Bus/Shuttle Service, Seattle
Free Service Please note that anything mentioning free transit service downtown is out of date. As of September 2013 almost all bus routes are pay as you enter, with some high capacity routes being pay before boarding. See the Fares section.
Several transit agencies operate in the Seattle area. For an introduction to these other services, please see my Public Transit Service in Seattle 101 tip. The tip you are reading only discusses King County Metro, but this is the most important service to know about as you will use it for most trips within Seattle and many nearby locations.
LINK trains between Seattle and SeaTac airport are operated by SoundTransit, not King County Metro. Tickets for one may not be used on the other and are different operations.
King County Metro operates buses and trolley buses on a large number of routes centered around Seattle, but services also reach more rural areas, such as Snoqualmie Falls (a significant tourist attraction far to the east). South Lake Union Streetcar interchanges fares with King County Metro. This is also true of the King County Water Taxi but the fares are higher on the water taxi - you have to pay extra to use the water taxi, but the Water Taxi issues a bus transfer that covers the buses.
Please search in the maps section of King County Metro's web site for a 11 x 17 inch map of downtown Seattle. This is extremely helpful for getting around downtown Seattle as well as transferring between services there. Go to the maps section of the menu system on the left side of the web page, then select map regions from there until you get the downtown map.
Most lines go through downtown Seattle on 2nd, 3rd and 4th Streets. A few long distance routes to the suburbs also use the transit tunnel under downtown, which is shared with SoundTransit trains.
As a general rule, through downtown most routes intersect in some way, particularly near Westlake Center, Seattle Center, or near Jackson & 3rd. This means usually only one transfer is required if going anywhere near places around Seattle.
Bus route 99 used to run along the waterfront and connect that to King Street Station, but today runs along 1st, two blocks up the hill from the waterfront.
North and south of downtown, a number of routes serve as east-west connectors that do not go downtown at all. For example, bus route 31 goes between the Magnolia area and the University of Washington. Other routes go only as close as the Seattle Center, where it is possible to take any of a number of other routes into downtown.
The prices listed are May of 2013 fares, and subject to change. See the King County Metro web site for current prices.
Today, all but a few bus services are pay when boarding or show a transfer when boarding. In the past, this was a more complicated, but that ceased to exist in September of 2012. Rapid Ride buses require payment before entry by using a fare machine.
A single fare is $2.25 as of this writing, and covers any trip anywhere within the Seattle city limits, except during peak periods. During peak travel times, this increases to $2.50 (fares as of June 2013) inside or outside the city of Seattle. If you cross the city of Seattle city limits during a peak period trip, this increases to $3.00.
This price includes a transfer, which the driver hands you after you pay, and covers additional trips should you need to transfer to another bus route, until the time shown on the transfer. The transfer is torn off at the expiration time. This is supposed to give you two hours of time, but sometimes it will be torn off at a time that gives you a little additional time to get where you need to go.
If there is any confusion over what to do, check the card on the farebox at the front of the bus (see photo 5). This tells you what fare you need to pay (peak period or off-peak or free service).
King County Water Taxi fares are somewhat more expensive than the bus of an equivalent distance. For example, for the 2009 season it costs $3 to use the water taxi between the Alki Peninsula and downtown Seattle, while the bus was only $2 in peak periods.
Full-day tickets for King County Metro are only available on Saturday and Sunday and on holidays when the system is operating on Sunday schedule, unless you purchase a regional pass card ($5) and a regional day ticket for the card ($9 for each day). This day ticket covers any single trip under $4 on any of six different transit services. The day pass is activated the first time you tap the card after the pass is purchased, so you want to be careful when you load the day pass onto the card.
King County Metro transfers are only good on King County Metro buses and the South Lake Union streetcar, except that the King County Water Taxi issues transfers that are good for the buses (vice versa is not the case: the water taxi charges more than the buses do, and therefore the bus transfers aren't good for the water taxi). You can not use this transfer on any other public transit system in the region.
Unfortunately, that means if you are visiting Seattle for a short period, your best solution is to bring a lot of $1 bills and quarters. It is also possible to purchase multi-ride ticket books, but each ticket is the same as buying the cash fare. Furthermore, you can not use a $2.25 ticket to pay a $2.50 peak period fare. So, you can either buy a book of tickets full of $2.50 fares and waste $0.25 you use them for a non-peak trip, or carry a bunch of quarters to upgrade the $2.25 tickets. The tickets are available at a number of stores, as well as the King County office near the King Street Station (Amtrak station).
Today, most frequent riders pay using a regional fare card. However, these cost $5 without any transit fares added to them, so they are not recommended for the occasional tourist.
Generally diesel buses, with fairly comfortable padded seats, rather than the plastic shell seats used by many transit agencies. There are a mixture of low floor easy-to-board equipment and older buses with stairs at each door. Many of the most frequent routes are operated with electric buses (see photo 3), so most routes with overhead wires are a good bet for frequent service. Heavily used but less frequent routes have articulated buses.
King County Water Taxi uses boats that are suited for the distance traveled.
The South Lake Union Streetcar uses a fairly modern design from eastern Europe. Currently, the "Waterfront" route 99 bus uses specially painted buses.
Frequency and Timetables:
Most routes in downtown operate at least once every half hour for most of the day. Many of the buses operate more frequently than that, and there are exceptions that operate much less frequently and rush-hour only routes. Printed timetables, which are found on the buses directly behind the driver on a rack, may feature a number of different routes. For example, a number of different routes operate from downtown Seattle to University of Washington. They are all basically the same, but some operate as expresses while others operate slight variations of the basic route. All 8 or so routes are featured on the same timetable.
The basic bus stop features a sign indicating what routes top there. Under the route number, there may be a small indicator saying "Express" if an express version of that route stops there. See photo 1: note bus schecule on pole near bottom of photo, and photo 2, which shows the same pole with an upclose look at the schedule attached to the pole. Trips on these schedules are broken down into morning and evening trips, with a $ mark by the time if you will need to pay an additional $0.25 for the peak period fare.
Almost all of the bus stops also feature a basic timetable, which tells the rider which direction the bus is going, what times it leaves the nearest major stop or transfer point, and what trips are considered peak period.
Significant stops feature bus shelters. Many of those have murals or other works of art unique to that specific shelter.
Stops of even more significance feature complete system maps of the bus routes and timetables. These are normally on rectangular or triangular posts near the stop, and usually in the downtown area or University of Washington area, or other extremely busy areas. See photo 4 for a look at what one of these triangular signs look like. You may need to walk around the entire sign to find the route you are looking for.
The web site includes a trip planner (enter time of day, date, starting point and ending point, and the system plots out the best way to get there) route maps, schedules, and a few area maps. The downtown area map is an extremely useful one, even if you don't plan to use public transit.
There are several King County Transit information offices located in downtown Seattle, and they are indicated on the downtown map.
Complete system maps are available on the web site, but not in a printable form from the web site, except the very good 11x17 inch color map of downtown Seattle that gives a lot of good local landmarks and information.
Just an update on the Ride Free Zone in downtown Seattle. The Ride Free service was discontinued a couple of months ago. The busses are all pay-as-you-enter now, and no more free bus. Sad to see it go!
There is a limited ride free area in downtown Seattle between the hours of 6am - 7pm. After these hours, the fare varies from US$2.25 to US$3.00 for adults between 19-64 depending on Peak Zones. Children, youths and seniors have reduced rates.
You can also purchase a metro ticketbook in various increments for various price ranges. I suppose that sounds confusing. Probably should look at the website.
I was told by the travel agency who made the bookings for us to take the Greyline Express Van from the airport for $7.00 to the hotel. The price has gone up since 1994
Gray Line - Limited downtown hotels only - $10.25 one way / $17 round trip 206-626-6088
I did not take this service because I wasn't going to a downtown hotel, but to the training headquarters. But this looks like a lower cost option than a cab and more convenient than a regular bus especially with baggage.
In 2011, we had a Town Car pick us up at the airport because the alternative was to get the Shuttle Express (Cross skybridge 3 or 4 to the airport parking garage, then go down to the 3rd floor. Shuttle Express curb check-in is located near the purple elevator banks) or else take the light rail (more walking with luggage and a wheelchair). This cost us $45 plus tip for us and all our luggage
I also had a shuttle from the hotel to the cruise ship docks.
Apparently Seattle Metro encourages bike riding. I would have thought the city to be too hilly for that, but I guess not.
This is what the metro site says about it:
"Every Metro bus has a bicycle rack that can accommodate two bikes, and many of our vanpools are also equipped for transporting bikes. No special permit or extra fare is required.
"Metro does not permit bicycles inside buses for safety reasons.
"Bicycles may be loaded or unload at any bus zone at any time except in the Ride Free Area between the hours of 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. During these hours, loading and unloading bikes is restricted to a route's first and last ride free stop and the tunnel stops at Convention Place and International District. This is a safety policy to reduce the potential of too many cyclists being between buses in heavy downtown traffic."
When we were in Seattle in 2011, Bob was looking at the street and he commented that there was some device on the front of the buses (it was a bike rack but Bob at first thought it was for skis and then said you'd need an engineering degree to work it) (photo 2)
The Metro Buses proved to be a convenient and effective method of transportation. The downtown and outlying areas appear to be well served by this system. An online trip planner is available. This will aid in determining the routes to take as well as proving a schedule.
Seattle's Public Bis System is under the supervision of King's County and is named metro transit, being such, it combines service patterns typical of city and suburban bus networks. The city network, descended in large part from the Seattle Transit system of converted streetcar routes, is arranged in a hub-and-spoke pattern centered on downtown Seattle, with lesser amounts of crosstown service. Routes in the city network are numbered from 1 to 79, with special late-night "Owl" routes in the 80s and the waterfront streetcar and its replacement coach numbered 99.
King County Metro Fare Type
Cash Fare Per Trip One-Month PugetPass Price
Metro Youth fare
Metro One- and Two-zone Off-peak
Metro One-zone Peak
Metro Two-zone Peak
It looks like they were building a subway and switched to a bus tunnel. This tunnel links downtown with 6-9 stops. It's free travel through the downtown area. It follows along below 3rd Ave and 4th Ave.
Northend is below the Westport Center - Pine St and 5th Ave.
The Southend is just east of the Smith Tower (historic white high rise, east of Pioneer square) - James Ave at 3rd Ave.
Sorry the pictures out of focus - The lights aren't enough for the camera and there is constant motion.
In between all the advertisements for Greyline Airporter & Shuttle Express, I'd like to tell you about public bus service to/from Seatac airport.
From downtown Seattle you can take the #194. This is an express bus that takes about 30 minutes and runs at least every half hour from 4:30a - 10p. At other times, you can take the #174. This is at least 15 minutes slower, but runs throughout the day. This service costs $2.00 during peak time (weekdays 6a - 9a & 3p - 6p) and $1.25 at all other times. From Downtown Seattle you can catch either bus south on 2nd Av, leaving from Pike, Seneca, Marion, James and Jackson. At the airport, catch either bus at bay # 2 at the main terminal to downtown Seattle.
King County Metro is an excellent transportation system and their web site is extremely helpful.
The trip planner tool allows you to enter your starting address and destination address and the time you either want to depart or arrive - and then gives you a few bus route options.
Rider information is also available by phone, if you don't have access to a computer during your trip. And bus schedules are available all over town.
Also, busses have bike racks on the front, so you can bike a while / bus a while : )
The bus system in central Seattle is extensive and regular. The best streets on which you can catch a bus are Fourth (northbound) Second (southbound) James or Pike (eastbound). The Transit Tunnel serves suburban buses but it's closed for renovation and installation of light rail. Suburban buses are temporarily on the surface of Third Ave. Also, the historic waterfront streetcar will close soon for construction of a sculpture park.
The monorail is great for trips between downtown and Seattle Center or the Uptown neighborhood.
Commuter rail is available during morning and evening rush. It ends at King Street Station on the south edge of downtown. Amtrak also stops there.
Otherwise, if you can afford to pay for parking - I would recommed renting a car. It's sad but true that Seattle has few transit options right now, but things will be improving when light rail opens in 2009 and the streetcar system expands to Lake Union.
I am not a big fan of using public busing but Seattle has a fairly good system. In the downtown core you can hope on and off the buses for free and outside of that specific zone it just jumps to $1.25 and then $2 something if you leave city limits. I thought it was very cheap.
I used it one morning and hoped on it at Second Avenue and Forth. This bus brings you to the airport and I can tell you it stops directly in front of the Museum of Flight; this was the reason for my journey.
My particular driver wasn't full of personality but I am sure most of them are. I can also tell you on the bus system you will experience some more interesting characters from all walks of life!
Here is the web site address so you can get more detail on the specific routes.
Seattle is not known for it's wonderful modes of transportation. We don't have a great train/subway system like San Francisco, New York or even Portland, OR. We do, however, have the bus! You can ride the bus throughout downtown for Free. Make sure to pay attention to the Free Zones. Or if you plane to travel outside of the downtown area you can buy a visitor pass for $5.00 which will allow you to ride all day for one day any place in the Seattle Metro area.
the Metro Bus system has a ride free zone in Downtown Seattle where anyone can get off and on any bus as often as they like (between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.) . Check with your hotel or the Metro website for exact parameters.
The zone covers all the major shopping areas, the Pike Place Market, the Convention Center, the Waterfront and historic Pioneer Square.
Downtown Seattle has a "Free Ride Area" where fare is waived. In theory, this makes going around Downtown Seattle easy. In practice, be prepared to wait for the bus you want.
All stations in the Metro Bus Tunnel are within the Free Ride Area. Since many bus routes use the tunnel, your waiting time there tends to be less. Note that while the Waterfront Streetcar operates within the Free Ride Area, it always requires a fare.