While we lament the loss of Seattle’s frequent bus network (which has largely been in place since the opening of University Link in 2016), Pierce Transit is in a much more dire situation. Due to a smaller sales tax base, and the fact that Pierce Transit currently only levies a 0.6% sales tax (with measures to increase the levy in 2011 and 2012 both failing), transit was already sparse before the pandemic. 30-minute headways would be considered “frequent service” in Pierce County, with only routes 1 and 2 (in addition to better-funded Sound Transit service) ever exceeding that, and frequencies rarely better than hourly on weekends. A recent restructure of service had improved matters, and effectively brought 30-minute headways to as many places as possible given the limited resources, without having to reduce weekend service. Additionally, it extended the span of service on most routes to 10 PM. So while frequency of these routes weren’t all that good, it would still probably run late enough to get you home.

Then the pandemic happened, and this threw a wrench in the slowly-improving prospects for a usable transit network in Pierce County. In a series of changes in April and May, Pierce Transit reduced service to match ridership demand. As a result, service would generally run on weekdays would run as often as it would on Saturdays, but would run as late into the evening as it normally does on weekdays (with some exceptions). With Pierce Transit planning for the future, Pierce Transit is faced with pressure to restore service while facing financial troubles in the future. With Pierce Transit’s September 2020 service change schedules out, we see their solution: cut frequency on Sundays to bring back mostly normal service on weekdays and Saturdays.

A soon-to-be typical Sunday schedule.

This works out to a 10% reduction in service overall, though distributed much more heavily on Sunday service than all other days. Since almost every route that runs on Sundays runs hourly, this means that 2-hour headways on Sundays are going to be the norm for the foreseeable future. Only routes 1, 2, 3, 4, 202, and 500 will run hourly on Sunday. Two hour headways will make service very difficult (if not impossible) to use, depending on your use case. Certainly this is of little use to anyone except those to whom transit is absolutely essential on Sundays. Indeed, it will be important that people who don’t need to ride the bus definitely not do so on Sundays, since a full bus which runs every two hours will pass people who will likely have no choice but to head back home and cancel their day. The good news? There aren’t really substantial changes to the bus network, meaning Pierce Transit’s work restructuring service in 2018 is largely intact, just with less service. Most of Tacoma’s bus routes will still have 30 minute headways on weekdays, and most will still have the same (or similar) span of service as pre-COVID. Saturday service is also largely preserved. So I view this as largely similar to Community Transit eliminating service on Sundays to save the broader network (the difference being that there is still lifeline level of service on Sundays).

The chart below shows the evolution of change in service on each route. Shown are September 2020 headways, with the May 24th COVID-19 service reductions in [brackets], and September 2019 levels in (parentheses). Changes since the last revision are in bold. Service levels worse than 2019 are in red, while partially restored service (from May 24th service reductions) are in orange. Finally, “d” means peak direction only service (with the number of peak trips in the morning/evening, e.g. “60d 3/4” means hourly peak trips, 3 trips in the morning and 4 in the evening), and “” means no service (sad face).

115 [15] (15)15 [15] (15)60 [15] (15)20 [30] (20)60 [30] (30)
220 [20] (20)20 [20] (20)30 [30] (30)30 [30] (30)60 [30] (30)
330 [30] (30)30 [30] (30)30 [30] (30)30 [60] (30)60 [60] (60)
430 [60] (30)30 [30] (30)30 [60] (30)60 [60] (30)60 [60] (60)
1030 [60] (30)30 [60] (30)60 [60] (60)60 [60] (60)120 [60] (60)
1130 [60] (30)30 [60] (30)30 (60) [30]60 [60] (60)120 [60] (60)
1360d 4/4 [] (60)– [] (60)
1630 [45] (30)30 [45] (30)60 [45] (60)45 [60] (45)120 [60] (60)
2830 [60] (30)30 [60] (30)60 [60] (60)60 [60] (60)120 [60] (60)
4130 [60] (30)30 [60] (30)60 [60] (60)60 [60] (60)120 [60] (60)
4230 [60] (30)30 [60] (30)60 [60] (60)60 [60] (60)120 [60] (60)
4530 [60] (30)30 [60] (30)60 [60] (60)60 [60] (60)120 [60] (60)
4830 [30] (30)30 [30] (30)30 [30] (30)60 [60] (60)120 [60] (60)
5230 [30] (30)30 [30] (30)60 [60] (60)30 [60] (30)120 [60] (60)
5330 [60] (30)30 [60] (30)60 [60] (60)60 [60] (60)120 [60] (60)
5430 [30] (30)30 [30] (30)30 [30] (30)60 [60] (60)120 [60] (60)
5530 [60] (30)30 [30] (30)30 [30] (30)30 [60] (30)120 [60] (60)
5730 [60] (30)30 [60] (30)60 [60] (60)60 [60] (60)120 [60] (60)
6360d 2/2
[60d 2/3]
(60d 4/5)
10060 [60] (60)60 [60] (60)60 [60] (60)60 [60] (60)120 [60] (60)
102– []
(20-50d 6/6)
20230 [60] (30)30 [30] (30)30 [30] (30)30 [30] (30)60 [30] (30)
20630 [60] (30)30 [30] (30)30 [30] (30)30 [45] (30)120 [40] (40)
21230 [30] (30)30 [30] (30)60 [30-60] (60)60 [60] (30)120 [60] (60)
60 [60-120]
60 [120] (60)90 [60] (90)120 [180] (120)120 [180] (180)
21430 [60] (30)30 [60] (30)60 [60] (60)60 [60] (60)120 [60] (60)
40030 [60] (30)30 [60] (30)30 [60] (30)
40260 [60] (30)60 [60] (30)60 [60] (60)60 [60] (60)120 [60] (60)
409 [60] (60)60 [60] (60) [60] (60)60 [60] (60)120 [60] (60)
42560 [] (30)120 [] (30)
49720d 8/8 [60d 5/5]
(60d 9/9)
50030 [30] (30)30 [30] (30)60 [30] (30)30 [60] (30)60 [60] (60)
50160 [60] (60)60 [60] (60)60 [60] (60)60 [60] (60)120 [60] (60)
501 Valley
& 70th Ave
60 [] (60)

There are a few oddities to this new set of schedules. For one, service to Steilacoom is actually getting more frequent on Sundays. This is because previously route 212 had two different variants on Sunday: one only to Pierce College, and one only to Steilacoom. It runs every hour, with 2 out of 3 trips going to Pierce College, leaving Steilacoom with one bus every 3 hours. Starting in September, all buses will go to Steilacoom on Sunday (and none to Pierce College), so as a result Steilacoom will get 2-hourly Sunday service.

The Sounder schedule is still shown next to route 409’s schedule, despite route 409 starting after the last morning trains leave

Route 409, contrary to most other service, is getting its weekday span of service cut rather dramatically (missing the morning peak entirely). It will not be possible to use route 409 to connect to Sounder trains in the morning, as the first trip starts after the last train arrives in Seattle. Ironically, the schedule for route 409 still shows Sounder departures from Puyallup. Pierce Transit underserving Puyallup is nothing new (in fact, several years ago Puyallup was among the cities considering withdrawing from Pierce Transit over its lack of bus service), but it seems reasonable to suggest that route 409 should get priority for weekday service returning once that is a possibility.

Route 102, which was cancelled entirely, will not be coming back for the foreseeable future. However, Sound Transit is planning to add a stop to route 595 at Tacoma Dome Station in March 2021, which can be used as an alternative to route 102. And route 13, which was also cancelled, is coming back as a peak-only route, running southbound to Tacoma Dome Station in the morning, and northbound to the Proctor District in the afternoon. Pierce Transit is hoping to bring back service in 2021. If you have feedback on how they should do this, be sure to check out their survey on how things should go moving forward.

8 Replies to “Pierce Transit cuts Sunday frequency to save bus network”

  1. “Cut off an arm to save the body” is the choice a lot of transit systems are going to be facing in the coming months/years.

  2. I’m of the view we’re going to see a lot of Sunday service cuts and eliminations. It’s the lowest hanging fruit here.

    At least until we can figure out how much we can cut commuter peak service with all this Work From Home (WFH) stuff. That arguably justifies putting major projects on pause to reevaluate and rejustify. Some may have to be cancelled but let’s be thoughtful here.

  3. Pierce Transit is an example of type of the type of lousy service you get when transit is seen as a mobility option of last resort for the very poor, while everyone else simply drives around in their cars and doesn’t care.

    We see this everywhere. Services that are seen as benefiting large swaths of population are funded at least decently. Services that are simply part of the safety net don’t.

    Long term, if King County wants public support for decent transit, it has to get middle-class ridership.

    1. I don’t think that is the issue. You could focus the spending on one class or another, and it wouldn’t make the system any more popular. My guess is the spending is largely focused on the middle class right now. It is all about density, cost and how they decide to fund transit. Without adequate density, it costs a bundle to provide good transit service. Only a handful of lines have the potential for decent ridership, which means you either abandon huge swaths of the city, or run costly, low ridership lines. There is simply no way you can get good transit to most of the city without better density or spending a bundle. In that sort of environment, it is really hard to pass transit packages.

    2. Excellent comment as this is class Warfare. I have been riding the 594 for 12 years and it’s basically empty now and by the time you get to the last pick up stuff the bus driver tells the people to wait. If they want this to work they’ve got to get people out of their cars, and space the bus seats apart oh, and get rid of the buses that have the handicap side loaders as they are worthless and make everybody wait and wait and wait and it looks like we’re going to be waiting and waiting more just to get home like said the people in cars will just speed by and laugh as I stand at the bus stop hour after hour. Yes, the poor, soon-to-be most or all of us are going to suffer the most welcome to the USSA!

  4. No chance that if we incorporate Thurston, Mason, Grays Harbor, Kitsap, and Jefferson into a regional system that includes King and Snohomish, we can just surround Pierce with so much transit that it kind of just gets sucked in whether it likes it or not?

    “Senator O’Ban, we saw those pictures on the wall at Bair Drug! When do we get Tacoma Link BACK?” Though we might have to acquiesce to the cars being some other color besides blue and white. Nobody gets everything.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Statewide (or better yet, nationwide subsidies, as part of the “Green New Deal”) make a lot more sense than trying to combine agencies. There are always going to be border issues (like the main Swift Line) but those can be dealt with cooperatively with the various agencies. For those counties, those issues are minor, unlike King/Pierce or King/Snohomish. Sound Transit, of course, should handle the latter (and does, with various transit lines). You could create a similar (and much smaller agency) for travel between cities (Olympia to Tacoma, etc.) but that is a very tiny part of the problem. The problem is local financing of something that is very cost ineffective because of the lack of density.

      Walker wrote a very good piece recently about how the Postal Service is like transit. This is a good example. Imagine if each state had its own postal service, and had to subsidize it separately. Letters in Rhode Island or Massachusetts would arrive promptly, without much subsidy. Letters in North Dakota would take forever to get anywhere. That is the boat that Pierce (and other low density counties) are in.

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