Link fare subsidy merits transit approval

The News TribuneMay 21, 2014 

A Link light rail train operated by Sound Transit stops on Pacific Avenue at Union Station in downtown Tacoma.

STAFF FILE PHOTO, 2013

Sound Transit is getting a gift horse from a downtown Tacoma business group. The agency shouldn’t look it in the mouth.

The Business Improvement Area — an association of more than 300 downtown Tacoma property owners — is offering to pay Sound Transit $58,000 over a two-year period beginning in September. That’s when Sound Transit plans to start charging $1 adult fares on the hugely popular 1.6-mile light rail line that links the Tacoma Dome Station to the Theater District.

The Tacoma Link currently offers free ridership; in fact it is Sound Transit’s only free-fare line. It serves the University of Washington Tacoma, the School of the Arts, Union Station, the museum district, and the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center. Many visitors, attracted by the free fare, park in areas outside the city’s metered parking area and ride the Link into downtown.

The $58,000 from the BIA would compensate for revenue Sound Transit projects it would net after accounting for the cost of fare collection and enforcement, and it would allow the agency to put off charging fares for two years. The BIA fears that the $1 fare might discourage many people from coming downtown just as businesses are starting to recover from the recession. The group plans to present its proposal to the Sound Transit board Thursday.

The only concern about the BIA’s proposal might be that it does make sense to phase in the fare, from $1 to $1.50 (with discounts for youths, senior citizens and people with disabilities). Sound Transit had planned to charge $1 full fare for two years, then increase it to the higher amount in September 2016. The BIA plan as it is could mean that riders would immediately start paying the $1.50 fare in September 2016.

The BIA might consider a smaller subsidy in 2016 to allow a phasing-in of the fare increase instead of a sudden $1.50 fare. There’s something to be said for getting people gradually accustomed to paying for a service they’ve been getting for free.

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