For those of you in many other parts of the world, talking about public transportation options from the airport is not news. For us in Seattle, finally getting a public transportation option, other than the bus, is huge. In many regards Seattle (my home town) is a very progressive city, except when it comes to public transportation. We have tried many different times, but seem to get blocked at every turn.
A monorail was built for the 1962 World’s Fair and it has run almost the same 1.2 mile route with two stations since then. In 2002 Seattle voters approved expanding the monorail 14 miles in the first of five new lines running through the Seattle area. This was a real attempt to give Seattle another public transportation option other than buses. Unfortunately in 2005, voters wanted the project terminated. The monorail still runs on its same 1.2 mile path, but definitely does not provide the public transportation that Seattle needs.
Seattle’s light rail has had a difficult history as well, but luckily they were able to work out the problems. Link Light Rail started in 1996 when voters approved an increase in taxes for a 25 mile light rail system. Dogged by environmental and financial issues as well as people from the communities affected complaining, the first part of the system was not opened until July 2009 and even then, it didn’t connect to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA).
In December 2009, Link Light Rail finally connected SEA to downtown Seattle and provided a new, environmentally friendly and cheap option for passengers. During my recently flight with Virgin America I decided to check out getting from the airport to my house in north Seattle using only public transportation (ok, I didn’t really decide, but no one could pick me up, so I “decided” to take the light rail). I have never done this before and was excited to see how it works.
When doing research on my trip, I noticed was how cheap it was. Only $2.50 to get from SEA to downtown Seattle. To compare, it would cost $32.00 to ride in a shared airport shuttle and over $50 to take a taxi (and of course returning the favor if a friend gets you). Not bad. The whole ride from SEA to downtown only took me 36 minutes, which it takes about 20 minutes in a car (saying there is no traffic, which is very rare). Even to get all the way to my house on the light rail and bus it cost $6, where it would be $45 with shuttle van and $80 for a cab, what a deal!
Finding the train at the airport was easy with the signs, but it was quite the walk to get there. Paying was a little complex at first, but there are machines you can use cash or credit card, choose what stop you want to go to and pay the proper amount. There is no one to check your ticket to enter the train, but about half way to downtown, three fare enforcement officers came on board to confirm we were all paid up.
The trains are new and comfortable to ride in. I was surprised not to see any ads in side the car I was in and asked Bruce Gray, a spokes person for Sound Transit (who runs the Link Light Rail), about the ads. He told me via email that many trains do have ads inside and they will have their, “first wrapped train with advertising on the outside should be rolling this week.”
One thing I was hoping for was a park and ride lot for airport use, where I could park my car, maybe pay a cheap fee and take the train to the airport. They have one station with 600 parking spots, but a maximum of parking for 24 hours. Gray told me that in May the light rail saw 21,700 boardings per day and has been steadily growing since the start of its operation.
Since I haven’t had too much experience riding the new train system, I talked to a Seattle native, Shannon (@SEAsundodger) who has ridden the train about once per month since it opened and she loves it. “I love everything about the light rail, I live in Seattle proper (Interbay/Magnolia to be exact) and I don’t own a car. So public transportation is near and dear to my heart,” she told me. She hasn’t had any issues with riding the light rail and is very much looking forward to the expansion. When I asked how it feels flying by people stuck in Seattle traffic while going to the airport, she said, “It is sweet when it’s rush hour while you’re headed to the airport, and there you are, zipping along on the train.” I could easily see it being quicker taking the train when traffic really gets backed up.
I love Seattle and the majority of people in Seattle, but there have always been people complaining anytime we have tried to move forward with public transportation and the light rail is no exception. But this time, I think the positives are outweighing the negatives and the light rail will continue to grow to the north and to the east. Hopefully some day it will reach where I live and I can easily hop on the light rail to the airport. Until then I have a feeling I might be taking the bus and train more often!