ST Express 541 (Image: SounderBruce)

Last we heard, just a few weeks ago, Sound Transit’s draft service plan was to discontinue ST 541 (Overlake – University District), along with ST 540 (Kirkland – University District). This week, the Rider Experience Committee is set to reconsider that plan. Up to ten one-way trips will remain on ST 541. That’s significantly less than the 20 round trips currently provided, but it indicates some rethinking of service changes on SR 520 in response to rider feedback.

The staff memo points to recent growth in ridership on ST routes over SR 520, including 541 and 542. There’s also a nod to rider input during public involvement about capacity concerns on the remaining 542 trips. Average weekday ridership on ST 541 this Spring was 873.

There now commences a period of monitoring ridership shifts on all of these services. The ten remaining trips on ST 541 will be evaluated prior to each service change. Route 544 operate for at least 24 months so that the market can develop and the full ridership potential can be evaluated. After two years, it too may be adjusted based on performance.

Current ridership on ST 541 (table: Sound Transit)

East Link is less than four years away. So too is a more direct pathway from the Eastside to South Lake Union when WSDOT opens the SR 520/ I-5 express lanes connection and Express Lanes Connection  and reversible Mercer Street ramp. That means far-reaching restructures are not so far away, and increased Eastside-South Lake Union connections are likely a major beneficiary. Despite the hesitations of some current riders from Overlake, ST 544 is set to be the beginning of something more comprehensive.

Recent ST Express service changes on the SR 520 corridor (image: Sound Transit, click to enlarge)

13 Replies to “ST 541 not dead yet”

  1. Definitely an improvement, although, replacing route 541 with additional trips on route 542 would probably have been even better.

    Of course, the elephant in the room here is Tim Eyman. If it passes, the money to pay for these 10 route 541 trips (and much else) could disappear overnight. Hopefully, ST can continue to collect car tabs while the lawyers wrangle over it in court, so that, of it is ultimately overturned, there is no interruption in service.

  2. IMHO- what they are missing here is the riders from the UW area to the Kirkland area. 255 doesn’t stop there anymore, the new 544 won’t stop there anymore and if they cut the 540 and the 541, that leave just the 542. This bus, for reasons unknown, is notoriously unreliable. It is rarely on time, and often becomes a “phantom” bus.

    1. The 255 will be modified to serve the UW instead of downtown. Downtown bound riders will need to transfer between the 255 and Link. This change is planned to take effect in March.

    2. So I am not the only one who shows up waiting for the 542 in the evening and watches in confusion when both OneBusAway and the ticker tell me it is almost there…and then just left..and then is 25 minutes away…

      Huge amount of Microsoft (+ surrounding businesses) ridership on 541 and 542.

  3. I’m still sensing an Achilles Heel in all this change-up.

    Will there be a set of passengers who have been heading downtown on route 255 who will now be transferring at one of the freeway stations to take route 545 downtown? I don’t think route 545 can sustain more ridership growth without adding more trips.

    Some riders will put up with a time-consuming transfer at UW Station. Some won’t. The split depends on solving some bus-priority bottlenecks that, IIRC, will be re-broken before March arrives.

  4. Old plan: route 544 every *12*-15 minutes
    New plan: route 544 every 15 minutes, up to 10 trips on 541

    I’ve opined recently that the main justification for this route and its routing is that it is as frequent as possible to allow fast transfers to other, faster routes. That relied on ST not backtracking in Metro fashion and watering down their proposal. I suppose this doesn’t change much for 544 to 545 westbound riders, but it does make it harder for 545 and 255 to 544 to SLU riders. I get that there is a capacity issue with service to UW, but I would think that they could shift some 545 service to 542 to cover that (especially given that taking one 545 trip could pay for more than one 542 trip).

    1. In most cases, it will be faster to transfer to Link than to the 545. The 545 has no priority on I5 or the ramp to Stewart St., and, even with bus lanes, the slog to 5th and Pine takes a long time.

      There are exceptions, such as shopping at REI (destination one block from Stewart/Denny, but far from a Link station), and when there’s a Husky football game. The former is a tiny number of people. The latter is on Saturdays, when the 545 does have some excess capacity available.

  5. Also, one weird change in the memo is that weekend 577 trips being converted to short 578 trips (Auburn to Seattle, though mislabeled “Puyallup to Seattle” in the memo) now won’t happen until September. Any speculation why, since this is just making better use of the excessive recovery time, rather than requiring additional service hours?

    1. Uneducated speculation:

      The schedulers have another way to remove excessive recovery time. (But it means reduced reliability.)

      The South King subarea is going to take a big hit from I-976. Excess recovery time will be the first cut.

  6. I’m one of the complainers here.
    > Despite the hesitations of some current riders from Overlake, ST 544 is set to be > the beginning of something more comprehensive.

    I’ll say again: The diversion to S Kirkland is a stupid time waster.
    Its fine to increase service to SLU. Its not fine to send the bus on a ten minute diversion when the riders could merge faster at Yarrow Point.

  7. A few years ago, I saw an earlier draft of a Bellevue master transit plan which was, not surprisingly, centered around Bellevue, rather than its neighbors. The plan called for *two* Kirkland/Bellevue routes, one taking 108th, one taking Lake Washington Blvd., with all Kirkland/Seattle traffic required to transfer to either. 542, which diverts to South Kirkland P&R, or Link at Bellevue Transit Center.

    Needless to say, my immediate reaction upon reading this was that it was a horrible idea – significantly slowing down all Redmond/Seattle and Kirkland/Seattle trips for the sake of adding a second route to a Kirkland/Bellevue corridor that can barely even support one.

    I fear that the 544 might be part of a grand plan to test Redmond riders’ willingness to put up with a South Kirkland P&R detour, with the hope of eventually extending the detour to the 542 as well, allowing the Bellevue master plan to be implemented. If we want route 542 to remain direct, long term, we’d better hope that route 544 ridership in Redmond is low.

  8. We’ll be paying for the UW Station siting blunder for decades to come.

    Until we can cut through NIMBYism and increase Montlake Bridge capacity, UW will be a slapdash, minimally accessible transfer point. There might be some way to reconfigure bus bays at the expense of E12 and E19 parking that would ease the pain, but the UW Regents are famously recalcitrant when it comes to the public good.

    The gargantuan expense of a Montlake Lid Link station to accommodate express transfers would be more politically feasible than any minor fix, and worth the investment and hit to the train’s performance. Maybe we can put it on the list for 2068.

  9. What is the time frame for these changes? Or is it just in the lack of planning stage? Riders don’t care what bus routes will look like when East Link opens. People care most about now, a week from now, 6-12 months from now.

    What riders also care about is how ST plans work with Metro plans. Both agencies tend to plan in isolation for what’s best for their routing/resources/budget… tax payers be damned.

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