In February, the Seattle area was hit with a once-a-decade snowstorm that brought the region to a standstill, blanketing roads, shuttering schools and businesses and triggering a state of emergency.

Next time that happens, you won’t have to pay for the bus.

The Metropolitan King County Council on Wednesday, passed legislation that suspends fare enforcement on all Metro buses whenever the system’s emergency snow network is activated.

The emergency snow network was developed after the December 2008 snowstorm, when Seattle treated the roads with sand instead of salt and buses were left stranded on steep and unplowed roads. Now, if the snow network is activated, Metro cuts its nearly 240 bus routes to a core group of fewer than 70, serving only the busiest arterial roadways and transit centers.

This past February, when Seattle saw more than 20 inches of snow, was the first, and so far only, time the emergency snow network has been used. The limited bus network was in effect for four days. The buses that did run operated with reduced service and were often late and packed to the gills with riders.

“This legislation is about promoting safety,” said Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who sponsored the change. “It will encourage people to stay off the roads and get to where they need using a safer mode of transportation — regardless if they have an ORCA card or enough money to pay the fare.”


At least three people died of exposure during the February storms, according to the legislation, despite the availability of increased shelter space.

An analysis by County Council staff estimated that waiving fares during February’s four-day snow emergency would have cost Metro about $660,000 of revenue.

The legislation passed on a 7-2 vote, with Councilmembers Claudia Balducci and Kathy Lambert voting no.

Balducci called the legislation unnecessary and said there is no indication that anyone was turned away from buses during the snowstorm because of an inability to pay.

Staff reporter Heidi Groover contributed to this report.