Most people think of Seattle as a world class, major city. Major cities have 24-hour transit service, as should Seattle. There is limited overnight service, with the Owl routes (82, 83, 84) being understandably derided because they are the most confusing. With the new hours from Proposition 1—approximately 230,000 annual service hours are left after the June improvements are implemented—we have a chance to accomplish this for the people who keep odd hours. My bias for evening and night trips is showing because I’m one of those people; this post is actually being submitted at around 4am.
Why do this?
As Mike Orr points out, transit use increases when it can cover more trips and more types of trips. Right now, our transit system is pretty good at covering regular commuting hours and trips taken while the sun is usually up. Service drops dramatically in most corridors after 7pm and especially late night. This is also the first type of service to take a hit when cuts are proposed since the “bang for the buck” in the reclaimed service hours is quite high when shifted to daytime service.
However, if we are to have “the best bus service we’ve ever had in Seattle,” ($) night service should be one of the first things to come back and be enhanced. Lots of workers are employed during these odd hours and we can accomplish a lot of trip diversions by giving them the tools to get to and from work. Other trips for activities in the evening and night periods can be made attractive to do via transit and without having to rely on an overpriced taxi or a potentially-surcharged rideshare company.
What to do?
In considering which routes to extend to 24-hour service, I looked at routes that meet these criteria:
- Their span of service ends, at a minimum, around midnight. This is to avoid having to extend service beyond a few trips and because the routes with later service already tend to serve denser areas.
- The route can simply have more trips added without having to divert in the middle of the night. By doing this, the confusing mess that are the existing Owls is avoided. (There are two exceptions below.)
- Cover as much of the city as possible, with special emphasis on getting more service north of 85th Street, which is where the current Owls (except D line) end, and cross-town routes to avoid everybody having to go downtown.
- Look solely at routes that can be paid for by Prop 1. This means no overnight service on routes like 255, 545, or 550 is discussed here.
Half-hourly service would be much better, but given that service hours are difficult to calculate, this proposal is cautious. If we have the hours, half-hourly trips would be much more convenient.
These routes are, in my view, excellent candidates to add extra round trips as soon as possible. Adding these trips would also mean completely deleting the 82, 83, and 84.
- 3S + 13N: Route 3 already stops after midnight and starts up around 5am both weekdays and weekends. Four trips each direction would be needed to for this corridor to have hourly overnight service.
- 11: Like Route 3, Route 11 stops after midnight and resumes before 5am every day of the week. Weekdays would need three extra trips, Saturdays four, and Sundays five. Adding trips to 3 and 11 covers the 84 night owl but without the strangeness of “which trip goes to Madison first?”
- 16: This route is like Route 11, down to even the same number of trips needed. It travels surface streets, would provide a link to Northgate, and covers most of the current 82.
- 40: Hello, Ballard. Some would argue that D line is a suitable substitute for route 40 owls. I disagree, since 40 travels inside neighborhoods, through NSCC, and into the night life area of Ballard. Four trips on weekdays, five on weekends would get overnight service.
- 43 + 44: These already run as both a coupled pair and deep into the night. Only a couple of more trips would be needed for cross-town hourly service covering Ballard, Wallingford, the University District, and Capitol Hill.
- 48: The 48 is, as most know, the longest route that does not go via downtown. It is a vitally important link to neighborhoods not served through the CBD. With just four trips on weekdays and Saturdays, and five on Sundays, approximately 15 neighborhoods would gain legible Owl service.
- 49: Much like the 43+44, the 49 covers a very dense, popular deep-into-the-night area of the city and only needs a couple of extra trips to have 24-hour coverage.
- RapidRides C and E: Each needs one more round trip to have service every hour of the day. There’s really no reason not to, especially since the D does make these trips.
The odd duck but very needed:
- Route 41: I think the service area for this route would be great to have but it comes with a huge freeway section in the middle that bypasses a lot of neighborhoods. To that end, I like William C.’s idea and so propose adding four trips every night to the 41 but routing them via surface streets instead of IH-5. Call it the “41Night,” if you will. It follows the 41’s routing in downtown along 4th Ave, goes up Eastlake to follow what would be the 66 along Roosevelt (we could also swap in the 70 if a routing closer to the center of the university is preferred, but UW already has an overnight service from the university) up to Northgate, then resumes the 41’s routing to Lake City.
At the pie-in-the-sky end of the spectrum, and at the risk of reestablishing a standalone Owl route:
- Route 97: A last-minute brainstorm, but restricted to Rainier Beach since paying for the route to go all the way to the airport is likely outside the scope of Prop 1 funds. As a substitute for having 24-hour light rail service, run round trips on 97. Weekdays and Saturdays would need three trips, Sundays four trips. This accomplishes two goals: it links together the neighborhoods along the light rail route and it sets the precedent for 24-hour light rail service to eventually happen. I debated using the “as needed” route 97 versus route 8 but if 8 is going to get restructued–which it really should–we avoid confusion by having a single “only operates in the middle of the night but does it because light rail itself is closed” route.
I’m certain I have missed some areas and I’m definitely not an experienced trip planner so there are bound to be inefficiencies. Unfortunately, the route list is still downtown-heavy because there aren’t many cross-town routes that meet the “run later than most” requirement. Suggestions are definitely welcome, though I truly hope that the idea itself is worth supporting.