After new stations open Sound Transit sees crowded trains - Mass Transit Now
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After new stations open Sound Transit sees crowded trains

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SEATTLE (AP) — Sound Transit, which for years ran light-rail trains that were too empty, now has cramped passengers clamoring for more railcars.

The Seattle Times reports that about 65,000 riders a day are taking light rail, two-thirds more than a year ago. That’s after the University of Washington and Capitol Hill stations in Seattle opened in March.

The numbers aren’t a huge surprise in a densely populated corridor, but ridership has already reached the levels expected in 2018.

Transit managers have deployed a few more railcars but don’t have enough to convert the entire fleet of two-car trains into three-car trains. They say crowding isn’t severe enough to justify major costs to run a three-car fleet.

Fuller trains are crossing the city as voters consider this fall’s $54 billion Sound Transit 3 ballot measure, to increase annual taxes for a median household by about $326. That would add 62 miles of light-rail lines in seven directions by 2041, bus-rapid transit lines and more Sounder train capacity.

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff proposes a second downtown transit tunnel to prevent bottlenecks.

“They are rare incidents, but they are very real incidents, when we’ve got real crush loads,” Rogoff said.

“People let a train go by, to board the next train.” He’s bracing for the first 80,000-rider day.

For now, passengers are adapting.

“They need to always run with three cars, anticipating the people are going to get on and use them. They have that capability,” said Kristina Sawyckyj, who struggled to steer her electric wheelchair through baseball fans and onto a train two weeks ago, on her commute from night school to Rainier Valley.

Ideally, each railcar carries the same number of people standing as sitting — 74 of each, for a total of 148.

You can find a strap to hold, and there’s no need to bump bodies.

Lasers on board 30 percent of trains take sample counts of riders at the doorway.

Based on data for the International District/Chinatown Station this spring, some 40 percent of afternoon-peak trains traveling south exceeded the magic number of 148 passengers.

Rogoff told the Sound Transit board on Aug. 4 that crowds can arrive unexpectedly, even when there’s no ballgame or concert, and he needs to get better at predicting that. But overall, the system is operating as designed, officials insist.

“I’ll take standing for 10 minutes on a crowded train over fighting traffic from a bus or my car for 30 minutes any day,” spokesman Bruce Gray said.

Sound Transit’s service plan says that if any scheduled train exceeds the 148 riders on 60 percent of its daily runs, capacity will be added.