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Is the new Seattle shuttle service helping the people who really need it?

The new Via to Transit shuttle service is intended to increase connectivity to public transportation. (AP)

Recently, as part of an effort to increase connectivity with public transportation, Seattle launched the Via to Transit on-demand shuttle service to carry more people to Sound Transit trains in southeast Seattle and Tukwila. The project is contracted through private company Via, and appears to be a success so far with upwards of 70,000 total rides since it was launched in April, reports Crosscut.

But as KIRO Radio’s Todd Herman wondered, is subsidizing this type of service the right approach when there may be more cost-effective methods available?

“I get the reason for this since we’re going to spend $73 billion on a train that’s going to move somewhere around 3 percent of us,” Todd said. “You may as well try to get people to ride the thing.”

“But A: The city should not be in the business of competing with Uber and Lyft. B: Since it saved Pierce County money to use Uber and Lyft to get people who couldn’t get to transit there, why not do that?,” Todd said. “C: If it must be through this so-called private company Via, why not focus that on folks who legitimately don’t have the means so they can get to work?”

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A partnership between King County Metro, Sound Transit, and the City of Seattle, the program is part of a yearlong pilot project funded by $2.7 million from the voter-approved Seattle Transportation Benefit District, as well as a grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

For Todd, the service may be inadvertently subsidizing rides for those who might otherwise use Uber and Lyft, instead of those who actually need it.

“The people who use mass transit are the very poor and are also the very, very highly paid who live downtown. So again, why subsidize their ride? Why not let them use Uber and Lyft?” Todd asked. “And for the poor people, people of fewer means, subsidize Uber and Lyft for them. Why build infrastructure?”

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The shuttle cost is the standard adult fare, which users are able to apply as a transfer toward a trip on a bus or train. The service is intended to increase access to light rail for those who don’t own a car, live far away from transit hubs, and/or want to avoid driving and parking.

Listen to The Candy, Mike, and Todd Show weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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