The Times has a pretty detailed analysis of the crowding we’re seeing on buses in King County and Snohomish County, and also has a nice graph showing bus routes by increased ridership, and descriptions of which routes are leaving riders behind. There’s also a section on how to solve the crunch, a couple of points I found interesting:

On Sept. 20, money from King County’s 2006 Transit Now sales-tax measure will add trips to 10 Seattle routes, as well as high-ridership lines serving Kent, Overlake, Redmond, Bellevue, Northgate and Green River Community College, and a new route to Seattle from Snoqualmie and North Bend. Another 30 buses are due next year.

Sound Transit soon plans to add buses on its lines from Everett and Lynnwood into Bellevue. Community Transit is buying 23 double-decker buses to replace smaller buses on commuter routes, and it is adding 15 buses to launch its bus rapid transit service next year on Highway 99.

We might not get much out of Transit Now:

But it’s not clear if Metro can provide everything it promised voters in Transit Now, including new bus rapid transit lines serving Overlake, West Seattle, Ballard, Aurora and Federal Way by the early 2010s.

But we will get likely get another fare increase

A proposed 25-cent fare increase at Metro would yield about $10.3 million a year — tackling only part of a predicted $30 million to $40 million yearly deficit. The agency could sell land, eliminate the idle Seattle waterfront streetcar, dip into rainy-day funds or seek fare hikes. A recent dip in diesel prices could provide some relief, but not enough.

Snohomish County on Oct. 1 will raise fares by 25 cents or more, depending on the length of a trip.

There’s a mention of the Mass Transit Now measure, but not a very positive one:

In an $18 billion ballot measure this November, Sound Transit is including a boost of 100,000 yearly bus hours and more south-end Sounder trains. But the lion’s share of the money would go to build light rail to Lynnwood, Overlake and Federal Way, which would open in the early 2020s. King County Executive Ron Sims opposes the plan, arguing that buses need more money, right now.

There’s some light rail opening next year… No mention of that.

The routes skipping passengers most often:

Route 358: Aurora Avenue North to downtown Seattle

Routes 194, 174: Seattle, SeaTac, Federal Way

Route 71: Wedgwood, U District, downtown Seattle

Route 41: Lake City, Northgate, downtown Seattle

Route 1: Queen Anne to Chinatown International District

Route 3: Queen Anne, First Hill, Central Area

I haven’t been left behind yet. Has your bus left you behind, or have you seen your bus leave others behind?

50 Replies to “Bus Crunch”

  1. I’ve been left behind most often at the campus parkway stop in the morning – if you hit it around 8:30, buses breeze by. The convention place stop also gets people left behind in the afternoon, due to the crowd on at westlake station.

  2. I have see turning away on both the 7* routes (especially right down near Campus Parkway), and the 194 (At the Park and Ride in Federal Way, no less!). It’s so sad, how hard it is to get home sometimes. I started riding the buses out here in 2000-2003, no wonder I feel so crowded and oppressed these days! The 41 shocks me in a way, it’s the bus I see most often, it seems to come by more than any other bus anywhere, but yeah, there are always tons of people waiting for it.

  3. Common sense says we are reaching the rational end of an all-bus transit system.

    I was nice while it lasted, but it’s time for our transportation system to grow-up.

    The same way the city and region have.

  4. Living in the south part of the U-district in 2006 I frequently got left behind on Campus Parkway, no matter what day or time by the downtown express routes.
    Lately, I have been left behind and seen upwards of 50 people left behind at the Northgate Transit Center in the 7-8am rush to downtown on the 41. The bus will come with standing room only, pack people in until the door barely closes and leave a mob waiting for the next one to show up full. In the afternoons the 5pm buses back to Northgate rarely stop at the Convention Place and when they do, they can only take less than 5 people. The scarier part is during these two peak hours, the 41 runs every 3-5 minutes.

    The 316 (Meridian Park via Greenlake Express) has also been over crowded since I started riding it in July 2007. We always leave people standing at the last stop before the freeway on the 5pm bus because the bus is too small. There needs to be the same articulated bus at 5pm that there is at 7:30am on this route.

  5. I live near the terminal of the route so I always get a seat. In my regular commute I’ve not seen overcrowding but when I occasionally go for a transit adventure on other routes in Seattle, yes, overcrowding on those routes.

    I walked by the county courthouse where the 3 stops during lunch and have seen a bunch of people being left behind and some trying to squeeze in. There was a day I got on the 44 by 15th & Campus Pkwy and the bus was already standing room only! By the time it picked up passengers on 45th it looked like nearly 100 passengers had packed onto the artic-trolley. The bus spent a minute or two at each stop as people shuffle around to board and leave. I may be exaggerating but it sure feels that way.

    When I wait for my bus at Montlake in the afternoon, I see tons of 545s whizzing by all filled with people but never one that skipped the stop. That was in the spring when I was going to classes at UW.

    1. I always wanted to make a parody of the new King County logo and change it to Sims County with Ron Sims face on it. Oh wait, I just did. Ha ha. Take a look.

  6. I take the 71/72/73 downtown every day from the northern part of University Way. I feel a bit bad for the people on Campus Parkway that sometimes are skipped due to crowding. However, we always stop at NE 41st Street (the stop prior to Campus Parkway) to let people off, and there is almost always enough room for all at that point.

    Coming home from work is about the same. I generally walk to the Convention Place stop, where the 6:46pm (last express) bus is generally pretty full, but always stops. The only ones who are left behind here are those afraid of squeezing on through the back door. What I find amazing is that the bus can look packed to the brim from the outside, yet about half the time there is an unused seat in the very back.

  7. The 358 out of downtown is rather impossible between 5 and 6pm if you catch it anywhere north of about Madison. Sometimes 2 of them come at the same time, so you can hop the second one, but otherwise, you have to get it before 5, or find something to do until 6 or after. Or have a really crowded and unfun bus trip north, at least to the 46th Street stop.

    So it goes, the 358 comes about every 10 minutes or less, it’s just a lot of bus riders, which is good. We all want more buses and transit options, we just need to make sure we vote and let people know how important it is.

    1. The 174 and 358 are going to become RapidRide routes in 2010 and sometime from 2011, respectively. Metro plans to run RapidRide service every ten minutes during peak periods and 15 minutes off peak. I don’t know how small the headways can ultimately be with RapidRide’s speed and reliability improvements but it’s obvious that a bus every 10 minutes is not going to be enough if ridership continues to grow. Running them every 6 minutes puts it on par with Link with the exception that a bus can only carry half the passengers of a light rail train.

      1. The RapidRide replacement for the 358 (Line E) won’t open until 2013. Since it won’t stop as often as the 358 (stop spacing will be around 1/2 mile) it seems likely that some other ‘local’ bus will be needed to pick up the slack.

  8. The all-bus system ends next year. But nowhere in the next 40 years is there a plan out there by any transit agency to put rail on Aurora or underneath Queen Anne hill or to First Hill (one streetcar up broadway approaching from the south every 15 minutes doesn’t cut it; ST’s project less than 4,000 riders a day). Sound Transit is by state law the only agency authorized to plan for such (See RCW 81.112.100, 81.104.015) and they’re not. And they never will because of their statutory construct and board demographics; they’re mandated concern are regional connections, not local. This is meant to be a critique of state law, not Sound Transit.

    1. I want to note that the First Hill streetcar can easily be expanded simply by adding more trains.

      The City of Seattle is interested in several streetcar routes, including Ballard via Fremont and one downtown on 1st Avenue.

      Sound Transit will be back to the ballot in far less than 40 years – probably less than 10 – with more expansion in the north king subarea. That means West Seattle or Ballard.

      We’ll get Aurora after we cover West Seattle and Ballard with HCT. You might even see a streetcar and BRT to Ballard, and LRT through Lower Queen Anne and then up the 99 corridor.

  9. I’m a bit disappointed that the idea of ripping out seats hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s a minor improvement, but it’s also really cheap, and could help routes that are 5 or 6 riders over capacity.

    1. Making more of us stand for 30 minute, loud, smelly, bumpy uncomfortabe bus rides is no way to get people out of their cars.

      Your thinking like an airline executive.

      1. There are plenty of people willing to stand if you’re not. You’ll inconvenience five people to serve seven others.

  10. Earlier in the year when I lived near Madison Valley, the 11 would be packed solid before it got up capitol hill every couple of months. The driver would never want to skip stops though, but would always refuse to go if someone was in front of the yellow line. The memories of “driiiiiverrrrr, we’re full!” echo through my mind.

    Georgetown has a number of bus options because many routes from the south pass through it. Despite the complete lack of bike lanes in the south end of the city, I still prefer it over the bus though.

  11. The only time/place I’ve had regular problems with being passed by a full bus were by the 71/72/73/74 and 41 Northbound at Westlake Station between 5 and 6 pm. The ridership is always very heavy on these routes. The rush hour headways should probably be extended another hour both in the morning and evening for these routes.

    The 312 is coming fairly close to capacity. The last 2 inbound morning runs can’t take many more riders before people are going to get left behind at 85th & Lake City Way.

    The 66 is crowded, but rarely so full riders can’t board. The ridership is surprisingly heavy all day long and well into the evening.

  12. I took the #8 to capitol hill last week and it was packed before it got to Westlake. The driver ended up zooming past the stop at Stewart and letting people off across the street to avoid picking up more passengers. A few people tried running from the bus stop across the street but she sped off. It was somewhat amusing, though unfortunate.

    I’ve taken the #71 from Downtown a few times lately and it’s been completely full too.

    In addition to running more frequently (which isn’t looking very likely), both of these routes could absolutely benefit from fewer seats.

    At least two of the routes that have been turning away passengers (194, 71) mentioned in the Times article are extremely well served by Link.

    Many of the 41’s riders get off at the Northgate P&R where Link will stop if Proposition 1 passes in November.

    I’m sure The Seattle Times made a very conscious decision to not remind their readers that light rail will offer real relief starting NEXT YEAR.

  13. I’d like to point out no one knows what to do with high gas prices (and no corresponding tax revenue increase): not the feds, state, utilities, transit, or especially consumers.

    And if any of you can ask your bosses for a flexible schedule, I can tell you from experience that buses clear out after 9 AM.

    1. Sadly metro’s schedule goes to the dogs in many areas after 9.

      If I leave my house at 8:40 I have a 5 minute walk+10 minute bus ride+5 minute walk commute to work. If I leave 10 minutes later my commute takes anywhere from from 40 minutes total to an hour or more.

      I’d rather take my chances with the crowded before 9 bus.

  14. I take the 545 and see people left behind regularly. That route will see more service next year if ST2 passes, and of course a lot of those riders will be later served by light rail.

    I think it’s interesting that the 194 is listed there. That’ll be replaced by light rail in just a year. The 71 will be partially replaced by University Link for some users, and more so by North Link, again, if ST2 passes.

    1. I was curious about the 71, which is Wedgwood-Ravenna-UDistrict, so I looked up a potential route:

      From Wedgwood (35th Ave NE and NE 85th) To Westlake Station:

      Current: MT 71 – leave 7:18 AM, arrive Westlake Station 7:57

      ULink: MT 65 – leave 7:28 AM, arrive Hosp UW at 7:48 and walk .4 mi to Husky Stadium Station (5 mins?), arrive Westlake Station 8:02

      I doubt there will be any improvements built on UW campus for downtown commuters, but here’s where the current MT 65 Hosp UW stop is in relation to roughly where Husky Stadium Station will be:

      So University Link will definitely be a viable option if you’re close one of the many many routes that already travel to UW.

  15. The #2 and #2X leave passengers behind almost daily at peak hours. 3rd and Pike is crammed with people, and this is where they spend several minutes (it seems) stuffing more and more people onto a bus. There’s usually just enough room to fit people in, but the next stop usually gets skipped.

    It’s generally still standing-room-only at 7pm. Removing seats would definitely help here.

    1. The 7:03 and 7:18am trips are awful on the 2– nice people, but I’m getting a little too familiar with them! I like my space and wish I still had a train I could hop

  16. I’m hearing lots of reports of high-school students, many of whom no longer have yellow-bus transportation and are supposed to ride Metro, being passed by because of full buses, and consequently being late for school. Seems like a sort of “perfect storm” scenario with the school district moving kids out of yellow buses and onto Metro just when many Metro routes are overloaded.

  17. Usually I catch a 41 from Northgate before 6:00 AM to work. I always get a seat with no standees. Today, I caught the 6:33 bus and the entire aisle was full.

    I’ve also been passed up on the 550.

    1. Yeah, I’ve switched to the 6:09 243 at 65th and 25th to get me down to Montlake for my 545.

  18. The 8 between Capitol Hill and Seattle Center / Queen Anne turned away people today, and often does so during rush hour.

    The MT 8 schedule is way under-budgeted in my opinion – only 15 minute schedule during peak hours, and 30 min frequency at off-peak hours. It’s the only route that goes cross-town from Capitol Hill to Seattle Center, and with all the South Lake Union development plus the SLUT route, there’s greater demand on the 8. But I guess that’s the story with many other routes too.

    1. It’s certainly underbudgeted. But if Jacobsen and Sims keep getting their way, you’ll have to fund four other suburban buses to add another to the 8!

  19. So the question here is: how does Metro do its accounting on budget for 40/40/20?

    In other words, it sounds like some routes have rising productivity (e.g. electric routes with new riders) and some with dropping productivity (e.g. routes with constant ridership seeing fuel prices go up). If Metro rejiggered hours from the falling-productivity routes to the rising productivity routes, would that fall under 40/40/20?

    If not, it might be in Seattle’s interest to make changes to make the bus systems more efficient so as to get more route-hours and de-clog buses, either by adding bus priority or (if there is base space for trolley buses) by stringing trolley wire.

    1. What can change is miles traveled per hour. San Francisco had a good online example of this I can’t find at the moment. A route that travels 10 miles in one hour, is ten miles long and has a headway of 15 minutes, will require 8 buses in revenue service at any given time and about two in layover. If the 10 buses are out there for 18 hours a day, 365 days a year (to keep it simple) the route would require 65,700 hours per year. If the route is sped up to 12.5 miles per hour (25% increase in speed), the same number of buses can provide a 12-minute headway, or 5 buses an hour in either direction. If these are artics with 60 seats per bus, capacity has increased from 240 seats per hour to 300. Higher frequency and improved speeds means a more attractive ride. And no impact to lousy 40/40/20 rules.

    2. I’m not sure Multimodal Man answered your question. The answer is, “No.”

      The hours freed in an area stays in that area. Unfortunately for Seattle, I think the only low-productive routes would be services in Shoreline and Lake Forest Park.

      Also, my understanding is that if a route is cancelled that serves two areas, then the hours are split evenly between those two areas.

  20. If the 36 isn’t included in the routes with the most skipped passengers, then either this study is flawed or the bus lines are more flawed than I originally thought. I ride the 36 everyday, and the line routinely passes by herds of riders during rush hour.

  21. The Rt 36 is included in the Seattle Times article. For Metro’s purposes, the majority of Rt 36s are listed as Rt 1; the 1 and 36 are linked together. Same goes for the Rt 4, listed as Rt 3.

    1. Thanks for the information! There are other routes split like that… the 42 becomes the 27, or something like that. And the 68 and 31.

  22. Today was a crowded day on the 6:50 Route 257. Twenty people was on the bus by the time we got to Kingsgate P&R, where an additional 41 people boarded plus one at the Totem Lake flyer stop. Thirteen people were left behind. Yesterday’s trip was standing room only but no one left behind.

    The driver was really patient and kept everyone comfortable by not driving too hard. He said there probably be changes in the next shake up but he doesn’t know yet. By the way it’s September 10 already and Metro just released the details of the next service change while Sound Transit and CT already have their Rider Alerts out for around 2 weeks.

  23. The increased ridership for Metro is a trend that can only continue, and will likely get much worse. I recently watched on the Seattle Channel a Metro board meeting where they were discussing gas prices and how they have doubled and tripled in the past years and really impacted the budget of Metro. The impression that I got was that these folks were really suprised by the rapid uptick in prices.

    I will vote yes on SoundTransit, but I really do empathize a great deal with Ron Sims position that our rail line is so far out in the future as to not really address the rapid demand we will face for transit in the coming decade.

    If you study “Peak Oil” carefully and look at the likely oil supply shortages in the coming decade, you can see that it is entirely likely and possible that gasoline will be 8-10$ in 5 years. I won’t say probable but I will not be suprised at all. I am pretty dumbfounded about the lack of intelligent acknowledgement of this crisis in Seattle… from what I can see on the web, Portland and San Fransico are at least ahead of us in dialougeing about this.

    I bring this up because I was at a West Seattle Transit Forum last night sponsored by the West Seattle Chamber of commerce and the two Metro representatives were VERY AWARE of analysts who say that oil could be 200-250$ a barrel. They said that their ridership would be estimated to go from somewhere near 400,000 per weekday to over 1 MILLION>….

    That’s my issue with SoundTransit Prop 1. Its better than no rail line, but I think is too little way to long from now. We need organized agitation for much more buses NOW, and a recognition from our local leaders that we are on the verge of a much larger oil crisis very soon.

    1. Bill,

      How are you going to fuel all those buses when oil is $250 a barrel? Better to pick a mode that isn’t tied to the price of fossil fuels.

      For too long we haven’t done anything because the benefits were too far in the future. We’re now in a pickle because the gas crunch is here. I say our generation takes the hit and builds rail, because there’s no solution to this in the short term, barring a bailout from the federal government.

    2. [Bill], that’s Transit Myth #5. They built a huge number of buses into the package for immediate relief while we wait for the long-term oil-free solution. Voting against ST2 won’t get us any new buses.

  24. Is there any chance that new Sound Transit buses count as new service hours under 40/40/20?

    1. None, 40-40-20 is for King County Metro. ST Express Bus is allocated based on today’s demand.

      1. Does that mean it’s possible that we’ll see in-city ST buses? Or are they required to cross regions?

      2. They’re not strictly required to cross regions, but they’re required to serve cross-regional travel, so they have to be something that everyone will transfer to, like the 599 bus.

  25. Steve,

    the 40-40-20 financial rule only applies to the allocation of new service hours. if routes are redeployed, the hours stay in the subarea of origin. it is as if there were three colors of money: west, east, and south.


    the routes in each subarea should be compared with only those with its own subarea. actually, the Shoreline all-day routes are fairly productive. there are weak routes in each subarea. one of the weakest, in terms of rides per platform hour, is the route that Ben S. wrote that he takes to Montlake, Route 243. one-way routes tend to be weaker than two-way routes, unless they attract full loads, as they have lots of deadhead running. some other relatively weak West routes are the 45, 46, 79, 330, 51, 53, 37. some routes are maintained as they provide unique coverage or mobility. the route 98, or the Seattle Streetcar, SLU line, is not yet very strong. Metro is scheduled to cover its service subsidy when south-first Link LRT is implemented.


    through routing is fairly common and has both benefits and costs. it helps distribute passengers through an activity center and uses scarce bus and street capacity well. but it also may impact on-time performance, as the outbound trip of the second route depends upon the inbound trip of the first route. it may confuse riders; it may benefit riders by providing direct connections. Here is a partial list:
    in Bellevue routes 230 east and west, routes 249-921 and 222-233;
    at Northgate, routes 345-346-347-348 and routes 331-345 at Shoreline CC;
    at Kent, routes 164-168-166;
    in the U District, routes 31-68, 67-65;
    in downtown Seattle, routes 1-36, 2-13-2 south, 3-4 north and south, 14 north and south, 10-12, 11-125, 5-54-55, 15-18-21-22-56, 26-42, 28-39, 17-23, 25-27, 24-131-132.


    we do see “in-city” ST bus routes. routes 522, 545, 550, and 554 are paid for by the East ST subarea and carry many Seattle residents to Eastside destinations, including both Ben and I. Route 522 picks up about half its ridership in the North King County subarea. some Seattlelites take the 590 series to Tacoma and the Pierce County subarea pays for all their cost.

    I took a northbound 358 at about 6:15 p.m. this week and we had about 40 standing; I was next to two young women from Georgia (US). I made a no-wait transfer to Route 48.

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