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Trailhead Direct performance shows demand for transit to trails

The Seattle hiking shuttle’s ridership grew 75 percent in its second year—but its future is unclear

Trailhead Direct, a King County Metro bus that shuttles hikers to and from trails, just wrapped up its second year in service, and saw 75 percent growth from its inaugural season. The shuttle saw a ridership nearly 18,000 round trips from April 20 through the last weekend in October, up from 10,000 in 2018.

The vast majority of the trips—more than half—went to Mount Si, one of the region’s most popular hikes (nearly 100,000 hikers per year, according to the Washington Trails Association). It’s also one of the most crowded, making it notoriously hard to find parking. Nearly 20,000 one-way trips were logged on that route or 10,000 round-trip, or around the ridership of the entire shuttle network last year.

The next most popular was the route to various trailheads in the Issaquah Alps, including Poo Poo Point, with 7,921 one-way boardings. The returning route to Mailbox Peak and the new route to Cougar Mountain each had more than 4,000 one-way boardings.

The 2019 season was the second in a two-year pilot, a public-private partnership between King County Metro, using funds from Seattle’s Transportation Benefit District (STBD); King County Parks; REI; and Clif Bar. Metro is exploring its options for continuing the service, and says it will likely require a similar partnership.

STBD funding is up for renewal next year, and could be in jeopardy if an initiative barring local vehicle registration fees is approved in the November 5 general election. A Metro spokesperson couldn’t confirm what effect the initiative would have on Trailhead Direct.

The shuttle’s partner group will be launching a ridership survey soon, but last year, environmental stewardship, not owning a car, and not wanting to worry about parking were the most popular reasons for using the service.

Jill Simmons, CEO of Washington Trails Association, calls the program a “smashing success” in a provided statement. “Washington Trails Association believes Trailhead Direct is an essential part of ensuring King County’s trails are within easy reach of all residents, and we hope to see transit-to-trailheads continue and expand in the future.”

William Chen of the Environmental Coalition of South Seattle praised the new 2019 route departing from Tukwila and Renton.

“This new route was the season’s most popular for the immigrants, refugees and other communities of color we serve, and especially for families and seniors,” says Chen in a statement. “Trailhead Direct and its partnership with community-based organizations shows the power of meeting communities where they are, to implement solutions that advance the equity of outdoors access.”

Poo Poo Point

, , WA 98027

Mount Si

, , WA 98045