Fear not, Tacoma residents: Tacoma Link will continue to be free for at least the next two years. Downtown Tacoma businesses, seeking to prevent a projected 19% drop in ridership, have agreed to pay $58,000 over the next two years to keep Link free in downtown Tacoma.  From the ST press release:

“We are pleased the Board has agreed to accept the Business Improvement Area’s offer to offset the need to collect fares for the next two years,” said Mayor Strickland, who is also Vice Chair of the Sound Transit Board. “Tacoma Link is a great option for those who travel downtown and we must do all we can to promote ridership of this popular service. BIA is commended for stepping up and actively supporting public transportation as an integral benefit to businesses, tourism, the arts and the city overall.”

Tacoma Link is currently the only service in the region that does not charge fares, due to a longstanding Sound Transit Board policy that only allows fare-free service in very limited circumstances, including when the cost of collecting fares exceeds potential revenue. With recent growth in ridership, Tacoma Link no longer falls under that policy. The outside support for covering Tacoma Link’s projected net revenues, also allowed by Board policy, will postpone the move to a fare collection system.

This seems sensible.  Link is an important downtown amenity, and it’s good to see downtown businesses pitching in to support it.  See Tacoma Tomorrow if you’re interested in more reasons why a fare would be counterproductive at this time.

18 Replies to “Tacoma Businesses Will Pay to Keep Link Free”

  1. So ST can charge the same fare as Pierce transit, and collect $771,000 annually for a service that costs them 4.1m to operate. OR/OE would be 19% – nothing to brag about, but OK.
    Sell the whole farebox to BIA for $29,000 per year, for a farebox return of less than 1%.
    Hmmm, tough call.
    Better consult with my N. Sounder financial guru on this one.

    1. It’s basically a parking lot shuttle from TDS. Tacoma benefits from all that free parking.

  2. Normally it would be strange to lose that much ridership over starting to charge a fare. However, I can see the point that for something with that limited a service area, a much smaller than average fare might lose fewer riders. If any.

    Especially if bus transfers are honored. And day passes are available for all transit every day.

    The five dollar charge for an ORCA card, including for short-term visitors, has always been the kind of insulting impediment no doughnut shop would dare deliver. As mentioned above- there’s just something wrong in demanding that people pay to pay a fare.

    If answer is that we’re paying a private company for the service, it’s an excellent reason for transit agencies to re-learn how to do their own work.

    Another thing about fare structure has always really frosted me: can anybody tell me why the paper tickets issued by LINK fare machines can’t be used on Sound Transit Express buses as well? The “separate agencies” claim doesn’t count here, does it?

    I’ll be glad to see paper transfers go, and hopefully coin fareboxes too- starting with the DSTT before service starts tomorrow. But as long as paper works on trains, no reason it shouldn’t at least work on buses of the same agency.

    All in all, it seems to me that fare system itself has the personality which is the worst part of the city’s reputation: complication for its own sake, taking forever to get anything done, fierce defensive excuses for things that make no sense.

    Have said it before, will say it every time I get off Talgo coming home: If Portland can run light rail, streetcars, and buses on a five dollar a day Day-Pass, why can’t we?

    Mark Dublin

    1. Mark,

      In your driving days, did you get to see ST train tickets when they were accepted on some buses? How long did it take you to see a legit datestamp and timestamp?

      1. Sound Transit did issue fare media from Sounder TVMs that was accepted by Metro and ST Express. Even day, week and monthly Puget passes with a mag stripe that was read by GFI fareboxes used by both. This was before ORCA and Central Link.

    1. Transit should be functional. The question of how much to charge is secondary to that. If free trumps functional, the people who actually need to ride to get someplace will be crowded out, and will switch to other modes. Meanwhile, funding will drop because farebox recovery is actually a major portion of transit revenue, so service would have to be slashed. Public support for the system would tank as the middle class would feel transit is unusable for them. Making the fare free would be a disaster of huge proportions for Metro and ST systemwide.

      Tacoma Link is an exception because (1) even while free, there is plenty of spare capacity available; (2) potential farebox recovery is painfully small; and (3) pushing riders from Tacoma Link onto the other fuller buses going into and out of downtown Tacoma would have a nontrivial service cost.

  3. This makes certain sense to me. It ought to be free until the line can be expanded and people can use it for more than a mile.

    1. Seattles own SLUT is shorter than Tacoma Link, so I guess by that logic SLUT should be free too.
      Transit is bleeding cash, and giving more away is not the solution.

      1. The SLUS is still free for anyone holding an ORCA. That is supposed to change soon, and ridership *will* drop.

      2. Brent, I doubt ridership on the SLUT will drop at all. Almost everyone on the SLUT probably has a PugetPass on their ORCA.

      3. Ridership may not go down by much, but it will go down. Charging for something that was previously free has that effect. In Tacoma Link’s case, some might be under the false impression that it already costs, and that might have impacted ridership.

        The SLUS will cost more soon for people who have an ORCA card, but not a monthly pass. The ORCA reader stands are already appearing.

      4. Every time I take the SLUT (which is not that often) there are visitors and occasoinal riders on it, many of whom don’t understand how to get a ticket or think it’s not worth it for just a few stations.

      5. They would have to do fare enforcement on SLUT which I have yet to see.

      6. I’d say SLUT should be free at least until the line is expanded. Perhaps Mr. Allen or Mr. Bezos would care to fund such a thing?

  4. With recent growth in ridership, Tacoma Link no longer falls under that policy.

    Huh? From the most recent ST Quarterly report:

    Tacoma Link light rail boardings continued a downward trend, declining 8% compared with Q1 2013. Average weekday boardings were down 10%.

    Does anyone at ST have a clue? Rhetorical question.

  5. I LOVE THAT MAN. I love you man. You’re my hero.\read on:
    Corporate giant Costco fails as a marketing model in terms of transportation. A single Costco induces 10x the fuel combustion compared to neighborhood stores or district shopping centers, while putting these out of business. Amazon and Boeing similarly fall short in these terms of transportation costs and impacts. A progressive carbon tax would bankrupt these (low-cost?) corporate giants.

    Meanwhile, Wsdot consistently constructs absurdly substandard highways. Seattle transit agencies fall short of national standards, nevermind world standards. BNSF plans to dedicate its rails to fossil fuel transport through the Pacific Northwest.
    Seattle’s economy is more dependent upon diesel-spewing global trade
    than any US port. Yeah, we could address global warming, but the subject of transport is too far down the list of concerns Seattlers hold dearly, never f’kn mind competent discussion among peers. So says this Oregonian.

    Our ODOT was finished with your Wsdot boys in 2008. Your guys also misled our Port authorities about the oval track and Spagetti ramp hazards on Hayden Island. Washingtonian advice in transportation matters is no longer accepted
    south of thee Columbia River.
    Bertha must not proceed, period, end of story.
    Drill-Fill Sea Fence? Not a good idea, period.
    MercerWest QueenAnne Truck Route? How f’n dare you?
    Check out the WsDOT angle for retaining Battery Street Tunnel. YOU WILL LIKE IT, honest, trust me. BOX CUT-COVER/SEAWALL? Do not reject/neglect its study.
    Study it or shut up. Michael McGinn for Governor!
    Are you listening Tacomans? What’sup with Seatuhlers?
    You Tacomans get Bertha out of here, done, now or die,
    (figuratively or literally speaking).

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