As part of an overall improvement in ST Express service Sound Transit is planning to roll out in 2022, Sound Transit is expanding all-day service from Seattle to Tacoma, improving midday and weekend headways from 30 minutes to 15 minutes. But there are also plans to make changes to peak-only route 592, which runs from DuPont Station to Seattle, with intermediate stops in Lakewood. This route is the only peak-direction service other than Sounder to run from Lakewood to Seattle (route 594 only runs off-peak and in the reverse-peak direction). One important feature of route 592 is its non-stop service from Lakewood to Seattle. Off-peak, people riding to Seattle also need to ride through downtown Tacoma (as both Tacoma and Lakewood are served by route 594 off-peak), but express service to Seattle from SR 512 P&R is a big time saver when it is available. However, Sound Transit is proposing to add additional stops to this route in 2022, slowing it down and making it less of an express bus. And for route 594, Sound Transit is passing up an opportunity to speed up service, something which is made easier with the additional service hours that is likely coming to Tacoma in 2022.
The proposal is to add a stop at Tacoma Dome Station, for which the stated reason is “to better connect with the Hilltop Tacoma Link Extension and other Pierce Transit routes and improve local connections within Pierce County.” It is also noted that this would introduce a direct connection from DuPont to Tacoma, a trip which currently requires a transfer in Lakewood. What’s more, Sound Transit also would add stops on the Seattle side, moving the route off of the Seneca Street off-ramp (which takes passengers to the middle of downtown Seattle quickly) and onto the SODO busway, just like with routes 590 and 594. The reason for this change is to be consistent with other Tacoma service, allowing passengers to rely on either route 590 or route 592 (whichever comes first) to reach Tacoma Dome Station without having to think about potential differences in travel time.
While expanding transit service to enable new use cases is a laudable goal, it may not make sense to make this change at the cost of travel time to such an established service serving some of the longest commutes in the region, and has (or at least did have) the ridership to justify as direct service as it has. Indeed, these commuters do a great deal of good by not taking their car for the 40-50 mile commute each way. Some trips on route 592 even exceed two hours from end-to-end, and with that kind of commute, any kind of additional travel time can massively dissuade riders from transit altogether. And while ST makes a great case for hypothetical trips connecting to Tacoma Link from DuPont, it’s not clear (nor do they make the case) that these trips are in demand. Furthermore, WSDOT is working on HOV lanes on I-5 through downtown Tacoma. While primarily used by carpools, these lanes would speed up route 592 (and only 592) dramatically. So it would be a shame if Sound Transit moved the 592 over to the right lanes just as new HOV lanes are opening.
Sound Transit is also proposing an increase of midday and weekend service between Seattle and Tacoma by having service run every 15 minutes instead of every 30 minutes like it is today. They way they want to do this is very straightforward: introduce service on route 590 during off-peak hours (currently peak-only), and stick route 590 trips in between every route 594 trip, which would double service frequency from downtown Tacoma to downtown Seattle. While it is a simple change that will bring dramatic improvement in service to Tacoma – Seattle passengers, it also misses an opportunity to speed up service to Lakewood.
Currently, riders from Lakewood to Seattle during off-peak hours need to detour into downtown Tacoma, looping up I-705 and down Pacific Ave. They then stop at Tacoma Dome Station, then continue non-stop to SODO. The loop through downtown Tacoma adds 15 minutes or more when compared to just a stop at Tacoma Dome Station like route 574 does (and like what is proposed for route 592). This does make some sense when Sound Transit is only sending one bus from Seattle to Pierce County every half hour, and wants to offer service from both downtown Tacoma and Lakewood to downtown Seattle. However, with twice as many buses going to Tacoma, Sound Transit can serve Tacoma Dome Station with both routes, but send the 590 up Pacific Ave to downtown Tacoma and send the 594 directly to Lakewood from there, without going up Pacific Ave and down I-705.
No changes are proposed to route 574 except for expanding its span of service. However, if various stops are removed in Tacoma from other Lakewood service, this presents an opportunity for route 574. While moving the 594 out of downtown Tacoma, it will certainly inconvenience many riders who ride to Tacoma, and not adding a stop at Tacoma Dome Station to the 590 may dissuade some DuPont to Tacoma commuters from riding. Route 574, which runs from SeaTac Airport to Lakewood Transit Center via Federal Way TC, Tacoma Dome Station, and SR 512 P&R, could take over the I-705 loop from route 594. Such a configuration would look like this:
Making this change to route 574 would actually make quite a bit of sense, because route 574 has more frequent stops along the I-5 corridor than every other express route. These are stops where there is some demand worth serving, but probably not at the cost of travel speed to the vast majority of riders. This makes route 574 perfect for taking the I-705 loop, because it would allow Lakewood passengers to keep their direct express route to downtown Tacoma. The fact that it doesn’t go to Seattle doesn’t really matter to riders who are heading to Tacoma.
Also, unlike route 594, this route operates during peak hours as well as off-peak. with a new loop through downtown Tacoma, this would allow riders of route 592 to make the trip to downtown Tacoma even without the stop at Tacoma Dome Station. The difference is that instead of making riders transfer at TDS, riders would transfer at SR 512 P&R, where all three Lakewood routes stop. While route 574 currently doesn’t have any frequent service (operating every 30 minutes, with a brief bump to 20 minutes southbound at around noon), this of course could be changed at peak. Whether peak frequency is increased or not, route 574 could still have a connection (or even a waiting connection) at SR 512 P&R for route 592, making a DuPont to downtown Tacoma transfer quick and reliable.
If this seems like a good idea to you, then there is still a chance to leave feedback on the Sound Transit 2022 service plan. Feedback is open until August 22, and is available on the page itself as well as via email and phone.