Downtown, Link, South Base
South Base in Tukwila by Atomic Taco on Flickr

In recent years, Metro has said two problems prevent it from delivering asked-for levels of service: insufficient staffing and limited space in bus bases. According to Metro spokesperson Jeff Switzer, Metro has caught up with staffing demand (“Now Hiring” notices on vehicles notwithstanding) and will be able to keep pace. The main challenge now is basing.

As ridership has grown in recent years, Metro has struggled to meet the level of service it’s been asked to provide. Earlier this year, for example, the City of Seattle reappropriated bus service funding to projects including year-round free transit passes for public school students, because Metro couldn’t provide all the service Seattle was paying for.

In an interview with STB, Metro’s director of capital projects, Diane Carlson, and capital projects managing supervisor, Jeff Arbuckle, explained Metro’s plan to meet the basing needs of a growing vehicle fleet through 2030. Metro also provided STB with a planning document laying out the program.

The planning document does not include project costs. However, related requests in King County Executive Dow Constantine’s proposed 2019-20 budget, from September 2018, would add up to about $89.5 million in capital projects for the overall basing plan.

According to the interview and the planning document, the plan has four major components:

  • Expanding the capacity of the existing Central Base in Sodo, to phase in 150 new buses by 2023
  • Building a temporary base adjacent to the Tukwila South Base, using recently acquired land, to add 125 buses between 2021-25
  • After building the temporary base, renovating the existing South Base in segments, and eventually combining the renovated and temporary bases into a new, larger South Campus, to add 250 buses by 2025
  • Acquiring a new, permanent electric battery bus base by 2030, likely in South King County, to base 250 additional buses “during or after” 2030

2019-23: Central Base

“Central optimization is focused at our Central Atlantic-Ryerson base,” Carlson says. “That is using the land more efficiently, acquiring a little bit more land, and moving some facilities around on that base, to get 60 additional spaces.”

Land acquisitions will add capacity for another 90 buses. The planning document says that the efficiencies will be to “add yard space, convert body shop to maintenance bays, and build a replacement body shop.”

Carlson said that the results of the ST3 planning process could force a change of plans for the Central Base—some proposed alignments would require turning parts of Ryerson Base into Link guideways.

The budgetary requests made by County Executive Dow Constantine’s proposed 2019-20 budget makes reference to “Central Base,” “Atlantic Base,” and “Ryerson Base” at various points, making compiling all relevant capital projects tricky. However, here is a list of the requests that seem to be part of the plan:

  • $2.8 million for renovating the Central Base’s vehicle body shop and staff wellness center
  • $2 million for “facilities improvements,” which covers “transit operating facilities”
  • $3 million for Atlantic Base yard refurbishment
  • $13.6 million for new bus lifts at Atlantic Base
  • $4.9 million for underground storage tanks at Central Base

These projects add up to approximately $26.3 million in major budget requests related to the Central Base improvements.

2021-25: South Campus

“The most amount of work that’s going to happen in the next couple years is going to be down at our South Base site in Tukwila,” says Carlson. “We have a lot of moving—we’re going to be moving a lot of things off, relocating them so we can build that new base on the property that we have down there.”

The South Campus changes are where Metro will begin to transition the fleet’s non-trolley energy supply to electric batteries, from diesel hybrids.

“That interim base, and the new South Annex base, are the first bases that will be built for battery buses,” Carlson says. “It’s a big, exciting thing. There’s a lot to that, in terms of getting the right types of facilities in place, the right technology.”

The 2019-20 proposed budget references the “South Base,” “South Campus,” and “South Annex,” so the same caveats as the Central Base list apply. Major requests include:

  • $14 million for the construction of the temporary South Base
  • $28 million to “fund purchase of land, leases, and relocation costs” related to the new South Campus project
  • $6.5 million for “construction of a permanent 250 bus transit base on Metro owned property called the South Annex,” with features including vehicle maintenance facilities
  • $6.5 million for a new electric substation to handle “deployment of 120 electric buses into revenue service”
  • $5.8 million for new HVAC systems
  • $900k for new fluid tanks
  • $1.5 million for new electric bus chargers

These requests add up to $63.2 million in major budget requests related to the South Campus improvements.

2030: New Base

Plans for the new base are still in development, but Carlson did share some of the broad strokes. She said that South King County was the most likely location for the new base, taking into consideration current ridership trends, which could change—particularly as Link extensions come on line.

Other considerations include ingress and egress, proximity to residential neighborhoods (i.e. the effects of necessary light, sound, and air pollution), the size of a potential parcel, and groundwater/runoff impacts.

The September budget proposal also mentions the new base search, but lists the cost as “$0.” We have asked Metro to clarify the $0 figure; spokesperson Jeff Switzer says that the project is too far out of the budget window to account for in the proposal.

The planning document also makes reference to a potential ninth base, which would be added in 2040.

36 Replies to “Metro’s $89.5 million, 20 year plan to expand bus bases”

    1. Great picture! The base in the foreground, with the link light rail train behind it and the downtown skyline in the background all captured in one photo.

    2. That is one big parking lot for buses. Can Seattle create more density and transit and eliminate the need for more land to store buses? Not sure using valuable land in the city to store buses is good.

    3. The Sound Transit coaches in the yard caught my eye. The only time ST coaches are at SB is when they’re being prepared for entering service, or when major repairs are needed (like after an accident).

  1. When I see charts that appear to straight-line buses needed in the future, yet I also know that Link is supposed to add 150K to 200K more riders between 2021 and 2025, I wonder if Metro should be adjusting for this change in their projecting.

  2. Two additional perspectives that I hope Metro considers in this process:

    1. SODO land is becoming valuable, and Metro is sitting on about 38 acres of prime land around the Stadium Link station, between the Ryerson Base, Atlantic Base, and the staff parking areas between them. Metro should consider strategically how that land can be better used and provide return to taxpayers. I understand that the trolley buses need to be based near the trolley routes. But other buses, and maybe most maintenance activities, could be moved to bases in the suburbs. Metro could also look at stacked bus parking garage arrangements or become mixed-use structures (i.e, office or residential over bus parking garages). Both of these could allow some of the land to be surplussed and redeveloped.

    For example, on the other side of Royal Brougham St, a 1.2 million square feet office development is moving forward. This is possible with the current industrial zoning. Rezoning to residential could yield 3,800 apartments in typical mid-rises, and vastly more if high-rises are approved. All adjacent to light rail and major job centers.

    2. Bus base requirements could be reduced by running more night owl buses. This is a trade-off of capital/land to store buses, and operating/labor costs to drive buses. But if the hiring problem is now solved, and it takes time to build/re-arrange bases for more capacity, additional night owl service could get Metro through the crunch.

    1. 2. Bus base requirements could be reduced by running more night owl buses.

      Yes! Please! Start with making sure places where operators live have service that can get them to work, so they aren’t driving to and from work in addition to driving for work all day. Safety improvement…

      Make the frequency tolerable, as in at least hourly, and go up from there. Especially include Link shadow service.

      Given the 24/7/365 nature of SeaTac Airport, provide overnight service on all the routes that go there, at least hourly, starting with the A Line and the Link Shadow. Those shifts can slightly reduce the need for AM/PM split shifts. Fewer split shifts is a safety improvement, at least for the operators who can move off of them.

    2. While I agree that Metro could look at building up on their Sodo bases, moving them out to the suburbs would be folly. Over 60% of Metro service is in Seattle plus the additional service Seattle buys. In addition, the Sodo bases are ideally located near I-5, I-90, SR 99, and the city street grid. Time is money at over a $100/hour to operate a bus. Moving out of Sodo would mean tens of millions of non-service deadhead hours.

      1. As the article references, Link projects will shift the need from bringing riders into Downtown Seattle to bringing riders to nearby a Link station. That affects where storage is needed.

        There are 13 Link stations inside Seattle City Limits today. By 2035, there are supposed to be 16 more. Because most will be the Northwest (Ballard) Line, that will likely have the biggest effect on Metro bus frequencies, usage and travel patterns.

        Also, when a route only has to make half of its original trip time (going to a Link station rather than through Downtown), Metro can double frequencies (and theoretically double rider boardings) with the same number of buses. It’s not only the number of boardings but how long people are on a bus that affect bus needs.

        On the other hand, possible Link overcrowding could be an issue. No one appears to be analyzing this and there are many speculating that there may be a problem. Encouraging Metro riding may become important for this reason!

        There are lots of complex factors at work. Hopefully, Metro has accounted for them. Given the straight-lining of bus demand, I’m reasonably unsure that they did.

      2. Al—you really should read Metro Connects to see why Metro has projected needs. You are right, we are building Link. But Metro is planning on increasing coverage and frequency to feed Link. ST 3 barely gets into West Seattle and Ballard. Metro Connects envisions better geographic coverage and frequent service to feed rail in a quick and seamless way. Don’t worry, we will still have many buses in Seattle.

      3. I’m not seeing consistency. First RBC says that expansion should instead happen in SODO and that Metro is not planning correctly, then RBC says that Netro Connects planning is not to be questioned. That seems contradictory.

      4. I never said either thing. I simply said that there will be plenty of bus service in Seattle post ST3 and that Sodo is the best place to base bus service.

    3. Do you mean like when King County shrewdly negotiated to give away a valuable parcel near Northgate Station? Not only did they just give it away, the parcel will produce no property taxes.

      No, keep the bus bases in SODO. Moving them to suburbs would just mean more late buses.

      1. Are you talking about an affordable housing lot? We need affordable housing,especially near major transit stations.

      2. Mike, yep. But, what was my comment in response to? It was in response to Chad saying, “Metro should consider strategically how that land can be better used and provide return to taxpayers.” But King County doesn’t know how to make valuable public land provide a return to the taxpayers. Instead of selling the Ryerson Base land, or the Central/Atlantic Base land for $50 million dollars, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in property taxes, Dow, who wants to be Governor, would stupidly give away the land to an entity that doesn’t pay property taxes to score political points. Property taxes from large, private developments is the gift that keep in giving, forever.

      3. There’s a state law passed about a decade ago saying ST must first consider affordable housing when disposing of surplus land. It may apply to Metro too, or may apply because it’s a future Link station. Or King County may have decided it on its own. That’s exactly why we need brilliant investigative reporters like yourself to get to the bottom of these issues and explain them on Page 2.

    4. Chad, you’re using up my afternoon’s last efforts not to say something that starts with the word backinmyday! But do you really want to turn vehicle maintenance over to King County Real Estate Services?

      Mark

  3. “$6.5 million for a new electric substation to handle “deployment of 120 electric buses into revenue service””

    How many megawatts will that need, and does the utility have enough unused renewable-energy capacity for it?

    1. It depends on the type of buses that are being recharged–if we assume that Metro will buy long range electric buses that are have 300+ kWh of capacity, you could fully recharge in roughly 6 hours using a 50kW charger. A 1-megawatt power capability could drive 20 chargers simultaneously. So I would plan between 5-10 MW to support a fleet of 100-200 buses charging simultaneously for 6 hours each night.

      I don’t have a grasp on the power usage by large industrial users, but maybe someone else can chime in? How much electric power is used to run the large cranes in Sodo for example?

  4. Kind of unfortunate to see another important regional transit project treated with the same lack of urgency as everything else, and it’s rather frustrating. This was entirely predictable and should have been addressed before the mid-to-late 2020’s.

  5. Wasn’t base capacity one of the reasons that Community Transit adopted double-deckers for their long-haul runs? Metro uses articulated buses for some of the suburban park and ride routes with few stops, I wonder if it would be worth it for them to replace a portion of their fleet with double deckers to squeeze a little bit more space in the short term.

    1. The base capacity issue was one of the factors stated in the decision to replace articulated busses with double-talls, although a second-tier consideration.

      https://www.communitytransit.org/busservice/doubletall

      https://www.communitytransit.org/news/news-releases/community-transit-news/2018/04/06/agency-receives-federal-grant-to-expand-double-tall-fleet-to-70

      Additionally, here’s what CT said about their base capacity in their 2017-2022 TDP:

      “Future Operating Base Capacity

      By 2019, Community Transit will return to pre-recession service levels and fleet size. Service and fleet expansion beyond 2019 will begin to stretch the capacity of maintenance bays, bus parking and operational support space. Additionally, the Merrill Creek operating base does not currently support operation of Double Tall buses. Retrofitting the base to fully accommodate Double Talls would increase operational flexibility and open this bus platform to more routes and customers. During the next two years, the agency will study operating base capacity, identify deficiencies, scope base
      expansion needs and/or retrofits, and build the financial capacity to design, engineer and construct identified projects. As described in the Financial section of this TDP, Community Transit plans to reserve $50 million to fund this operating base expansion by 2020.”

  6. I think they should have sold only the above ground space for the Convention Center. The Center would be above and below would be a gigantic covered layover zone. They would also not lose access to the expess lanes

  7. Questions:
    1st, will the free transit passes for HS students go away when we are deploying more service?

    2nd, why can’t metro just park buses on the street?

    1. Amen to Question 2. I think a short-term capacity crunch in bus bases is a rather lame excuse for not expanding service, especially when the City of Seattle has appropriated funds specifically to expand service.

      Couldn’t we get a bit creative here? Put some “bus parking only from 8 PM-6 AM” signs on some streets near the bus base, use parking lots at big box stores or office buildings or churches during off-peak times, or something? Anything to accommodate a few dozen buses overnight in the short term while Metro works on these longer-term base improvement projects would be a great thing in my book.

      1. The busses have to be serviced at night when the majority of riders are asleep. That is also when most of the repairs are likely done. If they are not a Trolley, they also need to get fueled. The problem is more complex than just a parking space. They need to be in a place that is convenient to get them ready to go out the next day. All in one area. The street does not fulfill that need. They do, however have layover zones all over the county where they leave busses instead of coming back to bases. You should apply to be a fleet fueler, then you might get it.

      2. Oh, I understand that this wouldn’t be an optimal solution, hence the base expansion plans that make complete sense. Surely the buses aren’t all being serviced and fueled at the same time.

        Wouldn’t it be possible, given a little bit of budget for extra manpower, to take the first few buses that are ready for the next day out to the street, to make room for more buses as they come in for the night?

    2. The Proposition 1 levy that’s paying for the school passes expires in 2020. What comes after Prop 1 is unclear. There’s talk of a countywide measure that would include the extra Seattle service Prop 1 is funding now, and allow Metro to create the RapidRide lines in its Long-Range Plan. But it surely wouldn’t include Seattle school passes, so something else would have to fund them if they continue. It’s not necessarily essential long-term (although I support free transit in principle, and this is partial free transit). If it only last a couple years it will give that class of students a taste of transit, which will probably make some of them transit riders for life. And the passes were never a main goal; we backed into them because Metro couldn’t hire enough drivers or find enough base space for all the Prop 1 additions. Metro’s revenues have been yo-yo’ing with the economy and gas prices and anti-tax initiatives, so it had a deep cut and then suddenly had to increase a few years later.

      1. Prop 1 aka move seattle? Ok I got that from the piece where it said “the City of Seattle reappropriated bus service funding to projects including year-round free transit passes for public school students, because Metro couldn’t provide all the service Seattle was paying for” so presumably if we got that extra bus service, we’d lose funding capacity for those bus passes?

  8. I also did not intend to be dismissive of your comment, though it came out that way. I work in an all night shop near Metro. Unlike them, we are not aloud to park our overflows on the street. I do test drives around their bases sometimes. You would ne amazed how they park those things on the weekends. It would not be possible to even attempt that with a tractor trailor combo. Also there is pushback from the city and county to leave certain areas alone due to homeless encampments. That is not well documented, but I assure you from e-mails from my noss that it exists. Also from my own perspective, I don’t feel safe getting in a truck at 3:45 in the morning when people are harrassing me and burning garbage. Metro’s union probably is protecting their service people from that. I don’t know. The list goes on and on. But to sum it up. There is no government agency in the world who wouldn’t love more money to expand. If Metro says they can’t do it yet, I believe them.

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