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July 3, 2012 at 11:58 AM

Light-rail ridership grows in May

An average 26,600 riders per weekday rode Sound Transit light rail in Seattle during May, a 12 percent increase from a year earlier.

The trend here is much different from the typical rail startup, which rises fast and then begins to level out within about two years.  Instead, the nearly three-year-old Link line “continues to mature” since its opening in mid-2009, spokesman Bruce Gray said.

In addition, total boardings topped 32,000 on the day of a Mariners baseball game Friday, May 25, as well as May 23 when Sounders FC and the Mariners both played home games, said an update issued Monday.

Sound Transit’s use started weakly but has grown in a steady, linear pattern. The SeaTac/Airport and Stadium stations have attracted more passengers than forecast, while the Rainier Valley stations lag. There hasn’t been a rush to build high-density housing there, two notable exceptions being the 351-unit The Station at Othello Park apartments last year, and the 52-unit Columbia City Station Apartments to open this summer.

One reason for Link’s weak start, at less than 20,000 daily riders, was that the line opened at the depth of the recession, said Gray. Another theory is that immigrants who don’t speak English have been slow to adapt to new train service in their neighborhoods, he said.  (The airport station didn’t open until December 2009).

Light-rail will gain riders this fall when King County Metro Transit opens the new east-west bus Route 50 that connects to Sodo, Beacon Hill, Columbia City and Othello stations, Gray predicts.

Ridership on the $2.6 billion light-rail starter line is still below the agency’s original forecast, used to justify $500 million in federal aid, of 45,000 passengers by 2020. A critique and detailed charts are posted by John Niles at his website, Public Interest Transportation Forum. But that timeline becomes moot in 2016, when extensions to South 200th Street and Husky Stadium bring more customers to the system, and add 1,100 park-and-ride spaces in SeaTac, as the Kent Reporter explains here. Gray said the May gain “bodes well for our original forecasts.”

Comments | Topics: light rail, Sound Transit

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