Route 316 coach
Route 316, to leave the tunnel.  Photo by T.C.M.

This morning, Metro sent out a press release discussing the proposed U-Link changes it released last night.  Also in the press release was confirmation of another Link-related rumor that has been swirling for a while.  In September 2015, Sound Transit will start testing Link trains on the U-Link alignment, which will increase the number of Link trains in the tunnel, especially during peak hours, when a train will arrive every six minutes.

To create space for these extra trains, six peak-hour bus routes serving North Seattle, Shoreline, Issaquah, and Sammamish are leaving the tunnel, effective September 26, 2015.  Northbound, routes 76, 77, and 316 will use either Third or Fourth Avenue (Metro has yet to confirm which).  Southbound, routes 216, 218, and 219 will pick up on Second Avenue.

To put it mildly, joint operations has not worked well during afternoon peak since Metro and ST began collecting fares on buses at tunnel stations.  Perhaps there is hope that reducing the number of peak bus operations will make things a little bit smoother.

78 Replies to “Fewer Tunnel Buses in September”

    1. It’s pretty ridiculous they didn’t do that from the beginning. They seriously didn’t anticipate how much of a pain it would be to collect fares in the tunnel?

    2. Well, in their defense, the “ride free area” came before the train. When they added the train, they decided to go with the system they have now (I think it is called verification — I’m not sure if I have the term right) instead of putting up gates. If I’m not mistaken, the stations could have handled gates. Gates would have solved the problem, but probably added expense (especially since it would be required for the entire system). I’m sure they didn’t worry about it too much, because the plan was to eventually get rid of the buses. An alternative would be to have verification for all the buses, but that would be really difficult.

      The day this tunnel was planned, they figured that a train might replace it. But I’m sure no one imagined that a train would share the trip with a train for so long. The main reason it has is because of the screwy way we’ve built our system. I’m sure folks originally figured we would build a light rail line from the tunnel to the UW first. This would be frequent enough and busy enough to kick out all the buses. But because we build an infrequent and not quite important enough line first, we are stuck with this “awkward phase”.

      But that is not the case with a second tunnel (if we build it). In that case, we need to have BRT style (off board) payments along with a train (if it is added) the entire time. To do otherwise would be stupid, given the area served.

      1. Ross, the line to Sea-Tac was always intended to be the first, because it could be brought online much faster than the other two more technically complicated ones.

        You’re also definitely right that none of the officials thought it would take so long to get light rail at all.

        Metro also made a conscious decision to go to Proof of Payment for all vehicles- leaving a lot of details to be solved later.

        Once again, this time the County is calculating that fare inspection isn’t worth the wages for the few remaining years of joint ops.

        The fare boxes are an insult to the whole spirit of the DSTT. Would die happy if I could see somebody organize the political effort it would take- which is the only way it’ll happen.

        Wonder if we taxpayers could get a class action suit to make Metro do it whether they like it or not? A good attorney could surely get us a writ of “Fiunt et cerebrum.”
        Google Translate for “Grow a Brain!”


      2. Well, there is “always” and there is “always”. For the last fifty years or so, everyone said that the most important segment is downtown to the UW. Still do. But after numerous setbacks, a board was established to come up with a plan that served suburban interests, as well as the folks in the city. So, Sound Transit came up (after failing the first time) with a plan for the UW to SeaTac. Sounds great. Then, after the electoral victory, they looked at the cost, and decided the safe thing to do was build the less important part first (this was the line to SeaTac).

      3. Mark knows the exact timeline better than I do but:

        At the time the DSTT was designed the downtown ride free area was in effect for everything but night owls and considered more or less sacrosanct.

        While I’m sure from the first day a DSTT was suggested at least some people were thinking of rail it was considered to be far off and not really worth designing around. The tracks embedded in the roadway were mainly put in to quiet critics (as witnessed by having to rip them up to put in link).

        While fare gates could have been put in during the tunnel renovation they weren’t for a few reasons:
        * the RFA for buses during the day
        * different fares for Link and buses
        * Sound Transit deciding on Proof of Payment system wide
        * due to not being designed for them from day 1 installing fare gates in some of the tunnel stations would have been problematic.

        I will say the intent was to build between the U-District and Lander first. Though given very different construction timelines the entire route from 45th to the airport might have opened at the same time. Then ST had its crisis in the early 2000’s and the decision was made to re-think the downtown-U District segment.

        In any case there is no good reason not to go with proof of payment either for the current tunnel or any future tunnel. Though any future tunnel should be designed for easy installation of fare gates if they become necessary.

      4. I know most people here think the RideFree Area and “pay away” was a bad thing; the poor tourists! They’ll be so confused! When I predicted that replacing it with PAYE everywhere, downtown would curl up in a ball you all essentially called me a dinosaur.

        Well, now “Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nayaaahhhh! Told ya so! Told ya so!”

        I will admit that the surface buses are working better than I had expected, but the tunnel is a MESS. It takes easily four minutes for most buses to get through Westlake at the rush hour. The lines at the front door are ridiculous. and everyone has to wait for the slowest bus.

        Not good.

      5. @Chris — I totally agree with what you said.

        @ Anandokos — I think it depended on the bus. In many cases, it simply shifted the bottleneck somewhere else, like the first stop in the U-District for a bus coming from downtown. Lots of people getting off a crowded bus at the front, while a few tried to get on (while the bus driver had to tell people to wait). Then there was all the confusion (it was often hard to tell if you needed to pay when you got off or on). You might wave your transfer getting on, not realizing it was pay when you get off, then stand at the backdoor yelling “backdoor please” while the driver said “its pay when you get off”, then you fumble around trying to find your transfer, while everyone on the bus gives you the evil eye and thinks “stupid schmuck, making us all wait”. Yeah, good times. (this was before ORCA).

      6. Chris,

        When the Tunnel was opened the RFA was called “Magic Carpet” and was 24/7/365.

      7. Oh, sorry, you said “during tunnel renovation”. My apologies; you said that when it opened Magic Carpet was all the time. Except, as you correctly said, the night owls, which were always PAYE because at most stops in the loops the bus was both outbound and inbound.

        I always thought calling it “Magic Carpet” was a cool thing.

      8. The ride free area started in the 1970s for downtown circulation and to entice shoppers. At the time downtown was declining; in the early 80s 1st Avenue was full of prostitutes and Westlake Center and Park did not exist yet.

        When the RFA was 24 hours it was easier to remember because you always paid on the non-downtown side. The DSTT opened in 1990. Sometime in the 90s or 00’s the RFA stopped being in effect after 7pm, and after that I often found it hard to remember which end to pay on because it was temporal rather than just geographic. And it seriously confused visitors and occasional riders. “Who ever heard of a bus that’s pay as you leave?” So it really had to go.

      9. And homeless people did not start appearing until the late 1980s, so they were not prevelant on the buses.In the early 80s it was a “New York problem”, then they started appearing here.

  1. What are the actual reasons why the tunnel isn’t a fare paid area, among all the other inefficiencies that Mark Dublin continuously harps on?

    Is Metro really that incompetent or are they just apathetic?

    1. Not that I support this reasoning but I believe it’s an issue of enforcement: Metro doesn’t use a proof-of-payment system you’d need turnstiles, and guards at each station to watch the turnstiles. There’s also 3 different fates but I think there’s a variety of way to deal with that.

      1. Yeah, that is my understanding as well. I said as much above (although I got my terms wrong). Proof of payment would be a mess, and ST didn’t want turnstiles (too expensive, especially since the main advantage is rather temporary).

      2. Metro uses proof of payment on RapidRide. They could extend that system to cover the tunnel routes and work with Sound Transit, who already has roaming fare inspectors covering the tunnel to do enforcement there on their behalf.

      3. Proof of Payment on all tunnel routes… and ORCA readers at Campus Parkway, Northgate TC, Bellevue TC, Renton TC, and Southcenter?

      4. Then you have the problem of tapping the proper ORCA reader in the tunnels.

  2. Has to be done, and about time.

    Link trains won’t be able to hold in the tunnels north of Westlake Station, so it is really key to reduce the number of bus caused interruptions. Otherwise the whole system could meltdown, and even meltdown worse than it does today.

    his restriction will go away when Northgate Link opens.

      1. No train brings passengers out of the stub tunnel. Therefore a hold causing nobody to miss a plane.

        But if you are a member of a crush load and have a flight to catch at Sea-Tac, question answers itself.


      2. The operational issue arises from the decision to remove the vertical vent shaft (Kemper Freeman bought the land I think) combined with the lack of LRV storage space at Husky Stadium Station.

        When they eliminated the vertical vent shaft they set up a situation where they fire ventilate horizontally down the tube and egress laterally to the adjacent tube. This is fine in a true emergency and is what is often done for one LRV type evacuations.

        However, with the lack of storage space at Husky Stadium Station you can really only store 2 trains there and 2 at Cap Hill. After that you wouldn’t want to store loaded LRV’s in the tubes because you could potentially fire ventilate across them — a fire at one location would create a safety problem at a different location.

        So that means you can only really store 4 LRV’s at the stations and after that any prolonged bus issue would impact the whole tunnel.

        The problem is not much of an issue when the buses come out of the tunnel , and it completely goes away completely when Northgate Link opens because it has a pocket track. So the situation is temporary.

        Also, some on this blog have stated that the elimination of the vent shaft restricts capacity — it does not. It only restricts how many LRV’s you can store in the system during operational difficulties. Overall capacity of the tunnel north of DT is the same as for the DSTT (in terms of LR)

      3. Yes, all of that might at least hypothetically be responsible for the headway being limited to one train at a time in the long ventless segment from UW to CH.

        It does not turn the entire line into one long signal block that prevents trains from stopping ever, for any reason, even once they have joined the well-ventilated and many-signal-block-containing downtown tunnel.

        So the real answer to David’s “why not?” question ranges from “it is possible but less than operationally ideal” to “Lazarus loves to make shit up”.

      4. lazarus,

        If ST decides it needs the vent, Whimper will have to sell it to them. They have eminent domain which is even effective against rich developers.

        And anyway, the vent would have been less than 1/4 the distance between Husky and Cap Hill from Husky. It would only make a difference in 1/4 of the fires which are going to be ripping through the ST tubes under Capitol Hill in the future, doubtless monthly.

      5. @Anan

        Basically ST decided they didn’t need it. So why pay for it and why get in a court battle with someone like KF who would welcome a court fight as a tool to delay LR.

        The lack of the vent doesn’t limit total capacity of the system, and the operational constraint goes away when Northgate Link opens anyway. Plus you can always solve the short term problem anyhow by reducing the number of buses in the tunnel (and they might be out in 2017 anyway)

  3. Hurray! So excited to get the buses out of the tunnel. The sooner the better!

  4. Giant *I told you so* for the tunnel problems. Of course, pushing buses to the street is great for trains in the tunnel, but will make the already-out-of-curb-capacity street buses run even slower. As much as people hated the ride free area because of homeless riders, it was a very efficient way to move people around the most congested areas without making them stop and search their pockets for change.

    I suppose this is a positive side of Metro’s service cuts. It’ll free up some curb space just in time for more surface buses.

    1. I hated the RFA not because of the homeless riders, but because of the need to shove through a crowded bus to pay at the front. And also because I was once yelled by a Route 44 driver because I tried to pay as I entered a bus in the U District—apparently I was a Bad Citizen for not using my telepathic abilities to know that the bus had started its trip as a 43 from downtown!

      1. Kyle,

        Yes, getting through a crowded bus to the front door to pay was sometimes unpleasant, and occasionally the bus would have to wait at a stop for someone to complete the journey. But any such delays were limited to one bus on one route away from downtown. The delays at the front door at University and Westlake threaten to bring the system to a halt in the evening rush today.

      2. They affected all buses on all routes out from downtown, at Every. Single. Stop. along the way!

      3. What are you talking about? The only time that the bus was delayed by people standing in the aisles was at peak hours when the bus has standees early in the run. Or the 44 when it was the 43 all the way. Yes, some 7X’s mid-day would have congestion as far as the last stop on Campus Parkway where half the bus gets off, so if someone wanted to get off between the freeway and there, it would be a hassle.

        The vast majority of buses stopped no longer than the time it took a passenger to step off, because nearly everyone got up immediately after pulling the cord, walked to the front and had put the money in or flashed a pass by the time the bus stopped.

        No whining about old folks not getting up and pre-paying, because they pretty much only ride the 4 and under trolleys, and they take just as long today to leave.

      4. Sorry, Anandakos. Kyle is right about this one. People were not prepared, and every outbound stop was slow, on PAYL buses.

        The tunnel needs to be POP, but the surface is working pretty well on pure PAYE, certainly much better than when there was PAYL.

      5. They affected all buses on all routes out from downtown, at Every. Single. Stop. along the way!”

        Let’s all observe a moment of silence in remembrance for all those delayed 19’s and 25’s stuck waiting for their crush-loaded passengers to squirm through the teeming masses to get to the front of the bus.

      6. By definition, the buses most effected by the PAYL dumbassery are the ones providing quantifiable relief to the largest number of people today.

      7. Yea sorry, I have to agree there were many routes outbound from downtown that were just excruciating as people tried to shove to the front of the bus, played 20 questions with the driver, then change fumbled. At every single freaking stop.

        The 71/72/73 were their own special kind of hell when running as Fairview/Eastlake locals (and still are) as the bulk of the riders didn’t get off until somewhere in the U District, but the dwell time at every single freaking stop in SLU and Eastlake was many minutes long.

      8. Let’s all observe a moment of silence in remembrance for all those delayed 19’s and 25’s

        Ah, so you’re using the warts of Metro’s planners as an attempt to hand-wave the standing-room-only crowds that filled the 5, 10, 15, 16, 17, 18, 26, 28, 43, and 49 from 4pm through 6pm.

        Good show, Anandakos.

    2. In addition to dramatically speeding up buses outside of downtown, elimination of the RFA led to creation of the ORCA LIFT program, which means regular low-income riders will be paying with ORCA all over the system. Tourists don’t get free rides to pricey power lunches. So what?

      A giant “Get over it.” to Matt.

      1. Amen. The existing solutions as employed by other cities around the globe (proof-of-payment, off-board payment, and increasing frequency at the expense of one-seat milk runs) are far superior to Seattle’s special-snowflake RFA.

  5. Now if they can just get the 550 drivers to stop waiting for runners. There’s another freakin’ 550 coming up five minutes behind that one! Just let them wait and don’t hold every single piece of traffic the entire length of the tunnel for one person. Which becomes two to three, as more people hit the bottom of the stairs and start running.

    1. Drivers need to be told downtown is a strict “don’t wait for runners” zone between service start and 7PM. Any drive caught doing so will be written up, especially if they are on a tunnel route.

      1. I have seen several drivers, all over town, refuse to open their doors for runners in the past month, especially when someone ran *in front* of the bus.

        If a driver opens the door for a runner somewhere where other buses are being held up, get the bus number and call Customer Service.

    2. This is a two-pronged rider-informationissue: the first, as you say, is for drivers to consistently demonstrate that they will not stop for runners during peak. The other prong is giving people enough information so that they can chill: people will be less inclined to run if they know the next one is in 5 minutes.

      1. “People will be less inclined to run if they know the next one is in 5 minutes.”


      2. It’s not even a very difficult campaign.

        “Sound Transit is proud to bring you the 550, departing every five minutes at 5pm.”

      3. They may be transferring to a half-hourly bus, so it’s not just “5 minutes”.

      4. But it doesn’t help if the bus is delayed by runners and misses the connection. If you want to catch that connection, get to the stop before the bus arrives.

      5. If people will run to make a stoplight whose next green is in two minutes, they will certainly run to make a bus, whose next appearance is (on paper) in 5 minutes.

  6. I know that this move had to come eventually, and it’s for the greater good, but all I can think right now is how much lousier my commute on the 76/316 is going to be in six months slogging through downtown.

    1. Hopefully Metro can be convinced to put the north end expresses (76, 77, 316) on the old routing via the Columbia ramps.

      The best part is this avoids the clusterfuck on Stewart/Howell/Olive/Pine

      1. Just learned the 77 will be on the Columbia routing, while the 76 and 316 will be on the Pike/Union routing also used by the 306, 312, and 522.

      2. The 76 and 316 win the lottery!

        I recall the complaints from 76 riders when it was first moved into the tunnel.

      3. So the 76/316 move to 4th+Pike northbound only?

        That just makes them more convoluted. The whole exiting at 43rd and merging with I5 traffic to wait in line at the Ravenna offramp… all that sucks.

        Come U Link opening, it’s going to be tempting to just grab Link and transfer to the 48.

      4. @Stevesliva,

        Would you prefer the 76 and 316 start from UW Station instead, and then head up Pacific and go through the U-District?

      5. Depends quite a lot on how full Link is and how quick that new 48north is…

        But I get on in Pioneer Square, and it seems questionable to me that it’ll be better to wait on 4th for a bus that putters through downtown, then exists at 43rd and putters parallel to I-5 versus getting on the 1st Link, arriving at UW in 10 minutes, and then grabbing the 1st 48north and getting to the Greenlake P&R probably no slower.

        I think the 76/316 might still make sense if you get on at Westlake, or if you’re riding beyond Greenlake. But the big chunk of riders who get off around 65th and I-5 may find it worth their while to abandon the stupidity of the 43rd->65th slowness, and use Link to get to the U district and transfer to the 48.

  7. Thanks for the attribution, guys. But incompetence and apathy are generally results rather than reasons. With the DSTT, here’s my take.

    The DSTT was both radically unusual and very simple: a streetcar system (formerly called “Interurban” started with buses. A huge hundred-year system begun with common, well-understood human-driven machines

    A stunning start at reversing the very forces that almost killed transit itself. Best part of the achievement: Experiment means bad surprises. Visitors’ invariable reaction: Our people solved them all.

    Amazing and unforeseen success by every fair measure. But also, the reason the vital dispatch and communications system shut down after two weeks, and training stayed poor: Buses came out the portals without the effort.

    The system run as planned would have saved millions of dollars over project life. But necessary supervision and training would have cost not only money, but unending very hard work under pressure, from trackbed to top management.

    Second-worst problem: the trains of the future became an excuse for postponed work ’til then. But really, behind it all, the end of the 1970’s began forty years of national economic stagnation, and the nasty politics it continues to produce.

    Things bright in 1983 and possible in September 1990 continue very hard ever since. the Tunnel was never designed for the leadership of exhausted and beaten people- however conscientious and capable.

    But real lesson of the project is how well for all these years the transit system’s people have mended things “broken out of the box.”

    As the DSTT was largely brought to life by the huge influx on younger people in the early 1980’s- transit workers in their third week of training now will, over coming decades, fix the box too.

    Mark Dublin

  8. Hopefully they are able to do the full testing as planned. I found this slightly cryptic line in the fourth quarter progress report that came out last week, under the heading Project Risk Overview.

    LRV Fleet wide Repair
    A latest defect was discovered in the Traction Motor/Gear Unit in the LRVs. Repairs require long lead materials and careful coordination to minimize any impacts to current operations. If there are insufficient reliable LRVs by Revenue Start, the 6 minutes headways promised for U-Link will be in jeopardy

    They specifically mention start of revenue service, but I would assume that the same would hold true for system testing, as they would need the same number of LRVs to carry out 6-minute headways in September as they will next March.

    1. Pete,

      Maybe not. If they’re a little short they can just run one-car “test” trains. They aren’t going to carry passengers north of Westlake and the short trains can just run closed-door elsewhere.

  9. Surface bus traffic doesn’t have to be slow- if Metro and SDOT get serious about reserved lanes and signal pre-empt.

    One lesson out of the last 24 years of DSTT ops: the coordination and training that should have happened in the Tunnel could- and should- be brought to bear on street ops.

    Like in Tunnel- matter of planning and work, not just lane space.

    In the DSTT itself, my own choice of final phase of joint ops would be ST express service, especially serving routes that will eventually be put to rail.

    In addition, I think that the 510-series to Lynnwood and Everett should become Tunnel routes. From personal experience, those extremely heavily used routes can spend fifteen minutes getting from Fifth and Olive to I-5.

    Maybe it’s just a mean streak, but another motivation is how scared the CT drivers are of going in there. They’ve all got the skill. So we can give them to be the driver they really are!

    So in addition to saved schedule hours and good advertising for NorthLINK, let’s look at this like an exchange-student program. Tell me there aren’t Tunnel drivers who would trade for a 512.


    1. Here are some reasons why the 510-512 are not going into the tunnel:

      1) These buses are operated by First Transit, under contract with Community Transit. All the current buses and trains in the tunnel are operated by and supervised by Metro, which is the only way to avoid inter-agency chaos in the tunnel.
      2) Sound Transit is ordering some double-talls.
      3) Nobody from Snohomish County has expressed any interest in seeing these buses in the tunnel.

    2. Putting the 510/511/512 on the 522 pathway through downtown would solve a lot of the problems. The number of 510/511 buses you pass by on the Stewart St. exit ramp while entering the tunnel on the 41 is just embarrassing.

    1. Aleks, it’s in the U-Link proposal. The 256 will run on street-level.

      (the 256 being the downtown-running variant of the new 255).

      1. Hooray! Kicking out the 255 (by any other number) will enable the splitting of the Bay A buses, without having to resort to the ADA-questionable tactic of going to one bay per platform. It is the piling up of buses at Bay A that has killed northbound peak travel time in the tunnel for the past two and a half years. I’ve observed it several times.

      2. I am a daily 255 rider and I approve this message.

        There is just no benefit in the tunnel for 520 buses. Unless there’s some sort of blockage, the surface is faster in both directions (albeit for different reasons: the zigzag inbound, the joint ops issues outbound). The only reason I don’t catch a surface bus every night when I leave work is because if I transfer at Montlake or Evergreen Point the 255 tends to be too full to board.

      3. So, post-restructure, how does one get from DT Seattle to Kirkland at 5PM? Take the 256 on the surface, or go in the tunnel to catch Link to the revised 255?

        [I’m noticing the 256 wins somewhat on frequency].

      4. @Dan: It depends. If you primarily value a fast and reliable trip, you take Link, to avoid the inevitable I-5 congestion at that time of day. If you primarily value a one-seat ride and/or being able to sit down, you take the 256.

        It’s the same trade-off that people make when choosing whether to take the MS Connector or private buses, or when choosing to take the Google/Apple/Facebook buses or Caltrain. I’ve timed both trips, and the private company shuttles are rarely faster than the alternative, but they still win a lot of riders on the basis of being more convenient (i.e. fewer connections).

        The equation could change dramatically if/when WSDOT completes the work to connect SR-520 with the I-5 express lanes. In that case, for someone who lives on the Eastside and works in downtown Seattle, the peak express buses (e.g. 256) would legitimately be faster, too. But that’s a long ways off.

      5. If they connect 520 to the express lanes, the express lanes will become clogged like the regular lanes are, at least eastbound.

      6. If the express lanes slow down too much, WSDOT could make them HOV3+. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that though.

      7. Considering that the revised 255 gets to the station via southbound Montlake, and that Southbound Montlake is always horribly congested during the PM peak, the wait time for the 255 bus would likely be substantial and unpredictable. Simply sticking it out on the 256 would probably be better.

        One idea that I’ve been thinking about would be to make the revised 255 layover for 15-20 minutes at the UW Station, whenever the 256 is not running, so that riders headed from downtown to Kirkland can get a reliable connection that is not subject to the whims of traffic on Montlake north of the station. It would mean additional travel time for thru-riders going all the way from Children’s to Kirkland, but that would be a lot fewer people than downtown->Krikland riders. Plus, at times when Montlake is actually moving, riders would have the option to transfer at the station to the bus ahead of them.

        (While a mid-route layover does seem a bit odd, it could be implemented by branding the Seattle section of the new 255 as a separate route that just happens to thru-route with the 255 in both directions during peak hours and in the northbound direction only during most of the off-peak hours).

      8. “If they connect 520 to the express lanes, the express lanes will become clogged like the regular lanes are, at least eastbound.”

        Yup, absolutely no doubt about that. Fortunately, with the WSDOT funding shortage, the 41 (and possible the 510/511/512) will be replaced with Link by the time this happens.

  10. We may disagree about which routes ought to be kicked out, but I will thank the Creator that this did not take an action of the county council.

  11. When will Link be able to run 3 car trains during peak? Last summer it was getting pretty crowded. People were being left on the platforms.

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