Sound Transit light-rail stations opened Saturday morning on Capitol Hill and at the University of Washington, amid hoopla and an expected change in how thousands of people in the Seattle-area approach their commutes.

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Light-rail stations opened Saturday morning on Capitol Hill and at the University of Washington, marking a new era in transit for the congested Seattle area.

There were free rides for the day anywhere on the Link system, and Sound Transit held celebrations beside both new stations as eager straphangers got their first look.

“This is great,” Michael Henzler, 63, said outside the Capitol Hill stop in the neighborhood he’s called home for years. “I watched them the whole way through — tearing down the old buildings, digging the hole, building the station. They did good.”

The stations, connected to each other and downtown Seattle by a new 3-mile tunnel, combined for about 30,000 boardings between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., said Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray.

Trains in and out of the new stops carried 450 passengers, on average, he added. For the day, a free shuttle ran between the Northgate Transit Center and the UW station, which is near Husky Stadium.

“Seattle has embraced these stations with open arms,” Gray said.

The $1.8 billion subway from Westlake to Capitol Hill and the UW will change how many people in Seattle and south of the city get around. The stations that opened Saturday, along with the Angle Lake station scheduled to open in SeaTac this fall, are projected to add 45,000 weekday passengers by 2021, for a total of 80,000 along the 21-mile system.

Mike Fields, 39, said his wife’s commute will improve. Rather than spending more than an hour on the bus each way between their Beacon Hill home and her job on Capitol Hill, she’ll ride the train for about 40 minutes, round trip.

“This is pretty cool,” Fields said, taking his 10-year-old son, Jayden, to check out the art inside the Capitol Hill station, which includes a mobile of pink fighter-plane parts hanging above the train platform. “We hope it makes the traffic better.”

Marni Jacobs, 25, rode the train from Capitol Hill, where she lives, to the Chinatown International District and back. She picked up groceries at Uwajimaya supermarket.

The recent Boston transplant said she now plans to start taking the train to her job at Rainier Beach High School. Jacobs said Link is cleaner than Boston’s rail system.

“Smaller than I’m used to, but not as dirty and smelly,” she said, laughing.

Capitol Hill Station is about a block from Seattle Central College and offers a connection to the Seattle Streetcar on Broadway, while UW station means access to the university, its medical center, Seattle Children’s hospital and more.

Melody Liu, 19, and Anton Zheng, 20, both UW students, waited for friends Saturday outside UW Station. Liu and Zheng said the station will help them reach the airport faster when they travel home on school breaks.

The trip between the UW and Capitol Hill lasts only four minutes, which impressed West Seattle resident Pauline Van Senus Saturday.

“We were absolutely flying,” the 58-year-old said.

The new stations won’t serve everyone. Daniel Mehari, 35, is waiting for a light-rail station to open in his Northgate neighborhood so he won’t need to drive to his job in South Seattle any longer. That station is scheduled to open in 2021.

“I can’t wait,” Mehari said.