Only 1 out of 3 downtown commuters drive alone to work, and transit is the workhorse that keeps people moving in and through downtown. Using transit to commute has never made more sense, and it will only get better as our bus and rail systems expand in the coming years. But with 3 agencies serving downtown Seattle and an overlapping mix of local buses, express buses, light rail, streetcar, and commuter rail, the system’s complexity isn’t always easy for new riders to decipher. Commute Seattle is here to help! Here are some transit basics to get you started.
Trip Planning and Real-Time Arrival Information
Want to always know where you’re going and whether your bus is on time? The smartphone revolution has led to amazing innovations in data available to transit riders.
The popular app OneBusAway provides real-time arrival info to let you know if your bus is on time.
The Transit App is an elegant solution for smartphone owners, combining real-time arrival data and trip-planning on a subscription basis ($5/year). Works in 92 cities across the globe!
Sound Transit’s Trip Planner can plan journeys anywhere from Stanwood to Olympia on 7 transit agencies!
Still need help? Call Zach Shaner at (206) 613-3128 or email for personalized trip planning.
|Agencies Serving Downtown Seattle
Transit in greater Puget Sound is generally handled at the county level, with the exception of Sound Transit, which operates in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. The patchwork of multiple agencies can be confusing for new riders. Here’s a breakdown:
|Bus service within Seattle and King County on over 250 local and express routes; also operates the South Lake Union Streetcar|
|Local bus service in Snohomish County (excluding Everett); commuter express service to Seattle|
|Local bus service in Everett|
|Local bus service in Pierce County|
|Local bus service in Kitsap County, commuter service timed with the Bremerton and Bainbridge ferries|
|Local bus service in Thurston County, express service between Tacoma and Olympia|
Each agency sets their own fares, and policies vary widely. But all agencies (except Intercity Transit) accept the ORCA card, a smartcard that provides seamless fare payment, stores monthly passes and cash value, and provides free transfers between agencies. ORCA cards are available at all Sounder and Link Light Rail stations, at King County Metro headquarters, and at Bellevue Transit Center, Federal Way Transit Center, and Eastgate Park & Ride, and at select retailers.
You may load cash value (called e-Purse) onto your card in any amount from $5 to $300, or you may load a monthly pass. Passes are available in any fare denomination you choose at a rate of $9 per $.25 in value. So if you need a pass with a trip value of $3.00, your monthly pass cost would be $108.
If you take less than 18 round-trips per month, loading an e-Purse will be more cost effective. If you take more than 18 round-trips per month, a monthly pass saves you money. Even if you load a monthly pass, you may still load additional e-purse funds as desired for occasional higher-fare trips (such as Washington State Ferries).
Deep discounts are available for employers to bulk purchase transit passes for their employees. Ask your employer if they participate! If not, refer them to our ORCA Business Passport page to get them started!