The next time Seattle gets hit by a severe winter storm, King County Metro Transit buses would waive their fares, offering free rides and shelter, under new legislation proposed by Metropolitan King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles.
Kohl-Welles, in an ordinance filed Monday, proposes making all Metro buses free any time the agency activates its emergency snow network, a much-reduced collection of high-ridership routes that operate on streets without steep slopes.
The emergency snow network was developed after the December 2008 storm that crippled the city for weeks, when Seattle treated roads with sand, not salt, and Metro improvised to deal with lingering ice by cutting service in half. It was used for the first time this February, when a set of winter storms brought close to a foot of snow in some parts of the Seattle region.
Metro cut its service from the nearly 240 bus routes it normally operates to fewer than 70, serving only the busiest arterial roadways and transit centers. The buses that did run operated with reduced service and were often late and packed to the gills with riders.
“Our region was hammered with one of the worst snowstorms the region has seen,” Kohl-Welles, who is running for re-election this year, said Monday. “Too many of our most vulnerable citizens were left stranded. Free metro fares will keep people safe and is the right thing to do.”
She said her proposal was based on safety — encouraging drivers to stay off the roads during storms and making it easier for people to get out of the weather and to emergency shelters. At least three people died of exposure during the storms, according to the legislation, despite the availability of increased shelter space.
“I really was bothered when I saw people outside on the streets, not having a place to go,” Kohl-Welles said.
She said she’s asked Metro for cost estimates for the proposal, but doesn’t expect it to be too extreme, considering how rare snow emergencies have been and how much Metro cuts service when the snow network is in effect.