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Downtown Free Ride Area Ending in September

King County Metro Transit will discontinue the Ride Free Area in Downtown Seattle on September 29, 2012. The ride free area runs from Battery Street to Jackson Street, and from Elliott Bay to 6thAvenue, from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

"Magic Carpet" free ride area, 1975 (Seattle Municipal Archives)

The Ride Fee Area was established in 1973 as a partnership between Metro and the City of Seattle. It was originally called the “Magic Carpet” ride free area (see photo).

The end of the Free Ride Area creates a challenge for people with little or no income, who use the Free Ride Area to access service such as healthcare and food banks. Some of these services are located in part due to the existence of the Free Ride Area. Seattle and King County are working with human services agencies on how best to address these needs.

I wrote King County with a request that they support providing a free shuttle service in the core of Downtown Seattle with stops near important local service areas.

I noted that eliminating the Ride Free Area will affect those with few resources, and could place an additional burden on human services providers. I encouraged support for a free shuttle service in the core of Downtown Seattle with stops near important local service areas, including Harborview Medical Center, and a 20-minute operation schedule.

Additional background information on the Ride Free Area, and the Congestion Relief Fee, is listed below.

In 2011, the King County Council passed legislation to implement a $20 vehicle license fee for two years, referred to as the Congestion Relief charge. This allowed King County Metro to avoid cutting 17% of bus service in King County. However, the authorizing legislation passed by the state legislature required a 2/3 majority vote for the Council to pass the fee. Consequently, in order to pass, a deal was required to eliminate the Free Ride Zone. Seattle was paying $400,000 for the cost of the operations, below King County Metro’s $2.2 million operating cost.

On a broader level, the Congestion Relief charge was authorized for two years, until the end of 2013, so unless the state legislature takes action in 2013, the prospect of deep cuts still exists. I supported finding a permanent solution in the state legislature this session, but efforts were unsuccessful.

Click here for information on changes to riding buses downtown such as a changeover to a pay-on-entry system at all times. Metro will ask passengers to enter through the front door and exit via the rear door, to reduce the amount of time buses spend at each stop.

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