King County Metro detailed far-reaching cuts to bus service Thursday evening, the latest response to dramatic drops in ridership and potential financial trouble ahead due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Most Metro routes across the county will see some type of reduction in service starting Monday, Metro said. Nineteen routes will be cut completely; the South Lake Union streetcar and Via to Transit shuttle will not run, Metro said.
The Access paratransit program will continue normal operations.
Just five Metro routes will remain unchanged: 22, 105, 118, 119 and 154. Riders of other routes should prepare for possible disruptions and check Metro’s website, where more details should be available Saturday.
It’s not clear how long the changes will be in effect.
Sound Transit, too, plans to reduce service.
Light-rail trains will run every 14 minutes, instead of returning to running every six to 10 minutes after construction work, as previously planned. Sounder commuter rail will offer fewer trips each day and ST Express bus service will be cut by 15%.
Ridership on both systems is down significantly. Bus ridership was down 60% Wednesday compared to last year, Metro said. Sound Transit reported a 69% decrease in ridership.
Sound Transit also cited “the fact that the outbreak has led to operations and maintenance staff staying home in higher numbers, making it difficult to maintain existing service.”
As part of separate, already underway construction work, light-rail trains have been running less frequently and riders have had to transfer at Pioneer Square Station. That work is expected to be wrapped up this weekend and riders will no longer have to transfer. But the less frequent trains will remain, continuing to run every 14 minutes due to the outbreak.
Starting Monday afternoon, Sounder South and Sounder North commuter trains will run fewer trips per weekday. Sounder South will be reduced from 13 round trips to eight; Sounder North will be reduced from four round trips to two. Service will be reduced on ST Express buses by 15% overall.
Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff said Thursday the agency designed the cuts to protect trips at the earliest and latest hours of the day. “We do know that transit is an essential public service,” Rogoff said.
The scaled back Metro routes include the usually busy 7 to Rainier Beach; the 8, often crammed with tech workers commuting to and from South Lake Union; and Metro’s signature RapidRide lines.
The routes to be fully cut are: 9, 29, 47, 78, 125, 200, 208, 237, 308, 309, 330, 541, Black Diamond/Enumclaw Community Ride, Shoreline/Lake Forest Park Community Ride, Normandy Park Community Ride, Sammamish Community Ride, Juanita Community Ride, Bothell/Woodinville Community Ride, Mercer Island Community Shuttle (630).
The First Hill Streetcar will run reduced hours from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The South Lake Union streetcar will not operate starting Monday “until further notice.”
Saturday was set to bring already planned schedule changes, including more trips on some routes.
Maintaining distance from others could be a concern with fewer buses and trains. Because of low ridership, Sound Transit expects that less frequent service will still provide enough space for social distancing, the agency said.
Riders can find information about specific canceled Sound Transit trips on Sound Transit’s website and via Sound Transit rider alerts. Starting Saturday, a Reduced Schedule page on Metro’s website will allow riders to see further details. Passengers will also be able to check whether a bus is coming by texting their stop ID to 62550.
Riders should be careful about using planning apps like One Bus Away and Google maps, which may not have up-to-date information about the reductions, the agencies warned.