Five of Seattle’s leading mayoral candidates weighed in on free transit, traffic-ticket cameras and greenhouse gas emissions during a forum held four weeks before ballots are mailed for the city’s Aug. 3 primary election.
Jessyn Farrell, M. Lorena González, Bruce Harrell and Andrew Grant Houston agreed that City Hall should strive to make public transportation fare-free for everyone in Seattle during the forum on transportation and environmental issues hosted Wednesday night (over Zoom) by the Move All Seattle Sustainably coalition.
Lance Randall expressed skepticism about the idea. Colleen Echohawk and Casey Sixkiller were invited to the forum but said they couldn’t attend.
The candidates are competing to succeed Mayor Jenny Durkan, who isn’t running for reelection. The MASS coalition includes transit and environmental organizations like the Sierra Club, Transit Riders Union and Cascade Bicycle Club.
Randall, who’s worked in economic development for the city, also was the only candidate at the forum to oppose the decriminalization of fare nonpayment on Sound Transit’s light-rail system.
Free transit should be a “core component” of the region’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions and advance racial equity, said Farrell, a former state lawmaker, noting that downtown for decades was a no-fare zone for bus riders.
Fares contribute revenue for King County Metro and Sound Transit, but the region should absorb the loss of that revenue with higher taxes the next time Metro service is on the ballot and through “efficiencies,” Farrell said.
González, Seattle’s current City Council president, agreed free transit should be the goal, citing Kansas City as an example. Harrell, a former council member, stressed the need for “incremental steps” along the way; he said the city should encourage the use of electric vehicles and carpooling and should ask large employers to help reduce gridlock by staggering commute times. Free transit is needed, but improving transit access will do more to increase ridership and decrease emissions, said Houston, an architect.
Randall said he supports fare subsidies for people “who need assistance” and called the idea of free transit interesting. “But someone has to pay the bills,” Randall said, suggesting wealthy straphangers should continue to pay.
All five candidates who took part Wednesday said they would, as mayor, seek to expand the use of cameras for automated traffic enforcement. González said she would guard against disparate impacts of traffic tickets on low-income motorists and motorists of color, while Farrell, Harrell and Houston stressed the city shouldn’t rely on cameras over street-safety changes.
Asked how they would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions generally, González said Seattle must change its zoning laws to make every neighborhood walkable and transit-rich, like the West Seattle Junction, where she lives and rarely uses a car.
Harrell said the city needs to buy more bus hours from Metro, use ride-share services and shuttles to help residents access light rail and build sidewalks quicker, possibly with corporate donations, while Houston said Seattle must get more residents busing and biking.
Randall said the city needs to invest in electric vehicles, and Farrell touted the University of Washington’s subsidized transit program as a success that can be replicated citywide. To reduce pedestrian and bike injuries and deaths caused by cars, the city should transfer street space to people walking and biking, Houston said.
Harrell mentioned camera enforcement and promised to “evangelize” the need for motorists to slow down, while Randall mentioned signal improvements and Farrell said the city should close 100 miles of streets to pass-through vehicle traffic. González said such streets should not even have pass-through traffic.
All the candidates expressed support for lidding Interstate 5 next to downtown Seattle, and all of them other than Randall expressed support for completing the downtown streetcar line that Durkan has paused.
Randall, González, Farrell and Houston said they mostly take transit, with Houston not knowing how to drive. Harrell mostly drives an electric vehicle.
González and Houston set themselves apart by saying police should have no role in traffic enforcement. Randall and Houston set themselves apart by saying they oppose setting up a downtown zone with street tolls.