Last week we were approached by a reader who confided in us a tale of discrepancy regarding Metro’s peak fares and exactly when they begin during the day. According to the agency’s instructional literature on fare payment, the peak fare designation doesn’t get any more specific than “Monday to Friday 6-9 a.m. and 3-6 p.m.,” begging the question of how trips that travel between peak and off-peak hours charge their riders.
The question was raised when the reader transferred from an off-peak trip to another trip at about a quarter to three in the afternoon when the ORCA transfer deducted an additional $0.25 from his E-purse, a peak charge despite the fact that the boarding occurred before designated PM peak hours. After sending a query, Metro responded that peak trips are charged according to how much time a trip spends in the peak period.
Indeed, that policy does seem to be reflected in Metro’s operator handbook (emphasis added):
Peak-hour fare is charged during peak hour time periods when weekday schedules are operated. Peak hours are 6 to 9 a.m.and 3 to 6 p.m. However, there are trips beginning or ending outside the peak-hour time periods that are considered peak-hour trips. This is to avoid having alternating peak/off- peak fares charged during a single trip. A peak trip is indicated on the run card with a dollar sign ($).
When operating a base route or in-service “Y” route, the peak-hour fare applies if more than half of the trip is in the peak period.
Although Metro has done a fairly good job keeping this policy consistent for as long as they’ve had peak fares, the same reader brought to our attention the section on peak fares as codified in King County Code, which would actually contradict the existing policy (emphasis added):
Peak period trip means any scheduled weekday trip that reaches its destination between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. or leaves its origin between 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m., excluding weekdays on which the following holidays are legally observed: New Year’s Day; Martin Luther King, Jr., Day; Presidents’ Day; Memorial Day; Independence Day; Labor Day; Veterans’ Day; Thanksgiving Day; and Christmas Day.
So while morning riders might pay a peak fare even if boarding before the start of the peak period, the code is clear that this is not the case for afternoon riders, which would have technically made the reader’s additional +$0.25 transfer an illegal charge. Despite Metro’s long-standing adherence to the formula-based policy, it seems to be directly out line with the county code, which presumably trumps agency policy.
It’s clear that the situation here is no more than a plain oversight of governing policy, where it may be as simple as someone at Metro having forgotten to look up county code before dictating the formula-based policy on peak fares. Although I don’t see outrageous negligence on anybody’s part here, it is disconcerting that there are contradictions like this. Whether it’s the county code or Metro policy that gets amended, neither can coexist at the same time without looming legal and bureaucratic implications.