It's Tunnel Time: -- Bus Riders Check It Out

John Root grinned from ear to ear yesterday as he waited for the first bus scheduled to roll through Metro's $459 million bus tunnel at 10 a.m.

``I hope it's on time. What do you think, do you think it'll be on time?'' asked Root, 64, of Seattle. ``I bet if the mayor was here, it'd be on time.''

As it happened, Mayor Norm Rice wasn't at the downtown tunnel yesterday, and the No. 73 bus was about 10 minutes late.

But that didn't dampen the spirits of more than 100 soon-to-be passengers on Metro's first fleet of high-tech Italian buses.

Seven years after the Metro Council decided to build the bus tunnel, all the planning finally became reality yesterday.

Aside from being a little late, opening day for bus-tunnel service appeared to get off without a hitch.

Transit director Paul Toliver cited ceremonial formalities, such as showcasing the banner heralding the tunnel's start, for the tardiness of the first bus.

``That's not indicative of the service to come,'' he said.

``This is outstanding. This is history,'' he said. ``We're trying to make service better for the whole region.''

The ceremony was the icing on the cake for Metro's tunnel, which includes designer benches, computer-operated lights and $1.5 million in artwork.

Officials hope the 1.3-mile tunnel will diminish downtown traffic congestion and speed bus travel.

The opening was largely uneventful, although one man was stabbed in the hand by another man riding a bus into Convention Place about 6 p.m. The injured man was taken to Harborview Medical Center, and police arrested the other man.

Dan Williams of Metro said the two men started fighting in the bus before it got to the tunnel, and one man stabbed the other. ``They never made it to the tunnel,'' Williams said.

Tunnel buses take about eight minutes to make a trip that takes about 30 minutes in above-ground buses.

The tunnel will operate from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. It's closed Sundays, including today.

Five routes are using the tunnel: 71, 72 and 73 to North Seattle and the University District; and 106 and 107 to Rainier Beach and Renton.

Shortly after the No. 73 arrived downtown yesterday, a rush of riders piled in.

John Root was among them.

``I just want to ride the bus through this tunnel,'' said Root, who rides the bus 15 to 20 times a week. ``I've been waiting four years for this.''

Bob White, Metro's manager of capital planning and development, was among the group left behind when the No. 73 quickly reached capacity.

Until a few months ago, he'd worked on buying buses for the tunnel project. But that work didn't guarantee him a seat yesterday, when the rule was first come, first served.

White said he believed the tunnel would be a success. ``I think this system will definitely attract some people to public transportation.''

He had his three youngsters in tow while awaiting the next bus. Adrienne, 1, rode on his hip, and Ryan, 11, and MacKenzie, 3, roamed near his feet. When the bus to the International District arrived, he and his entourage headed for the back entrance.

``I think we can get some seats on this one,'' he said.