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Wednesday, January 10, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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New group wants free bus rides, not light rail

Seattle Times staff reporter

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There's a new group in town opposing Sound Transit's light-rail project.

Ride Free Express, a nonprofit outfit promoting free bus and van-pool rides as an alternative to light rail, will open shop this morning.

High-profile members of the group include former governors Booth Gardner and John Spellman and former King County Metro bus director Chuck Collins, according to a statement released yesterday.

Collins came up with the plan the group will promote. "We're going to talk about a proposal that we feel is far more effective at relieving congestion, decisively so, and we feel it can be done much sooner with much less risk" than light rail, he said.

Collins would not go into details, saying the group expects to release its plan today, but in recent months he has advocated investing millions of dollars in more car-pool lanes, van pools and buses and making all the rides free.

"Sound Transit's proposal for light rail is that it will carry 31,000 new riders a day (within a few years of starting)," Collins said. "Our proposal would result in 192,000 new riders per day and we believe we could do it in the next four years. That would be more new riders than Metro transit has added in the last 25 years."

Ride Free will propose that Sound Transit spend the money it has set aside for light rail on its plan instead, Collins said.

Sound Transit revealed last month that the 21-mile light-rail project is $1 billion over budget and three years behind schedule.

Dave Earling, chairman of the Sound Transit board, would not comment on Collins' idea, saying he had not seen the plan yet.

The Sound Transit Board is expected to decide tomorrow whether to move ahead with the $3.8 billion light-rail project and accept $500 million in federal money.

Both Gardner and Collins are members of another light-rail opposition group called Sane Transit, which formed several months ago to oppose the project.

Collins said Ride Free is not affiliated with Sane Transit. "There's some overlap, but it's a different group," he said.

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