The Transit Tourist takes a look at other transit systems across the globe from the first person perspective of a visitor. What can Metro learn from how these other systems treat the uninitiated – and often bumbling – tourist?
I recently took a trip to Seattle via the Amtrak Coast Starlight, which departs right from our very own Los Angeles Union Station. If you’ve never taken a long train trip, it’s worth a try– yes, it takes a lot longer than flying or driving, but it has its own charms.
The dining car is one: you get a pretty decent meal and you get to meet other travelers. (This worked out in my favor as I met one of the Trails&Rails volunteers at a dinner and he gave me some great tips on buses in Seattle.) The observation lounge car offers some great views of the Cascades, and if you book a sleeper roomette (code for really tiny bunk) you get access to the historic, beautiful Pacific Parlour Car where you can also watch movies and indulge in libations not allowed while driving.
There are also showers on sleeper train cars, and now I can take showering on a moving train off my ‘things I never knew I needed to do’ list.
The ride is long though — 28 to 30 hours, so make sure you can take being in an enclosed space for that long.
The Coast Starlight ends at King Street Station in downtown Seattle, a historic station that underwent restoration last year and looks absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have much to offer outside of being a transit facility, a fact that is somewhat disappointing as it’s right next to CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field (home to the Seahawks and Mariners, respectively) and could easily serve as a lovely place to hang out before or after sporting events, in my humble opinion.
In any case, once there I got around by boat, bus, train or walking. No car was needed to get around and I rode all the transit downtown Seattle had to offer.
King County Metro operates the majority of the buses in downtown Seattle, and they have quite a range of buses. It was normal to see a diesel bus followed by a hybrid electric bus followed by an electric trolley bus. Fares range from $2.25 during off peak to $2.50/$3 during peak hours. Free transfers are offered within a two-hour travel period. The most interesting thing about Seattle buses is that pets are allowed! Small animals that fit on your lap or in small carriers travel for free, while larger dogs — service animals excepted –must pay regular adult fare. (Please be reminded that this is most definitely not the case on Metro buses and trains.)
Their Metro also operates the water taxi to West Seattle, a fun and fast way to get across Elliott Bay. The water taxi cost $4.75 cash or $4 if you have an ORCA transit card.
The Transit Tunnel in Seattle is pretty unique because both buses and trains share the tunnels. King County Metro and Sound Transit run buses in the tunnel, and it’s also where you can catch the Sound Central Link light rail train to Sea-Tac Airport (more on that later). There are no gates to get into the stations–you either pay when you board a bus, or you can “tag” your ORCA card at one of the free standing validators. The validators are much smaller than the ones we have here in L.A., making them easy to overlook…but because they’re small they are placed everywhere, so it’s not too difficult to find one.
Speaking of the ORCA card, the card design was highly disappointing. I was hoping for something more whale-ish…more black and white, I guess. The card also cost $5–a big shock when TAP cards only cost $1 from the TVMs. As far as I could tell, the easiest way to use the card as a tourist was to load it with cash. It’s accepted by most of the transit operators in the area; you can even use it to pay for a ferry ride. (But it’s not accepted on the downtown monorail.) I had heard about the vaunted Regional Day Pass pilot program, but couldn’t find a place to buy one. Oh well!
Before leaving Seattle, I took a ride on the streetcar. The First Hill Streetcar wasn’t open yet, so I had to settle for the South Lake Union Streetcar. It’s a quiet, smooth ride that costs $2.50 and takes you from downtown’s shopping center to the very scenic Lake Union. Cars come every 15 minutes. It’s not exactly the most convenient way to get around considering the number of buses running in Seattle, but it is fun. Perhaps the reason that so many cities — including Los Angeles — have been pursuing a streetcar.
Finally, to get to the airport from downtown Seattle: the Central Link light rail train can get you there in approximately 40 minutes for $2.75. You get some nice views of CenturyLink and Safeco fields along the way and a quick tour through suburbia before pulling into Sea-Tac Airport Station, which is also served by buses. The station is connected to the main airport terminal by a covered skybridge and it takes about two minutes — five minutes if you move leisurely — to walk over.
Nifty check-in kiosks are right at the skybridge entrance to the terminal. And in case you didn’t get enough of train travel on your way to the airport, there are underground people movers inside Sea-Tac that connect the main terminal to the separate concourses.
Categories: World of Transport