CenturyLink Field from 4th & Weller (Image: Bruce Englehardt)

Metro will no longer operate shuttle service from several park-and-rides to Seahawks games at CenturyLink Field.

The news came in an email from the Seahawks to season ticket holders:

The Federal Transit Administration has ruled that Metro Transit is no longer permitted to operate its game day bus service from the Eastgate, South Kirkland and Northgate park-and-ride lots. Seahawks fans that normally use this bus service will need to find alternate means of getting to CenturyLink Field for Seahawks games.

There are a number of great alternatives already in place, including regular Metro service, Sound Transit ST Express buses, Sounder Trains, and Light Rail service.

To find the best mode of transportation to CenturyLink Field on gamedays, visit Metro’s Trip Planner. Enter your address and find schedule information for transit options throughout the Puget Sound.

Long-time readers and Seahawks fans will recall that FTA rules restricting shuttle operations to sports events are not new. In 2008, the FTA declared that public transit operators could not operate shuttles to sports events if a private charter operator was willing to do so. After a charter operator entered the market, Metro was unable to offer game-day shuttles. Metro shuttles were restored in 2010, thanks to an appropriations bill amendment inserted by Senator Patty Murray. The amendment granted Metro an exemption from the FTA rule. The charter operators who had briefly taken Metro’s place were more expensive, less convenient to access, and did not accommodate handicapped fans. A subsequent lawsuit by charter operators against the Murray amendment was unsuccessful.

Metro’s exemption expired in 2016. During the 2016 season and early 2017 season, as Metro spokesperson Jeff Switzer explained to us, the Seahawks contracted for game-day operations and that partner subcontracted to Metro. The Seahawks now appear to have ended the arrangement with their contractor.

On September 14, it was announced that Metro would no longer operate the shuttle from Northgate, where a private shuttle would operate instead. At that time, Metro said their buses would continue to operate as usual from South Kirkland and Eastgate. On September 28, news came that Metro shuttle service to the Colts game on Sunday October 1 was cancelled after the Seahawks declined to contract for shuttle service to that game. On Wednesday afternoon, Seahawks season ticket holders received the email that no Metro shuttle would operate in future. That information was also posted on the Seahawks website (though not prominently, scroll to ‘Metro bus services’ and see if you notice).

While they operated, Metro shuttles served South Kirkland, Eastgate, and Northgate, with direct service to CenturyLink Field. Service generally began two hours before the scheduled kickoff, and the last bus from the stadium would leave 45 minutes after the end of the game. Customers could buy a $8 round-trip voucher to ride the buses. The Seahawks were responsible for covering any difference between the cost of the service and the fares paid.

The Huskies continue to employ Metro shuttles from several locations, but have contracted with private operators for shuttles from Shoreline and Northgate for the 2017 season.

The Seahawks have made no further announcements about alternatives to the Metro shuttles other than pointing their fans to regular transit service. That will almost surely be too sparse to handle demand for Sunday events in particular.

[Update: At the Seattle Times, David Gutman reports this afternoon that Metro reiterates they could have continued to operate as a subcontractor, just as they did in 2016 and earlier this year. The Seahawks insist that the federal regulation has changed, though they’re hazy on when it happened].

37 Replies to “Metro Shuttle Service to Seahawks Games Ends”

  1. To find the best mode of transportation to CenturyLink Field on gamedays, visit Metro’s Trip Planner. Enter your address and find schedule information

    Bad advice. Someone that previously drove from their home in Sammamish to the Eastgate P&R will note that the trip planner returns no results if they punch in their address.
    Alas, OTP supports the “drive to a P&R” model but ST and Metro are hell bent on building their own trip planners.

    1. From the article, it seems like it’d be 100%. “The Seahawks were responsible for covering any difference between the cost of the service and the fares paid.”

      1. This link from 2008 indicates that, at the time, customer fares paid covered about 70% of costs, with the balance being made up by the Seahawks (less a credit from Metro for promoting bus use). Once the arrangement shifted in 2016, so Metro was a subcontractor, they were probably paid a wholesale rate from the primary contractor.

    2. I was going to say that but I think AlexKven was referring to how much of the cost the $4 fare covered. That may be a trade secret for the Seahawks.

      1. Exactly. On the one hand, these shuttles can’t be cheap to operate as you need bus after bus after bus for each park and ride. But if they are filled to the brim with people paying $4, it’s not hard to imagine an arrangement with 100% farebox recovery. I think a more sensible rule (if there must be one) would be to allow the shuttles if they are self-funding, essentially making Metro one of the players in the market with private shuttles.

      2. Exactly. On the one hand, these shuttles can’t be cheap to operate as you need bus after bus after bus for each park and ride. But if they are filled to the brim with people paying $4, it’s not hard to imagine an arrangement with 100% farebox recovery. I think a more sensible rule (if there must be one) would be to allow the shuttles if they are self-funding, essentially making Metro one of the players in the market with private shuttles.

      3. “I think a more sensible rule (if there must be one) would be to allow the shuttles if they are self-funding, essentially making Metro one of the players in the market with private shuttles.”

        Operationally, that looks a lot like what they did in 2016 after the exemption expired. Metro didn’t compete directly, but provided buses to a contractor who dealt with the Seahawks.

        The part of this story most unclear in the Seahawks statement is that the rules haven’t changed this year. The Seahawks may have gotten some fresh legal advice, or (more likely) there may be a private operator in the wings asking that Metro exit. But it’s not a fresh FTA rule.

  2. Europe would never not build a subway station at a stadium or not have bus shuttles to it because a private operator said they want to provide luxury shuttles and this would cut into their business. Public transportation is supposed to be the primary way to get around, a choice that’s always available. If Metro can’t provide extra service for crowds because a private operator wants the business, then isn’t that like prohibiting a new bus route because Uber says it would cut into their market? This FTA rule is stupid and needs to go. We should be encouraging more comprehensive transit, not hindering it. My conspiracy side wonders if a change in administration and FTA administrator has anything to do with enforcing it now.

    If people can’t fit on the regular buses and don’t want to pay the private shuttle fare, then should we build another parking lot at the stadiums? Will there be a ballot measure for that in the next election?

    1. Another thing some German cities do for conventions is, your ticket doubles as a transit pass for the day of the event. I think they do it for sports events too although I don’t remember for sure. It’s similar to the “Don’t build a large factory or industrial district unless there’s high-capacity transit to it as part of the plan.” In this case it’s “Don’t have a large event without including transit to it.” In this case the ticket is like a prepaid U-Pass and most people are expected to take transit to the event, so therefore the transit agencies must arrange the capacity for them. Anything that involves tens of thousands of people going to the same place at the same time is by definition “mass” and thus needs mass transit for the size of the crowd.

      1. They definitely do that for sporting events. Like everyone else on this blog today, I haven’t been to a SeaHawk game (in recent memory). But I know that in years past, your ticket works for riding Metro to a Husky football game.

      2. In the 2000s in Portland, tickets for games at PGE Park (now Providence Park) were a TriMet day pass. If Im not mistaken it went away about 10 years ago.

  3. Ok, so if a crush-loaded articulated bus can carry 60 people, and there are 4 such buses running per hour to the eastside (2 550’s, 2 554’s, since the Seahawks usually play on Sunday), that translates into a maximum of 240 Seahawks fans per hour that can ride the bus. Actually, less than that, since some of the seats are going to be taken by people getting on back at Westlake who aren’t going to the game.

    So, if 24,000 Seahawks fans each game live on the Eastside (which seems plausible for stadium with 67,000 seats), this means that the mode-share of public transportation, at least for the eastside, is officially capped at 1%. The other 99% will either need to drive or arrive at the game way early and leave way late. In other words, FAIL.

    If the law won’t allow Sound Transit to run special shuttles, can they at least add more buses to the regular routes which serve the stadium? The idea of forcing everybody into their cars simply because the buses have no room for them is downright ridiculous.

    1. And, of course, the irony, that additional trips on regular routes would likely have *lower* farebox recovery rates than the special shuttles, because they would charge only regular Metro fare, rather than the premium shuttle fare.

      This is a perfect example of “big government” imposing needless regulations, which one would think, the Republican party would support eliminating, if they were ideologically consistent. In actuality, of course, what they’d rather see is complete elimination of federal support for transit altogether.

      1. This IS a Republican regulation.

        It was originally put in place because the R’s didn’t want a “Government subsidized” service to take business away from “private enterprise.”

        But I always thought the shuttles stunk anyhow. Much better to take LR. It is the only mode that isn’t impacted (much) by congestion around the stadiums.

      2. The real loss is the added congestion of all those needless additional cars on the road now. Its the efficiency of moving 100 people in the space of 2-3 cars that is transit’s indisputable strength.

    2. Not that it makes a big difference, but with standees up to ~85 people can fit on a 60′ bus. There are ~56 seats IIRC depending on the exact model.

  4. How many people were riding the shuttles operated by Metro and were they operating at capacity? Kind of an important bit of info I think. If they weren’t being used then this isn’t really news.

    1. Judging from the standing room only on the 550 Sunday afternoons on game day, as well as the number of buses Metro dedicated to the shuttles, they must be full.I used to think peak expresses were little used and found the 218, 74 etc are choc-full. People haven’t turned to transit for most of their trips but they’ve started using it to go to Seattle peak hours and going to ballgames when there’s an extremely high number of cars on the road.

      1. I know people take transit to the games. I can’t remember the last time I drove to sporting event and I’ve been on many a crush-loaded main-line bus or train for games, but I’m less familiar with the shuttles for the ‘Hawks games. I’m not doubting that the shuttles are a good thing in concept but there should be some data to support that they actually are. Surely Metro has data for the ridership on the shuttle routes?

      2. I haven’t seen the shuttles at the remote P&Rs so I don’t know. I’m just going by the number of special buses I see lined up empty at stadiums on game days, The place where I see live fans is on Link, the 550, and last time the B. As I’m coming home from work on weekdays, or going to Costco on the weekend or evening, I see them filling up Link. When it’s only a few people I look at the jerseys to determine whether there’s a game coming: if there’s more than two or three of the same color then there must be a game. The Sounders fans seem to be the most numerous on Link, maybe.

      3. Yes, I’ve not been on the shuttles. But they look really full exiting South Kirkland. Regular Metro service runs full on the corresponding routes, so there’s not meaningful spare capacity there.

    2. I’ve been a rider on the Seahawks shuttle from both the Kirkland and Eastgate P&R lots. Always were full and standing room only. Both to the game and back.
      For an Eastside attendee, there isn’t a viable mass transit option to get to the game beyond driving to a light rail station around Seattle. That doesn’t do much for reducing car traffic in the area.

      1. At least on Sundays, parking at UW station is free. Although obviously, that lot does not scale well enough to handle all 67000 fans, and you need to check the UW event calendar before using it.

  5. Seems to me that Metro and ST could create what looks like a shuttle in practice, but is on paper a “regularly-scheduled service” that is scheduled to operate only on game days. Wouldn’t even have to have regular route numbers or follow the regular route alignments. If we know the general public is demanding a certain level of service at certain times on certain days, we can schedule our service to suit. We do it in the peak periods…

    Of course, the issue for Metro is that it doesn’t make money on service. Every hour operated is a net loss and cost to taxpayers. So it has to balance where and when it provides service, given its relatively fixed revenue streams. Starting from today’s baseline, should Metro add such shuttle services? Or should it add service elsewhere where its needed?

  6. The charter bus service rules have been around for decades and thus have gone through both Democratic and Republicon administrations. Senator Murray’s carve-out exception, accomplished via an amendment added to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2010, essentially blocked the FTA was enforcing the rule against KCM by prohibiting funds to be used for such an action. I believe it was intended to be a short-term remedy for the then current fiscal year but survived thru successive years largely due to Congress’ inability to pass the necessary department appropriations bills through regular order. I was never a supporter of the methodology Senator Murray’s provision utilized.

    Here’s a link to the appellate court decision that reversed the DC district court in the matter of American Bus Assoc. v. Rogoff, et al.

    https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/cadc/10-5213/10-5213-1313036-2011-06-14.html

    Here’s a link to the relevant FTA regulations, Title 49, part 604.

    https://www.transit.dot.gov/regulations-and-guidance/access/charter-bus-service/charter-bus-service-regulations-0

    Finally, here’s a link to the history of these regulations from the Federal Register.

    https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2008/01/14/08-86/charter-service#h-10

    1. Worth noting the wheelchair access issue. If the private operator cannot offer wheelchair access and the metro operator *can*, then the FTA regulation cannot legally apply, because the ADA overrules it.

      Hopefully any new private charter operator would be using fully wheelchair-accessible buses. Anything else would be grounds for a discrimination lawsuit against the Seahawks.

  7. This really is a stupid law, and could easily be fixed. Just add the phrase “if the private company can provide the same service for the same cost”.

    But most people have no idea about the law, or why the shuttles will go away. They will likely blame Metro, and that is a problem. We need to make ti clear that the reason that the shuttles are gone is because of a stupid law, and try to get Congress to fix it.

  8. David Gutman is reporting on the Seattle Times that Metro believes they could have continued to operate as a subcontractor, just as they did last year.

    The Seahawks are still insisting that the federal regulation has changed, though they’re hazy on when it happened.

    1. Huh? I’d love to hear the Seahawks expand on their reply. As far as I know, the final rule following the agency’s Feb 2007 NPRM was signed off on by the administrator in January 2008. That’s the last major revision to Title 49 part 604 regulations that I’m aware of.

    1. That chapter of the code only references buses and vans, I think because Sounder would be FRA jurisdiction rather than the FTA? It does seem inconsistent, though I don’t suppose an analogous situation with competing rail operators would arise very often.

      1. FTA is the one providing funding for the agency, regardless.

        Very important events, including the Belmont Stakes, have train service. If it isn’t important enough to have train service then it can’t be important enough to subsidize service to it.

        Or a public service isn’t being rendered if it isn’t by train if it is a special event.

        Or something.

        Basically, the rule exists because charter bus companies had a lawsuit, but they know that no charter bus company is able to do what Long Island Rail Road or other passenger railroads do, so they don’t bother trying.

  9. How awful it is when we’re required to pretend to be stupid, by law.

    “Market forces” would ideally include the public sector, but that would take away the opportunity to divert consumer money from consumer intentions, which after all is the entire objective of private enterprise.

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