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.
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.