Tacoma businesses pony up to keep Link rides free

Sound Transit approves plan to keep popular light rail system fareless until 2016, courtesy downtown owners

Staff writerMay 22, 2014 

A Link Light Rail train makes its way past Tollefson Plaza on a sunny 2010 afternoon.


Free rides on the Tacoma Link light rail system will continue at least until September 2016.

The Sound Transit Board of Directors on Thursday unanimously approved an offer from Tacoma business owners to foot the bill for fares Sound Transit planned to start charging to ride the downtown trolleys beginning in three months.

Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland told fellow Sound Transit board members the city’s downtown Business Improvement Area will pay Sound Transit $29,000 a year for the next two years to cover net revenue from fares the agency was planning to collect beginning in September.

Strickland, who is also vice chairwoman of the Sound Transit Board, praised the business group for supporting public transportation as a benefit to “businesses, tourism, the arts and the city overall.”

Tacoma Link is the only service in the region that does not charge fares, due to a Sound Transit Board policy that allows fare-free service when the cost of collecting fares exceeds potential revenue.

With recent growth in ridership, Tacoma Link no longer falls under that policy. More than 1 million people now ride Tacoma Link each year, enough to make analysts believe fares would generate more money than it would cost to collect them.

The Business Improvement Area’s support for covering Tacoma Link’s projected net revenues, also allowed by board policy, will postpone the move to a fare-collection system.

Last September, the Sound Transit Board approved the implementation of fares on Tacoma Link to recover some of the costs of operating the system. Fares would have started this fall at $1 for adults, 75 cents for youth and 50 cents for seniors and riders with disabilities, with increases in 2016.

Fares now are scheduled to start in September 2016 at $1.50 for adults and 75 cents for youth, seniors and riders with disabilities.

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693

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