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Metro has successfully started a number of new routes over the years. In previous posts I have written about the 43 BALLARD and the 8 CAPITOL HILL/UPTOWN–both great successes. But this post will look at a route that was a complete failure: route 91 INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT/DOWNTOWN, a downtown-only, off-peak trolley circulator that started from the International District/Jackson Street, ran to 1st Avenue then to Virginia Street, turned around and ran back to the ID. The 91 schedule operated weekdays and Saturdays with 15 minute headways. Other than pretty good frequency, there wasn’t much to like about the 91. There were plenty of other bus routes that connected the ID with central downtown and almost any bus that used 3rd Avenue or the just-opened bus tunnel would have been faster. In fact, the opening of the bus tunnel may have been the reason that Metro started route 91. During the bus tunnel construction phase, when 3rd Avenue was torn up, the trolleys that normally used 3rd Avenue were re-routed to 1st Avenue. The 91 may have been an attempt to continue serving 1st Avenue with frequent service once the bus tunnel was opened and the trolleys returned to 3rd Avenue. Unfortunately, ridership on the 91 was almost non-existent and within a few years, the 91 was history.

If you read my post on The Creation of Route 8 you will notice that when Metro started route 91, they were still stonewalling community efforts to start route 8. Why did a dud route like the 91 get the green light while Capitol Hill to lower Queen Anne got the red light? The people who were advocating for a Capitol Hill to Queen Anne bus connection were being told that there weren’t enough service hours available for their project, but Metro was able to find the service hours to assign 4 trolleys* to cover the 91 route. How much of route planning is an art and how much of route planning is a science? And how much of route planning is political pressure and arm twisting?

Metro’s new route 40 looks like it is performing well. Part of its success is that it connects Ballard with Fremont–a connection that the communities have been requesting for decades, but Metro had always resisted. Is anyone surprised that a frequent, one-seat ride between Ballard and Fremont is popular? I’m expecting the upcoming Metro marriage of routes 8 and 106 marriage will bring much success to those corridors. Now, how about a connection between Rainier Beach and Southcenter?

*Metro did eventually adjust the 91 schedule to operate the route with just 3 trolleys.

6 Replies to “Route Fail: 91 in 1991”

  1. I would second the call for a bus between Rainer and Southcenter. If only LINK was grade separated. The time savings could have justified running the 150 in Rainer Beach to create the link.

      1. The days of the 39 going to Southcenter were before Link and the growth of Rainier Beach as a transit hub. Also, the biggest problem with the 39 to Southcenter was the unreliability of the schedule. It was allotted about 15 minutes to travel from Southcenter to RB, but when traffic was bad, the repercussions were felt all the way to Ballard (the 39 through-routed with the 28). My best suggestion for connecting RB with Southcenter would be with route 156 via Interurban. The 150 would the move off of Interurban which would speed up its trip to downtown. There would need to be a peak hour route between downtown and the Tukwila P&R, but that would be easy to arrange.

  2. I rode the 91 once. The driver saw me waiting for a direct route to Seattle Center, and he talked me into riding his bus, even though it stops blocks from the Center and I would have to transfer anyway. He seemed desperate for riders, as if he knew the route could soon be canceled.

  3. There have been a lot of attempts at circulator routes on 1st Ave… and a lot of failures. But someone in power always seems to think they’re a great idea. I understand the impulse, but short-distance transit has to be really frequent to draw riders, and even high-ridership services cost money, the shorter ones being more often perceived as optional when money is tight.

    Next up: the CCC. Hope it does better, because it won’t be cheap.

    1. The CCC isn’t really a circulator, although it might behave like one. It connects and extends two other routes.

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