Some Depend on Generosity of No. 7 Bus Drivers; RapidRide Could Change That

by Mary Hubert

Susan* is all business as she boards the 7, toting a cart with her that contains most of her belongings and expertly flipping up the front seats on the bus to nestle it securely in an out-of-the-way spot. She rides this route frequently.

“I stay with a few different folks,” she explains. “Thursdays, I ride from [Rainier Beach] to Downtown, and I’ll come this way again Friday or Saturday.”

Some days, she uses the 7 to meet up with friends around South Seattle. Other days, she makes the journey to Downtown to access a shelter she likes there.

Susan has a cloud of gray hair and a face that disappears into deep laugh lines when she smiles. She has been in unstable housing for roughly a decade and seems to have survival down to as much of a science as possible considering the ever-shifting shelter options, zoning laws, and SPD presence throughout the city.

One thing that has remained a constant, she says, is her ride schedule on the 7. For riders like Susan, Route 7 is a lifeline, connecting them with their community and providing them with access to much-needed services.

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A northbound No. 7 stops on Rainier Avenue South in Hillman City Aug. 21. (Photo: Aaron Burkhalter)

Recently, the City of Seattle decided to fund the transition from Route 7 into a RapidRide bus. Despite the Metro’s insistence that the route will remain virtually unchanged, the new RapidRide path cuts out several loops around Seward Park and Prentice Street, making the route still less accessible to a population that has been using the bus system for years to get places other than Downtown

The RapidRide 7 will likely lose more stops as the route prioritizes Downtown commuters. The new structure of the RapidRide system also means that Seattleites could face penalizations if they step onto the bus without adequate funds or a valid transfer.

As it stands now, people such as Susan rely on the generosity of No. 7 bus drivers to get around town. Many Metro operators allow Seattleites to ride the 7 for free by reusing transfers, or even let them on if they have nothing to show in the way of fare. This is about to change, as fare enforcement officers will be added to each line. Although RapidRide will take transfers, the addition of officers makes it more difficult for those who can’t afford daily fare to reuse old, expired transfers. Fare enforcement and loss of stops combine to make this line inaccessible for South Seattle residents experiencing poverty and homelessness.

When Susan entered the bus she flashed a bus transfer withered with age. Another man shortly after her did the same. Exchanging a friendly hello with the Metro operator, they settled into their spots without any issue. When I asked how often they get by without paying, they both agreed that on the 7 at least, fare enforcement was rare.

“On this route, we don’t get any trouble,” said the man. “Others can be a bit tougher.”

According to a recent audit of the King County Metro System by the King County Auditor’s Office, when it came to fare enforcement, “people experiencing homelessness or housing instability received nearly 25 percent of citations between 2015 and 2017.” As fare enforcement expands with the advent of RapidRide and off-board payment, these impacts will likely continue and affect more people in a low-income bracket.

Increased fare supervision and eased access to Downtown benefit corporate commuters. Fare enforcement weeds out riders in a certain demographic. Access to Downtown prioritized over access to residences creates a still more convenient environment for tech employees.

And this dovetails nicely with Amazon’s recent donation of $1.5 million to the Metro system — specifically, to lines servicing South Lake Union and Downtown, including the E and C lines, three routes from North Seattle neighborhoods, and the 8. All of these routes directly benefit Amazon employees — meanwhile, the 7 is being transformed into a route that caters to Downtown commuters, with a fare enforcement system that will prevent riders like Susan from accessing much-needed services; Susan accesses a women’s shelter Downtown and meets with her social worker every few weeks.

“I don’t know what I’ll do,” Susan said of the 7 transitioning to RapidRide. “People already look at me in a hostile way, as if I’m a potential danger to them around these stops. RapidRide is going to make that worse. Fare enforcement is going to make it tougher. I might have to find another way of getting around.”


Susan’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.

Mary Hubert is a writer, theater artist, and social justice advocate in Seattle. When not writing for the Emerald, they can be found creating ensemble work for their theater company, The Horse in Motion.

Featured Photo by Aaron Burkhalter.

5 thoughts on “Some Depend on Generosity of No. 7 Bus Drivers; RapidRide Could Change That”

  1. If fare enforcement unfairly targets low-income people, or is biased against people of colors and those experiencing homelessness… then we should have the uncomfortable conversation about whether or not we as a community want to have fare enforcement on our Metro-operated buses. However, we should not plan our transit system based on whether it is or isn’t easy for riders to sneak on without paying their fare. We also shouldn’t lazily blame “tech employees” for decisions that have nothing to do with serving them specifically or giving them or their employers undue influence over transit system decisions — which are ultimately made by the King County Council.

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  2. If you see Susan again, please let her know about the variety of options available that can provide her with affordable bus rides and fully eliminate the risk of getting mixed up with fare enforcement.

    If she is 65 or older, or has a disability, she would qualify for $1 rides under the Regional Reduced Fare Permit. (https://metro.kingcounty.gov/tops/accessible/reduced-fare-permits.html)

    If she is under 65 and healthy, then there is also the ORCA lift program which would give her $1.50 rides. (https://www.soundtransit.org/Fares-and-Passes)

    By taking advantage of these instead of knowingly riding without paying, she can avoid the potential of costly ticket. Great, right? Then Susan doesn’t have to stress out and all of us, including Susan and the other paying riders, can have faster, more reliable, and more frequent service – just like the fancy parts of town (…or does Rainier valley not deserve high quality bus lines like Madison Valley will be getting when RapidRide is put on Madison?).

    Wonderful idea, no?

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  3. I’m poor but that doesn’t prevent me from walking to a bus stop. So I don’t see how eliminating some stops to make the route run more on time would make transit inaccessible to anyone. And Metro has to pay for the drop vets salaries, fuel etc through fare box revenue and taxes. Giving free rides to those who don’t want to pay is not fair to riders who do pay or tax payers who might be asked to approve yet another regressive sales tax increase to make up for reduced fare box revenue. Sadly there are riders who just don’t want to pay even though they could. They prefer to chew the system. Demonizing commuter riders is why many don’t feel that the transit riders union represents them. It seems to tepresent fare evaders and those who want to keep the slow 7 running late and slow really well.

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  4. Thank you to the writer and to the Emerald for printing this story. I am also a frequent bus rider and user of #7 and I deeply appreciate the humanity of the bus drivers. I have an Orca card so payment is not a problem for me but to put Fare Enforcement on the buses and eliminate stops is hostile and in keeping with how Seattle is forcing out low income and homeless people. Buses should be free and millions should not go to the sports stadium.

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