King County Metro Transit riders are upset about plans to eliminate their half-hour, direct ride from White Center to the University of Washington. Metro says the peak-only route is inefficient.

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Every morning, dozens of commuters park in Burien and White Center, to catch an uncommonly fast express bus, direct to the University of Washington.

They like King County Metro’s Route 133 because they don’t have to get off downtown and transfer to a slower bus for the final 3 miles to the UW.

“This bus helps to make my life easier, and as a single parent and grandparent, I need that,” says Sheri Munson-Castro, of Burien. She usually boards at 5:57 a.m. and the bus fills to hold about 40 people. In all, there are four morning and four afternoon trips — and only a half-hour ride between the park and ride in White Center and UW Medical Center.

Despite happy customers, Metro proposes to eliminate Route 133 on Sept. 29, part of an efficiency plan that will reduce or remove 25 routes, while adding or improving service on 23 routes, mainly in Westside neighborhoods.

The Metropolitan King County Council will vote on the package of route changes this month.

Route 133 ranks in the bottom quarter of routes in productivity, under recently adopted service guidelines, officials say.

Metro says an average 260 passengers a day ride the route, or 32 per peak trip. But in judging a line’s productivity, the agency doesn’t just take into account the number of riders headed into the city. Metro also considers the empty buses that embark from a transit base out to the 133’s starting point in Burien each morning, consuming fuel and driver wages while empty, to provide a one-way service to the UW.

By that standard, Route 133 serves a mere 18 people per operating hour, Metro says.

Victor Obeso, Metro’s service-development manager, says the U-District counts as a “central core” destination, along with downtown, First Hill and other close-in places. And it’s commonplace for thousands of students and staff to take a bus, then transfer to a U-District line, he said.

By redirecting the expense of the 133 to other lines, Obeso said, “We’re using the resources to serve more people.”

In particular, savings from this and other routes will go toward the new RapidRide C Line in West Seattle and D Line in Ballard. These were promised in a 2006 ballot measure, before sagging sales-tax income forced Metro to take a harder look at its network.

For years, Metro and Sound Transit have cultivated a market for “choice riders,” those middle-class workers who own a car but save money or time using transit. This strategy helped make Metro the nation’s eighth-busiest bus transit agency, at 373,000 boardings a day. But it’s expensive to hire part-time drivers to cover commute-only routes.

Obeso insists the 133 cancellation doesn’t signal a future repeal of other suburban peak-commute routes.

Route 133 users point to a new $20 car-tab fee and say they assumed it would preserve their line, among others.

A two-bus commute would take at least 45 minutes longer, riders believe.

They missed a council committee hearing last week — they had to work — but 34 passengers sent emails or phone messages to The Seattle Times.

“It’s a very simple route, but it’s used. We all believe in public transportation,” says Alicia Palacio, administrative assistant to the UW executive vice provost.

Palacio says she has ridden the line 20 years. Parking is $423 per quarter, gas $4 a gallon, and driving would cost $6,000 more per year, she estimates.

Transit officials suggest: the C Line as an alternative, but it will wind through West Seattle; the 120 down Delridge Way Southwest; or the 113 straight downtown. But the last afternoon 113 leaves downtown at 5:38 p.m., so UW workers would miss the connection, said passenger Patricia Kloster. Obeso replied Wednesday that Kloster has a good argument to consider putting a later trip on the 113 schedule, and he encouraged potential users to write to Metro.

University transportation director Josh Kavanagh said he doesn’t intervene in specific routes, because the UW’s transit clientele is so diverse and widespread.

“From what I’ve observed, Metro is generally doing a good job,” he said. “These are informed decisions.”

Because of their common destination, the Route 133 community seems ideal for vanpooling, Kavanagh said.

Metro’s Obeso said he’s not persuaded to salvage the 133, but he recognizes that, “Of course, it’s open to debate,” until the final council vote.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @mikelindblom.