In any major city, a popular hobby is to bash the local transit agency. Think of a city you envy, and its residents despise a system that you can scarcely dream of. King County Metro is no exception. We all have our gripes.

As a reality check, the American Public Transit Association named our very own bus operator the best North American transit agency of 2018, based on its performance over the past three years. Ridership has shot up in a national context of stagnant or declining ridership, which one can explain by a booming and densifying city. But Metro’s electric bus, ORCA Lift, and Commute Reduction programs have also served as national examples.

Although Metro hasn’t done every route restructure nerds like us would like, the Northeast Seattle restructure inspired by U-Link follows all the main principles that optimize for all-day ridership. Metro must have an operational culture, that does the same thing the same way every day, but has managed to cross that with innovation.

Regrettably, for all its virtues, Metro isn’t in a position to solve the most pressing problems of urban dwellers. While it can make the rider experience better at the margins, the biggest problem is that transit vehicles are stuck in traffic. To solve that problem, riders are reliant on Sound Transit, which serves many stakeholders besides its riders, and Seattle DOT, which is having trouble executing on big capital projects at all.

24 Replies to “We’re Number One”

    1. It does, and many cities have recently reduced their investment in existing transit, which caused quality and reliability to suffer, and they’re now in a downward spiral. The loss or gain in ridership seems to directly correspond to how well the city is maintaining its network.

    2. Yes. I complain a lot about the 21 because there’s a lot to complain about (I effing HATE the 21), but friends and family in other cities are quick to tell me how bad it is elsewhere. I suppose my complaints that a bus scheduled every 15 minute often runs only every 45 minutes seem petty to those who have buses that run once an hour, or only a couple of times a day, or just don’t exist.

      1. Agreed. I’m in Tokyo now, and as much as I enjoyed riding the bus, nothing in the US comes close to what most other developed nations have as far as transit options go.

        Glad to see Seattle win, sorry that the rest of the US is such bad competition.

    3. I remember taking a bus to and from college classes in Ohio. I chose to live further away from school because of the crime, where I could get an equivalent apartment for the same price, but with fewer risks. After three friends getting robbed at gunpoint, one getting burglarized, and having my own car stolen and totaled, I knew I couldn’t stick around that neighborhood, and moved to a different safer neighborhood, but still within the city. So, I resorted to taking a bus every day. 45 minutes each way, and it ran on 40 minute headways at rush hour, 90 to 120 minute headways on weekends and evenings. Group projects and access to computer labs often had me carefully planning out my schedule to be sure I didn’t miss my bus to or from the U, especially late at night. Those few years were frustrating, but it was a necessity, from a safety and logistics standpoint. I knew the timetables by heart within a few months. (The bus stop was luckily located only a block from campus at a well lit corner by a public library and heavily-patronized college bar & restaurant. Safety in numbers!!!) Interestingly, out of my department/graduating class, I am pretty sure I was the only student to commute by bus out of 70, and I know I was the only member of my fraternity to commute by bus. Everybody either lived a short walk away or drove their car, almost never in a carpool.

      Yes, bus services are pretty terrible in other cities in the US. I know from first hand experience.

      Metro has its problems, but I think the people there do work hard to make improvements, and we’re blessed with taxpayers willing to pay for a public necessity. Thanks to the voters and the Metro employees for giving us a system that is the best in the US. Hopefully we can strive to make it even better in the coming years.

      1. I have been riding Metro since 1997. I can tell you that it has gotten worse. The drivers who care about being on time are fewer in numbers. Metro decision to make the rules for riders optional has made using transit more painful.

      2. I have the opposite viewpoint. I started riding Metro in 1997 also, and it has never been better. I remember planning my outings around 30 minute transit frequencies and a culture that empathized serving primarily existing users who didn’t value their time. Metro has steadily improved both routing planning, service quantity (frequency!), driver aggressiveness (at staying on time) and passenger convenience each year since (ORCA, One Bus Away, real-time arrival signs, more standing room on buses). It is now an international-class service, at least in high density portions of the service area. On-time reliability isn’t great in areas affected by several traffic congestion, but that is a regional problem but Metro has been attempting to improve reliability as much as City and County DOTs are willing to cooperate.

      3. > I have been riding Metro since 1997. I can tell you that it has gotten worse.

        And I can tell you that personal anecdotes are not evidence. :)

      4. The 62 was pretty bad its first year, getting 10-15 minutes late at 8:30 in the morning and not recovering until 6pm. But Metro threw more buses at it and it’s now almost always on time.

      5. Well I’ve been riding since 1997 too. My thoughts.

        Positives: The service is better and more frequent.

        Negatives: More crowded, slower due to traffic, and more transfers are required.

        That said, as much as we can bitch about Seattle transit, it still beats most places in the US. Metro can get you pretty much all over town, although might take a bit of time.

      6. One thing forgotten here is Metro is not just Seattle. It’s all King County.

  1. Careful. Think about our nation’s chief exponent of being Number One. Only not just before eating dinner. Worst thing is that somebody else- maybe him- already has control of your attention, directing it away from what you are actually supposed to be doing. Like driving a bus for example.

    Also, think about what direction you need to be looking in when it’s important to be First…toward your competitors who are by definition behind you. So in addition to running flat out into something ahead of you, you make it possible for a rabidly jealous last number to go beserk with rage, roller-skate an end-run around you, and stick out her foot.

    In the Tunnel’s early days, not good to have a tourist tell me how well the DSTT was working. Because since Management’s preoccupation was numerical praise, every compliment made it less possible to get anything corrected or fixed. Come to think of it… that by any chance how we got today’s ranking?

    But most important of all. Since if we’re Number One, all its other members have to be told “YOU’RE FIRED!”…Dow’s picture had really better be on all the months in the APTA calendar!


    1. Imagine ever unironically thinking that right wing talk radio has a worthwhile point of view.

    2. I would take what he says with a very big grain of salt, along with he has probably never ridden a bus. Which seems to be the case who rail against transit a lot of time.

      Also, I wish they would stop with this whole “build more and more highways everywhere” do I need to direct you to LA or Houston to show you how much your argument doesn’t hold water.

  2. Well, transit’s got a “come-back”. Announce that KCM has finally realized the cost of all that waste, and we’re cooperating. By refusing to either waste operating money, or inconvenience any motorist by simply not taking any of the taxpayers’ buses where they’re going to get stuck. In addition to getting everybody’s car stuck, which will stop happening when the buses are gone.

    OK. Todd. What’d you do with Michael Medved? And….is Dori Monson next? But most important, where’s Dave Ross when we need him? But given severity of the situation, only cure is to get Almost Live back. Because its best characters are the people on our side that cause people to laugh. Like fighting over whether ST-50 will go to Ballard or West Seattle.

    But at a recent carnival in a park across the snail-pond between the Capitol and Olympia…saw TV world’s greatest send-up. Have a narrator announce in gravest tones, that because self-driven cars are both inevitable and deadly dangerous, only choice is to surround every vehicle on the road with a big plastic cushion.

    And use carbon-tax to finance an aerial electrified cyclone fence over every freeway. Only litigation would rapidly become claims that on a whole 60′ artic, no matter how loud they yelled “Wheeeee!” nobody except the robot driver was allowed to give anybody the regulation Third Digit Perpendicularity. Also Investigate why you need a CDL. Will also be good break from that pizza parlor basement.


  3. Actually, this prize has stiffer competition than you might assume, since the “American Public Transit Association” includes Canada. Toronto’s TTC won the award last year, Minneapolis’ Metro Transit in 2016 and Houston Metro in 2015. If I were on the committee, I’d just award it to Vancouver Translink every year, but that would get boring.

  4. …Seattle DOT, which is having trouble executing on big capital projects at all.

    In that case, forget about “big capital projects.” Send employees out riding the buses while holding cans of red paint. Anytime the bus gets stuck in traffic, the employee should get off and paint a bus lane on the affected area.

  5. I remember back when Wallingford had a handful of half-hourly buses (16, 26, 30, 44) and a couple peak-only buses that were mostly useless (45, 46). It wasn’t easy being car-free then.

    Now, with the 62 and 44 at 15-minute all-day every-day frequencies, and an express-only 26 (downtown in 10 minutes!), it’s really not so bad. My only wish is that the 31 gets Sunday service (or somehow Fremont-UW gets 15-minute service all week).

    That’s not to say that I don’t have gripes about our transit service, but by and large they’re not Metro’s fault – SDOT and ST really need to up their game.

  6. We need ST to design a bus route going northbound from Woodinville. Currently the only routes going northbound from Woodinville only go to Bothell and then head Southbound, making it so that riders trying to go from Woodinville to Canyon Park or Lynwood need to make one transfer and riders going to Everett need to make two transfers or ride partially in the wrong direction to get to their location.

    1. If the transit system was designed for all the low-demand one-seat rides, the frequency would be unbearable.

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