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Metro Transit says goodbye to George Benson, father of the Waterfront Streetcar

King County and Metro Transit employees were saddened to learn of the Oct. 25 death of George Benson, one of public transit's biggest boosters and the "father" of the Waterfront Streetcar in downtown Seattle.

Photo of George Benson

"George Benson was one of the most passionate supporters of public transportation this region has ever seen," said King County Director of Transportation Harold Taniguchi. "He was always buying Metro ticketbooks to give away as incentives to get more people on the bus. We invite the community to honor that memory on Saturday by taking a free ride on the streetcar."

Benson, 85, was a Seattle City councilmember from 1974 to 1993, and a member of the old Metro Council before the agency merged with King County. In those roles, Benson took the lead in supporting countywide bus service, and construction of the Downtown Seattle Bus Tunnel. He initiated Sunday bus service connecting Seattle's major parks, Pioneer Square and the ship canal locks. He also played a key role in negotiating an agreement with the Urban Mass Transit Administration to rebuild and expand Metro's electric trolley system in Seattle. In recognition of his legacy, he was inducted into the American Public Transportation Associations Hall of Fame in 1997.

"George Benson was not only a transportation visionary, but he knew how to roll up his sleeves and make things happen," said King County Executive Ron Sims.

Of all the projects he sponsored, Benson is most closely associated with Metro's Waterfront Streetcar. It began with his dream to reinstate the historic streetcar line. With single-minded dedication, Benson tracked down vintage streetcars in Melbourne, Australia and bought them for $5,000 each. He recruited hundreds of volunteers to restore and transport them across the Pacific Ocean. When obstacles were encountered, Benson kept everyone "on track," and never let the project be derailed.

Service began along the 1.6-mile line on May 29, 1982, and since then the Waterfront Streetcar has provided residents and tourists with convenient, fun transportation and a moving history lesson. Benson has been universally proclaimed as the "Father of the Waterfront Streetcar," and in June 2002 Metro named the line in Benson's honor.

"George was a special person to the riders and employees of King County Metro Transit," said former Metro General Manager Rick Walsh. "He was very proud of the agency and the relationship it had with riders. He loved the public meetings and people's ideas to improve the service. If they had a complaint, he would make it a point to see the problem first hand and would often take staff to look over the problem and see what solutions might be found."

Benson wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty either. For years, he would make weekly trips down to the waterfront walking the streetcar route to pick up litter or do little things like touching up the paint on one of the cars.

"Metro employees - especially our streetcar crews - loved to see him coming, they knew he cared not only about the service they delivered but also about them," said Walsh. "He was very proud of the system he helped build. Everyone will miss George tremendously."

Updated: Oct. 26, 2004