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Puget Sound area commuter habits shifting toward buses, rail

Boardings on Puget Sound area transit options outpaced the region's population growth by nearly double between 2010-15. (AP)

The Seattle region is experiencing changes on many fronts, most specifically in the way area commuters are increasingly choosing to hop on mass transit in lieu of driving.

The Puget Sound Regional Council reports that while the area’s population growth is impressive, the fact that transit ridership is out-pacing it is even more remarkable. From 2010-15, the Puget Sound region’s population grew by 5.6 percent, but transit boardings more than doubled that, to 12 percent.

Related: Light rail between Bellevue, Redmond and Seattle soon to become reality

Commuting habits seem to be undergoing a shift in the region, not unlike author Tony Seba’s prediction that Seattle is on the verge of a major, once in a lifetime market disruption. Seattle will soon be ditching car ownership en masse and hopping on transit, and ridesharing in electric, driverless cars, within five to 15 years, according to Seba.

There are no high-tech driverless vehicles in Puget Sound’s mass transit system — yet — but area commuters seem to continually show greater interest in light rail, or a bus, instead of the driver’s seat.

In fact, the Puget Sound Regional Council reported in February that 2015 was transit’s best year yet, topping 179 million riders. That factors out to 1.7 million more than the previous year — and 2014 was considered an all-time high for the system.

A big winner is the area’s light rail, which has shown a 59 percent increase in boardings since 2010 — that factors out to five million more in 2015, or one million more each year since 2010.

A large share of rail’s popularity in general is among riders on Sound Transit’s Commuter Rail between Everett and Lakewood, and on to Seattle. That particular route’s ridership shot up by 70 percent in five years.

This growth has come despite service levels dropping by about 3 percent — mainly in Pierce County and with Community Transit north of Seattle, the regional council notes, which was likely the result of previous years’ reactions to the Great Recession.

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