Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Green Light or Yellow Light for Downtown Transit?

The Tacoma City Council is poised this evening to move forward on a resolution putting legs underneath City Manager Eric Anderson's parking & "mobility" program--now part of the Project Destiny initiative. Marty Campbell, recently elected chair for the Transit & Parking Advisory Committee, will be offering testimony at the meeting in support of this measure.

Downtown leaders can now be expected to focus attention on the transit portion of the program. One element sure to be discussed is the concept of a "fareless square" for transit riders, patterned after the program that has operated in Portland since 1975 (Seattle has a much smaller fareless zone with hours limited to 6:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.). After more than 32 years of operation, however, Portland's fareless square may be on the verge of severe cut-backs--and for what may be a surprising reason.

In response to recent security concerns, Portland's TriMet has outlined a new security plan as part of a multi-faceted strategy to improve safety at night throughout the transit system; one proposal of this plan would be to limit Fareless Square zone hours to 7:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.

Much of the disruptive and threatening behavior that has been witnessed on MAX occurs at night between downtown and the Lloyd District. The proposal is specifically targeted at passenger safety in the downtown core, and to substantially reduce the type of undesirable behavior that impacts system safety.

The Lloyd Transportation Management Association (TMA), which contributes funding to help pay for fareless service to Lloyd District, has sent a letter to TriMet objecting to both the rationale and the timeline for the decision limiting fareless square hours.

What implications might this decision have for a "fareless square" in downtown Tacoma? Will security concerns force Sound Transit--which is now extending Link's evening hours--to curtail free service on light rail?

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