A Route 512 bus dwells at a bus stop at Northgate station before departing for Everett. The route would be shortened under proposed service changes. (Stephen Fesler)

Sound Transit has released its draft Snohomish County ST Express bus service plan for this year, set to coincide with the launch of light rail service to Lynnwood this fall. Light on specifics, the draft plan leaves out many details, including span of service and frequency by time of day. Instead, the agency has shared proposed routing alignment changes, retirement and commissioning of two routes, and high-level frequency objectives. Sound Transit has set a short timeframe for public feedback on the details that have been released with comments due by January 30.

Because of Sound Transit’s inability to deliver planned frequencies on the Link 1 Line once the Lynnwood Link Extension opens, the lack of system capacity has raised the specter of overcrowding on trains. Such a scenario could mean routinely leaving riders, particularly in Seattle, stuck on platforms waiting for the next train. In response to that concern, suburban boardmembers from Snohomish County pushed the agency last fall to plan and implement an alternative ST Express bus restructure to augment Link service, postponing a larger ST Express bus restructure for Snohomish County.

“I want to ensure that the bus is from Everett to and through Seattle,” Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin, also a member of the Sound Transit board, said in October. “My riders are using [ST Express] and will be using it for another decade plus, and so that’s very necessary. And so, if we’re augmenting [Link with ST Express], it needs to be augmented all the way through Everett.”

The suburban push forced Sound Transit to bifurcate its annual service plan process into a rail plan (approved in the fall) and a bus plan (yet to be finalized). The agency is now sharing its proposed strategy for Snohomish County.

In short, the draft plan maintains Route 510’s peak service between Everett and Downtown Seattle, trims Routes 512 and 513 to terminate at Lynnwood City Center station on their south ends, and temporarily commissions a new peak-only Route 515 between Lynnwood City Center station and Downtown Seattle. Route 511 between Ash Way Park and Ride and Northgate Station, which is currently suspended, would be permanently retired.

While it’s not yet possible to know what the exact service patterns will be, Sound Transit has shared some details on the proposed new Route 515 and other routes with The Urbanist. Piecing together the existing service patterns and known alignment changes for the other three routes paints somewhat of a picture of potential service, if not better:

RouteService Details
510The route will operate during weekday peak hours in the peak travel direction. It current operates every 15 to 20 minutes between Downtown Everett and Downtown Seattle, and planned service is expected to maintain that.
512The route currently operates every 15 to 20 minutes during weekday midday, every 15 to 30 minutes during weekday peak periods and evenings, about every 10 to 15 minutes on Saturdays, and about every 20 minutes on Sundays between Downtown Everett and Lynnwood City Center station. Sound Transit is promising to run the service as frequently as every 15 minutes on weekdays and weekends.
513The route currently operates during weekday peak hours in the peak travel direction about every 25 to 30 minutes between Seaway Transit Center and Lynnwood City Center station, and planned service is expected to maintain that. Sound Transit is no longer proposing to operate the route in both direction, and instead plans to maintain the peak direction of travel paradigm.
515The new route would operated during weekday peak hours in the peak travel direction every 10 minutes between Lynnwood City Center station and Downtown Seattle.
Proposed alignment of new Route 515. (Sound Transit)

Route 515 would directly compete with the Link 1 Line between Lynnwood and Downtown Seattle with only one stop in between at the Mountlake Terrace freeway station. The idea behind the route is to take pressure off likely packed 1 Line trains where riders in the system core might be left at platforms during peak hours.

Whether or not riders will opt for the new Route 515 is an open question. During peak hours in the peak direction, the route will have access to the I-5 express lanes, offering faster service than in the I-5 mainline lanes. But congestion on I-5 can still be quite serious during peak hours, slowing buses significantly. Based upon scheduled service for Route 510 and comparable service, the trip time will be around 30 to 40 minutes, depending time of day and direction.

Link trains are scheduled to take 28 minutes between Westlake and Lynnwood City Center stations once the extension opens.

Proposed alignment of Route 510. (Sound Transit)

Route 510 is also another route that would continue to compete with the 1 Line, but this route travels all the way to Everett. Unlike Route 515, riders wouldn’t necessarily need to switch to another bus to continue their journey deep into Snohomish County, eliminating a potentially significant time penalty. This is especially useful for riders who live near South Everett and Downtown Everett, or points north (the Sounder S Line is another option for some of these riders). Riders near Ash Way, Eastmont, and other areas of Everett have alternative choices to reach their destinations with Routes 512 and 513, though both routes would terminate on the south end at Lynnwood City Center station.

Recent ridership data shows that demand for Route 510 has been increasing as a return-to-office culture has expanded, growing from 588 daily riders in January 2022 to 1,119 daily riders by August 2023.

By cutting back the length of Routes 512 and 513 about nine miles, there will be a lot of saved service hours. But how much of that will go back into Routes 510 and 515 is not known at this time. Last summer, when Route 510 was proposed for retirement along with Route 511 (still proposed for retirement), Sound Transit had proposed boosting Route 512 service by 50% during middays and about double for peak-hour service. If there are frequency improvements to Route 512, they would likely be less substantial since Sound Transit will have to work with about the same pool of service hours across more routes.

For the 1 Line itself, Sound Transit expects to run trains as frequently as every eight to ten minutes during peak hours. Trains will generally be shorter, however, with more three-car consists instead of the normal four-car consists to attain a higher target frequency than otherwise would be possible. Things are expected improve somewhat when 2 Line service can cross Lake Washington and is activated through Lynnwood. But that won’t happen until sometime in 2025. Once the 2 Line is fully in service, Sound Transit could make further changes to the ST Express bus network in Snohomish County with retirements or cutbacks on Routes 510 and 515.

Changes to Sound Transit services aren’t the only things that will affect transit service for Snohomish County riders. Community Transit, which is the county’s main local transit provider, is still moving ahead with plans to end all Snohomish County-Seattle commuter bus service this year. That means that the 400 and 800 series routes will be fully retired, no longer serving Downtown Seattle and Northgate. Service hours saved from this will be redeployed in Snohomish County to help the agency realize its local service growth plans, though some commuter routes will be converted in the new 900 series with most of those routes running to and from Lynnwood City Center during weekday peak-hours — those could be potential alternatives to Routes 510, 512, and 513.

Additionally, Sound Transit recently shared proposed service changes for ST Express routes operated by Pierce Transit. The agency is planning service reductions of up to 10% on several routes operating to, from, and within Pierce County and South King County. Those changes would go into effect in March whereas the Snohomish County-oriented ST Express changes would happen this fall when the Lynnwood Link Extension opens. For now, Sound Transit is seeking feedback on its draft Snohomish County ST Express bus service change concepts through January 30.

Article Author

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.