Welcome to all the new and returning students at UW!

Husky CardAs students, you are the lucky recipients of the best transit deal in town — the U-Pass, embedded in your Husky Card — which covers unlimited rides on:

King County Metro buses
Sound Transit (Link Light Rail, ST Express buses, and Sounder commuter rail)
Snohomish County Community Transit buses
Everett Transit buses
Pierce County Transit buses
Kitsap County Transit buses and foot ferries
Seattle Streetcars
King County Water Taxis
UW Night Ride

The U-Pass does not cover rides on Washington State Ferries or the Seattle Center Monorail.

The U-Pass serves as a transit smart card, which you tap on an ORCA (“One Regional Card for All”) reader to be recorded as having paid the fare. Even though you are already pre-paid for unlimited rides on the above services, you still have to tap, as the various agencies use these taps to divvy up their share of the revenue from monthly passes.

Tap your Husky Card on ORCA readers to "pay" for the ride.
Tap your Husky Card on ORCA readers to “pay” for the ride.

This year, you have at your disposal a much better transit system than past classes have had. You have a brand new Link Light Rail station down by Husky Stadium. The train gets you downtown in just over 6 minutes. It also gets you to Capitol Hill in 3 minutes and to the airport in 44 minutes, with no congestion to slow it down. Well, maybe 1-3 minutes during rush hour, but that’s it.

It gets even better in 2021, when Link Light Rail reaches the U-District Station, Roosevelt Station at NE 65th St, and Northgate Station. In 2023, it reaches Lynnwood to the north, Highline College to the south, and Bellevue and the Redmond Microsoft campus to the east.

mtn-mastheadWith your support, the Link Light Rail system could reach Everett in the north, Tacoma in the south, downtown Redmond in the east, connect to Ballard and West Seattle from downtown, and reach Kirkland and Issaquah on a single transfer. On November 8, you will get to vote on this major transportation package, known as Sound Transit 3, or Regional Proposition 1 as it is called on the ballot. But first, you have to register to vote, by October 10, if you aren’t already registered to vote here. Do it online right now!

The package is called Sound Transit 3 because it is the sequel to the package that created the Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority in 1996 and ST2, passed in 2008, that is extending the light rail system to Lynnwood, Microsoft’s Redmond campus, and Des Moines.

The University of Washington is the second-largest transit hub in the state, behind downtown Seattle. It is served by a plethora of transit lines including:

Link Light Rail to Capitol Hill, downtown, the stadia where the Seahawks, Mariners, and Sounders play, Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley, the airport, and other parts of SeaTac (new this year)

ST Express buses
540 to Kirkland
541 to northeast Bellevue and west Redmond (new this year)
542 to Redmond
556 to Bellevue, Issaquah, and Northgate Mall
586 to Tacoma

King County Metro buses
31 to Fremont, north Queen Anne, and Magnolia
32 to Fremont, north Queen Anne, and the Seattle Center
43 to Capitol Hill and downtown
44 to Wallingford and Ballard
45 to north Green Lake, Greenwood, and north Ballard
48 to the Central District and Rainier Valley
49 to Capitol Hill
65 to Children’s Hospital, Wedgwood, and Lake City
67 to Northgate Mall
70 to Eastlake, South Lake Union, and downtown
71 to Ravenna, View Ridge, and Wedgwood (new to campus this year)
73 to Maple Leaf and Jackson Park (new to campus this year)
75 to Children’s Hospital, Sand Point, Lake City, and Northgate
78 to Laurelhurst and Children’s Hospital (new this year)
83 Night Owl to Capitol Hill, Ravenna, Maple Leaf, Eastlake, and downtown
167 to Renton
197 to Federal Way
271 to Bellevue and Issaquah
277 to Juanita
372 to Ravenna, Lake City, Lake Forest Park, Kenmore, and Bothell
373 to Ravenna, Jackson Park, and Shoreline

Snohomish County Community Transit buses
810 to Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood Transit Center, Ash Way Park & Ride, Mariner P&R, and McCollum P&R
821 to Lynnwood and Marysville
855 to Lynnwood
860 to Mariner P&R and McCollum P&R
871 to Mountlake Terrace and Edmonds
880 to Ash Way P&R, Swamp Creek P&R, and Mukilteo

UW Night Ride loop, along with UW Police Department’s Night Walk service

46 Replies to “UW Transit 101: Best. Transit. Options. Ever.”

    1. I’m referencing the Link progress report (also called the Agency Progress Report) a public report that I pulled from the Sound Transit website. The latest one available is dated July 2016. Page 14, Master Schedule chart for Northgate Link. At the bottom of the schedule, there is Testing & Startup with dates 14 Sept 20 to 14 Apr 21, and Project Float 15 Apr 21 to 15 Sept 21.

      I think ST is quietly signaling that it is possible, and giving themselves an out no matter how the work goes.

      Every time you have that question, hunt up the latest progress report..

    2. The projects have a year’s float in the schedule for contingencies, so if everything goes well it would open early. I don’t know how much of North Link’s float has been used up. Didn’t the tunnel drilling finish slightly early? In any case, the remaining work is to lay the tracks and signaling system and build the stations. So if all that finishes early then it can open early. University Link opened nine months early I think, or maybe it was six months. So it depends on the original target date. Most changes happen in September and that gives ST more time to achieve the publicized “2021” goal, so I assume that’s the target date. If so then it would have to be nine months early to achieve 2020.

      1. I don’t think they can lay any track until the safety passages every few hundred feet between the tunnels are drilled through and that is expected to take a year after the main boring is complete.

  1. I was surprised to see that ST Route 586 from Tacoma still exists, after the opening of U-Link. It does!

    Comparing travel times, during peak, to UW Station:

    590 & U-Link (transfer at Sodo): 66 minutes
    Sounder & U-Link (transfer at IDS): 76 minutes
    586: 77 minutes

    So why does the 586 continue to run? It is faster to reach North UW Campus, since it exits I-5 at NE 45th and travels down 15th & Pacific to reach UW Station.

    Travel times to NE 43rd St (North campus)
    590 & U-Link & 44/45/etc: 76 minutes
    586: 70 minutes

    When the U District Station opens, ST 586 can be cancelled.

    1. ST has some threshold for truncating bus routes but it hasn’t said what the cutoff is. There may not be any universal cutoff, just a case-by-case basis. What we know for sure is that the 550 will be deleted with East Link, and the 510/511/512 will be truncated with Lynnwood Link. Beyond that ST has released some 2023 planning scenarios but it hasn’t committed to them yet. All the scenarios truncate all routes at Kent – Des Moines (57x and 59x), UW (54x), Lynnwood (51x), and either Mercer Island or South Bellevue (554). So that’s the clearest indication of where ST is headed. CT has stated it will truncate all express routes at Lynnwood or MT, and reroute Swift to 185th Station. Metro and ST have been exploring whether to truncate all I-90 routes and it looks like they will, although it’s uncertain whether it will be Mercer Island or South Bellevue.

      In the interim before 2023 we don’t know what might be truncated. Neither ST nor Metro rerouted any buses to Angle Lake Station (594, 180). That’s probably because the airport is such a major destination for both travelers and workers, and it’s a bit convoluted to get to Angle Lake Station from the east. The 586 situation may be similar: ST may think Angle Lake or SODO are not a strong enough transfer points to force everybody to transfer. Or maybe ST wasn’t sure and it wanted to see how people vote with their feet.

      Metro had a similar situation reorganizing the 520 routes and the 43, 10, and 11. It proposed a complete 520 truncation at UW, but it didn’t get enough feedback from Eastsiders for Metro to be confident about it, so it withdrew all the changes pending a future Eastside restructure. In Capitol Hill Metro went back and fourth with three or four proposals, all of which had an equal number of advantages and disadvantages and the community was divided upon. In the end it made a few smallish changes, and at the last minute rerouted the 10 to John Street. The issue was that Capitol Hill is such a critical high-ridership, low-car area with a challenging geography: the dense areas are in a stick-shift shape, and no route can go straight more than a mile without hitting a barrier. Both Pine and John Streets are critical corridors and it was unclear whether one of them could be downgraded without causing more harm than good. So Metro split the difference with frequent service on both to see how people would vote with their feet. ST may be doing the same with the 586. Or maybe it just hasn’t thought about it enough.

    2. >> Comparing travel times, during peak

      Not everyone travels at peak. The best thing about U-Link – the reason ridership is so high — is because:

      1) There is all day demand
      2) It is faster than driving all day

      That being said, I agree that the 586 should be killed. I’m sure you save a few minutes with an express, but not nearly as much as the old 71/72/73 (versus Link). But they killed those routes and put the service hours into other projects. Some have worked out well, others haven’t. But compared to keeping those, killing the 586 and pushing the service into the 590 (or other projects) is a great trade-off. As it is, the 590 has pretty decent frequency during rush hour (up to every five minutes) but needs a bit more help in the middle of the day and evening. The 586 doesn’t run that often (so you wouldn’t be able to add much) but given the fact that it is exclusively a rush hour bus, and goes farther, it might be possible to stretch out the 590/594 so that you have 15 minute frequency at worse, from 6:00 AM to 1:00 AM.

      Oh,and the 590, despite its all day service (where ridership is bound to take a hit) actually has better (lower) subsidy per rider than the 586. There just aren’t enough riders to justify the express.

      1. The 590 has all-day service? … No, it’s the 594. They’re on the same schedule so it may look like it.

      2. How many riders are on each 586 trip? If they are running half empty buses on average or less then there isn’t much of a case, but if they are 2/3 full or greater it becomes trickier. Note that UW riders are likely well educated and sophisticated at operating politically, complaining to their board members and other elected officials to try to save the service. Basically you are converting a one seat ride to a three seat ride, which is not a winning argument when ridership levels are high. If it’s just a dozen people, then yeah, those people could probably move to a vanpool if they don’t want to transfer.

    3. Any chance of putting the service hours into an express shadow of the 44 or something?

      Or, if the desire for service hours on the Tacoma end, maybe some Sounder feeder service?

    4. There is a parallel with the 158 and 159. Both go from eastern Kent to Kent Station and then express to downtown at the same time Sounder is running. Sounder takes 20 minutes to get to Kent Station while the buses take 45 minutes. So why do the bus routes still exist? I don’t know. It may be to prevent Sounder overcrowding. Or it may be that they’re two routes in one: east Kent to Kent Station, and Kent-Des Moines P&R to downtown. Or it may be Metro bowing to one-seat riders. Although why Metro bows here and not some other places is unclear.

      1. I think its because they need to do an East Hill restructure to kill those routes, and they haven’t done it.

        They could easily take those service hours and roll them into the routes that are their local equivalents and ramp up frequency to feed sounder during peak.

        But there are small segments of those two legacy one-seat ride routes dating back to the mid-1970s when Metro planners were told to just go out there and figure out where to put some commuter routes (see Route 111 Lake Kathleen) that are not covered by their local equivalents… so, community meetings, restructuring, modifying the local routes to cover, etc etc needs to happen. It is important to note that the 162 is finally gone.

  2. And why not monorail?
    What became of the city council discussion about permitting Orca as part of the monorail contract renewal?

  3. Does UW pay per ride or per student? I wonder how many students tap out of the light rail system as cash customers and passholders (other than those at the maximum fare level) are supposed to. It is one of the many non intuitive things about ORCA. If per ride then they may be overpaying substantially.

    1. My guess it is per student. It is like a monthly card. It is nice to tap out (it helps ST get better data) but from a financial standpoint it is meaningless.

    2. Someone said the UW has advertisements asking people to tap out because it lowers the university’s cost.

      1. UW is definitely charged a higher fare when students do not tap off on LINK. I have heard from folks at UW transportation that this is causing enough of a problem to potentially effect the solvency of the student UPASS program in the long term if there is not behavior change on the part of student infrastructure change (turnstiles at stations, anyone?) to encourage tap-offs.

  4. >>Even though you are already pre-paid for unlimited rides on the above services, you still have to tap, as the various agencies use these taps to divvy up their share of the revenue from monthly passes.<<

    What a stupid inconvenience. Why can't they just estimate the share of rides that apply to each agency. What if you're running for the train or whatever and don't have time to stop and tap before you get on?

    It's this kind of garbage that is holding back transit in the region. It shouldn't be the riders responsibility to help determine revenue share for the various agencies. The rider is getting nothing out of that. If they have unlimited rides, they should just be able to keep the card in their wallet if getting on LINK or RapidRide, and only produce it if asked.

    1. “Why can’t they just estimate”

      They have been doing this for the ten years before ORCA launched under the regional pass and transfer program but then they got a technology that can give them a more accurate count of who’s riding whose services and transfers. Surveys are an extra cost and less accurate.

      Tapping takes mere seconds and you shouldn’t run for the train anyway, another one will arrive in a few minutes.

      “holding back transit in the region”

      If agencies can’t get an accurate picture of the revenue they are entitled to, they’ll pull out of the ORCA pass and transfer program and that is far worse for riders. No other multi-agency fare system in North America has as liberal a transfer policy and encompassing pass program as Puget Sound, despite differences in fare structure, because agencies were able to agree on a revenue sharing scheme.

      1. Another won’t be coming in a few minutes at night when they only run every 15 min. And what about the last Link train of the night. And what about Sounder.

        If you get caught not having tapped you shouldn’t be fined because you’re not gaining an advantage by not having tapped.

      2. If the person is catching the last Link train of the night or infrequent services like Sounder, it is their responsibility to know that.

        “If you get caught not having tapped you shouldn’t be fined”

        They’re not going back to the old system of fare surveys and estimates so it’s not going to happen. The fare inspector may give you a warning for the first time. To blow up the system to cater to a minority of cases is just not worth it.

        I think it’s far simpler to tell people with a card to tap every time they ride. No guessing of when to tap and when not to tap.

      3. It’s fine to tell people to tap. It’s not fine to slap them with a $124 fine if they forget, don’t see the reader, or there are two people ahead of them and the train is coming. Those “just a few seconds” add up when you’re waiting behind people. There’s also the fact that some of the readers aren’t positioned in front of you when you’re going in or out to remind you.

      4. I agree with Mike Orr on this one. Gentle reminders, or a more liberal allowance of mess-ups scaled to how often one rides, would be more appropriate than fining a daily commuter who double-taps or fails to tap twice within a year. The system needs tweaked, but calling for not having to tap ever, when your employer or UW has paid for your pass, and you have the best transit system in the US this side of the Mississippi, requires the world’s smallest violin. And never let hypothetical edge cases ruin the whole transit system, as has happened with the continued use of paper transfers and the untold human misery they have caused through longer commutes and service shortages.

        It is hard, though, to blame the passenger for double-tapping, when it is ST that has it within its power to change the tap-off beep to be distinct from the tap-on beep.

        I’ll have more to say on that in a couple months.

  5. Every employer I worked for in Seattle provided a significantly better transit pass deal that UW offers to either students or staff.

    UW is a follower, not a leader.

    1. really? Who did you work for and what did you pay?

      Current Upass fees are $80 / quarter ($27/month) for students and $150 / quarter ($50/ month) for faculty for a pass that would otherwise cost $99 per month.

      Unless you’re a government worker, I suspect your experience is not typical.

      Would be curious to know what other employer subsidies people have experienced. Mine have ranged from about a $45 a month subsidy to nothing.

      1. Fred Hutch provided a free pass. I paid nothing.

        Childrens provided a free pass. A free bicycle if you qualified. Free bike tune-ups. And, in addition, they would pay you significant monthly stipend not to drive.

        As a staff member at UW who rode my bike more than half the time, UW provided no benefit to me at all.

      2. I shouldn’t say no transportation benefit. They did offer a significant subsidy if I wanted to drive and park.

      3. I am not certain I am remembering correctly, but I’m almost positive group health provided a free, unlimited pass as well.

        Perhaps I was simply lucky.

      4. In addition, my current employer (a university), provides a free transit pass to students, faculty and staff.

        Given the traffic and parking pressures in and around the university, it is frankly, startlingly stupid and short-sighted for them not to provide a free pass.

      5. I agree. My wife is a contractor for Microsoft, and they provide a fully-paid-for monthly pass (same level as U-PASS) for free. UW absolutely should do that, subsidized by raising parking rates if needed.

    2. You must have exceptional employers. UW was the only employer I ever had who gave me a transit subsidy. Some others offer me a pre-tax pass but not a subsidy.

    3. If you have a union job, and a free pass from your employer, it is likely the union had to give up something to get that. In that sense, it isn’t really “free”.

      Associated Students of the University of Washington (Seattle) cut a deal to pay a fraction of the cost, so everyone would have a “free” pass. In that sense, it is every bit as “free” as the one from your employer, who controls your wages/salary and benefits.

      But the end result is ideal: There is no upcharge for riding any of the local transit services except Washington State Ferries and the Seattle Center Monorail. (I guess the Seattle Center doesn’t realize how many visitors and customers they are losing by not participating in ORCA and PugetPass. I know I would go there a lot more often if riding the monorail wasn’t an upcharge.)

      1. Also, a lot of those free employer-provided passes don’t cover the full cost of the more expensive services (Sounder, water taxis, and Community Transit commuter buses). UPass does.

      2. TANSTAAFL. Certainly. The issue is a question of incentives.

        I’ve never been a part of a union, but I consider very carefully the full range of benefits when I get a new job: not just salary. I’m not sure most people also do this, but they should.

        What UW is doing is not shaping their benefit and compensation package to provide a particularly strong an incentive to get out of the ol’ SOV, compared to many other much more forward-thinking large employers in the region.

        UW is full of generally young, fit students and largely liberal employee base with incredible transit connections all over the place, as your article points out.

        The opportunity to shape future behavior at a young age and lead by example by providing more liberal transit benefits to faculty and staff than other employers, which provides the right incentive, is massive. And I would argue that massive opportunity is largely a missed.

  6. Excellent article, Brent! It should be incorporated into “New Employee Orientation” as well as “New Student Orientation,” as I don’t think that enough UW folks realize how good a deal they have! In fact, comparing their “deal” to what a handful of employers have might “drive” the point home.

    When I starting working at the UW, the rate for the U-Pass was about to be doubled. Oh, the hue and the cry I heard from my co-workers who rode the bus. But wait, I told them: you’re still paying half of what I was paying with my previous employer, a large private-sector employer, and – for half the monthly cost of what I had been paying – you get to ride on either Metro or Community Transit (yes, this was awhile ago) as opposed to “just” Metro. I was in nirvana, for I happened to lived where both agencies had service at the time, Shoreline, thus I could opt for either agency’s service.

    1. If there really are large employers located in dense parts of the city that aren’t supplying transit benefits, they should be publicly shamed. Call them out!!

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