Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Take the "Area" out of Ride Free Area

Seattle's King County Metro bus system has something we call the Ride Free Area. It's a zone within the downtown Seattle core that from the hours of 6 am to 7 pm, rides are free on all of the buses. Salt Lake City has a similar system, but without the hours restriction. TriMet in Portland used to have a Fareless Square that allowed free rides on all buses and trains, but has been reduced to rail services only. With all the cuts in transit funding due to lower tax revenues, chopping Ride Free Areas seems like a money saver, but is there a way to do it and still maintain movability thru downtown on Transit?

As noted in a recent study, it is believed that much of the fare evasion comes as a result of the Pay-as-you-leave structure on our buses away from the RFA. Something to the tune of $62,000 per week is lost in fare revenue due to fare evasion. Now I am not saying its solely due to the RFA, but it is a large contributing factor. Of Metro Drivers surveyed, about 50% want it gone! I join that count. In one route I drive, it begins outside the RFA, travels thru the RFA and emerges out the other side, without ever changing my route sign. It leads to confusion. Discontinuing the RFA does not prove popular with the city and those that use it, so whats a fair meet-me-in-the-middle way to do it?

Expand Route 99. Make it a service much like what Denver's RTD does. Route 99 would continue to be free, but would travel more of Downtown.
I have shown one idea this route could take in this map. It would be a loop. Being that Route 99 mostly serves tourists, this loop serves most of those areas. Starting at 8th and Jackson like the 99 currently does, it serves King St Station, Ferry Terminal, Seattle Aquarium, SAM Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle Center, Westlake and the Retail Core, and the Seattle Central Library. Its also short walks to Pike Place Market, Seattle Art Museum, Benaroya Hall, Smith Tower, The Stadiums, Convention Center and several area Hotels. This would add a new area not previously within the RFA as well. The Route could also serve counter clockwise, or both:

The Route could run from about 6am to 11pm everyday, with 10-15 min intervals between 9am and 7pm, and 30-45 min the rest of the day. This of course could be adjusted to ridership and seasons. The route is designed to move tourists around downtown and to major transportation connections, it crosses the Transit Tunnel twice for easy connections to Light Rail, serves King St Station, and crosses many of the bus routes paths, or comes within 2 blocks. Now you might be thinking, commuters from Sounder and other connections may have a problem with this, not true. Most regular commuters that need to transfer to complete their trip already have ORCA cards. Pass or No Pass, an ORCA Card provides a transfer to any bus. ORCA Card passengers board quicker, and would not hamper much of the travel times of buses thru downtown. Many single ticket riders are more than likely not regular riders, so route 99 will serve their needs.

Metro is already paying to run Route 99, and the article above claims that the City of Seattle is pitching in $400,000 a year for the operation of RFA. By Eliminating the RFA, Metro could direct these funds to operate the new Loop version of Route 99, provide an easy, simple option for tourists to get around, and make all other buses pay as you enter. Fare evasion will dip & buses will only be crowded with paying passengers (minus the ones with a new excuse everyday).


Anonymous said...

This sounds a lot like the "Free Trolley" service that Chicago operated until last year (they weren't actually trolleys, but buses made to look like streetcars...sound familiar?). They connected Navy Pier, museums and other tourist attractions to public transit and parking garages. I think this is a great idea. An always-free service is easier for tourists to understand than the complicated fare payment scheme we have now.

Jonlin said...

I think they should keep the Waterfront trolley as is, and add a 2nd-4th loop free bus as well from the International District to Denny.

G-man said...

IMO, if your fare system needs a flow chart, its too complicated.