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King County Metro on track to restore fares in October

As fares resume, partitions are being installed in all King County buses. (King County Metro, Twitter)

King County Metro is preparing to start charging fares again, with new service changes going into effect over the weekend.

King County Metro adds safety features, route changes

Metro has targeted Oct. 1, 2020, as the date it would like to start charging fares again. It stopped collecting fares in March as a way to keep drivers and passengers separated for social distancing. But before fares can be charged, Metro has to install automated plexiglass safety partitions that are activated when the front door is opened.

“We are at about 700 partitions installed and counting,” said Katie Chalmers, Metro service planning supervisor.

The agency is installing them on 1,400 buses, and is also installing on-board mask dispensers on 100 buses on the busiest routes.

Ridership is still off about 60% from this time last year, but Chalmers said riders are slowly coming back.

“We just had our first several days of over 150,000 boardings a day, so we are seeing a steady uptick in ridership, and we will be watching that closely as the fall goes on,” she said.

Service changes coming over the weekend and on Monday should help those ridership numbers. Metro is restoring service to transportation starved West Seattle. Service will return to nearly full pre-COVID levels out of the neighborhood.

“Even though we know that demand for travel during peak periods into downtown Seattle is still low, we know that West Seattle is of particular importance in trying to make sure there is really solid transit options available,” Chalmers said.

King County Metro is also rolling out a new route serving Renton, Kent, and Auburn, while Route 160 will eventually become a RapidRide line.

Overall, Metro will still be operating at 85% of pre-COVID capacity. Some evening and weekend service will be reduced into and through Seattle to help meet actual demand.

Traffic congestion has returned to near-normal levels across Washington

The hope is to stay as flexible as possible and putting service where it sees real demand.

“[We are] watching closely to see where people are riding, where the most customers are coming back to Metro, and trying to be as responsive as we can to make sure that service is there,” Chalmers said.

Metro continues to face a huge budget hole because of the pandemic. It expects to collect $465 million fewer dollars in sales tax revenue over the next two years than it forecasted. It expects to collect between $130 million to $150 million fewer dollars at the fare box.

The latest projects have Metro facing a more than $2 billion budget gap through 2028.

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