Riding downtown Tacoma’s Link light rail could remain free until September 2016 if a proposal from the downtown Business Improvement Area gains approval from Sound Transit.
Last year, the transit system’s board voted to begin charging for trips on the rail system starting in September of this year.
Riding Link, which connects the Tacoma Dome neighborhood to the Theater District, has been free since it debuted as a demonstration project in 2003. But in September 2013, Sound Transit voted to begin charging $1 adult fares (along with discounts for youths, seniors and the disabled) starting in September of this year, with fares rising to $1.50 in September 2016.
BIA manager David Schroedel said the business group is offering to pay $58,000 over a two-year period, beginning in September, to keep Link free until September 2016. This would cover the net revenue gains for fare collection that Sound Transit would have realized during the two years, after factoring in the costs of operating a fare-collection system and enforcement.
The business group will present its proposal before the Sound Transit board at its meeting Thursday in Seattle.
Tacoma’s Link is the only fare-free service offered by Sound Transit, said agency spokeswoman Kimberly Reason.
Members of the BIA – which includes more than 300 downtown Tacoma property owners – believe the free Link system is vital to keeping downtown business humming. Projections had forecast a drop in ridership – now estimated at 1 million a year – if passengers were asked to pay for the service. Sound Transit estimated annual ridership could drop to 823,000 with implementation of the $1 fare.
Schroedel said fewer Link riders could mean fewer customers for downtown businesses.
“We are in the process of growing,” Schroedel said of downtown. “We think Link is a key part of that.”
Mayor Marilyn Strickland endorsed the BIA idea in a letter to Sound Transit.
“While I am fully aware of the need to recover some costs,” she wrote, “I believe that downtown Tacoma business and tourism will be negatively impacted by the projected drop in Tacoma Link ridership at a time when they are finally starting to gain their footing after a long and deep recession.”
Open house Tuesday
Sound Transit is asking for public input on a proposal to expand Link from the Theater District to the Hilltop via Stadium Way. The transit system and the city of Tacoma will hold an open house to discuss the proposal from 4-6 p.m. Tuesday at Allen AME Church, 1223 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.