An important part of Seattle’s decision to not build park-and-rides near most Link stations was the idea that people could take walk, bike, or take the bus to the train. Indeed, one frequent criticism of Metro is that bus connections are not good enough. Although Link is usually the better option if you’re actually at the station, close examination of transit options indicates that at the close-in stations if you’re already on the bus, the transfer generally doesn’t pay if you’re headed for the downtown core.
To reach Rainier Beach Station, riders may take the 106. Simply remaining on the bus will get you downtown in about 38 minutes in the morning rush. Link takes about 23 minutes for the same trip, so it will get you to work a bit faster, even when you factor in crossing a couple of streets and waiting an average of 4 minutes for a train.
At Columbia City, the 39 is your downtown-bound bus option. Incredibly, the station is not a timepoint (!), but it’s about 26 minutes to University Street, vs. 16 minutes for Link. However, in the peak, almost anyone on the 39 for any significant length of time can also choose the 34, which is 11 minutes faster to University Street, beating 39+Link. Off peak, the train is either better or a wash, but the 39’s headways are pretty awful. The 42 is 20 minutes to the ID vs. 12 for Link. More after the jump.
At Mt. Baker, where Metro Sound Transit invested in a large but poorly-sited Transit Center, Route 7 is about 18 minutes to Westlake, vs. 15 minutes by train. The 7X is only 13 minutes. On top of the very close travel times, a transfer requires crossing a very busy arterial, walking about a block, and going up an escalator. Furthermore, if you live along the densely populated Rainier Avenue corridor, this is generally your primary access point to light rail that doesn’t require quite a bit of walking, as East-West service through the valley is pretty spotty. If you live slightly east of Rainier and Graham, for instance, you’re perhaps a mile from Othello and Columbia City, but taking a bus you have to go all the way to Mt. Baker, where the transfer no longer pays.
Finally, if you’re on the 36 by Beacon Hill station it’s about 11 and 20 minutes to the ID and Westlake, respectively. On Link, the figures are 7 and 13. Thankfully, it’s a pretty easy transfer.*
Aside from raw times, there are two biases at work here: one-seat ride bias, the understandable desire to not collect your stuff and give up an existing bus for a theoretical bus or train; and rail bias, the preference for a more comfortable and predictable ride. However, if you need the bus to get to the train you’re filtering out the people not willing to take the bus.
Given sufficient resources, it’s possible to fix this by providing more direct connections to stations and maintaining direct service to downtown. In the current budget environment, you’d instead be looking at redirecting downtown service to local station access, a trade that may be worse for riders that are sufficiently close to downtown. A third possibility is to eliminate direct downtown buses and use the savings either elsewhere in the County or to improve connections from the target neighborhood into some other part of town. Both parts of the third possibility were done with Routes 32, 42, and 194.
In Part II: Walking, and biking, and what it all means.
* There is no bus that passes by Othello, Seatac, or TIB on its way downtown.