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Friday, August 12, 2011

County Will Pass $20 Car Tab Fee to Fund Metro, Eliminate Free Ride Area Downtown

Posted by on Fri, Aug 12, 2011 at 11:58 AM

On Monday, the King County Council will pass a controversial $20 vehicle license fee, preventing drastic 17 percent cuts to Metro services that would've put an estimated 15,000 more vehicles on the road. But the council votes needed to pass the fee didn't come without a package of amendments, including one serious concession from Seattle—the five-part plan unveiled at a press conference this morning calls for an end to Seattle's downtown ride free area in October, 2012.

"The city of Seattle pays $400,000 a year to support free rides—only 18 percent of the $2.2 million it costs Metro each year to operate the free ride area," explained King County Executive Dow Constantine. "This isn’t something we take lightly but it can no longer be sustained." Roughly 9,000 free trips are taken through Seattle's downtown core each day.

By taking action itself, the KC Countil has prevented sending the measure to voters, and risked them voting it down.

KC Council member Jane Hague
  • KC Council member Jane Hague, pleased as punch.
"This is a great deal for the Eastside, for King County," said council member Jane Hague, who previously said she'd vote down the $20 proposal. "“This is not a change of heart, it's a change in the plan. We’re talking about real reform in metro with the discontinuation of the free ride zone."

Seattle City Council member Tom Rasmussen, head of the council's transportation committee, said that the council would "work for the next year [to find a way] to keep the benefits and advantages" of the free ride zone but admitted that $400,000 wouldn't buy the city much in the way of service. The elimination of the free ride zone also means that all buses will revert to a pay as you enter format, which will eliminate delinquent fares.

The council's proposal now also includes a plan to provide eight bus tickets (worth up to $24) for each car tab renewal. “We know people who give the bus a try are inclined to ride the bus again," said Constantine. If families don’t want the tickets, they can check a box to donate them to a pool of 150 human service agencies who distribute tickets.

In addition, Metro will also either increase the current number of discount tickets they offer human service groups (or discount tickets to these groups even further).

Other amendments include adding Dial-a-Ride Transit services, vanpools, and vanshares, to sparsely populated communities to make transit more efficient, as well as adding more buses to heavily used routes, such as those that travel along the 520 bridge and on Aurora Avenue.

"Cuts to metro would’ve taken us back to 1996 service levels," said Larry Phillips, chair of the KC transportation committee. "There was controversy in raising the $20 [car tab fee] but the tremendous hurt, the harm done to the community in cutting services… would’ve been unacceptable. Twenty dollars is affordable, transit cuts are not."


Comments (51) RSS

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sepiolida 1
Ouch, no free ride zone. Once again we're trailing behind Portland. Or rather, throwing ourselves back behind Portland.
Posted by sepiolida on August 12, 2011 at 12:05 PM · Report this
Ain't nothin free. I'm surprised it took this long. Seems like a pretty obvious solution.
Posted by MLP on August 12, 2011 at 12:08 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 3
Woo Hoo!

The Ride Free Zone is DEAD!

Long Live The Bus Riders!
Posted by Will in Seattle on August 12, 2011 at 12:14 PM · Report this
wilbur@work 4
Nice, excellent compromise.
Posted by wilbur@work on August 12, 2011 at 12:17 PM · Report this
Getting rid of the free ride zone should also keep some of the garbage off the bus. It's way overdue.
Posted by robot ghost on August 12, 2011 at 12:18 PM · Report this
DowntownTaylor 6
I hope that with the elimination of the RFA, all of the transit agencies will switch to always pay-as-you-enter. Maybe that will keep some of the shat-my-pants-and-stealing-a-ride stinky homeless guys off the bus. But then again, the official Metro policy (I don't know about the other agencies) is that operators may only tell passengers what the fare is, and are not allowed to "enforce" it. This is according to my bus driver friend.
Posted by DowntownTaylor on August 12, 2011 at 12:22 PM · Report this
Yeah is this means downtown buses become less like rolling homeless shelters I'm all for it.
Posted by ryanmm on August 12, 2011 at 12:23 PM · Report this
very bad homo 8
This is great news, and no more of the confusing "Do I pay when I leave or when I get on" nonsense.
Posted by very bad homo on August 12, 2011 at 12:24 PM · Report this
the idiot formerly known as kk 9
@1: Actually, we spend more than twice as much per capita subsidizing transit as Portland does. Now it will be even more.

Wonder why The Stranger never challenged Metro on its statements that the $20 car tab will restore 17% service cuts. It won't. Metro is also planning on spending down all of its reserves in the next two years. Metro won't say how much service the car tab alone restores.

AND WHAT ABOUT THE PEEEEEEEEEPLE? We get to vote on the tunnel, why not the car tab tax?
Posted by the idiot formerly known as kk on August 12, 2011 at 12:27 PM · Report this
I'm thrilled they were able to keep it from being punted to an electorate subjected to so many pocketbook-fear-flogging politicos lately. That was a very near miss indeed.
Posted by gloomy gus on August 12, 2011 at 12:33 PM · Report this
tournant 12
If there were some crazy way to keep travel between the tunnel stations free that'd be nice but I'll take this instead of cuts anytime.
Posted by tournant on August 12, 2011 at 12:44 PM · Report this
markmc 13
Interesting. I do think it will reduce confusion but I wonder what effect it will have on congestion. One advantage of the free ride zone is that busses can travel through downtown without spending time collecting fares from people, they just open both doors for a bit, close them and continue on.

This may be mitigated by the reduced amount of riders, but I thought it was a pretty good way to ensure a bus could keep a schedule through downtown.
Posted by markmc on August 12, 2011 at 12:49 PM · Report this
the idiot formerly known as kk 14
Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond admits (starting at about 14:40, although Ross Reynolds tries to let him off the hook--"Let's not get too number-intense for the radio!") that the $20 tab will raise only about $25 million per year.

The $25 million annual car tab revenues is less than a 5% increase in Metro's $548.8 million operating budget for 2011. So how can a 5% increase prevent a 17% cut in service?

Well, of course, it can't. As Desmond further admits, Metro will be spending down all of their emergency operating reserve in the next two years. Desmond doesn't say how much that spend down will be--nor does he explain why Metro couldn't spend that down independent of the $20 increase.

Why? Because they can't just tell you that a $20 car tab fee would prevent a 5% (or 6, 7 or 8%) cut. No one would support that--they'd just say, well, we're in tough times, we all have to cut 5 or 6% here or there.

No, instead Metro has to lie through their teeth about a scary, scary 17% cut in service that will supposedly be restored by a 5% increase in operating revenues.

That is not just bullshit, it's flagrant-Metro-thinks-you're-so-stupid-they-hold-you-in-contempt bullshit.
Posted by the idiot formerly known as kk on August 12, 2011 at 12:57 PM · Report this
Kinison 15
This is the balanced approach I was looking for. But 2-3 years down the road, should the county want the fee to be permanent, they'll have to force cyclists to register their bikes to offset the continued fleecing of drivers to pay for mass transit.
Posted by Kinison on August 12, 2011 at 1:04 PM · Report this
Typical Democratic Party bullshit. Make working people pay more, protect corporations and big business and call it a victory. Fuck that.

I saw a bunch of shitty comments from Democrats and liberal idiots on the PI website about how they'd be "happy" to pay the fee but things really should change. Listen up, fucktards: if you're "happy" to pay the fee, things will NEVER change.

Democrats, you are on the same side as Republicans. Your blind allegiance to the other party of Wall Street makes you reactionary, not progressive. We're in a war and you've made clear you are the party of Obama and not the party of Wisconsin.

Metro buses are set to be cut again next winter. The city’s solution is to make us all pay 20 dollars to fix their problem. Youth bus fare is rising again in the fall. Everywhere we are being asked to pay more, whether its transit, rent, food or court fees. But we are done listening to them. We refuse to pay.
Posted by Zepol on August 12, 2011 at 1:04 PM · Report this
Baby Blue 17
I'm pretty irritated that I don't get to vote on this one but I'm glad I'll get bus tickets (that I may choose to donate) in exchange for my $20.

@11: I would love to see those figures too but I doubt anybody did the research on that before pushing this through. Once they figure out that it didn't save Metro and costs too much to administer, I'm sure they'll find a way to repeal the free bus ticket past of the deal.
Posted by Baby Blue on August 12, 2011 at 1:04 PM · Report this
Dancing on the Free Ride Area's grave!

Now if Metro would just take full advantage of the moment to:

- make sure all drivers open the back doors for exit
- encourage passengers to exit off the back whenever possible
- implement an ORCA fare incentive or cash surcharge to reduce cash payment
- find a way to off-board all fare collection for tunnel routes

we might start to have something resembling a transit system on our hands!

This is also the first evidence I've seen of Constantine's rumored political skills, and despite one silly statement (people who "give the bus a try are inclined to ride the bus again" only if it didn't make them horribly late the first time), it's a pretty major coup! Perhaps I've been wrong about Dow.
Posted by d.p. on August 12, 2011 at 1:08 PM · Report this
And why even wait 14 more months? Do it yesterday.
Posted by d.p. on August 12, 2011 at 1:13 PM · Report this
markmc 20
@Zepol - Inflation is a thing. I imagine you are refusing to pay for overpriced gas too? Ugg.. be less of a troll and people will listen to you.
Posted by markmc on August 12, 2011 at 1:16 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 21
implement an ORCA fare incentive or cash surcharge to reduce cash payment

It would also help if ORCA didn't take 24 hours to accept cash refills. I have an ORCA card, but I never use it the few times I do take the bus.

Metro needs to emerge from the Dark Ages already.
Posted by keshmeshi on August 12, 2011 at 1:18 PM · Report this
Akbar Fazil 22
@13, based off of the anecdotal evidence I provide watching the same route I take to Seattle in the morning, the time spent at busy stops (ie transfer centers, park and rides) isn't that much more than spent at busy stops downtown when I leave the city in the evening in the RFA. Getting rid of the homeless shuffle device will do great things for bus flow downtown imo.
Posted by Akbar Fazil on August 12, 2011 at 1:21 PM · Report this
orino 23
At least some good came out of this. The Free Ride Zone in downtown Seattle is worse than useless. Here's hoping the next step is making "customers" enter through the front door and exit through the rear, like every other transit system in the UNIVERSE.

Oh, and in Portland "Fareless Square" got renamed to "Free Rail Zone." It's only free if you ride MAX or the Streetcar. Cos buses have fare boxes and trains don't...
Posted by orino on August 12, 2011 at 1:25 PM · Report this
Andy 24
A concession from Seattle? I hate the Ride Free Area. I hope this will reduce the time of each route and raise more money for Metro. I've been waiting for as long as I've ridden Metro downtown for them to get rid of this senseless system.

@1, why compare ourselves to Portland? Why not San Francisco, New York, Hong Kong, London, Boston, Chicago, Paris, Tokyo? Let's look up, not down. No one has a Ride Free Area, because it doesn't really make sense.

@13, what little time you save downtown by not collecting fares is more than taken away by the time you leave the downtown area and have to wait for the 15 people at each major stop to pay (having to push through a crowded bus early in the route to get to the front, or not paying at all and just getting off the bus in the back if the bus driver opens those doors) and then for people to get on the bus from the front because the doors in the back aren't open. All the buses in the bus tunnel go from the International District to Convention Place, so I wouldn't worry so much about congestion. If you can't fit in this bus, get in the one behind it.
Posted by Andy on August 12, 2011 at 1:26 PM · Report this
Kesh @21:

The online ORCA delay is stupid and needs to die.

But let's say the card saved you 50 cents over paying cash. Bet you'd keep a few bucks on there and use it every time, right?
Posted by d.p. on August 12, 2011 at 1:37 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 27
@5 for The People United Shall Ride Without Squalor win.
Posted by Will in Seattle on August 12, 2011 at 1:53 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 29
The other good thing is you get 10 free bus tickets whenever you renew your car tabs and have an emissions inspection - encouraging you to use the bus instead or have visitors and relatives use it with you.

Now that encourages tourists!

"How much does the bus cost, son?" "It's free, Dad, here's some bus tickets cause I love you!"
Posted by Will in Seattle on August 12, 2011 at 1:56 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 30
@28 the exercise will do them good.

That or a visit to the restroom first.
Posted by Will in Seattle on August 12, 2011 at 1:59 PM · Report this
classic america. to get the (regressively funded) tax to support transit infrastructure, we are required to take a step backwards elsewhere. that's 2 points for conservatism (no free ride zone, regressive tax) and 1 point for (not harming) progressivism (not cutting services). even when progressive ideas win, they lose. the game is completely fixed. that's america.
Posted by philosophy school dropout on August 12, 2011 at 2:02 PM · Report this
@14: I suspect what's not being said is that they're hoping and praying that, by the time their reserves are exhausted, the economy will have stopped sucking and sales tax revenues will be up enough to make up for the shortfall.

The real genesis of this problem is that we're relying on sales tax revenues -- which are highly volatile -- to support the system. Ironically this means they face declining revenue in exactly the sort of economic conditions when people are more likely to want to ride the bus.
Posted by Orv on August 12, 2011 at 2:06 PM · Report this
Westlake, son! 33
Awesomeeeeeeee. Load/unload times can be much quicker too if they change it so you may only exit via the rear of the bus, unless you need the wheelchair ramp or a bike on the front rack.
Posted by Westlake, son! on August 12, 2011 at 2:17 PM · Report this
@33: Heh, half the time they forget to open the rear door anyway.
Posted by Orv on August 12, 2011 at 2:18 PM · Report this

And what, exactly, was "progressive" about free rides that only benefited tourists, businessmen taking lunches, and the occasional drug purveyor who didn't want to walk from his Belltown deal to his Pioneer Square deal, at the expense of everyone who actually needed a transit system but was instead stuck with a sub-jitney crawl around the city?
Posted by d.p. on August 12, 2011 at 2:21 PM · Report this
Bullshit. As an International District resident and frequent user of the Free Ride Zone I can assure you SLOG fucks that if you ever got your lily-white asses on a downtown bus that you would find them surprising clean and efficient. Now more incentive to drive my car to Belltown! Winning!
Posted by Time Bomb on August 12, 2011 at 2:37 PM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 37
Hi Time Bomb...first of all you are full of shit. I ride the buses from downtown to home every fucking day and they are fucking filthy , BUT if you use a bus that doesn't go through the "Free Ride Zone" they are far cleaner and much faster since you don't have drivers trying to get someone to pay the fare on the way out of the coach.

And why can't they kill the zone this week?
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on August 12, 2011 at 2:44 PM · Report this
Karlheinz Arschbomber 38
@36, suck it. There's no place to park in Belltown. As said above a few times, this ends the era of the rolling homeless shelter. The squalor on buses is bad enough without all the drunks pissing themselves and shouting nonsense.
Posted by Karlheinz Arschbomber on August 12, 2011 at 2:46 PM · Report this
Those of you who want a chance to vote on this: This is why we have elected officials, to make these decisions. Nothing gets done around here because leaders are too chickenshit to lead and instead wait around for initiatives to be put on ballots.

It's a good solution to a tough problem.
Posted by bigyaz on August 12, 2011 at 2:47 PM · Report this
Dougsf 40
@21 - Here in SF, our (MUNI Fast Pass) online pass payment system sucks as well, for the reasons you listed. It might just be the nature of this sort of thing. At least we've got the option to buy them direction from machines at the underground stops, not sure what outlets are selling ORCA cards.
Posted by Dougsf on August 12, 2011 at 2:54 PM · Report this
This seems like a pretty good deal. I'm not wild about $20 on my tabs but I like the service cuts a lot less. The RFA costs the city $400,000/year and fare dodgers cost metro $62,000/week in uncollected fares from people who get on downtown and don't pay at the end of their ride.
Posted by Fjornir on August 12, 2011 at 2:54 PM · Report this
@37 and @38. Take it easy there, lil fellas. I don't have to use the bus tunnel or free ride zone - I choose to. My employer actually provides parking in Belltown and I previously lived in the CD on a Harborview line where the buses were actually full of pissy drunks and folks with severe mental problems. Downtown buses are great comparatively, full of those pesky tourist types (spending money), business people on lunch (spending money), and the working people of Seattle (making money).
Posted by Time Bomb on August 12, 2011 at 3:03 PM · Report this
Even without the free ride zone, there is still incentive to take a bus. It's easier to have someone else do the driving, and parking isn't cheap. Of course, the free ride zone is the ideal.
Posted by Smell on August 12, 2011 at 3:14 PM · Report this
kellenfujimoto 48
Honestly, I think that the free ride zone should have been eliminated long ago. Helps get people off their lazy asses and walk the whopping mile into downtown, and eliminates confusion re: pay as you enter v. pay as you leave.
Posted by kellenfujimoto on August 12, 2011 at 4:12 PM · Report this
@8: It's only confusing if you choose to make it confusing. Any bus coming from downtown will always be pay as you leave. Any bus going into downtown you always pay as you enter. Yeah, I know that there are people who have been riding the buses for years and can't figure that out yet, but some people are autistic and you can't teach them anything.
Posted by Weekilter on August 12, 2011 at 4:21 PM · Report this
breakdown 51
That's one of the biggest obstacles to ridership gone--hooray! That "pay as you enter/pay as you leave" thing was just a bad idea. It looks easy enough on paper, but when a "new customer" (someone who isn't accustomed to riding the bus) is afraid they are going to be late or miss a bus or get on the wrong bus, or go in the wrong direction, that extra layer of detail is enough to make them say "screw it, the buses are too complicated, I'll just drive."

If they want a ride free zone, that's fine, just paint the buses a different color so they are visually distinct (e.g. orange or black or red with "RIDE FREE" painted on them) and set up the routes so they run a circuit through the current ride free area. That makes it "free buses" (not confusing) instead of "free zone" (which requires one to interpret a map).

I think the next big steps for increasing ridership are better on time performance and hiring a really good graphic designer to produce easily readable signs and schedules.
Posted by breakdown on August 12, 2011 at 4:44 PM · Report this
GlamB0t 52
I'm so happy the Free Ride Nightmare is over. I don't understand why people can't purchase day passes that can be used as a day pass on the monorail and street cars to cater to tourists. This is assuming that's what the city thinks it gains from having the free zone: easy accessibility for tourists to see stuff around downtown. Expanding this to street cars, and the monorail would also get tourists into surrounding neighborhoods. Maybe have a small area of downtown buses that allow you to ride free if you have a monorail or street car day pass. I would think the ticketing system would all be the same, but this is Seattle.

They also really need to dump orca all together. It's terrible. Have you ever lost your password for their site? Fucking nightmare. They want a goddamn retina scan in before they will give it up, you can't just reset it like EVERY OTHER site on the internet.
Posted by GlamB0t on August 12, 2011 at 4:49 PM · Report this
internet_jen 54
If the free ride zone is what makes the down town buses so filthy then why isn't the 348/347 pristine? Buses are always gonna be gross.
Posted by internet_jen on August 12, 2011 at 6:40 PM · Report this
internet_jen 55
Oh, and the 43 barely spends any time in the Free Ride Zone and it's hella gross too.
Posted by internet_jen on August 12, 2011 at 6:48 PM · Report this
Free Lunch 56
@53, Yes, because that new multi-billion dollar tunnel is for bikes only. And the 520 bridge is being widened only to accommodate bikes. And all of the repaving and pothole repair is needed due to the road damage bicycles cause.

Look, I get that you hate bicyclists. I hate most of them, too, and I'm one of them. But you shouldn't let your hatred steer you into sounding like an idiot.
Posted by Free Lunch on August 12, 2011 at 6:59 PM · Report this
Sea J 59
I've been a bus driver for 13 years, and I can tell you that getting rid of the ride free area will not make the bus any more pleasant. Most of the smelly pants-pissers and seat-shitters have reduced fare cards that they use. Also, the ride free area speeds up boarding during rush hour downtown and helps keep traffic moving. Get rid of the RFA and be prepared to see a looooong line of buses up second, third, and fourth while dipshits hold everything up standing at the farebox looking for a nickel in their backpacks. Having said that, I am no fan of the ride free area- there's nothing worse that having some d-bag who got on downtown walk off the bus in the U-District without paying.
Posted by Sea J on August 13, 2011 at 12:29 AM · Report this
@37 makes an excellent point, as Seattle was once a fairly clean city.

Unfortunately, since locals have become minority in number, with outsiders now numbering in the majority, too many professional litterbugs and trashy types rule.

Not my kind of people.....
Posted by sgt_doom on August 13, 2011 at 5:07 PM · Report this
Why should homeless people be discouraged from riding the bus? Maybe it's you who needs to change your perception about homeless people instead of just adopting an out of sight out of mind mentality. If their body odor is the worst part of your day, maybe you should try living on the street for a while. Of course, I'm annoyed when I smell old alcohol and garbage coming off the person sitting in front of me. But I also get to go home to a nice smelling bed and a clean bathroom. They don't.
And I promise the ride free area downtown is not for tourists. A city wants a tourist's money and will do anything to get it. It's really not for them.
I am not staunchly against getting rid of the RFA. I realize the amount of money this will save will also save the metro system. However, I do not support its elimination because I am ashamed of the homeless population or think that wealthy people DESERVE better public transport. If you don't like the bus, don't take it. But some people have no other option.
Posted by gegehman on August 14, 2011 at 11:02 AM · Report this
Timebomb, since you have it all, no one cares what you think.
Posted by ng53 on August 15, 2011 at 10:39 AM · Report this

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