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What should be on Metro’s new trolley wish list? Plus, Ride Free RIP & pay-on-entry coming

Capitol Hill loves its buses. Science says so. There are some big changes coming for the only significant public transit system currently serving the neighborhood. Notes on those, some useful info for drivers encountering buses (stay calm!), and an invitation to dream big about the next generation of electric trolleys to ply the Hill, below.

  • No more free rides + pay on entry — Come this fall, there will be some big changes to the Metro bus experience in Seattle. For one, the ride free area is slated to be eliminated as a cost-cutting measure. But the bigger change will be the end of the flipping of the sign — Starting in late September, all Metro routes in all directions will be pay-as-you-enter. Every time. No exceptions. No groans from the driver when you forget. Because you won’t forget. Because there won’t be anything to remember. Like Metro is wont to do, there is an open house on the changes slated for next week. Information on that is below. You can also submit comments on the changes if you have suggestions as the agency gears up for the massive change in service. The comment period for the plan closes April 6. Information on how to add your brilliant ideas to the mix is below.

The Ride Free Area for buses in downtown Seattle is scheduled to be eliminated on Sept. 29, 2012. At the same time, riders will begin paying when entering the bus for all trips.

These changes will help King County Metro Transit save money and preserve bus service. Sound Transit and Community Transit are also preparing to act on similar changes for their bus operations in King County.

The three agencies and the city of Seattle are hosting an open house to update the community and get feedback:

Thursday, March 29
4-6:30 p.m.
Union Station Great Hall
401 S. Jackson St., Seattle

Metro is currently working with Sound TransitCommunity Transit, and Seattle on an implementation plan for the Ride Free Area changes. This includes options to address transportation needs of low or no-income people who use the Ride Free Area to travel to essential support services in the downtown area.

The Sound Transit Board is scheduled to vote in June on charging fares for ST Express bus trips within the downtown area, consistent with current policy for Link light rail.

If you cannot attend the open house, you can get more information and comment on the plan by visiting the How to Ride webpage. Comments can also be emailed; or submitted by phone: 206-296-7643; 206-263-9988 (Spanish); or 206-263-9674 (Vietnamese). The comment period on the implementation plan ends April 6.

  • ‘Let buses go first’ — Not sure what sparked it but the city cleared up one of the mysteries of urban living this week. What, exactly, is supposed to happen when buses are pulling away from the curb and back into traffic? If you’re a driver, you’re supposed to wait — that’s what:

When a Metro, Sound Transit, or other transit bus driver signals that the bus is reentering the flow of traffic, other drivers must yield the right-of-way. The same goes for a streetcar or a Metro trolley bus. Many drivers do not seem to know this traffic regulation, or they choose to ignore it, but the penalty for not yielding is $124.

Consider this: a bus carries up to 80 or more passengers. If those passengers were riding in cars, there would be a lot more traffic and it would probably take much longer to get anywhere. By accommodating buses, we reduce congestion. When you think of it that way, a delay of a few seconds to let a bus go first doesn’t seem like such an imposition.

SDOT says it is working to reduce the number of stops where this kind of car-bus interplay is required but writes that there will “always be some ‘pull out’ bus stops.” Note this applies to the streetcar, too. But we won’t have to worry about that for a few more years.

  • Shopping for new trolleys — In November, we reported on the $238.6 million plan to replace Metro’s aging trolley fleet. The county has said its 25-year-old battalion of 155 electric trolley buses needs to be replaced by 2014. We checked out some of the tires Metro has been kicking as it considers how to deploy those millions on new buses. We checked in with the county to find out the status of the process to make the sizable purchase and what features Metro is requiring from its providers. We were told the request for proposals for the contract will go out in April and the delivery expectation is still 2014. This might be your last chance to make some noise about that trolley feature wish list you’ve been putting together.

    Metro tested out this Vancouver BC trolley in December 2010 (Image: CHS)