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.”
The 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.