Plan for more late night Seattle bus service, call for free rides on New Year’s move forward

King County Metro with funding boosted by the Seattle Department of Transportation announced Tuesday an updated plan to expand “Night Owl” bus service across Seattle including routes 11, 44, and 48. But there is another plan moving forward that could bring free transit service to the area for the big late-night holidays of July 4th and New Year’s.

King County Council’s Dave Upthegrove has introduced legislation asking Metro to put together a report “on options for free late-night public transportation service on the Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.”

“We want to make it easy for people to make the right decision and leave their car at home as they ring in the New Year or celebrate the Fourth of July,” Upthegrove said in an announcement of the legislation. “Ensuring that buses and trains run late into the evening on these holidays makes everyone safer.”

In 2016, the Washington State Patrol made 24 arrests for driving under the influence on New Year’s Eve and 223 arrests over a five-day period around the Fourth of July, the county council member says.

Upthegrove’s plan would also put pressure on Sound Transit to follow the county’s lead.

“King County Metro should explore partnerships to fund, promote and sustain the free late-night service,” the legislation reads. “King County Metro should also encourage other transit agencies in the central Puget Sound region to provide free late-night service on those holidays.”

Sound Transit operates the light rail system with a four-hour downtime overnight. Capitol Hill Station and the rest of the line operates 5 AM to 1 AM on weekdays and Saturdays. Currently, the last southbound Link train leaves Capitol Hill Station at 12:38 AM. The last northbound train leaves Capitol Hill at 12:46 AM. A petition last year called on Sound Transit to increase service by nine hours a week to 2:30 AM on Fridays and Saturdays and to 1:30 AM on other days. A Sound Transit spokesperson said at the time the agency needed the downtime for maintenance and would assess late-night proposals at a later date.

According to council staff, Upgthegrove is hoping the Metro report could be prepared in time for free service to be in place by this 4th of July.

King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, meanwhile, are touting the plans for expanded bus service to begin in September. Last fall, we reported on the late night expansion and Metro’s call for feedback. Details of the changes made to the plans for expanded service were released Tuesday:

Metro currently has about 40 routes with some level of late-night service, including three Night Owl routes that loop through some Seattle neighborhoods between 2:15 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. and operate only during those hours. The City of Seattle fully funds the Night Owl routes.

The proposal invests about 11,000 annual service hours, 8,800 of which are funded by the City of Seattle, and replaces current Night Owl routes 82, 83, and 84 by adding late-night trips to existing all-day routes.

The City’s investment includes:

  • Two additional late-night round trips on the following routes: 3, 5, 11, 70, serving neighborhoods such as Capitol Hill, Central Area, Eastlake, Fremont, Green Lake, Phinney Ridge, Queen Anne, and University District. Other routes already provide late-night service to areas such as South Seattle and West Seattle.
  • Additional late-night service on routes 65 and 67 serving Northeast Seattle areas such as Lake City, Seattle Children’s Hospital, and Northgate for the first time.
  • Cross-town (non-downtown) connections through added service on routes 44 and 48, creating a grid pattern that expands late-night bus travel options without having to go through downtown and diversifying travel options to, from, and through the University District.

Metro will add 2,000 service hours, which include:

  • Additional late-night service at about 2 a.m. on Route 120 serving Delridge, White Center and Burien.

  • Hourly all-night service on the RapidRide C, D, and E Lines, which currently operate all night but with less than hourly frequencies.

  • Extend Route 124 from Tukwila to Sea-Tac Airport after 1 a.m., increasing transit options for travelers and workers.

  • Added time to allow bus drivers adequate restroom breaks.

According to the county, Metro spends about $7.7 million for all bus routes between midnight and 5 AM. The new proposal increases that total by $730,000, with $500,000 from City of Seattle funding.

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