Federal Way City Hall (wikimedia)

The Federal Way Mirror reports that unnamed city officials are dissatisfied with ST bus service to their city:

City officials have expressed concerns about overcrowded buses, especially the ST Express Route 577 to Seattle. Commuters fill those buses at peak morning times, standing in line before sunrise, often waiting through one or two boardings before scoring a seat.

The chutzpah of this complaint is breathtaking. The 574, 577, and 578 all serve Federal Way* and cost ST a total of $12m a year. Federal Way politicians were last heard complaining that their city was paying in $13.5m a year in taxes “to not get rail”. Their legislative strategy consists of adding administrative overhead costs to ST and withdrawing from the district, which would solve the problem of overcrowded buses by eliminating them altogether, and keep light rail as far from Federal Way as ever.

* The 577 is almost exclusively for the benefit of Federal Way; the 574 and 578 have shared benefits.

52 Replies to “Federal Way’s Bus Service”

  1. With this revelation, it seems like the withdrawing-from-ST bit seems more like a stunt to try and get Link expanded southward faster than an actual threat.

    1. Maybe sound transit should stop taking work away from king county metro and there 60 ft buses and giving the work to pierce transit

      1. The 577 is assigned mostly MCI D4500 buses which have identical seating capacity to New Flyer D60LFs which were used previously. Besides the cost difference to ST of having PT operate the 577 rather than KCM, another reason for the change is that the D4500 rides far better on the highway than any low-floor bus. As far as capacity is concerned, the major difference is standing room. I can’t find any official sources that cite standing capacity, but having ridden both types there is significantly more standing room on the articulated bus. Unofficially I’ve seen a claim of 25 standees on a D4500 and 58 on a D60LF.

        Looking at the draft 2012 Service Implementation Plan, on average the 577 isn’t exceeding seating capacity, even during the AM Peak (see pages 78 & 79). However, since those numbers are averages I can see how several trips could be overloaded. Point being, yes the 577 is busy and crowded, and probably has overloads, but they’re not the only bus to ever be crowded/overloaded, and it isn’t as if they’re offering to throw money at ST for more service.

        Heck, the change from KCM to PT resulted in reduced costs and therefore (in theory) more service for the same price.

      2. I used to ride the 577. Then I moved, because starting and ending your day with a 35 minute bus ride sucks.

        I usually caught the 8:55am trip outta FW. I always had a seat. That trip was usually full; I think every once and a while there would be one or two people that had to stand. Whenever gas prices spiked ridership did too. And the availability of parking spaces went with that–leaving people parking at the Outback steakhouse next door. Afternoon was pretty much the same, though the trips I caught varied. Some days I’d be heading home so early it was still the mid-day 578, some days it’d be right in the middle of peak, and some days so late I’d have to catch the first 578 after peak. I don’t recall any standees. But I always caught it at 2nd & Pike or 4th & Lenora, the third and first stops, respectively, so finding a seat was never a problem.

        The biggest point they’re missing is that Metro operates one and a half parallel routes. These routes are 179 and 177. Route 179 is identical to 577 except that it continues to Federal Way’s Twin Lakes neighborhood after leaving the Federal Way TC. 177 is the same as 577 except that instead of hitting I-5 from I-90 it takes the Busway and hits it from Spokane. If you’re not coming/going to SODO, you’re always better off waiting for the next 179 or 577. Except when it’s really cold outside and you’d rather have a trip 5-10 minutes longer to save waiting another 1-4 minutes of standing in the cold.

    2. I know a guy who used to commute in to Seattle from Federal Way, and as I remember it, those Sound Transit buses are a recent innovation. He used to have to take a 174 from Federal Way to Tukwila if he wanted to take LINK (or just endure the 174 milk run all the way in).

      If Federal Way wants to save money they should just go back to making people take a jumper to LINK and ride in — because that’s essentially the route they’ll take when they extend LINK!

  2. ST completely ignores Queen Anne. There’s not a single ST bus or light rail to my neighborhood, even in the planning phase.

    1. There’s not a single ST bus serving South Park, either. Waaaaaaaah!

      Unlike Federal Way, we’re getting *nothing* for our ST taxes.

  3. While Federal Way’s strategy sucks, their complaint sounds valid. Whatever happened to “follow the statistics”? If there’s that much demand for buses in Federal Way, there should be more of them, and less running near-empty somewhere else. More bang for the buck….

    1. There complaint is not valid. The level of bus service they are receiving is the level they were promised and the level the voters approved.

      If FW wants more service above and beyond what was promised, and above and beyond what they agreed to pay for, then they should pro-actively work to bring more FW funding to the table to pay for these additional services.

      And did anyone notice that the FW officials were loudly complaining about LR, but as soon as it looked like there was progress on that front they suddenly started to complain about buses?

      I suspect the goal here really isn’t improved transit for FW, but a full hobbling and/or dismantling of ST. Why else would Ennis and Talmadge suddenly get involved in FW transit? They have a long history of trying to eviscerate ST, and FW is just the next best opportunity for them since Kemper Freeman got rolled in Bellevue.

    2. Every commuter group claims their buses are “overcrowded”, even when they aren’t even close. I almost always had to stand when I rode the 522, and that route still hasn’t gotten any relief years later. I seriously doubt that anyone is being left off any 577s.

  4. I’m trying to understand Martin’s point. Is he saying Federal Way has forfeited its right to ever complain about anything relating to Sound Transit?

    1. No, Sam. You may recall that Federal Way politicians claimed they were getting “nothing” for their $13.5 million in annual ST taxes. It was pointed out to those politicians that they were getting three bus routes and a transit center. Now that they’ve discovered that bus service they are making up stories about it being overcrowded, to make it look like they care about those riders (which they don’t).

      Martin’s post is remiss in giving the cost of constructing the transit center, and how much ST is spending each year to pay off that capital debt. I believe, when that is factored in, that Federal Way will be revealed to be a net recipient from ST, not a net payer.

      1. I read the original article. It didn’t mention anything about FW demanding more service. Who’s to say that they just don’t want ST to reallocate the service they already have so that people in line aren’t having to miss several trips just to catch a bus?

      2. We’ve talked about various ways to consolidate midday service on this blog. I haven’t heard one peep from the Federal Way pols about making ST bus service more efficient, or reallocated to relieve commuter runs. Some have chimed in here that the 577 and 594 are already at capacity midday as well, which is a claim I read with a huge grain of salt.

      3. The 577 is not at capacity mid-day because it doesn’t run mid-day.

        The 578, however, does approach capacity. It is important to note that all mid-day trips run on Gilligs or 40′ Flyers and not MCIs, so the overall seated capacity is reduced by about a third. So the bus fills up faster. And trips in sunny weather seemed to fill up faster than those in crappy weather; likely demand for special events going on.

    2. Some of their complaints are valid, some are not. The complaint that they’re getting nothing for their ST taxes is simply false. But it is indeed a shame that light rail isn’t getting to Federal Way, and that we can’t afford more buses to handle demand from Federal Way.

      Moreover, the legislative agenda they’ve inspired works directly against the concerns they’ve raised.

  5. What a ridiculous piece. “Before sunrise”? Ahem, isn’t sunrise rather late at this latitude during the winter months? And why, instead of complaining, isn’t Federal Way saying “well, we have an overcrowding problem on the 578, so could ST help us out with a service increase”?

    1. That is what they are doing. They’ve expressed concerned with the level of overcrowding. If there is actually that level of usage, then it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to complain about…

  6. So Federal Way is paying 13.5M/year in ST taxes, receiving 12M/year in ST bus service, and wants more bus service *and* light rail to their city center? I’m not a math major, but it sounds like they’re asking for a handout. What am I missing here? Should we feel sorry for Federal Way that they’re getting 12M worth of bus service and 1.5M/year towards light rail?

  7. Suburbs like Federal Way are the ones that fought for subarea equity so that Seattle couldn’t “steal all their money”. Now that it’s working against them, listen to the screaming. Pretty hypocritical.

  8. Is it time for ST3 yet? Could we harness some of this transit desire into votes for taxing themselves to get transit services?

    1. Unfortunately, all the studies that would lead to the segments to be funded in ST3 are still waiting to happen. So, no dice this presidential election.

      Besides, it does seem rather premature to send ST3 to the ballot when ST1’s project list isn’t complete.

    2. Sound Transit is currently at their legislatively imposed taxing limit. There likely won’t be an ST3 until revenue is freed up from Sound Move projects being paid off.

    3. So when are the studies expected and when will some fundraising capacity exist? Late 2010s? Mid 2020s?

      1. Federal Way has, once again, cut to the front of the line, getting a full engineering study before the other lines even get their viability studies. If any projects in ST2 are cut to pay for this study, Mayor Priest can point to it as further proof that ST doesn’t deliver what they promised the voters.

      2. I believe ST2 includes studies for Link to Tacoma, Everett, Redmond, a Burien-Renton line, and a 45th line. Maybe Ballard-downtown-West Seattle and Lake City; I don’t remember what stage those are in.

  9. The lady in the Mirrors photo is crying, just thinking about her future trip on Link to Seattle, which will be nearly twice as long as the current bus trip. Yes, it will be ‘predictably longer’ much all the time, instead of just occasionally longer, and be more expensive to operate to boot (counting O&M, Debt, Depreciation for the next 100 years). What’s not to like about that scenario?

    1. Yes, indeed, Priest and his gang haven’t even cracked open a schedule to see that light rail won’t be faster to downtown than their buses, even with factoring in a few minutes of reduced wait time.

      If they had asked the transit users in Federal Way in the first place, they would have started by asking for more bus service instead of light rail.

      Obviously, the transit riders were an afterthought. Now, after failing to disable the transit bandwagon, the elected officials are running out in front of that bandwagon. Don’t forget that PVR was anti-transit as recently as October, and has now switched sides to also run out in front of the bandwagon, hoping Federal Way transit voters forgets his October vote.

      1. The current 577 takes about the same amount of time to get from Downtown to Federal Way as Link does to the airport.

        Rail COULD be faster if it wasn’t for the stupid Rainier Valley bypass.

      2. That bypass that gets more all-day riders than the south end will (except SeaTac station), where it’s easier to walk to a station and there’s less opposition to TOD? That bypass?

        Think of the Rainier Valley segment as an early build on a two-line system. Eventually if the Duwamish bypass is built, the Rainier segment could become a shuttle. But don’t even think about a Duwamish bypass until Ballard, 45th, Lake City, West Seattle, and Aurora have light rail or it’s under construction. It’s not fair for airport riders to get a second-line bypass while transit-motivated neighborhoods are suffering hour-long, overcrowded, infrequent bus trips.

      3. We need to recognize that the south end and the Rainier Valley are separate transit corridors. Link is doing a good job serving the RV now, but it’s NOT a suitable location for a trunk line, esp if we plan on connecting FW and Tacoma in the future. A Duwamish bypass (high-speed) is the only feasible alternative.

        Eventually rail could, and probably will be, faster to downtown than bus service. It will always be more RELIABLE and more FREQUENT, however…especially if we can avoid level crossings, such as the RV has.

      4. Actually, light rail would never have been built if it wasn’t for the RV segment.

        That area has the 2nd highest transit ridership in the State (after the UW). There just is no way that LR would have ever had the economics to justify it’s cost if we had skipped the high ridership of the RV and instead built a not much cheaper line to the low ridership, low TOD, areas that are FW and environs.

        So while south-end residents might whine about being forced to go to Seattle via the RV, the fact that they can take LR at all is thanks to the RV. Because a line serving just FW is not economically viable nor justified.

        And if we ever build an RV bypass, it certainly won’t be done until after the other, higher priority lines are built. Because if FW couldn’t justify the investment in a bypass 15 years ago, they certainly can’t justify it now.

      5. Eventually rail could, and probably will be, faster to downtown than bus service

        Why? I-5 is pretty direct and even a more direct Link route will occasionally stop, making it slower than a 55mph nonstop bus.

      6. Actually, light rail would never have been built if it wasn’t for the RV segment.

        That might be true but the reason would be “social justic” not ridership. All of the RV and Beacon Hill account for only a 1/4 of Link’s ridership. The cost in both dollars and time for the tunnel and MLK reconstruction would have gotten Link to at least S. 200th by now. Going forward the ridership picked up by the RV detour will be largely offset by lack of transfers from people wanting to go to the airport from the eastside and agency operational costs will be dogged by resistance to truncate bus routes due to the time penalty.

      7. As a reminder, the “Rainier Valley handicap” is 10 minutes compared to a Duwamish bypass. Several people have concluded that Link is fast enough to replace the Lynnwood-Seattle and Belleve-Seattle buses, and truncate the Everett-Seattle buses, with an approximately equal travel time (worst case 5 minutes longer). But it can’t compete with Federal Way-Seattle or Tacoma-Seattle buses where it would be 10-20 minutes slower. Redmond-Seattle is also challenging because buses can use the 520 shortcut. Of course, ST could truncate the buses anyway, exchanging a longer travel time for much better frequency.

        In other words, Link can offer comprehensive limited-stop and express service in an “oval shape” surrounding Everett, UW, (south of 520), downtown Bellevue, Mercer Island, Rainier Valley, and SeaTac airport. South of SeaTac, it can offer limited-stop, less-than-express through Pacific Highway and Tacoma and connecting them to Seattle. It may be a viable express between South King and Tacoma if that market develops in the future; I don’t know.

        Link’s “effective reach” could be extended with very frequent buses Kirkland-UW, northwest Bellevue-UW, northwest Bellevue-BTC, Eastgate-South Bellevue, Factoria-South Bellevue, Issaquah-South Bellevue. With very frequent buses, Link could borderline serve Renton, Southcenter, and Kent, but it would be handicapped compared to the 101 and 150.

      8. If the past (route 194) is any predictor of the future, scheduled travel times of competing bus routes will not be a factor in the decision to cut them.

      9. In the case of the 194, the average wait+travel time was greater than that of Link.

        I don’t think that is going to happen with the 577 without a SODO bypass segment.

      1. actually they could build a second set of rails through the rainier valley and run express services from the far south end…

  10. The ST service being provided by ST replaces a great deal of service that Metro no longer operates out of Federal Way, deed over, if you will to ST. FW had that Metro service when the vote on funding for ST happened. FW was expecting increased service in the form of Light Rail as a result, not a replacement of Metro service for what they were paying.

    1. Ahem. Metro still has lots of runs on the 177, complementing runs on the 577. Indeed, routes to Federal Way are being cut by Metro due to *low ridership*.

      And then there’s the RapidRide A Line. Yes, Federal Way was first in line for RapidRide, which doubled the frequency of the old 174, added security, and sped the route up noticeably. Federal Way got all the cutting-edge improvements first, except for passive restraint slots.

      Federal Way is nobody’s step child. Really, their politicians are acting like bratty teenagers who have to wait a few years to get a cherry red Corvet to replace the Honda they had to settle for when they turned 16. (Well, okay, Federal Way turns 22 years old on February 28, but their politicians don’t act like it.)

      They even got Highway 99 and I-5 widened while everyone else had to wait. And, they have the best HOV on/off ramps in the state. So, chill it with the temper trantrums, disingenuous Federal Way pols. You’ve already gotten way more than you are paying for.

      1. Metro still has lots of runs on the 177, complementing runs on the 577.

        You’re thinking of the 179. 177 is a terrible replacement for the 577 as it takes the Buswsay instead of I-90 to I-5, adding a significant amount of time to any trip not beginning or terminating in SODO.

        And, they have the best HOV on/off ramps in the state.

        Um, there’s only one HOV on/off ramp. Well, 4 if you consider each one its own ramp.
        Really it’s Bellevue that has the best HOV on/off ramps in the state.

      2. “Really it’s Bellevue that has the best HOV on/off ramps in the state.”

        Absolutely not.

        1) These ramps provide no access to 520.
        2) And bus that uses the ramp to get off the freeway and into the transit center is facing the wrong way to get back on, so has to get bogged down in downtown Bellevue’s traffic jams.

        If I had to nominate the best HOV on-ramps/off-ramps, I would go for Lynnwood TC and South Everett P&R.

      3. Federal Way has two sets of HOV ramps: One for Federal Way TC, and one directly into the 320th St P&R.

      4. No route uses the ramp to the FW P&R except the morning deadheading 177. Even the afternoon 177 doesn’t use it. The ramp is not open to the public.

        And maybe Bellevue doesn’t have the “best” but they do have the most. Don’t forget the ones in Eastgate.

  11. In addition to Federal Way getting more service from Sound Transit than they pay for, and probably more service from Metro than they pay for, don’t forget Pierce Transit routes 402, 500, and 501, which terminate at Federal Way TC. Who is paying to have these three PT routes to serve Federal Way?

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