I was in Seattle last weekend visiting, among others, my friend (and Sheet NFL writer) Harold E. Hartley Jr.
I got in on Friday evening. Took the light rail from the airport forty minutes into downtown. Cost = $3, and you don’t have to put the ticket in a turnstile reader, and they don’t check the ticket on the train.
Same on the return. More on this later.
Got off at Pioneer Square because it sounded familiar – I knew it was walking distance to the hotel, and I didn’t mind a stroll through a city I hadn’t seen in a decade.
The escalator was out of service, so I had to walk up. It was a long, steep escalator.
At street level, the sidewalks at 7 p.m. were absolutely empty, aside from the homeless throngs. There were places where I literally could not pass – I didn’t know what these random groups of middle-aged men were doing or discussing, half of them with sleeping bags clutched in their arms. I didn’t stop and ask. Didn’t want to be noticed.
One guy asked me if he could trade an energy drink for cash. No thanks.
I eventually figured out if I walked up to 3rd avenue from 1st (uphill away from the water) that the homeless population thinned.
On previous trips, Hartley would meet me in the city and we’d go to a steakhouse. Not this year. “It’s bad down there,” he said. “If I go, I only go during the day on game days.”
After I checked in, I stayed in the vicinity of the hotel for dinner. Wandered a few blocks afterwards, but the city just seemed awfully quiet on a weekend where the undefeated Washington Huskies and the Seattle Seahawks were both playing at home.
A little research after:
From KUOW public radio (NPR): Before the pandemic, fares made up about a third of Link light rail’s operating costs.
Today, fares account for less than half of what they previously covered in light rail’s budget.
The current goal is to get things (i.e. ridership) back to where they were pre-pandemic. Sound Transit had apparently stopped policing the system and/or issuing fines (for non-payment) during the pandemic out of concern for “fairness.”
The result? This was the lead to a Seattle Times story written in March, 2023:
“Thousands of passengers who enter the Downtown Seattle Transit Tun–nel learned a while ago to sidestep broken escalators marked by yellow barricades, avoid the fentanyl smokers huddled outside certain entrances and take shallow breaths inside fetid elevators.
They’ve endured service shutdowns, like the electrical flaw in the emergency ventilation fans Feb. 14 that closed all four downtown stations all day.
On rare occasions, transit users have suffered assaults, the worst a year ago when a random attacker threw a nurse down a staircase at the International District/Chinatown Station. Passengers encounter people in mental health crises, unsure whether to get help or steer clear.
Westlake Station, a central hub where 13,000 riders a day boarded Sound Transit light rail before COVID-19, has lost one-third of its customers. Pioneer Square station attracts half its former traffic. Office vacancies and work-from-home are the main reasons, but officials admit more people would ride if downtown stations were pleasant.
An average 70% of downtown escalators worked in recent months, compared with the transit industry standard of 95%.
It’s a sad condition, after Seattle won acclaim in the 2010s for boosting public transit use by 50%, unique among U.S. cities.”
What’s interesting is that just this week, Sound Transit announced it would be ratcheting up fare enforcement and levying fines for non-payers.
According to a KUOW story, riders had “mixed feelings” about the move.
“Yeah, I mean, that just sucks. We don’t pay at all,” said one man who was interviewed.
His girlfriend added, “We’re just not doing too hot financially … it’s just like yet another thing that we have to pay for.”
So the Seattle experience is not what it was.
And while tourism rebounded in 2022, total overnight visitation in the city clocked in at 18 million room nights, down about 15% from 2018 numbers.
So get this. Just last month, Seattle’s Mayor signed new “Seattle Tourism Improvement Area” legislation.
71 member hotels (all having more than sixty rooms) will charge a 2.3% per occupied hotel room rate per night.
The rationale being – hmmm, downtown is a dump, so … if we can’t fix it, the least we can do is market the hell out of it. Quite the Band-Aid.
And market it to folks who feel more secure grabbing Ubers at the airport and spending $100 roundtrip versus $6 roundtrip if it means not having to, you know, see the lesser sights.