A first-of-its-kind program: Microsoft, Seattle Children’s shuttles are now using Metro stops

Microsoft and Seattle Children’s have partnered with transportation officials for a pilot program that allows the employee shuttles to use some public transit stops, in part to free up curb space.

For the first time, some company-owned buses in Seattle are using public transit stops to reach employees, signaling a shift in the role of private shuttles in the city’s fast-changing transportation network.

Microsoft and Seattle Children’s hospital buses are paying to share nearly a dozen stops with King County Metro Transit as part of a new, city-sponsored pilot project that aims to improve employees’ access to the shuttles and free up curb space.

Company-sponsored shuttles have long been a part of the Seattle area’s transportation system; many employers have services to take employees to and from work sites.

But a network of private buses that can replace other commuting options has grown with the demand to alleviate traffic congestion by lowering the number of people driving alone.

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For environmental and transportation advocates, that’s the good news. The bad news: More shuttles over the years in Seattle have joined the competition for limited curbside loading and unloading space.

For the pilot project, the stops are on existing shuttle routes, meaning the buses have been picking up and dropping off passengers in the same areas, though now they’ll stop near Metro’s bus shelters and signage. Before, they used nearby loading or curbside parking zones.

The pilot will last six months, during which the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and Metro Transit will evaluate if or to what extent the change impacts public transit and passengers. The companies aim to time shuttle stops to avoid overlap with Metro buses, according to SDOT.

If deemed successful, officials could open the program to other companies with employee shuttles and expand it to include more Metro Transit stops, said SDOT spokesman Norm Mah.

Companies such as Amazon, which launched a private shuttle fleet last year to connect Eastside commuters to the tech giant’s South Lake Union home base, have already expressed interest, he said.

That would mean fewer private buses using curbside loading zones throughout the city. Passenger loading zones are marked with white or yellow paint, designating a three-minute or 30-minute parking time limit, respectively.

If more loading zones are freed…

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