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Klein: Why I don’t ride the bus to work

The bus stop was a comforting sight after my 2-hour ride home. (Stephanie Klein, MyNorthwest)

Riding the bus to and from work shouldn’t be difficult, but it is.

I decided to ride the bus to work on Tuesday and it was a failure. I missed the last express out from deep Snohomish County to the U-District by three minutes, which inexplicably does not offer an express ride after 8 a.m. So, I decided to drive instead.

I had better luck on Thursday. Sort of, I guess.

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I made the last express out of town at 8:06 a.m., after catching a ride to the bus stop from our nanny. The hour-long ride to U-District was pleasant enough. I even thought I got lucky when I stepped off to see the sign read “70,” which is the second leg of the journey.

After 20 minutes of waiting in the cold, I knew something was not right. A quick exchange with a bus riding expert (Jason Rantz) and a cross-check with Google Maps confirmed my error.

I walked up the hill to find the true stop for 70, but later learned from King County Metro that they sometimes use the stop I was originally at for the 70 route.

“That stop is used on some Route 70 trips, at this time of day you’ll get better service at stop 35820, which is at 15th Ave N & NE 45th St. Next trip is estimated at 9:55 am, then 10:05 am.”

Amateur mistake, I guess, but I couldn’t find any indication at the stop explaining the schedule. I thought riding the bus was supposed to be easy for newcomers and veterans alike?

The 70 showed up and all was well, except maybe for the woman asking everyone around me for spare change. I couldn’t help her as I didn’t even have the right change to ride the bus. Occasional bus riders have no use for an Orca card.

Arrival time: 10:03 a.m., just shy of two hours. That’s about what I expected.

I thought the evening commute would be faster, but it wasn’t. I departed at 4:20 p.m. Yes, I realize that’s a short day, but I did work while on the bus, which is what Metro claims can be a benefit.

The first obstacle came in the form of a closed bus stop on Eastlake. A short walk later in the sun along the route landed me at another stop where I waited. And then waited some more.

The OneBusAway app claimed the 4:23 p.m. bus came, but it didn’t. Fine, the 4:38 was next. But then the app told me it was 7 minutes late. So I waited some more. I checked the app to find the 4:38 p.m. also magically disappeared and now I was waiting on the 4:45 p.m. It was 13 minutes late. I’m told phantom buses are common.

In that time, I saw two 70s traveling southbound on Eastlake, but still nothing northbound.

At the exact moment a co-worker offered to pick me up, I saw the 70 at last. Only about 20 minutes late (beyond the phantom buses that never arrived). Thankfully, the last express home was around 6 p.m., so I wasn’t too stressed about being stranded in Seattle.

You should know that King County Metro doesn’t operate the OneBusAway app. They recommend “texting your stop number to 62550 for an update on the next available buses to your stop.”

Also, the official app is the Puget Sound Trip Planner, but users on Twitter claim it’s not very stable.  I think that, OneBusyAway, Google Maps, King County Metro, and Community Transit are probably all that you need to ride the bus.

I arrived in the U-District at 4:56 p.m. with three minutes to spare before my expected Community Transit bus was to arrive. Lo and behold, the express rumbled up 15th at 5:01 p.m. I could relax and work for an hour as someone else drove me home. It was a pleasant ride that landed me a mile from home at 6:20 p.m. Dinner was over, but luckily there’s no basketball practice on Thursdays. I would have certainly missed that.

I spent four hours on the bus. In the car, on a typical Thursday, that same roundtrip trip is two to three hours.

King County Metro let me know they’d try to help me plan a faster trip. Maybe I’ll take them up on that, but I’m not hopeful. The last Sounder Train daily departure is 7:27 a.m. and the last express bus leaves at 8:06 a.m. Elementary school starts at 9 a.m. So unless I want to pay for child care in the morning, I’ll be traveling by car.

Maybe I’ll try the bus again this summer.

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