Transit That Works


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.

King County Metro has ambitious plans to expand, as part of King County's efforts to meet its climate goals. This is laid out in Metro Connects, Metro's long range planning document. The key changes from the previous Metro Connects plan are:

  • More frequent service and all-day service

  • Added service to address South King County equity gaps

  • RapidRide lines decrease from 26 to 19-23 in 2050 network

  • Future RapidRide lines become "candidates" rather than named lines

Service hours were 3.855M in 2019, and under the new plan would be 5.5M in the interim network, growing to 7.25M in the 2050 network. Projected ridership is set to almost double from 2019 to 2050.

As background context for this, note that King County's growth plans include adding 1.8 million residents and 1.2 million jobs by 2050. These means that there will be increased need for better transit, but it also means there will be more people to share the cost.

Below is a conceptual view of what the networks would look like.

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

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.