ST bus 51401
Newly delivered New Flyer XDE60 coach. Photo by SounderBruce.

Faithful readers already know Sound Transit is headed for a banner 2016.  University Link alone would be enough to ensure that; it will connect the three most important transit destinations in Washington state with frequent, fast, high-capacity transit for the first time, replacing bus routes that are one of Seattle’s most notorious time sinks.  Also no surprise are the opening of Angle Lake Station and a new midday round trip on South Sounder.  But that is not all the agency has up its sleeve to drive an expected increase of 18 percent in total system ridership.  Last week, ST released an early draft of its 2016 Service Implementation Plan, which includes a most welcome surprise: a substantial increase in ST Express bus service.

The increase is a surprise because ST Express stubbornly has remained a zero-sum program for several years, despite the expanding economy. ballooning ridership, and rapidly recovering tax revenue streams.  Expansion of oversubscribed routes such as the 550 and 545 has been paid for by chopping the span of service of less popular routes, while increasing I-405 congestion has resulted in cut trips on South King County-Eastside routes.  This time, there are no cuts and no surprises, just a very peak-heavy expansion driven primarily by overcrowding relief and better connections to U-Link and Sounder.  Details below the jump.

These are the service expansions, in decreasing order of size.

Route 541 – Overlake-UW Station
48 new weekday peak trips (approximately 12 in each direction, for 20-minute frequency during extended AM and PM peak hours)

This is a new route intended to provide a fast connection between UW Station and Overlake, partly to relieve reverse-commute pressure on Route 545 and partly to offer new connectivity to Link destinations, including an alternative to the slog between downtown and SR-520 on Stewart, Olive, and the I-5 regular lanes.

Route 545 – Redmond-Overlake-Seattle CBD
15 new weekday peak trips (will increase peak frequency to 6-8 minutes), to meet growing demand

Route 554 – Issaquah-Eastgate-Mercer Is-Seattle CBD
12 new weekday peak trips (will increase peak frequency to 15 minutes), to meet growing demand

Routes 555/556 – Northgate-U District-Bellevue-Eastgate-Issaquah
4 new weekday peak trips (will increase peak-of-peak frequency to 20 minutes), to meet growing demand

Route 578 – Puyallup-Auburn-Federal Way-Seattle CBD
4 new weekday midday trips (will increase frequency at some times to 20 minutes), to meet growing demand

Route 577 – Federal Way-Seattle CBD
3 new weekday peak trips, to meet growing demand

Route 567 – Auburn-Bellevue-Overlake
2 new weekday midday trips, to meet new South Sounder trips

Route 580 – Lakewood-South Hill-Puyallup
2 new weekday midday trips, to meet new South Sounder trips

Route 596 – Bonney Lake-Sumner
2 new weekday midday trips, to meet new South Sounder trips

The SIP also has some interesting background on route performance, although not as fine-grained as it has been in past ST Express performance reports.  The nickel version is that increased ridership systemwide has masked a lot of warts, with even the worst performers (Routes 540, Kirkland-U District, and 560, West Seattle-Airport-Renton-Bellevue) now within the realm of semi-respectability, and more routes performing at a very high standard.  Looking at the performance data, it’s easy to see why expansion is warranted.

71 Replies to “ST Adds All Sorts of Stuff for 2016”

  1. Now if only we had South Sounder to Olympia in time to give a few legislators a piece of our transit advocate hearts in January 2017………….. and you can cut “my” Sounder North to do that.

    That said, great news otherwise.

    1. Well… can’t really arbitrarily take SnoCo (mainly) funding and transfer ti to P Co. There is that little thing called “sub-area equity,” and thank gawd for it. You should like sub-area equity as it is a very conservative/republican/libertarian ideal — the user pays for what the user gets (or at least the local taxpayers do).

      And Oly is outside ST taxing boundaries anyhow.

      That said, I would love a direct shot to Oly on Sounder. Grab a cold frosty at Elysian Fields, board the train, get off at Oly and grab a cold frosty at Fish while I wait for my ride to show up. Sounds pretty good, just have to find a way to make it happen within the enabling legislation that the Legislature gives us.

    2. I don’t think Sound Transit has the power of eminent domain in Thurston County that it would take to build a new facility closer than Amtrak’s Centennial Station, nearly an hour local bus ride from the Capitol, or to take over a train line that would enable a closer station.

      We’d be better off with “counter-peak direction” 592 buses, at least during regularly-scheduled sessions, but without the lengthy diversions to all those P&Rs that make the route so unusably long going the peak direction.

      1. What about getting Intercity Transit to run a Tacoma-Olympia superexpress skipping Lakewood and the other park-and-rides? That’d require less interagency cooperation.

      2. Of course, ST has the main thing it needs from Olympia for awhile, and all it cost us was $16 billion in freeway pork. Imagine all the freeways that could have been stopped if urban legislators had figured out earlier why transit-dependent activists are rarely seen in Olympia unless it is their full-time job.

      3. As to;

        Imagine all the freeways that could have been stopped if urban legislators had figured out earlier why transit-dependent activists are rarely seen in Olympia unless it is their full-time job.

        Indeed. Imagine the $16 Billion in tax savings…

        It’s why I’m raising the issue of good, decent bus or Sounder service from Seattle to Olympia in the morning and back in the afternoon.

        Had legislators heard from transit users instead of just transit agency employees – which I can tell you is a turn off to my party which controls the Senate – we would hopefully not have had to pay a $500 mil ransom note to the WEA that sends its pawns members down to Olympia to lobby. In chartered school buses. Nor would we have the difficult, painful conversations around transit grants and around state support for transit instead of affirmative ones with positive outcomes.

    3. I really do hope that parts of Thurston county joins sound transit. The reality is that Olympia metro is a thing. Connections to Seattle and Tacoma are important and they should be frequent, seamless, and comfortable. Sound transit express buses would be the perfect way to do that.

      1. By all our hopes for Link, keep Thurston County far away from ST until subareas are allowed to have different tax rates!

      2. I think having part of Thurston County consider joining Sound Transit might be a good idea. Note all the italics.

        Perhaps just the City of Olympia… and there’s an express bus that goes from Seattle to Seattle-Tacoma International to Tacoma to Lakewood to Olympia downtown – one and only one stop in each ;-). Call it Route 149 after the 147 legislators we have + Lt Governor + Governor.

      3. Forget merger. Let Intercity Transit negotiate with ST for the shared costs of creating seemless connectivity between the Capitol and Pugetopolis. That starts by not renewing the deal whereby IT got the state to pay to get Thurston-County-to-Seattle commuters from Olympia to the county line on route 592, and ST taxpayers got reamed for the rest, without gaining any connectivity to Olympia for ST district residents.

        Route 592 needs to be faster and two-way, at least during session, with a more equitable cost sharing. It can be done without the legislature getting involved.

    4. No annexation. Let Olympia and Intercity Transit figure out a way to fund ST Express expansion and eventually Sounder. The ST district already includes a lot of exurban land in Pierce County which leads to No votes because they hate taxes more than they love transit. If we extend it to Thurston County or north Snohomish or Skagit County it’ll get harder to pass any more capital projects.

      1. Mike, I can understand and respect that view. I “get it” many in STB are apprehensive about any more rural voters – for good reason.

        At a future Skagit Transit Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC) where another CAC member would like Sounder to come to Mount Vernon… I’ll raise the concept of an interlocal agreement when we discuss at a future meeting county connectors.

        Let’s just hope that slope stabilization works if this other CAC member wants Sounder to MV ;-).

  2. A lot of the Sound Transit buses (including many of these) seem to run all day long. Are there any reports about popularity by time? I am curious if some of the routes essentially function as commuter runs, while others are fairly popular all day.

    1. I can say from anecdotal experience that the 512 is fairly popular all day and even on some weekends, with northbound buses leaving 45th at standing room only.

      1. Yes most of the 512 runs I’ve taken after 10pm on weekdays and weekends had all the seats filled and even had to have some folks standing. It’s a particularly useful and well-used route because it’s one you can actually rely on since it has decent span of service and frequency 7 days/week unlike most suburban bound routes.

    2. The 550 is standing room only some Sunday afternoons. The 512 gets so crowded that people are starting to avoid it, presumably because they don’t want to stand for half an hour from Lynnwood (or longer if there’s a traffic jam). The 594 gets decent ridership. Conversely, whenever I’ve ridden the 578 or 554 off-peak there’s only been two or three people on the bus.

      1. I’ve occasionally seen standees on the 554 on weekend afternoons on the way back from hiking Tiger Mountain. When it happens, it’s usually because of some kind of special event, such as Bite of Seattle or a Sounders game.

    3. Chapter 5 in the draft SIP goes into some detail about how persistent overloads are handled. Expect that topic to be covered in a post later this week.

  3. “The increase is a surprise because ST Express stubbornly has remained a zero-sum program for several years, despite the expanding economy. ballooning ridership, and rapidly recovering tax revenue streams.”

    Why was it zero-sum?

    If tax revenues are improving, but service has been flat, something would seem to be going on.

      1. Also, sub-area equity, so it took getting state mobility grants for the additional 577 trips and the improved scheduling on 510-513 trips.

  4. What’s with this 541 thing? Is it the same as 542? Why not just make 542 the frequent 7-day connector to ULink since it is already an established commuter route?

    1. It’s sort of like an abbreviated 542.

      The 542 comes from Redmond – currently Redmond TC; to be changed to Bear Creek P&R – and then heads down 520, stopping at the Overlake TC flyer stop. The 541 starts a few blocks south of Overlake TC and goes down surface streets to get on the freeway at the flyer stop. (It’ll serve Overlake P&R, in an effort to compensate for parking loss at Overlake TC during East Link construction.) Then, in Seattle, the 542 ends at Green Lake P&R; the 541 ends in the U-District, two or three stops earlier.

      I thoroughly approve of making the 542 the all-day every-day route over the 545 – and definitely disapprove of adding 545 service – but Sound Transit probably wants to wait and see before restructuring the Eastside, just like Metro.

    2. The 541 serves two purposes:
      1) It connects Overlake Park and Ride to cross-lake service. Currently all service is focused on Overlake Transit Center. This makes some sense because Overlake P&R is 35% utilized, and Overlake TC will be closed for East Link construction starting next year.
      2) It provides additional capacity on the highest-ridership segment (UW Station to Overlake) with a unique route number, instead of short-turning 545 or 542 trips.

      The Alternative 1 proposal would have swapped the span of service and east terminals of the 545 and 542; this would have turned the 545 into a peak-only route with some shoulder service truncated to Redmond TC, and the 542 into the all-day route extended to Bear Creek P&R. It would’ve forced a transfer at UW Station midday, evenings, and weekends. This proposal didn’t move forward because the primary destination of riders from Redmond and Overlake remains downtown Seattle, especially off-peak, and the off-peak transfer penalty is too long; Link’s speed doesn’t make up for it when I-5 is clear.

      1. The useful long term route would be a 541 turning around at the Montlake triangle, laying over in one of the massive UW parking lots.

        When North Link opens, it’d replace both 542 and 545.

      2. I wouldn’t expect significant changes to service on SR 520 until East Link opens.

        Once East Link opens the Overlake Village station provides connectivity to Overlake P&R, and at that point it is ~35 min to Westlake and ~40 minutes to UW on Link (or 60 seconds to Overlake TC/Redmond Tech Center), so there’s no sense in running a bus which isn’t any faster. Also, you’d still need a bus route connecting to downtown Redmond and Bear Creek P&R, which means you need to retain either the 545 or (more likely) the 542. So the 541 almost certainly goes away in 2023 when East Link opens.

      3. I think you will see major changes to 520 service long before East Link, and most likely before North Link.

      4. I’d be very happy if they do make changes; my (admittedly not very informed) impression has been that there’s a reluctance to mess with 520 service too much based on the feedback they got on the Alternative 1 proposal.

      5. The sense I get from Metro is that they want to revisit the proposed changes soon, but with a process focused on the Eastside that may go a bit beyond just the SR-520 routes. Of course any 520 changes will require interagency coordination between Metro and ST, and ST may have its own opinion.

    3. I work at Microsoft and live just north of the U-district, and I recently started switching my afternoon commute from the 542 back to the 545 again, simply because the walk time from Montlake Freeway Station beats sitting in traffic for 4-5 very long light cycles to get off the exit ramp on the 542. It is very disappointing that with the huge amount of empty space next to the exit ramp that WSODT couldn’t find room to put in a bus lane.

    4. I’m glad to have both more 545s and the new 541s. Downtown-bound riders will get to try both, and see which option is faster.

    5. This is genius. I was worried that they were going to go ahead with the truncation of the 542 and make it end in U District. The fact that it currently serves all the way to Greenlake P&R make it supremely useful for residents of Roosevelt and such. I was hoping they’d wait to truncate the 542 until after Northgate Link opens, providing service to Roosevelt station from UW Station, otherwise, they’d be cutting out a large portion of 542 ridership.

      1. Yeah no sense in truncating the 542 or 555/556 until Northgate Link (or possibly East Link) opens. At that point the Green Lake P&R/Northgate tails can easily be deleted as they’d be duplicative.

  5. While the change is great for peak-period riders, it’s important to remember that there are still plenty of unfunded off-peak needs. Peak-period service is the most expensive type of service to add, since every new trip requires purchasing a new bus and hiring a new bus driver, plus deadhead runs to and from the base that often involve more miles than the actual service trip they support. Peak-period service is also the most likely to get stuck in traffic, further increasing the cost. By contrast, improved off-peak service merely involves running the buses they already have for more hours and promoting some part-time bus drivers to full-time bus drivers.

    I don’t know what the expense ratio of peak-to-off-peak service is (could the money for every 2 peak trips buy 3 or 4 off-peak trips?), but whatever it is, it needs to be considered when allocating service.

    1. Duly noted. Several months ago, there was a non-transit crisis that required me at high noon to leave a Seattle courtroom and be at a Central Whidbey runway. The Sound Transit bus was almost full out of Seattle.

      The demand is there for light rail north of Seattle. The question is only where should it go?

      1. Lynnwood Link will dramatically improve every bus trip from Snohomish County to Seattle. It will greatly reduce the amount of time necessary for the buses to serve Seattle. Not only will buses spend less time on the road and less time in traffic, but they won’t have to be split between UW and downtown Seattle (both of which are a long ways from Everett). They will simply go to Lynnwood. From various places in Snohomish County, they will go to Lynnwood.

        All day demand for Link is a very good thing. It greatly increases the chance that Link will have decent frequency all the way up to Lynnwood. I have been very concerned about this. It is one thing to say we have high demand during rush hour, but it is another to see high demand in the middle of the day. Without high demand, you lose frequency, and without frequency, a system like this would not work very well. You end up trying to time the bus trips, which is very problematic.

        To make matters worse, the turn back spot is at Northgate, not 145th. This means that folks in Lake City might have to endure a transfer to an infrequent train in the middle of the day. Right now the buses pass Lake City with great frequency. Without similar frequency on the train, you run the chance of having a trip to downtown in the middle of the day that is a bit faster, but less frequent. This would not be good.

        So having enough demand at Lynnwood to justify say, 6 minute headways would be a very good thing for everyone.

    2. Agreed. This is why I would like to see the rider reports. From anecdotal evidence, it appears that a lot of these buses are crowded all day. Generally speaking, the frequency isn’t that high, so adding more buses would greatly increase overall ridership. This seems like a much better value than simply adding more rush hour buses.

    3. Agreed, though for a lot of the Overlake/Seattle service, they don’t deadhead after a run, they just turn around and run a counter-peak run. The 520 corridor gets tons of peak and counter-peak ridership. I imagine the same is true for I-90, making me wonder if there’s really a “correct” way to point the express lanes.

      1. 550 counter peak-direction ridership is noticably smaller than peak-direction ridership, but is far from insignificant. Sound Transit has been throwing peak frequency at the 550 for several years now and it doesn’t seem to make much difference; ridership just grows more and continues to pack the buses. The 550 has 5-minute headways in the peak direction and these runs are often crush loaded, while 10 minute headways accommodates counter-peak ridership easily enough in most cases except for a couple of runs in the 7:00-8:00am and 5:30-6:30pm timeframes.

      2. The 520 corridor has the rare distinction of having enough demand to fill up buses in both directions. It also doesn’t hurt that the peak demand period for Microsoft commuters is about an hour or so later than the peak demand period for UW commuters, allowing the same fleet of buses and drivers to efficiently serve both markets. You can thank Microsoft for that, by locating their campus in a way that adheres to Jarett Walker’s “be on the way” principle.

        On the other hand, the I-5 and I-90 corridors – especially I-5, have orders of magnitude less demand in the counter-peak direction than in the peak direction.

  6. Nitpick… Anyone care to explain footnote (2) on page 20 of the PDF?

    “O&M Cost ($)

    [footnote] What should this say”

    1. There are a variety of bugs and oddities in this draft. I think we’ll probably have more to say about some of them once ST has had a chance to look at feedback.

    2. ST hasn’t actually publicized the draft SIP being available. We just saw the link up, and ran with it. I expect the draft to change, getting ride of oddities like two “Table 1″s, before ST does a media blast on this.

      1. It was publicized. It was in last Friday’s CEO Report that I received in my inbox:

        The year 2016 will be a year of more service and better connections. A new Sounder round-trip train is scheduled to start in the south line between Lakewood and Seattle. We’re also looking at adding more ST Express bus service next year and, of course, we’re launching light rail extensions between downtown Seattle and the University of Washington as well as Angle Lake Station south of the SeaTac/Airport Station.

        Those are the highlights from the 2016 Service Implementation Plan (SIP) that was released this week for public comment.

        A public hearing on the SIP is scheduled for Thursday Nov. 5 at 10 a.m. at Sound Transit headquarters in Union Station. The SIP must be approved by the Board later this year for the service changes to take place in 2016.

      2. The CEO report also included a link to the report, which apparently didn’t make it through my cut/paste in posting it here.

  7. Still waiting on my 522 stop at 85th st. I reverse commute and the metro expresses are peak only so there is not good option for reverse commuters in this area. The 372 is too slow to consider, I can beat it with my bike.

    1. Don’t get too excited about it. ST seems to be leaning toward deleting it south of 145th when Lynnwood Link opens. So not only 85th but also 120th and 125th will be looking for another route, and presumably only Metro will listen to them.

      1. By then a complete reorganization of the routes would seem to be in order. This could very well include service on Lake City Way, although it is hard to say.

  8. Link travel times (page 112): 2015 SeaTac to Westlake: 40 minutes. 2016-2020 Angle Lake to UW: 49 minutes. 2021 Angle Lake to Northgate: 49 minutes. Either this is one of the mistakes or the time gained by kicking buses out of the DSTT equals the UW-Northgate travel time. But it also says Northgate will add two stations when it will add three stations.

    1. I read that too, and assumed it was a copy/paste error when filling out the table. Exciting if it’s the actual prediction though!

  9. 48 new weekday peak trips (approximately 12 in each direction…

    I assume you meant 24 in each direction, unless this route somehow has 4 different directions? Or is that 12 in each direction at each peak?

  10. University Link alone would be enough to ensure that; it will connect the three most important transit destinations in Washington state with frequent, fast, high-capacity transit for the first time,

    An underground parking lot surrounded on three sides by busy streets is one of the most important transit destinations in Washington?

    Apologies. I couldn’t resist.

    1. Husky Stadium Station would be a lot more effective if SDOT implemented BRT-like infrastructure on the Montlake Triangle, with bus lanes and a bus-left-turn section of the signal cycle. Every bus that terminates at the U would be able to run counter-clockwise around the triangle with a stop directly in front of the station. We’d need WSDOT’s cooperation for Montlake Blvd, though.

  11. It’s nice to see some changes, however I think there are still a lot of “needs” that are outside of the existing scope of operations and plans that need to be addressed. Sound transit seems rather restricted to staying within the vision and plan and being unable to think outside the box and able to quickly (as quickly as a government agency can do so) change and adapt to the changing world around them. Granted they only have so much to work with, but I think there are some opportunities out there to be explored. This is why I think ST 3 should be heavy on operations, but sadly it appears to be another capital heavy plan.

  12. I’m really excited for the mid-day Sounder South trip. That makes trips to/from my friends in Sumner and Tacoma much easier to do with reasonable timing. The 578 works but is time consuming, lacks power/wifi/ and I’m always nervous about loosing my bike from the rack.

  13. 554 receives 12 new peak trips to respond to “growing demand”.

    According to the SIP, the 554 had less annual riders than the 512. Yet, all the 512 is getting is “reliability improvements”. Which, I assume, is simply changing the schedules to reflect actual travel times. This is sorely disappointing.

    1. 512 “reliability improvements” probably means adding an extra bus or two at peak hours without adding trips, to ensure that buses can get to the terminal in time to start their trips.

    2. In addition to what William and David wrote, the 554 also has the distinction of having worse peak headway (30 min) than off-peak headway (20 min). This is mostly due to the significant amount of KC Metro peak express service and the very directional ridership in the I-90 corridor during peak. However counter peak ridership is starting to increase along with peak direction ridership, so it makes sense increase peak service overall.

      As a former counter peak 554 rider, I wish they had done this years ago; 15 minute service would’ve made my commute much better. Unfortunately the significant investment necessary to provide 15 minute peak service was a problem.

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