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Greyhound Lines and Northwest Trailways have regular service to points throughout the Pacific Northwest, the United States, and Canada. The regional Greyhound/Trailways bus terminal at 9th Avenue and Stewart Street, though in desperate need of renovation, is convenient to all Downtown destinations.
Greyhound buses travel several times daily to major towns along I–5 and I–90. Main routes head south from Seattle through Tacoma (45 minutes to 1 hour, $7.70 to $11.75 one way), Olympia (1 hour and 35 to 45 minutes, $12.54 to $18.25 one way), and Portland (3½–4½ hours, $27.28 to $37 one way). Buses going north from Seattle pass through Mt. Vernon (1¼ hours, $11.66 to $17.25 one way), Everett (40 minutes to 1 hour, $9 to $14.25 one way), and Bellingham (2 hours, $14.96 to $21 one way), close to the Canadian border. Eastern routes head to Yakima (3 hours, $29 to $39 one way), Spokane (5½ to 8 hours, $39 one way), and many points in between and beyond. Fares are slightly less on weekdays and for round-trip tickets, and discounts are available for U.S. military personnel, veterans, and students. Ask about companion rates, advance purchase savings, and seasonal discounts.
Northwestern Trailways also has daily buses leaving from the Greyhound and Amtrak stations in Seattle that travel within Washington, including from Seattle south through Tacoma ($10 one way), north through Everett ($10 one way), and east through Spokane ($39 one way), as well as long-haul service from points in Idaho.
The Metropolitan Transit's transportation network is inexpensive, fairly comprehensive, and easy to navigate. So why do so many Seattleites own cars? The most definitive reason is because they can—even though traffic is bad and parking can be tight in many areas of Seattle, the city has yet to meet the level of congestion found in cities like New York and Chicago that really necessitates hanging up the driver's license for a bus pass. The city is also fairly spread out and not overly dense in many parts, allowing a good percentage of the residents to park right outside their homes (or at least the same block) for free. Residents will tell you that buses take longer to make most trips, especially if transfers are involved or traffic is particularly bad; and there are long gaps in off-peak schedules. That said, you'll probably find that traveling around Downtown and to and from the commercial centers of Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, Fremont, the University District, Phinney Ridge/Greenwood, and Ballard by bus from Downtown is relatively easy—from Downtown it takes 10 to 15 minutes to get to Fremont center and 25–35 minutes to get to N.W. Market Street and Ballard Avenue in Ballard or the Zoo in Phinney Ridge. It takes 15 to 30 minutes to get from Westlake Center to the University District.
In 2012, the city introduced RapidRide in an effort to speed up commute times on heavily used corridors. The high-capacity red and yellow hybrids come by every 10 to 15 minutes and don't have steps, which allows passengers to quickly hop on and off. These buses are part of the Metro system, and have the same fares—they're just more efficient.
Most buses, which are wheelchair accessible, run until around midnight or 1 am; some run all night, though in many cases taking a cab late at night is a much better solution than dealing with sporadic bus service. The visitor center at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center has maps and schedules or you can call Metro Transit directly or, better yet, check online at tripplanner.kingcounty.gov : type in your starting point, how far you're willing to walk, and your destination, and it will tell you where and when to catch your bus. If you have a phone with Web access, you can trip-plan on the go with Metro's transit application, and you can check to see if your bus is running on time or late at www.onebusaway.org. Most bus stops have simple schedules posted telling you when buses arrive; bus stops Downtown often have route maps and more information. Drivers are supposed to announce all major intersections (but feel free to ask them to specifically announce your stop), and you won't have to worry about signaling for a stop at hubs or during peak hours (someone else will probably do it or there will be people waiting at each stop, so the bus will have to pull over). At less-traveled stops in residential neighborhoods and during off-peak hours, you may have to signal for the driver to pull into your stop.
Throughout King County, both one-zone fares and two-zone fares at off-peak times are $2.25 for adults; during peak hours (6 am-9 am and 3 pm-6 pm), one-zone fares are $2.50 and two-zone fares $3. Unless you travel outside the city limits, you'll pay one-zone fares. Kids ages 6 to 18 are $1.25 at all times and up to four children under the age of 5 ride free with a paying adult. Riders with disabilities are $.75 at all times. Onboard fare-collection boxes have prices posted on them. Transfers between metro buses are free for two hours; if you think you'll need one, make sure you ask the driver for a transfer slip when you get on the bus.
The $4.50 weekend and holiday pass is a bargain if you're doing a lot of touring. Valid for one day, it includes unlimited rides on metro buses and the South Lake Union Streetcar. If you're going to be in town for a week or more, consider purchasing either a ticket book or an ORCA card, from which fares are deducted when you board a bus or train. Ticket books and ORCA cards provide the convenience of not having to fumble for cash every time you board a bus. ORCA cards are good for trips on King County Metro (Seattle and the Eastside's buses), Community Transit, Everett Transit, Kitsap Transit, Pierce Transit, Sound Transit (Link Light Rail), and the Washington State Ferry system. You can purchase ORCA cards (they cost $5 initially) or ticket books online or at the King Street Station, Westlake Center, or other Metro offices—a complete list is available online. Cash, debit cards, MasterCard, and Visa are accepted at all offices.
Fares for city buses are collected in cash, prepaid tickets and passes, or ORCA cards as you board the bus heading into Downtown, and as you exit the bus on the way out of Downtown. There's usually a sign posted on the fare-collection box that tells you when you pay. Fare boxes accept both coins and bills, but drivers won't make change, so don't board the bus with a $5 bill and a hapless grin. If you have an ORCA card, simply tap it on the ORCA box.
One thing you should prepare yourself for when taking the bus is the overwhelming possibility that there will be at least one crazy or drunk person loudly disturbing the peace. Though Seattleites have countless stories about eventful bus rides, very few of those stories involve actual threats or crimes, so you don't have to worry too much about safety. Just know that commuters rarely want to chat with strangers, so if you respond to that person who's trying a little too hard to get your attention, you're probably in for a 20-minute screed about how the government is spying on them or a way-too-detailed description of a health problem.
Other than that, riding the buses is unpleasant only during rush hours when they're packed with annoyed residents and helmed by frazzled drivers trying to stay on schedule despite the traffic.
Metro Transit (206/553–3000 for customer service, schedules, and information; 206/263–3582 for bus-pass and ticket sales. metro.kingcounty.gov for information; buypass.kingcounty.gov for online pass sales.)
ORCA Card (888/988–6722. www.orcacard.com.)