Who Gets Discounted Fares

Clipper Card Reader on MUNI Streetcar

San Francisco is apparently exploring need-based transit fares, with the idea that pass prices could be based on income rather than simply age or disability:

A struggling 19-year-old service worker barely earning enough to make ends meet has to pay $64 for her monthly Muni pass. A wealthy 66-year-old homeowner from Pacific Heights can purchase that same fare for $22. Seem fair?

Apparently San Francisco has a “Lifeline” programme with a discount for “residents whose income equals or falls below 200 percent of federal poverty levels”, which isn’t a lot of money in a city whose average rent is well over $2500 a month. The article goes on to discuss the pros and cons of a need-based system.

I’ve noticed, however, in Seattle we have no low-income fare programme that I am aware of; our discounts are for the disabled, seniors and youth. Which is too bad because it’s for precisely the same reason transit fares could be burdensome to the disabled and the elderly that the fares might be burdensome to other passengers with low-incomes: lack of money and more likely an acute dependency on transit. A large part of me thinks we should try the same thing here: give everyone with low incomes the option of a cheaper pass. I think a tiered-system, based on income is a very good way to make transit fares.

Something else I’ve noticed about the Puget pass relative to other San Francisco’s passes. As you can see, the monthly Puget Pass takes more requires more transit trips to pay for itself than Muni’s pass does, however, you can use one Puget Pass for multiple transit systems’ service here. So it’s a bit apples and oranges. But still, the discounts offered here to the disabled and seniors are larger than those in San Francisco, for single fares, but the discount for getting a pass is smaller for everyone here. Just a point of interest.




Comments

  1. John Bailo says

    It comes down to funding transit as an individual entitlement, or just something people who may have existing entitlements choose to use or not use.

    Maybe the 19 year old should just have her taxes cut, for example.

    • David L says

      The 19 year old already almost certainly pays no taxes. That is nice but is of limited utility when you have an unforgiving, low-turnover job market that makes it very difficult for her to get anything other than a dead-end burger-flipping job.

      Subsidized transit passes may be helpful. But they’re a Band-Aid, and the real problem is an economic structural problem way beyond the scope of STB.

      • Dustin M says

        “The 19 year old already almost certainly pays no taxes”
        completely wrong.
        While low income people may not pay much in income tax. They are still subject to a multitude of other taxes. Especialy Sales tax.

      • AlexKven says

        Affordable transit is a must; it’s not temporary, Band-Aid solution. Calling it a “Band-Aid” is like saying that eventually, no one will be poor. Unfortunately, this is not a picture of the real world, and we will forever have some people that are poor, no matter how good the economy will get.

        That said, low income cards are a good idea. Low income fare could be $1.25 for adults ($45 for a pass), and $0.75 for youth ($27 for youth).
        This could be done on a per-agency basis like Kitsap, or it could be implemented across the board by Sound Transit (The latter would be preferable).

      • Kyle S. says

        Alex, you seem to imply that Sound Transit has any control over fares charged by other agencies. This is not the case.

      • AlexKven says

        @Kyle,
        I don’t mean to say that Sound Transit has the authority to set fares, but they do have the authority to introduce a new type of card that every transit agency must support. Transit agencies could be free to choose the fare, just like with a disabled card.

      • David L says

        Dustin, that’s right, but cutting the sales tax just for low-income people is not really practical.

        What would help would be a payroll tax cut. Unfortunately, our “progressives” in DC are far less willing to defend the payroll tax cut, which benefits both lower- and middle-income people, than income tax cuts that mainly benefit middle-income people.

      • Kyle S. says

        Alex, what authority does ST have to introduce a new card for everyone to support? ORCA is a separate entity of which ST is just one member.

      • AlexKven says

        @Kyle
        So ORCA isn’t run by ST? I thought it was. Anyhow, since there exists an across-the-board disabled card which each agency must support, then another one could be added by the proper authority, even if it isn’t Sound Transit. If a particular agency doesn’t want to support low income, however, they could just set the low income fare equal to normal fare.

      • asdf says

        “They are still subject to a multitude of other taxes. Especialy Sales tax.”

        To some extent yes, but probably less than you might think. A large majority of a low income person’s monthly expenses are likely going to be food and housing, both of which (assuming you use grocery stores, rather than restaurants) are not subject to sales tax.

        Where the sales tax really gets low income people is if they feel that transit is so awful that they have to spend half of the limited income they do get on car payments. The 10% sales tax on cars is a big deal to them. Hopefully, if transit can be made good enough, more low-income people will decide that car expenses are just not worth it.

      • Nathanael says

        What would really be better would be a guaranteed minimum income — permanent unemployment insurance payments which are sufficient to live on.

        They basically have this in most European countries, although the mess created by the Euro is being used by right-wing parties as an excuse to hack away at their social safety nets. (This will probably cause revolution in Spain.)

        Of course, single-payer health care would help a lot too.

      • AlexKven says

        You really don’t get it, do you? Transit is simply required for large communities to work. Otherwise, everyone will either have to drive or use an expensive taxi service. It’s a community effort. Let’s look at it this way: without transit, I would not be going to college, plain and simple. Right now I’m in running start and going to HCC. My major is engineering. So without transit, the playing field for careers is not level, and as a result, less people have access to college, which means less people can occupy low demand job spots in science and math, and more people have to apply for flipping burgers and driving garbage trucks.

        From getting college paid for, to getting cheaper transportation, to getting my class fees paid through assistance I qualify for, you might see me as a “moocher,” when I am really using tax revenue set aside for people like me to become an engineer so I can later benefit society.

        When it’s every man for himself, a community is no longer a community, it’s a bunch of individuals that either make it, or don’t and are doomed to live homeless the rest of their (short) life.

        Now do you understand?

      • David L says

        AlexKven, he understands fine. He thinks you’re a moocher, doesn’t want to live in a community, and doesn’t care if people are homeless as long as they aren’t him.

      • Brent says

        A low-income ORCA would serve two purposes: Making the cost of living more affordable for those on the low end of the income scale, and encouraging more people to choose transit as their preferred method of commuting. A tax cut (or more likely, payouts to those who don’t earn enough — which seems politically unlikely) only serves one purpose.

  2. Matthew Johnson says

    I completely agree. Not only is good social policy, but IMO it is one of the biggest things we can do for Downtown redevelopment. As Zach pointed out DT, Belltown and Pioneer Square have the highest levels of income inequality in the city.

    http://seattletransitblog.com/2012/03/13/downtown-inequality/

    Basically everything that is not luxury is subsidized. There are massive concentrations of subsidized housing Downtown. This was done for a multiple of reasons but the Ride Free Area and the concentration of social services it brought was a major one. By providing free/subsidized transit all over the city we can move some of those services and housing to other areas of the city, getting a better income mix across the board.

  3. Eric H says

    The Examiner appears to be trolling. (I know, it’s shocking!) I visit San Francisco fairly often, and as far as I’ve been able to observe, the less well-to-do appear to have no trouble paying Muni fares.

    The feds require urban transit agencies that receive federal funds (i.e. most of ‘em) to offer a 50 percent senior & disabled discount for off-peak fares. Any further price breaks are a nice gesture on the part of the agency, and while they may be required by local political considerations, they’re not required by law.

  4. mic says

    Let’s not overlook one of the biggest groups of discounted pass holders – the well to do attorneys (all 5 of them) making 6 digits, living on McMansion Farms in the burbs,taking bus/Sounder to work in Seattle and having the firm buy them all an Orca Business Pass.
    This is the granddaddy of all passes, worth $4.75 and good for anything in the Puget Sound. Retail it sells for $2052, but Orca will sell it to your boss for a mere $612. If you happen to work in Snohomish and have 20 employees, you can get the ‘Big Whopper’ pass for only $63.84 each. (They price the passes based on participation across regional areas, but hey, even if only half the employees use the passes, that’s still a huge discount from cash.
    WE MUST subsidize our attorneys and bankers for the economy to grow.

    • David L says

      There are multiple reasons to offer transit subsidies, and affordability is only one of them. The subsidized passes you’re talking about exist in order to get cars out of downtown and off the roads leading to it.

      • d.p. says

        It is nevertheless an insult to those who pay their full $81-$90/month for in-city service that is awful, awful, awful.

      • David L says

        The subsidy doesn’t only apply to the GiantPass. I get a heavily subsidized $90 pass from my employer.

      • Andrew Smith says

        The subsidized passes you’re talking about exist in order to get cars out of downtown and off the roads leading to it.

        The same could be said of the guy working at the Jimmy Johns downtown.

      • Norman says

        You mean that the only reason people use transit is because of the subsidies? Without subsidies nobody would ride a bus or train?

      • David L says

        Exactly, Norman. It’s the only reason. And, in other news, Cash for Clunkers is the only reason anyone ever bought a car.

      • d.p. says

        My point, David, is that we’ve created a system in which a large portion of “regular adult” patrons — including many well-compensated white-collar professionals — do not pay the full “regular adult” price for their monthly pass. A price that happens to be very high, especially for the lousy service standard it buys.

        The problem is two-fold: users of subsidized passes (not by need, but as an employment perk) do not feel like stakeholders in quite the way they would were they paying $90 a month for that pass.

        More importantly, the discounts are so deep and so widespread that they actually cost the transit agencies a lot of money. The result: perpetual fare hikes for those that do actually pay their own way!

        Compare, as often, to Boston. The transit is for most users time-competitive to sitting in traffic, and a full-priced pass is price-competitive since daily parking is 4x Seattle’s downtown rate. Employers offer T passes pre-tax, but the T has no need to offer deep discounts for companies to pass along. Generally, everybody pays the full price of a monthly pass, and the MBTA collects every cent.

        So what is the price of that pass, with its unlimited access to infinitely more frequent, grade-separated transit? Oh, right, it’s only $70! And that’s after the recent “biggest fare hike in years”.

        For a Seattleite who isn’t fortunate enough to have a bus pass handed to them, $90 is a hell of a lot more money than $70. Our bulk-discount-happy, white-collar-favoring system* seems to be creating a deep, self-perpetuating inequity.

        *(And I haven’t even brought up how the corporate favoritism advantages commuter service over a core gridded network that actually works…)

      • asdf says

        “It is nevertheless an insult to those who pay their full $81-$90/month for in-city service that is awful, awful, awful.”

        So the solution is simple – don’t buy the pass, use E-purse, and when the weather is decent enough to bike, just bike.

        Even if it ends up costing slightly more during the winter this way, it will probably come out way ahead during the summer.

      • d.p. says

        asdf,

        On months when I’ve been out of town for more than a few days, when an “unlimited” pass clearly offered neither a monetary benefit nor a justifiable psychological benefit, it has been impossible to justify not using cash!!

        The longer transfer windows. The increased flexibility in case of delays. The all-night transfers starting as early as 8 PM.

        Despite the ORCA already in my pocket, despite my being part of the informed minority who knows how to easily refill the e-purse, despite my hate of newsprint on my hands, I cannot deny the arithmetic: Metro’s fare structure makes cash the best choice on months when a monthly pass can’t be justified.

        Tragedy of the Commons, of course. Many make that same rational calculation, and we end up with slow buses. But neither I nor anyone else can be expected to irrationally harm myself for undetectable public benefit.

        Only Metro can fix this problem, by fixing its pass and fare structure. As usual, the world is full of examples of how to do so, all of which Metro seems content to ignore.

      • asdf says

        While cash may be cheaper in theory, it has a lot of hidden costs that may make it more expensive than Orca in practice. Particularly, anytime you don’t have exact change on you, the fare rounds up to the nearest multiple of the denominations you do have.

        All it takes is just a few times of $2.25 off-peak fares rounding up to $3 or, worse, having to plunk down a $5 bill for a $2.25 bus fare, and you’ve wiped out the savings you get from the longer transfer window, especially if your typical travel patterns are such that the longer transfer window for cash rarely makes any difference. Cash also costs twice as much as E-purse if you ever need to make a transfer involving ST.

        Not to mention that dealing with quarters is a pain-in-the-ass compared to re-filling an e-purse once a month. And if you ever need to ride Link, using Orca avoids to need to waste more time waiting around and fumbling with the TVM’s than waiting for the train.

        That being said, we could do a lot more to make Orca cards easier to get. My dad recently got himself the equivalent of Orca in Houston even though he only rides the bus once every year or two. Why? Because there, they sell the cards at regular grocery stores, making the process of obtaining one really easy (and this includes all the major in-city grocery stores, not just one store downtown). If Houston can get their fare cards sold in grocery stores, there’s absolutely no reason Seattle can’t also.

      • d.p. says

        [Whoops. This explanatory reply was posted days ago in the wrong place.]

        Of course, asdf, I have an ORCA in my pocket from the 9-10 months a year it makes the most sense to buy a monthly ($81 off-peak) pass. And it invariably has $5 or so in the e-purse for the occasional peak bus or Link to the airport.

        So sometime early in a monthly-pass-less month, I’ll throw $20 extra or so into the e-purse. That’s there for me when cash is not, or when a Link transfer is expected. But for the other $45 or so I’ll spend in that month, it will be impossible to deny the advantage of cash. Especially for an afternoon of errands or a night out that will involve paying once rather than two or even three times!

        Of course, this is all fixed with a more competitive ORCA fare and a more advantageous monthly-pass break-even point.

  5. Southeasterner says

    Since public transit here in Seattle (and most of the US) is far from charging fares that cover operating costs I think we should be exploring the opposite. Charge high income riders more.

    I take an express bus in the mornings with many other young professionals and I save hundreds of dollars a month not driving, which goes back into my local economy but not back into transit. I would gladly pay double what I’m paying now for just slightly improved services (higher frequency).

    I think you can target express routes that serve higher income neighborhoods and have higher income riders with higher fares and slightly better product offerings to offset the costs of charging lower fares to lower income areas.

    Why not base the fare structure on price elasticity of typical riders on each route? We have essentially electronic ticketing so administering a tiered based fare structure shouldn’t be all that hard.

    • Adam Bejan Parast says

      I agree. I think there is a very good argument for switching from Metro’s peak period pricing system, where everyone who travels in the peak is charged more, to a peak service pricing system, where peak commuter service is charged more.

      • says

        Perhaps a system like San Diego, where routes themselves hold a certain fare value. Local routes run $2.25, while Express and Light Rail run $2.50. There are long distance express routes (similar to 594, or 510) that are $5. It doesn’t matter the time of day, the route holds the fare value. Depending on how fast you want to get there, is what you pay.

        So throw peak times out the window. If you want to ride the faster 301, 268, or 218, charge extra for the route no matter when it runs and where it goes. This would help eliminate the (unfair to local riders) zone system too.

      • David L says

        Punkrawker4783, that’s exactly the right approach, and it’s used also in DC and Boston, where it works well. It relies on there being local options for people who can’t afford the express service, which applies to most of our expresses, but not all of them (I-90 is an obvious hole in the local network).

      • asdf says

        If higher fares were charged for the 218 than 554, would we be prepared to operate fewer 218 trips and more 554 trips if 218 customers switched to the 554 to get the lower fare? Keep in mind that even though the 554 is an all-day route, each additional 554 trip added just for the peak actually costs more than a 218 run – you still have a deadhead for every trip, but the end-to-end running time is a little bit longer.

        Similarly, consider ST’s proposal to swap some 566 trips with 567 trips, skipping Renton. The purpose of the change is to save operating costs by taking advantage of the 567′s end-to-end travel time. But if the 567 charges a higher fare, load balancing will lead to under-used 567 trips and over-used 566 trips. So, some 567 trips might have to be converted back into more-expensive 566 trips.

      • says

        Currently, the 218 is $3.00 while the 554 is $2.50. The only change here would be the 218 would be $3.00 to ride always, as opposed to being $2.25 after 6pm. The 566 and 567 serve similar values, and wouldnt have different fares. You need to compare the 566 to the 240. Its “Express Route” vs “Local Route”. Theres always going to be inconstancies in distance and time traveled. Skipping Renton isnt enough to call the 566 a “Local”, or come up with some complicated fare structure. ST has already done that with light rail.

    • mic says

      Yes, S.Easter. Means test everyone riding transit, then index the fares based on which bracket you fall into.
      Mitt would be riding for free, but what the heck, no system is perfect!

  6. Martin H. Duke says

    It would be great to fund the low-income fare by revoking the senior fare. Although as a class seniors are the richest segment of society, if they happen to be poor they’d be eligible for the new LI fare.

    The other bonus of a low income fare is that it removes the principal objection to introducing a surcharge on cash payers to encourage ORCA adoption, which would have all kinds of beneficial side effects.

    • aw says

      As much as this may make sense, it can’t be done unless the feds change the rules. As pointed out in the Examiner article, a 50% senior discount is mandated.

      • BigDonLives! says

        Ah. federal rules. and the local liberals keep on voting for big big big government and then complain when they have no local flexibility…

      • Eric H says

        As noted elsewhere, the 50 percent reduced fare is only mandated for off-peak single-ride fares. Passes need not be discounted at all.

        On a more practical matter, retirees tend not to be a huge market segment, and they’re more likely to ride off-peak anyways. So there’s a limit to the revenue you can wring out of that segment.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        That’s too bad. I was about to suggest we start bringing policies in line with actual needs. Handicapped drivers don’t need free parking – they need available close parking. Elderly riders don’t need cheap tickets, they need good bus service.

        Acutally, the federal rules (CFR 609.23) only require the discount for non-peak hours. Add in an income-based fare, and remove all other discounts on the peak fare (ok, probably keep the children’s discount).

      • Mike Orr says

        “Handicapped drivers don’t need free parking – they need available close parking”

        You don’t think handicaps cause expenses? There’s medical costs, mobility devices, lost time, and lost wages due to a narrower choice of jobs. Plus it may force them to drive more than they would otherwise because walking and transit aren’t as easy as they used to be.

      • Bernie says

        Putting aside that most of the permits used to get free on street parking in Seattle are fraudulent, the point is that because they are free to all by definition they are not needs based. I’ve seen an awful lot of permits being used where the best possible thing for the person’s health would be to walk more!

      • Matt the Engineer says

        @Mike Yes, but that should be handled seperately. If you want to give poor disabled people free money, that would be logical. But free parking for disabled people doesn’t quite work. First, not all disabled people are poor. Second, free *anything* makes that anything become overconsumed. When that *anything* happens to be the parking spots in front of a hospital, that’s bad for disabled people. Charging money would help increase the turnover of those spots, keeping the street more open for the disabled.

      • d.p. says

        Matt, charging for disabled parking is one of your personal crusades about which you will forever be wrong.

        Mike’s last sentence is the operative one here. Every disabled person I know would take transit, or would park further and walk, if only the transit, the terrain, and their physical abilities would align to allow them to do so. Driving and re-parking between every destination is not necessarily elective for them as it is for you and me.

        On top of Mike’s listed expenses, there is a significant “disability premium” in the form of rent. All things being equal, a fully accessible apartment will cost you 40-60% more than a non-accessible domicile in similar condition in the exact same location. As long as the free market controls most housing supply, this will continue to be the case. But now you want to practice “ability-blind equality” with something as clearly not ability-blind as parking?

        As a (seemingly) lifelong resident and booster of a city with its head too far up its ass to even realize the need for adequate dedicated on-street spots for the disabled — Upper Queen Anne has precisely one, Lower Queen Anne has about three, there isn’t a single one for the entire length of Broadway — you have no moral legs to stand on here.

        ADA guidelines “suggest” one dedicated spot per block face in any high-demand urban area. Boston meets that. DC exceeds that.

        New York City, after a rigorous application process (to screen out placard abusers), grants a permit that allows unlimited parking pretty much anywhere in the city: loading zones, diplomat spots, you name it. It’s the freaking key to the city.

        If the single disabled spot in front of Harborview is full all the time, what you need is more disabled spots in front of Harborview! Everyone else can/should/would take the bus, if only Metro would someday decide to make it not suck.

      • Eric H says

        DP, if I’m reading your argument right, it sounds like the disabled deserve free parking everywhere, regardless of income.

        This is nice–hey, even the well-to-do disabled can certainly appreciate a good deal. But even a disabled person with a killer commute will spend 3 or 4 hours a day, at most, in their car. If you really want to improve their lives, why not give them a free house? Or at least help pay a good chunk of their rent? Even the wealthiest disabled person can always use a little help with the rent.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        [d.p.] Seattle has few blue curbs because we effectively have the same system as NYC, minus loading zones and carpool spots (if that’s really their system).

        My argument about finding parking in front of a hospital isn’t because of the blue spots, it’s because of the number of workers that park on the street all day for free. In front of my work there are few if any cars without disabled placards – they park there all day. And great for them – it’s harder to walk distances, so it’s easier to walk 1/2 a block to work than 1-1/2 blocks from the parking garage. But when so many spots are taken all day, it leaves no room for the disabled visitors to the retail and offices on that block.

        Would it be so terrible to charge disabled drivers a little more than the garage a block over? Then those that really can walk a block or two would free up spaces for those that can’t.

        This is far from a crusade of mine*, but it’s a public failure that’s pretty easy to correct.

        * though I’m sure you imagine me to revel in the thought of squeezing the last retirement check dimes out of wheelchair-bound old ladies

      • d.p. says

        Matt:

        We do not have the same system as New York. Not even close.

        Allowing use of loading zones and diplomat spaces (yes, diplomat spaces), of which there are many, virtually ensures that a disabled driver will find a reasonably close place to park.

        Seattle’s approach concession parking at metered spots and nowhere else does not have this effect. If you’re in a busy part of town, you’re fighting just as hard for parking as everyone else. After metered hours, you’re basically 100% screwed.

        Face it: parking in Seattle used to be easy. Now it’s hard. The need for dedicated disabled spaces to combat that difficulty has not kept up, and nobody at City Hall — Seattle is also one of the few major cities with no dedicated staff working on disabled issues — gives a crap to research best practices.

        What you’re describing outside your workplace is placard abuse, plain and simple. We shouldn’t be issuing permanent placards just because someone happens to turn 65 or spends 30 days on workers’ comp. Abuse of placards by relatives and co-inhabitants of the disabled is a rampant problem, and enforcement in Washington is (natch) notoriously bad.

        But to remove a reasonable accommodation from the truly disabled in the name of stamping out fraud by others is roughly equivalent to robbing Peter to pay Paul.

        even the well-to-do disabled can certainly appreciate a good deal.

        Eric:

        Even by the standards of the internet, the straw man you’re attempting to construct here is monumental.

        Even in the post-ADA era, all manner of opportunity discrimination — schooling, employment, wage, promotion — against disabled individuals continues to be epidemic. The disabled are far more likely to be unemployed than any other defined group. “Reasonable accommodation” in the workplace is nebulously defined, and ADA suits are nearly impossible to win.

        Stop imagining an army of fabulously wealthy Professor Xaviers out to steal free parking from society. Statistically, it does not exist. The reality is that accessible and free street parking is literally the least we can do.

        Or at least help pay a good chunk of their rent?

        Yes. Despite your sarcasm, this. Why should someone be forced to pay $500 extra (or otherwise be priced out of) a neighborhood they could otherwise afford were it not for the happenstance of being disabled?

        In a just world, SSI would compensate for 100% of the additional life costs of being disabled. The accessible-rent premium is a big part of that.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        “parking in Seattle used to be easy. Now it’s hard. ”

        Actually, it use to be easy, then it was hard, now it’s not bad. Other than areas where there are a large number of placard holders, Seattle’s policy of keeping an empty spot or two per block seems to be working. And regarding the 6pm rush for parking, many areas have been extended to 8pm – this has to be good for space availability.

        “remove a reasonable accommodation from the truly disabled in the name of stamping out fraud by others” I don’t think you have any evidence that this is fraud. For all I know, those placards in front of my building are from truely disabled drivers. My argument is that charging for parking will accomodate more disabled drivers than the current system.

        I agree with your argument about rent. I’d like to see struggling poor disabled to have their income raised until they’re succeeding. Want to give them money to pay for all day parking? I’m completely on your side. But let them choose how to spend it, and maybe some will park in a lot and save the up-front spot for someone who needs it.

      • Mike Orr says

        “to remove a reasonable accommodation from the truly disabled in the name of stamping out fraud by others is roughly equivalent to robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

        It’s also equivalent to creating voter ID laws and restricting early voting to combat a nonexistent voter-impersonation fraud problem. And to calls to eliminate welfare and Medicare because some people abuse them. And to calls to not offer mortgage relief because somebody, somewhere might end up with a better house than they deserve.

        It’s also equivalent to (and DP will be annoyed with this) starving the suburbs of transit because they’re not urban-correct enough. At some point we do need to draw a line, but I think suburban downtowns and large residential/commercial districts should be inside it rather than outside it.

      • d.p. says

        Matt:

        There are two separate-but-related placard problems, both well-documented. One is the excessive number of placards in circulation, something like .5 per capita statewide. Needless to say, there are not that many people with true physical impairments. The other is the brazenness of fraudulent placard use by those other than their owners, which is directly tied to the lack of enforcement.

        Anyway, your argument is moot as long as our pay stations remain inaccessible (they’re far too tall). Are you willing to invest the money for hundreds of redesigned pay stations or reduced-height card-accepting meters, just to support your nebulous contention that the truly disabled are hogging all of the spots?

        Of course, those accessible meters and stations would ideally be located near dedicated disabled parking… which Seattle doesn’t really have!

        (Which is why disabled parking is still impossible in the evenings. The disabled don’t turn into pumpkins at 8:00 PM?)

        Mike:

        That’s got the makings of a good analogy, except that voter fraud really doesn’t exist at all. Placard fraud does exist, and is rampant.

        Still no reason to punish legitimate placard users, though.

      • Bernie says

        the excessive number of placards in circulation, something like .5 per capita statewide. Needless to say, there are not that many people with true physical impairments.

        I agree that there is a lot of fraud but you do have to keep in mind that one person can have multiple placards for different cars. I think the limit is three just for the asking. And yes, a lot of those additional placards are likely being handed out for use by people who don’t qualify.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        “our pay stations remain inaccessible” That’s an excellent point. How did Seattle of all places end up with inaccessible pay stations?

        Though I believe the lifespan on those things is on the order of 5-10 years, and the new ones look much shorter.

      • d.p. says

        West Coast Smuggery notwithstanding, Seattle is terrible on accessibility in many ways. San Francisco we are not.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        I think we were one of the first cities to have wheelchair lifts in buses – Metro says we’ve had them since 1978. Hey look, AbilityVoice ranks us as the #1 accessible city. SF didn’t even make the list. IIRC many of their streetcar stops aren’t accessible at all.

      • d.p. says

        The criteria measured were:

        Climate (extreme temperatures and annual snowfall)
        Air Quality
        Number of Physicians
        Number of Rehab Centers
        Number of Rehab Specialists
        Wheelchair Accessible Transit
        Number of disabled living in the area, and their employment rate
        Medicaid availability
        Age of the City (older cities are harder to renovate)

        Whatever. I spent most of my 20s living with a disabled woman, in multiple cities.

        Exactly two of the above criteria (accessible transit, disabled employment rate) actually matter. Medicaid will be available as long as you don’t live in a Tea Party-ravaged state.

        Without the undue emphasis on moderate temperatures and “number of rehab centers”, Seattle wouldn’t even make this list. And from experience, Seattle’s rehab centers are largely inept.

        Age of the city is a particularly bullshit criterion: Boston and DC and San Francisco have simply had to try harder.

        SF’s recently built rail lines — “historic” F-Market trolley included — have 100% level high-floor boarding. The older surface-subway lines have front-door level-boarding ramps every 5-10 blocks. The longest non-accessible gap on the entire MUNI Metro network is .8 miles. We have longer gaps than that between nearly every Link station.

        While other cities work to make things better for the disabled, Seattle just pats itself on the back for the frequently-broken lifts on a 3/4 bus that crawls at 2 mph toward a crappy rehab center, while the city sticks its head in the sand about dedicated parking.

      • Nathanael says

        d.p., handicapped parking spaces have meters where I live, at least as long as the other spaces on the block have meters. Nobody thinks this is unreasonable.

      • Nathanael says

        “Anyway, your argument is moot as long as our pay stations remain inaccessible (they’re far too tall). ”

        Good grief. Seattle *is* pathetic.

      • asdf says

        One thing the city could do that would go along way towards improving disabled mobility would be to make the sidewalks more accessible for wheelchairs.

        If done right, a disabled person with a motorized wheelchair should be able to go just as far on the wheelchair as an able-bodied person could reasonably be expected to go on foot. Mostly, this means fixing all the bumps and potholes on our sidewalks that would cause a wheelchair to get stuck.

      • d.p. says

        Of course, asdf, I have an ORCA in my pocket from the 9-10 months a year it makes the most sense to buy a monthly ($81 off-peak) pass. And it invariably has $5 or so in the e-purse for the occasional peak bus or Link to the airport.

        So sometime early in a monthly-pass-less month, I’ll throw $20 extra or so into the e-purse. That’s there for me when cash is not, or when a Link transfer is expected. But for the other $45 or so I’ll spend in that month, it will be impossible to deny the advantage of cash. Especially for an afternoon of errands or a night out that will involve paying once rather than two or even three times!

        Of course, this is all fixed with a more competitive ORCA fare and a more advantageous monthly-pass break-even point.

    • Bernie says

      as a class seniors are the richest segment of society

      Ssshh! Don’t tell anybody. And always use the modifier “fixed income” when referring to us AARP members.

    • Bernie says

      50% senior discount is mandated

      Yet another chance to create an incentive for ORCA adoption. The base peak period fare goes to $5, senior discount is then $2.50. ORCA discount for peak period fare is the same as now ($2.50-$3.00). The cash fare becomes the tourist surcharge.

  7. Jeff Dubrule says

    I’d say, in general, that Metro’s pass prices are too high. At 36 trips, someone who only uses the bus for weekday commutes must take the bus 18 workdays a month to break even. In 2012, each month had between 20 and 23 non-holiday weekdays, which means that a day or two calling in sick or taking a vacation means the pass isn’t worth it. Ditto any non-bus commute: bike to work day, spouse gives you a lift, boss drives you home, you have to bring something big into the office, so you drive, etc.
    Compound this with the peak/non-peak structure… A pass that lets you ride the bus whenever without paying another quarter takes 40 off-peak trips to break even.
    I currently would not reccommend that anyone get a full-price pass, given that the.primary benefit they used to have (not having to carry exact change) is handled through ORCA. If someone was a very diligent bus commuter, I’d suggest an off-peak priced path, with a $10 e-purse balance to pay the extra peak quarters, or for any out-of-zone trips.

    Fortunately for me, I’ve never had to worry about this. I get a pass that takes me anywhere I want from my employer (Microsoft), as many times as I want, without me having to worry about any of it. Everyone who takes the bus semi-regularly should have this freedom; passes should be much cheaper: perhaps around $45-60/mo.

      • Kyle S. says

        Seriously. ORCA Business Passport might barely make sense for someone who commutes downtown by bus but uses their car to get everywhere, but using it on the weekends enables a car-free lifestyle.

    • Eric says

      You’re right about the full-price passes not making much sense for people who only use transit for commuting. I don’t buy one for the exact reasons you mention: sometimes I take a vacation day, get a ride from my wife, walk to work, ride off-peak, etc. Sometimes I ride the bus outside of commuting, but even that doesn’t push my total number of trips over the 36-ride break-even point most months.

      Does this mean the passes are overpriced? I wouldn’t necessarily say so. As is, they’re a great deal for people who depend on the bus for most of their transportation needs. People who often use other modes find the full fare (which is already subsidized) to be cheaper than a monthly pass. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing.

      If you reduce the number of rides needed to hit the break-even point for a monthly pass, transit agencies lose revenue. Those who already buy a pass will pay less and some of those who don’t now will start to do so, and also pay less than they do now. I would hate to see Metro need to cut service because of that change.

      • d.p. says

        Sometimes I ride the bus outside of commuting, but even that doesn’t push my total number of trips over the 36-ride break-even point most months.

        Does this mean the passes are overpriced?

        Yes, yes it does.

        Which is why every major transit system in any city with traffic remotely as bad as Seattle’s has the monthly rate set at a more reasonable 30-32 rides… and why Seattle still has regular riders holding up everyone else while they fumble with cash.

  8. says

    We shouldn’t measure compassion by how many people are on some form of welfare. We should measure compassion by how many people are able to get off welfare and get a good paying job. It’s not compassionate to give poor people a discount, it only enables the lifestyle and perpetuates poverty.

    I once overheard this conversation at a bus stop. A teenage son was talking to his mother about why she doesn’t become a Metro bus driver. Her reply, “Because I would lose my benefits.”

    • tims says

      The metro employee probably has better benefits, but you have to put up with all the crazy people(in cars and on board).

    • David L says

      Yes… bus drivers have plenty of problems, but lousy benefits is not one of them, for the most part. (My *only* complaint was that vacation accrued too slowly for less senior drivers, which especially hurts when the lack of seniority means you’re taking your lousy two weeks in February.)

    • Andrew Smith says

      It’s not compassionate to give poor people a discount, it only enables the lifestyle and perpetuates poverty.

      This is extremely poorly reasoned.

      A teenage son was talking to his mother about why she doesn’t become a Metro bus driver. Her reply, “Because I would lose my benefits.”

      That’s probably a badly structured benefit. If the benefit were gradient an increase in income would result in a loss of benefit that is always much smaller than the gain in income. These situations arrive when benefits have a strict dollar cap. “If you make $10,000 we’ll give you a place to stay and food. If you make $10,001, you’re on your own.” That sort of thing.

    • Nathanael says

      Sam, “benefits” are a big problem. In countries with healthy social systems, most “benefits” aren’t tied to jobs — health care is free for everyone, for example, in the UK.

      “Benefits” are used by employers to prevent people from changing jobs.

      You’re looking at the situation from the wrong end. We don’t need to give people sticks; people want to get jobs. We need to stop policies which *trap* people. Poor people need government assistance, but it shouldn’t just vanish if you get a job — we should *all* get government assistance. That works much better.

      • Nathanael says

        In fact, I know far too many people who picked their jobs specifically to get health insurance and *cannot change jobs* to jobs which would be more socially useful and make more money because — health insurance!

        This country is really screwed up.

  9. Jon Morrison Winters says

    This is a timely article. In fact, a proviso of the newly-passed King County budget calls for the creation of a task force to study Metro’s fare structure — including the possibility of a low-income fare.

    There are legal ways for low income people to take the bus without paying the full fare. One way is by using one of the tickets distributed by non-profit agencies participating in the Human Services Ticket Program.

    Those of us who don’t need the 8 free tickets we’re entitled to when we renew our car tabs in King County should donate the value of these tickets to the Human Services Ticket Program. All you have to do is check the box and return the form that you (should) get when you renew your tabs. If you didn’t get the form, you can download one here: http://metro.kingcounty.gov/programs/tip/pdf/TIP_English-order_form.pdf

    • Bernie says

      the 8 free tickets we’re entitled to when we renew our car tabs

      Yeah, a couple things about the promised “free” bus tickets. First, unlike your tabs that tickets are only good for two months. Second, you are only eligible for one set of “free” tickets per household (no PO Boxes even if that’s where you’re renewal is sent). Of course since they don’t require the tickets be sent to where your renewal is mailed you can always have them mailed to the neighbors house := Actually, I don’t think they really check to see if a “household” has already received tickets for the year.

      • Jon Morrison Winters says

        Thanks for the details, Bernie. If you’re an occasional bus rider who won’t use 8 tickets within the 2 month window, all the more reason to donate your tickets to the HSTP.

        And you’re right, you only get one set of tickets per household.

      • Jon Morrison Winters says

        Norman, I have heard that people haven’t always gotten the form to order the tickets when renewing their tabs (especially if you renew at a third-party licensing office). Please follow the link in my comment above to download a copy of the form. If you fill it out and send it in, you should get your tickets.

  10. Stephen F says

    A full restructure of the fare system with KCM should be taken up, including discounts for lower income individuals.

  11. Mark Dublin says

    Andrew, this is the best posting STB has featured in a very long time. As a contribution to this region’s economy, what you suggest will pay for itself many times over.

    There are thousands of people now who could start earning a living, as they used to before the economy collapsed, if they could once again afford travel to work. It would also be worth whatever taxes would be required from the majority of us who can still afford to pay them to finish building a transit system everyone can use to get to work.

    It would also be great if Fred Hutchinson or the biotech sphere could invent a financial anaesthetic to ease the suffering taxation causes to those least injured by the process. The screams and howls are beyond endurance.

    It would also be good if Boeing Aerospace could develop a time machine to permit those who favor the income distribution of the Middle Ages to return there to enjoy the filth, disease, and danger that the rest of us have enjoyed working to prevent since the Rennaissance and the Enlightenment. That program would be worth every dime of subsidy in the budget of every government agency.

    As a beginning this Holiday Season, I suggest that those in my age group who would sooner ride on the roof than demand a seat from anyone young, be able to contribute whatever we can to the program presented in this posting.

    In return, my cohorts and I would get a gold embossment on our green and white ORCA cards reading “Officially Longevity Distinguished”. In current politics, there’s no question the Old Card has value.

    Happy Holidays and glad you’re still alive, Big Don, and everybody above that thinks like you.[ad hom]

    Mark Dublin

    • Nathanael says

      “It would also be good if Boeing Aerospace could develop a time machine to permit those who favor the income distribution of the Middle Ages to return there to enjoy the filth, disease, and danger that the rest of us have enjoyed working to prevent since the Rennaissance and the Enlightenment. That program would be worth every dime of subsidy in the budget of every government agency. ”

      Hee hee hee hee hee!…. I doubt time travel is possible, but great idea.

  12. says

    “Apparently San Francisco has a “Lifeline” programme with a discount for “residents whose income equals or falls below 200 percent of federal poverty levels”, which isn’t a lot of money in a city whose average rent is well over $2500 a month.”

    (A low income person who makes $1000/month in income would only have to pay $333 in rent for that $2500/month apartment if they were on Section 8. Taxpayers would pick up the rest).

    But even average rent is over $2500 a month, with a little research, I bet I could produce a list of discounts low income people receive as long as your arm. Free EBT cards, discounted utilities, free taxpayer funded cell phones, section eight housing vouchers, free food bank groceries, free donated Christmas presents from charities, free clothes from charities, free or taxpayer subsidized health care, free school lunches, and on and on. And now we want to add discounted bus passes?

    • butch says

      How else will we crush the middle class? Every government agency has to do their part in getting out the vote…

    • d.p. says

      Free EBT cards, discounted utilities, free taxpayer funded cell phones, section eight housing vouchers, free food bank groceries, free donated Christmas presents from charities, free clothes from charities, free or taxpayer subsidized health care, free school lunches, and on and on.

      Ever worked with people on public assistance, Sam? I have, and it was eye-opening.

      The quantity and sophistication of record-keeping, appointment-juggling, activity-reporting, and all-around eligibility-requirement-tracking that is required to navigate the life-sustaining assistance that you dismiss as “freebies” is monumental.

      I wouldn’t have the administrative acumen to keep track of it all. Neither would you. I’ve met many a “leech” whom I would consider fully qualified to teach a college-level accounting course or to act as an executive’s personal assistant.

      But go ahead and dismiss/deride programs and experiences of which you have zero understanding as a glut of profligate giveaways. There’s a phrase for what you’re doing: it’s called being “intellectually lazy.”

      (You’re lazy, Sam. Lazy, lazy, lazy. Sloth-like. Torpid. How does it feel?)

      • says

        Are you actually telling me that I need to admire people who don’t work, and their ability to sign up for a myriad of free goods and services they receive?

      • d.p. says

        I’m telling you that you wouldn’t survive a single day without the advantages to which you’ve become accustomed.

        You’d trip over your paperwork, you’d miss your appointments, you’d probably get penalized and have your record black-marked, and you’d become an even more embittered soul than the one you appear to be today.

        But feel free to go on believing that you’re “better” than those who rise to actual challenges. Happy holidays, Sam.

      • says

        Bringing this back to the topic at hand, it’s my personal opinion that discounting bus fares for low income people would do more harm to them than good. If we do implement this kind of program in King County, would it be wrong to require low income people who enjoy discounted fares to do some work, such as cleaning up around bus shelters or park and ride lots?

      • Nathanael says

        I’ve known people who’ve dealt with that paperwork nightmare just to get something “simple” like disability income. Mind you — totally disabled people. You know, such as disabled *veterans*. You should admire them.

        But even for veterans, it’s practically impossible to get through the paperwork nightmare without at least one, possibly more people volunteering free time to assist you, even if you’re healthy.

        Sam, you would be unable to do it even if you are completely healthy. Guaranteed. I’ve literally never seen the paperwork navigated by a single person, only by pairs of people or groups of three or more. This is why we need advocates for the poor *just to get them their legal rights*.

        I’m told it didn’t used to be like this. It’s the Reagan administration who introduced the first major rounds of “attempt to prevent people from getting the welfare they are entitled to”. Evil, evil monsters.

      • Nathanael says

        Sam: in response to your further terrible ideas, I disapprove of slave labor, indentured servitude, and sub-minimum-wage labor. I’m not sure why you seem to approve of those things, but they’re a damn bad idea.

        Forced and coerced labor drags wages down for EVERYONE. In contrast, if everyone was given something like the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend — a guaranteed minimum income — workers would be more able to actually *negotiate* with bosses rather than the current “take what we force on you or starve!!!! ha ha ha ha ha” attitude which is so common.

  13. Mark Kerrigan says

    As one of these low wage service workers at the airport, this would be a good way for the employees at the company I work at to receive transit benefits. According to my company, they said they looked into it, but it would cost them too much money. They will pay ~$40 for the monthly parking pass if you pay the other half, but not anything for a transit pass. It’s only fair to provide a discounted pass program if the company you work for does not even offer it.

    • Kyle S. says

      $40 * 12 = a cost to the employer of $480/year per employee for parking. Likewise, it’s a $480/year cost to the employee.

      Assuming your business has between 20 and 499 employees, ORCA Business Passport costs $543/year per employee for employers in SeaTac: http://metro.kingcounty.gov/cs/employer/ORCA_Zones_Locator.html

      The rules allow the employer to charge employees up to 50% of the pass cost, but the employer must buy passes for the entire company: http://metro.kingcounty.gov/cs/employer/pdf/ORCA-BusinessPassportAreaKCM.pdf

      The employer and the employee could therefore each reduce their burden to $271.50 per year. That’s a savings of roughly half.

      • Kyle S. says

        There’s also the Business Choice program, which would absolve your employer from the need to buy a pass for every employee, and is available for employers of all sizes: http://metro.kingcounty.gov/cs/employer/BusinessChoice.html

        It works similarly to a regular ORCA card, but it makes your employer eligible for certain tax breaks and it’s incredibly flexible. For example, instead of subsidizing your parking for $40 a month, your employer could instead provide a $1.25 PugetPass per month for $45/mo. The employee would be responsible for covering the remaining balance per trip. The advantage to the employee is that all their trips are subsidized by $1.25, not just their commute.

      • Bellinghammer says

        Yes, but note that SeaTac is the single most expensive area for Passport accounts, more expensive than the Seattle CBD. Pricing used to be based on annual CTR surveys, but when the pricing basis switched to actual ORCA usage data (in 2011?), prices jumped severely. Those employers who had been most successful in shifting employees away from SOVs felt ‘punished’ and many of them canceled their accounts. Because Seattle CBD already had such a high non-SOV modeshare, their growth differential was smaller and their price shock less severe. But in SeaTac, huge growth happened relative to precedent, largely because of Link but also due to the A-Line and ST getting rid of paper transfers.

        It just goes to show how much expectations matter…the spectacular bargain they were getting before gave way to a slightly less generous bargain, but one that is still only 50% of the retail pass price.

    • Chuck the bus rider says

      Mark – if your employer is willing to pay $40 per month for parking it seems reasonable that they would offer the same for your transit pass. Do any of your co-workers also use bus/train??

      • asdf says

        Ah, but the pricing scheme for discounted transit passes makes this not the case.

        The way the terms work, in order to qualify for the discount, you have to offer the pass to every employee. If a critical mass of employees ride transit to work, spending $40 per employee to subsidize a transit pass looks like a good deal.

        However, if everyone else at the company drives to work except you, it makes no sense to spend the money to buy everyone at the entire company a bus pass when you’re the only one who will ever use it. Like it or not, it’s more economical for the employer to tell you to just suck it up and drive like everybody else.

        Even if the company just subsidizes a regular pass, rather than doing the special business deal that they have to offer to everyone, there are still paperwork and accounting costs to introducing a new form of commuting subsidy. Again, if a critical mass of employees use transit, it makes sense. But if it’s just you, think of it from their perspective. A $40 subsidy, be it on parking or transit still costs them $40. But because everyone else takes the parking, their paperwork is simpler if you take the parking too because it means they only have to keep track of one thing.

        Ultimately, if you want your employer to care about transit, you have to somehow convince them that it’s not just you and that there is a critical mass of employees who would ride transit if they had the opportunity to apply their $40 parking subsidy to transit instead. Getting a group of several employees to make the case together is probably going to be more effective than arguing this point alone.

      • SMP Belltown says

        I agree with asdf here. And I’d add that a lot of employers have been faced with rising insurance costs over the past few years, so that “$40.00 per month” for employee parking or transit has to compete with regular (and often substantial) rate increases for the company’s health care coverage. I think that rising insurance costs can make things like transit option support look like something of a luxury.

  14. Brent says

    Thank you for this post, and the information on Metro’s fare task force!

    I will gladly pay more for my monthly pass to help fund the low-income ORCA (even while I hope my employer will someday go in half-and-half on the cost of my pass ;).

    Just some minutiae:
    1) The pass should require the use of loaded ORCA product, rather than become a flash pass to pay the reduced fare with cash and get a paper transfer. (RRFPs holders currently get the full fare reduction even when paying with cash, even though Metro and ST could legally charge a differential cash and ORCA fare, so long as the cash fare for RRFP holders is at least 50% reduced.)
    2) The roll-out of the low-income pass ought to happen simultaneous to, and count as Title VI mitigation for, eliminating paper transfers.
    3) Yes, part of the funding should come from raising the cash fare to the nearest whole dollar, so as to dramatically reduce change fumbling from cash payers.
    4) Metro should not be timid about creating a “pre-pay” zone (like Sidney’s) when the bus ticket machines are up and running. Indeed, it is past time that the DSTT become a pre-pay zone, given the ubiquity of ORCA vending machines.

    I’m delighted Metro is moving the ball forward!

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