Route 157, which serves a unique area, was removed entirely from the September service change after COVID-19 cuts

As reported previously, south King County is seeing a major change in service coming in September. While nearly all of the all-day service from earlier proposals remains intact in the final service change, the proposed peak-hour Seattle express routes have been scaled down drastically. Metro is currently suspending all south King County peak-only express routes except routes 102 and 193 (the latter is presumably preserved to get essential workers to First Hill hospitals). Since Metro is in deep financial trouble due to loss of sales tax revenues, bringing back these peak expresses would be a long and slow process.

Express routes which are mainly there to provide extra capacity during peak likely won’t make sense at all in a post-COVID world, where there will probably be a permanent decline in peak-hour demand. The other express routes either provide the only service to an area (such as route 157), or make faster an otherwise long and cumbersome trip (routes 158/159, 190/192, and others). While Metro’s final September service preserves route 162 in full (replacing suspended routes 158 and 159), it is not bringing back routes 157 and 190 (both of which were originally planned to receive routing adjustments, but keep the same levels of service). While route 190 passengers have a slower alternative by taking the A-Line to Link, route 157 covers some areas that do not have any other service, meaning that residents here are completely cut off from transit entirely unless they drive to a park-and-ride (which we want to discourage).

Bringing back these peak expresses (like Metro is doing with route 162) is expensive and inefficient, an effect that is worsened due to Metro’s financial troubles. However, Link’s upcoming frequent service presents an opportunity to restore these routes in a smarter way: send them to a nearby Link station, and let Link take care of the longest and most inefficient part of the trip. The city of Des Moines realized that a neighborhood route to a local Link station is also a route to Seattle, so the city has been purchasing service on its route 635 from Metro since 2018. Finally, Link connectors also have the advantage of not just taking people downtown. Passengers can stay on Link to get to the UW, get off at SeaTac Airport, or access other destinations along Link (or other connecting service). Doing these trips on a traditional downtown Seattle express would require a longer walk to reach Link service after spending more time in traffic, and may even require backtracking. So I propose making the following changes to three south King County routes:

Route 157 runs from Kent East Hill to downtown Seattle, missing Kent’s downtown and other transfer hubs. It is unique in that most of its non-freeway routing serves areas that have no other bus service, so losing bus service for the foreseeable future is a blow to anyone who depends on it. This route had only 4 morning trips and 3 evening trips, and (aside from transfers to the 150 and 180 along the way) is only good at getting people to downtown Seattle. As far as I know, Metro has never floated the idea of truncating the route in exchange for added service, but now it might have to be truncated to have any service. I would propose truncating it at Angle Lake, and adding trips so that it has 5 morning and 5 evening trips, with the additional trips extending its span of service to make the route more useful.

Route 190 runs from Redondo Heights P&R to downtown Seattle, picking up passengers along S. 272nd street. It’s short, and serves mostly park-and-ride passengers at Redondo Heights (though it is also useful for people in the Star Lake neighborhood and people transferring from route 183 and the A-line). Since this is mainly a park-and-ride route, and considering that the A-line can be used for this purpose (though it is considerably slower), this would be the least important of the three route changes, and should come last if changes were to be phased. Still, with the A-line being heavily utilized already, and a desire to provide this area with a faster alternative (Metro has been running 8 morning/7 evening trips on this route all the way to Seattle prior to COVID cuts), a fast connection to Angle Lake seems like a reasonable compromise.

Route 162 is the planned replacement for routes 158 and 159, and is slated to run all the way to downtown Seattle beginning in September, despite running right past two different Sound Transit trains also going to downtown. Worse, passengers hoping to connect with Sounder in Kent will be disappointed to find that route 162 is not only not coordinated with Sounder, but it’s timed to just miss the train! Likewise, in the evening, the bus leaves Kent Station right before the train arrives. The way I propose that this be fixed is a few different things:

  1. Truncate the route to Angle Lake Station
  2. Since the route runs along the planned 168 all the way to East Hill and a truncated route will be more reliable, route 162 should extend to the full length of the 168 and replace it during peak hours (i.e., route 168 will run off-peak, and a longer route 162 will run in both directions during peak to replace it).
  3. Route 162 should be timed to connect passengers to Sounder trains in the morning, and wait for trains to arrive at Kent Station in the evening before departing (for both eastbound and westbound buses, if possible). When consecutive trains are spaced farther than 30 minutes apart, a 162 round trip should operate in between, keeping service to Angle Lake and Maple Valley every 20-30 minutes.

Since the modification to route 162 would save a lot of service hours and require many fewer buses in operation at any given time, it seems to me that this change would easily pay for my proposal for routes 157 and 190, perhaps even with service hours to spare. The benefits of this proposal for route 162 passengers range from marginal to negative, but route 157 and 190 passengers clearly benefit since they will have some service rather than none. This proposal shows that it’s possible to restore bus service to more people, and likely without costing any additional money, by utilizing existing infrastructure. We just have to let King County Metro know that we want it.

37 Replies to “Bring back Seattle express routes as Link feeders”

  1. Quite honestly, I’ve felt that the 157 should’ve been feeding into Link years ago. I also feel that it should be made all day when the money’s available.

    1. Checking the map, wouldn’t the 157 have been a natural to meet Link at Angle Lake?

      Mark Dublin

  2. Predicting a permanent decline in peak-hour demand seems unwarranted. I can see a long period of depressed demand, since we are probably heading into a prolonged recession. But a permanent decline is quite bleak!

    1. Definitely! It’s impossible to assess the damage and the rebuilding process when you’re still in the eye of the storm.

    2. I agree. It is quite possible that peak-hour demand will rebound, and rebound quite quickly in Seattle.

  3. It would make more sense to send the 157 to SeaTac. It’s almost there, it’s about the same distance to either station, and SeaTac is a major destination in itself.

    1. The problem with SeaTac (assuming a COVID free world) is that the buses will get stuck in all the pick up/drop off traffic at the airport, leading to unpredictable delays across the entire route (at least in the eastbound direction).

      Once the Link Station opens at Kent Des Moines road, the decision gets easier. Just send the buses there, and run them all day.

      1. I think the bigger problem is that SeaTac doesn’t have a good layover spot. For that matter, I’m not sure if Angle Lake does either.

        It all goes back to the same issue, which you alluded to: Those stations aren’t good places for a bus to terminate. Without a doubt SeaTac is good from a destination standpoint — it is by far the biggest destination south of Rainier Valley (and will be, even when Link gets to the Tacoma Dome). But it isn’t easy to get to (via the freeway), and it isn’t easy to layover there. In contrast, once Link adds the station(s) close to the freeway, it will be easy for buses to both access and layover there.

      2. Angle Lake is a better option than SeaTac because when SeaTac has congestion, it can get real bad and eat up a ton of services hours, both navigating the I5-405 interchange and in the airport itself. Also, if you are truncating to Link and coming from the south, might as well access the first available station?

        For 157, the proposed route never gets on I5, so you avoid the congestion. Looking at the proposed route, I suppose you can serve SeaTac the same way the A does, unless you end up driving all the way to TIBS to turn around?

        If there are multiple routes truncating at Angle Lake, they should be able to create some layover space using curb space on some of the side streets?

      3. No, the bus route to SeaTac should stop at the commuter lot on the east side of the Link station (across Pacific Hwy). Y’know, where the 180, 560, 574, and A currently go.
        That avoids basically all SeaTac car traffic while getting transit riders closer to the Link connection. It’s an extra 10-minute walk if their actual destination is the airport, but that’s not the goal here.

      4. I did think about the airport, but the layover space and traffic is an issue. In regards to David S’ comment, I think you’re talking about the pick up/drop off area by the bus stop on 176th? I did think about converting that into a layover area, but the problem is that a left turn from EB 176th is physically blocked, so that’s not really viable.

        For layover space, TIBS is the best, but it’s longer for the bus and the transfer experience is worse.

        The Angle Lake transfer experience is almost as good as you could possibly imagine, with a bus stop right on 200th at the station. Even walking to the A-line southbound stop is way better than both TIBS and SeaTac. There isn’t presently any real layover space (the 635 is the only service at that stop so there’s room for it to sit there), but there is plenty of space to construct layover space on the area just west of the parking garage.

    2. The 157 only runs four times a day. It makes sense to send it to Sounder — either at Kent Station (backtracking) or Tukwila. Either way it would turn at SR 181, before overlapping with the 180 (the future 161). (If it was an all day bus then things would be different).

  4. For the short term, feeding into an express bus to downtown Seattle is a reasonable option. A year ago, doing that would result in crowding — that isn’t the case now. In that sense, feeding into a bus like the 162 express to Seattle seems quite reasonable, and not unlike how 345/346/347/348 riders use the 41 to get downtown in the middle of the day.

    For someone in Kent, it makes sense to feed into Sounder. Feeding into Link, however, seems like it would be a very slow option. You’ve got to work your way east (towards I-5) and then keep going and feed into Link. Once you’ve made it to Link, it will take a while before the train gets to downtown. There is no question that eliminating express buses makes for a more efficient system. The problem is, in this case, it would be very slow.

    I think I would keep the 162 as is. This gives riders on other buses an alternative to Sounder (in case they miss the last train).

    For the 157, I would take a different approach. I would keep the eastern section. When the bus hits 181, though, I would immediately head north, and make a bee line to Tukwila Station. If traffic is an issue, the bus could head south (against the flow of traffic) and just end at Kent Station. That would be backtracking, of course, but for riders that would be much faster than taking Link. Either way, the buses would be timed with the trains. This provides the rush hour coverage that is currently missing (since the eastern part of the 157 overlaps the 180 (the future 161).

    I wouldn’t worry about the 190. You can always take the 183 to Kent Station, or the A up to Link. You could also take the 183 to the 162 (as a way to get downtown). When demand increases, the 190 becomes the express to downtown, and funneling to other buses no longer makes sense. In contrast, an express to Link would be neither here nor there. It would still take a while to get to the station, thus being expensive. Yet it would not be especially fast for the riders.

    1. My initial thought is that, at least for Kent, feeding into Link is mostly about mobility within South King since, as you say, it’s too slow to go all way to Seattle. The case for such service gets stronger once Link is extended to Federal Way and Tacoma.

      As RossB said, I think you still need Kent->downtown bus service in addition to Link feeders to deal with the slowness issue, but that could be a separate route. Ideally, it would be built as a shadow Sounder service, operating during times of day when ST is unwilling to run the train. Not a peak hour bus that duplicates Sounder, running only during the times of day that Sounder is also running.

      1. I think when it comes to mobility within South King, Link is small potatoes. Even after it is extended, most of the stations are Park and Ride lots close to the freeway. There may be some future TOD, but other than Highline College and SeaTac, it is unlikely that there will be significant destinations south of Rainier Valley.

        If anything, the Sounder Stations are bigger destinations (Kent, especially). In general, the various medical centers and colleges are spread out. The new plan seems designed to treat downtown Kent (or Kent Sounder Station) as a major hub, which seems sensible. There should be good two seat access to SeaTac, Highline, and all those other destinations.

      2. Right, but you’ve got to have some east/west circulation. Kent to Federal Way and Tacoma shouldn’t take an hour and a half.

        I was thinking bus->Link, once the Link is extended, becomes the most sensible way to do that.

        Or, are you saying that number of people wanting to travel between Kent and Federal Way/Tacoma is so small, it doesn’t matter if it takes an hour and a half?

      3. Kent to Federal Way and Tacoma shouldn’t take an hour and a half.

        It shouldn’t, even with the current routing. Kent to Star Lake takes 15 minutes. You can get off the bus and take the train to Federal Way or you can stay on the bus, and be in Federal Way 20 minutes later. An express from Tacoma should get you into downtown Tacoma in another 15 minutes. Add in waiting time and you are looking at around an hour.

        I don’t think there are that many riders going from Kent to Tacoma. If there were, I would run an express: Tacoma, Auburn, Kent, Renton. That would connect to the 405 bus. Likewise, a bus that runs through the main north-south part of Puyallup (by the medical center) and up to Auburn seems reasonable.

        Right, but you’ve got to have some east/west circulation.

        Yeah, and you have that now. I can take a bus from downtown Kent to Highline CC, mostly because both are big destinations (for the area). In that sense, the fact that the latter has a Link station is just a bonus.

        It does bring up an interesting possibility though. Should we reduce the number of buses that go to SeaTac (or any other Link location) and put that money into extra service? That would mean someone who wants to get to a Link destination has to transfer, but the trip is a lot more frequent. The problem is, all the crossing routes are coverage routes. The 180 isn’t just about connecting Kent with SeaTac, it is about covering the places along the way. The same is true for 183 to Star Lake, or the 166 from Kent to Highline College.

        I really don’t see things changing dramatically. There are east-west routes, and they go by a station (or in some cases, more than one). I don’t see a lot of savings, either, because I don’t see many routes being cut. There aren’t that many Metro express routes from the south. It is almost all rush-hour routes — the 101 and 150 being the exception. This makes it different than the north end, which still has the 41 as well as a lot of rush hour service.

        ST is different, but my understanding is that the savings are already baked in. They are already planning on truncating the Tacoma buses at Federal Way, so I don’t see them running express buses from Tacoma to Kent.

      4. The 183+574+TLink is 65 minutes plus transfers. Kent-FW is 25 minutes; FW-Tacoma Dome is 20 minutes; Tacoma Dome to 9th & Commerce is 10 minutes. Assuming transfer time is 15+6 minutes, the total travel time is 86 minutes.

        The 574 and TLink are already as fast as they can be, so any improvement would have to be on the 183. (The 574 wastes time detouring to the FW and Star Lake stops, but that’s irrelevant for this trip.)

        Going via SeaTac, the 180+574+TLink is 62 minutes (28+44+10), or almost the same.

        Kent is just in a bad location. So far from Seattle, and so far from Tacoma. If it were on 99 it would be closer. Or if Link were built through Kent instead of Des Moines or Sounder ran all day, then it would be faster. Given that South King County’s population is centered around Kent, Link is in the wrong place, or we should have put more resources into Sounder (and BNSF shouldn’t be a robber baron, or the state should buy out the track).

      5. A lot of the total travel time isn’t so much moving as standing around at transit centers waiting for some bus with 30-minute frequency to show up.

        Link addresses that, simply with its 10-minute frequency.

        At the time I wrote I previous comment, I didn’t notice the existing of the 183. The 183 looks pretty direct to I-5/272nd, followed by a ton of Meandering to Federal Way. Eventually, you’ll be able to get Link and 272nd and save some of the waiting, and that will help. It would help more if Central Link and Tacoma Link could somehow be thru-routed to avoid yet another transfer at Tacoma Dome.

        The 183’s frequency also stinks. It tops out every half hour daytime, drops to hourly in the evening, and doesn’t run at all on Sundays. So, maybe some modest improvement to the 183 is a more cost-effective option than an entire new route.

    2. I looked at this also, and that backtrack to Kent would be rough. I think I’d prefer Tukwila station if I had to pick one, via W Valley Highway (the 50mph speed limit helps, though not sure about rush hour traffic here). Having a connection to Sounder is fast to the one stop in Seattle, but if you’re going somewhere that is more accessible on Link, you might be disappointed. If you’re going to the airport, that’s a big detour. If you’re going to UW, it might be faster doing 157-Sounder-Link (not even entirely sure about that after the detour to get to Sounder), but with the anxiety of a 3-seat ride plus a backtrack to Kent vs a maybe longer but more dependable and versatile 2-seat ride on Link, I think the latter will win out.

      While the 3/4 trips may line up well with Sounder service, there’s no reason they couldn’t do that with Link as well. A connector bus (even a frequent one) doesn’t need to connect with every train to be useful. One thing Metro can do for ease-of-use is something they do on the paper schedule on some routes (available online also, if you know how to find it). Example:
      On the 187 PDF schedule, Metro helpfully includes part of the 577/578 schedule to show transfer times to get to Seattle (as well as from Seattle). The 29 minute wait on one of the southbound trips shows that this doesn’t represent any real coordination, but it’s helpful nonetheless. This would be even more useful for Link schedules (amazingly, the 255 schedule doesn’t have this!), and former 157 riders to Seattle can read the new schedule to find their new arrival and departure times to Seattle, just like before (only with a mode change at 200th street).

  5. “Since Metro is in deep financial trouble due to loss of sales tax revenues,…”

    I think some perspective is needed here.

    Thru June, YTD sales tax revenues for Metro are down about 19% compared to 2019, or about $60M. However, the CARES Act stimulus funding allocated by the PSRC will provide some $240M to Metro, if I’m recalling things correctly, that will allow the agency to plug the revenue gap for this year. For those who may be interested, the monthly sales tax data (back to 2013) can be viewed on the following KC Metro site:

    1. I was about to point out that fare collection has to be down 100%, until I looked at the financial dashboard you linked to shows it’s only down 30%. Is that pass-through from employer ORCA passes despite no taps?

    2. 30% is the portion of operating costs that fares cover, so that may be what it’s trying to describe. Metro may still be collecting for employer passes. It can’t collect for individual passes or e-purses since there’s nowhere to tap.

  6. I’m thinking that South County bus routes will continue undergo revisions when Link to Federal Way and maybe Stride opens and a post-COVID demand pattern emerges.

    My hope is that almost every route will end at a Link station. I wonder if some should both begin at one Link station and end at another (like a backwards “C”).

    It’s great having a Sounder connection — but Sounder needs an integrated strategy before merely throwing Metro service at the mix. If the costly additional garages don’t get built, that money could divert to an ST feeder operating subsidy as an example. An off-peak express system to emulate a two-way, day-long Sounder-style limited express could also be useful and help justify more timed connections. It can be expensive and confusing to hold a bus in the middle of a run to meet up with Sounder riders.

    1. My hope is that almost every route will end at a Link station.

      I don’t think that makes sense for the South Sound. First of all, not every station is a good terminus. Secondly, Link is an important transit system in the area, but the destinations are too far away or too minor to think that it will represent the bulk of ridership in the area.

      It definitely makes sense for east-west routes to go by a Link station. A lot of bus routes will “detour” accordingly. But north-south routes east of I-5 will just go north-south. If they detour, they detour to serve downtown Kent, Auburn or Renton. Some will do both, I expect (e. g. Federal Way Link Station to downtown Kent). But some will just go straight north-south (like the future RapidRide I Line). There is some advantage to serving the Sounder Stations, but it is more about those being worthy destinations in their own right.

      My guess is 162 will likely stick around a while. Either way, I could see a bus sticking to the freeway other than downtown Auburn, Kent and Seattle. Metro actually has that on their long range plan. I could also see ST (or Metro) running an express from Kent (and maybe Auburn) to Renton, so that riders have a fast two seat trip to Bellevue.

      Overall, I expect a hybrid of sorts. A cross between a grid and a multi-hub system, with downtown Kent and Renton being as much of a hub as some of the Link stations. You would also have Link, Sounder, and a small number of bus routes providing express service.

      1. Farmed geographically, the South Sound, i.e SW King, is two corridors, the I5 plateau (does it have another name?) and the Green River valley. Link only serves the plateau. Nearly every route should connect to either Link or Sounder, but some routes will connect to only Sounder simply because they don’t leave the valley.

  7. Christopher, I think that for anything serious right now, “permanent” is a figure of speech. Reason our real watch-words need to be “skill” and “flexibility.” But I think many long-standing arrangements are still good to keep in mind.

    One place where I think some express service could be added would connect Downtown Kirkland, South Kirkland Park & Ride, with station that has “The Downtown Bellevue Tunnel” logo. Via Lake Washington Boulevard NE and Bellevue Way SE. Not a freeway, but straight and fast. Forget the regular bus number is, or was it the 234?

    I could see a limited-stop trolley bus with lanes and signal-preempt, but maybe just the signals will do the trick. Very pretty ride, too. Just a thought.

    Mark Dublin

  8. Given Star Lake P&R is now closed, does Redondo Heights need its own route? Seems like the A-line connection to Angel Lake should be sufficient. The A has had resilient ridership, so investing in better frequency in the A seems better than a few 190 runs?

    1. Hope this is still within topic, but all my rides on the “A” line tell me one thing. It needs some serious lane-reserving and signal preemption.

      At the very least, the coach should be able to hold a signal green ’til the bus gets across. And what’s especially infuriating is to look at a zone I’m already late getting to…through the windshield of a bus stuck at the light.

      Mark Dublin

      1. Absolutely. All RR coaches should have signal holding radios installed and the majority of cross-intersections should be set up for hold. Some, like K-DM Road, 348th and 320th have enough cross-traffic that they can’t be held, but most others certainly can be.

        Most suburban intersections have pretty modern control boxes and fully programmable cycles. A few have radio receivers for emergency vehicle pre-emption, but most EV clearances are handled out of the central control facility. So it won’t be “free” by any means, but it’s a great use of transit improvement funds.

  9. Anybody who knows…to what extent are Link stations designed with possible connections, and expansions, in mind?

    Mark Dublin

    1. Think KIRO’s Dave Ross would back me up on likelihood that from here on, transit’s chief ally in gaining ridership will be freeway conditions themselves.

      Bad enough, hours-long delays to stop crazy people on foot from setting things on fire under bridges and throwing bottles. Also, when for their own reasons people walk out into I-5 and get killed, law says the State Police can keep the highway shut down minimum half a day.

      Though truth to tell, last encounter like that was the last time I tried to return to Olympia with a rush hour sounder ride. Train before mine did the damage. Conductor reversed and back-tracked to King Street.

      Link got me to Sea-Tac for perfect 574 connection. Just in case, I ran down the stairs and so caught the bus. Only problem was the half hour hold five minutes north of Tacoma Dome when a car tried to occupy the same lane with a semi.

      But here’s the real thing. Really limiting my every entrance onto a freeway ’til I find out how a semi can blow sixteen tires at once. Scariest explanation from another trucker? He let their air get low. Transit campaign should need no further testimonial!

      Mark Dublin

  10. The restructure is already finalized and will start in a few weeks, so it’s too late for these innovations. The time to propose this was several months ago. However, there will be another restructure with Federal Way Link in 2024 so there will be another opportunity then. We’ll also know the actual performance of the 162, and how many complaints Metro has gotten about dropping service on 116th and 208th.

    Is there any density in this corridor? I’d assume it’s less than the 168 on 240th and 256th, which is pretty low.

  11. For those peak routes on Kent East Hill, I’d argue a better termination would be at Rainier Beach Link station. If the 157 is going to terminate, it would be faster both for the coach driver and for the riders. Also in a similar vein, I hold out hope that someday the Rapid Ride I will likewise terminate at Rainier Beach, providing 2 seat service to downtown from East Hill all day, 7 days a week.

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