Credit: Sound Transit. The routes are listed in declining order of aggregate score..

Beyond 2018, Sound Transit plans to stop expanding ST Express and Sounder services to focus on light rail expansion and bus route restructures, according to the recently released 2018 Sound Transit’s Service Implementation Plan (SIP) draft.

“The extensions will be the catalyst for changes in the bus network around the light rail extension and its stations,” according to the 245-page plan. A major restructuring of buses that cross Interstate 90 and SR 520 are planned for 2018 and 2019 respectively.

The SIP includes in-depth route and corridor performance data across the agency’s system. Here some highlights.

ST Express Bus Routes

Sound Transit operates 28 bus routes in the region and the 2018 SIP analyzes each route, ranking them by boardings per revenue hour, boardings per trip, subsidy per boarding, and passenger miles per platform vehicle mile.

Route 550, Bellevue to Seattle, was the agency’s top-ranked bus route, while route 560, Westwood Village to Bellevue, rounded out the list in last place.

Sound Transit said the agency uses these rankings to determine what routes might receive service enhancements, if funds are available, or be considered for elimination or restructuring. Sound Transit, which added 15,000 service hours to ST Express in 2017, currently has no plans to invest any more in the coming years, according to the SIP.

On Route 550, which has an average of 10,754 daily weekday boardings so far in 2017, ridership has increased 11.5% since 2014. Weekend ridership hasn’t changed much since 2014, growing roughly 2.5% on Saturday and less than 1% on Sunday.

The average subsidy for the route is $3.03. According to Sound Transit, only one eastbound afternoon trip exceeds capacity.

The Lynnwood to Seattle, route 511, which sees roughly 2,000 boardings each weekday, was ranked second in performance by Sound Transit. Ridership along this route has barely grown in the last three years, adding just 22 boardings since 2014. The subsidy for the route, which offers no weekend service, is estimated at $1.94, the lowest fare subsidy in Sound Transit’s system.

Eastside routes tended to perform well, with the 545 Redmond to Seattle route and the 522 Woodinville to Seattle routes ranked in the 1st quartile. All the routes in the top seven began or ended in Seattle except route 532 (Everett to Bellevue).

Weekday ridership on the worst performing line, route 560, has declined 8.2% since 2014. The average subsidy for the route is $8.01. Weekend ridership has also taken a hit, with Saturday boardings down 22.3% and 14.4% on Sundays.

Also towards the bottom of the list is route 586, Tacoma to the U. District, ranked 27th out of 28 in performance. In 2017 the daily weekday boardings for the route averaged 457, with ridership on the route declining 25% since 2014. Route 586 has the highest fare subsidy estimated at $10.76.

Other U. District routes, including route 540 to Kirkland and route 541 to Overlake, also ended up at the bottom of the list.

Credit: Sound Transit

Central Link

Ridership on Link continues to rise with average weekday boardings increasing by 16% in the second quarter of 2017 compared to the same quarter in 2016. In 2016 Sound Transit opened the University Link extension, which now accounts for nearly a quarter of boardings. Westlake remains the busiest, experiencing roughly 11,500 boardings during the week in the second quarter in 2017, up 15.5% compared to the same quarter in the previous year.

At all stations, except for the Tukwila/International Blvd and SeaTac/Airport stations, boardings continue to rise. Boardings at the Airport decreased by almost 15% since 2016.

Sound Transit contributes some of the dwindling ridership at the Tukwila Station to the opening of the Angle Lake Station which resulted in riders switching to that station, using it as a park-and-ride alternative to the Tukwila station. That new station might also account for declining ridership at the Airport Station.

“While we can’t say with absolute certainty, we believe that the opening of Angle Lake station shifted access and connection patterns in the southern part of the Link,” wrote Kimberly Reason, spokesperson for Sound Transit, in an email. “For example, it’s likely the case that some riders who used to access Link at SeaTac and/or Tukwila light rail stations shifted to Angle Lake.”

Weekend ridership is also increasing on Link with the average weekend boarding doubling since 2014. And in just the last year, the average Saturday boardings rose 23.5% with Sunday boardings jumping 31.3%.

Sound Transit estimates the average fare subsidy per boarding in 2016 for the Link was $2.78.

Tacoma Link

Ridership on the Tacoma Link system was down 3% between 2014 and 2016, but in 2017 boardings across the system rose 3% over 2016 levels.

Weekday boardings in 2017 are up almost 5% compared to 2016, with weekend ridership showing strong growth with boardings up over 50 percent on both Saturday and Sunday. Sound Transit estimates the subsidy along the line averages $4.10.

Sounder Commuter Rail

Along the north line, weekday boardings have increased 46% between 2014 to 2016. Ridership has since flattened to 1,676 average weekday boardings so far in 2017, an increase of just 1.7% over the previous year. Sound Transit estimates the line’s subsidy per boarding is $11.45.

On the south line, which has over double the stops and nine times the ridership, ridership expanded by 28 percent between 2014 and 2016. Sound Transit said that trend is continuing with average weekday boardings growing 4% between 2016 and 2017. Two round trips were added in September 2017, to combat overcrowding after two trips were found to exceed capacity. The line’s estimated subsidy is $6.67.

88 Replies to “Sound Transit Ranks Bus Routes”

  1. So they conclude that suburban stations with nothing around them (angle lake) don’t add new riders. Go figure!

    Thanks for the millions for free parking to make that happen. Free to take a car there and store it all day, but you’d have to pay for a bus ride.

    1. Looks to me like Angle Lake’s 3579 daily ridership is substantially more than the decrease of 1182 at Airport and TIB, though, so I don’t think it’s accurate to say it didn’t add any new riders.

    2. Actually, that’s not correct. While Intl Blvd and Airport lost ~1250 riders, Angle Lake gained over 3000, so there was a visible net increase.

    3. I wonder how the operating costs and subsidies are calculated. I’ve noticed that the ST Link monthly ridership report totals don’t necessarily mirror farebox recovery percentages, for example.

      I think ST is attributing more than typical percentages of overhead to higher ridership lines and modes. Doing that keeps low productivity routes from looking as bad, but it also diminishes the performance of some very productive routes!

      1. Some of the better performing routes are rush hour only. It could be that those runs have an associated cost that is higher, because it is actually more expensive to run them. In other words, maybe the numbers are pretty accurate.

      2. Comparing rush-hour routes with all-day routes is not a very logical thing to do. If they are to be compared, ST should probably separate the all-day route data into peak and non-peak.

      3. Yeah, I was going to say the same thing. I may, in it’s own thread. Some of these comparisons are apples and oranges, to say the least.

    4. In fact, I figure that the 2 years I spent commuting into Seattle from Tacoma via transit instead of driving saved me about $7,000 out of pocket from not having to pay for gas and maintenance. Granted that was because I used an employer provided transit pass — wouldn’t have been that much if I purchased monthly passes.

      1. It would have been substantially less of a savings (although still a decent amount) – if you just took ST buses, your 24-month cost would have been $3,240; if you used Sounder it would have been $4,536. Still worth doing, IMHO, as you’d still be saving at least $100/month based on your estimate.

        After our firm moved downtown and I no longer needed to drive most days, I find I end up filling up the tank every 3-4 weeks. That’s a nice savings right there, saved maintenance costs aside!

    5. Steven has a little bit of a point when the net gain on daily rides is roughly twice the number of new parking stalls.

      1. ST is not reporting complete station ridership numbers here; they are merely reporting the boardings. The actual station use could be estimated by doubling the boardings. That means that lots of riders are not coming from parking stalls unless the stalls are completely turning over during the day.

        I’ve read other posts talking about Angle Lake as a popular place for riders getting dropped off and picked up. ST hasn’t seemed to report about how people are getting to the station yet.

  2. With opening of light rail along some of ST’s best corridors, many bus hours will become available to supplement poorly-performing routes. Some of the worst-performing routes suffer from poor timing and not enough trips to be convenient. If we boosted service levels to make the bus a convenient option, more people would take it. We’ll get higher capacity and more frequent service from Link on the most successful routes and, hopefully, increased service levels that would induce transit use on some of the more poorly-performing routes. I really can’t wait for the upcoming Link segments to open up (which will make getting to Seattle more convenient) and the subsequent bus restructures from both ST & Metro.

    Please don’t rule out routes like Lakewood-Puyallup (or maybe a resurrection of Tacoma-Puyallup-Auburn), as traffic has gotten pretty bad in the past few years in the South Sound, to the point where we may be hitting a tipping point for commuters to switch to transit, if it is available and convenient. Service every 30 to 60 minutes won’t cut it for most people. We need to see 10 to 15 minute headways during rush hour. Do that, and we might start to see a switch to transit use in our second city & south suburbs.

    1. Not to be pedantic, but if by “second city” you mean Tacoma, that is only a chronological reference. If you mean by ridership, Bellevue is da Second City.

  3. I’d glad to see every single one of the 1st quartile routes corresponds to a ST3 project.

    Looking at the two largest subsidy/boarding
    592 – that includes non-ST funding from Thurston County, right?
    586 – once U-District station opens, can ST get ride of this route? It seems these riders would be able to take the 590 (or Sounder) and just transfer to Link.

    I wonder why the 550 has a much higher subsidy than the higher performing I5 routes. It’s the most “full” of all the routes – does it require more schedule padding? Or is the fare cheaper because it’s an intracounty route?

      1. I agree that route 586 should go away after Northgate Link opens, but right now, every extra peak trip added to the Central Business District impacts travel speed through downtown for all the buses, and it is close to maximum load.

        Seattle is planning to buy more runs on downtown routes, but hasn’t yet made plans for how downtown could absorb the extra trips.

      2. It isn’t clear whether you would need to do anything though. The 586 doesn’t have that many riders. It is quite possible that the 590 (or the train) could absorb the new riders without additional runs. There is also little added value to adding runs to the 590 during rush hour, because it runs very frequently then (about every five minutes).

        I could see shifting service to the 574. This keeps the cuts and shifts in one area (Tacoma). It also makes for a logical shift. Folks who used to have the express to the UW have to shift to taking Link, and they would make that shift at SeaTac, not downtown. Right now, the 574 is a half hour bus. With a shift in service, I think you could make it a 15 minute bus during rush hour (both directions) which I assume would be a very welcome change.

    1. Eliminating the 586, and supplementing with even better service on the 59x series is the type of improvement that will benefit riders. I appreciate a one-seat ride, but prefer transit that comes frequently enough that I don’t worry about the schedule and missing the next bus.

      Terminating the 574 at Angle Lake (and in future years, wherever Link terminates further south) wouldn’t be bad, either, as it would cut bus hours/miles and eliminate a number of unproductive stops and traffic signals along the route. I’m sure that riders who carry excessive luggage to flights disagree with my view on this.

    2. The I-5 routes are longer, too. They have somewhat higher fares because they cross the county line, but not enough to make up the whole difference.

      There are a bunch of differences between the routes. I’m pretty sure the 510, 511, 512, and 513 are operated by CT, while I think the 550 is operated by KCM; cost differences there could make all the difference. Similarly, the 550 uses the tunnel in downtown Seattle; IIRC the tunnel is owned by KCM and ST has to pay them to use it, so those costs probably get assigned to the 550 also.

      The 510 and 511 are peak-only routes (the 512 replaces them off-peak), while the 550 runs the same route all day; there could be differences in how layover and deadheading are accounted because of that — for example, I think that some (though probably not all) buses that just finished a peak-hour 510/511 run turn around and run as the 512 counter-peak, and it’s possible fewer of the layover hours are counted for the 510/511 because of that. To really compare costs between these routes I think you’d need to consider the 510, 511, and 512 as a unit.

    3. The 550 runs in the DSTT (the only ST Express route to do so) so it’s possible that ST is attributing a share of tunnel overhead costs (security, etc.) to the 550’s operating costs, which would drive up the subsidy per boarding relative to (for example) the 545.

    4. There’s also the DSTT’s debt. King County owns the tunnel but ST is paying for the 550’s portion of the debt. When buses leave the tunnel ST will own it completely and pay all the debt.

  4. My guess is the lack of ridership growth in the 511 is because the P&R has been tapped out for years. It will only get ridership growth if CT is able to boost feeder service, or if development within walking distance of the transit center finally gets built.

    1. I believe the 402/422 added a few runs just this late summer? I frequently mix and match 402/422/511 so I’m not sure how to evaluate the 511 by itself in separation from the other 2.

      1. Ah, that’s a good point. When there is a metro or CT route that is effectively parallel to a ST route, you really need to look at them in total.

        The 554 is similar – there are a number of Metro routes that end up absorbing a chunk of the peak demand between Seattle and Eastgate, and as a rider it’s pretty much irrelevant whether your catching a ST or Metro bus.

  5. 1. Where’s the calculation for how much extra subsidy each route would cost the system in lost ridership and general efficiency if it got canceled?

    2. Where and when do we see calculation in cost per minute of operating time lost over matters precisely like collection via farebox? Or for every other reason.

    3. What’s taxpayer subsidy for every single boarding per automobile passenger trip in the ST service area?

    4. And same question as all above: How much subsidy would be saved per trip if every agency whose fare complications damage transit service every way possible, considered themselves part of a single region-wide entity?

    In the “Peter Pan” story, every time someone says there’s no such thing as the cute twinkly little-folk, one of them dies. And every time someone officially transit-connected calls separate agencies the Divine Plan,
    service starts to smell like it also got left in the sun for a month.

    Mark Dublin

  6. Route 560 is a curious problem. At what point does it get rethought? Are some segments more productive than others? Should it stay on the freeway more or move to arterials more?

    It and other low-ranking routes point to the complications of having an ST route where Link or more frequent Metro service is a reasonable choice even with a transfer.

    1. Route 560 has been re-thought several times, usually making the route shorter.

      It went all the way downtown a long time ago. Then it only extended to the Alaska Junction, via Fauntleroy Ferry Dock.

      Shortening the route did nothing for performance.

      1. When the 560 actually served West Seattle instead of just crossing the city limits then turning around, it used to be my go-to method for getting to the airport. Now transit to the airport is just not an option for me.

      2. A major problem with the 560 is going through Renton’s surface streets, which are a service-hour black hole. 405 BRT will have freeway stations I think.

      3. Mike Orr, the 560 routing is one reason I always waited for the 564/565/566 when I lived in Renton. The 560 always meant a number of extra unwanted stops and delays in Kennydale and South Bellevue.

    2. Maybe breaking it in two might help, with both routes turning around at SeaTac.

      [Anecdote alert] Whenever I’ve ridden the 560 from Bellevue to the airport, pretty much the entire bus turns over in Renton. Very few people were riding the bus all the way from Bellevue to SeaTac, let alone west Seattle.

      1. This is one of the reasons I am disappointed that 405 BRT is heading to Seatac instead of turning south on 167 and heading to Kent / Auburn. The direct access HOV ramps from 405 to 167 and the new location of Renton Transit Center would both make that a better route to serve.

        While there are occasional riders from Bellevue to Seatac (me included), the investments in the BRT corridor would have served a lot more daily commuters who use 167 and 405.

      2. No. Do not extend Route 180 any further. It is already ridiculously slow and never on time because of its length and topsy turvy routing down every side street in south King County.

      3. @KB – the 405 BRT is going to Burien, not SeaTac, I believe.

        I agree the 167 corridor is a super valuable corridor, and ST will certainly provide routes along that corridor. But that’s a separate corridor than the 405 corridor connecting Renton to SeaTac/Burien.

        Also, I wouldn’t want any bus that’s going form Auburn/Kent to Bellevue to stop at the Renton TC – you want that bus sticking to the HOV lane the entire way through Renton, not getting bogged down getting on & off the freeway. A Kent-Renton trip pair is better served by a “local” metro route.

      4. The fact that the bus turns over in Renton is not really a surprise. It basically means people are riding the bus for trips where travel time is comparable with driving, and are not riding the bus otherwise. If the bus didn’t slog through Renton, more people would ride it to the airport.

        How those numbers would compare with the ons and offs in Renton, I don’t know. But, at the end of the day, people will ride the bus when they’re making a trip where the bus doesn’t add an unreasonable amount of extra time.

      5. For Bellevue-Airport the 560 is competing with 550+Link. The travel time is slightly longer but both of them are more frequent than the 560, and some people don’t get an opportunity to use Link except when they’re going to the airport.

  7. I expect improved investment in route 180 to further undermine 560’s anemic west-half ridership. Route 120 serves the corridor more frequently, but those going to jobs at the airport have to make a clunky transfer at the Burien Unwanted Pedestrian Containment Facility.

    Route 560 now skips one of its previously better-boarding stops at the de facto White Center transfer center. It goes a little faster by doing so, but it also protects the lilly-white ridership from West Seattle that still wish they could board along California Ave SW from having to share their bus with the ridership of color on route 120.

    At least now, the two routes share a stop at what had previously been a situation where the buses of pallor all stopped at the south end of Westwood and the buses of color stopped at the north end of Westwood.

    With the ST3 vote over, the ST Board is less wedded to getting votes from riders who only use ST to travel to the airport a couple times a year (and could take route 50 – which is due for further investment — or route 21 to Link). The future of the western half of route 560 is to better serve daily work commuters, or give up the ghost in favor of 120/180 and 21/50-Link.

    I’m still a fan of 120 all the way to the airport, if layover issues can be dealt with. The airport and Link connection are a much stronger southern anchor for ridership than just swanky downtown Burien. The jobs also pay better in SeaTac.

    1. How was it intended to fail?

      The 560 is descended from Metro’s 360, which in the 1980s ran from Shoreline P&R to Bothell, Bellevue, Renton, Sea-Tac, and Burien. ST split it into two, the 560 and 535. The 560 extended to West Seattle to get ST service into West Seattle and give some benefit to the North King subarea. The part between Bothell and Shoreline P&R was reassigned to other Metro routes.

      1. Speaking of the 535… We still don’t have Sunday service after it was cut during the recession and Saturday service is hourly. Are we really going to have to wait for I-405 BRT to get any meaningful improvement to service in this corridor?

      2. Those service hours need to come from somewhere! Maybe when East Link opens, some of those 550 hours can do things like expand sunday service.

      3. Sorry, 340, not 360. The 340 was the Shoreline-Bellevue-Burien express. (And the only Eastside route that was half-hourly midday, although the 226 and 235 combined for half-hourly between Seattle and downtown Bellevue. Everything else was hourly.) The 240 was a local shadow between Bellevue and Burien. Then the 240 was split into 240 Bellevue-Renton and 140 Renton-Burien, and then the 140 became the F. The 560 is the ST route.

        The 360 was the Aurora express, alongside the 6 and 359. These were consolidated into the 358, and the E replaced that.

      4. I agree. With just passed ST3, and I do find it disappointing that ST express isn’t getting one dollar of the additional money. By contrast, one year after ST2 passed, lots of new service was already on the road, including peak-hour service on the 578 and 15-minute Saturday frequency on the 550.

        Since around 2010’ish, ST has gradually been shifting its resources (at least in the bus department) towards more rush hour service, at the expense of all-day service, particularly evening/weekend service. During the recession, the 554 was cut to hourly on weekends before 10 AM and after 7 PM, while Sunday service on the 535 was eliminated entirely. Fast forward to the booming economy of 2017, and neither of these cuts have been restored. The 545 and 550 have gained numerous peak-hour trips in the intervening years, along with with the introduction of the peak-oriented 541 and 542. Meanwhile, the evening/weekend service in the Redmond->Seattle corridor is virtually unchanged from 2005, complete with hourly weekend service after about 8 PM. Even the 510/511/512 restructure was ultimately a shift of resources from off-peak to peak (even though off-peak service did benefit from the change). At the same time, off-peak service was eliminated entirely on the 540, and nearly eliminated on the 566, which now has multi-hour midday gap, when it used to run every 30 minutes all-day long, even into the early evening (last trip around 9 PM).

        In fact, about the only service where Sound Transit has shown a real commitment to provide frequent service on all day is Link.

        This has several reasons. Part of it is rush hour overcrowding on many routes, requiring additional trips. Adding rush hour trips is especially expensive, as it involves the overhead of buying new buses, hiring new drivers, and paying the drivers to spend nearly as much time driving empty buses to/from the base as they do actually carrying passengers. Part of it is general traffic getting worse, so a much of Sound Transit’s increased tax revenue from the booming economy gets squandered adding more and more padding time to the rush hour schedule, just to maintain the existing level of service. Some of it may also be faulty metrics, which fail to realize that a full peak-hour trip, combined with an equally long empty deadhead is no more efficient in cost-per-rider than a bus which runs half-full in both directions, all day. And some of it is undoubtedly caused by the suburban mindset that transit exists to get 9-5 commuters to work and back, and any service beyond that is merely a nice-to-have.

        Considering all of the above, the fact that ST’s pronouncements of I-405 BRT have all emphasized rush hour, while saying absolutely nothing about service levels the rest of the day, and the fact that today’s predecessors of the I-405 BRT routes (535, 560) are in the bottom quartile, I’m not holding out a great deal of hope that I-405 BRT is going to have an all-day frequency of anything resembling Link. I do think it’s unlikely to be worse than what we’ve already got, and may even be slightly better (e.g. north half running at all on Sunday), but you shoudn’t expect anything great.

      5. About 535 Sunday service, is it really worth it? Except for Bellevue, walking from any of the other stops to anything worthwhile is a pain. Even the new Totem Lake development is a pain to walk to. I really doubt there would be any substantial ridership. Most people in the area (including me) basically need a car, unless you live in DT Bellevue, in which case there’s little reason to go to Totem Lake. I think there are many better places to put the hours this would use up.

      6. Yes, it is worth it because the alternative option for getting around without the 535 are awful.

        Basically, if you don’t have a car if the 535 bus isn’t running, you have one of three options:
        1) Slog it out on local buses.
        2) Uber/Lyft
        3) Zipcar

        Option 1) results in 1-2 hour travel time each way, or almost half a day of bus riding for a round trip. Options 2) and 3) are fast in time, but very expensive.

        As to the bus – even if the destination is too far to walk, the distance is substantial enough that getting an Uber/Lyft from the bus stop is substantially cheaper than riding Uber/Lyft all the way. So, having the bus available does provide monetary value to the passengers. Yes, most people have cars. But “most” is not “everyone”. Buses on the eastside do exist, and, yes, people actually do ride them. Of course, any bus does cost money to operate, and Sunday ridership on the 535 may not be the greatest, but as long as the money it saves the passengers exceeds the cost to Sound Transit to operate the bus (which, even with 5-10 people per trip, it would), I say it’s worth it. And, we’re not talking about a huge number of hours here, anyway. After, all there is just one Sunday in every week.

        I think Sunday service on the 535 is definitely a better use of funds than, say, service on the 586, which not only has poor ridership, even during peak periods, but has ample available alternative service on the 590’s, Link, and Sounder, so if the 586 is cut, people would miss is much less than they would miss the 535.

        In Jarett Walker terms, transit routes have two purposes – ridership and coverage. And, I am essentially arguing that the 535 satisfies the coverage criteria because the alternative bus options are too slow and the alternative private-sector options, too expensive to be considered reasonable alternatives.

      7. asdf2: It’s almost as if ST3 “BRT” … might really just be a beefed up expressway bus service!?

        If they have the GALL to call it BRT, it had better be frequent all day. “Light rail on wheels,” no?

      8. A month ago I was at Bellevue Transit Center on Sunday around 5:30pm waiting to take a bus back to Seattle, and a woman was standing at the 535 stop and asked me, “This is the bus to Bothell, isn’t it?” I said yes, but something in the back of my head said it doesn’t run on Sundays, so I looked at the schedule, and sure enough it doesn’t. So I told her the only way I know to get to Bothell at that time is to take the 550 to downtown and the 522 to Bothell, and I made sure she knew where the 522 stop was. She said, “That’s the other way I was thinking of if the 535 wasn’t coming.” But it must have taken her two hours to get there that way.

        I have never had a car, and I grew up in Bellevue in the 80s. I was somehow lucky enough to live a quarter-mile from the only all-day bus to downtown Seattle (226), and 3/4 mile from the bus to the U-District (252), and when I later went to Bellevue High School the first bus conveniently stopped there. I visited other friends around the Eastside and realized that most areas had either peak-only buses or no buses. Sometimes I visited people in Kirkland and Kingsgate, and I took the 340 when i could because it was faster than the 235, but I hated its isolated freeway stops at 70th and 132nd. Why did it not stop at 85th closer to downtown Kirkland? But anyway, the 235 went as far north as Totem Lake, and you could transfer in Kirkland to the 255 to Kingsgate. If there was a local bus from Kirkland to Bothell, I never knew about it; as far as I knew the 340 was the only thing. But I didn’t go up north of 85th much. Still, I knew people who lived in Kirkland and Kingsgate, and while they either drove or got a ride or didn’t go anywhere, I could see somebody in my position or that woman’s position who lives up there thinking the 535 is better than nothing.

        There is now a bus from Bellevue to Kenmore (234); it takes 50-60 minutes and is daytime only. Or you can take the 235 to Kirkland and transfer to the 238 to Bothell, but that takes longer and you still have to finish by 6-7pm.

      9. B: We don’t know what level of service 405 and 522 BRT will be. In the meantime I’m content to call it BRT until the span/frequency is clear. ST has talked about its BRT as being “equivalent to light rail”, so that implies 10-minute minimum until 10pm, but ST hasn’t definitively said that. My impression from its marketing is that it will at least be 10-minute daytime, but asdf2’s impression is it might only be 10-minute peak hours. If it does go down to half-hourly evenings, that’s not the end of the world, because all-day ridership is clearly far below Seattle-Bellevue-Redmond for reasons I don’t fully understand.

        But if Issaquah light rail goes down to half-hourly… well, I’m half-tempted to jump off a bridge if our light rail is as bad as San Jose or Denver, or even Portland at one point. That’s “non-rapid transit”, and it’s hard to see how it’s better than a bus. That’s not the way to get people out of their cars. But I think ST has a hard 10-minute minimum for light rail, and I’m hoping it has the same for BRT. Otherwise they might as well just call it “ST Express with inline flyer stations”.

      10. I got my drivers license pretty late so I was heavily reliant on the 405 corridor buses going north and south as a high school student. I wouldn’t be able to take transit to an evening class at Cascadia or my late night/weekend minimum wage job in Renton in the few years prior to the cuts. The service then was barely usable but it still felt like freedom for a person unable to drive. Eventually I ended up driving to and from Renton because the bus commute took two hours off-peak versus half in a car.

        Yes, my household has a car too but we are also regular bus riders, peak and off-peak. Availability of transit in the suburbs won’t lead to car free households but it lets many forgo the second or third car. It’s not the nicest place to walk but there are a large amount of multifamily housing near those flyer stops.

        Tangential to this is the proposed 520 restructure which cuts the 255 to Brickyard. Taking the 535 to 550 to Seattle can be much faster than slogging on the 255 off-peak if the schedules line up in Bellevue. Not only that, it also opens the 522 as another option for getting to Seattle. Transit is supposed to function as a network. When you weaken or remove the links, the whole network becomes less useful. Although few may ride them, the mere existence of service at late night and weekends tell people who might mostly commute at peak that they won’t be left stranded or forced to an expensive option should something unexpected happen.

        For a corridor that is supposedly getting BRT, they’re certainly doing nothing to build ridership.

      11. I think after, say, 7pm, if frequency dipped to 12~15 minutes, I think it would still be reasonable to call it BRT. Same for Issaquah link – I’m a big time believer in the Bellevue-Issaquah transit corridor (b/c I live & work that corridor), but even I think sub 10 minute frequency at 9pm is overkill.

      12. To me a proper subway should be 2-5 minutes daytime, 10 minutes evening, and 20-30 minutes night owl (if open). That’s the daytime and evening schedule in St Petersburg and Moscow and the night schedule in New York. London, Chicago, and DC are essentially similar. Portland’s MAX and SF BART are 15 minutes on each line off-peak. That;s the minimum frequency on the tails, and it allows 5-7 minute service where two or three lines overlap. 15 minutes seems skimpy to me but it’s tolerable for “American frequent”. 30-minute evenings/weekends puts you in the same class as San Jose’s Mountain View line, and earlier funding-cut periods on MAX. It turned MAX into “How is this better than a bus?”

        BRT there’s not many examples of, and I can see 10-minute evenings on 405 as excessive. But somebody has to decide what minimum frequency to keep for coverage and to incentivize people to use transit full-time. So I could see 30-minute evenings on 405 as reasonable. But I would want it called “part-time BRT” at that point, to stress the point that it’s not really fulfilling its BRT function when it’s at 30 minutes, like how peak-only commuter rail is missing half its potential and usefulness and is not at all like Caltrain/LIRR/PATH/Metra or European services. I’m glad that RapidRide has stuck to a 15-minute minimum, and I want to see a similar standard for ST BRT, although I realize 30-minute may be more realistic.

        But 30-minute light rail??? At that point you have to ask, “Why are we building light rail?” I don’t see the Issaquah-South Kirkland line as essential; it’s mainly because Issaquah wants it so much and East King doesn’t quite have its act together yet on the most reasonable transit network for the area. And also because Issaquah feels that this is the only opportunity: if it misses it now it won’t ever have another opportunity again, not for such a large bond measure and vote. So it’s either take the opportunity now or sink into economic stagnation in the future as businesses and residents avoid Issaquah.

      13. If they have the GALL to call it BRT, it had better be frequent all day. “Light rail on wheels,” no?

        There are plenty of light rail lines that aren’t frequent all day. Here was one, recently referenced on this very website: http://www.denverpost.com/2017/10/24/rtd-cuts-aurora-r-line-golden-w-line-services/

        Unfortunately, BRT, like light rail, doesn’t really imply anything in terms of service. A train (or bus) might mix in with traffic, wait at traffic lights and run infrequently. I do agree, though, that if you are going to call something “BRT”, then that should provide something better, otherwise you should just call it bus service. I see several key elements:

        1) Off board payment
        2) Level boarding
        3) Congestion free travel (or close to it)
        4) Few delays caused by traffic lights
        5) Frequent service
        6) Covers a high density area

        The first two create very short dwell times, which can be a major improvement for a lot of routes, especially those that involve a lot of stops. I don’t see that as being crucial for this route, but it still helps, and I assume it is part of this project.

        Avoiding congestion and long delays at traffic lights make a big difference for all bus routes (express or not) and for this run, it looks like they will be making some improvements over what is generally a fast run (the HOT lanes help a lot).

        Frequency remains a question, but my guess is that it will run very frequently during rush hour, and at least 30 minutes during the day, night and on weekends. Any less than that, and folks start getting upset. It is possible they could run it every 20 minutes, or even 15 during the day. This won’t be a high density route — which means that ridership won’t be that high outside of rush hour — but ST seems comfortable subsidizing this route to a high degree.

  8. There is a wide variation in terms of service for these routes, which makes the ranking summary misleading. For example, consider the 532 and 535.

    Both buses go from Snohomish County to Bellevue. The 532 from Everett and the 535 from Lynnwood. You would assume the Lynnwood bus would outperform the Everett bus. It is a shorter distance, and if it was anything like the Snohomish County to Seattle buses, ridership from Lynnwood would be similar to ridership from Everett. In the case of the buses to Bellevue, Lynnwood actually has higher ridership. Yet the Everett bus (the 532) is in the first quartile, while the Lynnwood bus is in the 3rd, with almost twice the subsidy per rider. What gives?

    The two buses run very different schedules. The Everett bus runs quite often during rush hour, but then ignores midday service. The Lynnwood bus does the opposite, it doesn’t pack in the rush hour buses, but does manage to run all day. As a result, the 532 (from Everett) has very few “weak runs”. With the exception of “reverse commute” buses (Bellevue to Everett in the morning, Everett to Bellevue in the evening) all the buses are close to capacity. Overall ridership is lot less than the 535, but there are fewer runs. The 535 (from Lynnwood) on the other hand, has plenty of poorly performing runs. Like the 535, this is largely a commute pattern (to downtown Bellevue) and the ridership reflects that. But the schedule does not. It runs all day, as if it was the 44, or 7. That means a majority of the buses carry less than 20 people.

    Making matters worse, the 535 runs all day, but it still not close to being frequent. It is a steady, half hour bus, which has its advantages but is not often enough to be spontaneous, even at rush hour. This is in contrast to the 532. The bus from Everett has a smaller window, but if you are within that window, you really don’t have to time it. Since a good portion (if not the overwhelming majority) of riders get to the bus stop via their car, this is nothing to sneeze at. Traffic to the park and ride can be as bad as that on the freeway, which means that it is very difficult to time a bus. With the 532, at rush hour, you don’t worry about it, but with the 535 (at any time of the day) you have to allow a lot of extra time.

    Which means that if Sound Transit (or Metro) is concerned about performance, they should not simply cut routes.They should consider strategic modifications, like running the 535 like the 532, if that is their goal. Ridership very much follows a commuter pattern, with Snohomish County as the bedroom community. Matching your service to that reality is a reasonable thing to do.

    It is worth mentioning that the 550, and to a lesser extent, the 545, do not follow this pattern. They have high ridership both directions during rush hour, and pretty good ridership in the middle of the day.

    1. Does the 535 also have a peak-only “sister” route run by CT? For the 554, it is able to handle it’s peak volume because metro runs similar routes peak only (the 21X routes) that provide the additional buses to handle the commuter rush, and then leave the ST554 to handle the non-peak span of service.

      The result is that when I’m trying to catch at bus into Seattle at Eastgate between 7 and 9am, I know there is a bus pretty much every 5 minutes, which, as Ross says, is great for riders and in turn great for ridership.

      If you also included the 21X routes, I’d imagine the 554 metrics would look better. Is it a similar story for the 535?

      Otherwise, I think this analysis is spot on.

      1. Not by CT, and not from Lynwood. The peak hour 405 North to Bellevue routes are the 532 from Everett (shares with 535 south of Canyon Park, skipping Bothell and Brickyard), the 342 from Shoreline and Kenmore and continuing to Renton (shares south of Bothell, also serves Houghton), and the 237 from Woodinville (shares south of Brickyard).

      2. I think Paul is right about my example, but your point is a very good one, AJ. Since other agencies sometimes run their buses on very similar corridors, it complicates things. The 522/312 is a great example of that. For the 522 corridor, it is Metro cutting into ST’s service (in effect, poaching their best run). The 312 only runs during rush hour and only in peak direction, which for the 522 is by far their best set of runs (about twice their midday runs). So if ST ran those instead, the numbers for that route would be even better than they are now.

      3. I wouldn’t call it poaching – it’s more like adding additional peak capacity via a different funding source (KCM vs ST). It makes our armchair analysis harder, but other than that I don’t see a problem with it. Also, the routes often aren’t exactly the same – they may hit the same key nodes but have slightly different tails or routes, providing broader coverage than a single route.

      4. The 21x series also skip some ST stops so they’re like super-expresses. They function like an A/B stop pattern that some subways and commuter rail use peak hours, For instance, Caltrain has one train that terminates in Palo Alto and another that bypasses it to get to San Jose faster. This gets everyone to their destination faster, makes up for the travel-time overhead of peak congestion (for buses), and ensures that people or the later stops can get on at all (if people for the earlier stops fill it up multiple trains in a row).

    2. There’s also just plain access.

      Everett may be an auto dominated city but at peak period there’s a fair amount of traffic on the bus routes in town.

      Lynwood and such places as the freeway stop at 145th are challenging at best when it comes to connecting to much else.

      1. I disagree. I think it is just a classic suburb to city pattern, with Lynnwood and Everett as the suburb, and downtown Bellevue and Seattle as the city. Ridership from Lynnwood to Seattle is quite good. The buses from Snohomish County to downtown Seattle have almost identical ridership from Lynnwood as from Everett.

        Lynnwood connects pretty well with the surrounding area. So if you want to get to, say, Edmonds Community College from the Lynnwood station, it is easy — every 15 minutes all day, from what I can tell.

        As far as the 145th freeway station, I agree. You do have frequent service to Lake City, but that is about it. Everything else is very infrequent, or requires two buses (or both). So getting to Northgate or Northwest Hospital, for example, is a challenge.

      2. A couple of weeks ago I was on a 90X from Mt Vernon that was pretty full, and every rider on it transferred to either Swift or an ST 5xx series. Most every bus arriving and departing Everett Station was like that. This was about 4:30 in the afternoon, so traditional suburban commute traffic should have been going the other way.

        The 513 has some other routes that connect to it at Lynnwood, but nothing quite like the feeders available at Everett Station.

      3. “As far as the 145th freeway station, I agree. You do have frequent service to Lake City, but that is about it.”

        There is? Are you talking about a peak-only route? I thought there were no all-day routes at 145th station, which makes it a heckuv a hard time to get from Snohomish County to Northgate, Lake City or anywhere else between 65th and 145th.

      4. Depending on the time of day, you can transfer there to the 30x stuff to get over to the housing along Hwy 99.

        I attempted to do that a couple of weeks ago (90x to 511 to 303) because that is what Google maps suggested, but after I got on the 90x it changed its mind and told me to take Swift instead. As best as I could tell that wound up taking about 25 minutes longer. At least I didn’t have to cross any freeway entrance ramps to do it though.

      5. @Mike — Oops, you are right. I misread the transit map. I was thinking the 65 went out to the freeway, but it ends at 15th and 145th, which is about a ten minute walk from the other bus stop. It is even worse than I thought.

      6. To be fair, the 347 stops at 145th Station and goes to Northgate and Mountlake Terrace every 30 minutes daytime, 60 minutes evenings/Sunday. I thought it didn’t but it does.

    3. “Matching your service to that reality is a reasonable thing to do.”

      So, what exactly do you propose to do? Eliminate all the midday/evening/Saturday trips of the 535 completely, forcing people to just “sunk it up”, and use alternate routes, like this, or this. These are the kinds of trips that people will simply refuse to do. Without the bus, every such person ends up forced onto services like Uber or Zipcar, the costs of which add up fast. Like it or not, the 405 corridor is big enough to require basic all-day coverage, if for no other reason because it’s ridiculous for a simple trip across town to either cost $60 or involve spending half a day riding buses.

      1. I am not proposing anything. I’m just saying that if you want a system that is more cost effective, you can’t simply assume that one route is better than another, based on this chart. The schedule of that route has a lot to do with it.

        As with every agency, ST has to decide between performance and coverage. In the middle of the day, the route from Lynnwood to Bellevue is not that great. The same is likely true with the route from Everett to Bellevue, but I can’t tell for sure, because ST doesn’t even run it. But if you look at that chart, you would assume that Everett to Bellevue is simply a more cost effective run than Lynnwood to Bellevue. That would suggest that cutting the latter, and forcing folks in Lynnwood to get up to Ash Way would be reasonable. But that would likely lead to a worse outcome — it would cost more money to operate, and more people would be inconvenienced.

        Personally I would leave this route alone. It is not that cost effective, but it isn’t that terrible and for the handful of riders that do use it in the middle of the day and on weekends, it does save a lot of time. To me the key is the stop in Bothell. Ridership is good from both directions, and my guess is that is the case in the middle of the day (they don’t list riders per hour per stop). Alternatives to using I-405 to get there are very time consuming, and would be time consuming, no matter how you cut it. If it wasn’t for that stop, I would say that transferring at the UW to get to Bellevue (from Snohomish County) would make sense (although the 271 would need to be extended a bit).

  9. ST596 Sumner – Bonny Lake, evidence Sounder connector buses are a hit.
    Surprised ST580 Puyallup – Lakewood isn’t on the list, like ST596 its sardines.

    ST got its golden egg laying goose with ST3 and is now turning its back on everyone to run its pet PR gold project called “Link”.

    1. We’ll see if the 596 continues to be a hit once additional parking at the Sounder stations gets built. By building massive parking garage, ST is essentially competing with itself.

    2. 596 will continue to be a hit in Bonney Lake, with or without additional parking. Bonney Lake is experiencing a housing boom, with an abundance of affordable homes. Traffic is terrible. And, somehow, all of the good-paying jobs are still stuck in Bellevue and Seattle. Look at Auburn’s parking garage and surface lot. It fills up ultra-early, AND there is connecting bus service from multiple neighborhoods. Additionally, the City has parking lots with paid parking near the station as well. The bus routes dedicated to meeting the train in Auburn are standing room only. I would expect nothing different from Bonney Lake as more homes get built, traffic gets worse, more people get priced into suburbia, more capacity gets added to Sounder, and more people endure longer commutes. Sumner Station needs the parking and more connecting buses. Improved “reverse” Sounder service to Tacoma could prove to be a hit, as well, especially once the Tacoma Link extension to the hospitals is complete.

      Sound Transit isn’t turning its back on anyone. Like any government agency, it is doing the best it can with a limited amount of funds.

      580 – Puyallup-Lakewood is a failure because it plies a route between two sparsely populated areas and connects people in Lakewood to a train in Puyallup that departs from Lakewood, and requires an earlier departure than just taking the one-seat ride. There are a few trips that do not go all the way to Lakewood, but most do. Traffic on 512 isn’t all that bad either. I say give this one some time. As traffic worsens, and parking lots and garages fill up, people will start looking for alternatives. Given that 580 hits a few park & rides that aren’t at a Sounder Station, this could fill up, but it will need a certain level of congestion to drive that demand. One thing that could be a better use of money than 580 with instant return on investment would be feeder service through the Spanaway-South Hill area to Puyallup, with limited stops at makeshift park & rides at churches, and the rest of the route run “express.”

      1. >> more people get priced into suburbia,

        Oh please. I’m sorry to jump on your comment, because the rest of this is spot on, but I am so tired of this myth. Unless you are referring to Rainier Valley as “suburbia” (a reasonable definition, really) this just isn’t happening. People don’t move to Bonney Lake because they can’t afford a place that is closer. They are moving there because they prefer it there. They prefer a distant suburban lifestyle, with a pleasant lake and a spectacular view of Mount Rainier (with a shorter drive to the mountain as well). Sure, they can buy more house there than in the city — but the desire for a gigantic house or a gigantic lot doesn’t mean they can’t afford something closer.

        The rest of your comment is spot on, though. Once you have a good shuttle bus, ridership will only increase over time. There will be more development in Bonney Lake, for the other reasons you mentioned. If the bus works for people now, it will work for people in the future. It only runs 9 times a day, so it isn’t like this is an all day, frequent service bus. It is geared for commuters, which is precisely when drivers would rather avoid both the roads and the parking lot. Part of the problem is that parking lots don’t scale. Build a bigger one, and people spend more time circling the lot, looking for their space (at the busiest time). In the middle of the day or in the evening, folks will take advantage of the bigger lot. But in the morning, they will continue to use this bus.

        Oh, and keep in mind, the main reason this bus performs so well is because it is a pretty short trip. Ridership is not huge — less than 40 at most, and less than 10 for the last run (at 10:30). If this really was a bus that was driven by parking avoidance, it seems like the later runs would be more popular (since by then the lot is full), but instead it is the opposite. I really don’t see the bigger parking lot having much of an effect on this route. Hopefully ST will continue the bus route, enhance it, and use it as a model for other bus routes.

      2. I should have mentioned that I also agree with you about 580. Almost all of the riders are using it from the South Hill and Fairground Park and Rides to the Puyallup Station. There are only about a dozen people — combined — that use the SR 512 and Lakewood Station. Ridership is actually higher on this bus route instead of the 596. But the performance is much weaker because they make a couple extra runs to Lakewood in the morning (which have minimal ridership*) and the bus takes longer to run. Simply truncating the run to serve the eastern stops (South Hill, Fairground, Puyallup) would increase the performance of this run dramatically.

        * The ridership towards Lakewood in the morning is so low that it barely measures on the graph. It may be that fewer than one rider (on average) uses it.

      3. The 580 is a shadow service for when trains terminate in Tacoma, so that people in Lakewood can use those trains. In the lead-up to ST3 the board discussed adding all-day service but I don’t know if they reached a conclusion on whether there’s sufficient ridership for it. It may appear in the restructure when Link reaches Federal Way or Tacoma Dome.

      4. >> The 580 is a shadow service for when trains terminate in Tacoma,

        Fair enough, but the ridership is so low, it is basically at Access Van levels. Only ten people a day board and thirty people alight in Lakewood.That is an average of less than one rider eastbound, and three riders westbound per bus.

      5. Mike, the 580 connects with every Sounder run, not just those that terminate in Tacoma. It runs between Lakewood and Puyallup for the Sounder trips that originate/terminate in Lakewood. Why run the 580 from Lakewood to connect with the Sounder from Lakewood at Puyallup? Especially since the 580 leaves Lakewood earlier than the connecting Sounder runs heading North and arrives after at Lakewood after picking up southbound passengers in Puyallup? When connecting with Sounder runs that originate/terminate at Tacoma, then I understand running the 580 to Lakewood. Otherwise, why not run it between Puyallup and South Hill?

      6. That may just be the extra service. Does it stop anywhere in between? The idea behind increasing it is that it would serve general east-west trips in the area, not just to Sounder.

      7. Just the SR-512 P&R. The 580’s stops are Lakewood Station, SR-512, South Hill, Red Lot, 5th St at 7th Ave, and Puyallup station. The entire section between the SR-512 P&R lot and South Hill is bypassed. Not quite sure how that promotes east-west trips when most of east-west part of the journey is not served.

  10. Well, Sound Transit’s much delayed 2017 Annual Financial Plan was finally published, errors and all, at the end of October (really ST?) and it too sheds some light on the transit agency’s priority, or lack thereof, when it comes to express bus and BRT services.

    A sampling from the report:

    >>>4.1.5 Bus Rapid Transit

    The ST3 Plan funds a new mode for Sound Transit, Bus Rapid Transit. The I-405 BRT project (which will operate primarily in the I-405 express toll system between Lynnwood and Renton and in I-405 high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes between Renton and Tukwila from Tukwila to Burien) is scheduled to open in 2024. The capital plan consists of a bus maintenance facility, 12 BRT stops, two parking garages, one surface lot, 34 vehicles (3-door articulated coaches with ST BRT livery), and roadway improvements to
    facilitate the movement of buses. The NE 145th St and SR 522 BRT project (which will run on NE 145th Street/SR 523 from the Link station at I-5 to SR 522, with BRT treatments continuing on SR 522 to UW Bothell, and with connecting service at lower frequencies to Woodinville) will also be completed in 2024.

    The Financial Plan funds 14 stations, an expanded transit center at UW Bothell, three 300-space parking garages, 14 vehicles, and roadway improvements.<<<

    Here's the bigger picture:

    Capital Expenditures (billions YOE $) 2017-2041

    Sounder Commuter Rail – $3.158 (6.5%)
    Link Light Rail – $41.228 (85.3%)
    Regional Express Bus – $.943 (1.9%)
    Bus Rapid Transit – $1.826 (3.8%)
    Service Delivery – $.133 (.3%)
    System-wide Activities – $1.048 (2.2%)
    Total Capital Progran – $48.337 (100%)

    It's quite clear to me that Sound Transit has always viewed regional rapid bus transit as a second-tier priority.

  11. I’m not surprised re: ST Express. It doesn’t have the constituency, i.e. the contractors, that light rail has. As a friend of mine from ST once said, and this was several years ago, bus service is, at best, secondary to light rail. That’s unfortunate, particularly for the folks north of Lynnwood, as they’re getting the shaft when a handful of relatively inexpensive service enhancements would have benefited those taxpayers – and even non-riders – considerably.

    The first and most obvious was completing the north side of the direct access ramp at 164th. That would eliminate buses weaving across general purpose lanes to serve the Ash Way Park & Ride facility there from the north as well as those departing that facility going north, easing congestion on both I-5 in that area, 164th, and Ash Way itself, which is devoid of traffic lights entering and exiting that facility, a breeding ground for a traffic nightmare. Anybody who witnessed the “snow event” last December 9 can attest to that. Chances are, the design work for the ramp was done at the same time as for the south ramp, the freeway crossing already exists, and the north ramp would be fairly flat due to the grade changes.

    The second change is starting revenue service on their 513 to/from downtown Seattle along Casino Road in southwest Everett instead of whizzing past thousands of low- and middle-income apartment and condo dwellers, crossing over 526, then doing a wide loop to serve a single stop in a non-residential area. The simple change could even serve half of the stops on Casino Road, then serving the Eastmont and 112th Park & Rides before entering I-5. This would greatly shorten commuters’ trips, for at present they have to take an Everett Transit 3 north to Everett Station, a 30-minute ride, to take a bus south to either downtown Seattle or Bellevue. And, while Everett Transit tossed out red meat to readers here of service dreams, there are no announced plans for the substantial tax increase (or merger) that would be needed to support that level of service. The reaction from the Everett City Council was lackadaisical rather than having a sense of urgency when they saw the financial decline being projeccted.

    The third change would be to pay for operating an extension of the forthcoming Swift Green line from Boeing-Everett to downtown Everett via 526 and Evergreen Way, which would require zero right-of-way acquisition and no station purchases due to that infrastructure already being there from Swift Blue. The costs would include a few buses and drivers to operate this, which could be operating in 2020, 16 years before light rail is estimated to reach Everett. Think about where you were 16 years ago to get an idea of the impact!

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