With the Ride Free Area’s (RFA) demise in a matter of days, those in need of a free ride in the downtown area are not entirely out of luck. Solid Ground, a local social service agency, will be operating a free circulator which will run a fixed-route one-way loop within downtown, Belltown, and First Hill. The circulator will use two shuttles, a 19-seater and 23-seater, to run 30-minute headways from 7AM to 4PM.
The shuttle is a pilot project funded by the City of Seattle for $400,000 a year, which was previously used to help Metro allay the costs of the RFA. While it will be operated at no cost to riders, its limited operation and coverage in no way replaces the breadth and expanse of the RFA. According to Solid Ground, the circulator primarily caters to low-income folks and those needing access to social services:
“Solid Ground’s focus is creating a response that meets the needs of this underserved population,” said Gordon McHenry, Jr., President and CEO of the nonprofit agency that operates housing, homeless preventions and other programs aimed at helping people move from poverty to thriving.
“Given fiscal constraints, a downtown circulator is a practical response to the needs of people who are the least advantaged in our community. Solid Ground’s drivers understand the population being served and have experience providing transit services in the downtown core,” McHenry said.
Unfortunately for those dependent on the circulator, there will be no set schedule for the shuttles to adhere to; a Solid Ground flyer (PDF) even warns that “hours of service and location of stops are subject to change.”
While the circulator is devised to best meet the needs of the impoverished, homeless, disabled, and other underserved populations, the scantness of its operations represents nothing more than a flimsy band-aid for the problem social service agencies are aiming to combat. $400,000 a year could go a long way in the form of free-ride tickets, free ORCA cards, or other assistance programs that don’t involve running a shuttle that is a non-option for most intra-downtown travelers.
The circulator starts operation next Monday, October 1st. For more information about hours, routing, stops, and destinations, check out Solid Ground’s website.