Microsoft running larger employee shuttles more often through Capitol Hill amid increased demand

A Connector idles near a Metro bus stop on 19th Ave E (Image: CHS)

A Connector idles near a Metro bus stop on 19th Ave E (Image: CHS)

At least 31 passenger buses roll through three Capitol Hill stops every day, but they don’t belong to King County Metro or Sound Transit.

The Microsoft Connector, which shuttles full-time employees from Seattle to the company’s campus in Redmond and offices in Bellevue, has recently stepped up its central city service frequency and bus size across Capitol Hill due to increased demand, the company says.

Launched in 2007, Microsoft’s Capitol Hill shuttles were recently replaced with larger buses, but the company would not say how many employees on average use the service, only that its fleet of buses can carry more than 7,000 passengers. On some routes like the 12 on 19th Ave E, it appears the corporate perk far outperforms public transit in terms of ridership.

22 routes make up the large Connector network, including one route for the Microsoft-defined service area of “Capitol Hill” and another for “Leschi-Madrona-Madison Park.” Capitol Hill stops include, 19th and Harrison, 16th and Thomas, and E Pike and Summit. Morning rides from Capitol Hill to Redmond run about once every 15 minutes from 6:47 AM to 9:37 AM. Evening buses start arriving on Capitol Hill at 4:35 PM and end at 8 PM.

In addition to its regular stops, employees can also schedule pickups.

“It provides a convenient, productive and comfortable commute alternative for Microsoft employees at no cost to them,” said spokesperson Kathleen Nguyen. “The Connector also reduces the environmental footprint of Microsoft employees by reducing the number of cars on the road and eliminating thousands of tons of carbon emissions annually.”

screen-shot-2016-10-30-at-9-34-44-pmThe Connector and similar tech company shuttles have been criticized for taking away riders and potential advocates from public transportation and, in some ways, representing the elite status of many tech workers in the city. Nguyen said Microsoft “does not have anything to share on that matter.”

In 2014, the Connector was targeted by anti-gentrification protestors, who blocked buses during a Monday morning commute. Similar protests happened in San Francisco, although the primary complaint there was the Google’s corporate shuttles were using public bus stops.

It’s unclear if the increased demand for Connector service on Capitol Hill means more employees are calling Capitol Hill home. However, many young, educated workers have fled the suburbs as companies like Expedia, Google, and Amazon are making major investments close to downtown.

Public transportation options do exist for commuting between Redmond and Capitol Hill. Sound Transit’s 545 bus runs an express route from the western edge of Capitol Hill to the Microsoft campus. Construction of Eastlink light rail service to Bellevue and the Microsoft campus is now underway and voters will have the opportunity on November 8th to expand that service to downtown Redmond with the passage of Sound Transit 3. Microsoft has contributed to the initiative’s “yes” campaign.

Meanwhile, Amazon has launched its own employee shuttle service. Amazon Ride shuttles employees from several Eastside locations to the company’s offices in South Lake Union and the Denny Triangle.

Subscribe and support CHS Contributors -- $1/$5/$10 per month

42 thoughts on “Microsoft running larger employee shuttles more often through Capitol Hill amid increased demand

  1. “it appears the corporate perk far outperforms public transit in terms of ridership.”

    I’m not an employee, but I’ve ridden in corporate shuttles before so I’ll guess;

    A) It doesn’t have vagrants, vagabonds and hobos riding all day in circles, sleeping off booze, drugs or using it as a bathroom.

    B) No Orca card to screw around with or watch others screw around with.

    • I take it that you don’t ride the bus at all. There’s only a handful of “unpleasant” people on, and the ORCA card is way better than people fumbling cash or trying to obscure their (probably fake/expired) paper transfers.

    • You take it wrong, EPLWA. I do ride the bus and the light-rail.
      You must not have read the Seattle Times years ago when the homeless activist agencies around here stated they bought monthly tri-county bus passes specifically for homeless people to keep warm and dry. If I recall correctly they were looking for more money from the city.
      And that pass does nothing. I’ve been on busses in other cities (some even make change) and there is no difference in time people take when they aren’t ready with their card or cash.

  2. I work at Microsoft and regularly take the 545 to and from Redmond. I’ll be switching to the Connector soon after moving to 15th Ave.

    The Connector offers better service. The schedule is more reliable, you are guaranteed a forward-facing seat, and there are more pickup locations around the hill. I waited thirty minutes in heavy rain this morning for a 545, then stood for another thirty minutes on a packed bus full of drenched, sneezing riders. The Sound Transit drivers encourage people to pack as tight as possible to the point where it’s uncomfortable for everyone and takes a long time for people to get on and off the bus. This is also somewhat dangerous since most of the route is on 60 mph SR 520.

    Sound Transit could do a few things to increase ridership–which contrary to ERF’s comment, is almost entirely filled with commuters already:

    1. Add a 545 stop near the train station.

    2. Offer another tier of service. I think many people would pay a higher fare for a guaranteed seat and a more reliable schedule.

    3. Add more busses to the route.

    I’ll switch to the Capitol Hill Redmond train immediately if it’s built.

    • Whaaaaaaa! Somebody sneezed on my bus. Instead of Sound Transit catering to your specific needs have you thought about moving to the East Side? You chose to live on Capitol Hill, now deal with the commute.

    • Public buses shouldn’t offer “premium” seating. Those are the kinds of ideas that will get you 1% or 2%-er beaten up. Seriously, think about a bunch of empty “reserved” seats with a bunch of people standing in front of them who can’t afford them. The one area of the day where we’re all sorta equal in our shared misery is yet another reminder of the haves vs. the have-nots.

      There are two different buses going to Redmond from the train stop in the U-District, the 542 and 541, so they don’t need the 545 to cover this too. The 541 was added for this reason, to cover train overflow.

      They could add one more 545, though.

    • sasha, your jealously is showing. i’m quite certain if you had the opportunity to ride the connector, and it was convenient to your needs, you’d jump at the chance.

      i may just be making an assumption about you though. i mean, i assume you’re accepting your privilege by having a roof over your head? why not sleep outside with the homeless folks? are you better than them? how dare you take the better path in life!

    • @privilege – I appreciate the spirit, although in this case, it’s exactly that kind of thinking that’s the failure in this case. The service is deficient enough in terms of timeliness, convenience and comfort that the “haves” are creating their own parallel system of transportation, which segregate things even further.

      It seems like this should be in the sweet spot of the public transit system: a high-volume, predictable set of commuters.

      I can’t blame Microsoft for creating the connector; if I were a microsoft leader or employee, I’d likely want to do the same.

    • Please explain how people riding the Connector have the magic ability to avoid sneezing and get to a bus stop without getting drenched. If it’s some new Microsoft magic, I want in!

      In all seriousness, no, we should not have tiered service. Although it may come as a surprise to you, a lot of people rely on the public bus as their only means of transportation. Can you imagine waking up super early and walking in the rain to get on the 545 to go to the Redmond campus to prepare breakfast for people making up to 100 times more money than you? (Top CEOs make more than 300 times the amount of the average worker.) So, you walk for several minutes in the rain without a fancy raincoat (because you can’t afford one), only to find that the only empty seats are for people who have paid extra to reserve them. Must be nice for those people, but you have to stand because you don’t have money to throw at the problem of not having a seat or a reliable bus schedule.

      Open your eyes, Ben, 99% of the world leads a very different life from the one that you live.

      • Bad writing on my part. I was complaining about being packed in to the point of having less than six inches of space between each person standing. Trying to hold onto the railing meant I was dripping water on people sitting down. I barely had time (or room) to cover my mouth when coughing.

        I don’t think having multiple transit options is regressive. We already have planes vs. trains, expensive airlines vs. reasonable airlines, Europe has fast, reservation-required trains vs. slower, less expensive trains, etc.

        Having Sound Transit operate their own Connector-like, reservations required service for everyone would be a great option for people with long commutes.

    • Read as: Until the convenience outweighs the cons of having to ride with you ‘common folk,’ I am taking the Connector.

    • FYI: You can catch the train to Husky Stadium, then walk across the street and transfer to a 541. 542 and go straight to Redmond. Or catch the 540 and transfer to one of the Redmond bound buses on 520. I do this almost every day now, and it saves me on average about 20 minutes rather than taking the 545. I will occasionally still take the 545, like if there’s no traffic and I happen to be there right at the time it’s arriving, but almost always the train + bus transfer is faster.

  3. For anyone criticizing the Connector for taking riders away from Sound Transit, the 545 regularly leaves riders behind at Olive Way and Bellevue Ave. ST needs to up the morning and afternoon peak frequency.

    The Connector is a much better service, however reservations are still tough for the more normal commute times.

    Also this quote: “In addition to its regular stops, employees can also schedule pickups.” – not sure what this is referencing, but you can’t get the Connector anywhere other than a Connector stop. You may be referring to the campus shuttles that move people between campuses and buildings.

    • I don’t know why anyone endures getting left behind for an over-packed 545. Microsoft fully pays for Orca cards for everyone, including contractors who aren’t allowed on the Connector. From Capitol Hill, all you need is ~6 people to get a vanpool going, and the Orca card will cover it free.

    • Jim, it’s not practical to carpool, because traffic is so backed up during rush hour. Although the car pools get to use the HOV lane, that gets clogged up too while the bus flies by much faster westbound in its own lane.

    • Tiffany, I didn’t say carpool, I said Vanpool. And yes, it definitely IS practical to vanpool. I should know, I was a vanpool driver to MS for years. It beats the crap out of carpools and busses, both. Without a single cent of out-of-pocket, at least at Microsoft. It’s fully paid and you never get stuck standing like on the bus.

    • It still puzzles me that a “Express” bus takes 3 left turns every morning to pick the privileged people of Capitol Hill. They don’t do in any other route, for any other neighborhood.

  4. I’m always amazed when I see people criticize this service. Sorry but you don’t have the right to dictate how people choose to commute or where they choose to live.

    This shuttle obviously fills a void and is needed. Its also better than having individual cars on the roads.

    • I don’t work for Microsoft but not sure how someone could criticize this perk in any way shape or form. #firstworldproblems

    • As long as it doesn’t interfere with public transportation operations, the Microsoftlings can have their cushy shuttle. But they should appreciate it while they can, they’ll be back on public transportation once their H-1B replacements are fully trained.

  5. Yes, it appears there is demand for this type of commute, and yes, it does reduce cars on the road. But what if companies like Microsoft invested the money they’re spending on their private fleet into the public transit system that is already in place? You know, to show they’re integrated into the community and to minimize the perception that tech workers and their employers believe they’re too good for public transit (see ERF’s comment above). Just a thought.

    • I don’t work for Microsoft, but I know a few people who do. My understanding is that they’ve already made considerable investments in public transit in King County, including:

      1) Donating the land for Overlake Transit Center to Sound Transit and paying the rent for the Connector-related facilities they operate there

      2) Purchasing ORCA passes for any full time or contract employee who wants one

      3) Paying Metro for the use of at least one bus stop by the Connector

      4) Subsidizing a few of the old 24x routes before Metro cut them

    • Why should they feel the need to invest in a public system in order to integrate their employees better? They’re doing everyone a service by running these buses all over the region. They run their private shuttle service more efficiently, more cleanly and better than the public transport can possibly ever hope to do. Just a thought.

  6. I ride the connector and it’s a great service. But, I’d happily take public transportation if it didn’t add 30 minutes to my commute. Since I live near 15th, I either have to wait for the 43 or walk down to 24th. Then, even if I get lucky there, the 545 is normally delayed at the 520 pickup.

    • There are vanpools to MS all around you. You should check them out. You don’t have to ride every day, you don’t have to ride both ways, and you can still use the bus when you want to. Beats driving and it sure beats the 545.

  7. Sure wish they’d done some re-routing when they went for the bigger buses. I can’t tell you how many close calls I’ve had as a cyclist trying not to get flattened around 16th and Thomas. Maybe it’s just the drivers needing more training, but those big buses don’t make the corners without swinging wide, nor do they stay on their side of the road on 16th. It’s not pleasant to be forced into the opening door of a parked car.

  8. Corporate shuttles aren’t a problem, but I am concerned about them suddenly switching from shuttle bus sized vehicles to tour bus sized. I have seen some ridiculous situations on 15th already. Just a few days ago I saw 3 buses idling in front of Swedish, one blocking the ambulance roundabout. Sometimes they get completely stuck near Thomas and end up blocking the road for way too long.

    The 43 having it’s service gutted doesn’t help matters, but that’s Seattle Metro Transit planning for you.

    • My personal favorite is when the traffic is bad and they have to get that big bus out in the intersection, and then no one can go anywhere, but sure good thing they got the entitleds 10′ closer to work! Sorry you can’t cross the street or even see the crosswalk sign…

  9. While I agree with the idea of the Connector, I have a couple of grouses about it. There’s a Connector stop right behind where I work at Group Health on Cap Hill on 16th & Thomas. The strip where it stops used to be free 1-hour parking for anyone between 7am – 4pm. About a year ago, it was suddenly changed to “Shuttle Parking Only, 7 – 10am” and then another chunk of time in the afternoon. It took away spaces for four cars for people who may be there to run into Group Health to get something taken care of in less than an hour, or conduct quick business on 15th. The problem is, for almost a *year*, I never saw any shuttle buses at all stop there. I didn’t understand what it was for, there was no explanation. Only in the past couple of months did I finally witness groups of Microsoft employees standing outside my building doors in the morning to catch a Connector. Why did they block off that space for a year before using it? That’s irritating and unnecessary. (The second grouse is those folks who are smoking out there and leaving their cigarette butts on the sidewalk when their shuttle arrives. Please stop that.)

    • As long as they aren’t using the Metro stops….you know, so they don’t have to commune with us common folk riding those other busses.

    • Wasn’t the spot behind GH a #8 bus stop for the longest time, until the 8 was rerouted a bit? (and therefore wouldn’t have had parking allowed in it at any time)

    • No, that’s not the spot I’m referring to. That’s still a bus stop. It’s the parking that is literally right behind that little blob of building that sticks out of the main GH hospital building on the southwest corner of 16th & Thomas.

  10. So Seattle ripped out rail transit, voted down putting in rail 3 times if I’m counting correctly and scrapped a monrail project. Then when companies have to supplement the basic infrastructure of a city to reduce congestion that’s a problem? I don’t work for Microsoft, but maybe it would be better to stop voting down and scrapping mass transit?

  11. Ben, you can take the 542x or 541x from the stop near OTC, it drops off across the street from the rail at UW. Or, you can take 5455 and walk to the rail. Takes 10mins, and has some nice views.

    I have ridden the connector, but find the 545 at really early times gets me there in under 20 mins from the last stop on olive.

  12. Should we complain about companies that provide better health and retirement benefits than the gov’t provides its citizens? Should the company not give their employees the benefits and instead just give the money to the gov’t so they can use it for all?

    Should we complain if a company has generous vacation, sick time, and maturity/paternity benefits that others do not?

    msft is trying to attract and retain talent and apparently they think this works to that end… or they are trying to do a greater good and get people on buses who otherwise wouldn’t.

    Oh, here’s an idea, how about they didn’t spend a penny on the connector bus system and just paid their employees that money instead… and they all hopped back in their cars or onto a metro bus.

    • “Should we complain if a company has generous vacation, sick time, and maturity/paternity benefits that others do not?”

      Yes. As a first world country, these should be all be universal rights. Not really Microsoft’s fault, it’s more that our country has leaned so anti-worker rights since the early 80s. But still, we should definitely be complaining.

  13. I have no issue with companies providing shuttle service to employees. Affordability of housing is a far more critical topic in this region right now.