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Will riders use Monorail after $7 million investment from NHL Seattle?

Updates to the Monorail are coming. (NHL Seattle/Seattle Monorail)

NHL Seattle announced a $7 million capital investment in Seattle’s Westlake Monorail Station Tuesday, including fully subsidized transit to home games for ticket holders. But will riders take advantage?

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The investment — as part of a partnership with Monorail operator SMS — will go toward “improved platforms, modernized ticketing and additional elevator access,” with the team encouraging fans to use it as a means for transit to and from games at its Seattle Center arena.

“We respect the history of the Monorail and want to remind people of its original intent. I couldn’t be prouder to align with a company that shares our values and ambitions,” NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke said in a news release. “By offering embedded public transit we are making the right decision for our fans and for the city.”

NHL Seattle hopes to have the Monorail act as a transit hub for fans across the region, billing it as a connection for riders coming from Northgate when light rail service begins in 2021, as well as Bellevue, Redmond, Federal Way, and Lynnwood by 2024.

The team will become the third professional sports organization in the United States to fully subsidize public transit for its fans. NHL Seattle VP of Transportation and former Seattle City Councilmember Rob Johnson expects “around 25%” of attendees to use public transit to get to and from games in the team’s inaugural season.

“The use of public transit can become a unique part of the fan experience and will likely be the quickest and most reliable way to get to and from our games,” Johnson promised.

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KIRO Radio Traffic Reporter Chris Sullivan, though, isn’t as confident that it will be heavily utilized by fans.

“This is a great idea to move people who live in downtown Seattle, but it won’t do anything for fans coming from outside the city for three or four years, once light rail matures to the Eastside and Lynnwood,” Sullivan said.

“I don’t see anyone from outside Seattle fighting downtown Seattle traffic and fighting for parking, just to catch the monorail to the game,” he added.

Monorail representatives have hinted for years at the possibility of increased ridership following the Seattle Center arena redevelopment.

“Right now, there’s a lot going on in our city, obviously, but also at Seattle Center,” Monorail General Manager Megan Ching told KTTH’s Jason Rantz Show in 2018. “With KeyArena undergoing re-development and the Oak View Group looking at trying to expand the arena and bring in an NHL hockey team, there’s certainly going to be a great demand.”

The rail was introduced at the 1962 World’s Fair. Eight million people rode it during the first six months of its existence. The line connects Westlake Center Mall to the Space Needle, moving passengers between the two stations in about two minutes.

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