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:
- Truncate the route to Angle Lake Station
- 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).
- 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.