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.

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Stephen is an urban planner with a passion for promoting sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He advocates for smart policies, regulations, and implementation programs that enhance urban environments by committing to quality design, accommodating growth, providing a diversity of housing choices, and adequately providing public services. Stephen primarily writes about land use and transportation issues.


  1. Thanks for the update. We need to get people back on transit ASAP. Here’s something on point:

    “Even after its transit ridership bounced back to normal, Japan reported no [coronavirus] outbreaks on Tokyo’s famously crowded subways. The city’s trains are typically well ventilated, and Japanese people have had decades of practice wearing masks. But something else is at work here: Japanese commuters have an informal rule to avoid talking loudly on trains, if at all.”

    From https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/08/wear-your-mask-and-stop-talking/615796/

    I think The Urbanist is among a very small group of influencers who can bring this to ST and KC to see how it might be operationalized here.

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