Find of the Month

October 2021 - Magic Carpet

poster explaining test blackout procedures

In 1973, Metro Transit inaugurated a one-year trial of the "Magic Carpet," a fare-free downtown bus service between Jackson and Stewart and from Sixth Avenue to the waterfront. The Magic Carpet replaced a 10-cent shuttle bus that generated $64,000 in revenue for Metro. Using federal funds designated for improving transit, the City of Seattle directed $64,000 back to the transit agency to cover the shortfall.

In a letter to City Council requesting the appropriation, Mayor Uhlman outlined the goals of the trial program. These included:

  • Reducing air pollution in the downtown area
  • Encouraging transit usage, thus helping with the energy crisis
  • Stimulating the downtown economy, especially retail trade
  • Reducing car trips from one part of downtown to another, which made up a significant proportion of the area's vehicle traffic
  • Connecting different parts of the central business district by making it easier for government employees to shop in the retail core or for workers in the financial area to get lunch in the International District or Pioneer Square
  • Increasing tourist trade
  • Encouraging parking outside of downtown rather than inside the central core

After the trial period was complete, Metro and the City looked at the results. Transit ridership had increased dramatically, and downtown retail sales also grew compared with the year before. Surveys indicated that people believed the Magic Carpet had a positive impact on downtown, believed it should continue, and even supported using tax dollars for the service.

Magic Carpet was seen as a success and the City chose to continue funding the service. It became known as the Ride Free Zone and lasted for nearly forty years, providing an estimated 29,000 free rides daily around 2010. The free zone was discontinued in 2012.