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Good Bye To Seattle's Ride Free Bus Zone

Liz Jones

Bus riders in King County are in for some major transition. On Saturday, Metro Transit will flip the switch on its biggest service change in recent history. It includes dozens of route changes and the end of the ride–free zone in downtown Seattle.


If you plan to ride the bus through downtown Seattle early next week, this message is for you:

Desmond: "Be patient."

That's Kevin Desmond with King County Metro Transit.

Desmond: "We really ask you to be patient. It's probably going to take a few extra minutes for your bus to get in and out of downtown, probably during the evening rush hour. So, maybe take a little bit more time. We think after this period of transition things will settle down."

It's a huge transition. Metro is changing more than 50 routes. It's also axing nearly 20 others and adding a few new ones. But perhaps the biggest shake–up is in the heart of downtown Seattle: the ride–free zone.

It started 40 years ago to allow people to get on and off the bus faster in busy downtown traffic. Now, as the recession chipped away at Metro's revenue, Desmond says the free zone is no longer feasible.

Desmond: "We've done many many things to close our financing gap. One of our issues was the ride–free area. We were not getting compensated for the fairly significant loss in revenue. We estimate we'll generate nearly $2.2 million in additional fare revenue. That helps preserve service."

Desmond says all this rearranging allows Metro is keep its current bus service hours and improve efficiency.

Social service advocates say the loss of the free zone will especially hurt poor and low–income people. People like Chistopher Kelly. He says he rides the free zone every day.

Kelly: Well, I use it for everything: running errands, going to the grocery store, laundromat, everything.

Kelly lives near King Street Station. He says he takes Sound Transit to a job in Sumner every day, then rides Metro to get everywhere else. He says can probably scrape together the extra fare, or else he'll just end up walking more. But he's certain it'll be a bigger burden for many others.

Kelly: When you depend on the ride–free zone, you know you could depend on it. But now you won't be able to and there's a whole lot of people just can't afford to uh, can't go without it."

Metro's adding a free circulator bus to help low–income people get to health and human services in the downtown area. It'll run on a loop to just seven stops during weekday hours.

While these changes may slow things downtown for a few days, service is due to speed up elsewhere. Metro's also rolling out two new rapid ride bus lines to downtown — one from West Seattle and the other from Ballard.

I'm Liz Jones, KUOW News.

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