ST Express Proposed Changes
Proposed changes to ST Express bus fare.

As previously reported, Sound Transit’s Express bus fares are going up at the beginning of next month.  The one-zone fare is rising from $1.50 to $2.00, catching up with Metro’s fare escalation.  The Senior one-zone fare is also going up from 50 cents to 75 cents.  This is part of a two-stage fare simplification as depicted above.

More significantly, the concept of a “two-zone fare” now only applies to the fare zones within King County.  Any trip that crosses a County Line is an “multi-county” fare, effectively the old three-zone fare ($3.50).  For adults going Pierce-South King, Snohomish-North King, or Snohomish-East King, this amounts to a 50 cent increase; it’s also an increase for youth and seniors making similar trips.

One big winner from this change is Community Transit, whose South County-King County commuter fare is $3.50 for adults. Already $1.00 over the competing ST fare, CT felt it couldn’t increase commuter fares in the latest round of budget cuts.  With the gap back to 50 cents and on its way to zero, they may feel able to do so in the future.  Raising commuter fares is a (relatively) progressive move, as these riders are more likely to be well-off.

All local fares for CT are also going up Tuesday, from $1.50/$1.00/$0.50 for adult/youth/senior to $1.75/$1.25/$0.75.

These changes are of course driven by revenue shortfalls, but they are also steps towards the fare synchronization that many riders are interested in seeing.  On the other hand, advocates of more distance-based fares will be disappointed.

38 Replies to “ST Express Fares Up Tuesday”

  1. Why does the Inter-county Youth Fare go down so dramatically in 2011? I’d think a 25 cent bump would be more likely….

    1. At the high rate, it probably discourages use more than it earns money for Sound Transit.

    1. Why don’t you lobby for one? Instead of complaining, start figuring out what the ridership is off-peak in that corridor, and trying to find out what it would cost to implement the service and what it might do for Sounder ridership.

    2. Since Metro’s 150 runs that route every 15 minutes, ST probably sees no point in duplicating it. It does take its good sweet time stopping every block through Southcenter.

  2. Why are 2-zone senior fares decreasing from $1.25 to $0.75 in 2011 with the transition to 2 fare zones?

    Why not standardize discounted youth/senior fares at 50% of the adult fare?

    1. I bet most ST senior trips are one zone. That change probably puts them in line with Metro, too.

      1. That’s a bad bet. Anyone from the eastside going in to sporting events at the UW or SoDo or cultural events at the Center is paying two zone. If an event is on the eastside we’re not riding the bus. Not driving and not parking in Seattle is the big incentive to use transit. The eastside (i.e. one zone) is car friendly.

      2. Yeah, you’re right, they are two zone. But Kaleci’s got it right – to have a single fare.

  3. This is great, I love it! Once the entire region has fair standardization, it’s going to help the rider’s experience and make it more seamless. I hope route coordination will be next and possibly buses with the same livery? Okay, at least coordinate routes and schedules! :-)

      1. Would be great if all the agencies get together and coordinate their routes and schedules to avoid duplication. In addition, painting all the buses in the same paint scheme. Between standard rate fares, coordinated schedules and same bus paint would lend itself to a more pleasant riding experience. It would make it more understandable and seamless for all our area bus riders.

      2. I have noticed a lot of people talking about unified fares, unified paint schemes etc. and it certainly seems logical to the layman but almost everyone stops short of saying unified agencies/governing bodies. In fact the moment you drop the governance reform/merging agencies a lot people say no way. If it seems logical to have unified fares, unified paint schemes etc. it would seem logical to just have one agency in general and to have one governing body.

      3. The crazy thing is, we have one ‘unified’ regional transit agency… WSDOT. These local transit agencies were created as a result of WSDOT not providing the kind of service people wanted. Sure it’d be great to have everything standardised. But once we start talking about combining agencies, people get worried about their local service losing priority. Routes that seem important to Pierce Transit might seem like peanuts to Sound Transit and dropped instantly.

        Not only that, but ST draws revenue for construction while most of Metro’s revenue goes to operations. In a way, it’s nice to have money set aside for infrastructure while other funds go to service. That way we don’t need to worry about Link expansion being put on the back burner in order to fill service gaps (see RapidRide).

      4. First of all city and county road departments have been around much longer than the state equivalent. Similarly most of the older transit agencies in the state started as private for-profit companies. The state has never had responsibility for local transit. Sure New Jersey has a unified statewide transit agency that runs all local transit in the state, but that doesn’t mean such a thing would be a good idea for this state.

        If for some reason all government transportation agencies were dumped into one mega-agency you’d still end up with a highway building agency dominated by roads people. They’d treat the rest of their functions as a nuance. Just look at the history of WSDOT. It used to be separate departments for highways, marine, aviation, and railroads. Now as a merged agency the road people dominate the management, the culture, and the thinking.

      5. That’s my point. Separate agencies exist for different purposes. That way, important projects don’t loose priority. Which agency came first is not really the point.

        WSDOT is in fact Washington State’s Dept. of Transportation. They could choose to prioritise public transit if they wanted, but they don’t.

      6. If a project is important why would it loose priority? The only reason that it would loose priority is politicians/people may have there priorities in in the wrong place. People tend to fail see the big picture and for example someone might think that spending billions on light is a waste since they don’t live anywhere near it when the reality is that it helps them in so many ways.

      7. Patrick,
        Any merged agency including KC Metro is going to essentially be Metro in terms of culture and thinking due to Metro’s immense size.

        One fear others have mentioned is that money would get taken from ST capital funds in order to avoid cutting bus service.

        Then there would be the politics of trying to get everyone to agree to merge all three counties transit agencies. There would have to be some sort of sub-area equity system. Even with such a system people would still bitch that their service was being “stolen” by some other part of the system anytime there was a reduction.

  4. In regards to “Raising commuter fares is a (relatively) progressive move, as these riders are more likely to be well-off.” –

    Honest question – what gives you the impression that people who can’t afford to live in the city are more likely to be well off than those who can? Do you have any statistics that show that those who commute downtown from outside the city are statistically more well-off than those who commute to downtown from within the city?

    Especially in the context of Community Transit, where most people are coming from places like Lynnwood, Everett, etc.

    Again, honest question, I’m not trying to come across as sarcastic.. I keep trying to talk my wife into moving to West Seattle to be closer to work, but when a comparable house (or condo for that matter) there costs 2-3x as much as it does here near Bothell, that’s just not going anywhere.

    1. Dave L, this isn’t a lives in the city / doesn’t live in the city issue. Snohomish County is generally very car-oriented and anyone using buses in the middle of the day probably has no other choice.

      An alternate means of getting into downtown Seattle, however, is attractive to all walks of life.

    2. Commuters are more able to afford the commuting cost than people who don’t have jobs, or have minimum-wage jobs at odd hours.

  5. OK, here’s the other side of the coin.
    STEX fare is going up from $1.50 to 2.50 by this time next year, or a whopping 67%, while inflation and wage increases are very small. To characterize this as fare synchronization is being kind, or ‘modest’ as the link jump calls it is flat wrong.
    To add insult to injury, the zones are being ‘simplified’ to either in-county or cross-county lines. Whoa! I thought this was a regional system? So a short hop across county lines (an 8 minute ride)will cost the maximum fare, while wandering all over King County for an hour will cost the minimum fare. This doesn’t effect many riders, but still stings IF you happen to be one of them.
    Martin mentions “one big winner”, so now the big losers have had an honorable mention – not that it makes a difference.

    1. Can you name an instance where someone could ride ST “a short hop” across a county line and that same trip couldn’t be accomplished by one of the partner agencies? Serious question because I can’t think of one.

  6. it’s a problem of using arbitrary political divisions (county lines) as fare designators. There’s a bunch of options. We could push for the London-style fare system, where one fare admits all (90 pence at the moment, I believe) for city buses. We could make better distinctions between city and regional routes, setting a single fare for in-city rides (simple), and setting regional fares based on distance using tap-on tap-off fare collection (but this is complicated). We could set fixed fares per route, and this seems like the simplest catch-all solution: in-city routes cost 1.50 per ride; regional routes (say, the 240 or the 177) cost 2.00 per ride; longer routes are STEX routes, so they can set the fares how they want (distance based works best for them, but again, that throws needless but controllable complication into the system).

    1. Or the one you didn’t mention. TIME
      You could buy a transit ticket worth 2 hours and ride transit (all of it) for up to 2 hours.
      Same for ORCA. Tap in time, Tap out time, and if under 2 hours, a flat rate, over 2 it’s more.
      Let the computers wade through all the complexities of where, when, how, and divide the revenue according to formula, (or by who’s gorilla won the fight in that meeting :)

      1. So how is revenue shared in this scenario? I pay $2.25 Seattle peak, ride 2 trips, tap in a Link station at Mt Baker (free transfer), ride downtown, my 2 hour window is almost up so I just tap in Link again (but not ride it) to charge 25 cents and extend my transfer by another 2 hours, then jump on a Metro bus off-peak (pay-as-you-leave). With the correct sequence and timing, It’s possible to get 10 hours of rides for just $2.75.

      2. This highlights one of the larger challenges facing the whole region: without a fully unified transit authority, the mess that is revenue sharing is necessary evil. Of course, this problem is perhaps impossible (politically, logistically, financially) to fix.

        (And if you’re like Oran, you can get quite creative to game the system for cheap use of the transit network!)

  7. Rather than try to allocate your scenerio to todays fare structure, which is extremely complex, let me answer based on a pure TIME system, for all providers, regardless of time of day or where or when you board/alight. Fair enough?
    You rode two Metro buses, tapped at Mt Baker, but didn’t ride Link (so I’m ignoring that transaction), then boarded another Metro bus. Right?
    I’m assuming you are trying to get somewhere, by riding 3 metro buses, and not just joy riding around King County ’cause you’ve nothing else to do (but that’s just fine if you do. Hell, I ride around just to sight-see all the time).
    So the fare, say $2.50 for up to 2 hours would be given 100% to Metro. If you tapped off your last bus at say 2.5 hours after your first tap in, then Orca would deduct an additional ..say 50 cents from your card, and give that to Metro.
    If you actually rode Link for maybe 10 minutes on this journey, then the computer might give ST up to 25% of the total fare paid.
    Hope that answers your question Oran.
    As an aside. No fare system is absolutely fair to all riders. This one is aimed at simplifying all the fares, zones, times of day and give the money collected to the agencies in proportion to their effort. It’s main purpose is to get more SOV drivers to ‘try transit’. We buy lots of things by time (workers efforts, cell minutes, equipment rentals, etc), so why not transit service?

    1. Okay, thanks. I was semi-joy riding, that is took the indirect way.

      It would suck if you had to pay more for getting stuck in traffic though, like a taxi.

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