I wanted to respond on behalf of SDOT to Bruce’s post last week about the structure of today’s Metro Night Owl service.

Our main goal in saving the Night Owls is to avoid any interruption and preserve service for late- and early-shift workers and other people who depend on those routes now. Although ridership seems somewhat low at 150-170 boardings per day, divided among six trips (two each on routes 82, 83, and 84), the numbers are not too bad and represent far more than 150-170 individuals – although most riders are probably regular riders, many ride only occasionally — and this is the only late night service to most parts of the routes.

SDOT and Metro did not have enough time between the April 22 failure of Prop. 1 and the normal June deadline for defining the September service change to seek public input then negotiate and implement a restructure. So initially, SDOT funds are proposed to be used to save existing trips on existing routes, which will include both the loop routes (82, 83, 84) and, if a Seattle Transportation Benefit District measure passes, late night service on high-ridership regular routes like the 7 and 36.

After we have secured continuing service on the existing night owl routes, we and our partners at King County Metro are committed to work on a proposal to modernize the late night bus network in Seattle. In the longer term, our goal — funding permitting — is a late night network that is better than the one we have today, which would add trips in the 2:00 – 4:00 a.m. time frame to most of the busiest routes.

In general, SDOT supports and is working towards many of the goals outlined in your post. In particular, we agree that large-diameter one-way loops are not a rider-friendly service pattern; that the lack of post-1:30 AM service to dense, outlying neighborhoods such as Northgate, Lake City, and Delridge presents an opportunity for improvement; and that Night Owl service should be provided by routes which are as similar to daytime core routes as possible. This is similar to what Metro and SDOT accomplished working together on the C and D Lines, each of which now has a pair of night owl trips which fully replaces a less rider-friendly Night Owl loop route.

Thanks for listening, and for continuing to suggest improvements to the Metro system in Seattle!

Bill Bryant is Manager of Transit Programs at the Seattle Department of Transportation.

16 Replies to “SDOT is Working to Improve Night Owl Service”

  1. Thanks, Bill, for writing this and reaching out to STB.

    I see that you’ve looked at ridership data from Metro. I am confused as to why the low-ridership 80-series legacy routes would get a guaranteed save, while more popular, higher-riderhip routes would depend on getting a Yes vote in November. I assume those higher-ridership routes are guaranteed to continue to at least February 2015. Shouldn’t the highest-ridership night owl routes be the ones to be *last* on the chopping block?

    I am also curious if you have asked Metro for a recommendation on how best to redesign the night owl network. Having a recommendation from Metro staff would help dispel any impression that the routes are being desinged politically (which could become an issue as the city council moves to wards, and the temptation for pork-barrel politics becomes more intense). A data-backed proposal would be a nice thing to bring to a city council full of people trying to figure out how they will get re-elected from seven different slices of the city.

    1. BTW, THANK YOU for all the work SDOT did under the McGinn administration to get the South Park Bridge replaced, for the continuing pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements (even when unpopular with a vocal handful of drivers), for the RTA signage and other bus improvements downtown, and for the ongoing coordination with so many other entities to keep Seattle mobile! The night owl routes are delicious icing on a much larger cake that I hope we can preserve and improve upon, once the routes get restructured into being useful for the greatest number of riders.

  2. I’m sorry. I have been at the 80-loop terminal, on weekdays and weekends and New Year’s Eve, back when the 81 and 82 and 85 met in the same location as the remaining ones.

    These buses do not average 25-28 passengers per run. No way, no how. Not even counting the destinationless. Not even double-counting the destinationless. Not even close.

    That figure must be counting the repeated driver on/offs while idling, and counting the Metro Security teams that generally board the buses (to address only the most blatant abuses of this public space). It must be counting those that huddle into the first bus that comes, and then relocate to a different route when that bus shows up. It must be counting every footfall across the entryway for reasons of inquiry about the stupid and confusing routes.

    Because these buses do not contain that many people. Period.

      1. The most recent ridership report listed rides/platform hour as 13 for Route 82, 16 for Route 83, and 8 for Route 84. That’s definitely the bottom quartile of performance, and the routes definitely need restructured, but it’s not nobody.

      2. Well, that’s half of Bill’s per-trip statistic (those loops take about an hour).

        And even that feels high. The couple of times I took the 82 when I lived in Queen Anne, I was one of perhaps 2 legitimate riders, and there were never more than 6 or 7 people on the bus.

        In perhaps a dozen usages of the 81 after moving to Ballard, there were never more than 7-9 legitimate riders, essentially all of whom were gone by Dravus.

        I have never even considered waiting for a 75-minute-headway bus in the car2go era, restructured or otherwise. I cannot imagine ridership being anything but lower than it was in the era of no other options.

      3. Would it be cheaper to subsidize taxi trips within city limits between the hours of 2 and 4 am?

      4. What you might be missing in your observational data, d.p., is people using the buses to get downtown, especially the second run. When I used to pick up the 81 in Crown Hill to connect to the first link of the morning for an early flight, there were typically a couple other airporters and at least half a dozen people going to work downtown.

      5. I am aware of this additional demographic.

        But unless it dwarfs the number of people using the runs in the “getting home” direction by about 5:1 — which it doesn’t — then it doesn’t come anywhere near to explaining Zach’s official Metro numbers, never mind Bill’s impossibly 2x higher numbers.

        And even if it did, it would still be a wholly marginal exercise in functional mobility.

      6. I’m with d.p. here, in that in the Car2Go+Uber era, I have difficulty imagining myself ever riding the night-owl buses, no matter how the service hours are shuffled around. The number of times I am traveling between 2 and 5 AM is so tiny that the expense is quite trivial in the scheme of things.

        That said, I do sometimes wonder if, for night-owl service, trying to cover every corner of the city with a 75-minute headway route makes sense. Perhaps it might be more productive to concentrate the limited service-hours to boost the frequency of a tiny number of core routes to a somewhat-usable 30-minutes, while simply accepting that other neighborhoods (especially wealthier neighborhoods) can use one of the alternate options provided by the private sector.

  3. How about all the DART buses that are sitting in yards all night? Cutaways would be fine. Being as most Metro drivers don’t want to drive that late, it might be a better contracted operation anyway.

  4. Thanks for responding, Bill. I really appreciate it.

    That said, I would like to know how many of those 150-170 riders are transients who ride the whole loop for shelter. In my observational experience as both a rider and a Metro operator, the answer is “all but a few.” The number seems correct to me if you include all the people on the bus, whether they ride the entire loop or not. If you leave out the loop riders, I’d be surprised if there are more than 30-40 legitimate riders across all three routes, with the majority of those on the 83.

  5. Thanks! Really good to hear what actually goes on when these things are planned, and better to hear that what goes on is exactly what we all hope for (good people working hard for sensible solutions). Keep up the good work, and thanks for taking the time to reach out to STB

  6. I applaud Bill Bryant’s efforts on this matter. It is critically important that the old school loop owl routes are retained. The owl network desperately needs an overhaul, but we need the loop routes as a template to work from.

    As noted elsewhere in the comments, for those working early in Downtown Seattle, the owls are often the only way to get to a job that starts at 0500.

    The earliest inbounds from our neighborhoods generally arrive downtown at 0530-0545, which is too late for a Starbucks shift worker that has to report at 0430 to open a store at 0500. Same for security guards, hospital workers, etc. When I lived in Ballard, I once took the first s/b 18 of the morning. This trip left 24th and 85th at 0445 and arrived at Union by 0525. As I stood in the dark in the pre-dawn waiting for the bus on 24th, I found myself joined at the stop by one, two, three, finally five more passengers. When the bus pulled up it was an artic; we made every stop to downtown and had a standing load. It is critically important that the 0330 owl trips be preserved, and every effort made to add more early AM inbound trips (arriving downtown no later than 0530).

    1. for those working early in Downtown Seattle, the owls are often the only way to get to a job that starts at 0500

      …Except for all of the other ways that non-hypothetical people get around, since anyone with a shred of actual rider or driver experience on these middle-of-the-night trips knows that ridership is approaching zero! This is not how any statistically significant number of people actually travels to work.

      You can’t claim vestigial transit is “the only way” for something to happen, when that transit has been running for decades and what you claim is not happening by the remotest stretch. This is what drives me nuts about Seattle’s reality-free transit discourse: hypothetical people and hypothetical needs wind up trumping real people and real needs every time.

      I do agree that the first “normal” morning runs are often quite well used, and could stand to start a hair earlier on many core services.

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