Transit

Background

Transit is the backbone of local transportation, and has been growing steadily in response to public investment in bus service and light rail. The Seattle area had the second highest total transit growth among all large U.S. metropolitan areas in 2017, and had the highest in 2016. This growth is a reflection of investments we've made to transit.

We expect that areas with frequent transit, will significantly decrease because of service cuts in response to decreased revenue. We know that ridership has fallen more in some areas than in others, and that ridership has held most steadily for low-income riders. Overall ridership is down 71%, especially on express lines between the Eastside and Seattle. Service over the summer is decreased, with less service particularly at peak hours, with more cuts planned for September. Metro is planning to lay off 200 part-time operators in early August. Metro released this Update on Metro's COVID-19 Response and Recovery in late June.

This is a map of Seattle's Frequent Transit Service Area, based on Metro schedules from 2018. Credit: City of Seattle.
From King County Metro 2018 Rider and Non-Rider Survey

Timeline

  • Renewal of Seattle Transportation Benefit District. The measure will be on the Nov. 2020 ballot.

  • King County Metro biennial budget for 2021-2022, draft expected Sept 2020.

  • King County (Metro) Strategic Plan for Transportation, covers a ten year period. Planning process begins 2021.

  • Puget Sound Regional Council Regional Transportation Plan, currently drafting new plan for adoption in 2022.

In the Media

Current Ridership Trends

Organizational Summary

Seattle's Department of Transportation (SDOT) owns the Seattle Streetcar, with a line in from the north end of downtown to South Lake Union, and a second unconnected line from the south end of downtown to First Hill and Capitol Hill. Metro operates the streetcar, under contract to SDOT. In addition, SDOT has developed a number of Rapid Ride lines, with more in progress. SDOT has a 20-year Transit Master Plan, last updated in 2016.

King County Metro operates the regional bus network. Metro has a $1.9 billion operating budget for 2019-2020, and a $2 billion capital program for 2019-2023. King Country did not collect vehicle license fees (VLF, aka car tabs) so it is not directly affected by I-976, but there are numerous programs that received state grants funded through VLF. About half of Metro's funding comes from the sales tax, 15% is fares, 10% from Sound Transit which pays Metro to operate some routes. It spends 73% on operations, 14% on capital infrastructure, 11% capital fleet, and 2% debt service.

Sound Transit operates the Link as well as the Sounder and a number of regional bus routes. It has a $3.1 billion budget for 2020. It gets 66% of its revenue from local taxes, different in different areas but including sales and use tax, vehicle license fee, property tax, and rental car tax. Grants provide 8% of the revenue, fares 7%, and bonds make up most of the rest. It spends 53% in capital, 24% on operations, 16% on debt service, 6% on maintenance.

Seattle Transportation Benefit District purchases "service hours" from King Country Metro to provide more frequent bus service to Seattle residents. It also funds capital improvements for buses, such as transit-only lanes and bus priority signals, as well as providing free or reduced transit fares to high school students and low-income residents. It is up for renewal in 2020, but has a budget of $55 million per year, which has been funded in part by VLF, and in part by sales tax.

Resources