This morning the Stranger published a good Slog from Greg Scruggs about the upcoming fare strike. Someone put a call out on the Puget Sound Anarchists website for a day of action to begin at Mt. Baker Station on Black Friday. Organizations such as Emerald City Antifa and Demand Utopia Seattle are spearheading the protest, as well as anyone else who wants to speak out against the rising cost of living in Seattle and around the world.
Scruggs argues that the fare strike is "dumb and counterproductive" considering the fact that, relative to other cities, income inequality isn't so bad in Seattle (though it certainly depends on who you ask), and therefore the strike won't catch on here as it has in Chile and other places.
Moreover, Scruggs argues, transit is the wrong "target" for a protest against the rising cost of living: fares have remained flat over the years, plus King County has quickly acted to address racial and economic inequities perpetuated by fare enforcement, so it's not like we're dealing with completely recalcitrant councils and transit authorities. Since fares account for a third of the cost of running our very good transit system, he continues, we should pay them. And we do! As Scruggs points out, fare evasion rates are just 2.7% for Link and 5% for RapidRide. Calling for a fare strike right now is also especially bad timing, according to Scruggs, given that Tim Eyman's stupid initiative is threatening to blow huge holes in state and local transit budgets. And finally, there's an aesthetic issue: Seattle doesn't have any turnstiles to leap over, which reduces the power of the spectacle.
All of that is fair enough and well worth considering, but so is a fare strike.
Let's start with the aesthetics. Sure, protestors can't count on the spectacle of turnstile jumping. And the fact that the disruption will take place on the busiest shopping day of the year might make it difficult to distinguish protestors from particularly intense shoppers. But I trust anarchists will put on some sort of show. In the initial call for a strike, the writer offers a few prompts and suggestions: "Is it simply sneaking on the train? Is it blocking a Microsoft Connector bus as it rolls tech workers through the Central District? Is it standing up to security when they harass another fare dodger? Is it sabotaging those god damned tapper machines? Simply refuse to pay, refuse to comply, help others to do the same."
While I strongly advise against "sabotaging" the tapper machines, which I think are cute and friendly, gathering en masse and chanting for free transit, rent stabilization measures, and other important affordability issues will be spectacle enough. Radicals and people with low incomes can't halt construction of a building as a show of force, but they can attract attention by yelling on trains or on buses to get their message across. These sorts of actions can repel people offended by rule-breakers, but they also help build movements and pressure lawmakers to enact the policies we elect them to enact in the first place.
And anyway, a one-day hit to Sound Transit's and Metro's fare recovery rates won't bankrupt the city or the transit authority any more than a typical Husky game or a rush hour, when drunk dads evade fares because they know enforcement officers don't bother checking tickets on cramped trains. (The important difference, of course, is that general audiences perceive anarchists fighting for an affordable city as a civic menace, whereas drunk white dads on their way to the game are perceived as good ol' boys.) But, again, hopefully, if the protest is big and loud enough, it will be annoying enough to spur city and county officials to prioritize funding free transit or ending fare enforcement.
After all, skyrocketing rents are already pushing poor people out of town and forcing half of the city's renters to hand over at least a third of their paychecks to their landlords. The least we can do is give them a free bus ticket to get to work in the morning. And the fact that Eyman's initiative, which a judge temporarily blocked today, threatens to blow a hole in the budget is to me even more of a reason for lawmakers to find new, more progressive revenue sources to suit our needs.
If my hometown of Kansas City can offer free transit, surely Seattle can find a way. Obviously the scale is a problem—KC collects $8 million in fares, and Metro alone collects $161 million—but funding free transit is worth it.
Scruggs is right that Seattle has a "top-notch" public transit system, rated best in North America for its "achievements in ridership, safety, innovation, equity, and sustainability over the past three years." But that tells us more about North America's transit systems than it tells us about Seattle. We should be embarrassed that we're not doing more to make the system more equitable and efficient, not rolling our eyes at people who think we should. And while handing out free ORCA cards, paying fare for people before they board, helping people enroll in ORCA Lift, fixing potholes, and throwing vegan milkshakes at Eyman's gubernatorial campaign are all good ideas that appeal to different sorts of people, taking a day to publicly refuse to pay for a system that doesn't serve the public equally isn't a bad idea either.