I-90 bus route September changes
Credit: Metro, Sound Transit, and Lizz Giordano

Sound Transit’s new schedule books are out. The September 22 service changes include some bad news and little bits of good news. Seven ST Express bus routes, including the two with the highest ridership (routes 550 and 545), are losing trips. Routes 511 and 580 are the only routes gaining trips. Some routes are losing a little span of service, and some are gaining.

Route 510 is losing two trips, both in the afternoon peak, with trips from 3:55 to 5:35 becoming more spread out.

Route 511, however, is gaining a trip, improving frequency and altering schedule times from 4:06 pm to 6:18 pm.

Route 513 is losing one northbound afternoon trip, impacting the timing of all northbound 513 runs. On the bright side, the last trip will start five minutes later, extending span of service.

Route 522 is ending its Bothell detour and returning to Main St eastbound. However, the ongoing Main St construction could force continued stop changes after the service change, so check Alerts. In addition, the stops at Bothell Way NE & Ballinger are being closed.

Route 541 is losing a morning trip in each direction. The cancelled eastbound trip is the last one, reducing span of service. The last morning eastbound 541 will now leave its UW Station stop at 8:43 am. The westbound span of service remains intact by spreading out the trips. A few other time adjustments have been made to various 541 trips.

Route 545 is losing two afternoon trips, one eastbound, reducing frequency from 2:32 to 4:11 pm, and one westbound, reducing frequency from 2:45 to 4:35 pm.

Route 550‘s path is getting even worse. The route is already suffering from the closure of South Bellevue Park & Ride and the I-90 express lanes. Now, due to closure of the express lanes into and out of downtown for East Link construction, its path through south downtown will feature loops in the SODO. At least it will continue to have use of the Busway and the Transit Tunnel for 6 more months. (After that, it will at least have new bus-only lanes on 4th Ave S.) On top of that, instead of adding service as mitigation, an eastbound afternoon trip is being cut, reducing frequency from 2:32 to 4:11 pm, and a westbound afternoon trip is being cut, reducing frequency from 3:55 to 4:15 pm. Many other trips are getting minor time adjustments.

Route 554‘s path is getting the better re-route in Seattle, following Rainier Ave and Dearborn St. Six weekday eastbound trips, spread out through the day, are being cut, with the first trip starting 8 minutes later than currently. On the positive side, the last trip will start 21 minutes later. Four westbound weekday trips are being cut, with span of service improved on both ends, starting the first trip 7 minutes earlier and starting the last trip 17 minutes later.

Route 580 is getting at least one new trip, but the schedule book was not internally consistent on how many, or where they would go. ST has not gotten me a clarification as of publication time.

Route 592 is losing a southbound trip, reducing frequency from 5:22 to 6:22 pm.

Minor trip time adjustments are being made to routes 540, 555, 556, 560, 566, 574, and 590 on weekdays, and 594 on weekends.

The only change for Sound Transit rail services is the final arrival time for South Sounder trip 1512, which will show on schedules arriving at King Street Station at 8:05 am instead of the current 8:02 am. This is the trip which departs Lakewood Station at 6:46 am.

One other change of note between the March and September schedule publications was the change for all reduced fares on ST Express to be the one-county fare, regardless of distance traveled. That means low-income-qualified riders and riders (those who aren’t already getting free passes through their public schools) age 6-18 can ride any ST Express bus for $1.50, the same as for Link, Metro buses, and Seattle Streetcars, with transfer credit lasting two hours on ORCA. Seniors age 65+ and riders with disabilities get the same deal, but for the even lower price of $1.

For ongoing live-day schedule changes, ST encourages riders to subscribe to Alerts.

37 Replies to “ST Express Cutting Trips on Popular Routes”

  1. Just two years after passing ST3, we should be adding trips, not cutting them. Two years after the passage of ST2, lots of new trips were added.

    Is it really true that ST3 funded rail to Tacoma and Everett, but not one extra dime for ST express bus service?

    1. There’s probably something to that, but I bet its mostly the lack of drivers, buses, and base space. Are service hours flat? Maybe we just get fewer runs for the same hours because MAXIMUM CONSTRAINT, ROAR! It sucks, but what are ya gonna do when Metro and ST literally can’t add anything for lack of drivers and buses, and SDOT can’t even spend the car tab money it’s been collecting specifically for added bus service.

    2. Talk about a revenue-neutral restructure. Well, adding trips isn’t free. ST would have to take it out of another budget, and it’s maxed out on other projects. Advancing ST3 express bus funds to compensate for ST2 traffic may not be a wide use of funds.

      1. Mike, any stats on how many of Dave Reichert’s voter who are also 550 passengers are not going to replace him with a Democrat in five weeks? Including present Democrats?

        Projected system-wide? And if so, can you think of a single wiser use of our every future cent than preventing our whole transit district’s destruction at the polls a month and a half from now? Just curious.

        Mark

      1. Unless one of the transit agencies figure out how to deliver more buses as peak, which will basically require opening up a new bus base somewhere in the region, we are probably stuck until the next Link opening (Northgate) replaces bus service, freeing up buses to run elsewhere in the network.

      2. We don’t know that was the reason. More likely it’s the cost, and ST’s unwillingness to increase ST Express’s budget, which would mean taking money from another budget when ST is choc-full of capital projects and everyone is screaming at it to deliver those projects as soon as possible. It’s not like Metro can’t find one or two more buses and drivers; didn’t it just add some school service? It just can’t add a dozens of more runs like Seattle was planning.

  2. As I am fond of talking about how bad the reverse peak 550 is (and I’ve always had a habit of trying to avoid the 550 if I could possibly see a way that the 271/555 + Link or another U district bus would be competitive with the 550 + whatever bus I would need after that), really they should add more service to the route (and especially in reverse peak), but at least the cuts aren’t catastrophic like one might worry. You can tell they really tried to leave it as much alone as they could (the 554 lost a lot more trips than the 550.

    I also wonder why are trips being removed on other routes? Is it just redistributing the pain of the I90 restructure system wide?

    1. Reverse peak 550 should be a little bit faster now that it has a new HOV lane to use. Peak direction 550 has an HOV lane too, that can’t be accessed by drivers using the old Mercer Island cheating ramp.

    2. Trips are removed generally because of increase congestion. For the same amount of platforms hours (i.e. the same number of buses out there running the route as a particular time), less round trips can be made. So rather than buses running late, each trip gets a bit extra time (or there’s a bit more layover/recovery time) and one trip is cut.

      1. Yes, but we just passed a ballot measure that gives Sound Transit a ton of money. Adding at least enough new service hours to ST express to maintain the existing schedule would cost next to nothing compared to all the ST3-funded capital projects. I am still disappointed that ST3 didn’t give one more dime to ST Express beyond what it already had.

      2. The issue isn’t money, it’s system capacity – see my comment above. You can critique ST (or Metro) for not anticipating the Amazonian boom and getting a new bus base built, but passing ST3 really didn’t help – the plans calls for a new bus base to open by 2024 to support the BRT lines, but in 2015 everyone was still viewing STX as a mode that was going to be dramatically reduced post East Link/ Lynnwood Link, not a mode that merited a >$100M capital investment.

  3. The route 550 is suffering from the closure of the South Bellevue P&R? Hasn’t the STB argued in the past that not having P&R’s would benefit a route?

    1. It is the set of riders who parked there to catch the bus who are suffering. The route itself always should have stayed on the street. There is essentially no commensurate gain for pedestrians in the neighborhood because there really is no neighborhood and no businesses within the walkshed of those stops.

      If the parking lot goes away for multi-story housing, allowing more people to walk to the new station than the parking garage will hold, then I would not shed a tear.

      1. The route did stay on the street. There’s a new bus shelter southbound and a stop and I think a shelter northbound. It’s hard to see who can use it because there’s a blank wall extending for blocks, but it does serve the houses west of it.

        I usually take the 550 weekends, and the loss of the P&R has had no perceptible impact to service then. But there did used to be a lot of people there on some of the game days, so that’s been impacted.

    2. They argue for development instead of a park’n ride. If they had the option for a thousand housing units or a thousand car parking garage. they would argue the one thousand housing units would be a better option.

      The argument is a lot more complicated than just not having Park and Rides vs Housing. The Idea is to encourage Place making. So instead of leaving you car some were of 10 hr so the rail line see two trips one in the morning and one at night there is a place were with housing and shop and offices were people could go in the morning or at night or in the middle of the day to get lunch resulting in more trips on the light rail and less car use.

      1. No, take development or a utopian TOD Shangri-La out of the picture. If there’s a long stretch of nothing on a bus or light rail route, I think STB would argue it’s better not to have a P&R in the middle of that nothingness, than to have one. They would even argue it’s better for the route not to have it, I believe. Have a stop or station, sure, but not a P&R. So I don’t understand why they are now saying the 550 (or its passengers), is suffering from the loss of the South Bellevue P&R.

      2. If P&Rs are necessary then they should be outside the urban village where they won’t get in the way of pedestrians. I used to be hostile to P&R stations but it’s better than having a garage in the middle of downtown as in Renton and Burien. (Although there they double as downtown parking, and replace surface lots, so it’s not all express-bus commuters.) I’ve also noticed when I’ve ridden the 550 peak hours that a third of the passengers get off at Mercer Island and another third at South Bellevue, so the P&R stations are clearly serving people. Given all these factors, the sensible solution is a pedestrian-oriented station downtown and a P&R station on the periphery. That’s exactly what Bellevue has. And Issaquah, surprise surprise. Lynnwood and Federal Way should follow suit, and move their P&Rs out of downtown.

      3. FWIW, most of the Lynnwood “city center” development seems to be away from the park and ride, with pretty decent daytime connecting bus service and the Interurban Trail as a bike option. (Evening and weekend bus service sucks, though.)

      4. ” the sensible solution is a pedestrian-oriented station downtown and a P&R station on the periphery. ” Amen. This framework applies to commuter & HSR stations, too. A giant parking lot at the Tukwilla Sounder station is reasonable; a parking garage in downtown Kent is a bummer.

        I’d argue the proposed BRT routes are doing the same – the P&R garages are all in suburban locations, but urban stations (downtowns of Bothell, Kenmore, Bellevue, and Burien) are all without parking.

        Renton & Tacoma have pushed their parking to the periphery of their urban core, and then served the parking directly (BRT, Link) with feeder service downtown (RR-F, Tacoma Link) … it’s not ideal, but it helps support urban land use I suppose.

    3. I don’t know about ridership but the 550 experience got way worse due to the loss of the express lane entrance and exit on Mercer Island.

  4. I wonder if this is in response to the 545 declining ridership. But…why is the 545 losing ridership? Is it just more people using the Microsoft private bus network?

    1. From the July 2018 Service Performance Report:

      ST Express ridership slightly increased by 15K, or 1.0%, compared to the same time last year. Route 580 (Lakewood – Puyallup Sounder Station) had the highest year-over-year growth carrying 228 additional average weekday riders, or an increase of 41%, compared to last year. Conversely, route 545 (Redmond-Seattle) and route 550 (Bellevue-Seattle), two of Sound Transit’s most popular routes, declined in year-over-year ridership by 8% and 4%, respectively, due to construction and congestion impacts on service.

    2. Anecdotally, the 545’s 1-seat-to-downtown advantage is being eroded by the awfulness of downtown traffic and the 541/2 is looking better by comparison. Sitting on the Montlake off-ramp in the PM peak is now better than sitting on the Stewart/Denny off-ramp and then slogging through downtown traffic.

      1. Frank, if we can’t get rush-hour only lanes on freeway ramps- needed to get buses to turnback point at hospital *any chance we could get signals at the bottom entries to the ramps to let buses go through, varying with cars on supervisor’s orders? Cars won’t be moving anyhow.

        MD

      2. That may be but most of the feedback they got when they proposed truncating the 545 and 255 was to keep them running downtown. Because many people go downtown and think everybody else does too, and they’d rather sit in a bus in traffic than transfer, and they’re afraid of getting stuck in out-of-direction traffic detouring to UW Station, or they’ve seen the repeated Seattle Times articles about UW Station escalators.

  5. Why do you say the 554 is getting the “better” re-route? I’m planning on avoiding the 554 eastbound in the afternoon like the plague, and instead either catching a 212/216 or catching the 550 and transferring at MI, b/c the 550 is going to consistently overtake the 554 between Seattle and MI. The loop through SoDo make sense if you understand which specific lanes are congested or not congested during rush hour.

    The Rainier Ave detour is necessary to serve those previously served by the I90 flyover stop, but it’s going to be much, much slower for the majority of the riders heading in & out of downtown. Getting on I90 at Rainer means entering the freeway on the right-hand side, whereas entering in SoDo means the bus starts on the left-hand side and can stay in the HOV lanes at least across the floating bridge.

    I’m expecting the 554 to lose a bunch of riders, mostly to the peak-only KCM routes that cover the same key destinations.

  6. In fall 2010, during the great recession, ST planned to reduce service for fiscal reasons.

    today, we are in a boom time. ST has known for several years that East Link construction would take out the D-2 roadway and add running time to I-90 service. Trips in the peak direction are probably less reliable as well due to the loss of the center roadway for East Link construction. So, ST knew that the longer running times were coming for several years; it was due to East Link construction. They had time to overcome the constraints. they chose not to. riders today will suffer longer and less reliable trips and now have fewer trips for the sake of the overall budget. Several Metro routes will use the longer pathway; will they have fewer trips?

    1. Begging (you know, whining and jumping up and down like a dog for a biscuit) the question, what do we do about it? If the right (wing) party wins the election in a few weeks, one more outcome will be Sad, Unfair, and Treason.

      MD

  7. .550 and 545? LINK to UW. Which will both use SR 520 cross-lake.

    . LINK to Sea-Tac, temporary 560 express to Bellevue.

    One LINK driver can get many busloads of passengers out of Downtown. And standing loads can put up with a lot except three hours not moving. And this November, there’s one consideration that every transit-connected elected Democrat had better make High Above Number One priority. Isn’t there.

    Mark Dublin

  8. One easy fix that ST can do, and for very cheap if at all (if they eliminate the loop) is to, rather than deadhead (cruise by and not picking up passengers) the multi-family and low-income corridor called Casino Road in southwest Everett, which will soon be bracketed by two BRT lines, start revenue service (picking up passengers) there to serve at least half of the stops, not too unlike the 522 and the 535 do.

    It’s also questionable whether they need to cross 526 to do a loop to serve a single stop at 79th & Evergreen Way vs. taking the 526 east onramp towards Eastmont Park & Ride and what should also include the 112th Street Park & Ride. This would give the thousands of folks on Casino Road a direct connection to regional transit that they lack now, unless they take an Everett Transit bus for ½ hour north to downtown Everett (imagine having to take a bus one half hour to the north of where you live in order to connect to a bus going downtown), which will soon be eliminated as an option by that financially-strapped agency. Unfortunately, as an insider at ST told me a few years ago, the focus at that agency is light rail: bus service is deemphasized, it gets the crumbs.

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