King County Metro is launching a responsive shuttle to connect Southeast Seattle and Tukwila residents—including areas that can be serious transit deserts—to Link Light Rail.
It’s the third ride-hailing service Metro has launched in the past several months. In October, King County Metro started experimenting with a ride-hailing app to connect Eastside residents to a transit center. In December, in advance of the viaduct decommissioning, Metro launched one in West Seattle, too.
This new one uses a different app than the previous two, though. Via to Transit (available on iOS and Google Play) is part of a pilot program by Metro in partnership with Sound Transit and the City of Seattle. Riders can hail the shuttle either on the app or by calling (206) 258-7739 and expect a ride within 10 to 15 minutes, although the stop may be a short walk away.
Riders can be dropped off one of five transit hubs closest to them: Mount Baker, Columbia City, Othello, Rainier Beach, and Tukwila International Boulevard. Fare is the same as riding Metro, and using an ORCA card allows riders to transfer from the shuttle to the train or bus.
Service area includes deeply underserved areas of South Seattle with dramatically lower walk and transit scores than the rest of the city—especially as you reach the southern city limits. While Tukwila’s shuttle only operates during peak hours, in Seattle they run hours concurrent with light rail, from early morning to the wee hours.
King County Metro isn’t the first transit authority to experiment with responsive shuttles. The Eno Transportation Institute report Uprouted examined case studies in municipal microtransit, including a similar year-long pilot in Kansas City called Bridj, also an app-based shuttle service that operated during rush hour (but was more designed for getting people to and from work). The report found that users were turned off by its limited service hours, although it attracted a small, loyal following. A Santa Clara Valley microtransit experiment met similar results.
One successful model was in Alameda and Contra Costa counties in the East Bay area, where the transit authority replaced a low-performing bus line with a responsive shuttle. Users in the area could take the shuttle home from a BART rail line. It ended up being successful, the report found, because of extensive outreach, including both flyers and bus ads—and, ultimately, the service was even revenue-neutral. The one major drawback: Rides have to be scheduled farther in advance outside of an app.
For what it’s worth, though: During the first three months of the shuttle’s Eastside service, it was used about 2,400 times, averaging about 100 rides each weekday. With three routes now, there should be plenty of data to work with in the future.