King County Metro is preparing to roll out its South King County route restructure on September 19, as party of its semi-annual regular service change (not to be confused with the ad hoc changes that have been rolled out on short notice all spring and summer). Martin reported on the semi-final proposal back in March.

Meanwhile, Metro recently listed the 10 most ridership-resilient (the ratio of 2020 ridership to 2019 ridership) routes. Route 180 is king at an amazing 74% of ridership retained.

The next three are routes that may be picking up the slack from the Link Light Rail infrequency that also goes away on September 19. Route 7 has retained 66% of its ridership, followed by the A line with 62% and route 106 with 58%. Route 36 comes in seventh at 47%.

On September 18, route 180 will ride into the sunset as the reigning resilience champion, to be replaced by new routes 161, 160, and 184.

As route restructures go, this one is pretty radical. Thirteen routes (158, 159, 164, 166, 169, 180, 186, 192, 908, 910, 913, 916, and 952) will be removed. Five new routes will be rolled out.

Seven of these routes (158, 159, 186, 192, 910, 913, and 952) had already been mothballed for the pandemic, along with fourteen other South King County routes (121, 122, 123, 143, 154, 157, 167, 177, 178, 179, 190, 197, Black Diamond / Enumclaw Community Ride, and Normandy Park Community Ride).

  • New route 160 (the future Rapid Ride I Line) will tie together route 169, the portion of route 180 from Kent Station to Auburn Station, and a portion of route 910. This will be the only planned RapidRide line that does not connect directly with the Link Light Rail network.
  • New route 161 will replace the rest of the northern portion of route 180 (from Kent Station to Burien Transit Center).
  • New route 162 will fold together Kent-to-Seattle commuter routes 158 and 159.
  • New route 165 will tie together routes 164, 166, and 913, creating a new 1-seat ride from Green River College to the future Kent / Des Moines light rail station.
  • New route 184 will replace the southeast Auburn portion of route 180.
  • Route 148 will be adjusted to serve 116th Ave SE and SE 168th St in southeast Renton.
  • Route 150 will become a little bit longer by serving a stretch of 64th Ave S north of Kent Station.
  • Route 168 will become straighter via SE Kent-Kangley Rd.
  • DART route 906 (link missing on Metro’s web page) will now have select trips serve Tukwila Sounder Station. All trips will also now serve Nativity Lutheran Church Park & Ride.
  • DART routes 914 and 917 will also have neighborhood path changes.

Major frequency boosts will include:

  • 15-minute weekday headway on pre-Rapid-Ride route 160. This should help take the sting out of many Auburn riders losing their 1-seat ride to SeaTac Airport Station.
  • 15-minute peak headway on route 161. In effect, the route will connect to roughly half of the Link trips during the pandemic schedule, and do so more reliably.
  • 15-minute peak headway on route 105
  • And, oh yeah, did we mention 15-minute day-time headway is returning on Link Light Rail, including on weekends? … along with 8-minute peak headway? Yes, we did.

27 Replies to “South King County route restructure to break up high-performing 180”

  1. I have a little critique about the way the county is presenting the information. For the North East Side restructure, I thought they did an excellent job. One of the really nice features was a map with a slider on it, so you could look at before and after for the area. In contrast, it is tougher to see what will actually change with this proposal.

  2. “ The next three are routes that may be picking up the slack from the Link Light Rail infrequency … “

    May? It looks to me that “probably are” or “appears to be” is more accurate. I don’t think the rest of the region fully experiences how these routes serve many who depend on them as well as rely on Link. Route 106 literally runs next to Link! SE Seattle is a very long but relatively narrow section of Seattle, so that transit is more critical to be available here than in other areas because there just aren’t as many destinations to easily walk to.

    To me, the ST drastic Link service reduction through this really illustrates how their management still believes that Link is an optional overlay service than an essential one.

    We’ve already discussed this at length, but the new data from Metro presented here provides the facts that prove the point.

    1. But it’s also interesting that the 10, 48, 49 and 70–routes that shadow Link on the northern segment– haven’t maintained their ridership. All of those routes have lost at least 72% of their pre-Covid ridership

      1. I’d attribute a good percentage of the the drop from Routes 48, 49 and the 70-routes to the closure of UW. Route 10 serves lots of walkable areas, so many probably are just walking to their destinations rather than riding the bus.

    2. The 7 is a half-mile from Link at Othello and Rainier Beach, and Link doesn’t serve the Graham or Orcas Street areas. So those riders would not have been on Link in any case. A lot of people ride within the valley to the supermarket and other errands. Or they’re going from Rainier to Little Saigon. That could be 50% of the 7’s ridership right there.

      The table ignores the fact that even if the 180 has the highest percent of retained riders, the 7 and E have twice as many riders as the 180 even during covid.

      The 49 has been low this period. Not empty but no trouble getting a seat. My local routes are the 10, 11, and 49, and all of them have been like that. Which is great for me because I’ve encountered full or nearly-full buses on the 7, 124, 131, and 132, but never those routes. I’ve been to the U-District maybe once since March. A few other times I’ve gone through it to the produce stand at 65th & 15th NE and Ravenna Park. So if both Link and the 49 ridership are down, then a lot of people aren’t going to the U-District or Broadway at all. I don’t know about the 70’s ridership since I haven’t used it much in recent years. But the occasional times I take the 62 or 70 through SLU, there’s a notable lack of crowds, even near the PM peak.

    3. Oh, because of Link’s infrequency, when I go to 65th and back I’m more likely to take the 45/67/71/73 to Campus Parkway and transfer to the 49/70, whereas previously I would have gone to UW Station and taken Link. And norrthbound, it’s easier to justify waiting 12-15 minutes for the 49 rather than walking further to Link and waiting possibly 30 minutes. And paying a $2.50 fare for one stop when Metro is still free.

  3. The headline is sensationalist. This is an attempt to straighten out the north-south, east-west grid. Normally we applaud this and ask Metro to do more of it. So what exactly is wrong with this one? Even if the 180 has the highest percent of retained riders, that doesn’t mean all of them are staying on through Kent Station. Some of them are going from Auburn to Kent, from Kent to SeaTac, and from Burien to SeaTac. Maybe it has high ridership because it serves the airport and those industrial employers in between. Is there some reason that most airport and industrial workers would come from Auburn rather than from East Hill, Covington, or Benson Hill?

    The biggest drawback to this restructure I see is that the 160 (future I) doesn’t connect to Link, so any trip involving Link from Auburn, south Renton, Benson Hill, and the parts of East Hill not close to an east-west route will have a minimum 3-seat ride. But even if they had a 2-seat ride, it wouldn’t get them a lot. Link already takes 38 minutes from Westlake to SeaTac. That gives the 180 only 22 minutes to match the 150. The 180 takes 28 minutes at noon, and then there’s the transfer. So Rentonites, Kentites, and Auburnites will still have no better way to get to Seattle than the 101, 150, and 578.

    One big plus in this restructure is the 168’s frequency. It goes from 60 minutes to 30 minutes Saturday, Sunday, and evenings. I thought about going to the Soos Creek Trail (entrance at Lake Meridian Park) on a Saturday morning, but because it was hourly I went in the early morning on a weekday instead. It’s high time that east Kent, Covington, and Maple Valley get a suburban level of service rather than a rural level.

    1. It’s been awhile since I moved away, but my impression based on who I saw waiting for the bus along Auburn Way in the two years I lived in Kent was that to a great extent the reason airport workers lived in Auburn was because they had a reliable, essentially all-day one seat ride to their place of work. And since they were so many of them “essential workers” this whole time and had no alternatives to the bus, it’s also why the route would have kept up its ridership.

      Or put another way, we built it and they came. There’s a lot of cheap apartments down there.

    2. Without looking at stop data it is tough to say how many people now have to transfer. Even with stop data, it is tough, since they typically don’t have stop pairs, just boardings.

      My guess is that a lot of northbound Auburn riders get off at Kent. I would also guess that lots of southbound people are headed to the Auburn MultiCare Medical Center. I’m willing to bet that those riders outnumber the folks from south of Kent headed to SeaTac, which is why they did this change. The latter also explains the resilience. Airport employment was hammered ( Hospital employment went up.

  4. Oh, and Sunday service on the 165 (132nd Ave SE). The 164 has no Sunday service, and as far as I know it never had. If you work weekdays and the bus doesn’t run Sundays, that gives only one day a week (Saturday) to do errands on.


    Transit-wise, Rainier Avenue goes back aways, doesn’t it? I’ve always thought MLK Link and the Roue 7 were a good “pair.”

    The 7 had a good feel to it. Fast and direct, straight wire, delivering a lot of service. Safety measure for me. At night, light loads carried a real danger of falling asleep. Wouldn’t be money wasted to let those new sixty-footers run wire along the lake to Renton, but no rush about it.

    Those MLK “undercuts” for Link between Mount Baker and Rainier Beach, more urgent. In addition to safety, wasted operating time would pay the bill. On that line, delays resonate. And could safe MLK speed be 40?

    Mark Dublin

  6. Overall this is a good change. The new route 165 is getting a nice speed improvement by taking a faster path between Kent and Highline College. One weird thing is that it seems a bit haphazard as to what corridors they split into multiple routes (180) vs what corridors they combine into a single route for efficiency (166 + 164, part of 180 + 169). Having route 180 as a strong connection to Link seems like a lot to give up. I’d much sooner give up the SeaTac to Burien part of the 180.

    I see the 906 extension to Sounder being a tough sell for anyone in Fairwood. Who wants to ride several miles around the Tukwila shopping area on the way to work in Seattle? For a general purpose all-day and weekend route that’s one thing, but if they want a Sounder connector, they could do it right and have a peak-only Sounder connector that’s more direct. I don’t understand why peak Sounder connectors (which wait for the train before leaving if it runs late) have fallen out of favor, while routes like the 162 which run all the way to Seattle are still preserved. Sounder connectors are like Seattle expresses but without the most wasteful part.

    1. I’ve been saying for years that the Burien-to-SeaTac Airport Station part of route 180, er 161, ought to be moved to the H Line once West Seattle Link is open. So what if it isn’t a straight north-south line? Neither is the somewhat-resilient route 120, or the C Line, or the D Line, or route 40, or route 106, or route 36, or route 7, or new route 161 for that matter. Burien is a middling terminus for the H Line (and designed in classical virtual fenced-off style to keep those dirty riders away from the local businesses, as if all people are doing there is transferring and loitering). The gravity well of Federal Way and Tacoma Dome Link, combined with all the jobs at the airport, makes for a much stronger anchor / terminus for the H Line.

      1. Maybe. The tricky thing is that it’s hard to terminate at SeaTac Airport without either live looping or having a layover far away (the 574 has a layover on 188th). This might be partly why the 180 continues to Burien.

        The way I see it, there’s not really any trips to the airport from Burien on the 180 that route 560 does not do better, except the air cargo road stops. Adding the H Line would be nice for people who would get a one-seat ride and it would be frequent. But that would be expensive and might involve a long layover. An essentially free way to improve frequency would be to run the 180 as an express from the airport to Burien like the 560, and interline the schedules so that the 180s run in between the 560s. This would bring combined frequency to 15 minutes.

      2. Yeah, in an ideal world, it would make sense for the buses to end at SeaTac. SeaTac is a bigger destination, with more visitors and more workers than Burien. It also has much better transit connections. If the 120 (future RapidRide H) extended to SeaTac, very few people would transfer at Burien. The only significant connecting bus route is the F, but that pales in comparison to the A. SeaTac also has all-day express bus routes to places like Federal Way and Tacoma. Using Link to get to Rainier Valley that way is also reasonable if you are in say, White Center.

        Either way, it makes sense for a bus to use the 560 routing, as Alex wrote. There is no reason for the 180 (soon to be 160) to double up service along parts of the A and F. That is a waste of service hours, for only a handful of riders. The only reason the 160 is going to layover in Burien is because SeaTac doesn’t have layover space. It is best if it gets to Burien as fast as possible. That would allow the 160 to run more often. It makes a big difference if the bus runs every 20 minutes instead of every half hour, especially since a fair number of riders will transfer to it.

        I assume that eventually the 560 goes away, replaced by the 405 Stride. That means the Sound Transit express ride from Burien to SeaTac goes away. Metro could keep that, and with a little bit of effort, increase the frequency of it.

    2. Having route 180 as a strong connection to Link seems like a lot to give up.

      Hard to say if there is much loss though. The part from Kent to SeaTac is the same, and runs twice as often. So you only lose the connection from further south. My guess is very few riders of the 180 go from Auburn to SeaTac. Meanwhile, Kent is clearly a major hub, and an obvious transfer point for folks headed to SeaTac. Doubling the frequency is a huge bonus, even if a handful of people no longer have a one seat ride.

  7. Overall this looks pretty good. Nice to see “high performing” 180 get an improvement in frequency. The 180 revision looks like an upgrade — nice to see that new section (of the old 169) get better frequency as well.

    Otherwise they are a bit vague about frequency though. The new 161 runs “every 15-30 minutes”. So does the 105. Both of these routes look like relatively strong all-day routes, and could use 15 minute service at the very least.

  8. The route sheets have some notable night owl service, some mistakes, and some unclear things that might be mistakes.

    The 160 (Renton-Kent-Auburn) and 161 (Kent-SeaTac-Burien) are almost 24 hours, weekdays 4am-3am, weekends 5am-3am. The existing 180 has some odd night runs, Kent-Auburn until 2:17am, Auburn-SeaTac between 3:30am-4:45am. The latter are for airport workers. The former must connect with the southbound 150. The revised routes expand the Auburn-Kent and Kent-Burien service to 23 hours, and also add 23-hour service on Kent-Renton that has never had it. So that’s something substantial.

    The 160 map says “Auburn Way N” on 104th Ave SE in Kent East Hill. That’s a mistake.

    The 162 (Lake Meridian – Kent – KDM – downtown express) has a puzzling span. It’s peak hours weekdays and all-day weekends (5:30am-3:30am — note the night owl). Is this the all-day Kent-Seattle express we’ve been asking for for years? But why only peak and weekends? What about midday and evening weekdays? Does something else replace it in the missing span? If so, what? Or is this for when the 150 is half-hourly? But that’s odd: it means you get frequent-but slow service weekdays but a fast express weekends. Or is this a mistake? The weekend service may belong on another route.

    Is Veterans Drive faster than Reith Road/Military Road? Do the latter lose all service? The 166’s detour on Reith Road/Military Road has always been annoying because it’s very low density and makes travel time between Kent and Highline CC excessive. The future KDM-GRCC RapidRide will be on KDM Road and I thought this would be too but it’s on Veterans Drive. So will Veterans Drive be any faster than the current routing?

    1. Almost positive that the mention of weekends on the 162 is a typo. But oh how I wish it wasn’t!

  9. I’m trying to understand how route 162 is supposed to work. A route that runs rush hour + weekends, with no midday service, is a very odd service pattern. Is there some fine print truncating weekend service to Kent Station->Lake Meridian P&R only that I’m not seeing?

    It is also disappointing that Metro is continuing to run trips that effectively duplicate Sounder, during the same time of day period that Sounder is running, while continuing to provide no options for Kent->Seattle traffic during the midday or early evening (e.g. ~7 PM) except for the already very-slow 150, which the restructure makes even slower.

    Could they at least adjust the schedules of the 162 so that the trips downtown are an hour or two off from the Sounder schedule, effectively extending the span of fast Kent->Seattle service? Running a bus that connects the same places as Sounder, at the same time as Sounder, just because people are too cheap to pay Sounder fare instead of bus fare, is a waste.

    1. It may be a whopper mistake in the route description. The first section is inconsistent with the second. The first section says “new peak time commections” and “replaces removed routes 158, 159, and portions of 192”. The 158 and 159 are the existing Kent-KDM-downtown peak expresses. The 192 is a peak express from Star Lake P&R to Military Road, KDM P&R, and downtown. So the first section implies it’s purely a peak express route. The second section mentions the weekend service. The third section is consistent with the first. So it walks and quacks like a peak-only route. The weekend service must have been intended for another route. Who believes Metro would run a Kent-Seattle express at midnight in parallel with the 150? The impetus for an express route is all about the daytime when the 150 gets bogged down in Southcenter traffic. Metro’s future all-day expresses are described as ending at 7pm. So why would this one run at midnight and 3am? That sounds impossible.

      Re duplicating Sounder, I’ve long thought as you do. I suspect the key to the mystery is KDM P&R. Metro probably thinks a KDM-downtown express is necessary, and it probably gets half the riders if it’s similar to the 550 at Mercer Island and the E at 46th peak hours. So it may really be two routes in one: a KDM-downtown express and an East Kent – Kent local, that just happen to be interlined. Anybody wanting to get downtown quickly wouldn’t take these routes all the way through; they’d transfer to Sounder, which is almost twice as fast. That should kill these routes right there. But if they exist because of the P&R in the middle, and the tail is just to fill the other half of seats and give more Kent – East Kent frequency peak hours (which serves those Sounder transfers), then it begins to make some sense in an illogical way. If it’s more efficient to through-route them, then why make people gratuitously transfer when you don’t have to?

      1. That’s a reasonable argument, at least for now. Maybe the eventual Link station at Kent Des Moines P&R will lead to something of a shift.

        Still, making the already-slow 150, that everybody has to slog through all the way, except for a couple hours on weekday mornings and afternoons, even slower, is not good. It’s an implicit assumption that either nobody goes to Seattle outside of rush hour, or that those that do are all “captive”, so it doesn’t matter how slow the bus is, they’ll ride it anyway.

        Is there really anything so important in the 150’s new detour, that warrants 15-minute service all-day, 7 days/week, and is worth slowing down the trips of thru-riders over? Couldn’t some other (less frequent) route, which ends at Kent Station, been extended to maintain coverage of that area, instead?

    2. A route that runs rush hour + weekends, with no midday service, is a very odd service pattern.

      I agree. The 150 is largely unchanged, so it will take up the slack in the middle of the day for trips to Seattle. The 168 provides coverage. Both of those run on the weekends, so I’m not sure why the 162 is running weekends (but not in the middle of the weekday). Maybe the problem is as Mike suggested — too much traffic on the 150 on the weekends due to shoppers at SouthCenter.

      Maybe the 150 had very few riders to downtown Seattle in the middle of the day, but plenty during the weekend. I could see that. In the middle of a weekday, the 150 is mostly riders heading between South Sound locations. But during the weekend, there are folks headed to Seattle. Traffic through downtown is certainly worse in the middle of the day on a weekend than a weekday.

      Another possibility is more weekday Sounder runs. Isn’t that part of ST3?

    3. Metro knows a lot of people take the 150; it runs every 15 minutes weekdays and Saturdays. In the 80s it was half-hourly weekdays when most other routes in South King County were hourly. Weekday congestion must be higher than weekends because many companies are open Monday-Friday, including industrial companies. The idea that Kent would have good express service weekends but not midday doesn’t make sense, so there must be something more going on. Maybe it becomes a shuttle weekends and stays in Kent. Maybe a Metro executive lives at Lake Meridian.

      1. Weekday congestion must be higher than weekends because many companies are open Monday-Friday, including industrial companies.

        That hasn’t been my experience. It really isn’t about employment (certainly not industrial employment) it is about non-work related trips. Traffic tends to be pretty bad in the middle of the day Saturday and Sunday. People are just doing errands and whatnot. One of those whatnot things is shopping in the malls, SouthCenter being one.

        That being said, Metro has never taken this approach — weekend service tends to be terrible, despite obvious demand. So you are right, there is probably something else going on, unless they are simply experimenting.

  10. Honest question – how does Metro get these ridership numbers while they’re not collecting fares?

    1. Metro has Automated Passenger Counters (APC) on most or all buses. That way they know how many get on or off each stop (geo-referenced), and at any point time (time stamp). It helps feed data on on productivity, reliability, crowding, transfer stop activity and a number of other things. It can be checked against Orca readers or fare boxes. The sensors are near the bottom of each door.

      Transit agencies began to have these sensors on buses about 15-20 years ago, so they’re pretty common now.

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