On Tuesday, Sound Transit announced it would increase light rail frequency as part of the upcoming September service change, which will affect several categories of service lines. This fall service change, however, is unusual because it is largely resetting service levels closer to their pre-pandemic levels.
Restoration of light rail service is biggest banner change planned, followed by some restoration of Sounder South and ST Express bus service. In March, service across the transit network was heavily curtailed after the Covid pandemic hit Puget Sound.
Riders on Central Link should notice a vast improvement in service with much higher frequencies. On weekdays, there will be eight-minute frequencies during peak hours (6am to 8:30am and 3pm to 6:20pm) on the line. Then on weekday middays and weekends, there will be 15-minute frequencies, except for evenings when service will fall to 30-minute frequencies. Right now, weekday service consists of 20-minute frequencies during the daytime while weekend service consists of 30-minute frequencies during the daytime and evening service is reduced to 30-minute frequencies for both weekdays and weekends. This has led to very long waits for riders.
Sounder South will also see frequencies boosted as nine daily roundtrips will operate on weekdays. Current service levels provide seven scheduled daily roundtrips on weekdays. Sound Transit plans to maintain service suspensions of Trains 1514, 1518, 1520, and 1522 (from Tacoma) and Trains 1501, 1505, 1507, and 1509 (from Seattle). No change in service is planned on Sounder North, meaning that suspensions will continue for Trains 1701 and 1705 (from Everett) and 1700 and 1704 (from Seattle).
The only ST Express bus route that will see full service restoration is Route 512 between Everett and Seattle, which will have 15-minute frequencies during weekday peak and midday hours, before falling to 20- to 30-minute frequencies in the evening. Twenty other bus routes (Routes 510, 511, 513, 522, 532, 535, 535, 542, 545, 550, 566, 577, 578, 580, 586, 590, 592, 594, 595, 596) will see some adjustments to service, which may include additional frequencies and span of service. However, due to low ridership demand, Sound Transit plans to maintain suspension of several routes in King County, which include Routes 541, 544, 555, 556, and 567.
Finally, Tacoma Link will see no change in service frequency, meaning that daytime frequencies will remain at every 12 minutes and evenings at every 24 minutes.
The full suite of service changes will be phased in over a few days beginning on September 19th. Central Link and King County Metro-operated ST Express bus routes will see service adjusted on Saturday, September 19th. Community Transit and Pierce Transit-operated ST Express bus routes will then see service adjusted on Sunday, September 20th. And, the Sounder and Tacoma Link lines will see service adjusted on Monday, September 21st.
In the next few weeks, Sound Transit will be seeking feedback on the 2021 service plan. Early indications are that service levels will probably be close to the fall’s, but if demand rises, further restorations of service may become necessary.
Stephen is a professional urban planner in Puget Sound with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. With stints in great cities like Bellingham and Cork, Stephen currently lives in Seattle. He primarily covers land use and transportation issues and has been with The Urbanist since 2014.