On Monday, the King County Council will pass a controversial $20 vehicle license fee, preventing drastic 17 percent cuts to Metro services that would've put an estimated 15,000 more vehicles on the road. But the council votes needed to pass the fee didn't come without a package of amendments, including one serious concession from Seattle—the five-part plan unveiled at a press conference this morning calls for an end to Seattle's downtown ride free area in October, 2012.

"The city of Seattle pays $400,000 a year to support free rides—only 18 percent of the $2.2 million it costs Metro each year to operate the free ride area," explained King County Executive Dow Constantine. "This isn’t something we take lightly but it can no longer be sustained." Roughly 9,000 free trips are taken through Seattle's downtown core each day.

By taking action itself, the KC Countil has prevented sending the measure to voters, and risked them voting it down.

KC Council member Jane Hague
  • KC Council member Jane Hague, pleased as punch.
"This is a great deal for the Eastside, for King County," said council member Jane Hague, who previously said she'd vote down the $20 proposal. "“This is not a change of heart, it's a change in the plan. We’re talking about real reform in metro with the discontinuation of the free ride zone."

Seattle City Council member Tom Rasmussen, head of the council's transportation committee, said that the council would "work for the next year [to find a way] to keep the benefits and advantages" of the free ride zone but admitted that $400,000 wouldn't buy the city much in the way of service. The elimination of the free ride zone also means that all buses will revert to a pay as you enter format, which will eliminate delinquent fares.

The council's proposal now also includes a plan to provide eight bus tickets (worth up to $24) for each car tab renewal. “We know people who give the bus a try are inclined to ride the bus again," said Constantine. If families don’t want the tickets, they can check a box to donate them to a pool of 150 human service agencies who distribute tickets.

In addition, Metro will also either increase the current number of discount tickets they offer human service groups (or discount tickets to these groups even further).

Other amendments include adding Dial-a-Ride Transit services, vanpools, and vanshares, to sparsely populated communities to make transit more efficient, as well as adding more buses to heavily used routes, such as those that travel along the 520 bridge and on Aurora Avenue.

"Cuts to metro would’ve taken us back to 1996 service levels," said Larry Phillips, chair of the KC transportation committee. "There was controversy in raising the $20 [car tab fee] but the tremendous hurt, the harm done to the community in cutting services… would’ve been unacceptable. Twenty dollars is affordable, transit cuts are not."