Guide to Seattle Public Transportation

Travel Tips — By Michelle Schusterman on August 15, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Maybe it’s because I grew up in the south, but Seattle’s public transportation blows my mind. I don’t own a car and have no desire to get one – if my feet can’t get me there, the bus will.

The buses in downtown Seattle are like a mix of bus, subway and trolley; you’ve got plenty of regular bus stops out on the street, but also several stations in Westlake Center, Pioneer Square and the International District that run underground and are both electric and help beat the insane rush hour traffic. Whether you’re trying to get from northern Queen Anne to Pike Place, or if you’re headed all the way out to Kirkland, the King County Metro Transit is there to help.


Check out the scrolling banner to see where the bus is headed

Most stops are clearly labeled with all routes, including a helpful map

Find underground stations at Westlake, Convention Place, University Street, Pioneer Square and the International District

The underground tunnels bypass heavy downtown traffic

[all images courtesy of Oran Viriyincy]

Payment System

For tourists, the simplest way to pay is cash. Each bus has a bill machine at the front with the driver; all coins and bills are accepted, but please note that no change can be made. All rides within the downtown, Belltown and Pioneer Square areas are free, and outside of that, prices start at $2.00.

Because of the ride-free zone, time of payment depends on where you get on and off the bus. If you get on the bus downtown, you can enter either through the front or middle door, and do not have to pay. The driver will announce when you are at the last ride-free stop, and change his sign accordingly. If you get off after this, you must exit through the front and pay on your way out.

If you get on the bus outside of the ride-free zone, you must enter through the front door and pay upfront.

Metro passes are also available for those you frequent the bus system in Seattle. Another option is the ORCA (One Regional Card for All) smart card, on which you can load a designated amount, then use as an “e-purse” to scan at the front of the bus when you enter.

Light Rail

The light rail runs a single route from Westlake Center (downtown) to the Sea/Tac Airport, with stops including Mount Baker and Rainier Beach. A trip from downtown Seattle to the airport (or vice versa) is $2.50 and generally takes about 30-40 minutes. Unlike the other buses, a light rail ticket must be purchased prior to entering the train. Each station the light rail stops at will have an automatic ticket machine that accepts both cash and credit cards. This train runs every 15 minutes, and every 7.5 minutes during rush hour mornings and evenings.


The Seattle Monorail has one route; from Westlake Center to Seattle Center. It is undoubtedly the fastest way to get from downtown to the Space Needle, and costs the same as a bus ($2). The monorail departs every 10 minutes from Fifth and Pine and the Center (across from the Space Needle and next to the Experience Music Sound Project/Sci-Fi Museum). The ride is less than five minutes and offers a great view of the city – highly recommended.


  • If you aren’t in a ride-free zone, have your money (exact change) ready as you enter the front of the bus.
  • Bikes may be loaded on the front, and every bus has a ramp and is wheelchair accessible.
  • If you entered in a ride-free zone, have your money (exact change) ready as you exit the front of the bus.
  • The front seats are open for everyone, but intended for the disabled, the elderly, and pregnant women. Please vacate your seat of someone enters that needs it more.
  • The downtown area is very walkable, but you can’t beat the ride-free zone if you’re trying to get from Pioneer Square to Pike Place or Westlake in a hurry.

[feature photo courtesy of dear Edward]

Tags: bus, metro, seattle, transit, trolley


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