Sound Transit's board of directors voted Thursday to delay the charging of fares on the light rail passenger service in downtown Tacoma until its expansion into the Hilltop neighborhood is completed, currently planned for 2022.

In 1999, the multi-county transportation district designated Tacoma Link as a fare-free service based on an analysis that showed fare collection costs would exceed the revenues that would be collected from charging passengers.

In 2013, after ridership had grown to the point that charging fares would generate enough revenue to cover fare collection costs, the Board approved implementing a two-step fare structure for Tacoma Link. That included charging $1 fares for adults, 75 cents for youth, and 50 cents for senior and disabled riders starting in September 2014. Fares were planned to increase to $1.50 for adults and to 75 cents for senior and disabled riders in September 2016.

With some community resistance expressed to charging fares, Tacoma's Downtown Business Improvement Area agreed to pay the expected fares. That agreement with ST has now been extended at the same fare level for a few more years.

“Tacoma Link is incredibly valuable to downtown, so much so that the BIA has paid each year since 2014 to keep the system free,” said David Schroedel, VP for Policy & Entrepreneurship for Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, which staffs the BIA. “Maintaining this support while Sound Transit works to extend the line will help hundreds of thousands of people take advantage of this popular service.”

 “Keeping it fare free until service reaches the Stadium and Hilltop neighborhoods will ensure it remains an attractive benefit to businesses, arts and cultural organizations and the people who live and work here,” said Sound Transit Board vice chair and Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland.