Officials explore contracted Seattle bus service as traffic worsens

Jun 7, 2018, 2:05 PM

New Year's Eve, King County Metro, contract seattle bus service,...

King County Metro is working on a fare enforcement policy that gives more allowances to low-income riders. (File, KIRO 7)

(File, KIRO 7)

As we enter what is being called the “period of maximum constraint,” city leadership is hashing out the details of contracting out Seattle bus service to — they hope — reduce the number of solo drivers.

The work has mostly been overshadowed by the city’s ORCA card program, which passed through committee Tuesday, and will provide free bus and light rail passes to all Seattle public high school students.

Data presented to the Sustainability & Transportation Committee shows a need to reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicles by 3,000 through 2021 in order to maintain current levels of congestion. The city cannot rely on King County Metro to do this, as the agency is already at or near capacity during peak travel times and is pumping more resources into off-peak hours to expand its all-day service, according to information presented to the committee.

Contracting Seattle bus service

Officials pinpointed several routes within city limits where people frequently drive alone.

A contracted Seattle bus service could help ease several problems, including improving Metro bus capacity and eliminating the number of transfers bus riders must go through.

The money for contracted transit services would come from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District, with up to $5 million being available for the contracted services alone.

It’s unknown how much of this contracted transit service would look. The city doesn’t know who would operate it, how much it would cost, or which vehicles would be used. There was discussion during Tuesday’s Transportation Committee meeting that bus capacity would be approximately 10-15 people, depending on demand.

Councilmembers Mike O’Brien and Rob Johnson supported the legislation and pushed it to the full council for a final decision. O’Brien admitted that the city will be “experimenting with some things here.”

But if done correctly, it could help reduce fears officials have over what traffic will look like in the coming years. Between construction that is already happening across the city and several major projects — including the waterfront and upgraded convention center — any more traffic in the city will be detrimental to commute times.

The 2017 Center City Commuter Mode Split survey found 25 percent of commuters heading into downtown are driving alone. That number may look small, but according to the estimates, it is approximately 66,500 of the 262,000 trips into the city. And that’s only counting commute-related trips.

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