The numbers are in: Seattle continues to decrease the percentage of commuters who drive alone to work while simultaneously increasing the number of downtown jobs. In other cities across the country, transit ridership only decreases. What makes Seattle so different than all the other cities trying to do the same?
Just how good are the stats? Not only has transit ridership increased as a percentage of commuters, but the pure number of people who drive alone to work has actually decreased by 4,500 since 2010. Light rail ridership has shot up astronomically, and even the number of people who walk to work has increased by 69 percent.
Graphic courtesy Commute Seattle.
Here’s the thing: It’s not a secret! Seattle has made deliberate choices for years now that have set it up for its current successes. It's all about transportation demand management. So how do they do it?
Increased investment in public transit
You’ve got to spend money to make money, right? In this case, you’ve got to spend money to make people ride the bus.
Sound Transit added more stops to its Link Light Rail line in March 2016, skyrocketing boardings 79 percent the following month. Since then, ridership on the line has only increased, with plans to add more stations through 2024.
Additionally, King County Metro runs RapidRide, which allows buses to move along corridors outside of normal traffic — giving people incentive to choose a bus over sitting in traffic in their own cars. Riders can board the bus via any door, further streamlining the service. Through 2024, there will be seven new corridors featuring bus rapid-transit lines across the city.
People consider many factors when choosing a commute, not least of which is the perceived difficulty and stress it will involve. And if they can’t be sure that public transit is going to be more reliable, faster, and more dependable than an alternative? It’s out.
Graphic courtesy Commute Seattle.
Commitment from local businesses
Another huge factor in commute choices are the benefits and incentives provided by employers. Sometimes people need a little push to make a sustainable decision!
Employers in Seattle have done this by leaps and bounds. Seattle Children’s Hospital, which employs some 6,000+ people, worked with the city to commit to reduce its solo car commuters to 30 percent between 2008 and 2028.
Some examples of how? All employees are given free transit passes. The hospital runs private shuttles for employees. For every day an employee doesn’t drive alone, he or she receives an extra $4 via paycheck. Any employee who pledges to bike at least two days a week receives a free bike. Plus, parking is charged for by the day — not by the month.
Writing it into the law
In 1991, Seattle passed the Commute Trip Reduction law, requiring companies with more than 100 employees to work to reduce driving. Employers provide yearly updates to make sure they comply, with resources available from Commute Seattle to assist.
Minimum parking requirements are also less strict than they once were, allowing developers to build an average of 60 percent fewer parking spaces per unit than 10 years ago. This leads to more apartments near transit and fewer people choosing to own cars or depend on them as a primary mode of transportation.
So what now?
At the end of the day, other cities can do what Seattle has done. It will require prioritizing public transportation, both with funding and with legislation. But if you build it, they will ride.