King County Metro doesn’t think that eliminating the Ride Free Area in October 2012 will create delays.
“We tested this at several locations in downtown, including Third Avenue and it didn’t really create a serious problem,” Jim Jacobson, Deputy General Manager of Metro, said in an interview. “There are times when it creates problems, but that usually goes away after one signal cycle.” There will certainly be an increase in dwell times, Jacobson said, but there wasn’t much reason for alarm. “Two-thirds of people in the Ride Free Area have already paid a fare or have a pass,” so most riders won’t pay fare when entering the bus but will have to get used to boarding through the front.
Jacobson confirmed that “the tunnel will not be free” and he said that Metro has “simulated how this would work with increased dwell times.” One conclusion was that Metro could better stage buses before they enter the tunnel, to ensure that buses that stop in front of others enter the tunnel first. Another was that buses that are only dropping people off could pull as far forward as possible in the tunnel.
Another idea was that Sound Transit could improve its signaling system in the tunnel so that trains and buses could operate better in a shared environment. Metro and Sound Transit have clashed in the past over the shared operations in the tunnel, each agency saying the other is responsible for delays.
Metro plans to expand the enter through the front, exit through the back concept system-wide, with driver and consumer education campaigns to ensure a smooth flow. Most cities operate with systems like this, but for years different Metro drivers have had their own policies for the back door. It’s very encouraging that this change is planned.
There’s also good news on the revenue front. Based on surveys and other data, “the net effect of eliminating the RFA is on the order of $1.8 million a year,” Jacobson said. While none of that revenue is currently budgeted, “any dollar we have can be used to keep more service on the street longer than we could otherwise.”
Jacobson hopes that in the future, a day-pass will be offered by ORCA but said “we’re a long way from that.” A shame, that is, because a day-pass program would be perfect for casual riders and tourists, and the thing preventing its implementation is agency balkanization.
Correction: Readers have pointed out that Metro no longer sells day passes on the weekends. The story above has been edited.