Photo by Sherwin

Not only will ST Express restructure fares next month, but Link fares are going up on June 1st too:

Starting June 1, 2011, adult Link fares will rise 25 cents.  Link tickets for adults will start with a base fare of $2.00 and add five cents to the base fare for every mile of your trip.  See the chart below.

Starting June 1, 2011, all youth Link fares will become $1.25, for all one-way trips on Link light rail.

All reduced Link fares will remain 75 cents, for all one-way trips on Link light rail.

This means fares will vary between $2.00 and $2.75 depending on distance. The cheapest ride of  Metro, Link, or ST Express varies with who you are and time of day.

46 Replies to “Link Fares on Their Way Up, Too”

  1. “The cheapest ride of Metro, Link, or ST Express varies with who you are and time of day.”

    Oh how I wish we had a unified fare system so that a journey between any two points cost the same regardless of the brand of the vehicle or technology of the wheels. That’s really what we ought to have to create a seamless transfer-friendly networked system.

    You could have zones if you wanted a distance component. You could have peak fares. But the fare ought to be independent of whether you board ST bus, ST light rail or Metro bus.

    1. If you want to start an argument, ask a fare payment question from a group of drivers sitting around a Metro base.
      There are so many different fare policies among the various agencies, it takes someone finally getting out the book to hopefully resolve. Sometimes that just confuses the issue even more.
      Most riders thankfully do the same thing everyday, and have it down pat.
      Visitors and infrequent users?
      Not so much.

    2. “…. to have to create a seamless transfer-friendly networked system.”

      We already do have it through the use of ORCA.

      1. “We already do have it through the use of ORCA.”

        ORCA is just the payment method. It doesn’t unify the fares.

      2. Unless you want to know what’s being deducted from your ePurse and what your balance is. And we still have paper transfers that are much more valuable than an ORCA transfer but only good on one brand of bus.

      3. The card reader tells you when you tap it. On a bus you can verify that it deducted the right amount because there’s a handy card on the fare box. If there’s a schedule posted at your bus stop, it will tell you what the fare is before you board.

        For trains, it’s easy too. Go farther, pay more.

      4. “If there’s a schedule posted at your bus stop”

        … that is, one that hasn’t been vandalized or removed, or the cover broken off so that it’s flapping in the wind until the glue at the last remaining end breaks down and the schedule floats away, away like a kite to yonder field.

      5. @aw: The reader display is quick, tiny, and several feet below eye level. It’s not well-placed or designed to give feedback to customers. And there’s a reason why “use cash whenever possible” is a standard tip for those trying to keep on a budget. Even if users manage to catch the display of their balance, paper money and transfers are much easier for most folks to keep track of. (Relatedly, I’m always annoyed that I have to retrace my transit steps to figure out when my Orca transfer’s going to expire.)

        As for checking the schedule or the fare box, I got a kick outta that. Drivers forget to change fare box signs all the time, and I’ve frequently been charged fares that don’t match the schedule because the buses are running so late that I’m actually catching an “earlier” bus. Nothing like paying a peak fare during non-peak hours to catch a bus that’s running 20 minutes late—I get to pay extra ’cause my transit system sucks!

        Really, especially with the hard two-hour transfers, for folks trying to keep a budget, Orca is not the way to go unless you frequently transfer between agencies.

      6. A lot of these problems go away if you have a pass. I just love using my pass for all regular and most occasional trips, and just paying 25c occasionally when I go extra-far. I know several poor people who don’t ride enough to justify a pass, and whenever I go somewhere with them we always have to check if their card has enough money, or we walk because I don’t want to make them pay $2.25 for a short distance. Or if they don’t have an ORCA I bring my guest card and cover their fare, but the same e-purse problems still apply. To me, it’s worth having a pass even if you don’t fully use it, simply so that you don’t have to deliberate whether this trip is worth the cost or whether your card has enough balance, and you’re also paying for the bus frequency so that it’s there when you do want it (like an HMO). Clearly some people can’t afford a pass but if you can, I would get it anyway.

      7. I wish I rode often enough to where I can justify a pass (or get an employer-paid pass), but I work from home and many days go nowhere, and do some travel on foot and bike, so cash pay it is. My nearest stop is served by both Metro and ST, in some cases to the same destinations. It is annoying to think about: Should I pay cash or ORCA? Should I skip an ST bus to wait for MT and get a paper transfer? I suppose if you don’t care about how much you spend you could ignore it and always use an ORCA, but most folks care about how much they spend.

      8. PS: I often miss the remaining Epurse value on the readers. It’s not displayed for long and the contrast, lighting, and angle aren’t that good.

    3. An revenue-neutral/positive exercise at converting DC Metro’s distance based fares to a zonal system. Should [DC] Metro switch to zones? (No.)

      I don’t like zones, particularly because I live near a zone boundary (King-Snohomish line). Why do I have to pay significantly more to ride one stop from UW Bothell to Canyon Park? While a much longer trip from Bothell to the Airport costs less? Or from Tacoma to Federal Way vs Federal Way to Seattle? All on ST Express.

    4. That’s not really a sensible way to price travel. Different modes demand different pricing structures. The same length trip on a bus or a train costs a different amount to provide, just like the same trip on a bus or a cab costs a different amount.

      Different pricing structures also influence people to take different options. Pricing Link trips higher, for example, can lead to a different, and possibly more efficient, equilibrium across the entire system than one that would naturally arise if a Link trip and an ST Express trip cost the same.

      1. There are two answers to this. One, if you want to incentivize certain routes, you can’t charge more for them. Encouraging people to use Link or RapidRide in those areas that have it is good for long-term growth: it encourages people to move near frequent-transit corridors, and the businesses will follow them, and eventually you can cut back the non-corridor routes. So many cities have equalized the fare and zones for bus and light rail.

        Two, in some European cities all transit is run by the same authority and has a uniform fare structure. The mode is more of an internal detail of the transit agency: rail is built on the most crowded routes for efficiency. Rail routes don’t “compete” with bus routes because there’s only one or the other for any trip. Limited-stop expresses charge the regular fare, but super-expresses have a premium fare. Of course, this only works if there’s one super-agency for all transit (and maybe for roads too), and if it’s not biased toward cars or one transit mode.

    5. I find the distance-based formula to be more fair. For one thing, it rewards those who transfer to high-capacity transit instead of insisting on taking a duplicate one-seat ride all the way downtown.

      The train fares are distance-based because it is easy to implement: ORCA readers are set to a station configuration, and have an internal chart showing the fares to each of the other stations, of which there are a small number.

      This system also encourages tap-offs, which helps the planners understand passenger loads along the line.
      RapidRide fares could also be distance-based, but only for ORCA users. There are a small number of stops. Install ORCA readers at each one. Set each ORCA reader to its location and have an internal chart showing fares to all the other stops. Then, remove the ORCA readers from the buses. I believe it would actually produce a net increase in reader inventory. ;) As a side benefit, planners could use the data to easily see which stops are not being used.
      Regular buses are a much bigger challenge for distance-basing fares. As Oran and others have pointed out, zone-basing fares punishes people who live close to zone boundaries (and that includes me).

      Still, I think fares should be set, to some extent, to incentivize preferred choices (i.e. choices that are less expensive for taxpayers). When East Link opens to Overlake, I’d hate to see the Link fare to get to UW be higher than the express bus fare for the same trip, should Metro or ST decide to keep that express bus.
      That brings me to a question that is partially philosophical and partially pragmatic: Should Link fares be based on distance travelled, or on straight-line distance between stations?

    6. I know all the arguments for distance-based fares but I think they are all overrided by the benefits of simplicity. We should have a single fare for all regional services that covers any number of trips in a day. This subsidizes suburban commuters who travel on higher-cost routes, but that’s a good thing because they’re the ones who most need encouragement to use transit. It subsidizes people in the city who hop on and off several times a day at will, but those people use low-mileage services now so they’re actually being penalized for choosing to live in the city (and they tend to have passes anyway). Time-limited transfers are confusing for riders and create administrative overhead, discouraging connections and creating more demand for inefficient one-seat rides. A daily fare makes transfer tracking and fares moot.

      Charging more for different modes makes sense if operational costs vary a lot, but when it comes to buses vs. light rail (as opposed to commuter rail and ferries, which have significantly higher costs) the disadvantages of different pricing outweigh the efficiencies.

      Just charge $5 for any boarding, and give free ridership for the rest of the day throughout the ORCA system. (Those few people who have more expensive commuter rail or ferry trips can be charged extra.) If someone doesn’t have ORCA then they have to pay $10 to cover the daily fare plus the cost of the card. Offer 3-day passes for $10, weekly passes for $25, and monthly passes for $100. Don’t accept cash fares but increase the TVMs to include high-traffic park and rides and major connection/transfer points as well as the transit tunnel.


    7. Really? I want the opposite…why not make Mass Transit go in the same direction of Personal Transit where gas taxes, parking and with Good2Go tolls are quantized by supply and demand?

      With ORCA riders and electronic ticketing we can charge only for what is used based on demand for Mass Transit.

  2. I hope fares continue to acknowledge that transit vehicles, track and wayside components don’t last forever.
    Metro has been depleting their fleet replacement funds to stave off the inevitable service cuts for some time now, along with efficiencies in the operation. It’s now down to draconian service cuts across the board to stay afloat.
    BART has some of the oldest rolling stock in the nation at 40 years old, and is looking to replace it all at a cost of 3.4 Billion with lots of help from the feds. It’s getting to be a long line these days!
    Farebox recovery ratios need to stay in line with costs and future replacements and adopted board policies.

    1. I hope that gas taxes continue to acknowledge that roadways and bridges don’t last forever. The U.S. federal government has depleted their highway maintenance funds in order to pander to voters by staving off inevitable bridge collapses and maintenance deficits for some time now.

      Gas taxes need to stay in line with costs and future maintenance needs.

  3. Just to be clear for the historians, the youth fare on Central Link has been $1.25, going up to $2.00. So this is actually a youth fare reduction on longer trips, with no trips becoming more expensive.

    People receiving the Reduced Regional Fare Permit are about to take a big hit — not from fares going up but from losing discounted annual passes. Starting in May, I’ve been told by someone who holds such a card, Metro is no longer giving out annual RRFP passes. And the monthly passes went up from $18 to $27 just a few months ago. For people who were using annual passes, the cost of riding the bus or train has more than doubled!

    Metro is still giving out RRFPs in both the non-ORCA and ORCA form, for a cost of $3, for whichever form. I’d like to see Metro stop giving out the non-ORCA form, and if it helps smoothe the change, waive the $3 for the ORCA form for a period of six months. The non-ORCA form is for passengers who prefer to use cash. :( At least, Metro is exchanging ORCA RRFPs for non-ORCA RRFPs for free.

    Sound Transit and Community Transit no longer sell non-ORCA RRFPs. Everett Transit’s and Pierce Transit’s webpages didn’t specify whether they did. Sound Transit’s webpage wasn’t clear on whether the non-ORCA version of RRFP’s is still accepted, but in practice, ya gotta have the ORCA version in order to tap in for the train.

    For those unfamiliar with RRFPs, the non-ORCA version is not a flash pass that lets the rider on the bus. It is merely a discounted-fare card that allows the rider to get on the bus by paying *less* cash (generally 75 cents). That’s why I’m disappointed that Metro still sells the non-ORCA version of RRFP.

    On top of that, non-ORCA RRFP holders have to be mailed a monthly sticker, making it more expensive to administer the non-ORCA RRFP, on top of the change-fumbling effect.

    1. Ah, I forgot to include Kitsap Transit.

      On this issue, they are not Ketchup Transit. They are ahead of the game.

      Not only do they no longer sell non-ORCA RRFP’s, but they no longer accept non-ORCA RRFP’s. It costs the same $3 to get one, but exchanging a non-ORCA version for an ORCA is free.
      In slight contradiction to the above page, paper transfers for cash fares are still offered, but only through June 30, and then its ORCA or no transfer.

      I propose a toast to another victory in the epic War on Cash!

    2. One more correction: Monthly passes for RRFP users will only be available through RRFP ORCAs. Since these ORCA cards can be used to show eligibility for the reduced cash fare, there is no benefit to getting a non-ORCA RRFP. So, the question arises, why would Metro continue to offer non-ORCA RRFPs?

  4. The NYC transit fare is $2.25 (close to $2.00 with the Metrocard discount) with free transfer between buses and subway and no distance component. The LA transit base fare is $1.50 with no transfers but a $6.00 day pass. SF base fare is $2.00 with transfers. Boston is $1.70 on the subway with Charlie Card and free transfer among subways and to buses.

    Our transit fares are already higher than most U.S. cities with better service.

    1. SF base fare is more complicated than that, because they’ve got a ton of different transit agencies, but none of them, as far as I can tell, accept transfers from any of the others. That $2.00 will get you on a Muni bus or train, and will allow you to transfer to other Muni buses or trains, but won’t do a thing for you if you need to take BART or AC Transit or SamTrans or Golden Gate Transit or…

      Being able to transfer between different agencies is worth a slight premium, as I see it. I have to imagine that ridership on both Metro and Sound Transit would be depressed if you couldn’t use ORCA to transfer fairly seamlessly between the two systems.

      1. The SF has a fare payment product similar to ORCA. I think it is called Clipper and it can be used on BART, Muni, and most of the bus agencies.

        Within the SF city limits you can ride BART as part of the Muni fare/transfer.

      2. The problem is that current interagency transfers are the only financial incentive to use Orca, and I just don’t think that’s enough to get the scale of adoption we need. I’d love to see data on the number of people who regularly use more than one agency. My impression is that a huge majority of Metro’s Seattle riders only really use Metro, so there’s no incentive to switch from cash.

        Also, according to the SFTU, Clipper offers the following transfers:
        Bart -> Muni within 1 hour: 25¢ off on your next 2 Muni rides within 24 hours
        Golden Gate Transit or Ferry -> Muni: 50¢ off
        Muni -> Golden Gate Transit or Ferry: Adults 50¢ off; Seniors/disabled/youth 25¢ off

        Of course, implementation is ridiculously convoluted.

      3. FWIW, Husky Card will start getting distributed at the end of this month. Within a few months, once distribution has occured to all recipient groups, they’ll stop mailing monthly stickers, and then U-Passes will no longer be accepted at the end of that month.

      4. Unfortunately, in almost all cases there are no free transfers between BART and Muni. The best you get is a 25 cent discount on your Muni fare if you transfer to/from BART. (I believe the same is true for transfers to/from Golden Gate Transit).

        Clipper is superficially similar to ORCA — it’s produced and I believe managed by the same company — but since the Puget Sound area’s transit agencies are much better at working out sharing arrangements than the Bay Area’s are, Clipper lacks many of ORCA’s benefits.

      5. Yeah, I was shocked when I totalled up my Clipper usage to be around $80 for about 10 days of BART, GGT, AC Transit, VTA, Caltrain. That is in addition to the $26 MUNI 7-day visitor pass. For that same amount of money I could’ve gotten a month’s worth of rides with a $3-value PugetPass.

      6. There’s a machine on exiting the East Bay BART stations where you can get a transfer valid for a discounted round trip on AC Transit (East Bay) or a one-way trip on VTA (to San Jose). Unless they’ve eliminated it due to that newfangled Clipper thingy.

        NY and Chicago have near-ideal systems with trains and buses everywhere and a flat rate throughout, and a 24-hour route every mile or so. But they also don’t go into low-density suburbs; there are completely separate systems that do that. On the other hand, the cities are as large as Seattle plus some suburbs, so they essentially incorporate some suburbs within themselves.

      7. That’s the first time I’ve heard somebody say ORCA was better than some other system. So at least we’re getting somewhere.

        Out of curiosity, what’s the adoption rate of Clipper? How much does it cost? Can you buy it at Muni metro stations and major bus-transfer points, or only at BART and Caltrain stations?

        Also, we have to remember that most people don’t spend their vacation riding transit systems the way others visit museums (as many as possible). Most people experience only one or two of these agencies. Or maybe a third to commute by train or get to the airport, but in that case it’s either a major decision (“I’m going to start taking the commuter train”) or not very often (“I’m going to the airport”). And for Oran’s $90 he got a h*ll of a lot more frequency and express routes.

      8. Off the top of my head I don’t know Clipper adoption rates. I found a press release from March of this year that contained these figures:

        Muni, which carries the largest number of transit passengers in the region, accounted for an average of 217,550 Clipper boardings during the work week ending March 11. This was followed by BART with 109,350 weekday boardings and AC Transit with an average of 45,700 Clipper boardings each weekday. Smaller numbers of passengers used Clipper cards to board Golden Gate Transit, Golden Gate Ferry, Caltrain, VTA and SamTrans vehicles.

        If someone dug up the total boardings/week for Muni, BART, and AC Transit, we could find a quick ‘n’ dirty approximation of the total adoption rate, at least for the city and the east bay.

        IMO Seattle’s transit payment scheme is a mess when compared to the big east coast cities (and Chicago), and relatively decent when compared to anywhere else. SF’s underlying mass transit network is much better than Seattle’s, of course, but IMO it’s somewhat crippled by being actually several different networks that don’t connect all that well in either social terms (cost of transfer) or physical terms (to take the most glaring example, it would be difficult for BART and Caltrain to be any less connected with each other).

      9. Oh: as far as I know, the only place you can find machines that dispense clipper cards are at the Muni stations in downtown SF. There might be some BART stations where you can buy them, but if there are, they’re a new development. They are sold at selected Walgreen’s, though, which I think is where most people get them. They cost 2 bucks.

      10. GreaterGreaterWashington: “If you’re transferring to a trip that’s more expensive, all you pay is the difference. A third trip taken within the same two hours has the same rules.”

        Actually, I think the 2-hour clock restarts whenever you pay a surcharge. So if you pay a base fare, then a 25c surcharge within 2 hours (say on Link), then a $1 surcharge within another 2 hours (say on Sounder), then you can still transfer to a fourth bus within another 2 hours.

        Which brings up an interesting idea. What if ORCA let you buy a transfer renewal even if the second route didn’t have a higher fare? It would help those who are making a chain of trips or a large loop. It would lose some revenue but it may not be that much, because most people don’t make a long chain of trips (they don’t like transit that much). And it may gain a bit of revenue as people combine multiple trips in a way they don’t now.

        Although I suppose you could get the equivalent benefit with less hassle with a weekly or daily pass.

    2. I’d like to see the day passes be replaced with ORCA day caps, and the cash day passes be done away with. If Metro doesn’t want to implement day caps, then at least get rid of the cash-based day passes, as a matter of equity.

      These cash-only day passes are one more way cash fumbling is still incentivized.

  5. When I lived in SF, well before Clipper, my Fast Pass had a magnetic strip which worked at the BART fare gates for all the stations within the city. I didn’t travel outside the city much, but then you needed a regular BART ticket.

    1. Yeah, the fast pass still exists. If I used BART/Muni enough to justify the 70 buck cost (basically, if I lived in the city), I’d get it. Unfortunately, like most people in the bay area, I don’t live in the city. Every time I find myself paying to transferr between BART and Muni (or more often, Caltrain and BART/Muni), I feel a twinge of nostalgia for the northwest.

      (hi! I’m a total crank about the importance of interagency transfers…)

  6. I was in Cologne and I asked the station agent for a map that included the local bus routes, as I had gotten in Duesseldorf. The agent thought a moment and said, “Cologne doesn’t really have bus routes.” There are so many streetcar routes that apparently they have no need for in-city buses.

    1. KVB, the same folks that run the trams, claim to have 300 buses serving 657 stops. The article lists 47 routes.

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