In 2021, Seattle will have a new hockey team. And when hockey fans head to a game at the new arena where the team will play, they could choose to sit in some traffic on the freeway and pay for parking downtown, or they could hop on a bus or light rail—completely free of charge. NHL Seattle (the team doesn’t have a name yet) will be the third sports franchise in the country to offer free public transit to those going to games, as a way to ease traffic congestion in the city, increase access for fans, and do something good for the environment.
“We’re a very environmentally focused city,” says Rob Johnson, NHL Seattle’s vice president of transportation and a former Seattle City Council member and transit advocate. Still, in Washington state, greenhouse gas emissions saw a 6% spike last year, totaling more than 97 million metric tons, and vehicle emissions are the largest contributor. “One of the best ways for us to reduce our environmental footprint is to get people onto public transit and reduce the number of folks that are driving.”
For those hockey fans who aren’t environmentally motivated, though, Johnson hopes the idea of saving time and money—and maybe the opportunity to have a beer or two at the game without worrying about driving home or waiting for a surge-price ride share—will motivate attendees. He gives a hypothetical example: A fan coming from the Northgate neighborhood of Seattle might have a 90-minute trip to the arena by car, when accounting for freeway traffic, time navigating the garage, and then walking to the arena’s door. Plus, there’s the usually high price of parking near games and any tolls. The trip on public transit would be under a half hour (on the new light rail extension, set to open in 2021), drop you off right outside the arena, and cost nothing with your ticket.
Traffic is also an impediment to game attendance and enjoyment. Johnson points to the recent outdoor game where the Colorado Avalanche hosted the Los Angeles Kings in Colorado Springs. Traffic was so terrible that many people missed huge portions of the game and wanted refunds. “We’re very cognizant of that fact and that fan-experience impact,” Johnson says, “and we’re starting to hope that other sports franchises are going to be cognizant of that fact, too, and start to really encourage a lot more [transportation] choices, particularly when they exist.”
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