Ridership on Sound Transit’s Link light rail line just keeps going up.
Today, Sound Transit released its latest ridership numbers, showing a 71% increase in Link light rail ridership compared to the same period in 2015. The massive growth is being driven to a large degree by the University Link extension, which brought light rail to Capitol Hill and the University of Washington back in March.
The number of people riding Link has now surpassed exceeded the number of people taking ST Express buses for the first time in Sound Transit history.
Importantly, though, Link’s big gains have not come at the expense of ST Express ridership. The data shows those ridership figures on the agency’s network of regional express buses have basically remained unchanged.
Sound Transit says average weekday boardings came to 65,805, which is an 8% increase over the second quarter of 2015.
Critics of Sound Transit occasionally like to allege (without foundation) that introducing light rail service will cannibalize bus ridership. However, the experience of other cities has been that building rail increases transit ridership overall.
And that is what we’re now seeing here in our own region.
We’ve now added three new light rail stations this year: Capitol Hill, UW, and Angle Lake The result has been a net win for transit, which is an excellent outcome for our region. As we connect more neighborhoods to the rail spine, we’ll likely see further jumps in ridership. Meanwhile, we will continue to have Express bus service as part of our multimodal transit network, while adding two BRT lines with ST3.
Sounder commuter rail continues to see ridership gains too. Like ST Express, it was introduced years before Link began operations, so it is a more mature transit service. Yet it’s still growing. Ridership is up over 2015, with average weekday boardings at 16,186. That is a 12% increase compared to the second quarter of last year.
Ridership on the Tacoma Link streetcar is down slightly, which was not wholly unexpected. Plans are underway to extend the streetcar so it goes further, and when new stations open, that should help drive ridership back in a positive direction.
The next Link light rail stations to join the system will be U District, Roosevelt, and Northgate, all slated to come online in 2021. The opening of those stations will revolutionize travel between downtown and neighborhoods in North Seattle, providing people with a gridlock-free alternative to Interstate 5.