Will Sounder train ridership bounce back post-pandemic?

Jan 3, 2023, 3:57 PM
A Sounder locomotive in Seattle (Photo by Brian Bundridge/Unsplash)
(Photo by Brian Bundridge/Unsplash)

Sounder train ridership has been down since the start of the pandemic, and it has yet to bounce back, according to Sound Transit.

Back in October 2019, the Sounder trains had over 415,000 monthly passengers. In November 2022, it had less than 105,000. The decline begs the question. Where did all the passengers go?

“They [passengers] are in their living rooms. At home. Working from home,” Sound Transit Public Information Officer David Jackson told KIRO Newsradio.

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According to the Downtown Seattle Association, as of October, just 36% of office workers had returned downtown — a far cry from their optimistic forecasts of 70% by the end of summer.

Sounder is traditionally an office commuter ride with trains running early and during rush hour between Lakewood and Everett.

Even though riders are back to work, they aren’t utilizing Sounder service like before. In October, only 6,000 daily commuters rode the train.

Jackson said he’s hopeful ridership will increase with a new parking garage set to open in Puyallup this coming year.

“I eventually think Sounder service will make a comeback. It’s an incredibly valuable service because it gets people off I-5,” he explained.

Jackson notes that Sound Transit is doing everything it can to bring back passengers. “We are working on stationary improvements in Puyallup, Auburn, Kent, and Sumner.” That will include new parking facilities and make it easier for passengers to get to the station.

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Julie Timm, Sound Transit’s new CEO, told The Seattle Times it’s too early to make decisions concerning Sounder’s future.

Meanwhile, transit agencies should make more investments to better connect their various modes, she recently argued in the pages of Passenger Transport, the newsletter for the American Public Transportation Association.

With lower ridership comes dwindling revenue. The Times reports, “In 2018 and 2019, the train covered over 30% of its operating cost via fares. In 2020, it was just 11%, well below the agency’s target of 23%.”

Follow Micki Gamez on Twitter or email her here.

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Will Sounder train ridership bounce back post-pandemic?