Seattle is considered to be one of the most walkable cities in the United States, and public transit usage is quite high. The city’s public transit system features a number of different operators and mode types, creating a diverse transit scene.
The primary bus operator in Seattle is King County Metro, which was founded in 1973 but can trace its roots back to the 1920s. Today, King County Metro operates over 1,800 buses on over 200 routes serving over 114 million passengers each year. In 2010, King County Metro began operating the RapidRide BRT system.
In the mid-1990s, the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority was established as the area’s regional transit authority. Today, under the Sound Transit banner, it operates express buses, two commuter rail lines, and a light rail line and oversees capital transit projects throughout the Seattle area.
The Seattle Center Monorail was built as part of the Century 21 Exposition in 1962 and continues to provide service between the Seattle Center and downtown Seattle. Although there have been plans to either expand the current line or to build a larger monorail network throughout the region, none of these plans have come to fruition.
King County Metro operates the 8th largest bus fleet in the United States with over 1,800 buses. Seattle was the first agency in the US to order articulated buses and has more articulated buses in its fleet than any other agency except New York City, and one of the first to order lift-equipped buses. In addition, KCM has a trolleybus network extending nearly 70 miles throughout the city.
When the Seattle Waterfront Streetcar began operation on May 29, 1982, it was Seattle's first streetcar line since April 13, 1941. However, service has been suspended since November 18, 2005 due to the demolition of the carbarn for the construction of the Olympic Sculpture Park. Some tracks were removed in 2012 due to construction on the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement project. Streetcar service was replaced by bus service using specially wrapped buses invoking a streetcar design, but those wraps are no longer used. While the Melbourne W2 trams that operated the line remain in storage, it is unclear if, when, and where within Seattle they will return to service.
Sound Transit is the brand name of the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority. Sound Transit buses operate throughout King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. Although Sound Transit oversees, plans, and funds the service, the operation of the routes themselves is contracted out to King County Metro, Pierce Transit, and Community Transit.
The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel opened in 1990 and was designed for use by dual-mode buses built by Breda that would use electricity while driving through the tunnel and diesel while driving on the surface. After the tunnel was closed for refurbishment in 2005 to accommodate the Central Link light rail line, new diesel-electric hybrid buses were ordered as the post-refurbishment tunnel would not be able to accommodate both the light rail trains and buses relying upon the same electrical wires as a power source. The tunnel reopened in September 2007. Today, it is used by the Central Link light rail line, Sound Transit buses, and King County Metro buses.
The Seattle Center Monorail opened on March 24, 1962 to serve the Century 21 Exposition. Eight million people rode the monorail during the 6 months that the fair was open. Today, the monorail continues to serve two million passengers a year on the one mile route between Seattle Center and Westlake Center.