There are several public transportation agencies in Seattle area. They’re all safe and efficient to use.

1. KING COUNTY METRO. Bus and streetcar lines in Seattle and King County.
Convenient but delay most of the time.

2. SOUND TRANSIT. Inter-county lines connecting with Seattle by buses, light rail, and commuter train. You will use this service to the airport, Bellevue, or Future of Flight (Boeing tour) from Seattle.

3. COMMUNITY TRANSIT. Bus services within Snohomish County (around Everett), as well as commuter buses to Seattle. Tourists hardly use unless going to Future of Flight.

4. WASHINGTON STATE FERRIES. Ferry connections between islands and mainland within Puget Sound. Tourists might use Seattle/Bainbridge Island ferry to see Seattle city view.

Regarding bus services between #1 and #3, service systems are all same. Because there is no same bus number between those 3 agencies, it’s easy to identify buses. The transfer is valid no matter how many times you ride within 2 hours between multiple agencies, as long as you pay by ORCA card and fare balance such as multi-county additional or peak fare additional. For example, I used 3 agencies between Seattle and Future of Flight, and I paid only $3.50.

Sound Transit Light Rail’s fare is the distant basis, and transfer to a bus is also available. When you use Light Rail (not streetcars in Seattle), make sure to tap your ORCA card at both origin and destination stations. You tap only at origin station for Seattle street car. 

Please see fare and schedule info on each agency website.


To get around Seattle efficiently, what you need are the following 3 items.

1. ORCA Card: ORCA is a smart card good for all agencies including Washington State Ferries. The card costs non-refundable $5 fee excluding fare, but it’s worth to have a card. With ORCA card, you don’t have to worry about the difference of transit agencies, except Seattle Center Monorail, and transfer is honored across participant transits within 2 hours (fare balance may be applied, such as rush hour and multiple county additions), while transfer with cash payment is good only within a paid agency and available only one transfer. For example, if you move within one zone, adult fare is $2.50 off-peak with any agency by “ORCA”, and if second transportation goes to 2 zones (2 counties) or at peak hour, you just have to pay the difference (between 75c or $1) at the second transportation. The paper transfer doesn’t have this privilege.

You can store one day pass and some money balance if you prefer. You can also refill over the website, I refilled at Light Rail vending machines because refill would take 24-48 hours until being available according to the website. 

One day pass is $8. There was no weekly pass when I visited. I’m not sure whether one day pass will be worth it because of the good free transfer system. I used one day pass in first 2 days then I stopped. I don’t think I paid more than $8 per day. It’s up to you.

Because bus drivers don’t carry cards, I suggest you purchase a card at Sound Transit Light Rail vending machines. 

If you refill “ORCA” card at train stations, avoid International District station. Vending machines  didn’t work most of the time by my experience. Other stations were fine.


2. ONE BUS AWAY: “OneBusAway” is a smartphone app for real-time transit location by the University of Washington. This is very popular app most Seattle bus riders use, and my host also suggested me to download at the first day. You can find real-time bus schedule, bus location, delay information, and bus route easily with this app. OneBusAway is available for all 3 agencies listed above. From my 1 week experience, King County Metro usually delays! 5-10 minutes delays are pretty, I even experienced 20-30 minutes delays. Probably King County Metro is one of the worst one-time performance transit in the U.S. With “One Bus Away”, you can know the delay and how long the waiting time will be. Also by knowing next arrival bus, you can make an idea of the alternative route.

Your can download the app to your smartphone or see info in here.

The screen example of “OneBusAway”. “LINK” is Sound Transit Light Rail

3. GOOGLE MAP or your favorite online map: Bus routes in Seattle area are sometimes complicated and require several transfers. By Google Map or your favorite online map, you can find out the method to get the destination easily. Then input the bus number on “OneBusAway” and find out your next bus will be on time!

All information are as of November, 2015.