Flickr/Atomic Taco

Employee shuttles are a common sight in many prospering cities. There are things to like as an independent observer: they often cover underserved source-destination pairs at no cost to the public. Conversely, they might make some public routes unviable, stranding non-employees who might have used the route. There are also sometimes conflicts with public transit for curb space.

Smaller employers don’t have the resources to set up these schemes at all. If the service replaces a widespread ORCA passport schemes, it takes resources from transit. Among the most farcical outcomes is the spectacle of empty Microsoft shuttles passing empty Amazon shuttles on SR520 where a public route could fill both legs.

Enter Metro’s “shared employee shuttles” program. This is part of the agency’s charter to promote alternate transportation solutions. Metro serves as a matchmaking service and “supervises” operations, but the funding and operations are private. The routes are meant to “complement” public transit routes rather than compete with them.

For employers, it’s a mixed proposition to be under Metro auspices. Metro says that state law makes them “the sole provider of public transportation services in King County,” so a rogue operation would be against the law. (The law a has an exception for single-employer shuttles.) Metro will facilitate right-of-way and curb space negotiations with cities. On the other hand, employers will pay a nominal fee for processing applications, and will have to share their performance and rider survey data with Metro.

The first “cycle” will accept proposals from groups of 2-5 employers through April 3, and the pilot program will run for about a year.

26 Replies to ““Shared Employee Shuttles” on the Horizon”

  1. Terrible idea. Force the private shuttles to sit through the same traffic as private vehicles. Don’t allow them any curb space or zones at park and rides. Offer employers the option to request specific routes and to subsidize them. Heck, allow the employers to subsidize “nicer” buses reserved for the routes that serve their campuses. Anything to help build the Metro and ST systems. But, no, don’t let Metro do matchmaking between employers.

    1. There already is the option for employers to subsidize specific routes; AFAIK, Microsoft does or did just that with the 269. I agree this’s the superior option for the general network, but employer shuttles have a few better options like wifi, guaranteed seats, and the opportunity to work without worrying about who’s looking over your shoulder. I’m not sure how Metro can possibly guarantee the last two.

    2. Putting a dozen people into a single van instead of a dozen separate cars sounds like a bad idea to you?

  2. I think the idea is that, without the constraints of government agencies, shuttles cost vastly less to operate when they don’t go through Metro. For example, employee shuttles don’t need to be driven by union workers, and don’t create obligations to fund paratransit service. Microsoft attempted to go the route of subsidizing Metro routes several years ago; they abandoned it when they realized that they got more service for the money by contracting with a private provider.

    Forcing the private shuttles to sit through the same traffic as private vehicles doesn’t make sense. If the Microsoft shuttles didn’t have access to the HOV lane, nobody would ride them; the end result would be far more cars on the road.

    1. Suggestion for you, asdf: For one year, get two part-time bus driving jobs, one public and unionized, one private and self managed and maintained. Or alternately, ride both as a passenger. Then get back to us with your findings.

      Like for everything dying of deferred maintenance in cheaped-out times, idea under discussion resurfaces out from under its rock. And always crawls its way back to safety when private companies’ share-holders and creditors arrive in cars with expensive tabs on their plates and trunks full of feathers and hot tar.

      Might want to see if Library archives have any of the “books” for Seattle Transit. Like with anything that has to work for those who can’t afford their own sewage plant in their yard, Government doesn’t seize. Private operator unloads, and puts pedal to the floor toward private prisons.

      Mark Dublin

    2. “If the Microsoft shuttles didn’t have access to the HOV lane, nobody would ride them.”

      Yes. And people WOULD ride the subsidized Metro routes. That is exactly my point. Incentivize subsidization of public transit. Make the Metro option more attractive.

      1. Not necessarily. There are a lot of advantages to the private shuttles for employees. They typically have decent wifi, so you can keep working. The seats are more comfortable. You don’t need to transfer.

        Employers are not going to subsidize non-employee transit. So either ST would have to charge a lot more for nicer buses if you’re not an employee of a certain company, or they’d have to limit it to people who work for certain employers, which would create a lot of problems.

        In theory, the shuttles are supposed to complement Metro/ST. The distribution of where tech employees live is almost definitely different from that of the general population. Metro/ST need to serve the latter. Employers know where their employees live; hence, they can establish routes that prioritize those areas.

        Plus, if you’ve seen 54x buses, you’d know they’re packed both ways during rush hour. Dumping even more people onto them without a lot more resources is not going be helpful.

        You can argue that employer shuttles should pay for curb access, etc… But trying to say they can’t use HOV lanes is absurd.

      2. @Engineer: You mentioned in another thread that the major disincentive to transit use, from your perspective, has less to do with cost than inconvenience. I’ve never worked for Microsoft, but I know just from watching Connector buses around Seattle that a lot of those trips are possible on public transit, but they would require a transfer or two. That will be doubly true if Metro/ST truncate as many 520 routes at UW station as they promise. Metro and ST can be mostly correct in their network priorities while some popular trips remain inconvenient. If employers like Microsoft have their own priorities (last I heard they were parking-constrained in Redmond) and are willing to spend their own money on buses instead of garages, that’s not such a bad thing.

        I do think our public planning, on the whole, has been sadly lacking in some areas. Metro is just now considering how to provide regional transit access to SLU, years after it was planned as a major employment center. Despite being so close to downtown some people consider it an extension of downtown, the order of planning was purely suburban: build the highway access and huge parking garages, then try to solve the car capacity problems, then figure out regional transit access. When we make such large land-use plans, we’ve got to lead with transit. If we had done this better we wouldn’t need so many private shuttles there. But we didn’t, so we do. And the actual suburban campuses built a generation ago… of course we’re still playing catch-up there. Maybe next time we’ll do better?

      3. @David L,

        Doesn’t Microsoft pay for some Sound Transit bus service already? In a similar vein, Amazon and Vulcan both have chipped in for the SLUS.

        I think it’s also important to remember that only Microsoft employees are able to use their shuttle service. It’s not available for any contractors working at Microsoft (just one of many parts of their caste system), so many employees are not able to take advantage of it even if they wanted to.

    3. “employee shuttles… don’t create obligations to fund paratransit service.”

      Is this true? And if so, how does that work in light of employers’ ADA obligations? Do the companies offer shuttle service to employees, but if the employee is in a wheelchair or needs other accommodation then they are just SOL?

      1. One direction peak routes don’t create paratransit obligations. They are “commuter bus services” services under 49 CFR 37.121. But all day or two way ones would. And they create paratransit obligations along the whole route, regardless of whether the route has intermediate stops along the way. Generally not an issue because there is typically underlying service that already creates the same obligations, but could have a cost implication in some cases.

    1. More passengers per vehicle and more flexibility. You don’t have to commit to taking exactly the same trip every single day.

    2. From the rider perspective, it’s much better.

      Professional driver
      No paperwork to fill out.
      No coordination with co-workers.

      1. Anybody else think this could be a workers’ rights issue? Curious how many employers pay hourly for that computer/commuter work day? At overtime? Somebody on salary- as bad or worse. Trip between home and work used to be understood as being employee’s own time.

        If answer is that they’re all contractors, answer back is that contractors have their own company offices. And hopefully, legal teams as well as trade associations. If yours don’t, get with your legal team to arrange settlement for back wages, benefits, and everything else due an EMPLOYEE!

        And anybody even more else think there’s something cult creepy about even the presence of these vehicles? Gave the the chills every time I saw one of those bright-white black windowed buses at the curb in San Francisco. How much did SF get paid to have its vibe ruined like that? Though Zorkon capital is really San Jose, right?

        Whole phenomenon says Reverend Jim Jones gone IT on Wheels. Office or factory, people on their way to work or home belong on the same planet as their fellow citizens. For everybody’s benefit. Like we used to do it in America,which was on a planet that had subways, el’s and commuter trains.

        Don’t think same planet as produced Harry Truman could’ve created his present successor, even if the lab was at the bottom of the radioactive sewage pond under Hanford.


      2. Mark

        Not everything is a conspiracy against workers. Employee shuttles are a genuinely nice perk.

        Pretty sure that contractors don’t get to ride the employee buses.

        And I don’t know how tech employees charge their time (I’m salaried on 40hr/wk but still need to fill out a time sheet), but from what I’ve heard their time on the bus counts as part of their workday, so they can spend less time at the office if they choose. I don’t think anyone is forced to work on the bus.

        I for one would wholeheartedly welcome it if my employer started running shuttles. I’m in a union, too, before you start going off about how neoliberals/corporatists/your preferred boogeymen are ruining Seattle or whatever.

      3. I work at Microsoft. We don’t have an assigned “workday”; as long as I show up for meetings and get my work done, nothing else really matters. So, if commuting is understood as “my own time,” I need to spend more time in the office to get my work done. Conversely, if I can knock out some work on the shuttle, I don’t need to spend as much time away from home.

  3. I wish there were more regulations regarding private shuttles in Seattle, so we can clamp down on bad operator behavior and practices.

    The first would be that once you own or contract a private fleet of a certain size (10? 20?), those shuttles should have obvious markings of who owns/contracts those shuttles. I’m going to pick on Amazon’s shuttles, contracted by MV Transportation. Microsoft, Children’s, UW Med and others have their logos on their shuttles and their shuttles seem to be driven by courteous drivers with regard to traffic laws and other human beings on the road. Amazon’s MV shuttles are driven by the drivers that make Uber drivers look great. They block roads, bike lanes, crosswalks, they run red lights, stop lights, they have no regard for pedestrians and bikers and are just generally a negative for the City, especially SLU. And of course, there are no markings to tell that these shuttles are contracted by Amazon, which is by design. While Amazon isn’t directly responsible for MV’s terrible drivers, they know how bad MV is and do nothing to change their behavior. If Amazon’s logo were on the side of those buses, you would see better driving by the end of the week.

    Second, there should be a system to report anti-social private shuttle behavior, in addition to logging infractions. It should be able to be publicly viewed, like health code violations. Enough reported bad behavior and infractions results in increasing fines, up to complete shutdown of a shuttle fleet. Pay for it with an increase in taxes on shuttle fleets operating in the City.

    1. I’ve been on the Amazon shuttles several times, plus my best friend used to work there, and they’re more often borderline hazard-to-the-public than they’re not. And that’s including the public riding in them, I almost got thrown out of my seat once, and my friend eventually started using Lyft because of how much anxiety the shuttles caused.

  4. To me, this appears to be mere political cover for helping big employer shuttles. I can’t see this being very popular.

  5. Let’s take a leaf from the private bus services running everything from gas-driven tricycles to forty-foot buses in majority of the world. Will pick up literally everybody, 24-7-365. Extremely efficient operating modes.

    Sitting under a thorn tree in the middle of a real market (live cows and chickens) with a cardboard sign in the windshield telling destination, waiting ’til the vehicle fills up. Destination fixed, but route varies side to side on demand.

    But main operating economy: run departs when the vehicle is full. Meaning the roof too. Operating regulations include what’s going to happen to your van-line if the Prime Minister does not receive his payment whenever he feels like getting it.

    So there is a proven financially sound plan for what we’re talking about. But if this falls too far to the public side- security costs high but unnecessary. A half dozen AK-47’s per coach, private owner glad to throw in on his own dime.



    Just remembered. Real piece of transit history. “Jitneys”. Same category as taxicabs, except one memorable variation: following streetcar routes, meaning every place with grooved rail in the pavement, and stopping at streetcar stops free-enterprisingly giving passengers an alternative.

    Sometimes they stayed on same routes. But sometimes they’d go couple blocks either side on passenger’s request. Attempted trolley-side countermeasure could only go 13′ from under wire center-line. Total howl to let Uber do that now. Especially in Seattle, where our main streetcar line is paved, graded, and having rubber tired vehicles share lanes and platforms.

    Though because transit’s traditional clientele not in same tax bracket with Uber users, meaning that regressivity makes bus passenger pay more, taxicab license should include DSTT. Limit entry to Orange Cab, and few passenger complaints. So: private enterprise, cheap fares, short head-ways long precedent….THAT’s conservative!

    Appointment for coffee with Steve O’ban and Bob Hasegawa. Six third world Prime Ministers say I’ll get those tap machines lying in a pile of yellow hacksaw dust with first e-mail to the ST Board on State stationery.


  7. Seriously Pat…like in the movies, (Whack!) “I needed that! ”

    Truth is even worse: getting known as a conspiracy theorist. True belief about conspiracies is that two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead. And then only if the dead one remembered to hide everything. And that’s not even factoring in that every single terrorist and criminal in the world puts the whole thing on Twitter before they do anything.

    Neoliberals don’t have enough imagination for conspiracy, and average corporate exec spends too much hours and energy fending off false accusations of conspiratorious activities to have the time. So I do think that most of what’s ascribed to conspiracy, especially in Seattle is at worst a collection of habits almost as bad as mine.

    Which makes a well-timed whack absolutely necessary for the survival of life on Earth. Whining aside, major part of Seattle’s immune system crashed when Almost Live went down to the conspiracy of humor’s short shelf-life. Of which your honest, decent, and well-timed straightening-out forces me to admit to being a self-made example.

    Honest truth? People my age lie a lot because everybody who can call us out is dead., the new PCC streetcars and elevated trains had power to turn eight year old boys into future transit bloggers. Cure still eludes. One good side of video games is that absolutely none of them lets you zap aliens from a LINK control-board.

    Chicago summer heat combines worst varieties of heat on or inside the Earth. Intercity streamliners were just getting air-conditioners. On CTA, new and old, equivalents were fans in baskets that swiveled so everybody got their share of Hell. Good thing everybody who’d remember is dead, because any working person on board would’ve murdered anyone criticizing anyone providing AC to their employees. Free.

    My mother was a social worker who felt same way about a three year old male, let alone eight, who’d complain about having to stand up and give a lady his seat. Average woman on board had spent her day unfiguratively scrubbing floors on her knees. Which gives an interesting perspective on the well-known conspiracy that drove so many people off the subway at gunpoint, and ethnically-cleansed them into the suburbs.

    In 1953, being able to buy the vehicle and totally free high speed highway system to scatter themselves into an obviously limitless country- anybody that ever went to a gangster movie knew a getaway car when they saw one. Word to the Wise-Guy. Chicago Tribune too bulky to whack anybody with. Digital, opposite Rolled up Stranger should do just fine. Hope your union isn’t the Teamsters.


  8. Pat, reason I’d like you to bear with me, is that this goes beyond who owns the vans, or if fairly paid, what passengers do with their time on board. It’s about creating one more highly-visible approving symbol of the permanent economic divide that’s starting to overshadow the benefits of these last years’ growth.

    Should have been clearer about the contractors. I wasn’t demanding that contract employees ride vans if they don’t want to. I was expressing some skepticism over the idea that workers so classified are underpaid and swiftly-dispensible employees. Whose main benefit is to put an artificial limit to the employer’s responsibility to the customer.

    These last several years have left me a lot less respect for the Dell company than their fine products deserve. Rather than bring my set into a repair facility, I’m expected to let a stranger into my house to have the work done on my own kitchen table. Or upon my refusal, given other choice of finding a venue myself.

    Favorite cafe, cramped and distracted. Next time, discovered I could have a study-room at Evergreen College Library. Where while I was waiting in the library, the contractor called me on cell, told me could not pay two dollars to park in the main lot. I took care of it. However, urgency of the work made me agree to something I’ll kick myself for ’til my knee joint reverses.

    Man opens his trunk, insists that we just take the compute apart there. And help him find dropped parts. Weather was clear…but remembered last place I’d done a mechanical repair in similar circumstances, especially the heat and the dust. In Tanzania, “Shade Tree Mechanic” is a tribute to adaptability. Also pride in workmanship

    Glad I never saw that level of responsibility down there. Don’t remember if part worked or not. But will neither forget nor forgive what Dell told me next day: “We’ve got no control over him. He works for a private contractor”. Can’t remember Swahili for “Say WHAT?” Best product of world’s best producer. Allegation should be slander. The Dell Precision M6700 deserves a lot more respect.

    So I’m sorry I let the rules of sarcasm override my point. Which I leave with final question: How hard is your union local fighting to get these people into membership?


  9. Keep in mind, only a few thousand people use employee shuttles. A quick google shows that microsoft only has 5,656 seats.

    For king county to replace the employee shuttles, they’d have to set up multiple very low ridership routes heavily subsidized via taxes which offer express service to microsoft.

  10. Thanks for a whack with a rolled up Stranger somebody got away from a St. Bernard, Brendan. Born to be Wild(ly) overwrought by the world of ideas. And therefore getting bitten by a monster every time I get to close to the edge of it.

    Easy way Express lanes can carry Microsoft vans, 574 buses, and all their siblings: make one van load the new 3+. And like those yellow streetcars in Stuttgart, have at least ST pull a trailer equipped with bike racks for Harleys. True cultural diversity needs to add senior citizens with ragged leather vests and bandanas on their heads singing along with the PA on “Born to be Wild!”


Comments are closed.