Route 150 shadowing Link at SODO. Photo by Oran.

Nine years ago Martin looked at the general problem of I-5 buses terminating at Rainier Beach. However, removing buses from the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel provides an opportunity to review if there are cost savings or efficiency improvements by truncating routes formerly in the tunnel and forcing a transfer to Link.

Truncating is a balancing act: Riders can often save time by transferring to a congestion-free mode like light rail, and service hours saved can be used to provide more frequent service on the shortened bus line. However, the benefits can be diminished if the transfer is infrequent or inconvenient. Let’s look at King County Metro Route 150 as an example.

Route 150 map, highlighting congestion areas

The 150 runs from Kent Station to Seattle, providing service from roughly 5 a.m. to midnight with pickups every 15 minutes during the day Monday through Saturday. On weekdays in the fall of 2017, it carried about 6,200 passengers, comparable to RapidRide B. The 150 also serves as the direct connection to Seattle from Kent since there is no ST Express bus. How would truncating the 150 at Rainier Beach Link station affect quality of service for north- and southbound riders?

Sample Northbound Calculation
Kent Station to Tukwila Park and Ride 33
Tukwila Park and Ride to Rainier Beach Station 6
Transfer Penalty 5
Link to Seattle 26
Total (Bus + Link) 70
Total (Bus only) 71
Sample Southbound Calculation
Link from Seattle to Rainier Beach Station 26
Transfer Penalty 8
Rainier Beach Station to Tukwila Park and Ride 8
Tukwila Park and Ride to Kent Station 37
Total (Bus + Link) 79
Total (Bus only) 66

For most riders, the two-seat trip from Kent to Downtown will average about 70 minutes and be about 1 minute shorter than the one-seat ride. Riders departing Kent before 8 a.m. and after 8 p.m., however, would experience trips that were longer than their old one-seat ride. On a positive note, truncation will save Metro about 35 service hours per day.

Southbound, the two-seat trip from Downtown Seattle to Kent Station will average about 80 minutes – about 14 minutes longer than the former one-seat ride to downtown. The two reasons for the lack of time savings are: the transfer penalty of going from light rail to bus and that the truncation does not avoid any significant areas of congestion. (It helps – but does not avoid – the afternoon mess at Boeing Access Road.) It saves Metro about 23 service hours per day.

Unfortunately, the increase in travel times under this scenario makes truncation unpalatable for many riders.  To ameliorate it, Metro would need to reinvest nearly all of the hours saved from truncating at Rainier Beach to increase service frequency to 10-minute intervals Monday through Saturday. With 10-minute headways, the average round trip is as little as 10 minutes longer or just over 5% of the total travel time. Sunday service on the 150 is currently half hourly and should continue to be direct bus to downtown unless Metro can come up with enough service hours to provide a minimum of 15-minute service. Any leftover service hours could be used to improve evening service or make the 150 a Night Owl bus.

Despite a longer total travel time, truncation provides tangible improvements for riders. The 150 is currently late 13% of the time (20% during the afternoon). Truncation deceases the amount of time spent on the bus, where congestion is more likely to occur, by 43% northbound and 32% southbound. Additionally, riders using the bus for short and intermediate trips between Southeast Seattle, Tukwila, and Kent will benefit from increased frequency and reliability.  For the unfortunate riders facing a longer south bound commute to Kent Station, Metro should strongly encourage them to take the 20-minute Sounder ride direct from King Street Station. If you combine 10-minute headways on the 150 with the Sounder departures in the peak direction, long distance commuters wind up with an average of 8 departures during the peak travel hours, a level that exceeds the level of service on Rapid Ride lines A, B, and F.

Closing the Transit Tunnel in Seattle to buses provides an opportunity to review whether truncating buses can be used to improve Metro’s service network. This review of the 150 indicates that there are improvements to the network that can be made. Northbound travelers experienced slightly shorter travel times. Unfortunately, southbound riders have to tolerate longer trips between Seattle and Kent Station or switch to Sounder. Increased service frequency, improved on-time performance, and transfers to new destinations can all be used to improve Metro’s network and mitigate the inconvenience of longer bus rides.

Arthur Domby is a transit enthusiast from South King County who is hoping to find a career in mass transit planning and operations. He regularly rides the 150, F Line and Link Light rail.

78 Replies to “Pros and Cons of Truncating Bus Routes at Link: Route 150”

  1. Good post. This is a great example of the trade-offs that exist with a restructure. One thing I would add is that increasing frequency aids in both directions. It may be possible to time the bus if you start in Kent, but many riders won’t. Some will arrive via another bus, or leave a meeting at a specified time. Likewise, increased frequency helps those who have no interest in going to Seattle. For example, someone trying to get from Kent to Southcenter would benefit from the truncation. Moving from 15 minute frequency to 10 minute frequency may not be huge, but it is significant.

    It looks to me like the biggest improvement is in reliability, which is important. There are a lot of people who would accept a slightly slower, but more reliable trip. Reliability problems are especially hard on those not making a long distance trip as well. That rider trying to to get from Southcenter to Kent would benefit a little bit by the better headway, but a lot by the better reliability. Instead of waiting for 20 minutes for a bus that is late, they have a better chance of timing it, and at worse wait 10.

    1. Another consideration are those who are going to someplace on Link other than downtown (or places north). If you are trying to get from Southcenter or Kent to Rainier Valley or Beacon Hill, the truncation does more than increase frequency and reliability, it provides a connection.

      1. Further, some people are already taking a 2-seat ride, say from Kent to UW, so there’s no incremental transfer penalty for those riders to transfer at RB rather than downtown.

    2. “Likewise, increased frequency helps those who have no interest in going to Seattle.” – that’s a great point that sometimes get lost. Looking at end-to-end travel time is important but not the end-all-be-all. For routes that overwhelming commuter oriented (say, the 21X series), end to end speed is key. But for many KCM routes, providing coverage and connecting locations between job centers is an important function of these routes and investing in increased frequency is a big improvement that should be weighed against slower travel times for end to end riders.

      Particularly for this route, end to end speed is less important because an end to end rider can always take the Sounder at peak.

    3. The reliability issue is huge! Logical people often plan trips for “the worst case” rather than the best case unless a timed transfer is guaranteed (and we don’t do that inside Seattle).

      I think that’s the analytical oversight here. The analysis is about average travel times and not worst case ones.

    4. Thank you RossB! I’m glad you enjoyed the article! Reliability is the most important benefit of the truncation in opinion.

    1. The latest shipment is supposed to begin arriving late this year, and trickle in over several months. Switching to all 3-car trains should happen quite quickly once this begins, and by the end, ST will be able to run all 4-car trains.

    2. And then there is Connect 2020, running from sometime in January to sometime in March. That will be all 4-car trains, but 12-minute headway, including during peak. All the reorgs are on hold until after that. And then, we’re only a year to a year and a half from Northgate Link opening, at which point it goes to all 4-car trains.

      However, when East Link opens, the branches are supposed to increase headway to 4 minutes during peak due to minimum headway constraints in the north trunk.

      The south branch has 30 LRVs per direction per hour during peak right now. It will go up temporarily to 40 per hour, and then back to 30 per hour again when East Link opens. After that, it will never increase, but it will have to have room for additional passengers from the Federal Way and Tacoma Dome extensions.

      Open gangways and retrofits to reduce minimum headway may add a little more capacity in the distance future, but ST has no plans for either.

      1. Ooops. The south branch will have 30 LRVs per direction per hour once Connect 2020 is done and the first few Siemens LRVs are in service, enabling all 3-car trains. Right now it is about 26-28 LRVs per direction per hour. But ST planners’ confidence that improved reliability is reducing crushloads by spreading them out better seems to be the case so far.

      2. This is why there will be a Duwamish Bypass and an Aurora Line if the region keeps growing. The only places between Lakewood and Marysville where there is the opportunity for large urban clusters is Fife to South Center and Lynnwood to Casino Road. The Spine will be full, so a parallel line will be required.

        If the region continues to grow and Seattle resists densification, of course.

      3. Seattle is growing much faster than the suburbs. This is likely to continue, if not accelerate, for political reasons. It is unlikely that Link will every reach anything close to capacity for the southern section, making a bypass silly. Holy cow, you could bury Link in Rainier Valley and run the trains every three minutes for a lot less than a bypass.

      4. Aye, but do you need to shut down Link to bury it?

        Southern Link is going to have peak capacity issues once all ST/PT buses are truncated. For a route like the 150, the truncation debate is just that – it’s a debate with pros/cons. Once you get further south than Kent, the case for truncation is much clearer and a 2-seat ride to Seattle will be much more common.

        Even though it won’t have the all-day ridership of Northgate or East Link, I expect Federal Way to run very full trains at peak.

        Seattle is booming, but right now PSRC is projecting Seattle to absorb right around 50% of the region’s growth. Since more people live outside of Seattle, Seattle may be growing faster percentage-wise but the rest of the region is adding population at the same absolute rate.

      5. Last time I ran the numbers, Seattle was adding more people than the surrounding suburbs. Not just percentage wise, but absolute number of people.

      6. Seattle is running out of room in the designated dense areas. It simply can not continue to outgrow the other cities in aggregate unless something like Weiner’s bill passes here in Washington. The SFH areas won’t allow ir.

        You yourself have said categorically that West Woidland will never allow an upzone when arguing against a 14th NW station.

        You may be correct, but you can’t then argue that Seattle will continue to outgrow the rest of the region. There aren’t many areas outside SoDo and Delrudge that properties are less than 3/4 of a million per lot. Or more.

        So IF the Puget Sound region continues to grow strongly — and with Climate Change kicking into high gear it’s likely as a refuge — then South King and Central Snohomish will grow strongly.

        Sure, it might not happen, and if not then there won’t be a need. But it’ more likely than not.

      7. but do you need to shut down Link in order to bury it?

        Probably not. The Muni “Metro” was kept in service during the six years in which the Market Street tunnel was dug.

        And indeed, you would need to “bury it” or “elevate it” to achieve a genuine speed improvement. Grade-separating the cross-arterials would certainly improve the reliability since trains wouldn’t be subject to traffic signals and intruding cars, but without punitive exclusion fencing the they would still be limited to 35 miles an hour because pedestrians would need to cross the tracks. It would also make it difficult for people living and running businesses along Martin Luther King Way to access their homes and customers their establishments either going or coming.

        What’s crazy to me is that everyone thinks a “Duwamish Bypass” has to be Seattle Subway’s 4 billion dollar Pink Line with a Duwamish crossing and stations in South Park and Georgetown. It doesn’t. Take the easternmost lane of Airport Way and a strip from the land between the street and the railroad tracks and you’ve got an at-grade line all the way from Boeing Access to the south end of Georgetown. And you could exclusion-fence that right-of-way because there’s no “there” between the railroad tracks and the freeway except for a few blocks around Corgiat and Military Roads. BNSF and UP would thank you as well.

        Sure, you have to elevate through Georgetown, but the overpasses are high enough because the freeway is a few dozen feet up the hill. There’s already a “flying junction” at the Maintenance Facility to make the connection at the north end, or, if West Seattle Link actually gets built, Industrial Way offers a great way to shift over to Fifth South.

        All this might cost a billion 2019 dollars.

      8. Seattle is growing faster than the suburbs because it is where people want to live. Zoning is a factor, but not the only one. Go wander around Lake City Way, for example. There are plenty of areas that are zoned for six story apartments that have nothing but car lots on them. Same with Rainier Valley. Those places haven’t been converted to apartments because there simply isn’t the demand for them. They will convert to apartments long before places like Kent change over.

        But zoning also plays a big part. Seattle has basically only allowed a very small area to grow. Roughly 2/3 of the residential area remains untouched (and in some cases, has actually shrunk in population). So essentially a subset of a subset of Seattle has grown, yet it has added more people than the suburbs, in one America’s largest population booms of the decade.

        So, obviously, that gives Seattle a chance to grow two ways. First, it could expand in areas like Lake City, Rainier Valley, and places that were just recently upzoned (Lower Queen Anne, U-District, etc.). Second, it could expand on those places. You are right, Lower Woodland won’t be one of those expanded places. But Lower Woodland brings up a third possibility, which it is currently experiencing: building the missing middle. Lower Woodland has grown a considerably recently, but not nearly as much as the heart of Ballard. Lots of new townhouses and small apartments have been added. Even if there is a station there, though, it won’t leapfrog Ballard. But much of the city could grow the same way. Not just townhouses and small apartments, but backyard cottages and basement apartments (essentially apartment conversions). Seattle has very restrictive rules, and as these get liberated, you are likely to see actual affordable market housing (since converting a house to an apartment is relatively cheap).

        Thus the trend is towards more growth in the city, and not in the suburbs, not only because of the politics (which is trending towards allowing ADUs) but also in terms of desire.

        Oh, and it is worth noting that the only area that comes even close to Seattle in terms of absolute growth is the East Side. Much of that growth is focused on Bellevue. Amazon is building there, and so is Microsoft. I see no signs that businesses would rather open in Auburn or Kent.

      9. Seattle is certainly more desirable, and in the past few years its certainly grown faster than the surrounding areas, but the growth in SLU/Denny Triangle is a once-in-a-generation growth spurt. As Seattle gets built out & more expensive, I think we’ll see more growth shift to the surrounding areas, particularly as we build a HCT network that will support job centers outside of Seattle CBD. Long term, I still see the growth between Seattle city and the rest of the Metro as 50-50, unless Seattle allows the CBD to make another growth spurt.

        https://www.seattletimes.com/business/real-estate/metro-seattle-home-prices-ease-in-expensive-areas-surge-in-lower-cost-cities/

      10. It’s economics, Ross. Thank you for iterating places that have already been upzoned but have not yet been redeveloped. That might accommodate another one to two-hundred thousand people, and I hope it happens. But creeping ADU’s are not going to get the city to two million simply because it takes two professional incomes to live in the City and there aren’t another half million programmer jobs on the horizon. AI is going to be writing bug-free code in a few years and a lot of people will be “downsizing”.

        People will still come to the Puget Sound Region because climate change has been beneficial to the Northwest. We have a California summer now. Grant it doesn’t last as long and winter is still grey, so it’s not for everyone, but it’s nice enough that there will be plenty of people driven out of SoCal by the coming droughts and ever-increasing fires who will come here for shelter.

        As their homes lose value from climate change, they won’t be able to cash out for twice what it would cost them to replace their housing up here and live on the proceeds. Instead they’ll be looking for places outside the nosebleed cities of Seattle and Bellevue. You need to see over the two year horizon.

        Not to mention the coming exodus from Hong Kong and Taiwan as Emperor Xi the First tightens the screws in those places. There are PLENTY of folks living in those places who want a bolt-hole on the West Coast of North America. They’ll be buying up the available housing in Seattle, not climate refugees from hotter places in the US.

      11. And finally, you said “the only area that comes close to Seattle in terms of absolute growth is the East Side.” Well, duh, no other city, except perhaps Tacoma, is nearly as large physically as Seattle. But right now King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties collectively have a bit over three-and-a-half million residents. Seattle has 725 thousand. So if, as AJ noted above, future growth is going to be roughly 50% in “the City” NOT “the County”, a 30% increase in population would take Seattle a bit over a million but the rest of the three county region to 3.7 million (2.8 million * 1.3) or an increase of roughly 800,000.

        The recent past has been goosed by the Amazon bubble. Future immigrants to the region will likely be poorer than the recent influx, with the exception of the East Asians fleeing Xi Jin-Peng Thought.

      12. “Take the easternmost lane of Airport Way and a strip from the land between the street and the railroad tracks and you’ve got an at-grade line all the way from Boeing Access to the south end of Georgetown.”

        I just don’t see that happening. Airport Way S is classified as a principle arterial, industrial access street/road. As things stand today, it currently has a ROW that is below the minimum standard for its classification.

        https://streetsillustrated.seattle.gov/map/

        https://streetsillustrated.seattle.gov/street-types/industrial-access/

      13. @Ross B. Not to get too far down this rabbit hole regarding population growth in the region, but could you please clarify your earlier assertions, as there appear to be some conflicting accounts. Specifically:

        1. What time period are you looking at? Population growth during the last year or two or growth since the last census?
        2. Are you talking about absolute numbers or percentages?
        3. When you refer to “growth in the suburbs” do you mean all suburbs combined or certain individual suburban cities/areas? In this same vein, are you ignoring unincorporated urban areas?

        Thanks in advance.

        Fwiw….

        https://www.psrc.org/whats-happening/blog/region’s-fastest-growing-cities-0

      14. “Instead they’ll be looking for places outside the nosebleed cities of Seattle and Bellevue.”

        The only reason Seattle and Bellevue are nosebleed is bad zoning. It may be impossible to reverse the 40% rent increase since 2008 but we shouldn’t go chasing after the wrong problem. Some people do prefer the suburbs and/or work there, but there’s a clear imbalance between the number of people who want to live in Seattle and the number who can afford to, as can be seen in the tens of thousands of people who have been pushed to south King County involuntarily. We should fix the nosebleed by a significant upzone in Seattle targeting a million-sized population and non-market housing for those who can’t afford the 40% increse. If we can’t do that, we must build more housing in the suburbs, but it’s the suburban cities themselves that are blocking it. In any case we shouldn’t confuse people who want to live outside Seattle/Bellevue with those who are there involuntarily because our land-use policies are screwed up. Living in the suburbs also means less frequent buses with shorter spans, a longer distance to the supermarket and other errand destinations, and large parking lots in front of those businesses that make it harder to walk to them and between them and depress the soul.

  2. There are ways to mitigate the transfer penalty if you think a little bit outside the box. The bus stops can be be located on MLK, on the south side of Henderson, directly adjacent to the station, for a walking distance of just 50 (flat) feet between the bus stop and train platform. Signalized crosswalks can also be added at Fairbanks St. so people in the southbound direction coming off a forward car don’t have to walk the full length of the train to the light at Henderson.

    In the southbound direction, schedule coordination is key. A transfer between a train that runs every 10 minutes and a bus that runs every 15 minutes creates a “phasing” problem, where every other train alternates between a relatively short wait and a relatively long wait. It is better to aim for a bus for every train, so that the wait times can be consistently short. I would even take it a step further and have the bus driver layover at the bus stop. This accomplishes two things. One, it allows southbound passengers to wait on the bus, rather than an empty bus stop, which will help people making the connection after dark feel safe. Two, it means the bus driver can actually see the incoming train coming, allowing the bus driver to wait a little bit if the train is late. The way I would implement it, the bus driver would start a stopwatch when the southbound train arrives. When the stopwatch reaches two minutes, the bus departs.

    With all of the above mitigations, the transfer penalty can now be reduced to 5 minutes northbound, 2 minutes southbound. Schedule-wise, I haven’t done the math, but maybe we could get something like a bus for every train until 9 PM (6 PM Sundays), then a bus for every other train until the end of service.

    There is one rather annoying issue about truncating the 150, not mentioned in this post. When a northbound bus reaches Rainier Beach Station, it has to somehow turn itself around before it can begin a southbound trip, and looking at the map, I don’t see any obvious way to do it. I guess the bus would just have to continue north to Cloverdale and drive around the block.

    1. Yeah, I think for this to work you need to bump up the frequency to every ten minutes. Given the ridership, I think this is justified.

    2. The buses cannot lay over on MLK unless a third parking lane is added. That might happen, but there’s not much room south of Henderson on the southbound side.

      1. Looking at the map, there’s a parking lot on MLK just south of Henderson. If Metro were to buy it out, it would allow enough room to shift the sidewalk over a few feet and add a pullout that the 150 could use as a layover spot. Unfortunately, the cost to buy the land and do the curb work could run into multiple millions. If they took the whole parking lot (which I think they’d need to, since the remainder of the lot would be unusable otherwise), they could sell the leftover to a developer to build one small house on, which would reduce the cost.

      2. Everything south of Henderson is industrial. One lot has a bunch of private buses. I’ve always thought Metro could find an owner down there willing to lease a few spaces for bus layovers.

      3. That bus parking lot is way too far south of the station to be useful for the idea of “waiting on the bus”, which is a good one, especially in winter.

        The little parking lot might work, but it would need to have a means by which to put the lights at southbound Henderson to red-all-directions with no right on red from Carkeek so the buses could safely leave the parking lot. That might foul up the signal co-ordination for Link.

        The obvious layover for a “traditional” bus loop where passengers wait on the curb is to drop folks off south of Henderson, continue to Trenton, lay over next to the powerline parklet, the right on Renton, right on Henderson and left onto King Way for the southbound pick-up.

      4. I’m envisioning the little parking lot being completely torn up and rebuilt. Basically, you shift the sidewalk a few feet to the west (using what’s now the parking lot), then turn the space that’s now the sidewalk into a bus pullout. Then, sell off what’s left of the parking lot for housing. It would require some expensive curb work, but it would be easy for a bus to get in and out. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t do anything to help buses turn around, though.

    3. There were plans at one time to build bus bays under the power lines, a bit north of the station. As it is, when I transfer from NB 106, I’m likely to see a train go away before I can safely cross at a green light. Others not knowing the 10 minute frequency or not wanting to wait that long will scramble over the road and tracks anyway. Then the challenge is to watch traffic and see how long the later train takes before it catches up to the bus.

      Going southbound, before One Bus Away, I’m glued to the traffic on MLK, looking for my 106. Then I see it, at the left turn pocket to Henderson. Forget it, I’ll take the F home.

      1. Even though it’s too late to solve it, it’s pretty clear that the creation of median light rail stops on MLK introduced extra wait time for pedestrians no matter which side of the street they are on. Then there is the extra wait time to cross another street in many cases. Then there is the additional extra wait time sitting on a bus to cross MLK to get to a stop on the far side of an intersection! I’ve had as much as 5 minutes added to my travel because of the triple crossing times delay!

        At the very least, Metro and ST need to add stops before the MLK intersections at Link stations wait to save riders time.

        Then on a case, by case basis, all of the agencies need to work with the neighbors on projects that would improve pedestrian crossings to/from the stations that don’t require going above the catenary power lines.

        There was $100 million for better station access in ST3 but the call for those projects already went out. The next version of Move Seattle is probably the next opportunity to resolve these design mistakes!

    4. For the purpose of this exercise, I had assumed that bus stops could be installed on the south side of Henderson street. I did not have an efficient way to include the cost of new bus stops so I ignored that cost in my analysis.

      I figured that the north bound bus would go north after unloading at Henderson and turn right on Trenton(ideally) or Cloverdale, then right on Renton, right on Henderson and then could layover on Henderson under the powerlines. Going to 10 minutes service used all but 4 of the hours saved by truncation and I figured this would be enough to allow the bus to go around the block without increasing costs.

      1. I think a bit more radically!

        The delay problem is the Henderson intersection. So, why not move where Henderson traffic crosses MLK up to Trenton (next to the power lines on the east and 42nd Ave on the west).

        That would mean that the current Henderson crossing could be only for pedestrians — and for a one-way eastbound or westbound transfer center (three parallel bays? current southbound left at Henderson only for buses? Bus preempt only for crossing MLK at Hendetson?) using the current Henderson pavement just east of MLK.

        Making Henderson drivers go a mere 400 out-of-direction northward would open up lots of opportunities and really reduce station access delays.

  3. Sounds like a no-brainer. The peak hour riders heading to Kent Station are likely already taking Sounder, or should be. If this could increase service levels by reducing total bus hours, and decrease delays a significant amount, it’s a net benefit for all involved. It would be interesting to see a numerical analysis that quantifies the time saved during those delays 13% of trips. My gut feeling is that if you accounted for this, the travel time would be a wash for all trips. I’m not advocating for a detailed analysis. Leverage Link, and improve service levels.

    1. That is my feeling as well. I ride the 150 regularly and I strongly suspect that I-5 congestion makes the Link+Bus competitive with the bus only option, at least at peak.

  4. The lack of an all-day express bus between Seattle and Kent when Sounder isn’t running also really hurts. 70 minutes is a long time to sit on the bus, and it doesn’t include the overhead of getting between home and Kent Station. This makes a visit Seattle almost feel like a long-haul inter-city trip. For example, here is a door-to-door trip between a random point near Kent Station and Ballard. In just half an hour more, you could drive all the way to Portland.

    1. For travel between Kent Station and downtown, there will hopefully be a straighter shot than the current route 166 between Kent and the future Highline Station. That is in the works, as part of a Highline-to-Covington future RapidRide corridor. Right now, it is only a plan, that could be ruined by a vocal neighborhood group somewhere near the line. I have no idea whether it is planned to be ready in time for the opening of Federal Way Link.

      There may be resource competition between that line and the proposed 181 RapidRide line. But then, a RapidRide line serving Twin Lakes P&R, the nearby swath of apartments, South Federal Way Station, that 70s mall west of Auburn, Auburn Station, the Muckleshoot reservation, and Green River Community College would be a faster line and might make more sense. That line wouldn’t make sense to open until Tacoma Dome Link opens.

    2. Nobody would take the 150 from downtown to Kent if there were a better way. Part of the 150’s hour-long travel time is several congested turns in Southcenter. Interurban Avenue runs into West Valley Highway; both of these are faster than its current route; the only reason it detours in the middle is to get closer to Southcenter. This indicates that there’s a three-way of transit demand: Seattle-Southcenter, Southcenter-Kent, and Seattle-Kent. Ideally this would be two or three routes. (There’s also north Kent where a lot of jobs are, with workers coming from Seattle.)

      Kent is the densest city in south King County and it’s centrally located, so it deserves an all-day express like Federal Way has. Sounder runs only a few times a day. The 158/159 run when Sounder does. They take twice as long to get from Seattle to Kent Station as Sounder does, so at first one wonders why they exist. I think it’s for four reasons: (1) to serve KDM P&R, (2) to avoid a 3-seat ride from East Hill and Lake Meridian to midtown, and (3) Sounder has limited capacity.

      Neither a faster 180 nor the Kent-KDM RapidRide can solve the problem because they can’t bring the Seattle-Kent travel time down to 30-40 minutes. Link is already 37 minutes at SeaTac and the 180 is 20 minutes even without the transfer wait. In comparison the 150 is 45 minutes off-hours and 60 minutes daytime. (Peter says 70 minutes but my experience is 60 midday.) The 180 is already pretty fast so there’s not much opportunity to speed it up. Link+KDM can’t be significantly faster than Link+180, so Kent is doomed to a 60-minute travel time to downtown without an all-day express or all-day Sounder.

    3. “a Highline-to-Covington future RapidRide corridor. Right now, it is only a plan, that could be ruined by a vocal neighborhood group somewhere near the line.”

      This is just theoretical opposition rather than a specific group objecting now? The only people I can see objecting are those on the Reith Road detour. Reith Road will have a Frequent route on Kent-FW, while Military Road will have a coverage route on KDM-FW. So what Reith Road would specifically lose is direct access to Des Moines, and Military Road direct access to downtown Kent. Both of these areas are sparsely populated so they shouldn’t have much clout to override KDM RapidRide, although that depends on the city/county councils’ attitudes.

      “I have no idea whether it is planned to be ready in time for the opening of Federal Way Link.”

      RapidRide KDM and 181 are unfunded at this point. the countywide tax measure in 2020 or 2021 will raise money for Metro Connects. Without that, Metro will have some operational hours after truncating routes, but not a capital budget for the front-loaded expenses (red buses, street changes). Metro has started planning the KDM line, and the excess revenue from economy/population increase may be enough to complete one line by 2024 without supplemental revenue, but I wouldn’t count on it.

  5. This is a really good analysis! One thing that’s worth noting about southbound is that during peak times, the 2nd Ave bus corridor downtown is very slow. This is mainly because you have dozens of people at each stop waiting for a specific bus, all kind of lining up in different places depending on which buses come first, sorting themselves. Then when their bus comes, they need to pay on the bus. All this adds more delays than for northbound buses, where the bus stops at every stop and people just get off, no sorting or paying necessary (except a little bit within the bus). Then you have people violating the bus lane, or legitimately queueing in this lane to turn right (this is a BAT late). And the fact that so many differrent routes use this 2nd Ave path compounds this effect even more. This often results in southbound buses being unpredictably 5-15 minutes late before even leaving downtown Seattle.

    For me, this was evident back when I took the 158/159 every Friday. I would never prefer taking the 150 to the 158/159 on any individual day, but if on a given day I knew in advance that the 158/9 would be 15 minutes late, I’d consider it (the 150 was in the tunnel at the time, and less susceptible to these effects). Now that the 150 is on 2nd Ave southbound, it is now subject to the full 2nd Ave effect (for lack of a better name).

    Link has this effect too, but because people can board at all doors at once, it’s greatly diminished. This generally causes delays of 1-3 minutes for Link, probably 5 at most. Truncating the 150 at RBS can provide this benefit for SB riders. Another benefit exclusive to southbound is that buses can be timed to Link and be instructed to wait for that train even if it’s late (similar to Sounder connectors). That makes transfer scenarios better going south, and it’s not hard to imagine a 150 schedule every 12 minutes during peak to connect to every other train. Shoulder peak and midday, it could run every 10 minutes connecting to every train, evenings could be 20 minutes (every other train), early morning could be 12 minutes (every train).

    For weekends, 20 minutes (every other train) could be the baseline, with remaining service hour savings going to the following in order of priority:
    10 minute Saturay midday
    10 minute Sunday midday
    10 minute Saturday and Sunday morning and evening

    1. Thank you AlexKven! Your article on Pierce County ST Express Truncation, https://seattletransitblog.com/2016/03/28/st-express-truncation-at-kent-des-moines-a-concept-south-sound-service-network/ was one of several articles I read before attempting to write this post. So I really appreciate your feedback.

      Riding the 150 on a regular basis since the bus tunnel closure, I have found that 2nd avenue doesn’t negatively impacted my commute. I’m still getting home to Tukwila within about 5 minutes of my pre-DSTT closure commute.

      I am considering investigating how a truncation, or rerouting might hurt/benefit the 158/159.

      I think 20 minute service AND a timed transfer on the 150 on Sunday would be the bare minimum that would allow for dropping direct downtown service. I personally think I would prefer to keep the 150 at half hourly and have it continue downtown though. There generally isn’t enough congestion on I-5 on Sunday to have the truncation really help the rider, in my opinion.

  6. Would things be different if the transfer is in SODO? What about using the future BAR station?

    Rainier Beach is a bit out-of-direction!

    1. This is my question as well! You are asking riders to exchange sections of the 150 that are generally fastest (Interstate and busway) for slow surface Link.

      1. As a 150 rider, that is my question, too. The 150 is really two bus lines: a slow slog that stops essentially everywhere between Kent Station and the golf course in Renton, which picks up and drops off passengers all along the way (and makes nearly every stop), and an express bus from there to downtown Seattle, where you can (right now) jump on Link if you want at SODO and Stadium. As someone who gets on at the second stop on 4th Avenue and James St., it’s an interesting ride from a human perspective (one sees the diversity of Kent) but it’s incredibly boring and circuitous from a ridership perspective. When I-5 is not congested, it’s a pretty straight shot from there; you’re basically suggesting to take that away and replace it with a ride in a different direction to be followed by a transfer and a wait for a Link train that may or may not be on time and may or may not be full.

        In the other direction, Link is pretty damn full southbound all the time. If I do need to take it, it’s a lot easier to take it all the way to SeaTac station and take the 180.

  7. This is great if you have a really downtown-centric view of transit. But this forces another transfer if you want to head somewhere not downtown (First Hill, South Lake Union, Lower Queen Anne, etc.) and two transfer rides are basically not tolerable given the network’s unreliability.

      1. In 2035, and good luck accurately predicting land use that far out. South Lake Union wasn’t on the radar of the people who created Sound Move.

      2. Funny about Sound Move …. it proposed a station close to SouthCenter! That would have been a huge influence on this routing had that been realized.

    1. That was my takeaway as well. The same issue exists for those Kent area commuters who are able to take advantage of the Sounder option, (given the location of the station in Seattle), so it is by no means some sort of panacea as suggested by the OP. Those riders are also looking at a three-seat commute should their final destination not be within walking distance of the King St station.

    2. This is great if you have a really downtown-centric view of transit. But this forces another transfer if you want to head somewhere not downtown (First Hill, South Lake Union, Lower Queen Anne, etc.) and two transfer rides are basically not tolerable given the network’s unreliability.

      Link doesn’t just go downtown. It goes to Rainier Valley and Beacon Hill *before* it goes to downtown, which means that if a rider is headed those places, this would be a dramatic improvement. If they are headed to Capitol Hill or the UW, it is likely better to make the transfer early (and avoid the unreliability of the bus). The fact that an express bus is basically no faster to downtown means that any transfer that involves downtown makes no difference. It may be annoying to have to make two transfer to get to Lower Queen Anne, but it doesn’t cost you any time. If nothing else you have added reliability, while people who are headed to other places come out ahead.

      1. > The fact that an express bus is basically no faster to downtown means that any transfer that involves downtown makes no difference.

        This isn’t true. Today, transferring to a bus going to First Hill involves taking a bus to another bus. If you miss the connection you wait for the next bus. And you’re probably walking at most a block or two.

        If you’re taking a bus to the light rail to the bus, you might miss the Link and have to wait for the next one. You also might miss your second bus and wait for that as well. And Link isn’t at grade level downtown, so you’re spending non-zero amounts of time and effort to get from the Link platform to the bus stop.

        People don’t like walking and people *really* hate waiting. This results in what’s known as a transfer penalty. In Boston, the transfer penalty is 9.52 minutes; people would rather walk or spend additional time on transit if a transfer would save them less than that amount of time. And this is from subway-to-subway in Boston in a sheltered, underground transfer facility where the trains aren’t very far apart; in downtown Seattle, where the tunnel is far from the surface, the bus stops aren’t necessarily very close by the exits, and the topography is hilly, the transfer penalty is probably a lot higher. I have a hard time believing that truncating the 150 to Downtown at Rainier Beach would outweigh this significant transfer penalty.

        Relevant Boston study: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/4431260.pdf

      2. If you want added reliability you can short turn some peak-hour buses. But there’s no reason to just kneecap the route at Rainier Beach.

      3. The point is that if the original bus arrives downtown at 8:03, and the train arrives downtown at 8:03, it really doesn’t matter what happened before, or what happens after. Sure, for personal convenience it is nice to just sit, and not get up and change vehicles. But in terms of getting to your destination (at First Hill or anywhere else) it makes no difference.

        But if you are worried about missing that bus from downtown, than the bus and Link is a better bet. There are two vehicles that can be late, but more often than not, they won’t be. Yet it is very likely that this bus will be late, while it is very unlikely that a truncated bus or Link will be late.

      4. > Sure, for personal convenience it is nice to just sit, and not get up and change vehicles.

        This is a gross misunderstanding of how much people actually dislike transferring. The bus to rail interface downtown is bad now that buses have been kicked out of the tunnel; the light rail isn’t particularly close to the surface and the bus stops aren’t situated in amazing places either. And you’re asking people to potentially give up a seat on a bus and get on some crowded Link trains. Pretty much nowhere treats three-legged transit trips as a good thing or even a tolerable thing, because people *hate* that kind of trip. We should not kneecap bus routes just because it looks good on paper to be doing so.

        At least today, a bus to bus interchange involves a lot less hoofing it and a lot less waiting. This is a known thing that people optimize for rather than travel time and is a regular feature of transit modelling.

  8. Great post, good analysis. Thank you!

    I’d love to see this analysis repeated with Rainier Beach station replaced by a new station at Interurban & 112th St. That location is currently parking lots and a small amount of single-story light industrial. A station there could be a TOD hub, and a transfer point for a truncated 150 and 124, plus an A line extended up Tukwila Intl Blvd. I think a station there would be far more valuable than the ST2 deferred station on Boeing Access Road, in the wasteland between I-5 and the mainline.

    1. I thought Interurban & 133rd was everyone’s favorite spot for a Tukwila infill station. Why do you like 112th better?

      1. I am in favor of building both. I think 112th would make a better bus network node, because International Blvd and Interurban Ave converge near there, allowing you to also terminate the A line. It’s also a pretty blank slate for high-intensity redevelopment, should electeds in Tukwila decide to make a go of it.

        At 133rd, there is quite a bit of office/commercial development, but the existing land use is not walkable, and is recent enough that it would be unlikely to redevelop soon. A station at 133rd would, almost unavoidably, be in the middle of a freeway interchange, and on the opposite side of Interurban from the big office park. I guess you could build a big ped bridge, but its <5 min walkshed, where TOD is truly compelling, is very limited for the foreseeable future.

        I think either 112th or 133rd are far better than the BAR station proposed in ST3. The Sounder transfer is, IMO, a transit nerd daydream of minimal real-life utility and great cost.

      2. Graham, BAR, 112th, 133rd. Let’s keep adding stops until it takes nearly an hour to get from downtown to SeaTac and nearly two hours to get from downtown to Tacoma.

  9. Decisions related to bus/rail transfers and truncation need good origin and destination info or an intercept survey. You can’t maket these decisions looking at end to end travel times that assume everyone is going to and from the same place. It’s much more complicated. An intercept survey for this type of modification is pretty easy to conduct too.

    1. I would have loved to have such information. But even finding boarding and disembarking information for a given stop is proving to be more difficult than I imagine. If you, or anyone else, has found a good way to extract that information from the website, please post a link in response to this comment. Thank you!

  10. Link: how fast will the new LRV be ready? That may be unknown. They are unique in voltage.
    Link: improved frequency would reduce wait times; off-peak, that could begin very soon, if the ST Board would spend the funds.
    Bus: truncation could be used to improve intra South King County service frequency. The network has other stations. The bus routes could go beyond the LInk station to other interesting markets. It calls for network change. RR I line is under consideration now. The question could be applied to all radial routes.

    1. “truncation could be used to improve intra South King County service frequency.”
      Yes. This. 100%

    2. 1,500v isn’t that unusual worldwide. Virtually nothing operates directly off the overhead wires anyway these days, but goes through a static converter first to even out the variable voltage in the overhead lines. At worst you buy a different converter, and at best the converter is designed to operate at such a wide range of overhead voltages you use the same one.

  11. For those wanting a Kent express, one thing that could be done with the savings from truncating the 150 is run an express bus from Angle Lake Station on I-5 and SR 516 (the fast path all the way to Willis Street), then go straight to Kent Station. This could be off-peak only since Sounder and 158/159 run at peak (similar to how the 578 doesn’t run at peak). This route could even take over the 180 south of Kent, making the 180 shorter and more reliable, and giving Auburn a reasonably fast two-seat ride to Seattle as well.

  12. I’ve suggested truncating the 150 at SODO Station in the past. There are numerous advantages to truncating at SODO over RBS. The 150 schedule has the trip from Tukwila to SODO scheduled at 13-15 minutes. Link’s time from RBS to SODO is scheduled at 15 minutes plus the 6 minutes from Tukwila P&R to RBS. That makes the trip from Tukwila P&R to SODO 21 minutes without the transfer penalty. Under normal traffic conditions the bus trip from Tukwila P&R to SODO Station will always be 6 to 8 minutes faster than the Link trip.

    There’s also another advantage to the truncating at SODO: the transfer penalty can be lessened and the available destinations can be increased. The 150 can let passengers off on Lander at the Busway allowing a shorter walk to the transfer point and there are plenty of other bus routes using the Busway. Metro could also extend the southern terminal of the RR D & E buses to SODO Station. With the already existing service on the Busway plus the RR routes the transfer penalty could be as little as 2 minutes and there would be a good variety of destinations available from SODO, particularly when compared to the possibilities available at RBS.

  13. There’s an s-bahn train that runs once every 10 minutes from Potsdam to Berlin. It’s somewhat slow as it stops a lot, but it’s frequent enough and it’s good for getting close to your destination.

    Many people, however, opt for the half-hourly regional train that comes from a different city, but within the Potsdsm-Berlin fare zone the same tickets as used on the s-bahn are also valid. Picture an Amtrak Cascades train operating as a local between Portland and Seattle and making all the local stops and accepting SoundTransit fares between DuPont and Seattle.

    This half hourly all day and most of the night regional train is the bit that is missing. If that existed the conversation on what to do with the 150 could be much different.

  14. Adding more transfers is almost always a mistake.

    Bus transfers are just incredibly unreliable. On the return trip you can end up waiting outside in the cold and rain for a half hour for your bus to show up. The first time that happens, you will decide it isn’t worth taking transit.

    I would MUCH rather spend an extra 10 minutes in traffic in a heated bus, than risk spending 30 minutes freezing my butt off outdoors in November.

    This is one area where something looks like it makes sense on paper, but the actual experience of it is terrible.

    I think you should ask the people in NE Seattle whose buses were truncated with link. Generally, travel times went up, and the bus rail integration involves a lot of walking…

    1. A transfer-based network is superior if the lines are 5-10 minute frequent and have sufficient lane priority. It degrades if the network is lower-quality than that. However, the longer the express segment, the more it’s necessary to have one primary destination with transfers to the others. The 150 is express from Tukwila P&R to Spokane Street although it’s not designated as such, and one can argue that the SODO busway is an extension of the express segment because it replaced buses getting on the freeway downtown. So that’s what we’re starting from.

      “I think you should ask the people in NE Seattle whose buses were truncated with link. Generally, travel times went up, and the bus rail integration involves a lot of walking…”

      That is a temporary phase during construction of Northgate Link. Metro could have delayed the restructure, but that would have frustrated people who wanted to get to Link, made Link seem irrelevant, and delayed the frequency boost. We often berate Metro for being too slow and timid to restructure, so we should be glad Metro took a bold step even if it wasn’t perfect. Otherwise we’d encourage its timid tendency.

      1. > A transfer-based network is superior if the lines are 5-10 minute frequent and have sufficient lane priority.

        Is the transfer based network supposed to limit riders in the southeast to Downtown and everything south? Or do we want riders to be able to get to places east and north of Downtown as well?

      2. There’s a long continuum between an ideal network with 5-10 minute routes and an awful network with uncoordinated 30-minute routes. Southeast Seattle and really most of Seattle is in that in-between stage. Getting up to a 5-10 minute frequency on all semi-frequent routes (which the 50 is because it’s 15-minutes peak) would require a lot of money that Seattle and the county aren’t ready to pay and the state isn’t ready to allow them to. But 10-minute frequency weekday daytime is Seattle’s long-term goal. My preference is Link’s frequency: 10 minutes until 10pm every day.

        In the meantime we can only point out that Moscow and St Petersburg’s buses run every 5 minutes (if a line is running, it’s every five minutes. It only drops to 15 beyond the outermost metro stations), while San Francisco’s and Chicago’s buses run every 10-15 minutes.

  15. Sigh, this is silly to have a discussion that we, the urban Kent people should have an option that is worse travel time than existing. I have thought alot about this issue as we live a 5 min walk to Kent Station. So we need an option that is more inline with the sounder times, not worse. Why can’t we get something with a travel time of 40 minutes?? Truncating the 150 at Rainier Beach is just like the 180 going to SeaTac. I already have a connection to the lightrail through the 180. Our city can’t help the Seattle area without a solid solution for connectivity. I honestly would be very sad with a solution like the 150 being truncated in Rainier Beach and would drive more due to this. It is the sad reality of the lack of consistent rapid transit in this area of SKC.

    Outside of the Sounder hours, the 150 is our connection to Downtown Seattle as we know. This bus takes a very long time and commonly has questionable people on it who harass other riders. The other sounder stations are serviced by Sound Transit buses which make living in Auburn/Sumner/Tacoma actually easier and faster to get to than Kent though being 5+ miles south of us. We find it frustrating and thought I would just ask that you think outside the box. I consistently hear from commuters the frustration of not having a good connection to Seattle evenings and weekends in particular and why they drive than take public transportation. Maybe an express 150 where it bypasses a-lot of the other stops and cuts the travel times down? Maybe getting our travel time differential down to 40 minutes (we drive and get home in 22-25 so it is possible!) but cutting off a bunch of stops that do not have the concentrations with a local 150 meeting them. I took the timetables from ST and Metro and show the issue that our community is seeing. I am glad to talk more if you have questions.

    Travel Time examples:
    Kent:
    Sounder – 25 minutes
    Bus (150) – 61 minutes (University Station – 36 minute differential)
    Auburn:
    Sounder – 33 minutes
    Bus (578) – 47 minutes (4th and Pine – 14 minute differential)
    Sumner:
    Sounder – 43 minutes
    Bus (578) – 60 minutes (4th and Pine – 17 minute differential)
    Puyallup:
    Sounder – 49 minutes
    Bus (578) – 71 minutes (4th and Pine – 22 minute differential)
    Tacoma:
    Sounder – 62 minutes
    Bus (590/594) – 57 minutes (4th and Pike – (5) minute differential – bus is faster than being in KENT!)
    Thanks for listening and hopefully this was helpful if you already did not know. I just would love to see more ridership. I also would love not to have to drive to downtown and back with a good connection home.

    1. Metro’s 2025 plan finally gives Kent an all-day express to downtown that Sound Transit should have provided in 1994. I also restructures the 150. I assume “2025” really means when KDM Station opens in 2024. Note that Metro’s enhancements aren’t fully funded at this point; they’ll depend on a coutywide Metro tax measure in 2020 or 2021. STB and many transit fans have repeatedly begged ST to provide an all-day Seattle-Kent express for years, pointing out it’s the biggest regional transit hole in south King County and the densest area in the south county. This article is really talking about restructuring the 150 sooner than that, so between 2019-2024. But longer-term relief is on the way. Also, a 169 RapidRide is in planning, and the 2025 plan has the Des Moines – Covington RapidRide mentioned in another comment, and RapidRides on the southern 180 and 164.

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