Starting March of 2019, if all goes according to plan, buses running down Third Avenue will start a payment system currently used on Rapidride buses: Riders tap on with an ORCA payment card at the bus stop, then board on any door. Fare enforcement will be implemented the same way, too, with periodic checks from Metro-contracted security officers.
It’s part of mitigating what’s going to be an arduous 2019 Seattle bus-riders, as buses emerge from the limited traffic of the Metro tunnels to mingle with cars and buses already running down Third Avenue. At the same time, the Alaskan Way Viaduct is coming down, parts of the waterfront will be rebuilt (including continued work on the ferry terminal), and, possibly, more streetcar tracks will be built on First Avenue, if the project’s hold is lifted.
The city, Sound Transit, the Downtown Seattle Association and King County Metro are working together on a $30 million package of transit improvements to help keep things moving, including signal improvements and a separate transit pathway on Fifth and Sixth Avenues. All of these improvements address very real, extremely urgent mobility needs as regional transit planners brace themselves for clogged streets.
There are a lot of moving parts here, and last week, another one of them surfaced. In implementing these congestion-busting measures, the city and county would expand a program recently found by the County Auditor to be rife with inequity, compounding problems of housing insecurity by disproportionately distributing citations to—and recommending misdemeanor charges against—low-income and housing-unstable riders who don’t have a means to pay bus fare, much less a growing collection of fines.
“Metro encouraged the auditors to look at our Rapidride fare enforcement model in part because we are planning to expand Rapidride service and introduce all-door boarding to Third Avenue,” said King County Metro Transit spokesperson Scott Gutierrez over email. “This is a very opportune time to improve our system and make changes that will result in more equitable outcomes for all of our riders.”
Gutierrez pointed to a blog post written by Metro Transit General Manager Rob Gannon, which notes that some changes had already been made to fare enforcement policy: misdemeanor cases are no longer referred to Metro Transit Police while alternatives are considered, and juveniles are currently being given an extra warning before a citation.
A new training program about interacting with youth, said Ganon, is underway, and Metro Transit has hired a quality assurance supervisor to address some of the issues raised in the report.
In the meantime, Metro Transit will work with bus drivers, customers, social services agencies and their clients, and other stakeholders to “develop recommendations”—ideally by this fall.
Gutierrez said Metro will need to figure out if those recommendations need council approval, “so we’ll know more at that time.”
With all-door boarding expanding to all Third Avenue buses in March, that would give the agency around a year to develop that new training program, and about six months to implement those recommendations, before the Rapidride model expands.
The change to Third Avenue boarding, along with the other transit, road, and signal improvements, are part of a $30 million package. $10 million is already secured from the Metro transit capital program; another $10 million will go to Sound Transit Capital Committee and Board of Directors votes later this month. SDOT will ask the Seattle City Council for the remaining $10 million this fall.
This article has been updated with an additional response from King County Metro on implementation timeline.