SEATTLE — The Seattle Monorail turned 60, and after being on death's door earlier this century, it now seems poised to last for decades to come.
On Tuesday, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, City Council President Debora Juarez, and other elected dignitaries came together to celebrate the anniversary and provide commentary about the need for additional funding for the transit line.
Built for the 1962 World's Fair, the venerable Monorail is less than a mile long, has been mocked by "The Simpsons," and shut down on multiple occasions for fires and collisions in the early 2000s. Apathy increased after the voter-approved effort to extend the line, along with increased car-tab fees, fell apart after mismanagement.
Yet, the Seattle Monorail was thrown a bit of a life preserver with the opening of Climate Pledge Arena, and the $7 million in private investment from the arena builders to renovate the Westlake Station and increase loading capacity to and from Seattle Center.
By all accounts, it has been a hit with Seattle Kraken fans. An estimated 6,000 passengers have been taking it to and from Climate Pledge Arena on game nights, and lines have extended through the neighboring Armory.
The state Legislature recently allocated funds for Monorail Improvements. However, city and Seattle Center leaders, along with the private operators, Seattle Monorail Services (SMS), claim that an additional $10 million is needed to expand the Center Station and allow for 6,000 passengers an hour. Right now, SMS says the number is 4,500.
SMS says 2 million people rode the rail back in 2019, but numbers have dropped to about 75%-80% of that during the pandemic.
Still, Mayor Harrell sounded optimistic at the Tuesday event about whether there was enough return on the investment.
"I believe so, and the data would suggest that. It's about more than moving people north and south, it's about the economic activity, the job growth," said Harrell, adding that "it would premature for me to make any sort of financial commitments."
As part of the birthday celebration on Tuesday, there were free rides and donuts for passengers. Eddie White was one of them and said, "I would never want to see it go away. It's history. It's cool."