Arriving and Departing
Greyhound Lines and Northwest Trailways have regular service to points throughout the Pacific Northwest, the United States, and Canada. Only a few years old, the regional Greyhound/Trailways bus terminal, located in SoDo ("South of Downtown") just east of the Downtown stadiums at 503 South Royal Brougham Way, is convenient to all Downtown destinations.
Getting Around Seattle
The King County Metro 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 Woodland Park Zoo in Phinney Ridge. On a bus, it takes 15 to 30 minutes to get from Westlake Center to the University District. A better option is the recently expanded Link light-rail service, which takes a mere six minutes and runs every 6 or 15 minutes.
The city's RapidRide is part of 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. 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 smartphone, you can trip plan on the go with Metro's transit app. Several other downloadable apps allow you to see if your bus is running on time or late: check out One Bus Away (www.onebusaway.org), Next Bus (www.nextbus.com), or Transit App (www.transitapp.com). 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 $2.50 for adults; during peak hours (6 am–9 am and 3 pm–6 pm), one-zone fares are $2.75 and two-zone fares $3.25. Unless you travel outside the city limits, you'll pay one-zone fares. Kids ages 6 to 18 are $1.50 at all times and up to four children under the age of 5 ride free with a paying adult. Riders with disabilities are $1 at all times. Onboard fare-collection boxes have prices posted on them. Transfers between metro buses are free for 2½ hours; if you think you'll need one, make sure you ask the driver for a transfer slip when you get on the bus.
If you plan to take advantage of public transit during your visit, invest in a $5 ORCA card (www.orcacard.com), which can be purchased, loaded up, and mailed to you in advance. ORCA cards provide the convenience of not having to fumble for cash and they're easy to use; a quick tap on an electronic reader deducts the proper fare. ORCA cards can be used 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. If your itinerary involves multiple trips around town on public transit, consider a one-day $8 regional pass. It's good for unlimited rides on Metro buses, trains, streetcars, and water taxis for fares up to $3.50. ORCA cards can be purchased online or at 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 or ORCA cards as you board the front of the bus. 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.
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.
City Bus Information
Metro Transit. 206/553–3000206/263–3582; metro.kingcounty.gov.
ORCA Card. 888/988–6722; www.orcacard.com.