Mass Transit

Seattle Light Rail Breaks Ridership Record; Still Shy of 2010 Projections

Sound Transit is using the numbers to sell voters on $54 billion in new light rail spending.


Seattle Link Train at University Street
Steve Morgan / Wikipedia

Seattle's Sound Transit authority is loudly touting the breaking of its one-day light rail ridership record on September 30th.

According to several celebratory blog posts and tweets from last Thursday, the agency's Link line broke 100,000 trips in a single day for the first time.

Campaigners for a November ballot initiative to expand the city's transit system, along with its backers in the press, were quick to hold up this stat as proof that $54 billion worth of additional light rail is both a smart and necessary investment.

James Canning, spokesman for Mass Transit Now—the official campaign for the light rail initiative—told the Seattle Times that these numbers show "there's tremendous demand for light-rail ridership. People want an alternative to having to utilize the congested highways. People are voting with their feet to ride light rail."

Meanwhile, the folks over at Seattle Transit Blog—who are also enthusiastic boosters of the light rail expansion—wrote that Sound Transit had emerged from its 100k day "showing that there's nothing like high-capacity transit to soak up enormous demand in a minimal footprint."

Perhaps this is a cause to celebrate. Providing 100,000 commuter trips in 24 hours is impressive, after all—almost as impressive as the 105,000 trips Sound Transit promised to be delivering daily on light rail by 2010.

As it stands right now—and despite spending twice as much as it estimated for the existing light rail line—the agency is nowhere near meeting its promised ridership goals. In fact, it took the perfect storm of Friday rush hour traffic, along with simultaneous University of Washington football and Seattle Mariners baseball games, to even get as close as it did. And to support the surge, Sound Transit had to work overtime with extra lines and maintenance crews.

Seattle-area voters should keep these facts in mind as they mull spending another $54 billion on more light rail. For just a third of the cost of the International Space Station, Sound Transit is promising to add about 28,000 new riders. Perhaps if the Sonics start playing in Seattle again that might come true.

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  1. Boy, those homeless really get around, don’t they?

    1. Why are you slut-shaming homelessexuals?

      1. Crusty hardest hit

  2. Uhh, 54 Billion?
    So, that is enough to pay all of those 100,000 riders for that day 61 dollars an hour, every hour, of every day, for a year.



    For 1500 dollars A DAY each of those riders could purchase 6 Audi A8 Quatros.

    1. The extra $54 billion is to add another 28,000 riders. So almost $2 million per rider.

      I think you could get each one of those riders a stretch limo ride every day in perpetuity for that kind of coin. And that’s not including all of the ongoing subsidies that are not included in the $54 billion.

      I’d be willing to bet that you could offer each of those putative riders a choice of a new train or $20k and you’d get 100% uptake on the cash option. That saves 99% of your budget and gets the job done way ahead of schedule. That leaves you with 53.5 billion bucks to spend on advertising and bonuses.

      1. But you don’t get the insider real estate deals and contractor kickbacks that way.

        1. With $53 billion bucks you could probably drop a couple million in the pocket of every politician in the area, plus every top level bureaucrat and all of the movers and shakers in the local economy, just on the interest alone.

          You could probably do all of that, buy a fleet of Uber/Lyft self driving cars and give every person in the city vouchers for 20 free rides and still have enough principal left to fund you political payoffs every year in perpetuity.

          1. But kickbacks are illegal. So much inefficiency caused by anti-corruption laws, requiring all these roundabout boondoggles to finally transfer money from the taxpayer to the govt employee’s pension account. It’s like the drug that reduces the effectiveness of cocaine by 90%, so addicts take 10x as much cocaine.

      2. You can’t put a price on zero carbon footprints.

        1. Well, you can’t but the government is.

  3. Did they use the light rail to move those goalposts?

  4. And given the surge in costs to accommodate this historic volume they probably lost money anyway.

    1. I’m sure it’s mathematically impossible for them to ever make money, defined as paying for the actual construction in addition to operating costs.

      But yeah, an increase in ridership probably results in a disproportionate increase in expenses due to overpay and everything.




    1. Just buy them all a Tesla instead.

    2. Yeah, but the city wouldn’t own the Audis.

      1. Well, really, can you blame them?

  6. The reason they’re finally “breaking” (more on that) the records is eleventy years later, and kajillions over budget, they finally opened a station that people want to go to. The Capitol Hill station was the first time they got a station into a real actual neighborhood that allowed a large number of permanent residents to go places like downtown or the airport.

    Even I as a libertarian voted for Light rail back in the 90s when it was proposed, because what was proposed looked pretty good. The real issue is yes, they can build this thing at 500x the initial cost and 1/100th the scope of the proposed coverage. This isn’t really a “win” for Seattle’s light rail, it’s an overdue, under-achieved promise that costed way too much being realized.

    Also, it helps if you ignore that absolutely awful S.L.U.T. ridership numbers which have never, ever ever come within lightyears of the projections. Building a streetcar between a place that no one lives to another place that no one lives on flat ground, and taking out two traffic lanes to support it is considered a “win” by local government.

    1. I took the train from the airport to Westlake. Meh.

      I ended up taking Uber back.

  7. I took the ferry from downtown to Bainbridge Island this summer. It was beautiful.

    I wonder how much money it’s losing.

    1. Tons. And while it provides a useful service, it’s overrun by shockingly corrupt union practices– with stuff like employees being allowed to “call themselves in to work for overtime with 4 hour minimums”- which essentially was a pension spiking scheme.

      1. Yeah, but there’s a bar on the ferry. That makes up for it.

        1. I see it as the same thing those east coast people deal with regarding the trains. If I’m going to subsidize this stupid money-losing transit system, I better be able to get a damned drink.

    2. BTW, did you check out the Big Dig II, the Big Dig Goes to Washington?

      1. Nah. I was there for less than 48 hours. Bachelor party, drunk the whole time. Except for once, just before breakfast.

        1. You would have walked through it when you got on the ferry.

          1. Lemme look at a map. I’m trying to remember where I walked.
            Stayed at Pensione (1st and Virginia) overlooking Pikes Place. Walked to the aquarium, Pikes, Elliot’s Oyster, and the Ferry terminal.

            So… the big dig is Alaskan Way?

            1. Yeah, the entire construction zone is right in front of the ferry terminal. All those chainlink fences and plywood you have to walk over to get in the terminal.

              You can see all the new seawall construction, plus these mysterious pipes covered in ice.

              Why do they need to freeze the ground along the Seattle waterfront? As Applegate, who is now president of the Seattle-based company, explained to me over the phone, freezing the ground provides a temporary solid wall to deal with water. “People always think of the water in the bay,” explained Applegate, “but there is also water in the land. And as you have to block water from the bay, you have to block water from the land. By freezing the ground, we create that wall, a wall of ice.”

              1. The one thing that really stands out in my mind when walking by there was the smell of pentachlorophenol. I don’t know if they were driving wood piles or what, but it reeked.

                1. Whatever, Marie Curie. It’s probably in the homeless peoples’ pee.

              2. Night gathers, and now my watch begins

    3. That really depends. How much money you got?

  8. Oh, and it’s important to point out that Seattle is “the only city in the world” that puts its light rail trains on the same roadway as its buses. Planners haven’t realized that’s a bug, not a feature.

    1. Sorry, but we have a light rail train that runs on surface streets almost entirely between downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis. In St. Paul it has to make at least 3 90 degree turns around the state Capitol building and within downtown to get to its terminus. Unless there’s a Vikings game (or, in some good years, a Twins game), I’ve never seen it more than half full (though admittedly I’m not along its route during rush hour).

  9. They’re not loading me in to any of their boxcars.

    1. They’re just taking you for a shower.

      1. They’re just taking you to the beach where they have a ditch.

  10. This prompts me to ask: Why hasn’t John Candy made a movie in a while?

    1. Still too soon. 🙁

    2. I think he’s working on a project with Lou Reed.

    3. Planes, light rail and Teslas.

    4. He’ll be too busy voting 500 times in the upcoming election along with everyone else in the cemetery.

  11. Picked up a girl I’d been trying to fuck since the eighth grade. It’s ironic. She had the brew; I had the chronic. The Lakers beat the Supersonics.

    1. Speaking of which, didn’t virtuous Robby just report that Trump likes crowded commuter trains, because it’s easier to grope women?

    2. Today wasn’t that great a day.

  12. Christian Britschgi, if you are going to make it in this business, you need to up your alt-text game. You don’t want to be another loser like Gillespie and Rico, do you? Rico can get by because of his dreamy hair, but don’t consider yourself so blessed.

  13. Do cities do studies about where people live vs. where they work? It seems like it should be stupidly easy to pick a route going between the largest concentration of where people live to the highest concentration of where they work.

  14. They should build el trains (if you believe they should build rail), but I presume people think those are visually ugly.

  15. My mothers neighbour is working part time and averaging $9000 a month. I’m a single mum and just got my first paycheck for $6546! I still can’t believe it. I tried it out cause I got really desperate and now I couldn’t be happier. Heres what I do,


    1. “neighbor” “mum”? What the fuck? Go back to England and stop taking good Amerkin spambot jerbs!

  16. Are there 28,000 people just sitting around wondering about how to get around?

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