DAVE ROSS

Olympia’s fare free bus system is off to a strong start, but is it sustainable?

Jan 31, 2020, 6:09 AM
washington governor, health care, transit...
The Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. (AP)
(AP)

On January 2, Olympia’s Intercity Transit agency made a radical change — it eliminated bus fare. It’s a move that’s slowly gaining traction nationwide.

KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross spoke to Ann Freeman-Manzanares, the general manager of Intercity Transit, about the reasons behind the change.

“I think it’s surprising to most folks, and it actually was a little surprising to us, how much it costs to collect money,” Freeman-Manzanares said.

Intercity Transit had an outdated fare collection system on the buses that needed an overhaul. The original plan was to switch to the regional ORCA fare collection program, to streamline payment for commuters.

But the costs of installing and running ORCA, combined with an unexpected wait time for the installation thanks to a system revamp, just didn’t add up.

“We actually went through an exercise where every division in the organization did an evaluation of what we would save if fares did not exist,” Freeman-Manzanares said. “And for us, when we subtracted the initial investment with the yearly operating costs of that more sophisticated regional system once it was available … it would cost us more to collect than we would gain, in fares.”

In just the first 17 days of a fare free bus service, Olympia has seen ridership increase by 25,414 people. That’s 13% more than this time last year.

“It’s still relatively new, but we’re not seeing a problem,” Freeman-Manzanares said. “Zero fare doesn’t mean there are zero rules … and people who get on the bus need to have a destination.”

“Really, additional riders means that the service that we put out on the street is more productive, more economical and more environmentally friendly,” she added.

The fare free program will be in effect for the next five years as a pilot program. The transit agency will continue to study how well it’s working. A small sales tax increase and a combination of local and federal grants will fund fare free buses. Freeman-Manzanares hopes the program will start to pay for itself in community impact.

“What if new or expanding businesses consider zero fare transit as an incentive to select a particular community in which to locate?” she said. “The financial benefits of having those jobs here are exponential. Or, what can the colleges and the social service agencies accomplish with the funds that were previously dedicated to purchasing transit passes for their students and clients? Can they keep people in school, can they move people out of poverty … what does that do for the health of the community?”

Listen to the Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

Dave Ross on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM
  • listen to dave rossTune in to KIRO Radio weekdays at 5am for Dave Ross on Seattle's Morning News.

Dave's Commentary

Dave Ross

Giving...
KIRO Radio staff

Mayfield: Focusing less on money and more on giving

What if we also focused on giving more every day? And what if beyond money we gave more love, wisdom and leadership too?
8 hours ago
Omicron...
KIRO Radio staff

Mayfield: How scared of the omicron variant should we actually be?

The omicron variant is stranding travelers and rattling markets. It just sounds scary, but what if we're getting ahead of ourselves?
1 day ago
Wuhan, COVID, market...
MyNorthwest Staff

UW Medicine’s head of Virology: Live market ‘more likely the start’ of COVID

Scientists have been trying to trace the actual origins of the virus that causes COVID, to find if it came from a market, a lab, or somewhere else.
2 days ago
sleep...
MyNorthwest Staff

Study determines the ideal time to sleep based on biological clock

Is there a specific time when you should be going to sleep? Mercer Island MD Dr. Gordon Gohen explains the results of a study from the United Kingdom.
3 days ago
downtown seattle...
Dave Ross

Ross: Seattle’s next mayor promises a drier downtown experience

Yes, people want to be safe downtown, but they would also like to be able to go from store to store in November and December without getting soaked.
6 days ago
holidays...
MyNorthwest Staff

Check your dishwasher, fridge, and bathroom before hosting for the holidays

We're used to holiday tips, but this is the first time Dave Ross says he's read about the home maintenance you should be doing for the holidays.
7 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
...

Delayed-Onset PTSD: Signs and Symptoms

Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers SPONSORED — You’re probably familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Often abbreviated as PTSD, this condition is diagnosed when a person experiences a set of symptoms for at least a month after a traumatic event. However, for some people, these issues take longer to develop. This results in a diagnosis of delayed-onset PTSD […]
...

Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7. Free unbiased help is here!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]
...

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
...
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
...
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Olympia’s fare free bus system is off to a strong start, but is it sustainable?