The Sound Transit Board on Thursday will likely vote to set the base Link fare at $1.75. The fare would be modified with a distance-based surcharge of $.05 per mile rounded to the nearest quarter (you can read about the introduction of the distance-based fare in our archives). The maximum fare from Downtown Seattle to Seatac Airport would be $2.50.
This option was chosen over an alternative which would have had the base fare at $2.00 but given downtown riders free access to light rail in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Sound Transit staff notes that while this option would have created higher ridership because there wouldn’t be an incentive for cash-users to avoid the rail fare, the rest of the network would be subsidizing the Link trips within downtown.
Linda Thielke, a Metro spokesperson, said that the bus agency has “no plan” to change the ride free policy in the tunnel. This will create a unique situation where riding buses in the tunnel is free, but riding light rail costs money.
Light rail riders have to either purchase tickets for the appropriate destination before boarding, or tap on and then “tap off” with the upcoming Orca smart fare/pass card. Each of these methods would be much faster than the current on-board payment system on buses which can cause crowding.
The Mayor’s transportation adviser, Andrew Glass Hastings, noted that Metro decided “to keep ride free in the tunnel to maintain headways and not impact their service.” Indeed, we have argued in the past that the absence of bus fares downtown can keep things operating smoothly.
You can read the full resolution on the Sound Transit website (pdf). My favorite part is the 52% farebox recovery ratio expected in 2017 once University Link opens. High ridership and long trains operated by one person will do that.
Follow-up: We have some numbers showing the effect on ridership.