Sound Transit recently released its proposed 2021 Service Plan, in which it prepared for the pandemic to continue through the duration of 2021, by continuing the suspension of ST Express routes 541, 544, and 567 indefinitely, continuing to have pared-down service on most other routes, and making 15-minute off-peak headway on Link Light Rail the plan for the foreseeable future.
There are a couple of categories of service savings, related to Link connections that have not been fully utilized by the collective transit agencies.
The first category of savings comes from the extra space freed up at Northgate Station’s bus transfer facility during the weekday peak periods, for the duration of the cuts. King County Metro routes 67 and 75 are about to get their peak frequency downgraded. Other routes are getting surgical cuts. While some of the routes and numbers will change with the September 2021 North Seattle bus route restructure, the reduced level of service probably will not, unless the pandemic wraps up and Metro manages to climb out of the budgetary hole. In particular, Metro might free up even more bay space by pre-mothballing proposed route 68 (Northgate to Lower Queen Anne express).
The freed-up bus bay space could conceivably be used to have more of the Community Transit commuter trips terminate at Northgate. CT wouldn’t have to change route paths, just the number of runs on 800-series routes vs. 400-series routes. However, it would mean using more of their artics and fewer of their double-talls. While the number of additional trips moved to Northgate beyond the current plan may be small, each trip so moved is a non-trivial savings.
The second category of potential savings is reducing frequency on all-day Link feeder buses, to match Link’s schedule. Unlike the first category, these savings do not have to wait until Northgate Link opens.
King County Metro has several Link feeder buses that run more often than every 15 minutes during the weekday mid-day off-peak period, including:
- The A Line (every 10 minutes, as of September 21)!
- route 7 (every 10 minutes)
- route 8 (every 12 minutes)
- route 36 (every 10 minutes)
- route 44 (every 10 minutes)
- route 45 (every 10 minutes)
- Route 48 has been running every 10 minutes mid-day, but will drop to 15-minute mid-day headway as of September 21.
- Route 49 has been running every 12 minutes mid-day, but will drop to 15-minute mid-day headway as of September 21.
- The Monorail! (ca. every 10 minutes) — and they no longer accept cash
In addition to about-to-be-synced routes 48 and 49, more of these routes could be pulled back to 15-minute headway, and timed to Link’s schedule. They might get better reliability and a more even spreading out of passenger loads as a result. Some of them are using 40-foot buses, such as route 36. There ought to be more 60-foot buses available now to upgrade capacity in order to synchronize better with Link.
One smaller opportunity for savings may be to splice together routes 45 and 48 again, if it does not result in capacity issues.
The sad reality is that these savings, if taken, will probably not be used to save other service, but rather to reduce the mounting deficit in the various agencies’ operating budgets. They will also have spin-off effects as agencies can further downsize maintenance and other support staff, making the ramp-up to post-pandemic service levels more difficult, or at least lengthy.