Link light-rail trains carried more than 100,000 riders in a single day for the first time.
Link light-rail trains carried 101,000 passengers Friday, the 21-mile corridor’s first six-figure day, Sound Transit announced.
Besides the normal commute and nightlife crowds, a University of Washington vs. Stanford football game and Seattle Mariners baseball game drew evening riders. This was one of three “megaevent” days where transit staff prepared plans for additional railcars on the line.
Friday also included students commuting during the first week of UW’s fall semester, and the Angle Lake park-and-ride station in SeaTac opening a week earlier.
August monthly ridership figures averaged 69,000 weekday boardings, the latest report says. That continues steady growth since the UW and Capitol Hill stations opened in March.
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“We have the happy challenge of ridership exceeding expectations,” said David Huffaker, deputy director for operations, to the agency’s citizen oversight panel on Thursday. In August, nearly 2 million people rode, he said.
Rising numbers are a closely watched angle in this fall’s ST3 campaign, to raise property, sales and car tab taxes to build more trackway.
John Niles, president of the critics group Smarter Transit, said Sound Transit in the 1990s promised to build its first phase by 2006, and serve 105,000 Link riders per day by 2010, year round, from SeaTac to the U District — and should meet that goal first before it deserves more taxes.
Link is gradually gaining on that target, and the U District Station will finally open by 2021, along with Roosevelt and Northgate stations.
This spring and summer, scores of trips have exceeded the comfortable load of 150 people per railcar, with some approaching “max load” near 200, where people would jostle to get in or out. A 200-person railcar is acceptable for short periods, such as southbound for the first few stops after a ballgame, but wouldn’t be for a half-hour commute, Huffaker said.
Huffaker said this year’s service plan predicted just over 50,000 daily passengers, that could be served by two-car trains.
When spring ridership grew faster, the agency added a railcar each to seven trains for peak service, and supplied three-car weekend trains. And for big days, Sound Transit offers “inverted” service where three-car trains run all day, and the seven peak-only trains use two cars.
On Friday, operators put 57 of the agency’s 61 railcars on the line.
Maintenance crews are working overtime and changed shifts, he said, but fare income is also higher than budgeted.
Niles called crowding “a major fail” and said officials should have been prepared with more railcars. “This train we have is taking too long to build and has cost too much, and now it cannot handle the ridership planned,” he said, admitting that’s a shift in his longstanding view that Link was doomed to low rider demand.
James Canning, spokesman for the Mass Transit Now campaign, said: “As the 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.”
In recent debates, opponent Kevin Wallace, a Bellevue council member, said that unlike the Seattle core, outlying ST3 destinations such as downtown Issaquah lack density to generate high passenger numbers, so it would be better to spend dollars for bus-rapid transit going farther, onto the Sammamish Plateau.
For the 21 miles operating, the Link trackways, tunnels, stations and trains cost about $4.5 billion to build, of which $1.3 billion was federally funded.
Huffaker said, “we see more crush loads on buses than on the trains,” but that all eyes are on rail this year.