"Ride Free Express" Bus and Van Pool Plan Proposed as
Alternative Mass Transit Investment to Sound Transit Light Rail
Ride Free Express Serves Six Times More Daily Riders
than Link Light Rail for a Billion Dollars Less Taxpayer Funding;
Phase One Serves All of King County and Includes Eight New Transit Access Ramps and Lanes;
Bus Riders Would Pay No Fare, and New Vanpool Drivers Would be Compensated $4,000 Annually
by John Niles, Public Interest Transportation Forum
Archived Page from January, 2001
With the endorsement of former Washington State Governors Booth Gardner
(Democrat, 1985-92) and John Spellman (Republican, 1981-85), former Metro
Transit Director Chuck Collins has released more details on his long-awaited proposal for
a central Puget Sound region mass transit plan. Ride Free Express is designed by a team of
experienced transportation planning professionals to be far superior to Link Light Rail on
a number of dimensions: lower cost, higher patronage, more congestion relief, less risk,
and faster time to deployment. The Collins plan boldly cuts bus fares to zero, buys and
deploys 100 new express buses and 4,000 free
vanpools, builds new bus access lanes, and pays for high-tech equipment that gives buses
priority at traffic signals.
Ride Free Express is proposed by Chuck Collins as a straight-up replacement for Sound Transit Link Light
Rail, a $4 billion project now being audited by the United States Department of
Transportation, Office of Inspector General, at the request of Representative Hal Rogers
(R - KY), Chairman of the Transportation Subcommittee of the U.S. House Appropriations
Committee. If Sound Transit were to cancel Link and implement Ride Free Express
instead, the agency would provide the central Puget Sound region with more transit
capacity in more places at lower cost.
Collins estimates that Ride Free Express will attract 192,000 daily new riders at
a taxpayer cost of $3 per ride, compared to Link Light Rail's estimated 30,800 new riders
per day at a taxpayer cost of more than $18 each. Furthermore, Ride Free Express could be
operating in two years, while Link will not be operational until 2009. The plan makes the enticing and aggressive claim that about ten percent of
drive-alone commuters would switch to buses or vanpools as a result of this plan. The
buses and vanpools would be deployed in geographic areas where the rider response to free
fares is greatest.
Source: Ride Free Express Draft Plan document, January 2001, page 11
Link Light Rail's controversial $500 million Federal Government Full Funding
Grant Agreement -- trigger for the audit by the USDOT Inspector General -- would not be
required for Ride Free Express.
The Ride Free Express plan has so far been detailed for King County only (where
the initial Link Light Rail line is scheduled for construction), but is said to be
expandable to Snohomish County and Pierce County. The ridership
performance forecasts for free-fare bus service is based on a 35% jump over present
patronage levels, and is calculated based on the experience of other cities with no-fare
programs on their buses as reported by a United States Department of Transportation
Transit Ridership and Fare study. Click for Peyton Whitely's Seattle Times story, January 29, 2001,
on existing free bus programs around Washington State, "Free rides: one way to curb
In anticipation of objections about free fares attracting riders who may engage
in "objectionable activities," the Collins plan includes $5.4 million to double
transit security levels.
As described in the full plan document, Ride Free Express takes a market-driven
approach that covers the entire region:
Excerpt from Ride Free Express Plan: Traditional versus Market-driven
Traditionally, fixed-route transit system plans identify a corridor with high
travel volumes. Then a route is devised that serves a large number of destinations along
the corridor. The problem with this approach in urban areas is that such corridors are
usually already well served by buses. As a result, if a rail line is built, most of the
passengers are pre-existing bus riders who are merely shifted to rail at very great
taxpayer expense. When considering this reality, it isnt surprising that only thirty
percent of trips on Link are forecast to be made by new riders.
The Ride Free Express market-driven approach
responds only to actual demand. It provides the means and the incentives to attract new
riders where transit service has been noncompetitive. For bus riders, the means consist of
more frequent service on high demand routes, new traffic signals and HOV improvements to
speed service. For commuters to suburban employment destinations, the means consist of
4,000 vans, which respond only to actual demand. The market determines the routes and
destinations. For all commuters, the fundamental incentive is free fare.
Ride Free Express does not attempt to predict
new routes and bus service levels. As fares are eliminated, ridership counts on the buses
will dictate where more service is needed. Vanpool groups will figure out the best route
and schedule for their members. In this way, travel demand can be translated into 4,000
separate routes, each tailored to the needs of a particular group of commuters. In this
way, Ride Free Express has the flexibility to
respond to changes in this rapidly growing region.
Collins and his supporters make a modest appeal to all citizens in the Sound
Transit service district: "Ask Sound Transit for a full
review of light rail and its alternatives, including Ride Free Express, based on whether
they cost-effectively attack traffic congestion and meet our regions transportation
"Trains have great intuitive and romantic appeal. It is easy to
get caught up in the dream, but elected representatives owe us more than a dream. They owe
us prudent and thoughtful use of our money. If the right investment criteria are new
riders, cost and risk, this is not a close call: Link should not be built."
Chuck Collins, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 1, 2000
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