King County Metro + Sound Transit != TriMet

I haven’t done a ridership & statistics brain exercise in a long time. However Sound Transit sent out their ridership report recently and I had to check it out. I brought it up and immediately thought about a few people always harping on TriMet in Portland compared to Metro & Sound here in the Seattle area. TriMet does an amazing job, even though some of the locals still gripe to no end. Sure TriMet could be better, but they really ought to think before they hold up others that aren’t doing so well in comparison.

Let’s take a look at a few really basic examples.

Sound Transit + Metro had the following weekday ridership on various modes.

TriMet (Data Source:

  • All Bus Routes: 186,900 Cost Per Ride: 2.85
  • MAX (4 routes): 123,680 Cost Per Ride: 1.73
  • Commuter Rail: 1,350 Cost Per Ride: 15.76

King County Metro
All Bus Routes: 365,000 (Data Source:
All Bus Routes: 306,074 (

Note: King County Metro does such a poor job of keeping track of ridership with public access that I gave up even trying to figure out the cost per rider.  I’m honestly appalled by the poor statistics that are publicly available.  One can’t tell what the agency is doing, it really bothers me and can understand why the agency is such a blind spot of apathy for many in the Seattle Metropolitan area.  This is very unfortunate.  If anyone knows where or how to get this information from the agency, I’d love to know what the official statistics are.

Sound Transit (
All Bus Routes: 45,305 Cost Per Ride: 7.47
Link (1 route): 23,762 Cost Per Ride: 6.53
Commuter Rail: 8,665 Cost Per Ride: 14.41
Streetcar (Tacoma Link): 2,907 Cost Per Ride: 3.83

Sound Transit does a vastly superior job with their web presence, communications, and overall organization of the agency.  Metro should be held to these standards and made responsible for providing at LEAST Sound Transit level public data and site standards.

So to those that rant on and on about how horrible TriMet is and how wonderful Metro + Sound Transit is, check your premise.  You’re way off base.  TriMet costs less to the taxpayer and carries more people for that money.  On a market share basis TriMet also carries almost 2x as many people in their service area as does Metro + Sound Transit put together.  Of course Sound + Metro have a vastly harder job being that Seattle has allowed a complete desecration and sprawl effect to take place.  Without a clear UGB and the respective funds not being blown to support suburban sprawl the transit agency has almost no hope of gaining a significant share of ridership like Portland (OR), or even more seriously Vancouver (BC) or other such city.

Either way, all the agencies shown are doing a great job at a core level, but there is vastly more that should and could be done.  I merely write this to state that there is an imbalance between what each agency accomplishes on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis.  In the near future I’ll add Vancouver to this list of stats to show how much work truly needs to be done for a world class transit system and to up the scale, class, and efficiency in both Seattle and Portland.

In addition to the excellent job TriMet does coming forward with these numbers and information in general, they’ve now got a dashboard to show the ongoing trends for ridership!!  Check out

Here’s some of the charts:



Cost Per Rider

Cost Per Rider


  1. Im sure you knew I would come back with rebuttal, but i completely, but respectfully disagree! TriMet is getting its bad name, and bashings, because they continue to ignore the public and its riders on needing new, clean air buses, not more light rail. Also at what cost per passenger is MAX costing Taxpayers to build, vs buying buses?

    Your ST Numbers seem inconsistent with the link you provided, Buses are Actualy 7.27 per ride, Sounder 12.65 and Link is a bit higher at 6.71.

    And I like to add the following:
    TriMets Annual Ridership is 100,409,748, vs 3 county Ridership here of 162,900,000, mostly bus riders too. Passengers ride KC buses 12.39 miles on Average, compared to TM 8.5. While KCs cost per boarding is 3.67 and TMs is 3.48, the cost per Pass Mile traveled is KC 0.80 vs TM at 1.00. KCs Boardings per hour are 33.69, a 2.3% increase over the last 8 years, while TM is 32.11, down 0.1%. Keep in Mind KC is all buses too, no rail to speak of. As I have said before, Sounder had double the ridership on one line, with only 2 round trips a day than WES does now, only one year into service.

    Finally, ST has 45,000 riders on 25 Express only bus routes, TriMet has 186,000 on 81 bus routes, mixed! If TriMet would actually run more express service (something else the public keeps asking for but they wont do) they might see Express Ridership like this. TriMets Bus Ridership is 100M per year (about 600 sq miles), KCM is 162.9M, for only one county of service, over 2,000 sq miles, that doesn’t count ST or any other services provided.

    TriMet runs a system as it should, but its bus side deteriorating, and the numbers show that with the decline in ridership.



    Metro’s 2009 fact sheet, FY2008 cost per boarding ride was $3.70.

    TriMet’s FY2010 bus cost per boarding ride was $3.73.

    Even if Metro’s cost per boarding ride went up, one could easily attribute that simply to higher depreciation expense over at Metro – because they have newer buses. After 12 years, depreciation costs drop to $0 so the real question is since half of TriMet’s fleet is fully depreciated, AND the Portland area cost of living (and theoretically employment costs) are lower – why TriMet’s operating cost is as high as it is.

    One thing I will give credit to Sound Transit for is its crystal clear, publicly accessible budget data (TriMet finally got around to posting the budgets online within the last year, but it’s still hard to read.)

    Click to access FinalAdopted2010Budget.pdf

    On page 19 is a clear breakdown of the cost per revenue vehicle hour – $140.57 for express bus, $348.33 for Central Link, $424.47 for Tacoma Link (!!!!!!!) and $932.46 for Sounder. Interestingly, the operating cost for Sounder is falling as it was $1,158.81 per hour in 2008. ST Express is up just $11.40 per hour from the last two years – but Tacoma Link (Tacoma’s streetcar system jumped $95!!!

    On page 21, Tacoma Link’s budget of $7,138,526 with projected ridership of 973,915 equates to a per-boarding cost of $7.33 – simply outrageous given that rail is often cited as the low cost transport solution. And this is a streetcar line that serves a dense urban area, connects a major transit hub to a major business and education area, and is just a 1.6 mile line that is simply built – not a lot of frills compared to, say, the Portland Streetcar.

    However, I can’t find funding information for Portland Streetcar because of its insane organization – it is “owned” by a non-profit organization (Portland Streetcar, Inc.) which is in turn owned by the City of Portland who buries the Streetcar budget somewhere within PBOT. But much of the Streetcar operation is funded by TriMet…so you have to look at TriMet to find SOME of the budget, but the City for other budget numbers?

    And one last point: “On a market share basis TriMet also carries almost 2x as many people in their service area as does Metro + Sound Transit put together” That comparison would be accurate, IF you considered TriMet to only run bus service in Multnomah County, plus the few scant express buses, WES and MAX elsewhere. When you add in ridership from Pierce Transit, Community Transit and Everett Transit (thus equating the three-county Puget Sound region) – then you have more of an apples-to-apples comparison. And one could even add the walk-ons from the Washington State Ferry system as well, because many of those commuters simply walk from the ferry terminal to their close-in workplaces rather than drive into the city (where Portland neither has, nor needs, a comparable water transit system.)


    1. Ah. Even where you state apples to apples – it’s way off between the two.

      See my comment below.

      Also note, when I do the comparison for Vancouver BC it’ll probably make Seattle and Portland’s transit agencies look like a joke. So just hold yer britches on.

      My overall point, is you keep comparing TriMet to KC as if there is some huge difference. There isn’t. One has marginally crappier numbers than TriMet in many measurements, and vice versa. But you’re comparing a shit socialized service to a shit socialized service. They’re both mere hallowed shells of what the private sector provided in the past before the onslaught of Government subsidized socialization of wealth via the all wonderful automobile.

      So I digress. Just wait until I compare em’ to some real transit agencies, not these crappy ones like LA’s or Seattle’s. Neither are shining examples of good decision making. They’re merely band aids on America’s poor planning and decision making around cities and suburuban/urban planning (or lack thereof).


  3. Let me point out some metrics that aren’t good that you’ve pointed to for some reason as positive examples.

    1. Passengers ride KC buses 12.39 miles on Average, compared to TM 8.5.

    >> Nobody needs to or wants to go further. The average SHOULD BE less. The preferred number, thus, is 8.5 not 12.39.

    2. While KCs cost per boarding is 3.67 and TMs is 3.48

    >>TM boarding according to what you’ve read is 3.48, TriMet reports that it is 2.85 for Buses and 1.73 for MAX. Every equation I’ve seen pan out points to the later number as being more accurate. If you look at the Sound Transit number of cost per ride they have a horrifying 3 or more times as high per rider cost. Metro, if 3+ dollars is the cost, is also higher. Even the number you pointed to states that Metro’s costs are higher per rider. That isn’t good, it again points to TriMet doing better, maybe not much better, but better none the less. This goes back to #1, that distance IS important and better land usage in the Portland area reflects in better statistic for TriMet over Metro. Again, a win for TriMet & the Portland region in economic and environmental efficiencies.

    3. ST has 45,000 riders on 25 Express only bus routes, TriMet has 186,000 on 81 bus routes w/ Metro at 386 or 306k per day – depending on the source.

    >> Back to the operating costs first. Based on STs numbers and distance the 45k riders cost serious cash on those express buses because of horrible zoning and city build out decisions over the years. The cost being either 2-3x as much as TriMet’s per person because of the inordinate distance of the commute. Express buses like that wouldn’t even be viable in the Portland area as the land use laws have mitigated large populations being external to the city core. In addition TriMet has managed to get many of those riders on light rail, which is vastly lower cost and more energy efficient (by the numbers) than having bus express services.

    >> Environmentally speaking don’t even get me started. Longer distances are where the majority of waste is incurred for buses and cars. The Seattle area has basically missed the boat on that entirely. Portland has been doing very good.

    >> As for ridership, increased express services in Portland haven’t proven to be good ridership increases, and also it is proven that the most efficeint services aren’t point to point, but services that run lines that have lots of ridership and points of debarkation all along the route. Simply put Express routes are horribly inefficient and don’t improve land use, livability or any of those characteristics. In most situations express buses could be replaced by cheap cars for better statistics on livability, costs, and environmental improvements.

    3. TriMets Bus Ridership is 100M per year (about 600 sq miles), KCM is 162.9M, for only one county of service, over 2,000 sq miles

    >> Last point I’ll make. Based on the square mileage of the area, King County with 2k sq miles and TriMet’s/Portland’s 500 sq miles or whatever it is shows that King County has made numerous poor zoning and development decisions. Making KC Transit’s job of moving people even more difficult. I feel for the people working there sometimes since the city has made so many poor decisions that the authority has to deal with.

    >> The second part of this is that with the metropolitan area populations, Seattle should be carrying at least 2-3x as many people as Portland if they achieved the same ridership levels – but the fact is Metro even with Sound Transit has not achieved that. The numbers are instead vastly lower than TriMet’s. In addition with other modes Seattle also lags Portland pretty significantly.

    …but I digress. I don’t want to continue on the Portland vs. Seattle avenue. The real “Way to do things” is northward in Vancouver BC. Vancouver’s transit system with its MASSIVE ridership and efficiency makes Seattle and Portland look like the respective city’s are stuck in the dark ages.

    I’ll have more on that one of these days. Hopefully in early 2011. 🙂 Cheers and happy new years to all!


    1. Well, for what anyone thinks its worth, the transit system works here, theres a big lake in between 2 cities (whos fault?), and we spend money to upgrade the equipment and facilities. The longer milage is because those who choose to live in Issaquah, or Redmond for example and commute to Seattle make up a longer commute. Case in point, If TriMet would simply invest in its bus service, I would consider calling it a “Good Transit System”, period!

      Vancouvers system is only working that way because its $2.50-$5 to ride, plus there is 12% Sales Tax, PLUS Income Tax, Plus Vehicle Tax…….the citizens are taxed way more than we are….hence funding! I’m sure you’ll run with the “People should pay for more of their ride” stance anyways.


    2. Agree on the whole land use part. Oregon adopted growth management in 1973, compared to 1990 for Washington, which was way too late. Much of the growth happened in the 80s. Even the early 1970s is close to missing it. The subdivision I live in was built in 1972. County population exploded relative to Seattle’s stagnant growth.

      With such horrible sprawl on the Eastside and South County, Metro decided to dedicate a lot of resources in shuttling people from park-and-rides to downtown Seattle with expensive one-way peak-only freeway routes instead of all-day frequent service corridors. Almost all the frequent service routes are within the city of Seattle, excluding regional expresses. Only one on the Eastside and five in the South (3 of which go to Seattle).

      As such, poor land use makes transit more expensive to operate, resulting in less service for the same dollar, and less user-generated fare revenue. Half of TransLink’s transit system operating costs are covered by fares, the rest by gas tax and property tax. That’s a figure Metro and TriMet can only dream of! Note that in Asia, they expect rail & bus service to turn a profit and repay the construction costs.


  4. What are the costs per passenger mile? Boardings may reflect reduced parking congestion, but reduced road use would seem to be more reflected in passenger-miles than in boardings. Also, passenger-mile automatically reflect multi-mode trips, where boardings have a tendency to double count for multi-mode trips.


    1. I’m going to do a bit more research around cost per mile. There are other measurements too that I news to hash outta aren’t readily or easily available for consumption.


  5. You should check out the National Transit Database statistics ( as reposted on the American Public Transit Association website at

    A better way to compare cost-effectiveness is found on spreadsheet # 26, where it shows Farebox Recovery Ratios. It looks like King County has a bit better ratio than TriMet for its bus operations, but Sound has a bit worse. For light rail, King and Sound have a dismal recovery ratio for their light rail systems, possibly because they are new. (By the way, Metro Transit in Minneapolis beats Seattle and Portland in recovery for both modes, at a lower or comparable fare.)

    Your blog is great, by the way. It seems like the best thing transit advocates could do in the Seattle area is to work towards consolidation of the transit agencies!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s