King County Metro abruptly left Vashon-Maury Island without bus service two weeks ago, changing course on an earlier decision not to revise the 118 and 119 routes as part of a series of service reductions made system-wide beginning last month.
Residents should not expect bus service to resume on the island for at least the next few weeks according to Bill Bryant, King County Metro Transit managing director for service development. He noted that on a typical weekday, the 118 and 119 routes serving Vashon would see an average of 800 passengers. But similar to most routes in Metro’s system, Bryant said, both saw a precipitous decline in ridership to upwards of 75% amid recommendations from Public Health — Seattle & King County for the public to practice social distancing and following Gov. Jay Inslee “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order that shut down much of the state.
With the latest round of service cuts, Bryant said Metro had two goals: To schedule enough buses on its busiest routes that allow for passengers to practice social distancing and to ensure there is enough staffing relative to the number of bus trips that the agency is committed to operating.
“We do consider it to be unfortunate that Vashon and several other areas of the county have been left without their Metro service during this time,” Bryant said, adding that Metro works through plans every day to implement the best schedule possible under the circumstances. That includes providing enough service outside the Fauntleroy dock for islanders making essential trips to get into town, Bryant said, as well as maintaining a Water Taxi round trip, where ridership has fallen by more than 90%.
Bryant said Metro’s decision to cut service on Vashon was not financially motivated but instead was “more closely linked to our efforts to try to impact the lowest number of people throughout King County as we possibly could.”
“And I realize that doesn’t make it any easier for those who are impacted,” he said. “We just ask that our customers on Vashon bear with us while we continue to work on solutions that are acceptable and safe for this crisis.”
But later, he clarified that some logistical challenges unique to operating busses on the island — namely getting them here from Metro’s South Base facility in Tukwila — have some cost considerations, as they travel empty for close to 90 minutes both ways depending on traffic and wait times for catching a ferry.
“The hourly cost of a bus is about the same regardless of how many people are on it,” Bryant said.
Bryant said Metro is already planning for how to effectively ramp-up service on the island in the coming months with the sudden closure of the West Seattle Bridge. He suggested that there could be greater demand for island bus service in the coming months as Metro expects to have priority over the low bridge headed into Seattle, “and that’s going to make our travel times even better in comparison to car travel,” he said, noting that the situation is complicated.
“At the same time, we’re going to have to size our system to a workforce that’s not all going to come back at once.”
For remaining routes in service, passengers are asked to only ride if necessary and to wear a face covering. Metro is not collecting any fares.
For those without the means to travel on the island now that bus service has been eliminated on Vashon, the community van, a Metro vanpool program, is available, though it likely won’t replace lost bus service on the island.
The county’s rideshare program depends on the availability of volunteer drivers. On Vashon, Coordinator Megan Lockhart told The Beachcomber earlier this month that most volunteers are retired and fall under the high-risk category, so they aren’t signing up to drive.
In a follow-up conversation, Lockhart said more volunteer drivers will be needed as trip requests are received, though she added that more trips have been completed in recent days.
Meanwhile, Metro is making its Access Transportation van more widely available to disabled riders in areas where bus service has been reduced, no pre-enrollment necessary.
Those who are interested are asked to mention that the rider(s) scheduling a lift is a “non-Access rider.” Only one passenger and one optional companion per ride. Morning rides should be booked the day before they are needed. Rides after 10 a.m. can be booked on the same day they’re needed.
Contact the Access Transportation Call Center at 206-205-5000 for assistance or with questions.