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Free Downtown Bus Shuttle Draws Few Riders

KUOW Photo/Liz Jones

People who ride the bus around Seattle are adjusting to major service changes this week. One huge shift is the end of the ride-free zone downtown.

In its place, the city’s paying for a free shuttle to help low-income people get around.  It runs in a loop downtown Seattle to seven stops near services for homeless and low-income people.

Derek Mitchell got on after his appointment at the WorkSource employment office. “It’s convenient," he says. "It’s very comfortable — a little lightweight jazz in the background. I love it.”

Mitchell happened to pick up a flyer for this shuttle at the library. He’s is out of work and glad to save the bus fare.

During a 40-minute ride on the shuttle's opening day, Mitchell was one of just three passengers to get on.

“You know, the outreach has not been full-blown yet," says Michael Buchman. He's a spokesman with  Solid Ground, a nonprofit that's handling the shuttle operations.

“You know, I think it’ll ramp up and my guess is within a week or two the busses are going to be pretty darn full," Buchman says.

Buchman thinks it’s just a matter of time for the word to get out to social service agencies and their clients. Many of them pushed back when the county decided to end the ride-free zone downtown. They said it would hit poor people the most. This free shuttle service aims to soften the blow.

The City of Seattle is covering the cost and King County Metro kicked in two shuttle busses. They each hold about 20 passengers. It’s a pilot project with enough money to last through next year.

This shuttle is just one part of Metro’s biggest bus service change in recent history. It cut about 20 routes and changed dozens others. Another switch is to have all riders now pay on entry at the front of the bus and exit in the back.

Metro officials warned this changeover could cause delays early this week. A few bus riders near Westlake gave mixed reviews about the wait times so far.

"They’ve been delayed," says Lawanna Wright. "Usually, approximately five minutes or so."

Josh Fairbrother disagrees, "No. They’ve been on time. I really haven’t had to wait at all. They’ve been there when I need it.”

Both Fairbrother and Wright agree on a different point: some passengers seem confused. But they both think it’ll just take a ride or two for everyone to catch on.

Year started with KUOW: 2006