Seattle’s transit growth nearly doubled that of any other U.S. metro area last year, at a time when most cities were losing passengers, new data suggests.
Transit ridership in the increasingly crowded Seattle area grew more than 4 percent last year, even as most big metro areas across the U.S. lost passengers.
The pace of growth was double that of Houston and Milwaukee, the next-highest-ranked cities, where rider counts increased just over 2 percent. In fact, 24 of the top 30 regions lost transit riders — notably Washington, D.C., where an emergency safety shutdown, smoke and stalls contributed to a 10 percent loss.
Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., Sabey Corp., Seattle Children’s hospital and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.
Metro is among several Puget Sound agencies that often seek tax dollars or road space to add service, using such statistics to make the case for transit.
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Transit commuting far exceeds solo driving in the city core, and despite a recent $60 car-fee increase to add daily bus service, many buses overflow. Last fall’s winning Sound Transit 3 measure has just begun to generate more car-tab tax increases. No transportation taxes are proposed yet for the 2017 ballot.
Metro’s total of 121.5 million bus boardings dropped slightly from 121.8 million the year before. But led by new light-rail stops at the University of Washington, Capitol Hill and Angle Lake, Sound Transit served 42.7 million customers, an increase of 8 million.
Total transit use — including Snohomish and Pierce counties, the Seattle Center Monorail and state ferry walk-ons — was about 191 million, or eighth nationally, based on FTA and Washington State Ferries data.
Nationally, continued low gasoline prices played a big role in reduced transit use, said Virginia Miller, spokeswoman for the American Public Transit Association. The national average is $2.28 a gallon, according to AAA.
Car trips also continue to grow in Western Washington, by as much as 10 percent last year along northern Interstate 405 between Bothell and Bellevue. State lawmakers boosted the gas tax by 11.9 cents a gallon in 2015-16, to finish the Highway 520 segments in Seattle, extend Highway 167 between the Port of Tacoma and warehouses in the Green River Valley, and complete the widening of Snoqualmie Pass East, among other megaprojects.