It wasn’t so long ago that Metro service changes arrived in the dead of night, accompanied mainly by dread about whether your favorite route would be on the chopping block. But it’s amazing what a few years of explosive economic growth will do. County Executive Dow Constantine trumpeted Metro’s service changes starting next Saturday, September 23 in a press release, which noted that this will be the sixth consecutive service change in which Metro adds new service. Between Seattle voters’ approval of Proposition 1 and increased Metro revenues, Metro will be running the most service it’s ever run.
The headline news with this service change is the welcome replacement of the last three “Night Owl” routes with expanded late-night service on selected regular Metro routes. But there are other good changes too, including some real frequency improvements and an encouraging number of well-thought-out “bug fixes.” Learn more about what’s happening below the jump.
Better Night Owls
For decades, Metro had six special “night owl” routes, each running two nightly trips in a loop starting and ending in downtown Seattle. They always had poor ridership, at least partly because they were confusingly different from regular service and few people knew about them. In the major 2012 west-side restructure, Metro replaced owl routes to Ballard (81) and West Seattle (85) with late-night trips on RapidRide C and D and route 120. In its 2014 cuts, Metro eliminated its lone suburban owl route (280), to Bellevue and Renton, without replacement. The survivors are three routes serving parts of north and central Seattle (82, 83, 84) which the City of Seattle saved from elimination in 2014. The City also funded some additional late-night trips on regular routes 7, 36, 49, and RapidRide E.
Now Metro, with additional City of Seattle funding, will eliminate the remaining owl routes and replace them with regular service on major routes. The new service will expand late-night coverage considerably, especially in North Seattle; Northgate and Lake City each get late-night service for the first time. Late-night service (* = new service) will be available on the following routes:
- RapidRide A
- *RapidRide C
- *RapidRide D
- *RapidRide E
- *3 (both north and south portions)
- 124 (extended to Sea-Tac Airport)
In general, this represents a major improvement in late-night service, serving more destinations in a way that’s easier for riders to learn about and understand. But there’s a catch. Although RapidRide C, D, and E will run hourly all night, trips on other routes are timed largely for Metro’s convenience. Frequency on non-RapidRide routes is less than hourly, with some major schedule gaps, especially in the 4:00 a.m. hour. While certain key transfers are well-timed (for example, between routes 70 and 65/67 in the University District), less common transfers may not be practical. The long-term goal of Metro and the City should be to have true hourly service on all high-ridership routes.
Fixing Silly Problems
Perhaps the most encouraging sign in this service change is that Metro has fixed several minor routing annoyances. We love stuff like this, because it makes bus service faster, smoother, easier, and less expensive. Let’s have more of these.
- Route 62 will finally become usable for View Ridge and Sand Point riders nights and weekends! Different routing is needed nights and weekends because Metro is not permitted to access the NOAA campus, where weekday buses lay over and turn around. For the last year, Metro has used a horrific loop, which required View Ridge riders to walk half a mile, and eastbound Sand Point riders to walk nearly half a mile or wait through a layover. This nightmare is over. Route 62 buses will use NE 65th St in both directions all the way to Sand Point, will lay over at Sand Point Way and NE 74th St, and will use 62nd Ave NE to turn around. This is such a sensible solution that it probably ought to be used on weekdays for consistency
- Speaking of Route 62, it will drop its unique northbound routing through downtown on 1st Ave to make room for Center City Connector construction. This should improve northbound reliability, but may inconvenience some riders who need to use an accessible route to climb from Colman Dock to 3rd Ave.
- Route 60 and Route 124 will no longer use Carleton Ave S, a residential street with several traffic circles, to travel northbound through Georgetown. Instead, they will use arterial Corson Ave S, one block to the west. Southbound, they will remain on Ellis Ave S. This change should speed service and improve access to South Seattle College’s Duwamish campus.
- Route 106 will stay on Rainier Ave S near Mount Baker Transit Center when going southbound, instead of deviating through the transit center. This will save up to 3 minutes per trip in the southbound direction, without any significant drawbacks.
15-Minute Routes 60 and 169
Route 60 is an L-shaped route connecting Capitol Hill, First Hill, Beacon Hill, Georgetown, South Park, and White Center, with connections to Link at Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill. It currently runs every 20 minutes during most of the day weekdays, but will improve to every 15 minutes between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Weekend and night frequency won’t change. Unfortunately, this frequency increase is not quite as useful as it could be. 15 Av S in Beacon Hill is one of route 60’s higher-ridership segments, and shares that part of its routing with route 107. The schedules of routes 60 and 107 are not well coordinated along this segment, even though both will now run every 15 minutes during peak hour and every 30 minutes at night. Good trip spacing in this segment would make for much more usable Link connections in Beacon Hill.
Route 169 is a major trunk route connecting Kent East Hill and Valley Hospital to both Renton and downtown Kent. It has been one of the highest-ridership routes in South King County for many years, and serves areas with a high and increasing proportion of low-income residents, but has never had frequency higher than 30 minutes. Metro will finally begin providing 15-minute service on weekdays between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
There are a couple of other Kent-based routes that, based on ridership, warrant the same improvement: routes 164 and 180. Neither is known to be slated for 15-minute service, but we can hope.
All-day Route 269
Route 269, connecting Sammamish to Issaquah and Overlake, is one of four peak-only routes that currently serve Sammamish. (It also provides a fast express connection between Overlake and Bear Creek.) Despite all the peak coverage, Sammamish currently has no all-day regular service. Metro will now provide 30-minute service during weekday middays on route 269, offering connections to all-day trunk routes at Issaquah Highlands P&R and Overlake. Sammamish will still have no weekend or night service.
Metro, with some funding assistance from the City of Seattle, is sprinkling quite a few additional trips throughout the network to relieve overcrowding, improve span of service, or improve frequency. Those are as follows:
New peak trips to reduce crowding: 3S, 7, 17, 28, 40, 44, 55, 62, 65, 67, 114, 131, 240, 301, 346
New night (non-owl) trips to improve night frequency or span: 3S, 4S, 41, 50
New trips to provide earlier weekend morning service: 3/4N, 8, 14, 41, 48, 65, 67, 70