As 2023 closes, some may think that mass transit is struggling. Most national and local media headlines focus on nationwide post-pandemic challenges such as lower ridership, public safety concerns, and how new work-from-home policies are affecting transit demand.
At Sound Transit, we haven’t been immune to these national trends, and in 2023 we certainly faced our share of tough news, including public safety incidents and frustrating construction delays.
But overall, 2023 was a year where we saw improvement across the board. Our achievements this past year set the stage to bring new light rail service to five new cities and tens of thousands of riders in 2024.
These historic expansions will come in early spring and late summer of 2024. First in March, with the first part of the new 2 Line opening on the Eastside, serving eight new stations in Bellevue and Redmond. And then in late summer, we’ll extend the 1 Line north to Lynnwood in Snohomish County, with four new stations.
We’re adding these new stations to a popular and growing system that is already Powering Progress across the region, serving more than 50 regional cities and tens of millions of riders annually on our current system of Link trains, Sounder trains, and ST Express buses.
In 2023, we made several promises to the public that put the focus on passenger experience, and we’ve kept those promises:
We dramatically increased our security, expanding from 128 officers to more than 400. This accounted for a 202 percent increase in coverage hours—and a noticeable increase in security for riders.
We addressed problems with our elevators and escalators and repaired all long-term outages in our downtown stations. They were all back in service by the summer.
We stepped up station cleanliness. The board approved deep cleaning at all stations, and the CEO has signed a contract to get it done. We also added trash cans on tunnel station platforms.
Finally, we said we would make our fare paid zones much more visible, and did.
While making good on our commitments to our passengers, we also introduced a series of innovations—adding a performance space for community cultural events at Angle Lake Station and kicking off a formal busking program inside seven light rail stations.
We introduced a new wayfinding app for riders with vision disabilities, and debuted our new Passenger Information Management System, which gives riders real time service updates on the platform.
Finally, we executed a list of forward-looking State of Good of Repair must-dos. For example, we managed two major service disruptions to complete essential maintenance work— track reconstruction downtown and concrete substructure replacement at two Rainier Valley stations—meeting the challenge with hundreds of staff ambassador hours to make sure our riders could get where they need to go.
Our passengers are at the center of everything we do
We paired this passenger experience work with our new fare ambassador program, which won the 2023 Transit Hall of Fame award from the state’s leading transit advocacy group, Transportation Choices Coalition. They praised our new program for using an equity-driven approach to transform fare collection into a model of passenger outreach.
Our focus remains on passenger experience, and this emphasis will only deepen in the coming years. Tens of thousands of Link light rail passengers are returning, to re-establishing pre-pandemic ridership levels. We even set new ridership records over the summer during the MLB All-Star Game and the Taylor Swift concerts.
In 2023, we also broke ground for our future Stride bus rapid transit system, which will top today’s ST Express bus speeds by as much as 20 minutes per trip.
In October, we more than doubled the length of the T Line, adding seven new stations to Tacoma’s light rail line. We opened a new garage at the Lynnwood Transit that serves current bus riders and will serve the new Lynnwood Link when it opens in fall 2024. As part of Sounder train service improvements, we opened the Puyallup Garage in May.
We also opened the Redmond Technology Station Garage, which improved service on a half dozen King County Metro and Sound Transit bus routes.
Connecting and building communities
Our Powering Progress mission includes connecting and building communities. To that end, Sound Transit uses our surplus property to build thousands of new affordable homes.
In 2023, more than 480 of these affordable homes opened on Sound Transit properties, including 365 on First Hill, and 118 on Capitol Hill in Pride Place. Our housing partners also broke ground for 130 homes in SeaTac at our Angle Lake Station.
To date, we count 3,100 housing units (2,300 affordable) either already built, under construction, contracted, or in negotiation with development partners.
2023 was a year of improvement, milestones, and building excitement for the future. And if you think that was impressive, wait until you see what’s in store for 2024!