Westlake Station after the New Year, photo by Oran

Last Saturday evening, many cities around the world celebrated International Free Transit Day, a day when riders were allowed to board transit services for either a portion or entirety of the day without paying a dime (okay, Chicagoans did have to fork over a penny.  Here in Seattle, however, these festivities went largely unheard of, and transit users continued quietly paying their fare.  I’m talking, of course, about New Year’s Eve, when billions of late-night revelers worldwide were out and about well past midnight, and many in no state to drive.

International Free Transit Day isn’t exactly a recognized holiday– it’s more of an acknowledgement on the part of transit agencies that thousands, sometimes millions, of people will be out on New Year’s Eve needing some form of transportation, whether it’s because of large-scale events that need high-capacity transportation for crowd control or because of the countless many who will be celebrating through drink but most certainly not drive.

More below the jump.

The great benefit of shutting down the fareboxes is the ability to move large crowds without incurring the delay and expense of each rider fumbling with their cash and change.  Long lines at Link TVMs and lengthy dwell times aboard buses characterized much of the post-midnight service in Seattle over the New Year, which was already skeletal thanks to infrequent Saturday schedules.  Meanwhile, TriMet in Portland recorded 61,500 boardings past 8pm when all services were free– an 82% increase over typical Saturday night ridership.

Offering free rides to late-night revelers does two other things– it takes cars off the roads, especially out of the hands of would-be drunk drivers, and also provides a unique opportunity for agencies to showcase the utility and attractiveness of transit to passengers who don’t ride regularly. Of course, doing so means upping service levels to accommodate the tens, sometimes hundreds, of thousands of potential riders well beyond typical weeknight service, let alone scant weekend frequencies.

With the cost of both providing extra service and offering free rides being a major drawback, other cities have found ways to tap into private coffers for funding.  From the Atlantic Cities:

Some agencies are partnering with sponsors to offset the costs. Free rides are being offered on transit systems in Madison, Milwaukee, Waukesha and the Twin Cities by Miller Lite beer. MillerCoors is also partnering with Denver’s RTD to offer free bus rides and $10 vouchers for cab fares in bars and restaurants in neighboring cities.

International Free Transit Day is something that even small cities not well known for their transit have observed, like Austin and Las Vegas.  Though we have many more, and much larger New Year’s celebrations here, transit is not something that ever crosses many Seattleites’ minds as a viable transportation option.  I suspect that the institutional inertia created by the ORCA partnership has resulted in a kind of we’ll-do-it-if-everyone-else-will disposition, which seems to transcend the fact that it’s really not that hard to stop collecting fares past a certain time for a few hours out of the year.

69 Replies to “International Free Transit Day, Popular Everywhere But Here”

  1. “and also provides a unique opportunity for agencies to showcase the utility and attractiveness of transit to passengers who don’t ride regularly”

    I don’t understand why so many here aren’t willing to fight for our Ride Free Area. This is exactly what the RFA does – makes it easy to zip around downtown on our horizontal elevators, and shows how not-scary our buses are. I’m proud of our free transportation system, and often brag to other transit geeks about it. I believe it will severely hurt ridership and downtown business when it disappears.

    Oh, and I’m totally for free ride day for any day that has a large amount of drunk drivers. This should be a no-brainer. We’ll never know how many lives this has saved, but the number has to be large.

    1. Why do I hate the RFA? Seven words: Pay As You Shove To The Exit.

      For the typical rider, the time saved downtown is lost on the outbound crawl. For riders getting on outside of downtown, the typical commute is longer because of PAYSTTE.

      Getting rid of the RFA will hopefully force streamlinings that should have been done a long time ago, including getting a lot more riders on ORCA so that change fumbling comes down dramatically everywhere.

      1. I challange your claim that it’s slower to pay as you leave than as you enter. And if it’s really a problem (which I agree it is), we should fix the problem, not dump the whole system. Both door ORCA or POP would be two solutions, and there are many.

      2. When the RFA was 24 hours, I never had a problem remembering to pay on the non-downtown side, or on entry if the route didn’t go downtown. But now that it changes based on the time of day, I keep tapping twice or forgetting to tap, even after twenty years. That’s why I’ll be glad to see the last of PAYL.

      3. Really? You forget to tap sometime, so you’ll be glad to see it die?

        If that’s really the problem, go back to 24 hours of free. The Magic Carpet Zone was a genius idea that we’re chipping away at until it’s dead. If it’s just about money, let’s ask the Downtown Association to chip in more cash. The RFA introduces a huge amount of people to our bus system, and makes business downtown easy. That’s worth paying for.

      4. Or restore the 24 hour RFA, but Metro won’t because it imagines safety problems, and “safety” is a magic word that makes everyone refuse to budge. But going to all PAYE is even better. It’s what 99.99% of the other bus systems in the world do. It avoids visitors getting confused and thinking, “Pay as you leave? How absurd.” Visitors already have to negotiate the multiplicity of fares, and then PAYE or PAYL on top of that. I shudder having to explain it to occasional riders whenever I cajole them into taking the bus with me rather than driving, they think, “What is this screwy system? It must take forever to understand it.”

      5. In my experience, the people who most enthusiastically support the RFA are those who have never paid to ride the bus. Meanwhile the rest of us are fighting our way to the front of a crush-loaded bus long after the freeloaders have gotten off.

        A free zone works well in a POP system, which is exactly what Portland did a few years back by making Fareless Square only apply to MAX. But here we did it backwards.

        Really, how useful is the RFA? You can’t just hop on any bus without thinking, because the next thing you know you could be on the Viaduct or I-5, or climbing up First Hill. You have to actually know the bus system to figure out which bus will take you down 3rd Avenue without turning, which negates the argument that it’s so convenient for people who don’t know the bus system.

      6. Sorry, Matt, but you’re simply wrong on both your RFA = free advertising claim and your operating-speed supporting argument.

        Free rides on New Years Eve suggests the best of what transit can do. It can transport you all the way from your starting point to your celebration, eliminate the fight for parking, and get your revelrous self home safely. As an added bonus, without the drag of on-board fare collection, it demonstrates how quick transit is capable of being.

        So it not only sells transit as a valid option, but encourages otherwise-occasional riders to get active about speeding up fare collection methods and other inhibitors to rapid operations.

        The RFA has always suggested the worst of transit: no threshold for entry has meant no threshold for decorum, and the surges in rider volume combined with the haphazardness of cross-downtown interlining have meant an unevenness in service speed and quality even over extremely short distances.

        If the RFA area had “sold people on transit” in a wider sense, then after nearly 40 years of it we wouldn’t still be stuck at <10% transit usage for non-downtown, non-commute, non-peak trips. If anything, the RFA has convinced its occasional users that Seattle buses aren't worth ever paying a fare for.

        As for the friction-drag that is PAYL, I second everything Mark Dublin said, and would add this:

        One of our major goals for Seattle transit continues to be the consolidation of service into high-frequency, high-volume, high-legibility and -reliability corridors. You have spoken of this yourself; I remember you writing algorithms for multi-corridor rides that were already better than your single-seat 2 bus home at one point.

        Those corridors, once achieved, will inherently attract a lot of boardings and de-boardings. Someone switching from a one-seat to a two-seat round trip is now passing through a door eight times a day instead of four.

        So it is vital that people stop having to wait for complete clearance of alighting passengers before getting on. And it is vital to get passengers in the habit of primarily heading towards the back to exit (when feasible). As Mark says, this is already needed on the busy Cap Hill trolleys. When we have achieved a core network with similar volumes, it will be needed on all of them.

      7. But you’re arguing against our bad payment system, not a RFA. Change to POP or all-door ORCA.

        As for showing people the best/worst, I think you’re thinking of the wrong scenario. I’ll tell you my experience: My first experience with Metro was when visiting my wife from out of town. She told me about the great free bus she uses and we rode it to lunch downtown. A few years later I started working downtown, and the frequent meetings my coworkers and I would have with architects were always done by bus. We’d all hop on at 3rd, knowing that almost all buses stay on 3rd. The experts knew the more detailed routes that would get us closer to our destination, and would tell us newbies about them. We once took an out-of-town architect out to lunch, who suggested a cab – my boss looked at the 7 of us in the party and told him about the DBT, with an enterance a block away. He was impressed with our strange but free subterranian bus tunnel.

        All of these examples are typical of my experience. All are off-peak, using buses that are already running half empty and our rides costs Metro almost nothing. We never slowed anyone down from paying, since fares aren’t collected downtown and you can get on and off any door.

        “If the RFA area had “sold people on transit” in a wider sense, then after nearly 40 years of it we wouldn’t still be stuck at <10% transit usage for non-downtown, non-commute, non-peak trips." ??!? The type of person the RFA introduces to transit works or lives downtown. 40.5% of downtown workers commute by bus, and it's even higher for those that live downtown – I believe that's one of the best bus commute numbers in the country.

      8. You’re painting a contradiction with your last sentence. Those who arrive downtown by transit every day are not those who were introduced to transit by the RFA. They’re those who have made a calculated decision, perhaps helped by employer-subsidized passes and our “Cadillac service” emphasis on express services for 9-5ers, that transit is better than paying to park. And, thanks to those passes, they’re not even using the RFA to ride for free.

        If the RFA had “sold” occasional visitors to downtown (such as those going to lunch meetings with you) on the idea that transit was something to use any way but begrudgingly, they’d be using it all the time, everywhere. And the numbers demonstrate that they are not!

      9. Those going to lunch with me work downtown – hence being able to take the RFA. Around 40% of downtown workers drive. Why is that? It’s damnit expensive to park downtown. Sometimes it’s because they really need their cars downtown – they are salesmen that run around constantly. Sometimes it’s because of employer subsidy. But sometimes it’s because they have a negative impression of the bus. This is not a minor reason. Getting them used to the bus, as friends and coworkers drag them along to lunch, errands, or meetings, absolutely changes this impression (as long as, you know, they don’t get vomited on or shot).

        Would these new converts be using the bus anytime, anywhere? I don’t, and I have a pass. I ride for free in the RFA, I commute to and from work by bus, and occasionally I’ll go somewhere else by bus. But our one-seat-ride system has really been set up for commuters only, and it’s fairly inconvenient to use for getting groceries or running errands outside of downtown.

      10. I think the RFA is very important for getting groups to use the bus. People are a lot more sensitive to price when the bus fare is multiplied by the number people in the group. When the RFA goes away, three people traveling together within downtown (assuming none of them have passes) will have to pay just as much to travel by bus as by taxi. To me, the notion of a bus costing as much as a cab feels absurd, but that’s the direction we’re heading towards.

        I think I’m going to side with Matt here, that the problems with pay-as-you-leave are problems with our current payment system, not problems with the ride-free-area as a whole.

      11. A taxi ride from one edge of the RFA to the other on 3rd costs $5.90. So with more than 2 people, a taxi is cheaper. Yes, you don’t get transfers, but a transfer is only good for 90 min. Fine for lunch, but not for a meeting.

      12. Matt is right, the solution would be to do ORCA readers at every door but since that will never ever happen (repeat after me) the next best solution is to get rid of the RFA which is what is happening.

        This is my experience with the RFA, everyone gets on the bus and those of us who boarded first keep getting pushed to the back or we’re lucky enough to get seats. Then the bus reaches capacity and exits the RFA. Now at each stop the bus sits for several minutes as each person who has to pay on exist has to crawl all over everyone else to get off. Sometimes this process takes so long it’s shocking. Whatever time we save downtown we lose within the first 5 stops outside the RFA. As far as just hopping on the bus downtown, I don’t buy it. The RFA is just too small and unless you work downtown and know just where you’re going or where the RFA ends you’re probably paying anyway in addition if you’re using the bus to get downtown to work you already have a pass so it doesn’t cost you anything to just run out and hop a bus.

        As for people driving cars to work downtown. If it’s happening now with the RFA for the reasons you specified it won’t be any different without.

        consistency + convenience = ridership. Just trying to explain to new riders that sometimes they pay when they get on, sometimes they don’t pay, sometimes they pay when you get off will keep them off buses. My mother has been here 10 years and still can’t figure out when she pays so she just plays dumb and scans her card at EVERY orca machine en route. My ex (from Yakima) refuses to ride buses unless she has to because of the RFA. She lives at Othello and has no problem with the Link because she does the very same thing each time.

      13. @Bevis I’ll round it up to $6 for you.

        @Grant You’re conflating two experiences. You get on the front and get pushed toward the back at the PAYE stage. If it were PAYL you’d be able to hop on at any door.

        The crawling past everyone mode sucks. But using only one door for payment sucks too, whether it’s while you’re getting on or off. We need all-door Orca and I’m not giving up that easily.

    2. Do you know what percent of riders that currently use the RFA don’t already have a transit pass or valid transfer? I would think it is fairly high.

      1. If I am working in the city and I’m a transit rider so I’m not bringing my car I have a PASS and could give a rats behind if the bus is free or not.

        If I don’t have a PASS and I came into the city the RFA is irrelevant because I have a transfer.

        If I don’t have a PASS and I’m leaving the city the RFA is irrelevant because I have to pay somewhere anyway.

        If I don’t have a PASS and I’m entering/leaving the RFA in the city I’ve already paid or will.

        If I don’t have a PASS AND I’m downtown AND my transfer has expired AND I’m not leaving the RFA for the next 90 minutes I can pay once and transfer to get back. 50% score for the RFA.

        If I don’t have a PASS and I’m downtown and I’m having lunch/meeting withing the RFA and it will be longer than 90 minutes then 100% score for the RFA.

        Conclusion the RFA has very little benefit and the number of non-homeless people trips utilizing it are very small. The ONLY real benefit to the RFA is speed of boarding/deboarding *within* the RFA which from my experience makes no difference on total route time as it’s eaten up when people have to scramble to pay on the way out.

        The RFA has to go!

      2. Yes, the RFA has limited benefit. Same with most things in this world. I’d probably be against a system with unlimited benefits.

        The purpose of the RFA is to easily move people around inside the downtown area, whether or not they have a pass. The Downtown Association pays for this (sort of), to help businesses, but there’s the ancilary benefit of serving people who aren’t usual bus riders (hence no passes) become familiar with our bus system.

        The “homeless people use it” fear is just bigotry. There will always be people you don’t like on the bus with you, free zone or not. Go ride Chicago’s or NYC’s subway sometime and tell me if charging removes the homeless.

      3. Matt, you don’t want to go down that path.

        The ratio of psychos to normal riders on transit in Chicago and New York is fractional compared to anywhere on Metro.

        This is only partly the RFA’s fault — largely it’s because we have higher homeless and mentally ill populations per capita, period, and a transit system that repels choice ridership most of the time — though the RFA’s contribution to setting Metro’s low enforcement/standard of behavior and decorum shouldn’t be discarded outright.

      4. @d.p. Do you have a a citation that we have higher per capita mentally ill and homeless populations?

        I’ve been on both the CTA and MTA – I had no specific observations either way as more homeless on any of the three systems.

      5. On any given night, there are roughly 8,000 homeless in Seattle. Total population 609,000. That’s 1.31%.

        New York, 41,000. Total population 8,175,000. Precisely 0.5%.

        Also, Callahan v. Carey in 1981 established the right to emergency shelter for anyone in New York who requests it. We provide… our buses.

        Chicago’s numbers are harder to find, but it seems to hover around 15,000. Total population 2,696,000. 0.55%, and still gut-wrenching when you think about how crazy cold it gets there.

      6. But really, the issue of the tone of our transit system being set by the homeless/crazy is not about the existence or the presence of the homeless/crazy/otherwise downtrodden. It’s about the inability to attract everyone else due to undesirable quality of service.

        1.31% is a lot of people, but it’s still only 1.31% of the total. Unfortunately, when you have transit that barely manages a 9% modal share for pretty much all non-downtown, non-peak, or non-work-commute trips, that population might regularly approach 5%-20% of the population of your bus. If you don’t think that can set a tone for the ride, you’ve never been on the 358.

    3. The RFA is the worst part of our service. It creates a hassle, confusion, and slows down unloading the bus immeasurably. See, in normal places you get your ass off at the back of the bus while people board in the front.

      1. In normal places you get your ass off at the back of the bus while people board in the front.

        Matt seems to be the last person on this blog, and one of the last in Seattle, to deny the relationship between the RFA and our problematic payment system and the slowdowns it causes. Shouldn’t an engineer know a bit about circulation?

  2. In Stockholm the subway system operates 24 hour a day on Friday and Saturday night exactly for this reason. Headways are in the 20-30 minute range and with text message real-time info or a quick look at the clock face schedule its easy to plan your departure from a bar or party and wait only a few minutes. Stockholm run 2/3 length trains which are almost always standing room only, even early into the morning.

    This service costs money, especially extra security (most of the time I saw security was at night, not during the day) but in a country that strongly values mobility for those without a car and public safety, reducing drunk driving is worth it.

    1. I think this may be the only pertinent comment in the whole section. I strongly support the idea of a 24 hr system with reasonable head-ways. Get people used to using public transit to go out and not drive drunk…

  3. Matt, Brent, and Sherwin:

    You’ve all got good points, and thanks for the post. Have to say that based on all my experience driving “artics” on heavy routes at rush hour, you’re right on point, Brent, as to actual operating results.

    Always hated the idea that I was supposed to turn a 60′ bus with three doors into a 60′ bus with one door. I was always surprised that the passenger public put up with it for decades. Maybe it was because, at least out of Atlantic and Central Bases, experienced drivers simply told passengers over the PA to use all doors.

    Never heard of any discipline written over this.

    Still, it’s just about equally idiotic for passengers to have to walk up the outside of the coach, get on the front door, and pay the fair. It says bad things about Seattle in general that either the transit system or the public haven’t insisted on a change before now.

    There have long been methods available to collect rush-hour fares without everyone having to stop at the fare box, constantly well documented in these pages. ORCA is supposed to do just that. I know we’re not done with implementation yet- but really think that until we get the whole system worked out, agencies could still do work-arounds.

    TVM’s already issue clearly marked “All-Day Passes” for rides on LINK. So it should be a negative-no-brainer to issue them for general use as a temporary measure. And if Vancouver BC can have convenience stores sell day passes, we can do same.

    For the record, I think that whatever else changes in October, any idea of using fareboxes in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel through the working day should be taken off the table and shredded as soon as the “Post Comment” clicks. I’ve missed my Route 17 at Westlake enough times waiting for 71’s and 41’s collecting fares already.

    As we dug open Pine Street and Third Avenue three decades ago, we constructed underground caverns out of Lord-of-the-Rings for the exact purpose of seeing to it that Tunnel vehicles would never have to hold for fare collection. Making use of this investment is years overdue. End of RFA will make it mandatory.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Yes, yes, yes, and thanks for backing Brent up on the operating facts. Matt was just plain wrong on that one.

      1. Shorter version, though, is as simple as this: With PAYE, you’re always operating two doors. With PAYL, most of the route you’re operating only one. That adds up.

        What also adds up, with PAYL, is the lights missed along the way. PAYE downtown might mean missing an extra light cycle a couple of times at stops where many board, though this can definitely be decreased with ORCA adoption.

        With PAYL, just one person can make you miss a light that you otherwise wouldn’t have. And it can happen dozends of times over the course of a long journey. That adds up to many tangible minutes of waste.

      2. Your light argument is a red herring. You’d be just as likely to catch a green you wouldn’t have caught. The important factor is time spent paying.

        PAYE, rush hour downtown, means losing curb capacity. There are already many points that are at capacity while loading with all doors – slowing down this process would make other buses queue behind your bus, which cascades throughout the system.

        Anyway. Like I said – this is a payment issue, not a RFA issue. PAYE would be fine if we had all-door ORCA or POP. Same with PAYL.

      3. Absolutely not a red herring.

        Lights are timed for the (relative) convenience of through traffic. Buses that make stops between lights are exponentially more likely to run afoul of such signal timing. The longer you stop, the more likely a timed-green-for-cars light will be missed.

        And missed lights are cumulative. Miss a 2-minute light at Dravus thanks to a long PAYL stop, and you’re more likely to have to wait an entire 4-minute cycle at Leary.

      4. …an extra entire 4-minute cycle at Leary (before which you otherwise would have arrived).

      5. But the bus is stopping already, so there’s no reason you can assume they’d make that timed light. Would they have missed it and sat at a red if the passenger didn’t have to take the time to pay? I don’t know. And neither do you.

      6. Also, I would argue that our “curb capacity” problems have as much to do with our haphazardness/unevenness of service than our total demand along the through corridor.

        The 2012 restructure makes at least some effort to reduce redundancies. Conforming payment procedure to a single standard might actually help with the haphazardness as well. Full ORCA penetration, better maps to reduce stupid questions, and more low-floor buses with passive restraint — all sooner rather than later — will do more for curb-lag than the RFA has ever done.

      7. Matt, I ride the thing every day. And lights that are just missed because of just one person paying just are a near-constant in my life.

        So maybe it’s just the routes I take. But, yeah, I do know.

      8. I think we’ve reached end of logical argument, and are down to differing experiences. My different 3rd Ave rush hour commutes (originally north at Pine, now south at Marion), see a constant flow of buses with the occasional queueing, very little question asking, and a very high volume of riders getting on and off. We’re mostly commuters and know the routine. I can’t imagine everyone paying – even with ORCA – and not having an absolute queue disaster.

        I’m not going to question your experience, though I will note that negative experiences are far easier to notice than positive ones – I assume you’re aware of this and have factored it in. On my commutes there aren’t any timed lights by the time we’re down to one or two riders getting off.

      9. “I can’t imagine everyone paying – even with ORCA – and not having an absolute queue disaster.”

        On this point, we agree. But consider this: The Central Business District could become a POP zone, with fare inspectors hitting a lot of buses in a short period of time, at a small fraction of the cost of universal POP (not that I don’t want to see universal POP happen — I do).

        Installing SWIFT-like TVMs at every bus stop throughout the CBD could restore all the speed benefits of the RFA *and* eliminate PAYSTTE.

        I also don’t buy the taxi math. For large groups, you’d be talking about multiple cabs. I think a group trying to make good time getting across downtown would just print multiple tickets off of one ORCA or Visa, hop on the next bus, and stay together as a group.

        Metro painstakingly assembled data on how many service hours it expects to lose from going to a straight PAYE system in the CBD, and how many hours it will save from eliminating PAYSTTE. The savings was about half the loss. So, if all they do is go to straight PAYE, it will be a failure.

        But that doesn’t mean I’ll settle for restoring the RFA just because Metro is capable of sabotaging itself when it comes to changes in fare payment systems. I think Metro is up to the challenge, if we provide the backing for the county council to make the unpopular decisions that need to happen.

      10. “I can’t imagine everyone paying – even with ORCA – and not having an absolute queue disaster.

        You know what? I hardly think it’s ideal — I’d prefer off-board payment, or multi-door ORCA readers, or an additional ORCA reader across from the farebox like SF has — but I really don’t think all-PAYE + near-total ORCA adoption would be that disastrous.

        Seattle buses never get that crowded. In fact, most of our per-hour route capacity estimates, train or bus, not to mention our seating arrangements, are premised on the idea that Seattleites will never in a million years stand as close to one another as New Yorkers, Bostonians, San Franciscans, and Europeans routinely do.

        That means that a “super-duper ridiculously full” bus in Seattle rarely has more than 70-90 people on it. It takes about 3 seconds to board with ORCA. So even if more than half of those people boarded just at 3rd and Pine, which is a pretty high estimate, your bus is still stopped for less than 2 minutes under the heaviest possible conditions.

        That’s not all that much longer than today.

  4. Clarification of current problem with fare collection in the Tunnel: After 7pm, when the Ride Free Area closes, fare collection on buses also delays LINK trains behind them. After 9PM, the Route 17 I take home goes to 1-hour headway.

    While this varies with the individual driver, it’s common for bus drivers to insist that deboarding passengers also use the front door only, which further delays service. Coupled with the 90-second delay before the signal system allows trains to enter stations after buses have left, prospect of missing my bus by a minute or two doesn’t sit well.

    But I also wanted to stress, in view of the positive tone of Sherwin’s posting, that I think it’s possible to be both penny-responsible and dollar-generous, to the benefit of ridership. The sheer weight of the morning paper these last few weeks shows that profit-making companies consider it very good business to offer bargains now and then.

    Most frequent criticism I hear aboard trains from airport passengers is that they had to find out about LINK and associated buses by word of mouth. It could raise a lot of revenue to make an arrangement with both the airlines and local business to have every Seattle ticket include a transit information packet, including merchant coupons and a day-pass. Which could also be an ORCA card loaded with said pass.

    So I think that with some thinking and coordinating, transit can avoid feeling pressured into measures that make it look undeservedly mean and cheap to a public with serious financial worries of their own. And more than anything else, it’s critically important that fare collection never make transit operations any slower.

    Speaking from experience, an hour wait half a block south of MacDonald’s on Third at 10:15pm would be worth some expense and effort to avoid.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Airlines don’t have tickets anymore, just printout receipts. :) Or at least, you have to pay extra for an actual ticket, which are about as popular as first class airfares.

    2. I’ve missed more than a few connections thanks to this exact tunnel nightmare. It’s always especially infuriating in the late evening when there aren’t even that many buses in the tunnel, but a 70-series just happens to get started just before your train arrives, making you miss your connection.

      Having lived in the vicinity of the 13/17 my first year in Seattle (which was difficult enough) and living at the 18/17 now, I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have the 17 as my only option, Mark. It’s only gotten worse since the inbound dropped to hourly at 7:45 (used to be 9:45) and the last outbound got cut so there’s no longer any service after 11:15.

      Are you along the stretch of Nickerson between SPU and the Ballard Bridge? Or along that Westlake cliff where there isn’t so much as a staircase up to Dexter?

      1. Thanks for concern, but truth is a little less catastrophic. The 18 still runs every half hour from the same stop, and it’s an easy walk home- except maybe on a night with this much hydropower falling out of the air. It’s just the idea that a system with this much invested in making it fast has to delay any trip of mine over fare collection. Matter of the fence eating the crops, as the old tribal proverb says.

        Also really getting to hate recorded apologies for preventable things. If it happens often enough to pre-record the apology, thing being apologized for needs to be fixed.

        Mark Dublin

      2. I couldn’t agree more. On-board collection in the tunnel should never have been allowed, even if it meant (temporarily) making tunnel buses PAYL while working to actively implement off-board collection for all tunnel routes.

        Ah, so you’re in West Ballard / Sunset Hill somewhere. I’m guessing you’re not often out late, but it’s pretty horrible to just miss the midnight 18 bus now that the 12:15 AM 17 is gone (especially when you missed it through no fault of your own). Now the next bus whatsoever to Ballard isn’t for 30 minutes (and it’s a 15). The next 18 isn’t for another 65 minutes.

      3. …Point being, there’s a reason that the only people on the 17 after 9 PM now are those going to Fremont, SPU, or central Ballard — all areas where the 17 wouldn’t be their only option.

        Almost no one who lives where the 17 is the only option (the cliff part of Westlake, the part of Nickerson that’s a ways from either the 13 or the 15/18, and far West Ballard) ever bothers with transit once the 17 goes hourly. Hourly is pointless.

    3. The port of Seattle makes a 1/3 of it’s revenue at SeaTac from parking. That’s why they built that huge parking garage addition instead of say, funding another couple of miles of LINK. They have NO incentive to help you find LINK and ride it.

      (the other revenue, landing fees, taxi licenses, retail space rental and airline space rental.)

  5. What do you mean it’s not popular here? EVERY DAY IS ‘free transit day’ – on the buses anyway.

  6. As a Bostonian, I’ve seen the power of the free NYE service in action. Literally millions of people converge on the central parts of the city for First Night — an all-day program of in- and outdoor festivities of which Seattle has no equiavalent — and nearly all of them do so using the T.

    And while throwing open the fare gates is necessary to handle those kinds of volumes, even more important is all of the extra service provided. That needs to be the first step for Metro on July 4th and December 31st — recognizing that they shouldn’t just be ho-humming along, but rather making an effort to increase their presence and utility, to building the sense of their own vital role in the event, by running enhanced service on vital corridors.

    When July 4th and NYE service is so ubiquitous as to be perceived as the easiest and best mode of celebratory conveyance, then perhaps the public will start clamoring for sponsored fare-free service those days as well.

  7. I am happy the Ride Free Zone will be history. I believe the bs about paying as you enter, or paying as you leave, is just that. bs. Ride, Pay.

    Sorry. Much ado about essentially nothing. Though, Freddy the Freeloader may throw a fit.

  8. So with the RFA abolished, will Metro permanently affix a “Pay As You Enter” sign to the farebox where the interchangable sign holders once were?

    1. Sure as heck hope so. Pay. Ride. Easy. Hopefully, it will revert back to common sense. Pay as you enter. Leave through any door. Wow. Imagine that.

      1. Of course if someone could find a way to make the ORCA card readers cost a lot less you could enter on any door, pay and leave at any door. Budapest had a little stamp machine and you just stuck your ticket in in while you were onboard. Because our ORCA readers are expensive as heck that will never happen.

      2. Actually, there was money to pay for rear door readers on the entire fleet. It got cancelled not because of funding but because Metro won’t/can’t do a tap-on, tap-off system or spend more money on systemwide POP/fare enforcement (which is also really expensive, perhaps even more than the readers themselves).

    2. I don’t think so. We still have peak/off-peak fares and zones. There was even a special blue(?) sign for weekends when they sold the weekend all-day pass.

      1. One more way Metro has managed to pull messiness out of the jaws of simplicity is fare zones.

        Pay the highest price when you enter. Get a rebate by tapping a second time when you get off. Simple, right?


        “The train will be held due to the bus ahead switching back and forth between one-zone and two-zone fares, for which the driver will take the passenger at her or his word.”

        Of course, rebates require back-door readers, or we’re back to the equivalent of PAYSTTE. So, just charge two-zone fares on all express buses, and one-zone fares on all local buses. Simple?

      2. I’m really curious how much more time switching between one and two zone fares is going to have an affect. I know metro ran a trial of no RFZ by holding buses, but I’d question if they properly adjusted for drivers having to switch back and forth.

        Sure, some riders will have their cards programmed properly for one zone or two zone, but just a few flips back and forth are going to eat up some time. Metro is either going to have to do some heavy education to get riders to program their card with the preferred zone, or train their drivers to be lightening fast at switching the zone..

      3. Isn’t allowing riders to set their zone preference to 1 — and make lots of 2-zone rides — a form of fare evasion?

    1. Step up penalties on DUI. Bigtime. Like in northern Europe. The drunks in the USA will drive anyway, until the penalty for DUI is BIG TIME HEFTY.

      Why blame transit?

  9. Seems like they could have done something with 520 tolling, like get a free bus ride with every toll paid to encourage people to switch to transit for bridge crossings.

    1. How does that meet the primary purpose of tolling; raising revenue to help pay for the bridge?

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