Northgate Station / photo by Bruce Engelhardt

Sound Transit has put out its proposed 2021 Service Implementation Plan, with a user-friendly online synopsis, and is taking public input through Thursday, September 24. You can offer your input through an online survey (with eight language choices), through remote participation in a public hearing scheduled for 11 am on September 24, or by submitting written comments through September 24.

Sound Transit continues to suffer revenue losses due to COVID-19, with more cuts taking effect from September 19-21. But there is good news in the proposed Service Plan: the opening of Northgate Link in September 2021, adding new stations in the U-District (NE 43rd St & Brooklyn Ave NE), the Roosevelt District (NE 65th St & Roosevelt Ave NE), and the Station at what is currently Northgate Mall, along with a pedestrian bridge over I-5 to North Seattle College.

The Plan document buries the lede regarding Link Light Rail’s September 19 service change:

  • September 2020: On weekdays, trains operate every 8 minutes during the morning and afternoon rush hours, every 15 minutes during the early morning, midday and early evening, and every 30 minutes late at night. On weekends, service operates every 15 minutes during the day and every 30 minutes late night.
  • March 2021 Proposal: Maintain September 2020 service levels.
  • September 2021 Proposal: Service to Northgate begins, using the same frequencies implemented in September 2020, but with four-car trains instead of three-car trains.

Sounder service will continue at pandemic levels through 2021, to wit:

  • Sounder North will continue to have just two trips in each direction, weekdays only.
  • Sounder South will add two more peak-direction trips back in September, in each direction. The Plan would maintain that level of service through 2021. Weekdays only.

Several Sound Transit Express routes will be directly impacted by the proposed 2021 Service Plan. While the Plan does not impact the upcoming service changes, those changes for routes impacted by the Plan are detailed in the Plan’s online presentation.

  • Route 510 will lose 12 daily weekday AM peak-hour trips on September 21, but otherwise maintain its current service level through 2021. In September 2021, the route is proposed to start serving Mountlake Terrace Freeway Station, but otherwise continue its long express path to downtown Seattle, bypassing all north-end Link stations.
  • Route 511 will lose 10 AM peak-hour trips on September 21. The trips are proposed to be restored in September 2021, when the route’s southern terminus will move to Northgate Station.
  • Route 512 will be restored to its full pre-pandemic weekday schedule on September 21. It’s southern terminus will move to Northgate Station in September 2021, at which time it will also cease serving the 145th St freeway stops. No trips are proposed to be added then, keeping 15-minute headway most of the time, and 30-minute headway in evenings and on Sundays.
  • Route 513 will lose 8 of its 20 weekday trips on September 21. In September 2021, its southern terminus will move to Northgate Station, and peak-direction headway is proposed to be improved to 15 minutes for most of the peak period, surpassing pre-pandemic trip counts. It will also add stops at Lynnwood Transit Center and Ash Way Park & Ride at that time, making it much less expressey.
  • Route 522 will lose 5 early AM trips on September 21. In September 2021, its southern terminus will move to Roosevelt Station. At that time, it will start running every 15 minutes, 7 days a week, except for late evenings when it will run every 30 minutes, and during its night owl shutdown. The drop in AM peak service at that time is probably a typo.
  • Route 541‘s suspension of service is proposed to continue through 2021.
  • Route 542 will lose 9 peak trips on September 21. In September of 2021, its western terminus is proposed to move to two blocks east of U-District Station (while still serving UW Station), with no proposed change in trip count.
  • Route 544‘s suspension of service is proposed to continue through 2021.
  • Route 555 is proposed to be restored in September 2021, but just operating between U-District Station and Bellevue Transit Center, with new stops on the UW campus including at UW Station.
  • Route 556 is proposed to be restored in September 2021, with its western terminus moved to U-District Station (and still serving UW Station).
  • Route 567‘s suspension of service is proposed to continue through 2021.
  • Route 586 will lose 2 trips on September 2021. It is proposed to be discontinued with the opening of Northgate Link.
  • Route 592 will lose 7 trips on September 21. There is no proposal to bring them back.
  • Route 595 will drop from 5 to 3 trips in each direction on September 21. A new stop at Tacoma Dome Station is proposed for March 2021, but no trips are proposed to be added back.

ST Express routes 532, 535, 545, 550, 566, 577, 578, 580, 594 and Tacoma Link will get further surgical cuts with effective dates ranging September 19-21.

ST Express route 594 will get additional trips starting September 21 to help with overcrowding.

Routes 522 and 577 will have reroutes.

The ST website features a full menu of PDFs for all the reduced schedules already implemented. While most routes are not explicitly mentioned in the proposed 2021 Service Plan, their absence can be seen as a de facto proposal to either not restore their cuts or to restore on an ad hoc basis with budget adjustments.

This post may be updated with details of how to submit written comments and more details of the impending service cuts.

43 Replies to “Sound Transit proposed 2021 Service Implementation Plan, upcoming cuts”

  1. I’m glad Northgate Link’s opening is on schedule! I realize that something in testing could still delay things, but this document is a place where a bigger schedule delay would be Identified. It’s great news to see the opening anticipated!

  2. On page 3 of the report it shows how rush hour ridership has been hurt the most (“Ridership declined most from peak periods”). Ridership is almost completely flat now.

    Yet the riders hurt the most by the proposed changes are those who ride outside peak hours. For Link, it doesn’t matter much if your train comes every 8 minutes instead of 6. It’s worse, but not much worse. But the change from 10 minutes to 15 is terrible, and the change from 15 to 30 is brutal. There you are, going through the heart of the city (UW, Capitol Hill, Downtown) and most of the day the train runs every 15 minutes. If you work the night shift, you have 30 minute headways. Billions of dollars spent, and it isn’t much better than 1980 frequency.

    I get it. We are short of money. But why are we hammering all-day frequency so hard, when there is no rush-hour? Those white collar workers aren’t taking the 8:15 into the city. They are sitting at home, dressed in PJ’s, coding away while their cat sits on their lap. It is everyone else — the folks who don’t sit in those now dusty desks laying fallow downtown — that are actually using transit. That use, of course, is spread out throughout the day, as any schoolkid who read Working would assume to be the case. Meanwhile, everyone is making essential trips using transit, all day long.

    So why is there such a ridiculous bias towards non-existent rush hour riders? One can only assume it is elite project (

    1. I’ve wondered about this too, RossB. I think ST expects peaks to re-emerge. I do think that it will happen to some extent but not fully. Much is also affected by what happens at UW.

      Still, I’d rather see trains every 10 minutes all day if that’s what demand emerges. I’m not a scheduler, but I’d think that having more drivers for 3 hours a peak period would be somewhat inefficient from a labor allocation standpoint too.

    2. Since we are designing our bus system around transfers to Link, can’t we please put Link back on 10 minute headways (even if with 3 car trains) daytime and evenings 7 days/week, and 15 minute headways at late night? 30 minute headways are brutal for a transfer that is often not timed

      1. That is a very good point, and only strengthens my case. If you live in Ravenna, at 65th and 35th, you have a couple ways of getting downtown. The fastest option, by far, is the 76. But it only runs during rush hour. The rest of the day, the only option is to take a bus and transfer, typically to Link. That means that at rush hour the frequency of Link doesn’t matter, but the rest of the day it is critical. What is true of that neighborhood is true for much of Northeast Seattle as well as Kirkland.

        In that sense, ST has it backwards. All-day frequency is *more* important than peak frequency, as fewer riders are dependent on Link. The trains should run as you suggest: every 10 minutes all day, and 15 minutes late at night.

    3. Speaking from some personally-pointed experience, Ross, you might want to start asking around as to how many people now working from home are really starting to miss getting out of the house for its own sake?

      Class-prejudice wise, I’ve noticed this is a mistake that right-wing critics of welfare always make: “If you give them unemployment comp. money, you’ll spoil their initiative to go to work.”

      Having owned a monkey, about which my first advice is get an elephant first, while they’ll bite your hand off for food, they start eating their own tail with manic depression if they don’t have anything to do. Small number of us who still have tails is pretty much proof, isn’t it?

      Employed or not, even though Intercity Transit won’t run under wire in my life-time, come five in the afternoon, mask and all, I’m on the Route 12 or the Route 42 downtown to Olympia Roasters across the street from City Hall.

      As a matter of fact, my bet would be that especially when the virus gets taught its manners, sheer number of liberated home-workers will celebrate their freedom by packing four car trains every two minutes just to make up for lost simian proximity.

      Ook. I mean Mark.

    4. The chart I see on page 3 shows the drop in peak ridership is the most drastic. However, the peak ridership still ends up being about twice the off-peak ridership per hour. Before the pandemic, the peak ridership was 3-4 times as much as the off-peak ridership.

      1. the peak ridership still ends up being about twice the off-peak ridership per hour

        Only if you cherry pick the lowest part of off-peak, and the highest part of peak. At noon ridership isn’t much lower than the morning rush hour. From what I can tell, noon is actually higher than 6:00 PM — does this mean the high frequency rush hour service will end at 5:30 PM?

    5. So we’re going to have a sucky American 15-minute light rail network instead of a world-class 10-minutes-or-better network. How do these people think we’re going to get people out of their cars if we don’t offer a high-quality network? Maybe it’s temporary and they just had to do it because of the covid budget hole, but I’ll probably start crying over our lost network eventually. Seattle was the one place in the country that had 10-minute light rail and didn’t water it down to 15 minutes before 10pm, and now it did, not just for this year but for Northgate Link too.

      7.5 minute peaks is not too little or too much. That’s what Link started with, and it was always going to be that way until East Link. The 6-minute peaks were a temporary boost between around 2012 and U-Link to handle ridership demand until the ST2 trains came. ST chose to make it more frequent rather than have longer trains. It never promised 6-minute service forever until East Link. So it can’t be berated for not offering it now.

      What it can be berated for is less than 10 minute service midday. That just makes it a substandard network that isn’t living up to its potential.

    6. RossB, if ST is doing this, then maybe your prediction that Everett will have less than 15 minute service will turn out too. Because if ST is willing to have 15-minute middays in Seattle, then it’s not unimaginable that it might have 30-minute service in Everett.

      1. Bingo! All of this is about money. Tax funding is lower. Ridership is lower as well, and since ST is fairly dependent on ridership, that source of revenue is decreasing. Running the trains is expensive, in part because the line is so long (i. e. the ridership per hour is relatively low). Even when the pandemic has passed and economy has recovered, Lynnwood to Everett will be a bad value in the middle of the day (as will SeaTac to Tacoma). I wouldn’t bet on 30 minute headways, but 20 sounds about right.

  3. We’re a bit lucky that Snohomish County service can be redirected to Northgate to help ease the pain of service cuts, though having increased service would have been nice. Hopefully things can return to near-normal by the time Lynnwood Link opens up in 2024.

    1. I haven’t seen much about Community Transit cuts (maybe I missed it). But I can’t imagine they are fairing well. I also think the savings from the Northgate truncation will be trivial. The only buses that are being truncated are the ones to the UW (the 800 series buses). This represent a tiny part of the CT network. I count 33 runs (one way). The savings are significant, but not huge. Each route saves about 20 minutes. So that is a savings of around 600 minutes, or ten typical hour long routes (each way). The truncations will help ease the pain, but not that much.

    2. Unfortunately, untimed transfers to an infrequent Link will still mean de facto service cuts.

      I advocate completely ignoring Link and not restructuring a thing till all-day ten-minute service is restored. Until then, it’s worthless, and I will vote against all expansions.

      1. For Community Transit though, all-day frequency of Link doesn’t matter. The only buses that run to Seattle are rush-hour buses.

        Metro is a completely different story.

      2. OK, yeah. Metro and ST are a different story. In both cases you have all-day service that could be truncated because of Northgate Link Stations. In the case of ST, you have a stronger argument for truncation, simply because it is the same agency. If ST can’t afford to run the train frequently, then they can’t afford to run the buses frequently. In other words, if they kept the 512 on its current route, we would probably be looking at the bus running every half hour in the middle of the day. I think that would be worse than the current plan.

  4. I sent Sound Transit these two thoughts:

    1) You are making me cringe at your plot to not have the 510 stop at Northgate. Proof please this is somehow what riders want, because I am not terribly wild at the thought of an additional transfer to get to Link for three plus years. Especially with bus frequencies cut back indefinitely post-pandemic.

    2) THAT SAID, I support your likely decision to continue post-pandemic next September to pare back Sounder North to two trips a day as long as post-pandemic it will connect with Skagit Transit 90X again. I would rather see the savings permanent and kindly sent to Sounder South since Sounder South is disproportionately more popular. All I ask in return please is a clear understanding this is to help sway Pierce subarea support for Sound Transit both on & from the Board plus in the State Legislature. I am empathetic but frustrated nonetheless the current Pierce County Executive as also a Sound Transit Boardmember finds himself more loyal to those who voted for 976 than Sound Transit.

    1. I agree with both points, and I think they go together. Once Link gets to Northgate, it makes sense to either truncate the 510 there, or run a similar bus (during rush-hour) to Northgate. Like the 510, it would run during rush hour. Call this bus the 514 and it would serve Everett, South Everett and Northgate. This would be a compromise similar to what Community Transit is doing. They have both express buses to Northgate as well as downtown (during rush hour). But this would be the only such connection during rush hour for Everett (since CT doesn’t run routes like that, and ST doesn’t run the 512 during rush hour).

      This would cost extra money, but it would come from completely canceling North Sounder. Both Mukilteo and Edmonds have express service to downtown Seattle (during rush-hour) so they have alternatives. Ridership is so low that I doubt there would be crowding. It is really only Everett that lacks rush-hour express service to Northgate (and the UW) so shifting service from a train that hardly anyone uses to an express bus is one alternative.

      Note: You could extend the 512 to run during hour, but there isn’t much point. It would be more expensive to run that then my proposed 514. ST will run the 511 (Ash Way to Northgate) and CT already runs buses from Everett to Ash Way and Lynnwood.

  5. Am I right that there’s nothing here that if it provably doesn’t work, cannot be adjusted until it does? Half hour Link headways at any hour of the clock, just plain no, as I’m sure the passenger public will plainly communicate.

    While I’m not alleging any racism here, I think BLM has salutarily provided a new and really critical generation of riders a lesson in how to see to it that the unacceptable does not remain standard policy just because feels like it.

    Somebody who knows, like a train operator: are lane arrangements and signal settings on MLK now optimal for Link operations, or are those long-overdue undercuts going to become employment for vigilantes with shovels?

    But above all, after all these preventably miserable years, King County Metro Route 41 will finally be able to rest repectably in peace. And BTW: any word on intentions for the 574?

    Mark Dublin

    1. Mark, I may have a friend who can answer your question. Can you clarify this part:
      “Somebody who knows, like a train operator: are lane arrangements and signal settings on MLK now optimal for Link operations, or are those long-overdue undercuts going to become employment for vigilantes with shovels?”
      Are you referring to lane arrangements for road vehicles on MLK? When you say “undercuts”, they think of the process of replacing track ballast, which along MLK mostly does not exist. Can you help my friend out?

  6. Oh and one more thing, Jared. Ever think in addition to a railcar’s size, comfort, and above all absence of constant lateral motion, intractable experience prove to us that because it CAN get around obstacles like parked trucks, it very often HAS to. Even when traffic alongside makes the lane change impossible.

    So it’s only human to reason that because streetcars CAN’T change lanes, sooner of later the system will “Break” and give them that red paint and all those cooperative signals they need to get passengers to work instead of fired for being late.

    This really should not be a hard one. And here’s a good “Baby Step:” At least fix the signals so no bus has to wait five minutes ’til a red light changes and lets it into the far-side zone directly across the street.

    Really ticks off passengers to either miss a connection or be late for work resulting from two missed green seconds.

    Mark Dublin

  7. Oh, and sorry JARRETT. My nephew Jared’s a great kid whose early adolescent hatred for malingering “Floppers” (dramatically pretending to be injured) earned him a job as a talent scout for the football team in Sheffield England. Consider it a compliment.

    Mark Dublin

  8. Of course, the lag time between service planning and implementation means even after a vaccine, even after everything has fully re-opened, Link will still be running at reduced service for at least another 6-12 months.

    This should not be acceptable.

    The last recession, Sound Transit was able to keep Link running all day every 10 minutes, throughout. What’s changed this time?

    1. Nobody knows when a vaccine will be ready, whether it will be effective, whether it will give more than three or six months of immunity, whether it can scale up to 12 billion people in a year, whether Pugetopolis will have enough doses for everybody in the first year, or how many anti-vaxxers will refuse to take it and whether that will reduce its aggregate effectiveness. It could be 2022 before everything reopens.

      1. Right, but the point is, whenever everything fully reopens, there’s still the lag of when transit schedules update. Among other things, this means a full Mariners/Seahawks season with trains running only every 15 minutes before and after the games.

      2. What I’m most concerned about is deciding so far in advance what the service level will be. It seems like Metro wouldn’t do this; it would decide a few months before. And it keeps a few hours in reserve so it can add a few spot runs like it did with the 7. I’d like to think ST will do the same, but we’ve just experienced ST sticking to 20 minutes daytime/30 minutes weekends for months after the original justification disappeared (i.e., after it started charging full fare again), and now suddenly it will change September 21st, as if ridership will for somehow be significantly higher on September 22nd than on September 20th. Are a lot of offices opening on the 21st, or is ST just depriving its users of service until a biannual change? It didn’t wait for a biannual change to reduce service.

    2. asdf2,
      I hate to be the bearer of difficult news but this is portending to be a deeper recession by many factors. Also with more work-from-home, less need for peak transit service.

    3. I don’t see why that has to be. Let’s assume that Link approves this plan. Now assume that Biden gets elected, and by the spring of next year, vaccine(s) are approved (both seem likely). Widespread vaccination is implemented by the fall, and things will be back to “normal”. We will, of course, still be in the midst of a nasty recession, but with proper federal funding, the economy should start to recover. Transit demand would rebound quickly (absent cutbacks, transit ridership generally goes up during a recession). So now ST would be in position to increase frequency, knowing that fare recovery would increase substantially when they do (especially with Northgate Link). They would still need additional funding, but it wouldn’t take much of a bailout (of cities or states) as part of a national recovery plan (which would not be subject to a Republican filibuster) for ST to return to 2019 service levels.

      Would they hold off because they approved these plans, back at the height of the pandemic? I doubt it. I don’t see the agency being that rigid. They cutback service very quickly. The increase in service for September 19 was announced August 11 — a bit more than a month before it will happen. That means that I could seem them keeping things the same for the summer of 2021, but by the fall, they could have decent frequency.

  9. The real meat in this SIP is not in the Link headways, it is in the 500 series truncations and deletions. The deletions are fairly minor, and the truncations are prudent. The truncations move us more towards a more integrated multi-modal system with buses playing more of a supporting role to the heavy lifting of Link.

    For Link 2021 service levels will still be heavily impacted by the pandemic. 2022 service levels will undoubtably change in response to NG Link ridership increases and in anticipation of 2023 E Link opening. 2023 and we should be fully back to normal.

    So lots of good news here, but we still need to be patient.

    1. It would be easier to be patient if ST said that. It went the entire summer without telling us when frequency would increase or what the criteria would be. Now you’re asking us to just trust ST again, to wait a year and hope ST announces something good at the end. What if it doesn’t? What if it just continues 15-minute service next September and in 2022. What if East Link will be 7.5 minutes in the shared segment instead of 5 minutes? If ST doesn’t say something to the contrary, it doesn’t erase the suspicion that maybe ST has given up on 10-minute frequency. We’ll have to wait months and months to see if ST improves things, and maybe it won’t. This is where we need some indication of what the criteria will be to trigger more runs, or if there is no criteria but it’s just how ST feels at the time.

      1. That’s a scary thought, Mike, just because it seems possible. It goes back to the fundamental problem when it comes to large scale transit projects — people focus on the construction and the speed, not the frequency. I could easily see Link running every 15 minutes to SeaTac and Bellevue outside of rush-hour. That means 7.5 minute frequency on the shared section (Northgate/Roosevelt/UW/Capitol Hill/Downtown). That is likely the busiest transit corridor in the state, and it would have only 7.5 minute frequency. That puts it below the proposed Madison BRT, and in the general ballpark of buses like the 3/4 in the Central Area. Oh, and for Rainier Valley residents, the 7 (by then converted to RapidRide) will run more frequently than the train most of the day.

        It would pretty much kill the concept of a “spine” — a fast and frequent line connecting to both popular stops as well as good transfer routes. A two-seat ride using Link is common now, and will become more so, as, in the words of Lazarus, the buses “play more of a supporting role”. Three-seat rides (to places like First Hill, Lower Queen Anne, or South Lake Union) will also be common. But if the subway line — the most important and most expensive transit line in the state — runs less often than some of our buses, it won’t work. No one wants to take a bus, then wait at the station for a long time, just to go a few miles. It will make them pine for the days when Metro ran express buses to downtown all the time. A grid only works when transit is frequent.

        Yet I could easily see it happening. Publications like The Stranger only get excited with new rail. They want so much to have trains to Fife, or Ash Way. But they ignore the importance of good frequency when the train is built. It is quite possible that five years from now, when the pandemic is gone in the U. S., and the economy has largely recovered, Link will be unable to do the “heavy lifting” because ST doesn’t think it is necessary to run the trains very frequently (outside of rush hour).

        That’s a scary thought.

    2. Link still represents the vast majority of ridership for Sound Transit. The “real meat” is that frequency on the line will be terrible most of the day, for the foreseeable future. The fact that a handful of buses (a tiny portion of the overall bus system in the region) are truncated as expected is hardly a story. Nor does it make up for the fact that the truncation is to serve that very train! Someone who no longer gets a one-seat ride to downtown now has to make a transfer to a train that runs only every 15 minutes, most of the day. That may be prudent, but to a user, it sucks.

      All of this sucks. You can put a smiley face on it, but like the Metro cutbacks, it sucks. It may be temporary, but it still sucks, big time.

    3. Oh, and I don’t see why anyone should be excited about the ST bus changes. The 510 still skips Northgate. That means getting from Everett to the UW during rush hour means riding the (slow) bus all the way downtown, and then back (or making a three seat ride via Mountlake Terrace). This is happening *while* they cutback frequency in the morning. This decision is baffling. It means service to Northgate, the UW and Capitol Hill from Everett is *worse* during rush hour — the very time when taking transit otherwise saves you time.

      Yes, things will get better for Everett once Link gets to Lynnwood. At least then they’ll be able to take the 201/202 into Lynnwood to access Link.

      1. Route 510 will have a stop at Mountlake Terrace Freeway Station, for the least time-consuming transfer to a 511, 512, 513, CT 810, or CT 871.

      2. Route 510 will have a stop at Mountlake Terrace Freeway Station, for the least time-consuming transfer to a 511, 512, 513, CT 810, or CT 871.

        That is what I mentioned when I wrote about a three-seat ride. Take the 510 from Everett to Mountlake Terrace. Take the 511, 513, 810 or 871 to Northgate. Take Link from Northgate.

        That first transfer (at Mountlake Terrace) doesn’t sound great. The 512 doesn’t run at the same time the 510 does (otherwise riders from Everett would just take the 512). There is also very little overlap with the 810 since that bus runs later in the day (at best there is one connecting bus). The 511 and 513 will run every 15 minutes. If those are offset, they could get roughly 7.5 minute combined frequency (similar to Link), with the occasional 871 if you are lucky. The 510 used to run every 15 minutes. So that means a combined 30 minute frequency, with only the first 15 minutes being a bus you can time. Overall it sounds pretty bad, and not nearly as good as if they just truncated the 510 at Northgate, and ran it every 15 minutes (which would likely be revenue neutral).

      3. All I had to do to realize the 510 series can’t all terminate at Northgate was look at the Northgate Way underpass under I-5. There is no way the double-talls fit. One of the googlemaps images even has a single-tall in it, and that looks close.

        It appears routes 510, 532 and 535 will be where the double-talls get used.

    4. The posted train schedule at the stations should match reality as of September 19. I’m not sure why we had to wait for that.

      There should also be audio announcements about reverting to 3-car trains, both for loading time reasons and ADA reasons. Please put chains along the platform where there will no longer be a fourth car, so nobody gets hurt.

  10. I seem to recall there being a proposal to start running a reverse-peak 513 after Northgate Link opens – looks like that isn’t happening anymore?

    Pre-pandemic, I vanpooled to Boeing Everett and was looking forward to having additional options for my commute.

    1. Does anyone know the status of the Siemens light rail fleet? I’m curious about how the pandemic is affecting introduction of the new cars.

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