’re good or bad. I’m going by how full I see the buses, how frequent they are, how much frequency was added to avoid overcrowding, and what others who ride them regularly say.

        Yes, the 550 fell a lot, but the 512 has also been increasing over the past several years.

      6. “The 512 is busy all day and has become more frequent than the 550 to avoid overcrowding.”

        Part of why ST Express 512 comes every 10 minutes most of the daytime is to try to match the 1-Line’s schedule, based on the presumption that a lot of its ridership are transfers from the 1-Line.

        ST Express 522 similarly has long stretches of 10-minute headway, but also has some stretches of 20-minute headway, when ridership dips.

        15-minute headway mid-day on either of these routes wouldn’t make sense.

        This is the sort of scheduling some of us have been pushing Metro and ST to do for years, and now ST has done it. The key from here is to make sure these routes are actually timed well to ensure the passengers trying to catch them have enough time, and the drivers don’t take off early when they are in a mood to avoid having passengers. [Yes, this is a real thing some drivers occasionally do, as I have witnessed it on STX 512 and various Metro routes.]

    4. Link is finally starting to serve the highest-volume corridors, and ST Express is left with the scraps. The areas where ST Express runs tend to have lower density, lower cultural acceptance of transit, and more peak-focused ridership that’s affected by work from home. Plus it’s less frequent. Link runs every 8-10 minutes. ST Express runs every 15-60 minutes. There are people who will take a 10-minute route who won’t bother with a 30-minute route.

      1. In 1996, I thought that ST’s goals were to build a 3 county rail system. In 1997-2000, they implemented express buses. And one Mariner’s game train shuttle. They had to. Low hanging fruit. They had to show they did something with the tax money. I made the assumption that all the ST express routes would all be eventually replaced by rail. I was young and didn’t read anything about it. My bad. Now, over 25 years later, the core system is starting to work. In 2024, or if delayed, 2025 we will have a light rail system as long as Portland’s. At that point, maybe ST should give the bus routes to the local jurisdictions to manage. The only reason that I think they won’t is the free tax revenue or federal funding.

      2. ST Express was never a big part of our transit system. Neither was Link until recently. Link had almost 40,000 riders before UW Link, compared to ten times that amount for Metro buses. ST Express had more before the pandemic (around 65,000) but that is still tiny compared to Metro.

        I always viewed ST Express as a regional transit system. In that sense, ST poached several high performance routes in King County that could easily have been done by Metro (and I assume were before ST). The I-90, 520 and 522 corridors are all within King County, and made up around half the ST Express ridership.

        Of course Community Transit poached ST ridership, by running express buses from Snohomish to King County (during peak, when most trips occur). From what I can gather, these accounted for around 11,000 riders (I’m extrapolating from the “Commuter” yearly numbers from this: If Community Transit didn’t run these buses, I’m sure ST Express buses from the north would have a lot more riders (assuming ST spent money on it).

        ST will continue to be a hybrid agency. Link is largely an urban metro, even though it will eventually get to Tacoma and Everett. Most of the trips will occur in the urban core, even if that core seems largely ignored by planners. Some of the Stride routes will be regional in nature, but my guess is the one with the highest ridership (and certainly the most cost effective one) will be entirely within King County (serving the SR 522 corridor). ST Express will continue to serve 405 (a regional corridor) but will also continue to operate routes entirely within King County. It will also run routes that operate entirely within Snohomish County, as the ST buses get truncated at Lynnwood. Thus for every mode, some of the trips will be regional in nature, but the bulk of the ridership will be in areas that could have been operated by the county agency (given the chance, Metro could have easily built a subway system — it probably would have been better).

        As a regional transit system, ST Express remains one of the better ones in the country (especially for a city this size). All-day, relatively frequent express buses from Tacoma and Everett are really nice, and a lot of cities lack that. Fifteen minute frequency is not great for short trips, but for long trips like that it is world-class.

        Unfortunately for proponents, regional transit service is never a high percentage of the transit trips. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or where it is, there just aren’t that many people making those sorts of trips. Even in Europe those numbers aren’t that big (people often point to systems like the S-Bahn, but those have a lot of urban stops — more than Link — and that’s where a lot of the ridership comes from). Regional transit service tends to be expensive as well. The exception is peak commuter rail service (which in our case happens to be expensive because we lease the tracks). It is usually really popular though. By that I mean that while it doesn’t have a huge number of riders, those that do ride it really like it. In that sense, it is like high speed rail.

      3. “As a regional transit system, ST Express remains one of the better ones in the country (especially for a city this size).”

        Yes, many metros don’t have an all-day express bus network to mitigate their lack of rail.

        “I always viewed ST Express as a regional transit system. In that sense, ST poached several high performance routes in King County that could easily have been done by Metro (and I assume were before ST).”

        Only the 550 was a comparable existing route. The others were mostly new ew corridors that didn’t have any existing route, any all-day express route, or were less expressful. That was shown in the initial fare controversy. ST Express fare was higher than Metro, which was fine for the new routes, but 550 riders complained that service wasn’t much better than the previous 226/235 so they shouldn’t pay a higher fare. ST agreed to lower the fare on that route until double-frequency was implemented a few years later.

        550: 226/235 ran on 104th or 108th Ave SE instead of faster Bellevue Way, made two more stops on Mercer Island, and got off the freeway at Rainier.

        554: 210 was local between the Coal Creek exit and Issaquah, traveling on Newport Way, and running every 90-120 minutes.

        545: No previous route.

        560/535: Like the 340 from Burien to Bothell, new service to Lynnwood.

        522: The 307 stopped at Northgate before going to Lake City and Bothell, and was hourly.

        560: Like the 340 from Burien to Bothell, then new service to Lynnwood.

        510, 511, 512, 513: No previous route. The 4xx were peak-hour unidirectional. The alternative was the local 358 on Aurora and the 99 route in Snohomish (600-something at one point, then 101; there was no Swift yet).

        577: The 194 detoured to SeaTac and made the 574 stops between there and Federal Way.

        594 and other 59x: No previous route. The 594 was initially a PT route for a few years, but I heard it was funded by ST then until the ST Express brand launched. The alternative was the 194 to Federal Way and local 500 to Tacoma.

        Sure, Metro could have introduced the King County routes, but it didn’t have the funding to do so and it wasn’t Metro’s priority. All the local agencies were focused on coverage service and peak expresses to downtown. All-day expresses and inter-county expresses kept falling to bottom priority below more neighborhood coverage, because neighborhoods were squeaky wheels at hearings. That was one of the major reasons why Sound Transit was created.

      4. All-day expresses and inter-county expresses kept falling to bottom priority

        I would say that about the latter, but not the former. The 41 is an all-day express, and it kept gaining in popularity. So is the 101. I think technically so is the 5. I’m sure there are a bunch I’m forgetting.

        Routes would certainly be different, but that doesn’t mean that if Metro operated things we wouldn’t have more all-day express service than we did back in the day. A lot of was simply having an extra pot of money, the priority of that agency*, and timing.

        My point is that you really *need* a different agency to provide service between counties. Metro is just not going to go out of its way to provide service for Tacoma or Everett. Nor is Snohomish or Pierce County going to connect the counties either — at least not all day long. At most they will do what they’ve done — provide commuter bus service. For all-day service connecting a region (otherwise known as regional transit service) you need a different agency (whether it is the state, or someone like ST).

        But service *within* a county (whether it is express service, or a different mode) really doesn’t need a different agency. If the agency has no interest in running an all-day express within the county, it probably means that either they don’t have the money, or the route performs poorly. You don’t need a different agency to provide extra money, and you shouldn’t be running poorly performing routes unless they provide coverage (even ST has cancelled some of its poorly performing express routes). Otherwise it is nothing more than elite projection (

        * For the most part, the ST express routes are just that, but I always found the 550 route ran counter to that idea. It seems like it should just get on 405 at downtown Bellevue, then follow the freeways to downtown. I also think ST should run a bus from the UW main campus to Woodinville, since that would be more of an express than running the 522 to Woodinville.

      5. RossB: STEX routes 512, 535, 522, 545, 550, 594, and 574 could have been a major part of the transit network had ST spent more on operations to provide shorter headways and waits; all could have had RR service levels and faster fare collection. Now, structural changes are also needed.

    5. The big draw for Link is that the trains have much larger capacity, have better reliability as the tracks aren’t shared with cars (and signals can be skipped by design or with signal priority for trains), and can travel past bottlenecks that bus riders may endure.

      However, if freeway speeds are much faster than light rail speeds, the time advantage goes away. That would leave the pricing advantage as an incentive.

      Then the big factor at attracting riders becomes parking costs at the destination end. In light of that, the more there are parking charges at a busy destination (Downtown Seattle, UW, SeaTac, Downtown Bellevue) the better rail ridership will be.

      Of course, the only area in ST3 with notable destination parking costs are the WSBLE corridors and even then South Lake Union and Seattle Center/ LQA are the primary places where parking can get expensive today.

      As a result, I’m not sure how many riders will use Link for other trip pairs, like KDM to Federal Way or Overlake to Redmond.

      To that end, are any other upcoming Link station openings going to result in significantly new parking costs where none exist today? With most new stations opening outside of the Seattle city limits, this is a good question for the other cities in the region.

      1. Excellent post Al.

        I would also add that there is almost a pathological aversion to paying for parking on the eastside. Parking in downtown Seattle was probably the prime reason most on the eastside commuted by transit for work, but that has declined significantly, some due to WFH and some due to the situation in downtown Seattle today.

        The rub is a transit fare plus park and ride fee equals driving to the ultimate destination and parking, and so transit is cutting off its nose to spite its face. Obviously if park and rides are not full, and I mean really full like Mercer Island pre-pandemic that was full by 7 am, charging for parking is going to be problematic. There is no doubt in my mind that all the free (and obvious which means easy to find and usually on the surface) parking is Bellevue is a prime cause for the decline of retail in Seattle.

        When you remove peak commuting, costs including parking (as almost everyone already has a car so the cost of the car is a sunk cost) and traffic congestion you lose much of the purpose for Link, which as you note is capacity and speed but requires enormous public subsidies compared to buses.

        That leaves urban density which creates congestion naturally, and places like the UW in which parking can be tough (although there is a tremendous amount in the E lots by the stadium at around $7/day). Not surprisingly today the Northgate Link to Capitol Hill route is the most popular for Link, although the elephant in the room is that popularity does not continue to downtown.

        We are building a 90 mile spine to Redmond to Tacoma to Everett based on the factors that make light rail competitive (congestion, capacity) when it is likely those factors are going away, but have neglected the urban core where those factors are constants.

      2. Just noting that Downtown Bellevue also has expensive parking costs that workers pay, so it’s not all about commuting into Seattle, Daniel. Parking in Downtown Bellevue has been higher (pre-Covid) than many other cities in the US that have light rail! I expect South Bellevue and Marymoor will fill up partly with workers headed to Downtown Bellevue.

        A final factor is simply offering covered parking on rainy days from the new garages. Some people hate getting wet, and if you can get places while staying dry, it’s a draw for those people.

  6. Considering that three new Link stations opened last September, it’s hard to tell how much of the uptick is really an uptick of transit in general, and how much of it is simply bus riders in north Seattle switching to Link.

    To resolve this question, the chart really needs to go beyond just Sound Transit. If ridership at King County Metro and Sound Transit are both growing simultaneously, that would be an indication that the upward trend is for real.

    1. They are growing simultaneously (as the article states). Look at the link for Metro ridership. Every month it is higher than last year. We still have a long way to go, but the trend is a positive one.

    2. You’d need to account for an increase of roughly 24K average weekday riders. ST Express *total system* was around 20K in October, and 511/512/513 is a fraction of that. Metro is likely contributing more transfers than ST, so it would be good to know how many. Community Transit 800 routes? Pretty minuscule at this point. Anecdotally, just pay attention to the crowding on the platform as people get off the trains at Northgate versus the people waiting for the busses down below. I had honestly expected there to be much more crowding at those bus stops in the evening.

    1. Yeah, that is confusing. On this page they break out four types of service: “Average Weekday Transit”, “Monthly Access”, “Monthly Commuter Van” and “Average Weekday Rapid Ride”. For previous dates going back a ways, they all add up to the number shown on the “dashboard”). Or at least they come close. I assume that every commuter van trip happens on the weekday, so I divide by the number of weekdays. But with access van, there are weekend trips, so I just estimate. The numbers are fairly close for a couple years ago. In other words, the dashboard is all the different types, whereas the “Weekday Transit” is only the regular buses.

      At least that is what I thought, until I looked at the numbers for May. These don’t add up. The number for “Average Weekday Transit Boardings” is less than the dashboard. But the “Average Weekday Transit Boardings” plus ” Average Weekday RapidRide Boardings” exceeds the dashboard. So maybe the most recent numbers are using two different ways to calculate it. Maybe they go back and adjust the numbers to match later (based on one or the other). Who knows?

  7. Every day, I get emails from Metro saying 2 -3 runs of the 15; and 18 are cancelled each way. My guess is that until the driver shortage is solved, we won’t get a return to normal. I have been working remotely, with plans to go in once a week, but there are some logistical problems with the office network. If the cancellations of Ballard to downtown (and back) runs continue, my once a week office visit will be in my car.

    1. Did you get the email about the route changes yesterday?

      ” Starting Monday, June 13, Metro will make minor adjustments to the current weekday service levels in response to operator availability. These adjustments to weekday bus schedules are to provide more accurate and reliable service for riders while Metro deals with staffing shortages. Metro will continue to hire and train transit operators to stabilize our workforce.

      Metro will operate each of our current routes and deliver more than 98% of the originally planned weekday service, but there will be changes in the schedules and adjustments on which weekday trips will operate….

      Before traveling, we encourage customers to check the online timetables or the canceled trips page.”

      The page says there’s one 15 trip canceled, at 6:00pm northbound. The 18 isn’t listed. The 40 has two southbound trips canceled, and one northbound. The D has two southbound and three northbound.

      1. That’s excellent news! Happy to see a few more 15 runs return to the schedule. From my home in upper Ballard, the 15 is a full 10 minutes faster than the D to get to my stop in Downtown. It’s been a bummer when random runs are cancelled, and I only get a couple-minute warning when a bus decides to show up on OneBusAway.

    2. That’s a good point. Anecdotally, I know someone who is dependent on the bus and they have complained about the situation. I take transit occasionally (and spontaneously) so I’ve been lucky. But if your bus doesn’t show up and you are late for work, you start giving up on transit.

  8. I can attest to the increase in ridership. On the local bus I take, I estimate ridership is up 66% year over year! A year ago there might have been 3 riders on the bus, now there are around 5!

    1. The New York Times also reported that Sam is 50% more famous in the 2020s than he was in the 2010s, his transit books are earning 25% more royalties, and he has is now a guest host on a 2am radio talk show in Ellensburg.

    2. You have to account for how the person measuring ridership can impact the data.

      Take Sam off the bus, and ridership on his bus actually doubled!

  9. Presumably, these data come from the automated counters in doors, right? I’d be curious if non-paying riders count. I think they should but I could be wrong.

    Similarly, the Orca2 rollout may lead to sketchy data if ST doesn’t use the automated door counters.

  10. With a recession coming/here, and layoffs coming, does anyone see that having an impact on ridership?

    1. “Economic conditions explain a lot of bus ridership changes, according to the literature. When the economy is strong, as it has been in recent years, research finds that overall increased incomes make it easier for people to own and use cars. Economic recessions may also negatively impact transit ridership; for example, Taylor and McCullough (1998) find that the recession in the early 1990s was correlated with decreased public transportation ridership nationwide as systems suffered from budget and service cuts.”,as%20systems%20suffered%20from%20budget%20and%20service%20cuts.

      “The survey found the following:

      “ Revenue decline is widespread, with 90 percent of public transit agencies reporting flat or decreased local funding and 89 percent reporting flat or decreased state funding.

      “ Budgetary pressures are increasing with seven out of ten agencies (69%) projecting budget shortfalls in the coming year.

      “ Despite actions taken to address budgetary issues, 11 transit agencies project shortfalls in excess of 20 percent, and the cumulative projected shortfall among participating transit agencies is almost $2 billion.

      “ More than 8 out of 10 transit agencies (84%) have cut service or raised fares or are considering either of those actions for the future, with nearly three in five agencies (59%) having already cut service or raised fares.

      “ Larger transit agencies were more likely to have a decrease in local, regional, or state funding, or fare revenue than other transit agencies. Among larger agencies, more than half (54%) have already increased fares, and two in three (66%) have cut service. Nearly all (97%) of larger agencies have cut
      service or raised fares or are considering doing so in the future.

      “ More than half of all transit agencies (53%) have eliminated positions and one in three (32%) have laid off employees. Among larger transit agencies, the cuts in staff have been more common, with four out of five (80%) reducing positions and more than half (57%) laying off employees.

      “Meanwhile, public transportation agencies across the country continue to seek solutions and do all they can to provide critical service to connect people to jobs and help support an economic resurgence. Given current economic trends, most see heightening pressures in the months ahead as agencies face unprecedented budgetary challenges. In order to protect vital public transit service, state, local and federal partners must provide critical funding to help transit agencies move beyond the immediate economic crisis”

      This is from 2010. The difference with the pandemic is the federal government poured trillions into the economy and billions into public transit, which of course it can’t do again due to inflation and budgetary pressures.

    2. We are in a period of full employment. A downturn does not mean a recession. It may just be a correction factor.

      The outrageous gasoline prices will end up attracting more long distance riders. We forget that gasoline prices have actually been declining relative to inflation for many years and a correction has been a long time coming. Once the fleet becomes mostly electric in 15 years, it’s the cost of electricity that will emerge as more significant.

      Finally, the political powers are going to have to adjust our immigration limits. Like Western Europe and Japan, we will need to bring in working age and child immigrants to keep up. Of course, there are few from Western Europe or Japan that want to move to the US so the issue is complicated by third world racist value systems embedded in our current political climate. To that end, I heard a statistic on NPR these past few days that 42% of all children today live in Africa.


        Redfin that is based in Seattle will lay off 88% of its workforce due to the cooling housing market. Meanwhile the crypto currency market is turning into a ponzi scheme, and losses in the Ark fund is fundamentally changing the tech and tech start up industry that now must earn a profit. Tech venture capital is gone.

        These changes and the upcoming recession will hit tech particularly hard, and so will hit this region especially hard. Even a company like Microsoft has seen its stock decline from over $330/share to $243/share although its balance sheet is perfect (and it pays a dividend), and Microsoft has said it will suspend hiring. This will likely cool the local housing market for buyers although mortgage rates just topped 6%, but a job-related recession is about the worst thing possible, which is exactly what 2009 to 2016 was. Much, much worse than a hot housing market.

        The reality is you want more people to want to take transit. You don’t want more people take transit because they have to financially, but don’t have anywhere they have to go. Our transit agencies need to immediately prepare for a job-related recession that like in 2009 reduces general fund tax revenue, something we did not see during the pandemic.

        Meanwhile over 239 million new credit card accounts were opened in the last few months, and consumer debt is rising quickly at the same time interest rates are. People are drowning with inflation today.

        This is no time to adjust immigration numbers, which hurts labor at the bottom level and why these folks have finally seen some wage growth recently (although inflation is resulting in a significant wage cut each year), unless we are talking legal immigration.

        I also think transit has to prepare for huge gains by R’s across the board, and R’s generally don’t like transit funding. WSBLE especially is sensitive to reduced federal transit funding.

      2. Daniel, that article says Redfin is laying off 6% of its workforce, and Compass (another real estate company) is laying off 10%. It’s notable in that it’s been a couple years since there’s been any substantial layoffs but hardly 88%. So far it seems more like things are returning to “normal” (not white-hot, nor severe recession) than anything else.

        Also, remember that recessions tend to *increase* transit demand because owning and operating a car is expensive, especially these days with high fuel prices. Even if someone is laid off, they still have to buy groceries, go to the doctor, and other essential activities. The only reason that transit ridership might fall is if agencies are forced to make service cuts despite the demand; hopefully we’ve learned our lessons from previous recessions.

      3. Bernie, there might be a drop in some types of trips, but historically the cutbacks have far exceeded the actual amount of demand that’s remaining. Even in 2008-2010, most people were still employed, but most transit agencies in the area had to cut service to the bone. IIRC, locally only Metro managed to avoid major cutbacks due to ample reserves, but almost had to do severe cuts in 2013 due to reserves running out before the Seattle TBD kicked in. How much demand do you suppose there was in Pierce and Snohomish counties that could have been served by transit had its frequency been preserved?

      4. Unemployment rate for 2006=4.4%, 2007=5%. Those numbers are what many economists put at “full employment” or “normal level” because of job turnover. For 2008=7.3% (start of the finacial crises); 2009=9.9%, 2010=9.3%, 2011=8.5%. It didn’t get back to 5% until 2015. A large proportion of the job losses were in the financial sector which largely means people who were commuting via transit to the central business district. Transit agencies had a budget crises because they lost so much operational budget from the plunge in ridership. That starts the death spiral where cuts in service mean less people opt to use transit lead to more cuts.

      5. “I also think transit has to prepare for huge gains by R’s across the board, and R’s generally don’t like transit funding.”

        How should they prepare? The agencies have always known that federal grants are iffy and change from year to year depending on the administration and the whims of Congress. All the likely projects that might want grants are already set — they were decided in the late 2000s — and now they’ll either get grants or they won’t. If they don’t, they’ll be postponed, end of story. That’s not actually something new: we’re competing against other cities in the US, and only some cities can win.

        You say a lot that we should “prepare for major service cuts”, but what do you want people to do? Devolve into depression and fear because service might be cut several months in the future? We don’t know when or how much, so there’s not much to plan for. Metro and ST already know what we want to prioritize: there’ve been many rounds of feedback since 2012. My biggest concern is preserving all-day service and frequent corridors, because that’s what makes transit usable. We’ve already been through two recession cuts in the past fifteen years, so it would be more of the same. There’s no reason to brood on imaging it will be worse than it will be. I can’t see it as bad as 2020, which was probably the biggest cut in Metro’s and ST’s history. And even that was better service than in the 1980s.

      6. Al, I think that robots will take quite a bit of the slack. In Japan, where anti-immigrant sentiment is generally much higher than here, there are even robot caregivers for the elderly. They can’t and don’t do everything people might need, but they monitor people’s wellness, clean the house and provide some sense of “companionship”.

        McDonald’s shows the future of fast food: You’ll soon pay extra for ordering through the counter and bypassing the kiosk.

        Intercity trucks will soon be “entrained” with a single driver guiding a closely-packed string of two to four trailing vehicles with a few feet separating them.

        The opportunities to substitute technology for repetitive human labor will just get more wide-spread as machine-learning expands into more and more disciplines, driven by any lack of cheap labor.

        It was only a short time ago when people were in a ppanic about this meaning there will be legions of unemployed.

        Neither legions of unemployed nor millions of jobs permanently unfilled is likely to occur because capital will glow into job elimination at a rate that over time maximizes is return. Throwing millions of people out of work by mindless capital investment in automation would reduce the demand for the products and services from the existing evonomy, slowing further investment. A lack of workers would similarly increase the return on such investment, increasing the pace of it.

        Obviously the pace will rarely be “Goldilocks correct”, but broadly speaking and barring a nuclear war or climatic catastrophes even greater than those forecast, the natural bounds on a relatively free market will keep the rate of investment at broadly the optimum rate.

        Yes, this is Pollyannish, but It’s the track record for several centuries.

      7. “I also think transit has to prepare for huge gains by R’s across the board, and R’s generally don’t like transit funding.”

        The days of big transit operations subsidies by the Feds are long gone for major urban areas. Reagan did away with that.

        Here’s what KC Metro reports on funding sources:

        As the data show, only 5 percent of the operating budget is coming from the Feds — and that includes items that are poplar with most Republicans like increased police patrolling.

        Capital grants from FTA are more important. However reductions in that mostly means older buses rather than fewer buses until repairs start impacting the available fleet.

      8. Driverless delivery trucks are already here. The one issue with driverless technology is the number one job for high school educated males is driving, although there is a shortage of drivers today and around a 2 to 1 jobs opening to applicant ratio.

      9. Community Transit has already had to cut back to once an hour on most neighborhood routes. Very difficult times ahead up here in SnoCo if/when sales tax revenue falls. (CT is funded by sales tax, not MVET, if I recall). We may well be looking at Lynnwood Link opening with 1-2 hour headways on connecting busses.

      10. “McDonald’s shows the future of fast food: You’ll soon pay extra for ordering through the counter and bypassing the kiosk.”

        Has McDonald’s said it will do this? I’ve been avoiding restaurants that have only QR menus or don’t take cash, so this would be one more thing. I haven’t seen a McDonald’s with a kiosk, but the last time I went to the Burger King at 50th & UWay, it had an order machine instead of a cashier. I turned and walked out.

        Personal-attendant robots may spread from Japan to here as masks did, but it will probably be several years. I’m not opposed to robot attendants for the elderly as long as it doesn’t require a smartphone app or send your data to its corporation for harvesting.

      11. @Brandon
        That’s correct about Community Transit’s primary operations funding source:

        “Community Transit’s primary funding comes from a voter-approved 1.2 percent sales tax within the service district. That’s 12 cents of every $10 taxable purchase. 

        “Sales tax revenue typically accounts for 65 to 70 percent of Community Transit’s operating budget. Rider fares account for about 20-25 percent of the operating budget, and grants, advertising and interest make up the remainder of operating revenues.”

        For the record, my neighborhood here in north Edmonds is served by route 119 which has only had hourly service for quite some time. If I need to go to my office downtown for whatever reason (I’ve been working remotely for years), it’s quicker to ride with my spouse, who works in Bellevue, and get dropped off to catch the CT 413 or 415 SB.

      12. Mike, No, McDonald’s has not yet “given a discount for using the kiosk”, which is how it will be pitched of course. This is a prediction, not an “inside scoop”. However, I do expect that you’re right that the robo-carers will be communicating in real time with HomeCares Inc.

  11. recessions tend to *increase* transit
    Wrong, look back to 2009 when the real estate bubble burst. Transit ridership drops because of less commuting. People don’t switch from driving to transit for things like groceries. If they have to they’ll just get a less expensive car sell an extra vehicle or put off the purchase of a new one. If you’re job hunting you really want a car. And the number of discretionary trips drops so existing transit riders make less trips.

  12. Subtracting job reasons, I wonder what’s keeping some former transit users away from transit. So, if someone now remote works, or lost their job, I’m not interested in those reasons. Rather, I’m curious about the other reasons people are avoiding transit. How does that list look? 1, covid/health fears? 2, crime/safety concerns? 3, transit reliability concerns? 4, scared away by tv reports about drug use on buses?

    1. 1) Some of the former riders are dead.

      2) Some of the former riders moved elsewhere.

      3) Some of the former riders switched to Geico.

      4) Some of the former riders turned out to be aliens. Who knew?

  13. The data I would like to see is whether total trips in this region have returned to pre-pandemic levels in order to compare that to transit. We have to remember 90% of trips are in a car, or were pre-pandemic. I doubt they have, in part due to WFH and less work commuting which is probably reflected in the transit data about time of trip.

    I would also like to see miles driven by Uber/Lyft in this region today compared to pre-pandemic when Uber/Lyft usage was exploding.

    So it really isn’t a transit issue if all trips are down, although some recent publicity about crime or drugs on transit hasn’t helped, and neither has the retail/restaurant decline in downtown Seattle because that is one place transit has somewhat of an advantage due to its density although Uber/Lyft are real competitors.

    Transit, especially grade separated transit, has two real advantages when it comes to discretionary riders who already own a car so don’t really see any cost savings compared to a round trip transit fare (especially if parking is free): traffic congestion which is trip time, and capacity (for light rail).

    My guess is driving increased during the pandemic due to safety concerns, but now that Covid is not nearly the issue it was (if someone is willing to walk through a packed airport, sit on a packed plan, and walk through a packed airport at the other end without a mask to go on vacation or attend a Mariner’s game Covid is not a real concern in their mind) the reason folks continue to drive instead of take transit is the lack of traffic congestion. Driving has no first/last mile access issue and no stops along the way so will almost always be much quicker compared to transit, which probably is the primary factor for choosing mode after safety which is a deal breaker (although there is very little concern for safety on eastside transit although that is where transit ridership is down the most).

    If parking on the eastside for example is mostly free, and there is little traffic congestion, the discretionary rider already owns a car, there is no first/last mile access issue, trip time is much faster, and it is totally safe and clean, folks are going to drive, and there is little transit can do because eastside leaders and retailers are not going to allow transit agencies to disadvantage driving for the benefit of transit. Transit has to compete on its own albeit with huge subsidies.

    That is why I think in a challenging future environment for transit operations funding and farebox recovery spending a ton of money trying to lure the discretionary rider in places outside the Seattle/urban core is a waste of money. Either congestion comes back and folks are forced to travel to areas where parking is very expensive (and transit is perceived as 100% safe), and more, capacity is needed, or transit just can’t compete for this discretionary rider. It is the same reason you don’t spend the money on a transit grid system in rural areas.

    1. News reports consistently say car traffic recovered faster than transit ridership. I’m not good at exact numbers or references, but if I recall car traffic dropped 50% in 2020 and returned to 80-90% in 2021. I’ve seen I-5 congestion between Northgate and downtown consistently since 2021, and experienced it on the 41 and 522 until Northgate Link. Since office occupancy is low, some people are working from home, and others retired or died, a lot of these must be non-work trips. I don’t know about Uber/Lyft or the airport.

      Transit is gradually recovering as reported above. That’s consistent with long-term trends, where improved or semi-reasonable transit gradually attracts more riders as millions of people make individual decisions and switch home and job locations. There’s a baseline of 15-minute transit in many areas at least in the daytime, and that’s the point where you start to see more choice riders. So Metro/ST just needs to keep that part up until it can increase service.

      All your issues about congestion, parking, safety, etc, are different for different people. A lot of people think like you, but a lot of others think differently, or have different kinds of jobs than you imagine. In a county of two million, that adds up to hundreds of thousands of people in each category.

      The long-term ridership factors will probably remain. Nobody used P&R expresses and then they did. Parking was cheap in downtown Seattle and free in downtown Bellevue and then it wasn’t. Congestion was moderate and then it wasn’t. Ordinary people didn’t worry about carbon emissions and air pollution and then they did. Safety is a long-term factor, but it’s more of a continuum than you think it is or than the women in your life rate it. There are probably more major factors too.

      So there will probably be short-term fluctuations, and we don’t know what will happen in the future to affect ridership. But if the service and conditions remain as-is, there will tend to be a gradual increase over time. Less than transit fans would like, but above zero.

      1. I’m not going to argue the numbers but from anecdotal evidence sounds about right. “Work” from home has created a huge number of discretionary trips that weren’t previously possible. Half the people on the road are going to Home Dopy to work on their remodel ( I’m not good at exact numbers or references ;-).

        What I’m seeing is a breeze of a commute from North Bellevue into Judkins Park in the morning (~15′ @ +70mph). Evenings it’s more ~20-30′ and more often than not cutting through on Bellevue WY rather than using I-405. The big difference between AM vs PM tells me it’s discretionary trips; people coming in for nightlife or sporting evens.

  14. Mike, that is what I said: if traffic congestion returns, and folks have to travel to places that have expensive parking, they will probably look at transit, especially grade separated. The one place that could happen is downtown Bellevue, although I think the 554 will be the workhorse since it accesses Bellevue Way and is one seat.

    “A lot of people think like you, but a lot of others think differently, or have different kinds of jobs than you imagine. In a county of two million, that adds up to hundreds of thousands of people in each category.”

    Again I agree with you. My point was on the eastside the vast majority do think like me because I am a pretty typical eastsider. If future operations revenue for transit remains strong, or increases, then by all means run as much transit as frequently as you want.

    But my ultimate point was if declining future operations revenue forces choices then concentrate transit frequency where transit can compete; otherwise transit systems will have to reduce frequency for everyone.

    I always agreed with those on this blog who argue: focus transit dollars where riders are today, not where they may be tomorrow or where you hope they will be in the future. Transit can’t afford “induced demand” these days.

    The research Martin did on WSBLE shows just how difficult it is to force folks out of their car onto transit no matter the cost, and if they already own a car, there is little traffic congestion, and parking is basically free it is virtually impossible, so don’t spend a fortune trying at the expense of those who are riding transit, and who have to.

  15. Thanks Sherwin Lee for posting this. Obviously there has been a shortage of posts which has lead to a lot of branching topics in threads. This has been fairly on topic regarding ridership.

    The graphic was a little hard to understand initially but I think others have figured out that the only significant recovery is on Link. Why is this when DT commuting is still very low? Was it such an important component that small increases move the bar? I’m guessing that small numbers of people returning to the office 4X the trips when they take Link to lunch.

    1. As with any urban rail system, riders come from lots of places:

      1. Northgate Link and the restructure. The opening shifted thousands of riders off of buses.

      2. UW. The reopening of campus combined with the U-District Station I think made Link very popular. Why drive to campus? The effort to walk between classes, the U District for food and other things and a parking lot is significant, which makes Link with two stations pretty convenient.

      3. SeaTac. Air travel is mostly back. Traffic is so awful at the airport and travelers can go as far as Northgate on Link. Uber has skyrocketed in price too and cabs were never cheap. Even rental cars are now a shuttle bus ride, so why not use Link and rent a car in the City and avoid those airport markups as well as an extra car rental day and hotel parking?

      4. Rainier Valley riders. Students use the train. Many SE Seattle workers can’t do their jobs from home. They were over a quarter of the riders before Covid.

      5. Space. Light rail feels spacious. The ceilings are higher than a bus giving more air to disperse germs. There are double doors making touchless boarding possible.

      I’m sure there are other factors.

      Of course, it would help if ST would publish station boardings like they used to every quarter. These days, we are only left to speculation.

    2. 6. Some visitors come from cities without subways and want to experience it, and having it at the airport is an easy way to do so. Others choose a city to visit based partly on whether it has rail from the airport.

  16. It will take years for the world to adjust to COVID. A number of facts stand out for me:
    1. Approximately 20% of adults with COVID face long-COVID, i.e. MONTHS (or longer) of symptoms.
    2. Children born to mothers who get COVID during pregnancy have poor cognitive outcomes, compared to their counterparts.
    3. The immune compromised continue to face a higher rate of hospitalizations, severe disease, long-COVID, and death.

    While, certainly, the majority of Americans can move on with life as though nothing is wrong, there is a large population that shouldn’t. Many immune compromised individuals have avoided crowded places during flu season for years, even with vaccinations. Pregnant and planning to become pregnant women routinely do all kinds of things to ensure the best outcomes for their babies, from avoiding alcohol even before pregnancy, to strict healthy diets, to regular supplements, which aren’t always pleasant (fish oil anyone?). Many new parents additionally, protect their babies from unnecessary exposure to others during their initial few months. COVID will become just one more reason to isolate for all of these populations.

    I know that pregnancy is a minority of the population, but when you add onto it their partners, school age children, and employers, it is a huge impact. I don’t remember the last time my office didn’t have either a pregnant mom (or spouse) or a cancer patient. We will always have to accommodate.

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