If you’re going to use public transit for the first time or in a new place, you’ll need to know a few things about it first. If not, you may run into some problems along your journey, such as not having enough fare, getting off too early and getting hopelessly lost, or just being that passenger no one likes. I haven’t used public transit in many other places besides the Seattle area, so I can’t speak for everywhere, but this is everything you need to know about how to ride the bus over here:

Before you leave the house…

1. Research your trip the day before. I don’t care if you’re only going somewhere in the same town, this is important. You don’t want to look up your bus routes an hour before you have to be somewhere only to find it’s going to take you over an hour to get there. No good. Be prepared and use Google maps! That’s what I do. If you don’t have a smart phone, print out the directions, enabling maps on the steps that list stops you’re unfamiliar with. You want to make sure you’re on the correct side of the street! If you do have a smart phone, just take note of what time you have to be at your bus stop, and when it’s time to leave, check OneBusAway or Transit Seattle, and Here Transit (or a similar app) to check your transfers and stops.

2. Find out how much you have to pay. You can find out on the Seattle Metro website. Depending on your age, the time of day, and how far you’re going, bus fare can vary between $1.25 and $3.50! You’ll want to know exactly how much you need so that you aren’t short and so you don’t spend more than you need to (i.e. only have dollar bills when the fare is $2.50) because drivers do not have change. You’ll want to have a lot of quarters. If you see yourself riding the bus rather often, obtaining an Orca card might be a good idea.

Off you go!

3. Be visible at your stop when the arrival time is near. This is really when those apps come in handy. Also umbrellas, because I have nearly been skipped over because a driver didn’t see me, as I was under the shelter, where it was warm. If your app says the bus is late, IGNORE IT. Too many times, I have seen an “18 minutes” late and decided and could chill at my house for 18 more minutes, only to miss the bus when I finally got to my stop. The bus will catch up with the schedule. Just be there when you planned to be. Maybe it really will be there 20 minutes late, but maybe it won’t.

4. Have your fare ready when the bus arrives. Don’t be the person who digs in their wallet for change, holding up the driver up from continuing the route. Some drivers will just pull away, trusting that you’ll pay soon enough, but not all. Be ready. Ask for a transfer slip if you’re paying with cash. You never know when you’ll need one. They last about two hours.

Now that you’re on…

5. Leave the side seats at the front for the elderly and disabled. Try not to sit there unless there are NO more seats left. Unless you are elderly and/or disabled.

6. Keep phone conversations short and polite. I have overheard loud conversations about strangers’ sex lives, baby mama drama, or just plan gossip, and that’s not really bus talk. At least keep it quiet and keep the profanity to a minimum.

7. Music is for headphones. Other passengers did not choose to listen to your music, so let’s keep it in your ears, please?

8. Don’t sit RIGHT next to someone unless you have no other option. They will wonder why you chose them instead of more space. Nothing will probably happen, but why chance it? (she said very tongue in cheek)

9. Sit in the seat space you paid for. Did you pay for just yourself? Then you take up one seat. There is room under the seat for your bags. On some buses, there is a rack above your head for your bags, like on an airplane! The exception to this is small children. Children five and under are free with a paying adult, but they don’t have to sit on your lap. Please keep them near you, though. It would be real awkward if they were just running in the aisle and some driver cut off the bus, and the bus driver had to slam on their brakes…

10. Check your apps, or your directions, so you know how far away your next stop is. Know what the cross streets are. Be watching the street signs out the windows.

11. If someone starts talking to you and you don’t want to talk to anyone, be polite, but short. You’re not obligated to talk to someone when you want a quiet bus ride, but being rude may make matters worse. However…

12. If someone is BOTHERING you, get up, sit somewhere else, and tell the driver if they continue. You have the right to feel comfortable on the bus. Drivers have the power to kick people off if they are causing problems, so speak up.

13. If you find something someone has left behind, first ask your fellow passengers if it belongs to any of them. If not, tell the driver and give it to them. They will put it in the lost and found, and the owner will be able to call Seattle Metro and claim their item. Please, do not just take something you found because the owner wasn’t around. It’s still stealing. They are probably missing it and would be very sad to find out no one turned it in.

Almost there!

14. When you are nearing your stop, double check your directions and/or apps and check the reader hanging from the middle of the ceiling, behind the driver. This tells you the street name/ transit center/park and ride where the bus is stopping next. You’ll want to know the name of the stop right before yours, so you can pull the bell cord as soon as you leave that stop.

15. If you pull the bell and it doesn’t ding, look for a red light right above the reader. If that’s there, that means someone else already pulled the bell and you didn’t hear it. The bus will stop. You do not need to pull it for park and rides and transit centers. It will always stop there because those are high traffic stops.

16. Be ready to disembark before the bus pulls up to your stop. If you are transferring, know where you are getting on your next bus before getting off your first bus, so you can run, run run, to be ready at your next stop.

17. Thank the driver as you get off. Wish them a happy day. They deserve it.

18. If you are transferring, get to your next stop and start over at step 3! Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it? 🙂

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2 thoughts on “A Guide to the Seattle Metro for Beginners

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