One Million Served: Tacoma Link light rail celebrates milestone ridership

Pierce County Executive John W. Ladenburg, Sound Transit Finance Committee Chair and Tacoma City Councilmember Kevin Phelps, Lakewood City Councilmember Claudia Thomas, and Sumner City Councilman Dave Enslow joined Sound Transit representatives in greeting passengers aboard Tacoma Link’s light rail yesterday.

The occasion?

A celebration to mark the millionth passenger to ride on downtown’s light rail transportation system. To honor the event, Tacoma Link stations were decorated with banners telling each rider “You are One in a Million!”

County Executive Ladenburg scrapped the prepared speech and instead focused his attention on the project’s early “nay-sayers,” reading letters to the editor of the Tacoma News Tribune. The letters were written before construction started on the light rail system.

“So many people said, ‘If you build the light rail, no one will ride it,’” Ladenburg told a small crowd of passengers, transit officials, and journalists. “The only mistake we made is not having the immediate plans to further expand the light rail system.”

According to Sound Transit, passenger projections called for 2,000 daily weekday riders by 2010. Weekday ridership, however, has exceeded that figure since Tacoma Link’s light rail began service on Aug. 23, 2003, according to the agency. The agency estimates that the millionth passenger boarded the light rail on Tuesday.

“This whole region is growing up in terms of its transit planning,” Ladenburg added. “If you build mass transit, people will ride it. Let’s shoot for another million passengers.”

Ladenburg predicted that ridership will increase — particularly after Courtyard by Marriott opens across the street from the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center, along the light rail line.

The celebration also provided the opportunity for officials to comment on future light rail plans and concede areas for improvement.

Sound Transit Finance Committee Chair and Tacoma City Councilmember Kevin Phelps indicated that he has received feedback from theatergoers concerned that the rail’s service shuts down before performances end. “This feedback, along with the increased ridership, means that maybe we need to extend hours on the weekends and evenings,” said Phelps. “Tacoma is turning more and more into a 24-hour town. Tacoma Link has become an integral part of Tacoma’s downtown renaissance”

Sound Transit is also interested in expanding its light rail reach to Sea-Tac airport. Last year, the Sound Transit Board authorized $10 million to design the light rail extension to the airport, and the Port of Seattle Commission authorized $10.6 million to develop a Comprehensive Development Plan for the Sea-Tac Airport North End Development program.

Sound Transit was formed in 1993 when the state Legislature passed a law in 1993 giving the organization responsibility to plan, build and operate a regional high capacity transit system, with the work to be completed in several phases. In 1996, voters in the urban areas of Snohomish, Pierce and King counties approved Sound Transit’s plan for bringing express buses, commuter trains and electric light rail trains to the region as the first step toward making robust, regional transportation a reality.

“Visitors to the Museum of Glass love Tacoma Link,” said Julie Pisto, Director of Marketing and Communications for the Museum of Glass and International Center for Contemporary Art. “The artwork at each station adds to the adventure of exploring downtown Tacoma.”

“The Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber is pleased ridership has exceeded our community’s already optimistic expectations,” said CEO David Graybill. “Tacoma Link is both a downtown transportation solution and an area attraction that has brought our community together.”

Lakewood City Councilmember Claudia Thomas (right) speaks with a Sound Transit Tacoma Link passenger during a trip through downtown on Tuesday. (Photo by Todd Matthews)