Find Posts By Topic

A closer look at Seattle’s rising transit ridership

Transit riders loading the 45 bus in Greenwood.

You may have heard, we’re the fastest growing big city in the US – complete with associated growing pains – but good news! We’re also the only major US city to increase transit ridership (from 2016).


What’s our secret?

Since there’s no room to build more roads, we’ve done something else: prioritized our near- and long-term efforts to move more people, more efficiently. Together with our partners King County Metro we’re making changes, big and small, prioritizing transit to help improve the system, adding up to some big results.

Third Ave. dedicated to buses and riders.

Big changes:

3rd Avenue: Permanent downtown transit spine since 2005

Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD)Voter-approved in 2014, invests close to $50 million a year to increase bus reliability and add more trips throughout the city:

  • In 2015, funded the equivalent of 61 buses, running 12 a day, 365 a year, to Metro’s network.
  • In 2016, funded 50 new weekly trips (3,500 annual service hours).
  • In 2017, funded 700 new weekly trips (35,000 annual service hours).

RapidRide expanded service:

  • C Line: West Seattle to South Lake Union.
  • D Line: between Ballard and Pioneer Square.
  • COMING SOON:  G Line (Downtown Seattle to First Hill and Madison Valley) and H Line (Downtown Seattle to Delridge and Burien) in partnership with King County Metro.


Small(er) changes:

Red bus-only lane on Spring St.

Transit Spot Improvement Program:

Since 2008, we improved the safety and efficiency of city transit through street and sidewalk improvements, funded by the voter approved Levy to Move Seattle and the Bridging the Gap Levy before it, and King County Metro.

Improvements include (just a sample):

  • Bus only lanes and BAT (Business Access and Transit) lanes (Blanchard, Aurora Ave N, N Midvale Pl, NE Pacific St).
  • Dedicated transit lanes shared with Seattle streetcar (Westlake Ave N).
  • Transit islands on priority corridors (Dexter, Roosevelt).
  • Dedicated Transit Signals (Olive Way).
  • Bus bulbs.


The result = more people taking transit.

From 2000 to 2016, we saw big changes in travel to downtown Seattle – modes like transit, walking, biking, and rideshare jumped from 50% to 70% of trips. Most of this growth is thanks to transit, which increased from 29% to 47% of trips. But that’s not all. During this same time, drive-alone trips decreased from 50% to 30%. Now that’s success!


How transit is rolling now.

From June 2015 to June 2017:

  • Bus routes in Seattle and Link light rail carried 304,000 weekday riders, up 15% over June 2015.
  • Ridership on Regional Partnership routes (those routes with service funded in partnership between Seattle and another jurisdiction thanks for STBD) increased 12%, adding more than 5,000 weekday riders.
  • The City of Seattle funded approximately 56% more service hours on the RapidRide C and D Lines and has seen a 40% and 28% ridership increase, respectively.
  • The RapidRide E Line gained 13% more weekday rides while the City funded 11% more service.


Improvements to all-day bus service:

  • Seattle has funded nearly 300,000 annual hours of bus service, improving weekday all-day service to 10-minutes or better (noted in % of households in graphic below).
  • Ridership improved 17%, more than 14,000 more weekday riders.


Access to frequent transit:

  • 64% of households are within a 10-minute walk of 10-minute all-day transit service, up from 25% just two years earlier.
  • Since 2010, 86% of new housing units are served by the 10-minute network.

Encouraging people to take transit.

Our Youth ORCA Program distributes ORCA cards to high school and middle school students enrolled in Seattle Public Schools whose households are income-eligible. For the 2016-17 school year, the Youth ORCA Program distributed cards to 2,538 high school students and 142 middle school students, for a total of 2,680 cards.

The ORCA LIFT Program provides up to a 50% discount on fares for income-qualified riders.

  • 28,816 Seattle residents (19% of eligible residents) enrolled in the ORCA LIFT program – up 11%.
  • Seattle residents account for 59% of King County’s 49,058 ORCA LIFT registrations, and Seattle’s share continues to increase at a faster rate than the rest of King County.

While the we don’t run the buses or light rail trains, we do invest directly in transit service and work closely with King County MetroSound Transit, and other transit providers on major service and infrastructure changes within the city limits. We also enhance transit by updating the Transit Master Plan, owning the Seattle Streetcar lines and making transit corridor improvements funded by the Levy to Move Seattle. We may not be a traditional transit agency, but we embrace the transit system as if we were, and the results are clear.