King County Metro has proposed reducing service on the free downtown Seattle waterfront shuttle---the Route 99, which replaced the George Benson Waterfront Streetcar---to peak hours only, citing low ridership on the route.

Metro discontinued the streetcar service in 2005, when the city demolished a maintenance barn and streetcar station at Broad Street to make way for the Olympic Sculpture Park.

In exchange for getting rid of the streetcar, and as mitigation for years of construction of the deep-bore tunnel on the waterfront, the agency created a new bus route, the 99, to serve tourists and others wanting to travel north and south on the downtown waterfront. Under the new proposal, announced to neighborhood residents and businesses via flyer last month, the 99 would run only between 6 am and 9 am and between 3 pm and 6 pm on weekdays, and would not run on the weekends at all.

The flyer says the changes were needed to ensure that the bus system stays "productive---delivering the most value we can for the tax and fare dollars that support transit." The 99 is among the lowest 25 percent of Metro routes in terms of ridership.

However, the low ridership is a bit of a Catch-22. Before Metro eliminated the streetcar, ridership on the corridor was dramatically higher than it is today---about 404,000 trips a year in 2003, compared to about 252,000 in 2010 (and 204,000 in 2009). The reason, probably, is twofold: First, Metro cut service on the route from every 15 minutes to every 30, making the faux-"streetcar" less reliable and convenient. Second, and perhaps more importantly: People like riding streetcars---and buses painted like streetcars don't fool anyone.

The King County Council will vote on the proposed service reduction in January. Neither Metro representatives nor King County Executive Dow Constantine's staff immediately returned calls for comment.
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