With officials touting ‘record transit’ numbers, Capitol Hill riders trading bus for light rail

Opposite Day On the Escalator, Capitol Hill Link Light Rail Station

More Capitol Hill commuters are traveling by public transportation — and they’re ditching buses in favor of light rail and the First Hill Streetcar in droves. The new numbers come from the Seattle Transit Blog’s analysis of the first release of systemwide ridership data following the opening of Capitol Hill Station, UW Station, and the U-Link restructure that optimized Metro’s lines around the opening of light rail service between downtown and the University of Washington via Broadway.

While Capitol Hill-area riders are less likely to be hopping on a bus, the data comparing Fall 2015 with Fall 2016 activity show Metro’s restructure apparently paid off by putting the county system to work serving areas away from the light rail circuit and feeding riders to the stations. “Despite an aggressive ULink restructure, Metro ridership stayed flat, declining by just 0.2%,” the STB wonks write.

“Despite Link’s rapid growth, Metro still represents 65% of all transit boardings regionwide (121m). Trolleybus ridership grew by 1.2% (19m), and diesel bus ridership fell by 0.4% (101m).”

Across the main Metro routes plus light rail and the streetcar, Capitol Hill transit lines averaged more than 31,000 daily riders in 2016, according to the analysis. More than 10,000 of those came each day via Capitol Hill Station and the First Hill Streetcar.

Overall looking at all the main routes serving the neighborhood including light rail and the streetcar, ridership rose about 2.5% in 2016. A lot of those riders got off the bus.

“Ridership on Capitol Hill routes fell significantly (-32%) as riders replaced their slow one-seat bus rides with lightning fast Link trips. In the context of a 2-minute Link trip, the old 25-minute PM peak trips on stinky Breda buses are graciously fading from memory,” Seattle Transit Blog reports on the drop in bus usage on the Hill.

Other Hill takeaways: Route 10 ridership serving 15th Ave fell 31% in the comparison periods while Route 11 which travels on to Madison Park was up only slightly after showing larger gains last spring, and Route 49 usage dropped about 6%.

Route 8, meanwhile, could see a bump later this year as changes to streamline the much-used but often late line will be made on Denny and across the Capitol Hill portion of the route. Metro is also looking to upgrade its “Night Owl” late night service.

The analysis comes as officials released annual numbers showing “record transit ridership” —

An estimated 150 million people rode Metro bus service, Link light rail and ST Express service operated by Metro in 2016, a 5 percent ridership growth rate that helped propel the Seattle area to lead the nation in ridership growth compared to the other largest metro areas in the U.S., according to national transit data.

The STB analysis confirms trends identified last year as ridership figures began to settle in after the wave of changes. Capitol Hill Station opened in March 2016 and is expected to serve 14,000 riders a day by 2030.

As part of the restructure, Metro is scheduled to present a full report on ridership changes to the King County Council in March. In the meantime, you can read the full STB report on the early look at the numbers here.


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8 thoughts on “With officials touting ‘record transit’ numbers, Capitol Hill riders trading bus for light rail

  1. I wonder if part of the reason 10 ridership dropped was due to the route change? I live on 15th and personally use it a lot less as it no longer serves areas of the Hill that I want to travel to….

    • I am certain that route change had an effect. Now we are stuck with the always late 11 to get up and down a section of Pine St…

    • Maybe Metro should have asked actual 10 riders before making the change rather than putting out a ridiculously skewed survey that gave no chance for the 10 to stay where it was.

      The beauty of the 10/11 pairing was that it served a dense area with really frequent service before splitting to serve less dense areas. Now that service is split between two corridors that each have less frequent service. 15th & Pine got a serious downgrade, while more (6 story) apartment buildings are going up right around there.

    • Agree with everyone here. Previously, I could catch either the 10 or the 11, and be home very quickly, and usually find a seat. Now, only having the overworked 11, it’s a far longer wait for a more crowded bus.

  2. Would be great if the Route 8 improvements can be prioritized and be beefed up. If it was frequent and reliable that route would see explosive growth.

  3. I agree. The change to Route 10 has reduced my use of it and makes it more difficult to get around the Hill. Also, the reduction in Route 43 makes travel within the neighborhood and getting to the U-District more difficult.