Monday, November 2, 2009

Back in the saddle

Speaking of Central Link light rail, I rode it the rest of the way to Tukwila on my Monday morning bike/transit commute. I got on at the International District station.

Oddly, there was no operative Wi-Fi network on the train, whereas there had been on the King County Metro #355 bus on my earlier leg. This is the opposite of the usual circumstance.

When I boarded, five people got off the train, with a dozen people remaining on the first vehicle in the train, which I boarded. The first bike hangar in the vehicle was unoccupied, so I took it, my bike sticking way out into the aisle (I'm a tall guy, and my seat and handlebars stick way up). At the next stop, a woman in a KC Metro jacket and her own bike saw me sitting there through the window, shrugged, and headed farther back, I assume to the bike rack in the rear vehicle. A Transit Security guy got on, too, then asked everyone for proof of payment once we got underway. This seems to be the usual drill now. By the time we reached Rainier Beach station, there were only seven people left in the vehicle.

As I've noted in the past, this is abysmal ridership, down even from last month's disappointing totals, with no prospect of improvement before the #194 bus line closes early next year and not much prospect for improvement even then (except for people now riding the #194 plus a few more because an incrementally larger number could be expected to ride light rail who wouldn't ride a bus, even though the bus is faster), since the light rail line really doesn't have much built-in ridership, and won't until more residential development occurs around the four stations in the Rainier Valley (plus the Beacon Hill station).

Unless, of course, Sound Transit gets serious about providing fast, safe, and convenient feeders between those light rail stations and neighborhoods that are nearby but more than a quarter-mile walk away, and which by-and-large are already well served by King County Metro buses. The Personal Rapid Transit demonstration that Sound Transit committed to funding and building during the same Sound Move vote in 1996 that brought us Central Link light rail in the first place (and which has been ignored ever since) would go a long way towards demonstrating Sound Transit's commitment to serving a constituency beyond the big-money developers who will benefit most from what the light rail line is now and will be until additional segments are completed (University Link will be first, to open no earlier than 2016): development-oriented transit (as opposed to transit-oriented development).

Postscript: When I got off the train at its current end of the line in Tukwila, only four other people got off the entire train with me. Abysmal ridership indeed. But on the plus side, the Park and Ride Lot there was full, a few cars driving around in it and clearly looking for a parking space, so at least a few hundred people a day are able to use light rail to commute from there to downtown. I wonder what the people looking for a parking space there ended up doing, however.

Post-postscript: On the return to downtown on a King County Metro #150 bus from Tukwila, with about 20 other people on board with me, we came even with a light rail train heading in the same direction at the Stadium Station. It had 10 people on board.

Abysmal ridership indeed.

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