The well documented trials of Island Transit discussed on Seattle Transit Blog remind me of some of my adventures in dealing with transit in northwest Washington. This is a continuation of the late May of 2013 trip to the San Juan Islands by transit described in Part 1 of this series, in which I ventured north from Portland, through Seattle and eventually arrived in the San Juan Islands.
This is the return trip.
Returning to Portland: At First Glance
Under the 2013 timetables, the first southbound Amtrak Cascades train of the day went through Mount Vernon at 9:15 am. I did not think that it would be that easy for me to get all the necessary connections to get over to that train due to the early morning differences in timetables. Also, my intent of visiting the San Juan Islands was to, in fact, visit the San Juan Islands rather than return to Portland as early as possible. Unfortunately, at first glance that 9:15 am train was the latest southbound service I could find until afternoon rush hour. The other options (Amtrak Thruway or Skagit Transit 90X) were afternoon trips that didn’t leave much time for a connection to southbound train 509 out of Seattle at 5:30.
For a time, the return Thruway bus from Bellingham stopped in Mount Vernon at 2:50pm, was scheduled to arrive in Seattle at 5:00pm, and connect well with train 509 leaving at 5:30 pm. I knew that in practice this rarely actually worked due to afternoon traffic on I-5. Today this bus is scheduled to arrive in Seattle at 5:40 pm, just mssing train 509 – a more frustrating but realistic representation of the reality of transit in Seattle in the afternoon.
More Than One Way to Skin a Bus
It is a more obscure set of transit connections compared to the main I-5 transit routes, but the only mid-day regularly scheduled transit service linking Seattle to Anacortes is Island Transit and its backbone Whidbey Island routes. From my 2010 experience, I already knew of the problems with a transfer at Mukilteo but it beat a skin of the teeth set of connections coming back along I-5 in the afternoon and evening to try to get train 509.
I made my reservation for train 509, and figured I would come up with some way of getting to that train at least, even if it took most of the day to get between Anacortes and Seattle.
Whidbey and Fidalgo in 3 Hours
Thanks to the very well timed connection at March’s Point, getting to Oak Harbor wasn’t much of a problem from Anacortes as the connection between Skagit Transit 410 and Island Transit 411W was planned so it works going both directions. The bus trip across the Deception Pass bridges is more scenic than anything on Interstate 5, and as a whole the trip down the length of Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands isn’t too bad. With Island Transit #1 having a very well planned timed transfer with the ferry at Clinton, and the 411W having a well planned transfer to 410 and other routes, it was inevitable there would be one spot where connections wouldn’t exactly mesh.
The 20 minute layover in Oak Harbor gave me time to use the restroom in the park across the street from the transit center. Among things of interest in the park, you will find what is probably the world’s only 5 ton two seat roadster:
The trip south on Whidbey Island is reasonably scenic and gave me a few ideas for future trips to this part of Washington, and average speed isn’t too different from I-5 express routes (see Let’s Compare, below). The connection at Clinton to the Ferry still worked just as well as in 2010, with the bus driving onto the ferry pier minutes before the ropes were untied.
Perhaps 20 or so passengers made the transfer to the ferry.
Then Came Community Transit and SoundTransit
Now, if only there were a Sounder train on the other end, the trip from Mukilteo to King Street Station would take about 50 minutes. That was certainly not an option for me, so I trudged up to Community Transit 113 and expected a slow ride to Seattle. During the time waiting at the bus stop, one of my fellow IT#1 riders asked if this was really the best way to get to Seattle. When I told him that I had no idea, he commented that normally he would take the Everett Transit bus from Mukilteo to Everett and get an express from there, but usually the connection there was terrible, so he was trying this instead.
In the end, I wound up at King Street Station well before the departure of Train 507, which would get me into Portland at 6 pm, rather than train 509 arriving at 9 pm. I cancelled my train 509 reservation with the ticket agent and rebooked for 507.
Making This Trip Today
Please note that as of 2014 most transit services in northwest Washington have very little to no service on Sundays. So, making a weekend trip to the San Juans on transit doesn’t work unless your return is Monday.
Under the current timetable, the earliest possible connection is to leave Friday Harbor at 5:45 am, arrive in Anacortes at 7:05 am, and use the 410 and 411W connection to get to the Mount Vernon Station 25 minutes before Amtrak train 513 is scheduled to go through on its way to Seattle and Portland.
Island Transit and Skagit Transit #410 to #411W still have good timed transfers in the morning for going south to Oak Harbor from Anacortes, but the timed transfer becomes a standard issue 15 minutes layover in the afternoon.
Today, with the new timetables, the layover in Oak Harbor is scheduled for 15 minutes (no longer 20), and so in the mornings you can still make the Anacortes Ferry Terminal to Clinton trip in 3 hours, and 3.5 hours in the afternoon. Island Transit still has an across the platform transfer to the ferry.
Afternoon trips operated by Skagit Transit between Mount Vernon and Everett now start at 2 and may be hazardous due to afternoon congestion on I-5. It wouldn’t be too bad if your destination is Seattle and environs, but Portland is a different matter with having a further connection in Seattle.
This is made even worse due to the break in service on the 40x March’s Point to Mount Vernon route, which now has a break in service from 10:10 am to 3:40 pm, but a few local alternatives are available. Island Transit #1 is still a valid alternative for going south due to these breaks in service though.
As of September Community Transit #113 now has what appears to be a good transfer from the ferry in Mukilteo. It has also returned to Lynnwood Transit Center rather than the Ash Way Park and Ride. If all goes according to plan Mukilteo to King Street Station now takes 90 minutes. (Having spent 2 hours on an ST express going from Lynwood Transit Center to Denny Way, I would not rely on this in afternoon peak.)
For those that live in Seattle or are overnighting there, it is possible to leave Friday Harbor at 4:15 pm, get to Mount Vernon at 7:00 pm, have dinner or something there, and then get train 517 going south at 8:20 pm. Skagit Transit #410 has a final departure from the ferry terminal at 6:55 pm, but when it arrives at March’s Point the only transfer available is to Oak Harbor.
So, Lets Compare:
- Seattle to Anacortes Ferry Terminal via well executed timed connections in 2013 (no longer possible with today’s timetables, see Part 1 ): 2.5 hours. Distance: 84 miles. Average Speed: 33 miles per hour.
- Anacortes Ferry Terminal to Seattle via today’s Skagit Transit and SoundTransit bus schedules leaving Anacortes at Noon: 4.3 hours. Distance: 84 miles. Average Speed: 19.5 miles per hour.
- Anacortes Ferry Terminal to Clinton via 410, 411W and 1: 3 hours. Reasonably executed transfer times using local bus service the whole way. Distance: 60 miles. Average Speed: 20 miles per hour.
- Mukileo to Seattle via CT#113 and ST express with today’s timetable: 90 minutes with today’s timetable. Distance: 26 miles. Average speed: 17 miles per hour – including time on an express bus on Interstate 5.
- If Sounder North operated some “reverse commute” trips this 90 minutes might be almost cut in half to 50 minutes.
- Every single transfer I made between these various routes and services were also made by other passengers – with the ferry to CT 113 Mukilteo connection only being dared by one other passenger. I may have been the only one going all the way through, but the well planned schedules, when possible, sure helped lots of others too.
- Island Transit 411W was a fairly important route for both Skagit County and north end Island County residents. It is unfortunate that the current service has split this route into two separate routes, an important part (Mount Vernon to March’s Point) of which now has a gap in service in the middle of the day.
- Island Transit #1 had few vacant seats for its entire length – pretty good for a route through a rural area.
- The lack of fare on Island Transit 411W was a key piece of this route, since it served northern Skagit County as well as Island County. It also was a key piece for keeping #1 and #411W on time, and thus maintaining the closely timed connections.
- Skagit Transit 410 arrives at March’s Point at 7:25 pm, and then deadheads over to the Skagit Transit shops, right next to the BNSF main line, where the empty bus gets a nice view of an Amtrak Cascades train in each direction (516 and 517).
Glenn Laubaugh is a native of Portland and is employed as an engineer / technical writer / technician at a small company that manufactures electrical equipment for railroad passenger cars.