The recent bus service change that coincided with the extension of the 1 Line to Northgate Station altered Seattle-Everett service in a clunky way. Riding between Everett and Seattle during off-peak hours and in the reverse-peak direction during peak hours now involves transferring between Sound Transit Express 512 and the 1 Line at Northgate Station. Peak-direction travel goes directly between Everett and downtown Seattle on ST Express 510, with no peak-direction route during peak hours between Everett and Northgate.
Going southbound on a weekday, route 510 leaves Everett Station at 4:13, 4:30, 4:42, 4:55, 5:17, 5:32, 5:48, 6:04, 6:18, 6:33, 6:50, 6:58, 7:14, 7:45, and 8:17 am. Route 512 starts up at 8:37 am, runs roughly every 10 minutes until 1:56 pm, then runs roughly every 16 minutes until 5:56 pm, then runs roughly every 20 from 6:19 to 9:02, then spreads out to 30 minutes with the last 512 heading south at 11:20 pm, with plenty of time to spare to catch the last southbound train of the evening.
Going northbound on weekdays, route 512 leaves Northgate every 12-16 minutes from 5:05 to 9:33 am. Then it hits its every-10-minutes stride at 9:49 am, which lasts until 2:49 pm. Then, route 512 disappears until 7:11 pm, at which point it starts running roughly every 10 minutes again, until 10:29. Frequency starts decreasing, until riders catch route 512 from the last northbound train of the day at 12:48 am.
During afternoon peak, route 510 starts northbound trips from 4th Ave & S Jackson St ca. every 16 minutes 2:30-6:53 pm.
With some clever scheduling, commuters heading back to Everett during afternoon peak could have a bus leaving Northgate Station for Everett waiting for them every 8 minutes.
An ST Express 511 or 513 leaves Northgate every 8 minutes during afternoon peak from 3:19 to 6:55 pm, with shoulder trips at 2:57, 3:06, and 7:55. A little over a third of these trips are 513s. Route 513 is just 511 plus the extension from Ash Way Park & Ride to Eastmont Park & Ride and Seaway Transit Center. Similarly, route 512 is just route 511 with the extension from Ash Way Park & Ride to Everett Station.
What if, instead of running route 510 out of downtown, all its trips were moved to running out of Northgate? And then every other 511/513 trip coming out of Northgate were converted to a 512. And then, have the runs timed to meet the same train as a 510 converted to a 513. In other words, alternate between having a 510 and 513 waiting for one train, and a 512 waiting for the next, then 510 and 513 again, then 512 again, and so on.
Use the platform hours saved from not having 510 go downtown, and 510 deadhead (out of service) travel. Some costs will also be saved from no longer having to pay for mid-day bus storage in the SODO and transporting drivers from SODO back to their home base in the morning, and doing the reverse transport in the afternoon.
Afternoon peak riders going to Everett would have a bus waiting to take them to Everett after each train trip, alternating between 510 and 512, thereby doubling the frequency for trips to Everett over the current 510 schedule.
Commuters using Eastmont Park & Ride or Seaway Transit Center would also see their bus (route 513) become more frequent.
Route 513 involves a lot of deadheading. It serves Seaway Transit Center, but in the wrong direction to support the local labor force. Imagine turning all those deadhead trips into revenue service. People living in Seattle and Lynnwood would finally have an easy commute to Seaway, via 1 Line + route 513 and catch employer shuttles to the various local worksites. Then 513 would take them home from Seaway in the evening. Indeed, this is an approach that is being considered for when the 1 Line extends to Lynnwood City Center. But it does not have to wait until then.
Morning peak riders from Everett would see a southbound ST Express bus roughly every 8 minutes, alternating between a 510 and a 512. The timing might might not be as evenly-spaced as the buses going northbound from Northgate in the afternoon.
Those counting routes will notice that this proposal eliminates ST Express 511, 2-3 years before it was probably going to be eliminated anyway. The only thing changing for route 511 commuters would be the number on the front sign of the bus.
The only riders who might see a negative impact are those who would prefer a 510 between Everett and downtown Seattle every 16 minutes over a ride between Everett and Seattle on a 510/512 + 1 Line every 8 minutes. A lot of them are working from home right now. In perfect traffic, the math of getting to stations and getting to the platforms works in favor of the long version of 510 for Everett-downtown commuters. In practice, I expect many would prefer waiting out of the rain in the tunnel and going to Northgate, instead of standing in the rain and then sitting in traffic. For those commuting from north of downtown already using the 1 Line or other routes to Northgate, the Northgate option is the obvious choice. For those commuting from south of downtown, already using the 1 Line, same thing.
Current peak-direction paths between Northgate and Everett
For those currently travelling to Everett from Northgate during afternoon peak hours, routes 510-513 all serve the Mountlake Terrace Freeway Station, so catch a 511 or 513 to the freeway station, and then wait there patiently for a 510 to come along. (None of the 800-series CT routes serve the freeway station, but 810 and 871 serve the off-freeway stop at the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center garage.) Or, transfer to CT route 201 or 202 at Lynnwood Transit Center or Ash Way.
Combining 201 and 202, which run limited-stop service between Lynnwood and Arlington that includes Ash Way and Everett Station, with 512, for a BRT-like route from Northgate to Arlington, would be something interesting to consider. Regardless, once the 1 Line reaches Lynnwood City Center, the small differences between these bus routes beg for off-peak consolidation.
One other option, albeit slower, is to take King County Metro route 301/302/303/304 to Aurora Village, and transfer there to the SWIFT Blue Line.
Ability to truncate more Snohomish County commuter bus routes
Having watched the evening commuter buses board quickly, and having Northgate Bus Bay 2 empty for a lot more time than it has buses boarding during the peak-of-peak hour, it has become abundantly clear to me that Bay 2 is capable of handling the entire Snohomish County commuter armada, should Community Transit want to veer in that direction. If not Bay 2, there is plenty of space for a Bay 5 and Bay 6.
Since the opening of Northgate Station, the 1 Line has had nothing approaching crushloads, except on game days. Should CT ask to have the whole CT commuter armada end and start at Northgate, and ST see the possibility of overcrowding on the 1 Line before the 2 Line opens in 2023, it would not be that expensive to have some short runs on the 1 Line between between SODO and Northgate, a trip that now takes a mere 22 minutes each direction. But I’m convinced, that won’t be necessary except for the usual drill before and after large events.