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All-door boarding on Third Avenue—and other major downtown transit changes—coming in March

Buses are coming out of the tunnel and stops are shuffling

Courtesy of SDOT

Starting in about a month, a suite of major transportation changes will take effect, area transit leaders announced Wednesday—and it’ll affect where and how transit riders catch their buses and trains in downtown Seattle.

It’s all part of mitigating what’s already an arduous 2019 for Seattle navigation, between a post-Alaskan Way Viaduct State Route 99, plus an overhaul of the waterfront (including continued work on the ferry terminal), and the Washington State Convention Center expansion megaproject.

March 23, many of the anticipated changes to downtown Seattle transit will kick into gear, including additional trips on overcrowded routes like the 120. But the biggest headlines are the changes in navigation and boarding.

The buses that remain in the downtown transit tunnels will emerge to the surface to make room for (eventually) more light rail capacity, sending 15 routes onto city streets. Those buses—King County Metro routes 41, 74, 101, 102, 150, and 255, plus Sound Transit 550—will join all the other routes that currently run along downtown transit corridors.

To counteract that all these changes, and to help manage increasing ridership, riders will be able to board from all doors on Third Avenue, paying in advance at an ORCA kiosk—just like a Rapidride bus—or with a nearby King County Metro staffer on-hand during peak hours for the transition.

Meanwhile, some buses will move off Second and Third altogether and onto a brand-new transit corridor on Fifth and Sixth Avenue between Cherry and Olive (connecting to the I-5 express lanes), where some changes are already in place, like bus lanes and signal improvements, although the streets will be re-striped by early March. Those who ride the 74, 76, 77, 252, 255, 257, 301, 308, 311, and 316 will use the new bus stops on Fifth and Marion, Sixth and Union, and Seventh and Pike.

The move to a proof-of-payment system—the kind used on Link Light Rail—comes amid some concerns about how fare enforcement works on area transit agencies. Last year, the King County Auditor found Metro’s fare enforcement to be rife with inequity, compounding problems of housing insecurity by disproportionately distributing citations to (and recommending misdemeanor charges against) low-income and housing-unstable riders who don’t have a means to pay bus fare, much less a growing collection of fines.

While fare enforcement will be out there checking to see if people paid, said King County Metro’s Bill Bryant (not to be confused with the former gubernatorial candidate) at a press conference Wednesday, “there will not be strict fare enforcement for the next couple of months” as people adjust to the new system.

“Even after that period,” Bryant continued, “Metro has moved to a system focused on maintaining compliance via civil measures.”

Back in April, a Metro spokesperson told us that the agency encouraged auditors to look at the model knowing the program would be growing: “This is a very opportune time to improve our system and make changes that will result in more equitable outcomes for all of our riders.”

A blog post written by Metro Transit General Manager Rob Gannon around that time noted that some changes had already been made to fare enforcement policy: misdemeanor cases are no longer referred to Metro Transit Police while alternatives are considered, and juveniles are currently being given an extra warning before a citation.

The change to Third Avenue boarding, along with the other transit, road, and signal improvements, are part of a $30 million package by King County, the City of Seattle, and Sound Transit.