Is the free ride over for Link passengers?

Last week, Sound Transit held a forum on campus to gather student opinion on an upcoming decision the board is preparing to make on whether or not to begin charging for the Link Light Rail.

Unfortunately, as last week was the break between quarters, few students were on campus to give feedback, and the board may make their decision on September 26th without hearing important input from those who it will heavily affect.

This likely impeding new expense is the result of a Sound Transit policy by which charges are implemented when a fare will offset the cost of operations. Since the Link’s debut in Tacoma in 2003 until now, the cost of charging a fare was greater than the revenue it would have generate; however, with  over a million riders a year, a number predicted to rise significantly as the Link expands, this is no longer the case.

According to Brian Brooke, Sound Transit Research, Policy and Business Development Manager, intense analysis indicates that charging $1.00 to $2.00 per ride will help offset the cost of running the Link which is currently funded by Tacoma taxpayers, by upwards of 20 percent.  

“We’ve reached that tipping point.” said Chelsea Levy, Sound Transit’s government and community relations officer, “Any revenue will go to cover operating costs.”  

Sound Transit has taken steps to mitigate the impact of a  fare on low income riders, of which the Tacoma Link has a disproportionate amount. As with many current ST services, passes would be sold at $.20 on the dollar to social services such as DSHS who could then share the passes with those with whom they work.

Though the discounted ORCA card available to students will give them a lower price on the Link, a fare will still remove the only viable free parking option available to them. This, combined with the city’s new parking regulations, will make the already difficult situation of having a car in downtown Tacoma even more stressful.

Evidence suggests that the Sound Transit board will vote yes on fares September 26th, but as the process plays out over the next year, it is important that Sound Transit hear from those affected, particularly students. As the city grows, and Sound Transit implements its plans for expansion, it is important that the community participates in making Tacoma’s public transportation ideal for everyone involved. If you have comments on any aspect of the Link Fare issue,  email fares@soundtransit.org.