With Northgate Link opening in less than a week, Community Transit will begin a fundamental, multi-year transformation from providing a blend of long-haul commuter and local service to a refreshed agency focused on fast and frequent transit operations primarily within Snohomish County. CT’s initial phase of reworking existing commuter routes will take advantage of Link Light Rail’s new Northgate terminus and large transit center to greatly enhance where Community Transit riders can travel. Starting Monday, October 4th, CT will truncate all University District-bound service, known as the 800-series routes, to end at Northgate Station. This resolves serious issues of speed and reliability caused by regional congestion and massively improves transit connectivity between Snohomish County and Link Light Rail.
Let’s acknowledge that riders transferring at Northgate Station will lose their one-seat ride to the University District. Many of us will be losing our one-seat ride on October 2nd, myself included. While inconvenient, that’s by design as we to move towards utilizing Link as an alternative to the redundant bus routes operating in heavy north-south regional congestion, and it’s important to recognize the greater benefits of this strategy.
Currently, congestion between Seattle and Lynnwood forces transit agencies to burn valuable service hours by padding revenue and non-revenue (deadheading) schedules to realistically schedule buses accounting for slow travel times. While buses sit in congestion, the total number of trips each bus can complete in a day is limited while riders have to deal with unreliable and unpredictable service, leading to an inefficient use of transit agency and taxpayer resources. Would people rather have an unpredictable one-seat ride with longer waits between buses, or a more predictable two-seat ride with frequent service? The agency has chosen the latter for us, and we’ll learn to appreciate it.
Community Transit is capitalizing on Link’s investment in high operating speed, large capacity, and congestion-free right-of-way to provide extremely frequent and reliable service; the bread and butter of good transit. For riders between Snohomish County and the University District, truncating routes at Northgate enables CT to add more service, including nearly 50 more 800-series trips each day. This means more capacity, greater frequency, and more hours of the day with 15-minute peak frequencies. In the words of Jarett Walker, “frequency is freedom” and Snohomish county residents are about to feel a lot more freedom in their mobility options.
King County Metro is also restructuring their North King County network to leverage Link. Refocused commuter routes, including routes 303, 320, and 322 will provide service from north King County to Northgate Station and Downtown via Link, then these buses will get on I-5 express lanes to major employment centers in First Hill and South Lake Union, instead of their current route of driving to Downtown. Several other North King County Metro 300-series routes will truncate at Northgate Station with the tradeoff of increased frequency and longer operating hours of service.
Similarly, Sound Transit Routes 511, 512, and 513 will be truncated at Northgate Station to provide reliable, frequent, all-day service between Snohomish County and the Link network.
Beyond commuting, new transit offerings from Northgate Station will open more destinations for riders seeking regional connectivity, convenience, choice, and use of transit for more trips. Upon restructuring, an 800-series route will connect at Northgate Station to key King County Metro routes bound for First Hill, SLU, Ballard, Fremont, U Village, and a huge selection of other destinations which have not been easy for Snohomish County residents to reach before. Routes 511, 512, and 513 provide frequent off-peak and weekend service, enabling new transit choices throughout the week. Even CT riders utilizing traditional 400-series peak-period commuter routes between Snohomish County and Downtown Seattle can choose between a one-seat 400-series or an 800-series plus Link, depending on traffic or personal preference.
For this transformation, Community Transit has refreshed their outreach process leveraging social media and new outreach methodologies to reach as many riders as possible at no additional cost to the agency. In my next piece on this fall’s transit restructure, I’ll be speaking with CT’s Luke Distelhorst and Monica Spain on their stellar outreach campaign, conducted entirely in-house.
This transit transformation towards local, frequent, Link-focused connections begins a monumental undertaking for Community Transit as the agency looks towards 2024 when Lynnwood Link is scheduled to open. We look forward to watching Community Transit as they move in a new direction.