Don’t forget: Ride free area ending and Metro routes changing



If you ride the bus, please get ready for what we call a “period of transition” in early October.

By now you’ve probably already heard that the downtown ride free area (or RFA) is ending on Saturday September 29. 

It was eliminated (after 40 years of service) by the King County Council to help the agency preserve the greatest number of routes in the face of financial crisis. (Metro ended up eliminating 10 routes and making changes to more than 50.) Metro hopes to see $2 million more per year by collecting fares downtown.

The current ride free area extends from the north at Battery St. to S. Jackson St. on the south, and east at 6th Avenue to the waterfront on the west.

This means that, unless you are on one of Metro’s RapidRide bus lines:

  • You will always pay when you get on the bus.
  • You will always enter at the front door.
  • You’re encouraged (but not required) to exit out the back door.

The same is true for Sound Transit and Community Transit buses operating in King County.

RapidRide lines have ORCA readers at their stations, so you can pay before boarding.

If you have a stroller or mobility device, or you need to tell the driver that you’re getting your bike off the rack, you can use the front door to exit.

Hope for the best, but prepare for delays

Chances are good that despite the advertising, plenty of people will be caught unprepared for the change. So, please, in October, allow yourself a little extra time.

I know I’m going to be taking deep breaths and practicing patience at the bus stops, especially during commuter times, and especially through downtown.

ORCA cards will speed you up

If you don’t already have an ORCA card, this would be a great time to invest. It will speed up your boarding and make it easier to transfer to all the other modes of public transportation in the region.

Here’s Metro’s FAQ about the ride free zone, how to pay, how much to pay, how to ride, and how to get help with disembarking if you need it.

How will low income or no income riders get around?

Metro is working with the Seattle Department of Transportation to provide a free circulator shuttle through downtown, mostly for poor and low-income riders who rely on the bus to get to shelters, job training or medical visits. It will be operated by Solid Ground, which already contracts with Metro to provide ACCESS paratransit service.

More information on the routing and schedule of the circulator will be available closer to Sept. 29, but it will probably travel First Avenue and loop around the hospitals on First Hill. Seattle is paying for the service with the $400,000 that would have supported the Ride Free Area.

Also, Right now, Metro provides tickets to low income riders through the King County Human Services Ticket Program. The agencies that receive the tickets pay 20 percent of face value for the tickets. These tickets are distributed by agencies to their clients for travel to shelters, medical appointments, job training, and other essential services. Approximately 1 million tickets are distributed through this program annually.

RapidRide buses are high-capacity, low-emission hybrids with a red, black, and yellow color scheme.

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