From shoving at bus stops to running late for work because of delays, here are the experiences of some people who get around by bus in the Seattle area.
One Seattle bus rider said she often ends her daily commutes in tears.
The calm mood of her trips between Georgetown and Belltown on Route 124 take a harsh turn after the bus stops near Sodo’s methadone clinic, she said, picking up passengers who yell, use obscenities and sometimes pass out on her shoulder.
“It’s the opioid crisis. My commute brings this home to me, every day, viscerally,” wrote Brittany, who did not want to share her full name. “The chaos that boards the bus at that stop is at best unpleasant, sometimes alarming, occasionally scary.”
Over weeks, Traffic Lab fielded dozens of emails, phone calls and comments on social media from passengers like Brittany with strong opinions about King County Metro Transit’s service or notable experiences from taking the bus around.
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The responses varied, from commending Metro as the “best bus system in a major city” to declaring that Seattle’s exploding population is challenging the network to the extreme. Some cited overcrowding and delays. A few recalled specific cases of being late for work or day-care pickups because of bus problems.
The request for stories followed a Seattle Times analysis of Metro’s performance that found the agency has stayed fairly consistent in meeting its standards for on-time arrivals over the past five years, despite booming ridership and growing traffic congestion.
Metro buses took people on over 6 million more rides in 2016 than they did in 2012, an increase possible through additional service hours, bus-only lanes, priority traffic lights and a newer fleet.
Still, the ridership surge has meant some overcrowding.
“I’ve lost count to the number of times I have ridden home shoved up against the door, praying that something doesn’t give,” wrote Colleen Harris, of West Seattle.
Metro’s most recent annual evaluation of the system found 13 routes chronically overcrowded — having 50 percent more people than seats or no seats available for 20 consecutive minutes — and another 13 that were frequently overcrowded.
With a digital-marketing job in the Chinatown International District, Harris takes the RapidRide C Line, one of those “chronically crowded” routes that shuttle people between Westwood Village and South Lake Union.
Timid folks have long waits at the bus stop, she said. Riders have to shove their way onto buses once they arrive.
“Riding the C Line is like being in ‘Lord of the Flies’ — a cutthroat world where you can’t care about other people,” she said.
Others, too, focused on the behaviors of other passengers, citing minor assaults, inappropriate conversations or young riders who do not move from the priority seating section when elderly passengers board.
Christina Purdy, of Greenwood, said people here do not know how to make the most of space on crowded rides.
“I have ridden public transport from Tokyo to Paris to rural Central America. People in those places know how to fit a lot of passengers on a bus,” she wrote. “Rubbing up against strangers may not be the most pleasant experience, but it sure beats being passed up by a bus and having to wait 15 minutes for the next one.”
Simon Reynolds, of Kenmore, also recalled experiences of riding in other countries: Nigeria where he worked as a volunteer and bus service was “truly chaotic,” with vans remodeled for transit with wooden benches and metal, as well as in London, where he said so many routes crossed.
“You could catch one of three different buses, hop off at a major road junction and catch a different bus to your destination,” he said.
Many respondents to Traffic Lab complimented the courteous demeanor of Metro’s drivers.
“I have ridden Metro Transit for decades and find the service excellent overall,” wrote Sue Dunagan, of Redmond. “My primary concern involves accessibility.”
She has driven 9 miles to south Kirkland to park her car before hopping a bus to Seattle, since her closest park-and-ride lot reaches capacity by 8 a.m. Sometimes the Kirkland site is full, too.
The lack of parking space across Metro’s system disproportionately affects people who must partly rely on cars to get around, Dunagan said, including elderly folks, parents with young children, and people with disabilities.
Greg DiBiase, of Gatewood, said that after living in Los Angeles, “where public transportation was a nightmare,” he appreciates the reliability of Metro’s system.
Granted, he catches the bus around 6:20 a.m., avoiding rush-hour crowds, and rides using a free, unlimited ORCA card through his employer, Amazon.
“Can’t say for sure whether I would be such a proponent if I was paying for the bus with my own money,” DiBiase wrote.
Got an idea, question or suggestion for Traffic Lab?
Last week, we laid out plans for a new tolling system on Interstate 405 between Renton and Bellevue, set to launch in 2024. The week before, we spotlighted trends in the city’s 2017 Traffic Report, ranging from crash statistics to bicycle and pedestrian counts.
If you have a question or idea for us, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We may feature it in an upcoming column.