Taxis

A nice hint for visitors is that Seattle has implemented a flat rate from dowtown Hotels to Seatac airport, but not the other way around.  The fare is now $40 which is a good deal for those looking for a quick and easy way to Seatac.  From the airport the rate is metered and with traffic can often run $40-42 or more.  Seattle and King County have authorized a $1 airport fee for cabs exiting Seatac.   Cabs are also authorized to charge 50 cents for each passenger over two.    Since cabs meter both by time and miles the towncars are close in price and more convenient for a few reason. There are flat rate limos and towncars run by STILA the Seatac airport official limo provider.  By calling #55 from a white telephone near the hotel ads in baggage claim a car will be dispatched to the door closest to you in baggage claim.  This will avoid having you bring your luggage up and over the skybridnge and into the pkg garage where cabs pick up psgrs.  The rate is now $40 so not a big difference for a nicer ride.  No need to reserve as they are always there. 

For taxi estimates, the popular Seattle Taxi Fare Finder is available.  It provides estimates based on Seattle's current taxi rates and also displays potential flat rates, such as the ones mentioned above.

Another type of taxi service in the Seattle area is called flat rate taxis.  They look like taxis but must be called and prearranged.  One of the perks is they don't meter by time so in traffic your not paying more.  They charge by zip code so can be a great deal.  The largest one has 200 cars and is called  Flat Rate For Hire.  Their website is flatrateforhire.com, although you may wish to read some of their yelp reviews before using them. The reviews have been mixed and east side for hire and flat rate for hire are the same company.

Car Rental

If your travel plans will take you outside of downtown Seattle, you'll probably want to rent a car. In fact, depending on where you plan on visiting, you may plan for a rental car for at least one of your days. While many visitors will spend the bulk of their time in and around downtown, some of the neighborhoods are most easily accessed by car (although buses do provide good coverage as well). If possible, try to rent a car from a non-airport location. Like many other cities, Seattle has imposed significant airport fees on car rentals.

Seatac airport just opened a central car rental garage.  Almost all rental firms are now located at this facility.  There is a shuttle bus  from the far right or left side of baggage claim outside by the curb.  There is an additional fee added to your rental to pay for this rental car facility, another reason to rent off site or downtown.

While you're debating that, consider your options:

Rent downtown. It's generally cheaper off-airport.  A recent search showed almost a $400 difference on a one week rental in July 08!  Hertz has an office close to the airport but also has an office in downtown at the Hyatt hotel.  Most major car rentals also have offices in downtown.  I'd highly suggest going to expedia.com or similar and indicate your interested in a non airport locations to see if there is a substantial difference in cost.  Its not always all that dramatic but if you can save $100 its definitely worth the taxi ride.  Be aware that most offsite rentals close at 6 pm so that is one big deal if you arrive in non working hours.  Some downtown car rental locations also allow you to return your rental directly to the airport without a drop fee.

Easy to get to Downtown Rental car offices

 To save money a suggestion is to rent away from the airport.  This will save some airport tax and the rental car facility tax.  Compare both rates but normally a substantial saving renting off airport.  Some easy locations to get to using Light Rail would be the following:

Enterprise, National and Alamo are in the Macy's downtown parking garage on 3rd and Union.  Easy to get to via Link and the Westlake Station exit.  Budget and Avis are on 5th avenue near the Westin Hotel and only a block or two from Westlake Center.  Hertz has a location at the Grand Hyatt near 8th and Pine so also easy to get to.  Some firms will allow you to drop at Seatac with no fees and others charge, however the cost is normally less than a cab so its an easy option.

Travellers' Tip - Read the agreement details thoroughly before booking as there are more tricks rental agencies pull here. Booking through Orbitz and the 'final' price was annotated by 'Base rate and taxes and fees' implying that was the actual total, but it only included the facility and energy fees. Their "Additional charges and fees" section only included age-related information, and finally found the taxes under "car rental rules" just above the booking button. 


Transportation Network Operators (e.g. Uber or Lyft)

New app-based "ride-share" services make hailing a ride to/from the airport easy from your smartphone. The apps also work well within the city itself for a less expensive and more convenient taxi ride in the city. UberBlack (which is still part of Uber) offers flat rates, with no tipping from the airport to downtown Seattle at $55 for a towncar level of service. Within the city of Seattle, rides via uber are less expensive than traditional cabs and more convenient. Uber offers several levels of service, which "UberX" being the least expensive. There is no expectation of tip and your credit card is charged through the app. More information here: Uber Ride Sharing App  

The same is true for Lyft, although their app does not provide an estimate of how much the fare would be and is less popular than Uber. An estimated ride from the airport would be about $30 based on distance and a 30 minute drive time (may vary, as with cabs), and within the city a ride should be less than a taxi.  As with Uber, there is no expectation of tip and your credit card is charged through the app. More information here: Lyft Ride Sharing App 

Car Sharing Services

There are several car sharing services in Seattle  (e.g.: Zipcar, RelayRides, Hertz 7/24.)

Of the companies here, the most attractive one for a visitor would be Car2Go. This is a the pay-by-the-minute service from Diamler AG, which is surprisingly reasonably priced and convenient.  A car from the fleet of sub-sub-compact Smart4Two cars can be picked up off the street by Car2Go account holders using a company issued smart card and a personal PIN.  You get in, log on, and drive to your destination within the Car2Go 'Home Area' (which covers much of Seattle), then leave the car at any legal city street parking (posted for two hours or more.)  Once the car is parked, you end your (driving portion of the) trip and go on your way to your chosen activity.  Gas, (legal) parking, and servicing the car is included in the use fee.  Cars include FM radios preset to popular local stations (hipster KEXP, the U of W alternative music station is the default), and in-dash GPS to help you navigate Seattle's confusing streets.  There's also an 'SOS' button that calls the Car2Go customer service center should you encounter difficulty with the car.

The Car2Go mobile phone app is essential for locating and reserving a car (up to 30 minutes before you start your trip.)

A visitor wanting to use Car2Go in Seattle will have to do some advance preparation prior to arriving in town, namely visiting the Car2Go/Seattle web site, setting up an account, and waiting for Car2Go to mail your smart card.  Its been common experience that Car2Go customer service, while helpful enough, is not particularly snappy in their response time.  Set up an account at least  a month before your planned departure date.  European users of Diamler's other car sharing services should check if their accounts are valid for

Toll Roads

There are a few toll roads in Tacoma and the 520 bridge going to Bellevue which are now toll roads.  They have no toll booths and bill you by mail.  If your driving a rental car most will get billed then add a large administrative charge to the toll.  To avoid this you can register your rental car license plate and give a credit card for a 14 day period.  This will avoid this problem.  Here is the information:

More Information: Good to Go!

Toll Facilities


Tolling Visitors and Infrequent Drivers

Map of toll facilities in Washington state.
Toll facilities in Washington state.

Toll Facilities
How Visitors can Pay the Toll
Out of State Drivers
Rental Vehicles

 
Toll Facilities
  • SR 520 Bridge – Tolls collected in both directions.
  • SR 16 Tacoma Narrows Bridge – Tolls collected only in eastbound direction.
  • SR 167 HOT Lanes – Only solo drivers pay a toll to use HOT lanes. Carpools and motorcycles travel toll free.
 
How Visitors can Pay the Toll

Short Term Account
Drivers can set up a Short Term Account within 72 hours of using the SR 520 Bridge or Tacoma Narrows Bridge to save 50 cents off the Pay By Mail toll rate for each crossing.

Short Term Accounts don’t require a pass or pre-paid amount. Just register the vehicle license plate and your tolls will be charged directly to your credit or debit card. Use the account for up to 14 days and then it automatically closes.

Open a Short Term Account
online, by calling 1-866-936-8246 or at a customer service center.


Short term car rentals

Some car rental firms are now offering mini leases for those who really want to explore a region.  Avis for one offers a 30 day rental giving you the flexibility to really cover some geography.  Other companies most likely offer the same thing but info can be found at avis.com/minilease

Parking 

Parking in downtown Seattle is reasonably priced, compared to other cities. Fees vary depending on the day, with cheaper rates on weekends. Many lots have "early-bird" specials for cars entering the lot by 9 am. Seattle has just introduced a new system for metered street parking. If you're lucky enough to find street parking, look around to see if there is a "Pay to Park" sign posted nearby. If there is, you must find a green fare box installed on the sidewalk. There is about one fare box per block. Pay your parking fee here, and the box will issue you a ticket to affix to your car window. The benefit of this system is that you can take your unexpired time with you if you move to a new parking spot - the bad news is that drivers can no longer benefit from using someone else's unexpired meter time! Unlike pay lots, metered spots are free after 6 pm or 8pm (check the signs!), and on Sundays and holidays.