I just got back from Pioneer Square. After grabbing a sandwich at Jimmy John’s, I walked over to the I.D. where I picked up some groceries at Uma Jo Mamma, and then I hopped a bus home with my loot.
How much did the trip cost me?
You see, I live in the “Ride Free Zone”, an area encompassing most of Downtown Seattle where people can literally … ride the trains and buses without paying (hence the name). This system was put in place with the hopes of reducing traffic in Seattle’s core.
This zone receives a lot of criticism from folks in other areas of the city, but it probably comes as no surprise that I really like it. After all, I’m human, and it’s nice to get something back from Seattle’s rather steep sales tax (2.6% City + .4% Transit). I recognize that this system is unfair to other neighborhoods, but since forty cents of every 100 dollars I spend goes to maintain transit, I really don’t feel all that guilty about it either.
My freeloading ways may soon be coming to an end, however.
King County Metro is taking a long, hard look at how much money it is losing from its free-ride zone.
For three decades, the City of Seattle has subsidized a free bus ride through downtown. There are nearly ten million boardings each year in the free-ride zone.
The problem centers on freeloaders — passengers who ride outside of the free zone and don’t pay when they get off.
Metro says the transit is losing $62,000 every week on fare evaders, which equals out to over $3 million each year.
Metro is studying the financial feasibility of the free-ride zone. They are looking at who uses it and how much they pay when traveling outside of the free ride boundaries.
Seattle pays the transit system nearly $400,000 a year to off-set the loses. Metro is considering asking Seattle for a larger subsidy and also possibly eliminating the free service.
Metro will complete the free-ride study in spring and make recommendations to the King County Council.
Now, I think the “freeloader” label used above might be a little bit harsh. After all, the Ride-Free Zone is not clearly marked, and it’s very confusing. As a matter of fact, I have three different maps from three different publishers all showing different boundaries for the zone (one shows the I.D. Station being in the zone, one shows it out, and one shows the ride free line going through the station).
I’ve never intentionally evaded a fare, but I may have been freeloading all this time and I just haven’t known it. Especially when I go to the Convention Center and Chinatown. There are also no announcements at the stops, such as “this is the last station in the Ride-Free zone, past this point you need to pay a fare”). As such, I think Metro needs to shoulder some of the blame. Certainly some of those “freeloaders” are innocent victims of ambiguity.
It’s probably all over but the crying, though. I like the idea of free transit to relieve congestion in the inner-city, but the zone just has too many harsh critics. I don’t think it will survive much longer.