Last week, the Seattle PI reported that Downtown Seattle’s Ride Free Area may not last:

Seattle’s downtown Ride Free Area is again under the microscope as transit officials examine how much it contributes to a multi-million-dollar problem with fare evasion. King County Metro Transit officials also have sat down with city officials to revisit an outdated agreement under which Seattle pays to offset fares that would otherwise be collected inside the zone.

“That may lead us to determine to abandon the ride free zone, but that’s many months away from now,” Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond told the county’s Regional Transit Committee Wednesday.

The discussion stems from a recent Metro Transit study showing the agency loses about $3.2 million per year from non-paying riders, or about $62,000 per week. That accounts for an estimated 53,000 riders who don’t pay each week and 35,000 who only pay partial fares. Altogether, that’s just under 5 percent of ridership.

I wrote in January of 2009 that if we eventually moved to heavy ORCA adoption, eliminating the Ride Free Area might make sense… maybe. Budget considerations may alter that judgment slightly, but for all the confusion and possible fare avoidance the RFA may cause, it also helps to ensure that buses move through downtown smoother and have lower dwell times. But Link light rail isn’t free downtown and a peer city — Portland — recently eliminated free bus rides in its downtown.

Of course, Desmond’s comments may be a thinly-veiled call to the Seattle City Council: contribute more to Metro for the Ride Free Area. Seattle pays about $400,000 a year for the Ride Free Area, based on a “methodology in place since 1989 to estimate the difference between the value of the fares Metro would collect if a fare was charged for trips within downtown Seattle and the operating cost savings Metro experiences due to the faster travel times through the CBD,” according to Metro. The 1998 agreement between the city and Metro indexes the payment to inflation, but with “ridership increases over the past few years – combined with 2009 and 2010 fare increases – the difference between fare collections and cost savings in the RFA is increasing much faster than inflation.”

109 Replies to “Ride Free Area Future in Doubt?”

  1. I’m not seeing too many fans of the RFA in that article (and its blog) or on this blog. With the advent of ORCA, tapping machines at all doors, increased roving security, and more ubiquitous ticket machines throughout downtown and at all transfer centers, I sense the RFA’s days are numbered. Nor do I sense any constituency that would lobby the City if Seattle to increase its contribution to keep the RFA.

    You can stick a fork in it. It’s done.

    That said, am I going to be the lone voice for remembering that public transit is heavily subsidized by the taxpayers, and therefore a social service? We better be prepared to have a system for issuing ORCA cards to those who are too poverty-stricken to afford such, with their agreement to comply with the rules of behavior on the bus or have their cards confiscated. Such a system might be seen as an invasion of the privacy of the homeless, but nobody is forcing them to ride, or to get an ORCA card.

    To those who would say inability to pay is a “behavior” that should keep people off the bus, I would say that you, too, are evading 75-80% of the real cost of your ride, and pushing it off on taxpayers, including those homeless who pay sales tax and you are trying to keep off the bus.

    1. Fare evaders are ‘masters’ at gaming the system. Change the rules, and they adapt rather quickly to the next scam. Orca readers on the rear doors are fine, but what does the driver do if the machine rejects the card? Get up and walk back? No Way.
      So that would require a POP system, then all the evaders would just get an orca, and board without tapping, then claim “Well it worked OK when I got on”, or something like that. Then what. Let the courts spend a hundred bucks to sort out a 2 dollar dispute?

      1. Currently, when the front ORCA reader fails, the cash machine jams, or the pass reader stops working, the driver covers all three with a “free ride” sign.

        With two ORCA readers, the operator can still put out the “free ride” signs, or just have everyone pay at the reader that is still working (on the rare occasion that the failure is inside one reader and not a systemwide server delay).

        The delay time is less than assisting one wheelchair passenger, and operators walk to the back of the bus for various reasons quite often, anyway.

      2. If the ORCA card reader dies, policy currently dictates that we still accept cash fares. That said, the ORCA readers aren’t dying very often any more.

      3. The ORCA card itself has a record of the last few transactions. This is how POP works on Link and Sounder. Those fare evaders would get a ticket for fare evasion when their card showed they didn’t actually tap in.

        The court thing might be an issue, I think taking a look at how things are working out for Link and Sounder would show how much of a problem fare evasion tickets are for the courts.

        Frankly I’d love to see something done about the rampant fare evasion on Metro.

      4. You are right about gaming the system.

        When I was unemployed and living in Lake City, I took advantage of ORCA being new to probably save $50-60 by tapping it wrong or tapping it with an insufficient balance. Drivers generally didn’t do anything.

      5. Out of curiousity: How would being required to pay have affected your ability to transition back into employment?

      6. when you dont have any money $50-60 is an extra $50-60 that could be spent on food or shelter. The system is disadvantagous to those who have limited incomes, because it requires you to pay in advance (presuming you used cash fares), and of the high cost of the “overhead” required to make it work to its fullest potential in many cases. Overhead being some form of credit or debit card with funds to back that up, for all intent and purpose an internet connection as ORCA resellers, and TVMs are still few and far between. Now, it is extremly efficient in collecting every penny of revenue earned though.

    2. Driving is also heavily subsidized by tax payers, even more so than public transportation.

      Additionally, other major metro systems seem to do just fine without a RFA and the homeless seem to get from point A to point B just fine. Highly unlikely, but maybe this will encourage them to think twice what they use the money they collect for… or evade fares like they always do.

      1. Are you implying that most homeless people are panhandlers? If that were the case, we’d have to run a gauntlet of thousands of panhandlers downtown every day.

        Yes, roads are heavily subsidized, and the impoverished get to use them — by riding public transit.

        I’m tired of hearing this contrived term “fare evaders”. Unless you offer up a $10 bill when you get on the bus, you are being a freeloader.

        No, I don’t pay $10 either. But I also recognize that I can’t pick and choose who else gets to ride publicly-funded transit.

      2. How the heck is “fare evader” contrived. Is someone evading paying the fare or not?

        And the whole subsidies arguement is rediculous. Corn is heavily subsidized, but you don’t see people walking into QFC grabbing a bushel or two, say ‘It’s okay, it’s subsidized’ and everyone just shrug it off.

    3. I’m getting a little tired of this 80% subsidy number being trotted out in such contexts. It is very misleading to tell EVERY rider that they’re only paying 20% of the true cost of their fare. That number is an average across the entire system, which includes ACCESS vans, which are probably about 99% subsidized, free passes to SHARE and other social service orgs, fare evaders, and lightly traveled routes on the Eastside, as well as night owl routes.

      If you are, say, a student traveling during peak hours from downtown to the U-district, or vice versa, you probably are not getting much of a subsidy at all, or perhaps even paying more than the true cost of your fare. Your level of subsidy depends upon the route you ride, the length, the time of day, etc.

      It is true that most rides are significantly subsidized, but much of the average subsidy figure is the result of political decisions to aid poor people, handicapped people, people in suburban low density areas who contribute sales taxes to transit etc. It would be interesting to see METROs numbers on the average subsidy per ROUTE.

      1. That’s all published in the Route Performance Reports. Eastside peak averages 19% fare recovery (2008), South is at 24% and West(North) is at 39%. The report breaks it down by route and time of day. Basicly, for revenue sharing to be equal Seattle should get twice as many hours of service per dollar of sales tax revenue contributed because it costs twice as much to run buses on the eastside. Worse, apportioning the hours evenly diminishes performance on the Eastside because most of those hours end up going to the least productive routes. In contrast, Seattle has numerous places where additional transit would have sufficient demand and it may even raise overall efficiency because improved service could result in significantly better system usage (i.e. the bus would get used for more trips if hours or frequency was increased).

      2. Oh, I meant to add that the top performer on the Eastside is at 34%, the South tops out at 53% but West(North) has numerous routes above 60% and “the number one” is 71% fare recovery (these are peak numbers).

      3. It’s not that subarea equity is a bad concept it’s that the implementation isn’t equitable. The eastside deserves to get service equal to the cost they pay in. But it has to be realized that that service costs twice as much to implement so for an equal amount paid in they only deserve half as many hours. This would quickly drive the more populated areas to lay claim to the most hours thereby increasing efficiency which in turn provides more service hours. The current system encourages the opposite; the widest area coverage serving the least number of people.

      4. “Basicly, for revenue sharing to be equal Seattle should get twice as many hours of service per dollar of sales tax revenue contributed because it costs twice as much to run buses on the eastside.”

        Uh, no.

        39% farebox recovery => $1 of Seattle sales tax => $1.64 in total revenue
        19% farebox recovery => $1 of Eastside sales tax => $1.23 in total revenue

        $1.64 / $1.23 = 1.33

        For revenue sharing to be equal, Seattle should get 33% more hours per dollar of sales tax, not twice as much.

        As of 2008, Seattle received about 2.3 times as many platform hours as the Eastside.

      5. 39% and 19% are te peak hour averages. When you look off peak the numbers for the eastside are dramatically worse. 2X was a ballpark figure. Pull up the report and run through the numbers if you want the exact numbers for the entire service period.

    4. Boston was supposed to begin charging $5 for its CharlieCard, but wound up keeping them free.

      Tourists, temporary residents, and infrequent users have every incentive to get one — they’ve even just started putting weekly passes on the cards (previously they were on a ticket with a magnetic stripe) in addition to monthly passes and pay-per-ride.

      And non-card transfers are gone.

      The result: near-total CharlieCard adoption!

      1. When I visited there, they practically threw the CharlieCards at me! All of the TVMs had a big row of CharlieCards lined up on top, free for the taking.

  2. “may be a thinly-veiled call to the Seattle City Council: contribute more”

    I may just be cynical, but it seems to me that this might also be a motive for the move to eliminate electric trolley buses. I foresee a sudden plan to save them, so long as Seattle picks up most of the tab for wire maintenance.

    1. It seems like Seattle should not only “pick up the tab” but perform the wire maintenance. Seattle City Light gets the money for selling the power to Metro. A combination of SDOT and City Light basicly own the infrastructure. SDOT takes care of the streets don’t they even when it’s a transit only lane. And, in an area equity way of looking at it Seattle is the beneficiary of the electric buses. From a revenue standpoint I think it’s easier for Seattle since they can pull funding from City Light, SDOT, local property taxes, etc. Metro has only the general sales tax which is tapped out.

      1. Horrible idea Bernie. The difference between being a lineman for City Light and a Power/Facilities worker is like night and day.
        Years of training go into making a trolley lineman, getting switches and wire aligned just so, jumping coaches around the dead zones, and working with DC instead of AC. I’m OK with City Light paying the bills, but don’t mess with the small and elite force of overhead pros.

      2. What about just transferring their employment to being a department of City Light? It just seems like if Seattle was going to foot the bill they should have charge over personnel to avoid things like the ferry fiasco where ships engineers schedule vacation during known drydock time so they can get double or triple time. My guess is that there is a certain amount of planned maintenance but much of the time is spent being on call for unexpected problems. There’s also the opportunity for other City Light linemen to work in an apprentice position to learn that side of the craft so that there’s less of an elite corp that is the sole repository of knowledge. That’s probably one reason line maintenance is so expensive.

      3. City Light could take over the maintenance without using standard line workers. They would simply embrace the current power and line division, making them city employees. They would keep their distinct nature and specialization.

        Bernie was talking about who pays the tab – not simply turning over the trolley wire, substations and switching to the in-place City Light crews.

    2. Maybe Seattle could then start charging for street use by out of town bus routes that go downtown. Besides the wear and tear, they actually take up space during busy commute times.

      1. Ditto to this!

        Does Seattle realize that most of its residents don’t see much benefit from the RFA? It’s actually most advantageous for the suburbanites who drive downtown, and can use it at lunch, thus never paying a cent into the system!

      2. If they’re buying lunch downtown they certainly are putting money into the system via the sales tax (plus hotel and restaurant taxes). Despite all the talk of how the RFA is to make boarding faster it’s the downtown merchants that seem to be the ones keeping the pressure on to maintain the City subsidy for this service. There’s plenty of ways that have been covered to overcome the boarding issue; besides, if you’re riding away from downtown you board for free and pay as you leave. RFA just pushes more volume onto the bus so how does that help speed up boarding?

  3. Many transit advocates and commenters have monthly passes and would not be impacted by eliminating the RFA. I think that is why you don’t see many comments.

    The occasional “cash” or pay-per-ride rider is the one who’s most impacted.

    If the RFA is eliminated, an automatic day-pass should be instituted on ORCA. It could be something like $5-6 for trips that stay entirely within King County and $6-8 for intercounty (e.g. 2X – 2.5X the 2-zone in-county/inter-county fare). Once you hit that maximum amount you have a daypass for that region for the rest of the day. If this daypass is instituted, then paper transfers can also be eliminated.

    1. It would be a great help if we could install ORCA top-off stations around town, just like ATMs. Put them in Bartells throughout the area.

    2. Of course, once someone hits the maximum, the bus system becomes her/his roving homeless shelter for the rest of the day. I suspect that’s why the city issues individual tickets rather than monthly passes to Share/Wheel.

      1. Don’t worry, most homeless people won’t be paying $5-6 a day for a partial day’s rolling shelter. Panhandlers make around $35 a day after standing around all day (i.e., not riding the bus), so $5-6 would be a significant pecentage of their income.

  4. If the city wants free rides downtown, they should invest in a circulator route. I would guess even if the RFA is eliminated, the 99 will still be free. Get some more buses painted like that to cruise up and down Fifth Ave and Second Ave.

    The RFA may speed up boarding downtown, but it’s not worth the confusion, the fare evasion and the inconvenience of deboarding on outbound buses. It’s time for it do die.

    1. A Yesler to Denny circulator would be awesome. Up 4th, Down 2nd. Or one on 2nd and one on 4th, using 3rd as a loopback.

      1. Yeah I like the up Fourth, down Second idea, although maybe have it go all the way south to Jackson instead of just Yesler. Have a few small vehicles on it, perhaps branded specially, and have it come every 10 minutes during the work day, 15 minutes after, and it would be great.

    2. A circulator would be a ridiculously bad compromise. The 99 is unridable – you have to wait around 15 minutes what would have taken 15 minutes to walk. And if they added enough buses for 5 minute wait times (less frequent than exist now), that would slow your bus down quite a bit, as it waits for open bus parking.

      Don’t forget the main benefit of the RFA isn’t free rides for downtown riders – it’s a way to speed up service. You’ll have to wait in line downtown for people to pay getting on (yes, cash fares will still exist). Then your bus will have to wait for bus parking while the bus in front of it waits for the same thing.

      Then there’s the cost savings. All of this extra waiting means your bus can make fewer runs. To provide the same level of service, they’ll have to add new buses and new drivers. Remove the $400k revenue that downtown kicks in, and keep in mind that we’re out of taxing authority and that farebox recovery is a small amount of revenue, and your fare will go up and up.

      1. Couldn’t some of the speed be made up once passengers learn to exit through the rear doors only? Every stop outside the RFA could be more efficient than now. And Metro could start ordering rear doors that are “push to exit” to cut down on fare evasion.

      2. There are issues with that as well. Handicap access, fare evasion (which seems easy even with “push to exit”), and the fact that speeding up stops out in the neighborhoods is much less important than speeding up stops downtown (where a slow loading bus slows down the five buses behind it).

      3. Jonglix, my hero!

        A key complement to the elimination of the RFA will be to get everyone used to one-way doors: always enter front, always exit back. It’s the little time savings that add up — for example, no more doing the “is-someone-coming-off?” neck-twist before boarding.

        Handicap front exit will actually be faster with everyone else using the back door as their default exit.

        (You know, Matt, this is how it works everywhere else!)

      4. I’m not sure how that would be faster, especially adding the act of paying a fare, than using both doors for entering or exiting the bus downtown. Yes, occasionaly there is someone swimming against the stream, but during commute times people are mostly going one way.

    3. Well, supposedly the original purpose of the RFA was to encourage non-riders to try the bus, and to avoid installing a circulator rote.

      But yeah, it’s time for the RFA to go. Especially with the 7pm policy. It used to be easy to remember, “Pay on the non-downtown side.” Now it changes depending on the time of day, which makes it hard to remember which end to pay on.

  5. Maybe eliminating the RFA during these troubled financial times for Metro/ST/KC/City would be the smart move, strictly from the bean counters point of view.
    Bus requirements are based on the peak loads, which often occur downtown in the RFA. Having fewer riders, would allow for fewer coaches on many routes (longer headways), and fewer passengers would mean less financial impact on Metro (less subsidy).

    1. Well that’s just as easily solved by not basing bus requirements on the RFA.

  6. We could also solve this by making all rides free. The buses, LINK, Sounder are all heavily subsidized already and adding a bit extra by not bothering have ORCA card readers, fare enforcement, money counters back at the station etc. Plus it’s been shown to increase the ridership. We’d have to do double block skipping to keep the buses moving but it’s the otherside of the fix it coin.

    1. Except that free or ‘pre-paid’ fare encourages many more riders, requiring more buses and drivers. Metro would be faced with much higher costs, and 60 million or so a year less in revenue.
      How would you pay for all this?

      1. I think Gary’s said it. Instead of adding buses (at least when we can’t afford to), reduce stops. Not collecting fares will speed buses up, perhaps to the point where they can make another run in a day – which would increase service. Not stopping as frequently could also increase the number of runs you could make in a day.

        This would be using physical location as the means to limit demand rather than cost. Either way some people don’t get to ride. But I’d argue this way you’d end up with more riders, not less, with the same amount of service hours.

      2. Even though you lose 60Million from incoming Revenue, there are some cost savings from not having to install and maintain the ORCA dispensing machines, the on-board ORCA and cash readers, the station ORCA readers, the people who count the cash when riders use exact fare, the need to print fare/rate schedules.

        Politically it’s probably a dead idea, because of the whining people who drive would now see the subsidy for transit, but from a engineering view, it simplifies a lot of the problems with the whole fare collection problem.

        People can now use both doors on a bus at any time of day, no waiting for people to dig out their pass. No pressure on the driver to enforce transfers, or payment. So buses would be faster, due to less station dwell time as well. Which overall may make them fast enough to not have to buy new equipment to give us more service.

      3. Mike,

        I hope you’re not suggesting that to save money we should encourage fewer people to ride the bus? Sounds like you are suggesting that more people riding the bus is a bad idea.

  7. Seems like all the European systems I’ve been on have rear door exit only, specifically to speed things up. If we change to pay as you enter only, that should be pretty easy to implement here, too.

    Also, I really do feel like we lose a lot of potential riders in the suburbs becasue of the whole pay as you enter/exit confusion. I’ve known many folks who are just too overwhelmed with the situation, so they just drive instead. This is especially true when your destination doesn’t include Seattle, so it appears arbitrary as to when paying happens.

    1. Just go up to Vancouver, B.C. It really helps. No more driver holding up his hand to stop people while waiting for people to exit the front door. Boarding and exiting can occur simultaneously.

      1. I think getting rid of the RFA, only allowing front door boarding and rear door exits would greatly improve the rider experiences here along with revenue. Something else to consider, without the RFA, LINK ridership numbers may increase. People who are avoiding LINK in the tunnel because “it costs”, will hop aboard the train if it’s the next transit choice in the tunnel instead of just hopping the next bus if you’re going between tunnel stations.

      2. In Vancouver, fare evasion is rampant on the 99 B-Line, but the sheer volume of people riding it has necessitated the proof-of-payment/3-door-boarding system. TransLink never does fare inspections, and it has accepted that a certain amount of fare evasion is acceptable on such a high-volume line. Most people still pay anyway (or have UPasses). Passenger throughput would be a nightmare without all-door boarding/alighting.

    2. Yeah the confusion between Pay as you Enter and Pay as you Leave seems to be one of the most common complaints I hear about Metro. Even people who have been riding the bus for years don’t understand it.

      1. Especially on N 85th St, where the 48 is pay as you enter and the 355 is pay as you leave. I had to remind one rider of that today.

      2. Yes, it can be confusing. That is why IT IS WRITTEN IN BIG BOLD LETTERS ON THE FAIR BOX.

        It’s funny that people can go to a movie and they have a handle on that fare structure…

      3. Only Michael Bay movies should be pay as you leave…

        I think they should simplify the pay structure. Get on, pay ONE SET FEE and done. Enter in the front door, exit in the rear.

        Also, please make the fare information signs speaking with flashing neon…(and you’ll still get the fools who ask the driver how much the fare is and when do I pay).

  8. There is one problem with eliminating the ride free area. Its harder for the drivers to know if people are getting off in a one zone of two zone area. As I recall reading in the comments at STB once one person explained where they were going and ask the driver to which the orca reader to a one zone and the driver give them a weird look as if they were attempting to pay a partial fare. And one time I boarded the 522 downtown after 7 and the driver had set the orca reader to a 2 zone but I was only making a one zone trip. I wasn’t really paying attention to the display on the reader and didn’t realize what had happened tell it was two late.

    1. Pay-as-you-leave (PAYL) makes paying with ORCA on zone fares somewhat easier. I usually ride the 535 for only one zone and every time I board the bus I have to ask for the default 2-zone to be reset. I don’t get why it takes so many button pushes for a task that would be frequently used.

      Imagine a driver constantly switching between zones for each person at a downtown stop during rush hour. That would waste so much time. PAYL can be done without RFA and vice versa. Portland had pay-as-you-enter on buses in their Fareless Square for a long time.

      1. If you are already in the fare screen, it’s only one button to override the default zone setting for one fare payment. That said, most of us don’t get into the fare screen until somebody actually asks for a one zone fare so that requires one more button. If the driver is switching the default fare zone, that requires a lot of buttons – it’s a HORRIBLE interface.

        Frankly, the whole ORCA interface needs a usability study. Every time I have to do something to the ORCA reader, I need to stop and think. Nothing about that interface is intuitive. (Sorry ST folks who worked on this – I’ve been in your shoes in a previous career and I know how difficult it can be. You tried, but you are not bus drivers and as far as I can tell, you’ve never received broad feedback directly from any of us)

      2. Wait, so there’s an override button and another button to change the default? Could it be that some drivers are doing it the hard way?

        I saw some card reader models have buttons that the user can push to choose a zone themselves.

        That said, I haven’t tried the zone fare presets in the website because I don’t get what Zone 1, 2, 3’s supposed to mean.

      3. As near as I’ve been able to figure out, you can just swap the order of the number and the word “Zone.” So, “Zone 1” actually means “1 zone,” etc. I ride a 2 zone bus (the 545) almost exclusively in a 1 zone area (Redmond), and with my preset at “Zone 1” I correctly get charged the 1 zone $1.50. The way it’s worded on the ORCA site makes it sound like there are actual geographic areas that are labeled “Zone x” but that’s not the way the system works in practice.

        I’m still looking forward to (dreading?) taking a 2 zone trip and having to ask the driver to “override” the 2 zone default on the reader to force my 1 zone preset to actually pay for the full 2 zone fare. I plan to make sure I have an extra dollar bill just in case.

    2. You can do it the way systems with zone fares do it around the world. Pay the base fare as you enter. Then when you cross the zone line, you pay the zone fare when you exit.

      1. Not exactly. In the pay as you enter with fare zones, you pay as you enter a one-zone fare. Once you cross the fare zone line, you pay the zone fare as you leave. So, for a current two-zone fare, a cash paying customer on Route 306 would pay $2.25 when they board the bus in downtown Seattle. Then if the passenger crosses the zone line, they pay the additional 50-cents as they leave. While it could be more confusing for cash payers, ORCA should be able to easily handle this (plus the two-hour clock would reset when you pay the zone fare).

      2. Are there any other bus systems with pay-as-you-leave or pay-zone-surcharge-as- you-leave? Trains are a different story because the exit fare is charged at a station fare gate, not on the vehicle.

        In any case, the problem of people paying a one-zone fare but staying on for two zones already occurs no matter whether the RFA is eliminated or not.

    3. Handle it like Link. Pay the fullest fare upon entry. Tap out on exit to get a zone reimbursement.

      The operator may still have to change the ORCA setting twice for the boundary zone and then the second zone.

      As a separate suggestion, automatically charge a two-zone fare for specialty express routes. Riders on such a route are getting a premium service (often involving duplicate-head), so it ought to cost more in fare. If ridership on such routes is declining, use the ORCA data to see how many people have switched to regularly riding Link, and how many have simply stopped taking transit.

      1. Agreed. By putting Orca readers at all doors, tapping on entry and exit on multi-zone routes wouldn’t be a problem. Riders who pay cash couldn’t get any refund if traveling just one zone, but that could speed up long routes by encouraging those riders to use other one-zone routes and/or by increasing ORCA adoption.

      2. …or you have a cash fare and an ORCA fare as has been suggested before by a few commenters.

      3. Personally I think that this is bad idea. People seem to have a hard enough time as it is understanding the the zone system now just imagine the confusion people will have if some people have to tap in and out and others just have to tap in.

      4. And this is exactly the reason we need fair consolidation and standardization between all transit modes and agencies. There needs to be one fair structure in the Puget Sound to make things understandable, effortless and seamless to the rider. If we don’t, they’ll continue to drive their cars.

      5. Fare complexities dont force people to drive their cars. It makes it more difficult to use the system for the rider, but not overwhelmingly. Where the problem really is, is dwell time as ORCA is already slower than snot at “tagging” on and off, than if you have tagged in at the wrong fareset on the bus, there goes another two minutes while the operator fuddles around with the DDU to reverse the charge…

      6. From Jarrett at Human Transit, referring to peak charges:

        “In cases where (a) peak-only service adds hugely to system costs but (b) doesn’t generate the farebox return to cover that impact, I can see only one credible reason not to surcharge the peak (or discount the midday, which is the same thing.) But it’s a good reason: surcharges/discounts are an added layer of complexity in the fare system, and complexity in fares is a serious barrier to patronage, and especially to the informal, spontaneous use that lets people experience transit as essential community infrastructure.”

        (http://www.humantransit.org/2010/05/should-fares-be-higher-during-peak-hours.html)

        The RFA doesn’t only change the payment structure but also the process. I think a peak surcharge would be preferable to RFA/pay-as-leave and peak-pricing that is only in effect for part of the day PLUS the peak surcharge we have now.

        As Jarret says, these create some serious complexity that serves as a serious barrier to patronage. I think multiple people riding the same bus to different zones may be the most difficult to enforce since the driver can’t be reasonably expected to track every rider, and the system can’t do it unless there is investment in back door readers – plus, every rider would have to double-tap.

      7. I don’t buy the argument that differential fare structures are causing people to drive. Slow, non-dependable buses do that, not having to pay 50 cents more than they expected. Besides, with ORCA and an e-purse, you’re covered.

        Long express routes *should* cost more to ride, especially when they compete with available passenger rail seats.

      8. I wouldent say they compete. Theres no modal priority, bus vs rail, in the region. However, if you are taking an express bus from afar, its not going to be an attractive service if you have to get off halfway there and change to another form of transportation. Short connector routes are one thing, taking the bus from DuPont to Tukwilla and being forced on light rail the rest of the way to seattle is another story…

  9. Much as I like the RFZ, it might be time to phase it out. If Metro tries to increase the fee Seattle pays, I say end it and use that money to fund the Aloha Ext study phase instead.

  10. I know that it’s not worth it to put turnstiles at most Link stations. But if the RFA is removed, would it be worthwhile to put turnstiles at the tunnel stations? Making all platforms pay zones? Then you get the fast loading of the RFA.

    1. I was thinking that they could put turnstiles in, say, the Downtown Stations, SeaTac/Airport Station, and UW Station, as the vast majority of trips start or end at these stations. Since you have to tap in and tap off, whether you’re going from Downtown or to Downtown you would have to pass through a turnstile and be forced to pay.

    2. Tukwila Station (or whatever the last one before SeaTac is) has signs stating that it’s illegal to be on the platform without proof of payment, presumably because the only reason anyone should be on the platform is if they’re planning to catch a train, and you have to buy a ticket before boarding. (I don’t know if the ground-level LINK-only platforms are subject to the same regulations.)

      In the tunnel, though, you have buses which for now require onboard payment. Even if you installed some sort of TVMs for bus tickets so folks could have POP, say you paid for a $1.50 ST bus ticket and then a Metro bus came by that also went to your destination. Due to the different fare structures and no interagency transfers, there’d be no way to get on the Metro bus without paying a whole new fare. So, until the buses are out of the tunnel, or until there’s a unified fare structure, or whatever, it doesn’t seem there’d be any reasonable way to make tunnel station platforms proof-of-payment zones.

      1. “I don’t know if the ground-level LINK-only platforms are subject to the same regulations.”

        Yes, they are — there are signs that say that you can’t pass a certain point without paying.

  11. I work downtown. Quite frankly, I think the traffic there is very, very light most times of day.

    In fact, it’s probably heavier on Kent-Kangley and Benson than on 3rd Avenue.

    So the argument that it will somehow “slow down” traffic is ridiculous.

    (I would go so far as to say, I don’t think the bus tunnel was ever a good idea…surface transport moves quite quickly in down town.

    1. You plan not for “most times of the day” but for the most crowded time of the day. Third Ave at rush hour is jam-packed with buses. Even with the skip-stop system, buses are lined up all the way down the block at each stop. And that’s just Third, which is bus-only at those times. 2nd and 4th, despite their lower bus traffic, still have tons of buses going along them at peak times too. Then you have First with buses coming every couple minutes, and several east-west streets with buses coming every couple minutes. In the bus tunnel, buses arrive in caravans of a half-dozen buses or so, frequently getting backed up, and light rail trains arrive every 7.5 minutes. We have a ton of buses Downtown, and it will put a big strain on the streets with lots of buses to have everyone paying as they get on the buses.

  12. I’m fine with continuuing the RFA as-is, so long as the City of Seattle:

    a) pays the actual cost of the RFA (hasn’t had a reimbursement increase since 1973); and

    b) pays the cost of fare evaders who board in the RFA and get off without paying outside the RFA.

    Either the city or the businesses who benefit from the RFA should pay the actual cost of maintaining it.

      1. I think Metro would ultimately have to duplicate the study with unique fare-box buttons or some other way of counting for when fares are evaded upon exiting or boarding.

        That having been said, the study indicated that the Eastside bases have the lowest fare evasion rates. Does anyone know which routes, or how many routes operated from the Eastside bases actually serve the RFA?

      2. Kyle S.,

        Already done, at least anecdotally as part of the recent fare evasion study. Could be more accurately evaluated with a better/less rushed study.

        Or you could just ask any bus driver. Or say – ride the #3 or #4 from 3rd and James up to Harborview and count ’em.

    1. I like the fare-evasion compensation. It’s like how SPL used to pay KCLS for the cost of transporting library holds that were requested by folks who lived within Seattle city limits. Eventually SPL was paying something like $1M/yr and couldn’t afford it anymore, so now folks who live w/in Seattle can’t put holds on KCLS items. I suspect that if the City had to pay the true cost of the RFA, they would put the kibosh on it in much the same way.

    2. a) The reimbursement is tied to inflation, so it’s gone up every year.

      b) You’d have to calculate not the number of fare evaders, but the number of fare evaders caused only by the RFA. Good luck with that.

      I’m not even convinced that RFA causes fare evaders. What do you do when someone gets on your bus and refuses to pay? Yell at them? Call the police? Physically throw them off the bus? If someone doesn’t want to pay, they won’t pay.

      1. Regardless of whether the reimbursement has gone up, it hasn’t gone up enough. Last year the county council said the cost to Metro was $6-7M, while the City paid just $400,000.

      2. There’s certainly an argument for that. But it was straight wrong to claim the reimbursement hasn’t gone up.

        Now, trusting the $6-7M number is like agreeing to pay a used car dealer whatever’s fair for a car. Especially a used car dealer that’s having serious money troubles.

  13. Since Portland eliminated the RFA, it seems like less crazy crack addicts and seriously disturbed people are riding. Several friends have noticed the same effect. I can’t remember the last time I had to change seats or summon a driver for help.

  14. Pine to Virginia is 2 blocks. I see ~30 people a week do this during my daily commute. Significant time waste.

    Also, I’ve been noticing a lot of people shorting the fare ever since it went from $2 to $2.25 for peak trips. Mostly rich-enough people who are lazy and know they don’t face any consequences. I know the coin-counter isn’t super reliable (I tried paying with a bunch of dimes – bad idea), but it is pretty obvious when people insert 2 bills and no coins. Awful hard to get to $2.25.

  15. Portland eliminated “Fareless Square” but only for buses. Streetcar and light rail are still free of charge in that area.

    POP is active on the trains, but not on the buses – at least not as much on the buses (sometimes the fare inspectors do show up on the buses). Since fare inspectors are needed on the trains anyway, there is no issue with the driver having to be the one that enforces the fare, or try to remember who paid when, or whose transfer expired when. Now that the buses are pay as you enter everywhere, the only way people can avoid paying is to ride outside the zone valid on their fare. Fare evasion is still enforced the same way it always was on the trains.

    The thinking has been for quite some time that it makes sense to encourage anyone riding free onto the trains, since they cost less per rider to operate. Making the trains be the mode that is free is the ultimate form of “encourage”. When the green line opened, it basically put light rail onto the same core route that most of the bus routes took through downtown, so the thinking was there was no need for the bus routes to be free anymore anyway, as the core downtown is pretty much covered by free rail lines.

    With Link being a charge-everywhere service (at least as best as I can tell that is what it does), and the surface buses operated by Metro being the “ride-free” form in the ride free area, King County Metro is stuck in the unenviable position of providing free rides on the most expensive per-passenger form of transit (diesel buses), while SoundTransit gets paid fares to provide rides on the cheapest form per passenger.

    In other words, Metro is stuck in the exact opposite situation that TriMet has in Portland.

    1. Indeed. Perhaps until Link displaces buses entirely, an interim solution would be for Seattle to pay Sound Transit the $2.x million they estimated they would lose to honoring the RFA on Link. Seattle could also pay a smaller amount to Metro to also allow free rides within the tunnel, or maybe Metro would make up the difference by reducing fare evasion on surface routes and charging riders downtown.

      Everything becomes free in the tunnel as opposed to the “guess which comes next” situation we have today where riders don’t know if they should tap on or not. Pay when exit would still exist on tunnel buses, but would eventually be eliminated after being displaced by additional Link trains.

      Although riders would have to pay a fare or walk between Alaskan Way and 6th Ave or so, the ability to quickly traverse the full-length of downtown would be preserved.

  16. If KCM, and all other parties are seriously intrested in making the RFA go away, we need to rid ourselves of these farezones. Now, ORCA can accomdoate them quite well, however – in order to facilitate quick and easy bording (and eliminate holding everyone up for minutes while zone charges are reversed, and corrected) it’s time to go to a flat fare for our buses. Say, $2.00 for Local and LINK, $3.00 for Peak Commuter, $3.50 for REX, and $4.50 or even $5.00 for Sounder.

    Yes, it will be disadvantagous for those who travel short distances, but globally applied (more or less) would help streamline a lot of the fare confusion, and fareset problems out there.

    1. A lot of the operators supported the idea of getting rid of peak fares. This is one idea I strongly support, as we should be encouraging people to choose transit over driving when they will be commuting in the peak hour, especially. The issues of how the transition works between off-peak, peak, and off-peak hours remains a major source of confusion.

      If it enables higher operations cost recovery to concentrate service during peak hours, so be it.

      Again, fare zones are something I find to be an overly-complicated solution to a problem that could be solved more simply by having a higher fare for in-county express routes, but making the express rides cost the same as local short rides encourages people to take long, high-cost premium-service bus rides instead of filling seats on Link and Sounder.

  17. The ride free area must be gotten rid of. Crack dealers use it to hop on a bus to do their deal and then get back off I have seen that happen so many times. And then those who think Metro should just be free use the ride free zone to aid them in their quest to not pay their fare and pay as you leave is a big help when all they have to do is run for it.

    Then there is the confusion the ride free zone causes with the pay as you enter one way pay as you leave the other way causes delays as people fish for their fare because they were unprepared. People who work downtown have a pass usually if not then they can pay. The free ride zone is costing way more than it is worth!!

  18. I the solution to avoid cutting the RFA is for Metro to charge 25 cents more for trips crossing the Seattle city limits during off-peak hours. Does anyone agree?

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