The 6th Avenue bus lane, ready to debut later this month (Bruce Englehardt)

Orange and white Rider Alert signs are sprouting around the city like early March crocuses, which must mean it’s time for another Metro service change. Not so long ago, we dreaded these. Now we look forward to them. We’ve now had four years of improvements without any significant pain, as a combination of continued sales tax revenue growth and Seattle Proposition 1 investments have allowed the agency to address urgent needs and boost service levels throughout its network.

This service change, which starts Saturday, March 23, is a little different. The local economic music has not yet stopped, so Metro is still adding hours. But, this time, riders won’t be seeing commensurate network improvements.

The culprit is the closure of the downtown transit tunnel to buses, driven by the construction of the Washington State Convention Center Addition and the resulting loss of the northern tunnel entrance at the former Convention Place Station. A majority of the additional hours in this service change are dedicated to adding running time to tunnel routes, which is needed because their trips on downtown surface streets will be slower than trips through the tunnel. (Trips through the tunnel on Link trains, however, should be faster and more reliable with the buses gone.)

Another significant change triggered by the tunnel closure is the opening of a new northbound bus pathway through downtown. While the existing three southbound pathways (Third, Second, and Fifth Avenues) had sufficient capacity to absorb the buses displaced by the tunnel, there were only two existing northbound pathways (Third and Fourth Avenues), and they lack capacity to absorb more buses. In response, SDOT and Metro have created a third northbound pathway, using a bus-only contraflow lane on Fifth Avenue south of Marion and middle bus lanes on Sixth Avenue north of Marion. Those who have suffered through the Howell Street bus lane may be skeptical of the Sixth Avenue lanes; it remains to be seen how they will perform. The new pathway will host one all-day route, the 255 to Kirkland, and a number of peak-hour routes to North King County and the northern Eastside.

Also in an effort to improve bus capacity further, all-door boarding with off-bus ORCA card readers will be available at all stops on Third Avenue downtown.

In addition to these major changes, there are a few network improvements. See the details below the jump.

Downtown Changes

Former Tunnel Routes

All buses will be leaving the tunnel and migrating to surface streets, as follows:

  • Route 41: 3rd Ave in both directions. Lake City-bound buses will stop on 3rd at James, Madison, Union, and Pine, and on Olive Way at 6th.
  • Route 74: New 5th/6th bus pathway outbound, Union St and 2nd Ave inbound. Sand Point-bound buses will stop on 5th at Main, Jefferson, and Marion, and on 6th at University.
  • Routes 101/102 and 150: Union St and 2nd Ave outbound, 4th Ave inbound. Renton- and Kent-bound buses will stop on Union at 6th and 4th, and on 2nd at Madison, James, and Jackson. Note that there are no outbound stops north of Union St.
  • Route 255: New 5th/6th bus pathway outbound, Stewart St and 5th Ave inbound. Kirkland-bound buses will stop on 5th at Main, Jefferson, and Marion, and on 6th at University.
  • Sound Transit route 550: Union St and 2nd Ave outbound, 4th Ave inbound. Bellevue-bound buses will stop on Union at 6th and 4th, and on 2nd at Seneca, Cherry, and Yesler. Note that there are no outbound stops north of Union St.

Routes Moving to 5th/6th Pathway

The new 5th/6th pathway, shown below, has stops on 5th at Main, Jefferson, and Marion, and on 6th at University. (On their southbound trips, Eastside routes will use a different path than shown, but the northbound path will be the same.)

The following routes will be moving to the new pathway for trips headed out of downtown:

  • 74 to University District and Sand Point
  • 76 to Roosevelt and Wedgwood
  • 77 to Maple Leaf and Jackson Park
  • 252 to Kingsgate
  • 255 to Kirkland (all-day service)
  • 257 to Kingsgate
  • 301 to Aurora Village
  • 308 to Lake Forest Park
  • 311 to Woodinville
  • 316 to Green Lake and Meridian Park

Accessing the 5th/6th pathway, especially the stops at Marion and Jefferson, may represent a significant climb for riders coming from further west. Those who have trouble making the climb may find it easier to use Route 12 to reach 5th and Marion, or to take 3rd or 2nd Ave service southbound to stops close to 5th and Main.

Note that not all north-end or SR-520 service will shift to the new pathway. Metro routes 268 and 312, and Sound Transit routes 522 and 545, will remain on 4th Avenue northbound. Metro routes 304 and 355 will continue to use their existing “reverse” routing through downtown.

All-Door Boarding on 3rd and Westlake

All stops along 3rd Avenue between Yesler and Pine Streets, and all stops along Westlake Ave N in South Lake Union, will feature all-door boarding. Riders can tap their ORCA cards at off-bus machines located at the stops. Unarmed Metro fare enforcement personnel will check proof of payment on routes serving these stops. Riders paying with cash on 3rd Ave and Westlake Ave N routes should get transfers and retain them while on the bus.

Other Network Improvements

While the bulk of new service hours will be helping to keep tunnel routes afloat, there are still a few network improvements, with a welcome focus on South Seattle. They are as follows:

All Day

Route 120 gets improvements that are a “sneak peek” of its future as the RapidRide H Line. Daytime service on weekdays improves to 12-minute frequency, while service improves to 15-minute frequency weekday evenings and Sunday daytime. This is welcome change for a route that has been slow to see improvements given its extremely high ridership. There is further room for improvement when RapidRide H arrives, though; service remains half-hourly after 9 p.m. weekdays and 6 p.m. weekends.

Route 40 gets targeted new weekday trips to improve frequency at certain crowded times. Southbound, frequency improves from 15 to 12 minutes throughout the late morning, until roughly 12:30 p.m., and from 15 to 10 minutes during the 6:00 p.m. hour Northbound, frequency improves from 15 to 12 minutes during the early morning, before full peak-hour service starts around 7:30 a.m.

Route 106 will improve to 15-minute frequency during the day on Sundays.

Route 50 gets new weekday midday trips that improve its frequency to 20 minutes throughout weekday afternoons. Service remains half-hourly during late mornings, nights, and weekends.

Route 204 will gain hourly Saturday service.

Peak Hour Crowding Relief

The following routes get additional peak hour trips to relieve crowding:

  • Route 15 (one morning trip)
  • Route 111 (one morning and one evening trip)
  • Route 312 (one morning trip)

Grab Bag

As always, there are a few other random details worth mentioning.

  • Route 70 will operate with diesel or diesel-hybrid buses until the Fairview Bridge project is complete, which is expected in late 2020.
  • Route 105 will straighten its routing in the Renton Highlands, eliminating its current jog onto NE 4th St. The stops next to the Vantage Point condo complex will be relocated onto NE 3rd St, making service faster but creating some difficult pedestrian crossings.
  • Route 201, a Mercer Island shuttle route that serves approximately one rider on its single daily trip in each direction, will finally be deleted.
  • Routes 204 and 224 will transition from regular Metro service, operated with full-size Metro buses, to DART (Dial-A-Ride Transit) service operated with wheelchair-accessible vans. As a result, these routes will gain flexible service areas, allowing riders to reserve off-route pickups in advance. DART service is subcontracted to nonunion contractors, and Metro’s contract with the drivers’ union limits the amount of DART service it can schedule to a certain percentage of Metro’s regular service. Metro’s additions to regular service over the last several years are also allowing it to add more DART service, facilitating this transition.

80 Replies to “Metro Adds Hours, But Tunnel Closure Swallows Them”

  1. Link scheduled run times in the new schedule book are the same as they are currently with buses in the tunnel. Do you think Link schedules will be updated once actual run times are known?

  2. Does anyone know if Metro will be rectifying the current lack of Pioneer Square stations for West Seattle bus lines with this service change? The new re-routes for the Rapid Ride C, 55, 56, 57, 120, etc. have those lines traveling from the SR99 exit at Dearborn, north on 1st Avenue, up Cherry and onto 3rd Avenue, but there are zero stops for that 10-block stretch until Madison and 3rd, leaving Pioneer Square unserved in both directions. The City has reported that there are no stops because the outer lanes on 1st Avenue can’t support the weight of buses, but it strains credulity to think there is not a single spot during that 10-block where a bus stop could be viable.

    1. LOL, if the outer lanes of 1st can’t support buses, then why would it be safe to run them on 1st at all?

      The correct response to that is, of course, pour some cement on 1st ave around Pioneer Square and get some bus stops. I’d recommend one at Yesler for Pioneer Square and one at King for SODO connections, couple block walk to the stadiums, and the Sounder connection (for the few who would find it useful).

      I think they’re worried about reliability issues, and the extra service hours that will need to be spent to add stops after what they’re already spending to offset the loss of the viaduct.

      1. +1000 on this. There are four large office buildings on 1st just north of Dearborn and the closest stops are 3rd & Main/4th & Jackson.

      2. The 15, 18, and 21 all used to go that way. Yes, the buses were lighter than they are now with the batteries and electrical equipment. Still, I can’t imagine that they’re that much heavier.

    2. Are we sure all those routes will stay on 99 / 1st?

      How does the travel time on that path compare to using 4th Ave S (with a restored bus lane on the exit ramp from the Spokane St Viaduct, which should be relatively painless now that car traffic is using 99).

      Until Metro is sure 99 / 1st is the faster long-term path in and out of the Central District, adding stops may be premature.

      1. Highly unlikely. 99 is fast with a 50mph speed limit and no traffic lights, and designed with the bus path in mind. The Dearborn street exit even has a bus lane.

      2. The future plan is to run 99 –> future Alaskan Way –> Right turn onto rebuilt Columbia St. At that point they may add some additional bus stops…. However, for all the pro-streetcar folks who insist that people want to make that switch, it’s worth lobbying for a stop to be added at 1st & Jackson to access the First Hill streetcar right now.

      3. Oh, forgot about the new Alaskan Way. I still think it’s worth it to have bus stops on the temporary 1st Ave pathway when it’s going to be in place for 9-12 months. Especially with how after Convention Place Station closed, they redid 9th Ave with bus priority and brand new temporary shelter stops, when it would have been totally reasonable for them to just close the station, have the ramp so buses can get out, and not provide replacement stops. Having Pioneer Square/Stadium stops is arguably more sensible than a Convention Place replacement stops.

    3. That pathway through Pioneer Square is temporary until later this year when the C, 21X, 55, 56, 57, 113, 120, 121, 122, 123, and 125 will exit NB SR-99 at S Dearborn St, travel straight on NB Alaskan Way, then R on Columbia and up (the upcoming new EB bus lane on) Columbia St and L on 3rd Ave to the same stop at Madison. Adding any stop now on 1st Ave near Pioneer Square would be only temporary.

      The question of adding a stop on 1st Ave was asked at the service change press conference the City of Seattle and Metro held a few weeks ago. Metro responded that they need to keep the buses moving in the inside lane on 1st Ave. They said during the SR-99 shutdown period they were able to stop NB at the existing (the rep said Prefontaine Pl S, but it was actually at) the 3rd and James St zone without negative impacts.

      1. I understand wanting to keep the buses on schedule, but it doesn’t make sense to leave a whole area unserved needlessly for 9-12 months. I can’t see how adding one stop (at Yesler or King) will negatively impact schedules. For a City that is trying to promote mass transit use, this seems like a major misstep.

      2. I assume it’s the tradeoff of travel time,. It’s also in the larger context of leaving the viaduct, which caused a significant hit to travel time, which Metro may be so fixated on it hasn’t considered the issue of adding a stop enough. I’d write to Metro and your county councilmember, and get some bus-riding neighbors to do so. That would demonstrate demand and might get Metro to at least think about doing it sooner. If it markets it as temporary or an experiment, then it needn’t worry so much about creating a long-term expectation of a stop at that location.

  3. Could we please start terminating suburban routes to Seattle at Link Stations? Why are we wasting local service hours to duplicative service that really only serves to ensure one-seat rides for downtown commuters? I know, I know, eventually we’ll re-structure once “X” gets built. We should be doing it now, though. We have light rail to south of the airport, and north of SR 520. There is no reason the 255, 101, 102, 106, 150, etc need to go downtown. Logical termini include Husky Stadium, Rainier Beach, Tukwila, and Angle Lake, depending on the route. We’re building light rail for a reason. Let’s use it. Use those offset service hours to either accelerate light rail procurement and construction and/or additional service hours to areas that are currently underserved. Parking costs downtown and slow traffic will drive people to use the bus and light rail, even if it is slightly slower or less convenient than currently. Improved service to underserved areas will build new ridership and adoption of transit.

    1. I know. I live in Kirkland and regularly ride the 255, but since I walk to work, it’s usually during off-peak hours, when traffic is lighter, but service frequency is a bigger concern. I would gladly accept a truncation at UW Station, in exchange for better frequency.

      This is especially true after 10 PM weeknights or 7 PM weekends, when the 255 drops from half-hourly service to hourly service. When service is hourly, if I don’t get lucky and something’s coming soon, I just go home on Lyft or Uber and don’t mess around.

      1. people sure love to crap on the 255 going downtown..come September, a trip from say Belltownt o Juanita will become 3 seats and 4 swipes
        1. Bus to Westlake
        2.
        Link to UW
        3. 255 to Juanita.
        This is perfectly in keeping with Metros current mantra of Let Them Take Link.

      2. What about from Wallingford, Ballard, Roosevelt, and U Village?

        1. Bus to UW
        2, 255 to Juanita

        (I thought the 255 didn’t go to Juanita because Juanita was west of 100th, but Metro’s map says Juanita extends east of 405.)

    2. This seems like a no-brainer. I know this has been looked at but the transfers have to be done really well and there has to be sufficient train capacity, which is currently challenging at peak. On the south end, this will really start to be important once the Sodo busway closes for West Seattle Link construction.

    3. Why just suburban routes? What about the 7? What about the 36? Why does the 43 and 10 go further west than Broadway? What about routes that travel up the SODO busway and 4th ave? Buses should dump everyone off at the nearest Link station, and not continue to downtown. Right?

      1. Sure, I’m down with that. I don’t have much knowledge of downtown routes that don’t go beyond Seattle. I’ve never had a job in the Seattle City Limits – always Bellevue/Kirkland and Tacoma, and it is always meetings or “special events” that bring me to Seattle. I just know that we built a light rail and rather than take commuters to the Light Rail (or, better, during peak commutes, the Sounder), we continue operating buses in heavy traffic on congested freeways and city streets parallel to the light rail. It makes perfect sense to eliminate every single “express” Metro route that parallels any part of the Light Rail on a freeway. If you can take my idea and apply to City of Seattle routes, go for it.

      2. What about the 7? What about it?
        What about the 36? What about it?

        Why does the 43 and 10 go further west than Broadway? To serve areas further west than Broadway (but not served by Link). This makes those buses different than some suburban express buses, which only have bus stops close to downtown tunnel stops. Oh, and the 7 and 36 are similar to 10 (they serve areas that are between train stops).

        What about routes that travel up the SODO busway and 4th ave? Buses should dump everyone off at the nearest Link station, and not continue to downtown. Right?

        That is a judgement call. But as Al implied, the closer you are to downtown, the less you have to gain from a truncation. Riders don’t like it, since they lose the most. If you are on the SoDo busway, you are very close to downtown, which means making a transfer costs time, and the riders don’t gain it back because the speed difference is so small. It is like hopping on a bus to avoid walking a block — it just isn’t worth it. From a system standpoint, you gain less, because the truncation avoids very little.

        In contrast, truncating a bus like the 510 in Northgate will often save time for a rider headed downtown while saving a huge amount from a system standpoint.

      3. Ross, one can’t both say downtown surface streets are an unreliable hell of blocked boxes and cars clogging bus lanes requiring an Orwellian number of ticket cameras, and say buses that are close to downtown might as well continue on instead of transferring people to Link.

        And speaking of truncating the 255 and how that will save riders time, I wonder, how many eastsiders, when hiring a rideshare to go downtown via 520, have the rideshare truncate at UW Station instead of taking them all the way downtown? My guess is almost no people do that.

      4. How many Eastsiders, when going to UW or U Village, drive there when the 540 isn’t running because they’d have to backtrack from downtown or the Montlake freeway station? How many Eastsiders would rather transfer at UW to avoid the unpredictable traffic jams on I-5 and Stewart Street?

      5. @Sam — Take a look at the bus network for New York City: https://new.mta.info/maps/bus. Notice how the buses go everywhere. There are buses in Manhattan. There are buses into Manhattan. There are local buses and express buses. There are buses that serve one of the biggest downtown areas in the world. All of this is occurring right above the largest, most popular mass transit system in North America.

        Buses go downtown. Buses will continue to go downtown. As I said before, it is a judgement call as to whether a particular bus should be truncated, or just go downtown. But having a bus get to the very edge of downtown, and then suddenly turn around accomplishes very little in terms of savings, and hurts their riders quite a bit compared to a truncation several miles away. It is all trade-offs. But truncating an Everett bus at the Lynnwood Link Station makes a lot more sense than turning the 7 around at I. D.

    4. I can’t speak to the other routes, but the 106 provides the only local coverage on southern MLK. The Rainier Valley Link stations are a mile to a mile-and-a-half apart. There’s always going to be some local duplication of express routes needed.

      1. Point taken.

        The idea still stands, especially for routes that operate on freeways that parallel light rail.

    5. It is pretty common to have express buses operate right where a subway line runs. It is a judgement call, obviously. Metro and Sound Transit are working on truncations for SR 520 buses. What bothers me most about the proposals, though, is that they retain express buses into downtown during rush hour. There is some logic to this. Peak hour commuters care most about speed, not frequency (they take the same bus every day, as opposed to taking a spontaneous trip). The buses are popular and full. Any truncation would therefore seem like a degradation in service, as it would likely result in a slower trip to downtown.

      The problem is, this is when it costs the most to run that express. The express tends to be a deadhead, which is especially expensive. Express buses tend to be expensive to run (since no one boards when it is on the freeway) but are especially expensive when the bus is stuck in traffic. Making matters worse, this is when we have too many buses downtown. Thus the conundrum. From an individual standpoint, it is better; from a system standpoint it is worse.

      Making matters even worse is that SR 520 buses also have to deal with the Montlake Bridge. The bridge never goes up during rush hour, but does go up outside of it. That means that when a bus is especially fast to downtown (in the middle of the day, when there isn’t much traffic) a truncation at the UW can be especially slow (if the bridge goes up). Thus Metro and ST have it backwards. If you are going to truncate, then it makes sense to truncate during rush hour. That is when you can save the most from a system standpoint, while costing the riders the least amount of personal time. The problem is that Metro doesn’t have much to offer those commuters, in exchange for the truncation. Peak service is fine, and many could care less about adding off-peak service, or improving the overall efficiency of the system. Make this change and you may add ridership, save people time overall, but still upset a lot of riders. It is common for agencies to take a weak, don’t-upset-any-existing-customer approach, instead of trying to do the most good for the greatest number.

      Of course there are other issues. You could truncate the Tacoma/Federal Way buses towards the end of the line (thus enabling better service to SeaTac while allowing for a connection to downtown) but it isn’t that easy to do that. There are no freeway stations with Link. (Ironically, when we have one, at Mountlake Terrace, it won’t be needed, because the Lynnwood station will open the same day). What is true of I-5 south buses is true of Renton buses. Yes, you could truncate them all, but it would likely cost riders a fair amount of time. Making matters worse, Rainier Valley/Beacon Hill and Sodo are not big destinations. I’m sure there are riders that would love to be let off at Rainier Beach (e. g. someone who lives in Renton but works at Franklin High) but only a handful.

      This is why the obvious truncation points are the UW and SeaTac, since both are destinations in their own right. Unfortunately, neither is that easy to get to.

      1. “Thus Metro and ST have it backwards. If you are going to truncate, then it makes sense to truncate during rush hour. That is when you can save the most from a system standpoint, while costing the riders the least amount of personal time.”

        Yes! This. +10

    6. The longer the route, the more logical it is to not run it through Downtown. The reason is reliability. Reliability data from these routes next month will be quite revealing (if anyone bothers to analyze it).

      Unfortunately, the transfer environments from Link are pretty bad. Crossing higher-speed streets, waiting at tiny bus shelters in harsh weather and standing in noisy places are significant disincentives. If even modest changes are implemented at these stops, rider demand for direct bus service would lessen.

      Of course, it’s too late to change things now.

    7. One reason to wait one more year on the SR 520 restructure is the Connect 2020 mess that will significantly reduce Link’s peak capacity, by roughly a third, for roughly 10 weeks next winter. Also, we don’t know whether the queue jump shoulder approaching SR 520 will stay when the next phase of SR 520 reconstruction starts. And, oh yeah, the first Siemens LRVs won’t be ready for service until toward the end of this year.

      The Connect 2020 capacity issues could be dealt with pretty effectively with frequent express buses between 3rd Ave and TIBS. The loss of frequency to and from UW Station would be a big downer during that period.

      So, patience. But keep commenting in favor of the restructure, as someone will cry at the end that it was done with no public meetings and no notice. Oh wait, it doesn’t take away parking. Never mind. Bus riders will not pretend to be ignorant of the prolonged process. Though, maybe some elected officials will.

      In the meantime, if you want better 101/102 connection to Link at RBS, comment for the I Line to reach Rainier Beach Station.

      BTW, Sam is not really in favor of the local route restructures. He’s a known curmudgeon here whose sarcasm is rarely not detectable as such.

      1. During the 2020 mess, I don’t see any reason why ST can’t run trains at 6 minute frequency, at least from UW Station to Westlake station. All they have to do is run a shuttle train that just goes back and forth along whatever track the train going to Pioneer Square station is not using.

        It’s not perfect, but, as Westlake station is the busiest downtown station, it mostly works.

    8. The 255 will be truncated in September, so that’s out of the picture. The reason it’s waiting until September is that it’s part of an Eastside restructure, and Metro likes to do large changes in September.

      The rest of the issue gets down to the fact that there are two different ways to look at change suggestions. One is at the level of ideal; the other is at the level of political and community compromise that explains what exists outside the transit planners’ bubble. Ideally things would be different. Maybe. There are legitimate arguments on both sides of truncating the 101 and 150. (The 106 is a different issue, actually multiple ones.) Just because Link runs north-south doesn’t necessarily mean it’s close enough or fast enough to be a sufficient solution for Renton and Southcenter/Kent. TIB is pretty far west, and Rainier Beach still has the “Rainier Valley overhead” of some 8-10 minutes over the 101 and 150. Metro revealed its position during the 2014 cuts: it said it would truncate the 101 only if it didn’t have enough service hours to run it 30 minutes daytime/60 minutes evening. So that’s Metro’s position, right or wrong, and the 150 calculation is similar. In Metro’s 2024 plan, a route like the 101 still exists, extended north to SLU and Smith Cove. The 150 is replaced with a downtown-Kent-Auburn express and a Rainier Beach – Tukwila – Kent Frequent. So there’s your truncation.

      Another thing is Metro likes to make changes all at once as part of a major service improvement (Link or RapidRide), rather than multiple times where it arguably just “takes away service”. Renton and Tukwila/Kent have tenuous connections with the rest of the region. Most of the residents in Renton and Kent live a mile or two east of their city center, but the 101 and 150 terminate at the city center. So for most residents it’s already a 2-seat ride to downtown that takes over an hour, and truncating those routes would turn it into a 3-seat ride, Or 4-seat if they transfer again downtown. One hour and three seats: that’s two reasons Metro is reluctant to truncate. It’s always a judgement call what’s the threshold for “close enough parallel”, but Metro has decided that Renton and Kent/Tukwila are beyond the threshold. There are legitimate transit arguments on both sides of that.

      As to when that “service improvement” comes, Seattle has invested both Prop 1, Move Seattle, and city money in boosting service hours and capital improvements to ensure more full-time frequency and RapidRide lines. The rest of the county voted down the countywide Metro measure and their cities haven’t stepped up (except for a few small increases that don’t reach the level of these routes). So Metro is waiting for the next countywide tax measure to create those RapidRide lines and do more South King County restructures. It has done south county restructures in the past two decades, mostly west of Tukwila/Kent. Des Moines used to have two hourly slow milk runs to downtown, and the A and 124’s predecessor was an even longer milk run. Those were broken up to create 30-minute routes between several pairs of Des Moines, Tukwila, Kent, and Federal Way, and create the 120.

      Another issue is that Link doesn’t have the capacity to absorb several more buses from South King County. It’s already almost full between Beacon Hill and downtown at peak, and ST doesn’t have spare trains until the ST2 order arrives this year and undergoes serveral months of testing. Even then, MLK will be limited to 6-minute frequency because of the level crossings; more trains would throw off signal timings for the surrounding streets.

      Sambot, your arguments are better when you think like a passenger than when you look for differences on a map to bash Seattle urbanism with. The reason the 7, 10, and 36 aren’t truncated is they’re local routes, and a large percent of their riders are making short 1-3 mile trips across the truncation point and between Link stations. Local bus stop spacing is 0.25-0.5 miles, while Link’s spacing is 1-2 miles like a limited-stop route (which Metro merges with “express”). Limited-stop and express routes always require local shadows, and that’s what the 36, 49, and 106 are in their various ways. You can’t compare a route like the 10 — two miles from end to end and a lot of on/offs in the urban villages on both sides of Capitol Hill Station — with a longer-distance route like the 255 or 271 that makes a six-mile trip to Link and then transfers for three more miles.

      The 106 fulfills several roles simultaneously. First it goes from Renton to Rainier Beach Station. Second it conects Renton to Rainier Valley along MLK which is culturally similar and a lot of people have shopping, work, church, and family ties to. Third, and least justified, it connects MLK to north Rainier, Jackson Street, and Intl Dist Station. That was a giveaway to some squeaky wheels that complained incessently after the 42 was reduced and then truncated. Call it a political compromise to gain goodwill from the community and the county council.

    9. “Metro likes to make changes all at once”

      This is because every restructure involves significant criticism no matter what Metro does, and Metro probably prefers having one round of criticism rather than two.

  4. It’s a lost opportunity for Lake City riders that the 41 isn’t moving to 4th Ave to be paired with route 522. Yes, it will now pair with fellow Northgate routes 26 and 40 on 3rd Ave, but no one in their right mind would catch either of those routes all the way to Northgate from Downtown.

    1. Good point. It doesn’t matter much during rush hour in peak direction. The 522 combined with the 312 are quite frequent then. It isn’t worth taking the 41, since it is slower to get to Lake City. But in the middle of the day or on weekends, someone has the tough choice of taking the fast, but infrequent 522, or the slow, but frequent 41 — at two different bus stops.

    2. I assume you mean it is a lost opportunity that route 522 isn’t being moved to 3rd Ave.

      1) 3rd Ave is going all-Metro to maximize the benefit of the off-board readers, which only tap on for Metro buses. It’s that paying the correct agency thing. Also, any buses with front-door boarding only would gum things up, not to mention overwhelm the capacity of the street.

      2) Link + 372 may become a faster option, for those who can walk up the Rainier Vista hill.

      1. 2) Link + 372 may become a faster option, for those who can walk up the Rainier Vista hill.

        I doubt it will ever be faster. It might take less time than waiting for the next 522, but unless there is an accident (which could also happen on 25th) it is faster to take the express bus. The only time it might be faster is at rush hour — which is when the 522 is frequent.

        Thus you have *three* possible ways to get to Lake City outside of rush hour. You can take the fast but infrequent 522, the slow but frequent 41, or the slow but frequent Link/372.

  5. Also in an effort to improve bus capacity further, all-door boarding with off-bus ORCA card readers will be available at all stops on Third Avenue downtown

    Seems like we’re creating a system that is even more confusing than the old ride free area:

    You pay when you board
    EXCEPT when the route is a letter
    OR you’re on 3rd Ave
    EXCEPT when there’s no offboard reader at the site.

    Nevermind the disparity of having a valid paper transfer.

    Although if this is just step 3 in a 5 step plan in converting the system to proof of payment then it seems like it’d be worth it.

    1. It sounds like you can pay as you board anywhere, though. You can tap your ORCA card as you board a bus on Third, or tap it before you board. If you have cash, though, you pay as you enter, and you need a transfer (that is the only weird part). There may be some explaining to do (a rider might say “I don’t need it”, and the driver might say “Yes you do”) but it should work itself out. Cash riders, being hassled by Metro fare enforcers, might even be recognized by the driver. My guess is that enforcement will be lax, which should be OK. There isn’t much evidence to suggest that increased enforcement helps increase fare recovery (the vast majority just pay, even if the odds of getting caught are slim). Metro fare enforcers will probably give out warnings until they start to recognize the scofflaws. Meanwhile, the time savings during rush hour (when the vast majority of riders are using ORCA cards) should be substantial.

      1. I guess I don’t see it as confusing. If you are new to town, or have never ridden this particular bus before, you board in the front and pay as you board. But if you know what you are doing — if this is part of regular commute — then you board in back.

        It has been a while since I’ve worked downtown. A couple years ago, I had jury duty, which means that when I was headed home, I boarded the bus towards the south end of downtown (Pioneer Square). I sat towards the back, and watched people cram on to the bus. Initially, I was shocked that several people were boarding at the back. At first I thought they were sneaking on. But then I realized there were too many of them. Had the 41 become “off board payment”? No. It took me a while to realize that there were Metro officials with hand held ORCA readers, tapping people on before the bus stopped. This saved the bus a considerable amount of time. But all these people knew what they were doing. If I was at the bus stop, I would have wondered what was going on for the first few days until I realized that was an option.

        The same will be true of this. Folks will get the hang of it. Those that are confused will just pay at the front.

    2. There will be human “conductors” with handheld ORCA readers at the 3rd Avenue stops that don’t have a fixed reader yet. Metro plans to fill in the missing readers this year and next year.

      1. I assume these are just reappropriated “tunnel loaders” that we’ve had for the last couple of years. However the confusion will be the same regardless of what shape the card reader takes.

      2. @Tim — Anyone who is confused will pay in the front. The people who aren’t confused — the regular commuters — will pay before they board. If there is no option for paying for they board — if there is no ORCA reader, then they will get on the bus in front. I really don’t think it is confusing at all.

        Think of it like self checkout lines in the supermarket. The first time you saw it, you wondered what the heck it was, and kept getting in the regular line. After a while, you figured it out, and used it. Having *the option* of paying before you board is really not confusing, and a lot of people won’t even take advantage of that option.

        Pay as you go was a lot more confusing because sometimes you paid as you boarded, sometimes you didn’t, even at the exact same bus stop. Take the 73 from the U-District headed north and you pay as you exit (because it started downtown). Take the 373 (almost an identical bus) and you pay as you enter. Bus drivers routinely put their hands over the cash box, to prevent people from paying. This won’t be like that — you can always pay in the front if you want to.

    3. Orca readers are coming to the stops on 3rd without them today. Metro had a construction procurement out a couple months ago to build ten new RapidRide-style tech pylons on 3rd, though work hasn’t started yet. So hopefully soon the second “except” will go away.

      1. Metro distinguishes between RapidRide “stations” (which have readers) and lower-volume RapidRide “stops” (which don’t). It has made some noises about upgrading all stops to stations but that doesn’t seem to have gone anywhere.

  6. I can’t help but wonder if any routes should be in the new 99 tunnel (and bypass the Downtown core) since there are so many buses on Second, Third and Fourth. Routes using the SODO busway would seem to be ideal candidates. That way, not only would the bus run be more reliable and faster, but people from both Link and these routes could also get to SLU much faster!

    1. I don’t think you would gain anything by that. The bus still has to go through downtown. So that means a bus coming from the south goes up north (through the tunnel) then slogs their way to the sound end of downtown. The current approach (where the slog their way to the north end of downtown) sounds about the same. You might save a little time for a bus that is on SR 99 anyway, but even that isn’t clear. If they did create routes like that, it would be similar to the old 77 routing, which used to get off the express lanes at Madison, and then loop around to serve the north end of downtown. That has existed for a while now, and they don’t seem to be interested in bringing it back.

      You could just end at South Lake Union, of course, but that is similar to ending at First Hill. Generally speaking, folks aren’t happy with that idea. Even just serving part of downtown seems to be rejected. Buses that will go on the new Fifth/Sixth route could save quite a bit of time if they just got on the express lanes on Fifth. This would be a lot simpler (no new bus lanes) but obviously folks really want their downtown stops (or at least as many as possible).

    2. *If* the approach from the south is not an enormous time sink, then I can heartily endorse SLU Express buses from West Seattle and Burien. Other than that, eh.

    3. The SLU neighborhood from two blocks south of Denny to Mercer have changed radically these past few years. Several more 40-story buildings are now under construction. All of those are getting so far north of Westlake that riders from many routes going there will be transferring anyway.

      I’m not suggesting that all routes do this; just a limited number of routes could offer express from SODO to SLU rather than slog through Downtown’s core.

      1. I’m not disputing the idea that downtown has grown to the north. I’m just saying that you gain little if you loop around. From a system standpoint, you don’t gain anything unless you do a live loop back towards the tunnel, or if you connect to a different bus headed back south. The latter only makes sense if you have a system imbalance (i. e. way more buses from the south than the north) which I don’t see. The former might get you something. For example, the C could go north or south through downtown once. From West Seattle it would go in the tunnel, exit at Republican, head over to Westlake, then pick up the existing route (which means using the existing loop at the head of the lake and then back via Westlake). This could save the bus some overall time. Unless, of course, the tunnel is slow, the exit is slow, or Republican is slow. All three seem quite possible.

        Meanwhile, folks who work at the south end of downtown (e. g. Madison) headed to work, have to wait for all of that. There evenings are exactly the same, but their mornings are worse. Other riders (who work at South Lake Union) have it better, but my guess is they are outnumbered by folks on Madison, while folks in the middle (Belltown) are about the same. So you have a degradation in service for a majority of riders, with a minimal amount of system savings (if any).

        You could do this with a bus here and there, but it is quite likely that a majority of riders would not prefer that. Unlike a bus to First Hill, I don’t see anyone transferring to a bus that does that. For the First Hill bus, they need to transfer anyway, so it doesn’t cost them much. In the case of the 63, a lot of riders have to transfer at Northgate anyway, so you are actually saving those riders a transfer. For example, instead of the 347 to Northgate, then 41 to downtown, then the 12 up the hill, they take the 347 to Northgate, then the 63 to First Hill. But there is no such dynamic with a bus that simply serves the same stops, but in opposite order. You are basically borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, and it isn’t clear if you come out ahead from a system standpoint.

        The only place where this makes sense is where Mike described. Some route that goes through the Junction. From the Junction, you still have the basic C. But a bus like the 37 could do the loop around thing. However, I would rather send that bus to First Hill, just like the 63. That way, riders who have to transfer at the Junction anyway (riders on the 22, 50 or 128) can have a two seat ride to First Hill, while the folks close to the Junction have a direct bus.

        Either way, this would have a very minor effect on bus crowding downtown.

      2. How bad is the traffic existing the highway 99 tunnel in SLU in the morning, and getting back to the tunnel in the evening? I think the answer to whether a bypass bus is justified depends a great deal on how fast such a bus would be. For example, Zipping from SODO to the Mercer St. exit in 2 minutes does no good if the bus is just going to sit in traffic for 20 minutes to go the last 5 blocks, while the poky C-line eventually catches up to it, using its 3rd Ave. and Westlake bus lanes.

      3. There were initial reports that the exit was backed up, with a lot of cars waiting to turn there. I haven’t heard since then if it has continued.

      4. That’s what I’m getting at asdf2. The time spent just getting from the tunnel to Westlake could negate whatever time savings occurred by using the tunnel. (And you still need to serve downtown).

    4. Metro’s 2040 plan has an Express on Fauntleroy-WSJ-SLU. There are no other routes planned at this point. Maybe there could be a Burien peak express. The problem for all-day routes and the only peak express from an area (West Seattle will have Link by that time) is that SLU is pretty far north of central downtown where a lot of people are going and where the transfers to the rest of the network are. On top of that is the slowness and capacity constraint getting from SLU to downtown, which more than half the riders would do if this were the only route to central Seattle.

  7. In response, SDOT and Metro have created a third northbound pathway, using a bus-only contraflow lane on Fifth Avenue south of Marion and middle bus lanes on Sixth Avenue north of Marion. Those who have suffered through the Howell Street bus lane may be skeptical of the Sixth Avenue lanes; it remains to be seen how they will perform.

    Yeah, I’m not sure why they did that, instead of simply extending the Fifth Avenue contraflow lane all the way to Pike. Maybe they felt more comfortable shrinking Sixth instead of Fifth. That seems weird to me, because Fifth is going to have two general purpose lanes anyway, just not as far north as Pike.

    I didn’t realize they were going to go with a middle lane, like on Howell. This is a good example of why they should try it out first with cones.

      1. Yeah, the problem is, someone heads up to sixth, gets in the left lane, goes a couple blocks and then tries to work their way over into the right lane (to get on the freeway). But that right lane isn’t going anywhere, so no one will let them in. They are stuck, and so is the bus, right behind them. With proper signage or barriers this might be avoided. You would basically prevent cars from doing that, forcing the car to enter into the proper lane when they enter sixth. Since Sixth does not go through, this seems quite possible. I assume the bus lane starts just north of Madison. From there, you have to choose a lane, and then you are stuck with that choice until Union. Oh, and you can’t choose the middle lane — that one is reserved for buses. That seems quite doable — whether with bike lane type bollards or a double white line. You still need lots of new signage, too. Whether the city will do that or not remains a mystery at this point (at least to me).

  8. So just to understand the 255 – let’s say you use this every morning and get off at Stewart and Yale to work at REI. Where do you catch it on the way home?

  9. RossB: regarding two-way service on 5th Avenue, please see the One Center City process; it was considered.
    David: regarding hours expended to maintain service with longer running times; in recent signups, it has happened on I-90, SR-99, and Olive Way due to East Link, SR-99 deep bore, and convention center projects, respectively.

  10. Wow, no stop on the new Sixth Avenue pathway between Marion and Union. That’s quite a distance. Having the bus lane in the middle will mean they don’t have to worry about right-turners, and that’s certainly good. We’ll see how people like it.

    1. That gap is about the same as the NB 4th Ave buses that currently serve the stop at Madison St next stop is on 4th Ave between Pike and Pine.

  11. The only people who will benefit from people coming on through the backdoor are the fare thieves.

    1. And people who will get to their destination faster. Faster buses leave service hours left over, which means buses can potentially be more frequent for the same cost.

      1. Except, the buses will not run faster because the drivers do not care if they are late. That is because Metro dies not care if they are late.

      2. @RennDawg — Total bullshit. Of course bus drivers care. Just yesterday, I was driving up 15th NE, while a bus just finished letting someone off at a bus stop at about 143rd. The bus was in the right lane, stopped by traffic (there was a red light on 145th, and traffic was backed up that far). The bus driver had his window down, and was waving and pointing to a truck driver. I couldn’t figure it out, but thought maybe they knew each other. Seconds later, traffic started moving, and I realized what was going on. The truck driver was letting the bus driver cut in front, so that the bus could make a left turn on 145th. It all went smoothly, and saved the bus a couple minutes. It would have been much easier if the bus driver just sat there, patiently, for traffic to go through, and wait a light cycle to turn. But most drivers aren’t that cynical.

        People take pride in their work. That includes the bus drivers, as well the agency. I would hate to work at some place where people were only motivated by fear or greed. Oh, I’ve worked with some lazy people before, but by and large people are trying to do a good job, even when they really aren’t fond of their work. Otherwise management would be stuck hovering over people like a teacher administering a test in a middle school. It is much cheaper to just hire good people, train them, motivate them, and help them be productive.

        You spout bullshit without any evidence to support your case, when a simple search shows that off-board payment saves time *and* reduces fare evasion: https://activetrans.org/blog/prepaid-all-door-boarding-working-san-francisco. Since you probably don’t have the patience to read the article, I’ll highlight the key parts for you:

        MUNI estimated that its buses spent 20 percent of travel time picking up and dropping off customers. Through this strategy, fare losses due to fare evasion dropped from $19.2 million in 2009 to $17.1 million in 2014 and fare evasion rates decreased from 9.5 percent in 2009 to 7.9 percent in 2014.

      3. Then why do I have buses that are late more then they are on time. I do not mean 5 minutes or less late. Why is it that I see more people not paying? When drivers are held accountable and when Metro actually starts enforcing the rules on all buses then I will buy what you are selling.

      4. RennDawg, those are really route-specific issues, so we’d have to start with which routes you’re concerned about. In my experience the 26/28/131/132 are notoriously late most of the time (meaning usually 5-10 minutes late and often 15-20 minutes or more), which I assume is congestion. I do not experience that on the 10, 11, 45, 49, 62, 65, 67, 75, B, or C which I ride regularly or at least once a month. (Although I haven’t ridden the C since the viaduct closed.) They are usually on time or at most 5 minutes late, with occasional exceptions.

        The 7, 101, 106, 131, 132, and E have more working-class and poor riders than Seattle’s average, and some of those riders can be more loud or annoying than average. That has been persistent on all those routes’ predecessors since I started riding Metro in 1980. It has more to do with the neighborhoods they go through than anything about Metro, and it’s not like that on many other routes.

        As for non-payers, my impression is less than 1% of riders do that. I see people ask for a free ride a few times a month, and people who buzz past the driver much less often. And I ride a lot of buses: over a hundred a month including transfers.

        A few times I’ve monitored ridership on the 268 and 269, counting people who get on/off and which segments they rode, mostly on Saturday but occasionally in the PM peak. On those routes I see a few ORCA payers, an overwhelming number of cash payers, and no or almost no non-payers. I’ve done the same occasionally on the 24 and former 8 (Columbia City to Summit), and I don’t recall any or hardly any non-payers. (By the way, half the 24 riders went from one part of Magnolia to another, and half the 8 riders were already on the bus when I got on in Columbia City and were still on it when I got off at Summit.)

        I don’t know Metro’s internals but i think bus drivers are disciplined if they’re not within a window of punctuality that’s not caused by significant congestion/collision/construction. So they do care about that. And with hundreds of drivers, there will always be some who care more than others. Drivers also encounter a lot of stresses with a variety of passengers and non-passengers (people around the bus who don’t board), and that can lead to frustrations where they may be exacerbated or gruff. Low-income passengers face similar stresses all day, and can get similar frustrations.

      5. My buses are in South King County not Seattle. I avoid Seattle. The bus I take the most is the 166. I am a low income rider with a disability. If I don’t have fare I do not ride.

      6. Held accountable for what, doing their job? Drivers don’t write the schedules nor do they control streets and traffic. Drivers are instructed to not escalate fare disputes because they are an invitation to get assaulted and delay service even further.

        I visit San Francisco and ride the bus there regularly. All door boarding works great in San Francisco.

      7. Reliability issues can be caused by lots of reasons. If Route 166 is unreliable, i would let Metro know. If you can specify where, it’s even better. If it’s just after a layover when drivers have a recovery time buffer, it likely a different cause than when it’s towards the end of a route.

        Possible causes can range from bad driver punctuality habits (leaving late or early to make breaks more enjoyable) to bad scheduling (not enough break time between runs) to traffic bottlenecks (even spillback from on-ramp meters onto local streets) to long waits at bus stops because so many people get on or the bus is too crowded.

      8. The 11, Mike? The 11??? Guess you never ride that thing eastbound between 3 and 7 pm. It was late so often and by such a large amount of time (and incredibly subject to bunching) due almost solely to the loop downtown from Pine to Pike on Second that once or twice every two weeks when I was commuting from Westlake to Madison Park if I just missed one I could walk all (or nearly all) of the way over the hill home before the next one caught up – that was about 45 minutes. It wasn’t quite the 8 but it was bad enough and never having to use it again has been one of the best benefits of moving to a place where I have a walking commute.

        None of that, of course, was the drivers’ fault or that of people not paying their fare (although back door boarding assistance or card readers would have been great at 5th and at 9th – those two stops filled the entire bus). The fault was in the two left turns the bus is obligated to take, and particularly the one onto Pike where there is one GP lane, a bike lane, and a “bus” lane often used for bus layovers – forcing the moving bus into the backed-up GP lane. The design of that block cost far more time to riders and drivers than any boarding process ever could, and is one place no bike lane (or no bus layover) ever should have been built. One of those lanes should have been a bus-only lane as several frequent routes are forced to use it. (I often wonder now that Third is bus-only why the 11 can’t just turn there from Pine instead of taking three extra blocks and two left turns onto extremely busy streets where it does not stop on any of those blocks.)

      9. I don’t know much about the 166 (I’ve ridden it once) so I can’t comment on it. I’m surprised it would be notoriously late, since that area doesn’t seem to have as much congestion as some other areas. I wonder if it’s mostly because of the turns on KDM Road and 99? And isn’t it through-routed with the 164, which has a significant segment on KK Road? It’s possible that drivers on that route care particularly little about passengers, but that would seem unlikely.

        As for non-payers increasing, I thought you were going to say the A. I didn’t really address RapidRide in my comment, because of course I don’t know who has a transfer, and I’ve never counted how many people tap or pay the driver. I’ve never ridden RapidRide regularly; just a cople times a month on the B, and less often often on the others.

        Link’s total fare evasion is 3%, which ST says is less than the cost of installing turnstyles. I assume Metro’s fare evasion is similar, but you’d have to ask Metro. In any case, Metro considers the current RapidRide situation with roving inspectors “acceptable”. But fare payment is just one issue with running a transit network, and not necessarily the most critical one, because the network also benefits the city’s economy and overall tax revenue and social well-being when people can get to work and shopping and medical appointments and activities, regardless of whether fare payment is 100%.

        If it were like 60% non-payment, that might be another issue, but as I said above I’ve never seen it reach even 10%.

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