King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles wants to make getting around Seattle during major snow events easier, safer, and more affordable. She introduced a measure today that would make fares free whenever King County Metro switches to their Emergency Snow Network (ESN), the amended bus routes that were created in 2008 but first utilized in 2019. Soooooo... climate change-induced freak snowstorms could be making transit more accessible.
"I'm mainly concerned here about overall public safety," Kohl-Welles told The Stranger. "I want to do everything I can to make sure that the most number of people possible can get where they can safely."
Specifically, Kohl-Welles wants to help low-income people and people who are experiencing homelessness get to a shelter or safe space. During the February snowpocalypse (or snowmaggedon, pick your poison), three people died of exposure.
"I don’t know if it would have made a difference if this measure were in place at the time but I want to make sure that individuals don’t die in the streets because they can’t get to a warm safe place," Kohl-Welles said.
Kohl-Welles suggests this measure will also keep drivers off the road and incentivize people to take transit when conditions are dangerous. It's largely modeled after the 2017 measure that implemented free fares on New Year's Eve.
Kohl-Welles says there's no telling whether Sound Transit would follow suit and that she and King County Council can't tell them what to do. But I hope so. I saw Sound Transit fare enforcement officers actively kicking people off transit in the heart of a blizzard this winter.
"Ideally, this will never have to be activated, but look at the surprises from this year," Kohl-Welles said. "Unfortunately what I believe is true climate change is beginning and accelerating here and around the country. We may see more of these extreme weather events."
Currently, KCC is coordinating with the Metro on estimated costs for the measure. It will be referred to a committee and will take at least a month before it is heard by the full council.