However, the low ridership is a bit of a Catch-22. Before Metro eliminated the streetcar, ridership on the corridor was dramatically higher than it is today—about 404,000 trips a year in 2003, compared to about 252,000 in 2010 (and 204,000 in 2009). The reason, probably, is twofold: First, Metro cut service on the route from every 15 minutes to every 30, making the faux-”streetcar” less reliable and convenient. Second, and perhaps more importantly: People like riding streetcars—and buses painted like streetcars don’t fool anyone.
Fair enough, and as good an argument for rail as anything. The bus gets stuck in traffic and traffic grinds to a halt on rainy days down there, probably more now with construction. But there’s another reason that Erica doesn’t mention, and that’s that the 99 only runs one way. So it makes a circle, going South along the waterfront, then across Pioneer Square through the ID, and then back North up First Ave.
If this were a commuter route going from the suburbs downtown, a few blocks wouldn’t be a big deal. But if you’re a tourist and you get off the bus anywhere other than the ID, you’re not going to catch it close to where you got off. Also, the route to the sculpture park doesn’t go by the waterfront, so you can’t get off for a bit, look at the aquarium or whatever and then hop back on.
Still, I’ve always pictured it as potentially a great route, even a bus route. If it ran every 15 (or dare to dream 10) minutes each way a lot of people, not just tourists, would use it. As it is, poorly thought out and underfunded, it doesn’t do much.