New and Improved Metro Bus Routes Are Coming to South King County

by Mark Van Streefkerk

Changes are coming to South King County’s Metro bus routes on September 19 that will grant greater connectivity between Renton, Auburn, and Kent. The increased integration will provide more transit options for workers in the area, new Sunday service for some routes, and a flexible on-demand service for the Algona-Pacific area. An important addition is Route 160, which will connect Renton, Kent and Auburn, a corridor slated to become the Rapid Ride I-Line in 2023. 

Natalie Westberg, Metro Transportation Planner III, is the Project Manager for the Renton-Kent-Auburn Mobility Project. She explained, “In most cases, all of the areas that are served today are still going to be served, it just might be a route that instead of traveling from A to B, it travels from A to B to C, for example. The primary change that we’re making is creating this new Route 160, which is a new frequent route that will connect Renton and Kent and Auburn.”  

Route 160 replaces Route 169 and Route 180, routes that currently connect Kent to Renton and Auburn to Burien, respectively. Route 160 will establish a corridor for future investments in service and capital improvements before debuting in 2023 as the Rapid Ride I-Line.

The Renton-Kent-Auburn Mobility Project launched in March of last year, starting with an Equity Impact Review. Westberg said, “[We] had a very clear goal from the onset to lead this process with equity. That meant … working closely with the board of community members representing particularly populations that have been historically and are currently under-invested in and have those folks lead our project decision-making process.” 

The project developed a Mobility Board that included 27 transit riders from Renton, Kent, Auburn and surrounding areas. The Board included Somali and Spanish speakers as well as riders with a variety of needs, experiences, and abilities who helped advise every planning stage. 

Community feedback emphasized the need for investment in “all-day, all-week service” in South King County. “We heard quite a bit that our network is really oriented toward 9-to-5 communters in downtown Seattle, and there aren’t really great options for people who might be traveling at noon or maybe 11 p.m. who are getting off of a shift job,” Westberg pointed out. 

Another priority for workers in the area was better East-to-West connectivity. People who live in Kent, East Hill, Covington, and Maple Valley frequently commute to the Kent industrial valley or SeaTac Airport. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, the routes in this part of the network have seen the highest rate of ridership retention and we’re really seeing that access to those job sites continues to be critical,” Westberg said. 

Investing in additional evening, night, and weekend services on those routes helps meet the needs of riders who might be leaving work late at night or early in the morning, creating fewer transfer points and shorter wait times. 

The project also focused on more efficient networks that utilize the Sounder commuter rail and Link light rail rather than having bus routes parallel to those services. Areas that will see new Sunday services are Lea Hill and Green River College Route 165, Route 906, which connects Renton’s Fairwood and Benson Hill with Valley Medical Center and the Tukwila industrial valley, and Route 917 in Algona and Pacific. 

A new flexible, on-demand service is coming to the Algona-Pacific area later this year. To meet the needs of these lower-density areas, Metro will introduce the Algona-Pacific Community Van. Flexible services “help fill the gap that exists because a community can’t support bus service all day every day and allows people to make reservations and travel anywhere they’re trying to get to in the county,” Westberg said. 

Learn more about specific route changes here

Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist living in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. 

Featured image is attributed to Sounder Bruce under a Creative Commons 2.0 License