Comfort Station Program sticker
Photo by Oran Viriyincy.

Last November, the state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) fined Metro for failing to provide adequate restrooms for bus drivers.  The fine reflected longstanding problems along a number of Metro routes.  Famously, Metro seemed incapable of ensuring the basic cleanliness of a portable serving eight buses an hour, at the Othello Station end of routes 36 and 50.  But that was only one of many issues.

Metro acknowledged the problem in its response to L&I, and came up with an abatement plan that included a list of routes needing help.  Some routes were addressed by paying 24-hour businesses near route ends to allow drivers access.  But many other routes do not have such businesses near their ends.  Starting this Saturday, three routes are changing to give drivers easier restroom access.  More routes will see changes over time.

Most important to riders will be changes to routes 245 and 246 in Bellevue.  There is no restroom at the Factoria end of route 245 or the Clyde Hill end of route 246.  Both routes will be revised to give drivers time to use a restroom in the middle of the route: Eastgate P&R for the 245, and Bellevue Transit center for the 246.  This means that riders from the affected end of the route will have to wait through a layover, or transfer to another bus, if they want to ride past the designated restroom point.

For route 246, a 30-minute coverage route that uses small buses, this isn’t a big deal.  Very few Clyde Hill riders ride past Bellevue Transit Center, and the change comes with a sweetener in the form of a very useful extension of the route to Yarrow Point Station.

But for route 245, the change is bigger news.  Route 245, with 15-minute frequency, is a core service on the Eastside.  It’s the major crosstown route outside of downtown Bellevue, connecting Factoria, Eastgate, Bellevue College, Crossroads, Microsoft, and Kirkland. (Think of it as the “48 of the Eastside.” ) Plenty of riders originate in Factoria and ride past Eastgate, and all of them will now have to wait or transfer at Eastgate on every trip (except a few late at night).

Metro’s Jeff Switzer reassured me that this is an interim solution.  But, even in the interim, it creates a major slowdown for a lot of riders.  If this sort of solution is extended to some of the even busier core routes on Metro’s list, such as the 11, 48, or 128, many more riders would be affected.  Choice riders are not going to put up, and should not put up, with a 10- to 20-minute delay of service in the middle of their routes.  Given the severity of the rider impact, it is probably worth cutting service at the margins to fund real solutions.

In some cases, Metro might be able to build small, standalone permanent comfort stations with running water, such as those that exist at the ends of a number of Seattle routes today.  For example, it appears there is room for such a comfort station to be built near the Factoria terminal of route 245.  In other cases, Metro might be able to extend or change routing so that riders are covered without delay.  (Old route 65 in Lake City was a good example of this sort of routing: buses served north Lake City, then doubled back to Fred Meyer without passengers to provide drivers with restroom access.)

The other change is to cut route 73’s “tail” on 20th Ave NE.  Buses will lay over behind the Jackson Park QFC, together with route 65.  This is not a major change for most riders, given that the “tail” largely overlaps with the main routing on 15th Ave NE.

I want to emphasize that I do not support just keeping things the way they are.  Drivers need reliable access to clean, well-maintained restrooms at both ends of all but the shortest routes.  But forcing passengers on busy core routes to wait through long layovers, like Metro will do on route 245, is not the right way to provide that access.

36 Replies to “Route 245 to Slow Down for Restroom Access”

  1. Let me see if I understand this change. Currently, the southbound 245 terminates next to Newport HS, where there is no comfort station for drivers. And when it leaves its terminal, there are no more scheduled breaks until it reaches its Kirkland terminal. The change Metro is making is that instated of it terminating at Newport HS, it will live loop , and instead, take its break or layover at the Eastgate P&R, where there is a comfort station. Do I have that right?

    Wouldn’t the same passengers who will now have to wait for the 245 at Eastgate, had to have waited the same amount of time for the 245 before the change, but now they’ll just be waiting in a different place? And won’t they have more options to travel north at the Eastgate P&R? Wait for the 245, 221, 226, etc.

    1. Your understanding of the change is correct, but not your understanding of the consequences.

      The people affected are those who are riding from the Factoria area to points north of Eastgate, such as Crossroads or Overlake. Until Saturday, they get on the bus at Factoria, and it keeps moving until they get to their destination. Starting Saturday, they get on the bus at Factoria, and then they have to wait through a layover at Eastgate. Depending on the timing and where they are going they may be able to transfer to another bus (221, 226) rather than waiting through the layover, but one way or another they are facing a wait they didn’t before.

    2. Those going from Factoria to Bellevue College could just walk from eastgate P&R, so it wouldn’t affect them much.

      For those going further, 245 already takes a loopy, circuitous route through eastgate that no choice rider would accept anyway. So, it probably won’t make much difference in ridership, although the delay for those without other options is still going to stink.

      1. My (admittedly *very* limited, but non-zero) experience is that ridership south of Eastgate is pretty thin.

    3. Wait, the old layover is at Newport HS? I know this probably isn’t practical during school hours when it would attract perverts to the route (and maybe even once you get too far outside of school hours when the building is locked up), but couldn’t they just reach an arrangement where drivers could use school bathrooms? Hell, how long would the drivers have to go on a 65-like deadhead arrangement to a business with restrooms they can use?

  2. Aren’t there quite a few trips on the 221 that do this? People on Education Hill get on the 221, only to be dumped of at its terminal at the Redmond TC, and have to wait for the next 221 going south.

    1. Yes. However, the 221 has very little unique service south of the Redmond Transit Center with high demand from Education Hill. I’d think most riders would hardly mind transferring to the B or 545.

      Further, I’m pretty sure ridership to and from Education Hill is highly peak-focused, and the layovers are strategically scheduled in the counter-peak direction.

    2. Yes. But, like the 246, not many 221 riders are going past Redmond TC. The main purpose of that part of the 221 is to serve as a feeder to the 542/545/B.

      That live-loop exists, incidentally, because of one neighbor who hated the old 254 layover in Education Hill. He’d complain about it to Metro, the County Council, and probably the state and the federal government on a daily basis. He’d threaten to sue, and write letters to the editor if a bus so much as dropped a speck of gravel on the street near his house. The squeaky wheel does sometimes get the grease.

  3. It seems to me that the ideal solution would be to give the drivers a layover without giving one to the buses. The 245 is a frequent route, so drivers could pull into Eastgate where a new driver would already be waiting, have a fifteen minute restroom break, and then be ready to take the next 245 as soon as it pulls in. That way, passengers wouldn’t have to change buses and would only need to wait the two or three minutes it takes for a driver exchange.

    (Of course, this only works during the daytime on weekdays. But, still, it’s much better than nothing.)

  4. Can’t they just rent a Honey Bucket and place it somewhere on public property near the ends of these routes? They could even contract out routine cleaning since they can’t figure out how to do it right. The condition would be no worse that what construction and agricultural workers – people with similar levels of education and lower levels of pay – deal with EVERY DAY OF THEIR CAREERS.

    1. There are a few issues with portables:

      1) Public use, especially with portables in busy areas.
      2) Contractors are not reliable. Metro hired two separate contractors to clean the Othello Station portable. Neither one worked out.
      3) Many operators strongly dislike them and they will be an issue at union negotiation time.
      4) Neighbors at many terminals strongly dislike them. Neighbors have an easier time with the permanent facilities, which look a lot nicer.

      1. 1) nothing that a simple padlock can’t solve
        4) The 245’s terminal isn’t next to any homes, so no neighbors to complain.

      2. 1) Metro went through an awful lot of padlocks trying, and badly failing, to keep the public out of portables at both Othello and Alaska Junction. Padlocks are trivial to cut, and drivers also forget to lock them. The permanent buildings have reinforced doors with barriers.
        4) Look again. The 245 terminal is across the street from a lot of houses. Newport HS might also have something to say about it.

    2. Out House/Pot O’ Potty /Honey Bucket = Attractive Nuisance for Juvenile Males and Late Night Mischief even when bolted down the S Myrtle St experience taught me how much vandalism could occur at a Locked and Bolted Down Out House.

      Because this a “G” Rated Site I will spare you the details but……we have been threaten with arrest by the local police for neglect of a temporary facility, environmental hazard to the public and the list goes on and on.

      Padlocks wear out are frequently vandalized by the same Juvenile Males mentioned above……my solution build the Out House of Brick not fiber glass or wood then wire the facility with intrusion alarms exterior digital cameras to record all activities and….water alarms for any plumbing issues and proper cold weather protection for the pipes
      In short facilities should be “bomb proof”, “Tip resistant ” “Fire Resistant” instead of padlocks or keyed door knobs use the latest card access/combination lock for entry
      and to please the neighbors design approval…..i.e. must blend in/fit in to the surrounding area avoiding that government facility look!

  5. There’s a lot that is troubling with this change to the 245.

    Drivers have restroom access at Kirkland TC, one of the terminal points of the route. They also have emergency restroom access at Eastgate P&R (plus, I’m sure, a few more locations outlined in the book) along the route.

    Is L&I and the ATU now of the opinion that every route must have restroom access at each terminal?

    If this is the case, this will severely limit route design in the future, as many routes will now be forced to layover at transit facilities.

    Mind you, I am not opposed to drivers having restroom access. I felt that Metro’s head in the sand approach to operator restroom concerns was repulsive, and was totally indicative of some of the major system failures of the Kevin Desmond administration.

    But restroom access at each terminal, on every route, in additional to “en route” access at other facilities. Listing all the routes that will have to see terrible route design solutions like what has happened to the 245 would take more characters than this comment box will accommodate.

    1. The union does not like mid-route restrooms as the solution because using them tends to result in passenger complaints against operators. (Yes, passengers can be like that.)

      A full round trip on the 245 in the afternoon is nearly three hours. And the 245 is not a particularly reliable route, because of congestion in the Crossroads area; the northbound trip can be even longer in practice. That is a long time for people, especially those with medical conditions, to go without restroom access.

      I think the position that there should be a permanent restroom facility near each terminal on routes of that length is perfectly reasonable.

      1. I don’t know how this applies to Seattle, but San Francisco is building more permanent lockable restrooms at line terminals for their drivers.

  6. No need to be jockeying around layover point, just insert 2 minutes into the schedule when the bus passes the potty place. How long does it take a driver to take a whiz, anyway? Male or female, just give them a couple minutes and move on.

    1. Its not just taking a leak, its getting out of the seat, being able to stretch your legs, rest your eyes, take a few minutes to take care of personal business – whatever it may be.

  7. I have a complicated relationship with the 245. It passes within a block of my home in Kirkland, and right by the door of my office in Factoria. And it’s still useless to me because it takes such a convoluted path to get from home to work that I’d rather drive.

    Maybe it needs a fundamental rethink as a route. (Yeah, I know we shouldn’t be structuring routes around restrooms). But nobody rides this bus from end to end. And it has a natural break point somewhere around Microsoft where most everybody already on the bus exits.

    Not to mention the Kirkland end seems very commuter-oriented, and the Factoria-Crossroads segment is much more all-day. There may be a better way to optimize these corridors.

    1. Have a look at the Bellevue TMP. Its preferred scenario absorbs the N/S part of the route into the east half of a split RapidRide B, and then provides for a separate Kirkland-Microsoft-Crossroads route. I think that’s really the division that makes sense. You do need the Kirkland-Crossroads connection, but there’s not much reason to go further south than that when there are good connections to BC, Eastgate, and Factoria at Bellevue TC.

      Incidentally, have you thought about a 234/235 -> 241 commute? It would almost certainly be faster.

  8. Think of it as the “48 of the Eastside.”

    If the 245 really is the 48 of the Eastside, time to start making plans to split it in half. Overlake TC would make an excellent spot: restrooms, layover space, soda from the local artisanal software craftinghouse, convenient transfers to B, 545, and 542.

    Wait, what’s that? “It gets slow trying to navigate across the bridge at 40th and 520, plus what will you do about the riders who want to go from one end of the route to the other? You’ll be making one side of the route go really slow while the other speeds up and has better destinations.” Ah yes, it truly is the 48 of the Eastside.

  9. The bus that serves my neighborhood is going away so bus drivers can use the bathroom at the QFC. Of course, according to this blog, “This is not a major change for most riders.” Sigh. An argument like that can be used to support almost any cut. I voted to raise my taxes to preserve my bus, yet this is the result. Should I expect a vote to raise taxes a further $950 million will curtail my bus service even more?

    1. The bus is not going away. It’s moving less than a quarter mile to the west, to the street where the vast majority of riders board it anyway.

      1. I know where the bus goes. It’s less convenient for me and others. Again, I voted to keep this bus where it is, and the measure passed, and now my stop is permanently closed.

      2. Could you offer to let drivers use your restroom? That might help them keep that terminal loop.

      3. Ha ha, very amusing. I was actually thinking along the lines of having the bus drivers do whatever they did for the previous 25 years of uninterrupted service.

        Maybe the city could build sidewalks in our neighborhood so we could walk safely to 15th Ave NE.

      4. Cross their legs, in other words?

        In my driving days I had a regular piece of work on the 71/72/73 that had the day’s one long break, about 8 hours into a 9 1/2 hour shift, at the 73 terminal. There was nowhere to safely park the bus enroute to the terminal and use the QFC, given the nature of both 15th NE and 145th. The break was 40 minutes long (no breaks are that long anymore), and the trip was timed so that it did not use the Express Lanes in either direction. Accordingly it was nearly three hours from IDS to IDS. I had two choices: use my entire break walking from the 135th St terminal to the QFC and back, or drive the inbound trip “under pressure.”

      5. Unfortunately, Chris, the Department of Labor and Industries has recently forbidden the practices of the last 25 years of uninterrupted service.

        I completely agree with you on sidewalks, though.

      6. I empathize with the drivers and hope urine-soaked seats are safely in the past. However, it seems like they could have tried a Porta-Pottie at the old terminus before simply abandoning the service.

  10. The 245 terminal in Factoria is right next to the sports field at Newport High School, which has a restroom inside the fence for people attending games. It would be fairly easy to get bus drivers access to that facility. I don’t really understand why this hasn’t been done before now, I know it’s been brought up.

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