Sound Transit ridership climbs along with gas prices

South Sound residents hoping to avoid rising gas prices by hopping on a Sound Transit bus or train for a trip north will probably find their commute more crowded.

According to Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl, ridership has increased over last year by double digits in two of its major transportation services — ST Express Buses and Sounder Commuter Rail — during the first quarter of this year.

“We’re seeing tremendous demand,” said Earl during Tuesday’s noon Tacoma City Council study session. “The public appetite is quite high.” Earl added that ridership increases have put “big pressure” on park-and-ride facilities. “It’s not uncommon to see the Tacoma Dome parking garage full by late-morning.”

During the first quarter of 2007, 318,320 passengers boarded the four ST Express bus routes that run between Lakewood, Tacoma, and Seattle. During the first quarter of 2008, Sound Transit reported 376,500 passengers boarded buses along the same routes — an 18 percent increase.

During the first quarter of 2007, 411,069 passengers boarded Sounder Commuter Rail trains between Tacoma and Seattle. During the first quarter of 2008, 532,714 passengers boarded trains along the same route — an increase of 30 percent.

Similarly, ST Express buses between Tacoma and the University of Washington in Seattle saw ridership increase from 29,538 passengers during the first quarter of 2007 to 32,727 passengers during the first quarter of 2008 — an increase of 11 percent.

She also reported that Tacoma Link has seen growth in ridership during weekdays since the service was extended later in the evenings.

“We’re seeing more standing loads on trains and buses,” said Earl, who pointed to the rising cost of gas as the main reason for ridership increase.

Earl also told councilmembers the agency is holding open houses throughout the region to solicit input from residents regarding a new transportation package that would add 50 miles of light rail, improve commuter rail facilities, and increase regional express bus service. The plan, called “Sound Transit 2,” comes on the heals of Proposition 1, the so-called “Roads & Transit” ballot measure, that was rejected by voters last November. On Tues., June 10, Sound Transit will host an open house in at the Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Ave., in Tacoma to gather input on what Sound Transit 2 should include.