Route 255 Snow Shuttle

This week, King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles introduced legislation to eliminate Metro fares whenever Metro activates the Emergency Snow Network. It’s early in the process and there is no cost estimate at this time (press release here).

This legislation continues the process of chipping away at the fare structure without taking the financial hit of eliminating fares entirely. Much like New Year’s Eve, snow days are an especially good day to eliminate barriers to using the system, and are rare enough to make the cost negligible. Transit is likely to welcome many newcomers that will be clumsy with a fare, and reducing car use helps avoid total system collapse. As Kohl-Welles told The Stranger, it can also be a matter of life and death, as people struggle to get out of the cold.

22 Replies to “Kohl-Welles: Free Fares on Snow Days”

    1. This year was the first time Metro activated the ESN. It may become more common now.

      I think in the past Metro has waived fares on snow days, so this may be getting back to an earlier practice and making it more consistent.

  1. This seems like a good way to generate good publicity at a very low cost. There aren’t many snow days, the road network gets bogged down, and this will help speed transit use as well as transit flow.

      1. They really need to come up with a clearer name distinction between the two kinds of “bus service is changed because of snow”. At least one of them needs a name that obviously wouldn’t refer to the other. Call the more common snow routes “Minor Snow Variants”, or throw “Level 2” into the name of the ESN, or something.

      2. Yes. I suggest to call it Emergency Reduced Network days and leave “snow” out of the title entirely.

      3. At first I thought “ESN” stood for “Emergency Service Network”. That makes more sense, especially since I think the intention is to run it in other emergency situations that disrupt road access.

  2. Looks good, except for one problem – will this turn buses into roving homeless shelters whenever it snows?

    1. If that’s the only shelter they can find, then sure! I’d rather share a bus with a bunch of homeless people than let a lot of them freeze to death.

    2. So to sum up your comment: let’s not try to do something positive for the City because you have an unfounded concern that the homeless will abuse it?

      Let’s get rid of parks, libraries, community centers, sidewalks, roads, etc, because there’s always a chance the homeless might abuse it. Hell, why not just shut down and demolish the City to placate your concern?

  3. While I like the idea, I don’t think I like the concept of passing statewide legislation for it, especially since it’s only really applicable to King County Metro. It seems like a decision that is best discussed with the King County Council. If it really is so easy, then it shouldn’t be hard to get King County Metro voluntarily on board, and if it turns out not to be, then those reasons will be important to consider.

    Additionally, when the state legislature is already over-involved in local transit decisions in terms of funding (we can’t tax our own county past a certain threshold to pay for transit unless the state legislature kindly allows us to, and Sound Transit needs to get taxing authority passed by the state legislature before it can put a new measure on the ballot, giving legislators from Spokane and Vancouver a vote on a future ST4), I’d rather not set a precedent for the state getting involved in low-level local transit decisions. It’s not that hard for me to imagine something like Tim Eyman appealing to eastern Washington legislatures to get draconian “accountability” laws passed to stifle King County Metro, for example.

  4. Has anyone tried to use the bus on a snow day? This year I ended up walking the 4 miles to work as the busses were either missing or so packed that they were passing multiple bus stops full of people waiting to get on.

    It’s hard to imagine how Metro is going to be able to deal with extra demand if rides are free given that they are unable to cope with what they have now.

    1. I don’t think more people will ride it simply because it’s free. Taking a bus somewhere in the snow runs the risk of a late bus, a slow trip, slipping on the ice when you’re walking to the bus stop, the cold weather, and the place you’re going to being closed. The only people who take a bus in those conditions are those who really have to get somewhere or really want to. I don’t think a fare or no fare is enough to change their mind one way or the other. Those that will wait to get on an overcrowded bus are already there.

      1. The issue isn’t people needing to get somewhere clogging up the buses. It’s people using the bus to ride around in loops as a form of homeless shelter. It only takes a small percentage of the city’s homeless population to completely fill up the capacity of the buses

      2. Given how chronically over capacity and unsafe for marginalized people the shelter systems are, I’m ok with them treating buses as a rolling shelter. Better a few people be inconvenienced (honestly concerns about this are wildly overblown and heavily suffering from classism) than people risk death.

      3. No. Simply put, transit’s mission is to provide reliable and safe service to the general population, and not to be a rolling homeless shelter. There are many causes and needs for homeless people, but it’s not why we fund transit. Further, some riders have suppressed immune systems or are frail and not recognizing their need for health and safety on a bus is not fair to them. I often witness out-of-control abusive behavior from some homeless and others who are almost in a coma from opioid abuse. It’s also burdensome for drivers to have to add instant social worker to their job description.

        If the shelter system isn’t working, change it! Have empty buses as extra shelters parked at strategic locations with trained staff nearby! Just don’t change the primary function of our bus system. A driver should be able to instead radio for help to be at the nearest stop possible.

      4. We’re not making buses free during extreme snow for the main PURPOSE of it being a homeless shelter. I agree we should improve our shelter system! But if the shelters aren’t currently sufficient, so the “free buses during extreme snow” program we’re implementing for other reasons also happens to save a few people from dying in the snow, that’s not a reason to not do the program!

        If you don’t want homeless people getting on buses to get out of the cold, give them better options.

      5. If there’s no capacity for more riders on snow days then what’s the point of free fare, whether the riders are homeless or not.

    2. #1 Metro needs to get all of the Artics off the road whenever there’s the slightest amount of snow. I know, in theory it reduces capacity but the reality is the entire system will function better without jackknifed artics blocking the road. I agree that making it free won’t encourage any additional riders. The buses are already packed and so unreliable from a schedule standpoint that nobody will use it if they have any other option; including walking 4 miles.

  5. I think KCM should be free during snow events. It almost doesn’t really matter. Driver’s are stressed out and tired. There are no KCM managers to remove people who don’t pay. They are helping other drivers unstuck along with the mechanics. Cops are overwhelmed. Metro is basically free during this time already. This is just a way to try to get people out of their cars during a severe case like this year.


    But the money should be spent on reroute communication. I am an avid bus rider and sometimes I was confused when and where busses were going to be. If it is free then the snow routes have to be easier to understand. I am not sure how to fix that. I have some ideas. A confusing, stressful, bus ride to a street you do not recognize is not a free trip I would take. Do not get me wrong. I am in favor of the idea. But the free fare should not be the only improvement we want to see next time it snows this hard.

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