King County Metro Transit is looking toward changes to the hard-to-service fringe suburban and rural network in the southeast portion the county. A number of options are on the table, including revising portions of Route 907 and Route 915, implementing new alternative transportation services, and focusing on rider outreach and education. The proposals are still tentative though, pending review and approval by the King County Council this fall.

At the center of the plan are changes to Route 907, which is a semi-flexible, semi-fixed dial-a-ride (DART) route operating between Renton and Enumclaw via Maple Valley and Black Diamond. The route runs on weekdays only with a modest span of service from 6am to 5pm, depending upon direction. A few trips in the peak direction, however, are operated by the shadow express, Route 143, between Renton and Black Diamond. Metro’s proposal is to delete the stretch of Route 907 between Black Diamond and Enumclaw, leaving them largely orphaned from each other–although Metro does have a plan to bridge the gap. On the other side of the route, the flexible dial-a-ride area south and west of the Renton Transit Center will also be deleted. In scaling back the length of Route 907, Metro will improve the general frequency to become a once-hourly service from 7.50am to 5.30pm on weekdays. The route and schedule revisions themselves are anticipated to go in effect during the March service change, but Metro hopes to roll out other improvements later in 2017.

Past and future changes to rural bus service in Southeast King County. (King County)
Past and future changes to rural bus service in Southeast King County. (King County)

To give you a sense of the frequency of the corridor on weekdays, here is the current service pattern on SR-169 between Black Diamond and Renton:

HourRoute 907 (Black Diamond to Renton)Route 143 (Black Diamond to Renton)Route 907 (Renton to Black Diamond)Route 143 (Renton to Black Diamond)
5am5.23am, 5.42am
6am6.02am, 6.20am, 6.37am, 6.56am6.26am
7am7.50am
8am8.20am
9am9.35am9.24am
10am10.54am
11am11.05am
12pm12.35pm12.24pm
1pm1.54pm
2pm2.05pm
3pm3.35pm3.24pm
4pm4.52pm4.40pm
5pm5.00pm, 5.20pm, 5.40pm
6pm6.31pm6.00pm, 6.20pm

Metro also plans to deploy what they’re calling a demand-responsive service to make up for the loss of all-day service to areas in between Black Diamond and Enumclaw. A new DART-like service will be provided by a contract transportation provider, which operate between 6.30am and 4.30pm–a similar timeframe to when the Route 907 operates the corridor today. As a general rule, customers will need to contact Metro for a reservation at least 24 hours before the desired trip, though it is possible that the service provider could accommodate reservation requests with less advanced notice. It’s not clear how many riders will actually avail of the service, but Metro has indicated that ridership between the cities is relatively sparse with only about one rider per trip. Metro expects to have the demand-responsive service put in place by February 20th of next year.

Similarly, Metro will add new DART service for Route 907 in Black Diamond and Route 915 in Enumclaw, the latter which is a once-hourly weekday route that operates between Auburn and Enumcalw. The DART service in Black Diamond won’t extend fixed-route service beyond the designated terminal on SR-169, but it will allow residents within the city (a triangular sevice area largely bounded by SR-169, Roberts Drive, and Morgan Street/Jones Lake Road) to request service. Meanwhile, Route 915 will assume the fixed-route and DART portions of Route 907 in Enumclaw; additional demand-responsive service will be extended to areas near the city center in Enumclaw.

A menu of other programs are also on the table to support the changes, including an emergency-ride-home program, alternative transportation options in select Southeast King cities, and promotion of existing programs. Each of these programs could launch after the aforementioned changes.

Metro plans to have an emergency-ride-home program in place for riders. The idea behind the scheme is to provide a last-ditch service to riders who commute between places like Enumclaw and Federal Way or Maple Valley and Tukwila, but miss their connecting fixed-route service or simply lack it. The lifeline service would be available to riders who can’t get home during weekday evenings or on weekends where there isn’t any fixed-route service to be had. Metro hasn’t selected any partners for the program, but local taxi companies and quasi-taxi companies (i.e., Uber and Lyft) could provide contract service. Riders will need to register ahead of time to use that program.

Metro is also looking toward a new approach for alternative transportation service in the Covington, Maple Valley, and Black Diamond areas. A pool of vehicles would be paired with the cities to operate using volunteer drivers. A Metro community transportation coordinator would be responsible for making the system work. In addition to this, Metro plans to put extra effort into marketing and educating riders about existing VanPool, VanShare, and TripPool resources. That could involve working with the local cities to create programs that focus in this areas of alternative transportation.

Metro recognizes the challenges of providing quality transportation service in a deeply challenging rural and surburban fringe environment. In an ideal world, fixed-route service would still reign king and queen on full corridors like this. But casting a wide net with innovative options and sensible service changes is a laudable goal. Hopefully Metro and riders will see success with this overall proposal.

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