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Capitol Hill’s *other* train — City says First Hill Streetcar ridership continues to grow

Seattle saw a sizable increase in ridership for its streetcar lines in 2018 thanks to a 31% uptick on the First Hill Streetcar line, according to a new report submitted by the city’s Department of Transportation.

“2018 was a very positive year overall for streetcar operations,” SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe said at a Seattle City Council committee this week.

System-wide ridership went up by 18% in 2018 and indications show another increase in early 2019 over the same period last year. All of that jump came from the First Hill line, a 2.5 mile route that connects major medical facilities, Seattle Central College, Seattle University, and mixed income communities to the King Street transportation hub.

The line, which first opened in January 2016, has seen ridership increase over each of its first three years. It also went up by nearly a quarter in the first three months of this year. Chris Eilerman, SDOT’s streetcar and transit corridors manager, added Tuesday that increases continued through at least May.

“The First Hill line continues to grow,” Eilerman said. “So far, the numbers are encouraging through the early part of 2019.”

In 2018, about 1.16 million riders used the First Hill Streetcar, an increase of almost 280,000 users from the previous year. This brought in more than $845,000 in fare revenue, according to the report, for an average per ride of 73 cents. The lion’s share of revenue for this line, however, comes from a $5 million annual investment from Sound Transit through 2023.

Meanwhile, ridership on the South Lake Union line has basically “stabilized,” according to Eilerman. About 513,000 riders utilized this line in 2018, a 4% decrease year-over-year. Each rider paid $1.42 on average for a total fare revenue of nearly $760,000.

SDOT says that reliability has remained “consistently high” since the First Hill line’s 2016 opening, while the South Lake Union Streetcar’s performance has gone down steadily since 2011 and more substantially in the past three years due partly to increased congestion and construction in the area.

The First Hill Streetcar was on time, meaning it came within five minutes of its scheduled arrival, more than 88% of the time, while the South Lake Union Streetcar’s performance was under 40% by the same metric.

SDOT has been working on several improvements to the First Hill line. For example, there are four bicycle safety treatments programmed for implementation in 2019 and 2020, including work on Broadway and E Denny Way as well as E Yesler Way and Boren Ave. The department will alter the signal on Broadway and James this fall to give more time for north-south travel and after the Madison Street Bus Rapid Transit project is implemented, SDOT may install a streetcar-only lane going south on Broadway between Pine and Madison Streets.

CHS reported last month about the optimizations and their delay after concerns about the changes from businesses and property owners along the route.

Operating the two lines is set to cost $13.1 million this year with expected revenue of $9.5 million and the $3.6 million difference coming from the city.

The city paid a bicyclist $1.55 million after a May 2015 crash in which he was tossed by streetcar tracks into the path of a Metro bus, breaking his leg and pelvis, according to the Seattle Times.

SDOT also reported on its embattled Center City Connector project, which would join the two existing lines and create new north-south connections downtown.

“We really see the Center City Connector as being a critical link in the system — and making it a system — in connecting a lot of the destinations that we see around all the regional transit network from commuter rail to ferries to Link to Metro bus” Zimbabwe said Tuesday.

This project is on pause due to a direction from Mayor Jenny Durkan last March. Durkan said she wanted to continue working with the City Council to move the project forward in January after it underwent an independent review that showed the capital costs had risen significantly.

The project, originally slated to open in 2020, has been postponed to 2025, according to a January report by the Seattle Times. Eric Tweit, project manager for SDOT, said Tuesday that the plan is to have an updated cost estimate and schedule by fall 2020.

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1 year ago

Can someone more informed explain to me how the First Hill line has an average fare of 73 cents a ride while the SLU line is double that?

The published fare is $2.25 does that mean less than 1/3 of users are actually paying in First Hill?

How is the city getting an accurate ridership count if so many users are not paying is there another counting method?

1 year ago
Reply to  John

There are a lot of people who are eligible for reduced price fares. First Hill has a lot of high rises and a fairly sizable senior citizen population. SLU not so much.

1 year ago

So, the 1st hill street car has an avg of 3178 riders per day in 2018 and costs sound transit $13,698 per day, or $4.31 per passenger per day. Add the avg fairbox revenue of $0.73 and a ride on streetcar costs over $5! Honestly, with such low fairbox collections, the streetcars should just be free, that would get more people on them, but i doubt it would get more people out of cars.

What happens in 2023 when Sound Transit stops paying?

Also, i presume the $0.73 avg fair per rider might have something to do with free transfers and SLU probably has more fairbox revenue because of tourists starting their public transit ride on the SLUT.

Bill shanks
Bill shanks
1 year ago

Street car work is so behind and way over budget. We can’t afford this toy.