Officials have been warning of the coming “Seattle Squeeze” starting with the January 11th closure of SR-99 offering up “Rapid Response Teams” and discounts on Uber but only one has stepped up to make the boldest, likely most effective, and — unfortunately — probably most implausible call yet — make public transit in Seattle free.
“Immediately, public transit from Metro to the Light Rail should be made free for all during the three weeks of the Seattle Squeeze,” District 3 council member Kshama Sawant writes in a letter to Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine.
The Seattle City Council member representing Capitol Hill, the Central District, and surrounding neighborhoods points out that “rider fares constitute only a small proportion of the revenue that Metro and other public transit agencies use to fund their operations.”
Sawant says she estimates the move “would cost less than $10 million, which is well within the ability of the county and its cities to fund.” Sawant also says that more buses and trains would be required during the period so “drivers and maintenance workers should be compensated with overtime pay to fulfill the extra duties.”
The full letter is below.
Beginning January 11th, State Route 99 through downtown Seattle will be closing for approximately three weeks to realign the highway into the new waterfront tunnel. During the closure, both the viaduct and the tunnel will be closed. Drivers should expect up to six weeks of region-wide congestion, the city says. Officials have suggested that commuters try to adjust their work schedules — starting later or leaving earlier — to reduce predicted congestion.
It’s not clear how Durkan or Constantine could put Sawant’s plan into motion though there are surgical examples when free rides have been legislated like the upcoming New Year’s Eve with no fare charged on Metro, Sound Transit, or the Seattle Streetcar.
Sawant’s call comes only weeks before the planned closure begins with her council not scheduled to meet again until January 9th.
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