Metro to end ride free zone in downtown Seattle


by KING 5 News

Posted on September 26, 2012 at 9:14 AM

Updated Saturday, Nov 9 at 3:05 PM

The days of riding King County Metro in downtown Seattle for free are nearly over.

Starting September 29, the ride free zone in downtown will be no more, affecting dozens of bus routes and hundreds of stops.

King County Metro said changes are needed to survive deep budget cuts and growing demand.

Several other changes will also take place starting the 29th. Here's what riders can expect:

  • Two new RapidRide routes will be added. RapidRide C Line will travel between downtown and West Seattle, and RapidRide D Line will travel between downtown and Ballard via Uptown.
  • Dozens of bus routes will be changing. Either bus stops will move, buses will be rerouted or stop at different times, or routes will be cut altogether. A total of 1,300 bus stops will be affected.
  • After 40 years, the ride-free zone in downtown will no longer exist. Metro will change to a pay-on-entry system on all buses. 
  • Metro said the free zone was costing around $2.2 million per year.

Metro said the free zone was costing around $2.2 million per year.

"For the past 39 years, the city has paid Metro to operate the Ride Free Area. While the cost has grown with inflation, it has not been adjusted in several years to account for changes in operating costs, ridership, and resulting fare revenue lost by Metro," Metro says on a Q & A section on the ride free changes.  "It also directed Metro to eliminate the Ride Free Area or negotiate a new agreement with the city to cover the cost of operation. This is not possible, because the city’s budget is shrinking rather than growing. That cost is currently estimated at $2.2 million annually. So, Metro is proceeding with eliminating the Ride Free Area."

All of these changes could take time for riders to get used to. Metro says riders should prepare for some delays as lines form to pay fares.

"The rhythm of the traffic in downtown Seattle will have to adapt for pay on entry. We are confident that over time that adaptation will happen, but during the transition period, we're asking everyone to be patient," said Kevin Desmond, Metro Transit general manager.

When the changes happen on September 29, Metro will be adding extra employees downtown to help keep things flowing.

Metro asks riders to do their homework before they hop on the bus.  Check the King County Metro website to see how these changes affect your commute. Printed rider alert brochures will also be distributed in the coming weeks.

KING 5's Jake Whittenberg and Liza Javier contributed to this report.