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Get Me to the Game on Time

NHL Seattle announces Monorail partnership and free public transit with tickets to create positive travel times and pre-game rituals

by Bob Condor / @NHLSeattle_ / NHLSeattle.com

As part of a comprehensive, next-generation transportation plan for fans attending events at the New Arena at Seattle Center, NHL Seattle announces two significant actions Tuesday: One, the franchise is entering into a partnership with the Seattle Monorail which includes making capital improvements. Two, NHL Seattle will offer subsidized public transit for all fans attending hockey games at the New Arena.

The announcements are aimed at encouraging fans to use public transit to attend games-and convince them through saving time and money to keep using the option. Some Seattleites might say, whoa, Monorail as next-gen, huh? Or ask, isn't the Monorail a tourist attraction? 

Short answer: There is hard data to prove the Monorail can be part of a grander fan transportation plan in development. Some convincing evidence: 

  • Fans who ride the Monorail will be able to get from the Westlake station to the new arena's front door in an average of five to six minutes, including a 90-second Monorail ride.
  • Exiting the arena after games is crunch time for public transit. The monorail can transport 25 percent of the New Arena capacity crowd to Westlake Station in less than 40 minutes.
  • By 2021, NHL fans going to the game from Northgate will arrive at the New Arena's front door in less than 25 minutes (14 minutes on the new light rail leg, two minutes upstairs to the Monorail platform, 90 seconds on monorail, four minutes' walk to the Alaska Airlines atrium entrance.

"The Monorail is generally thought of as a tourist attraction or ride," says Lance Lopes, NHL Seattle executive vice president and general counsel. "We plan to re-introduce people to the idea that the Monorail is still what it was designed to be--high-speed transit. It's an existing last-mile high-speed connection from downtown to the arena that any number of sports teams would love to have in their cities."

One more statistic to make Lopes' case: The Monorail was designed as a mass transit system, moving more than eight million people in its first six months of use in 1962 as part of that year's World's Fair. It unlocks a number of transportation results for fans coming to the New Arena, helping everyone get home quicker and saving money in most cases. These outcomes include more public transit choices, parking at a less expensive rate in lots positioned close to main traffic arteries such as I-5 and I-90 and increased curb space to handle ride-share vehicles as fans opt for Monorail-light rail connections (which will include Bellevue, Redmond, Lynnwood and Federal Way by 2024). 

The NHL team's decision to include free public transit via ORCA (our regional transit pass card) with season ticket packages and single-game tickets will no doubt encourage fans to be part of a better flow to and from games. It's phase one of a three-part plan to be unveiled in coming months. 

"We expect around 25% of fans to use public transit in our first year," said Rob Johnson, vice president of transportation for NHL Seattle who notes total transit boarding in the central Puget Sound region increased by 2.4 million people year over year, the largest increase among the top 50 urbanized areas in the nation. "The use of public transit can become a unique part of the fan experience [including 90-second bursts of fun information] and will likely be the quickest and most reliable way to get to and from our games. It's about a system which will both be efficient and build culture."

"We think riding the Monorail with other fans can be a fun pre- and post-game ritual that NHL Seattle fans can all their own," adds Lopes.

NHL Seattle becomes the first Seattle-based sports franchise and only the third professional sports organization in the U.S. to offer a free public transit benefit for fans. Only the NBA's Phoenix Suns and the Golden State Warriors have similar programs-and Seattle's is by far the most ambitious. The only exception will be fans who already receive ORCA card subsidies from employers. In a city and region where an overwhelming majority of adults consider themselves environmentalists, the Monorail reliable and low-cost, no-pollution electric power sources is hugely attractive. 

As part of the partnership with SMS, the current Monorail operator, and NHL Seattle will make a private capital investment of up to $6 million at the Westlake station to achieve upgrades including improved platforms, modernized electronic fare gates (making ORCA card use even easier) and additional elevator access. 

Moving those eight million passengers in six months is proof this plan will work, says Megan Ching, general manager of the Monorail: "We are going to renew the potential of the Monorail. Back then, all eight doors would open to boarding passengers. Now we load by four doors after [in large part because the Westgate shopping mall was built around the former free-standing Monorail station]. We want to get back to eight access doors on [to-be-constructed] open platforms."

Ching says adding the ORCA card entry to the Monorail is a "big operations change" to the better. She says 25 percent of riders now use the card, and close to half of all commuters do so." 

Tom Albro, SMS owner, promises that the Monorail "will be able to recognize your form of ticket [and bar code] to eliminate waiting in line. He also pledges that both of the landmark Monorail trains will be running during games and concerts, speeding up the load on/load off even more. The trains can handle 325 fans per trip, basically every two minutes per direction. 

"We used that system for the New Year's Eve fireworks this year," says Ching. "We worked the mall to allow later-night escalator use. It was very successful."

The Seattle Monorail was the world's first full-scale support monorail system carrying out everyday duty as a mass rapid transit system. The system at launch was described as offering a "modern solution to a modern problem" with planners confident that it would be a quick, easy and economically sound way to travel. Now it will be able to serve that purpose for next generations.

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