Public Interest Transportation Forum

Central Link Light Rail revenue collected by Sound Transit in 2009:  $2.4 million



Preliminary results as of February 18, 2010. Subject to revision.


Central Link Revenue








Single Trip








Non-ORCA Pass

























Source: Teri Lapetino, Sound Transit Public Records Officer



In contrast to the $2.426 million in fare revenue reported above, the Sound Transit 4th quarter financial report states that 2009 Link fare collections were $2.263 million, a discrepancy not explained.

$2.4 million is 20% below the 2009 budget for fare revenue of $3.0 million, as stated on page 20 of the adopted 2009 budget.  A different 2009 revenue budget number as stated in the 4th quarter financial report is $2.4 million, explained in an email to PITF by Sound Transit's finance director as caused by the staff's rearrangement of budgeted Sound Transit fare revenues into different categories while keeping the same total, a budget revision not brought by staff before the Board of Directors, apparently.

Note of further explanation on this revision, which was made across all Sound Transit's lines of business: Actual Regional Express bus fares for year 2009 are recorded at $18.4 million, much higher than the original budget of $15.6 million, while Sounder commuter rail actual revenue ended 2009 at $7.6 million, much worse than the original budget of $11 million. To make the year-end 2009 actuals closer to the budgeted numbers that were forecast before the year began, the reported Regional Express 2009 fare budget was increased by staff during 2009 from $15.6 million to $17.9 millions. At the same time, Sounder's 2009 revenue budget -- the original forecast -- was reduced from $11 million to $9.6 million. As noted, Central Link light rail's 2009 budget was reduced from $3 million to $2.4 million, having the effect of making Light rail seem like it hit the forecast revenue budget target almost exactly. See the email from Sound Transit for further explanation.

"ORCA" refers to the smart card fare media introduced in 2009.  Non-ORCA passes are monthly passes often offered through employers, including the U-Pass used by University of Washington students.

Fares are collected through an honor system of ticket purchase or reading of an ORCA card.  Random fare enforcement is carried on by the verification of customers' proof of payment by uniformed inspectors, four of whom are shown in action on March 18, 2010 aboard a Link rail car.

Sound Transit reports that Central Link carried 2.5 million passengers in 2009.  This count along with the revenue reported above indicates the average revenue per passenger was 97 cents.  This is well below the published adult fare of $1.75 to $2.50, but many rides in 2009 were taken with paper transfers issued by King County Metro, which yielded no revenue for Sound Transit.  This fare media is no longer accepted by Sound Transit as of 2010.  Also, Non-ORCA pass revenue comes in at a discount below published fares.

The 2009 actual operating cost was reported in the 4th quarter 2009 financial report as $21.4 million.  The long-run policy target for the recovery of light rail operating expenses through fare collections after the start-up phase is 40%, but the actual results in 2009 from the fare revenue stated above is about 11%.  This can be seen a different way: 97 cents per passenger in revenue as described above is 11% of the $8.56 cost per boarding reported by Sound Transit in its 4th quarter ridership report.

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Last modified: February 07, 2011