Less than a week after King County eliminated downtown Seattle’s free-ride bus zone, County Councilmember Reagan Dunn thinks maybe it should be brought back.
In a letter Thursday, linked here through DocumentCloud, he says “low-income and homeless people depend on this service for survival.” But he argues further that free rides are good for business, especially as cruise ship passengers and other tourists use free buses to move easily through downtown: “Businesses in the Ride Free Areas count on the economic benefit this service has helped to provide and bolster. Simply ending this service with no alternative could conceivably lead to adverse effects on the downtown economy and the city of Seattle as a whole.”
Dunn said the city and county should do an economic impact study, costing perhaps $15,000 to $30,000, to find out if business losses outweigh Metro’s gain.
On the first day of downtown fares Monday, trains and buses in the downtown tunnel were delayed about nine minutes in the afternoon peak, because passengers took longer to get aboard buses. Previously people paid at the end of the ride, in outlying neighborhoods.
“I was out with [Metro general manager] Kevin Desmond Monday and saw how the process was working, and I wondered, ‘Have we thought through this, beyond a line item in the budget?'” said Dunn.
But Metro says this week’s change has generally gone well. Downtown fares are projected to bring in a net $2.2 million, a tiny fraction of the $643 million operating budget. Dunn said he still believes, as in 2009, that Seattle should be paying more to subsidize downtown free rides, maybe a 50-50 split with the county.
The pros and cons were well-publicized before and after last year’s County Council vote to charge fares downtown. (Dunn opposed the package, which also imposed a $20 car-tab fee to sustain Metro bus service hours, saying the fee should have been referred to the voters.) This sudden activism by Dunn, a Republican from Maple Valley. occurs during his race against Democrat Bob Ferguson, a county councilmember from north Seattle, for state attorney general. (Ferguson voted for the combination of downtown fares and the $20 fee.)
So is Dunn just trying to soak up a few votes from the Seattle left and business lobby? “This is a sincere proposal, it’s not based on any political consequences. We need to do that sooner or later,” he answered. If the goal was boosting poll numbers for the AG’s race, Dunn says, he would have voted yes for the Sonics arena.