56 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: State of the City”

  1. For those of you wondering what the Low Income Fare Options Advisory Committee is up to, its materials are available, including all written comments submitted, as of the last meeting in January.

    The Transit Riders Union remains busy doing research for the committee (which is to say, they have someone who knows how to surf the web and write emails asking for more details). TRU has a rather obvious suggestion that could confound Metro: Determination of who should qualify as “low-income” should be based on family-income, not personal income. They then get all wonky on how to do that.

    But there is one preliminary step that should be obvious. The heart of the matter is that most of the qualifiers will be families with kids. How do you most smoothly keep the transportation costs down for families with kids? You keep the youth fare down.

    As you may recall, Metro raised the youth fare from $0.75 to $1.25 back in the fall of 2011, raising the pass cost for a child ages 6-18 $216 a year. This passed with little discussion or notice until the 67% fare increase was implemented. This was right before the $20 car tab came up, and council members got all concerned about whether low-income families with cars could afford the extra $20 a year.

    I could make moralistic arguments about why Metro should right that wrong and roll back that massive fare increase for the most politically powerless and least able to pay. But I don’t have to do that. There is a straightforward administrative nightmare coming if those fares remain higher than, say, the low-income fare that ends up passing.

    When low-income ORCA rolls out, there will be a run on the cards. This happens everywhere a new lower-fare card is rolled out. There is no avoiding that it will be huge (unless, of course, it doesn’t end up passing). This time, customer service reps will not be able to point to all the ORCA vending machines in order to get the line shortened.

    But imagine if nearly every youth rider qualified as low-income (and I think many, if not most, will). Imagine how much longer that line would be.

    For the sake of not overwhelming Metro’s staff, I hope the youth fare can be re-synchronized with the Reduced Regional Fare Permit fare before the low-income ORCA rollout. I have no reason to believe Sound Transit wouldn’t follow suit.

    While I am about as adamant as anyone that there needs to be a cash surcharge, I think it should wait until after the low-income ORCA rollout is done, so that there isn’t a run on regular ORCA by riders who then turn around and go get the low-income ORCA. If there is hope that all the RRFP partners could agree to synchronize their definition of low-income (they already have virtually identical definitions of “youth” — namely 6-18, with 5 and under riding free with a fare-paying adult), that would avoid yet another transition from Metro-only cards to RRFP-wide cards. Agreeing that all youth should qualify for the RRFP fare within each agency would be a bonus, but not necessary to the creation of the actual physical youth RRFP card.

    If Metro, Sound Transit, and Kitsap Transit can agree on a qualification definition of “low income”, I have little reason to believe the other agencies would resist making low-income one of the RRFP categories.

    Given that the county council is unanimously behind the work of the LIFOAC, I am fairly certain the low-income ORCA will happen. But it may take the additional hit of giving up that lunch money they grabbed from the kids a year and a half ago to make the rollout smooth.

    1. Will your group be looking at Access too?
      Each ride on Access is pushing $50 now and Metro could reduce some of the service areas and increase fares accordingly (twice the regular fare) if there was any political will to do such a draconian cut back. I’m not advocating that here.
      something has to give, now that it’s cheaper give everyone a free cab ride. Metro spends about the same on Access as it does every single trolley ride for less than 1/10 the riders. The system is bleeding cash, so some tough love is in order across the board.

      1. I’m not on the committee, but that doesn’t stop me from getting any and all info I want to them. You can comment at their web site, or drop by and say Hi at the end of the meeting.

        A cash surcharge is possible on Access rides, since it is based on registered ORCA card accounts, creating essentially a pre-pay system but no incentive, other than the cap created by a monthly pass, to participate in that system. I would expect a cash surcharge to virtually eliminate cash handling for Access drivers, as well as any fare evasion.

        It’s not clear whether there can be a low-income Access fare, since federal law prevents transit agencies from requiring income info from paratransit riders. I’d have to find the specific law. But even if it is technically allowed, I have a hunch that the vast majority of Access riders would qualify for low-income status, making the creation of separate categories more trouble than it is worth. Never mind the legal expenses when a group of riders feel that they are being forced to fork over income info.

        It has been stated on this blog that state law limits the Access fare to the same as the full adult fare. I haven’t seen that law, and RCW’s search engine doesn’t seem to work with my computer.

    2. How about this:

      Anyone who doesn’t own a car, gets to ride transit for free. (If under 16, anyone whose depending parent does not own a car.)

      It would be like a tax credit for alleviating pollution and traffic. No income limit.

      1. That would lead to people setting up gimmicks where people get together and make one person technically own all their cars so that everyone except one gets to ride transit for free, while they all effectively still have their own car. Such a system would be impossible to police effectively.

      2. All the homeless population would qualify, and a much larger chunk of ridership would think the buses have become rolling shelters, and stop using them.

        There are reasons why every large urban area that has tried all-free service has abandoned that experiment.

      3. The concept of giving reduced fares for people who don’t have a drivers licence is tempting, but it goes against the social justice angle of trying to put families at the front of the line for reduced fares. Our bus system is not built around family errands at all. (Maybe that’s why we haven’t heard from BusChick in a while.)

      1. First, you have to get a job that pays seven figures. Let me know when you’ve got that, and I’ll tell you the next step.

  2. State of the Blogroll.

    Bus Chick. Hasn’t been updated in over five months. First rule of blogs, feed it continually or it dies. Needs to be taken off the Blogroll.

    Walking in Seattle link doesn’t work.

    1. The 402 is going on the chopping block as well. Good bye Enchanted Village service on weekends :(

      If I had to pick one PT route to continue to Federal Way on Weekends, it would be the 500.

      1. I’m sure some would gripe about having to pay the ST 2-County fare, instead of being able to pay local fare on the 500.

        And the 574 goes non-stop from the Dome to Federal Way, for those that need to get on/off somewhere on SR 99

      2. I don’t like the ST 2-zone fare between Federal Way and Tacoma. I always just take the 500 instead. But for the 574, it is such a short distance when compared to Seattle, which is cheaper. And the 574 only takes me to Tac Dome station, so usually to get where I am going in downtown, I would have to transfer to another bus or the link.

      3. You can still go to Wild Waves on the weekends if you are up for a walk from 9 Ave S and S 348 St.

      4. I’ll whine about the 574 being a 2-county fare. It is not a premium express in the way that the 586, 590, 592, 594, and 595 are. If Metro moves away from from zone-based fares (and I think it will happen), then ST could follow suit by classifying routes as either express or premium (at least two counties, and not BRTish) express. The 592 could even be classified super premium express. Raise the express fares to match that of Metro, and raise the premium express fares to not push passengers off of Sounder just to save some quarters. Use the extra income to offset the acceptance of low-income ORCA and the rollback of youth fares to match other RRFP fares.

    2. The 182 already runs on part of 348th. If it followed Pacific Hwy instead of 9th Ave S, it could keep the 348th/Pac Hwy area connected to the rest of the Federal Way commercial corridor.

      1. I think that they should try to time most trips of the 500 so that at the “348th Ave” P&R, it’s only a 5-10 minute wait for the 182 to get them the rest of the way to the Federal Way TC. It should also work the other way; The 500 leaves 5-10 minutes after the 182 arrives.

      2. The 75 minute headway is unusual indeed. One of the most unusual I have ever seen. I am surprised that they aren’t sending this to the Federal Way TC every hour on weekends, considering the priority this route has to the staff. This is the only route to have an overall increase in service (approx. 14% more service week after week). Back before weekend service was worked out, the increase in weekday trips added by new half hour headways was almost enough to completely counteract the loss of weekend service.

        Can I say, bus rapid transit?

  3. Does anyone know how to dispute sounder fare inspectors with defective readers? I was on the sounder Friday when a fare inspector accused my girlfriend and me of having invalid cards. We had tapped on at king street, but his reader reported us as invalid. She is blind and has a rrfp orca. When I asked him how to dispute the charge, he said he didn’t have any paperwork with him for this and insisted on photographing our ids. His reader also reported the customer after us as invalid, even though he had an orca with his photograph from his work. For some reason the fare inspector liked the looks of this customer more than us, and decided to reset his reader and retry instead of photographing his id. I approached the inspector and insisted that he retry our orca cards, which he did, and of course this time they registered as valid.

    I think I’ll just avoid riding sounder and link from now on, as it just isn’t worth the stress of incidents like these. I suppose what I should do is always film myself tapping on to sounder or link. If anyone here has any suggestions for whom I should report this incident to, I’d appreciate it. Also, what are the magic words to get a fare inspector to reset his machine?

    1. ST Customer Service 888-889-6368

      “Non-discrimination policy & procedure
      Pursuant to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and in accordance with applicable state and local laws:

      No person in the United States shall, on the grounds of race, creed, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, denied benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

      In addition, Sound Transit complies with Executive Order 12898, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low Income Populations,” and the Federal Department of Transportation’s Guidance to Recipients on Special Language Services to Limited English Proficient (LEP) Beneficiaries.

      If you feel you have been subjected to discrimination in employment or contracting opportunities because of race, creed, color, or national origin, you may file a complaint with Sound Transit, the Federal Transit Administration and/or the US Department of Transportation.

      A complaint with Sound Transit must be filed within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory act. The complaint form along with a copy of the complaint procedures is available from our Diversity Office:

      Sound Transit Diversity Program Office
      401 S. Jackson St.
      Seattle, WA 98104
      Or call: 206-689-4914″

      1. I’ve tried reporting incidents to ST customer service in the past, and in my experience they simply file things away without ever doing anything. Thanks for the link to the diversity program, though. Maybe filing a complaint there, and ccing the National Federation for the Blind will produce results.

        If i ride sounder or link again, asking the fare inspector to reset his machine is an idea. But i really just don’t feel safe using these systems, knowing my orca card is my only proof of payment. I’m honestly more shaken up by this incident that I thought I’d be. It makes me wonder how many people have been wrongly accused of fare evasion and had to fight the $124 ticket. If you went to court over it, would a judge rule in your favor, given how unreliable the orca equipment is?

        Maybe if ST had a policy that fare inspectors had to reset their machines and try again before photographing someone’s id, as well as giving people the necessary paperwork at the time of the incident to dispute the charge, that would be more fair. (The fare inspectors seem to be minimum wage temps who probably can’t do much more than that)

        Ideally tapping on would print out a paper receipt that you could show fare inspectors (doubt this will happen due to implementation costs). Filming myself tapping on with a smartphone is the closest I can come to this, as it’s almost as good as a paper receipt (maybe better). But if everyone did this, it would slow down the system considerably. But i’ll definitely be doing that from now on if I can’t avoid link. the 592 is almost always faster than sounder though.

      2. You can get a paper ticket at the ORCA vending machine, but it has no transfer value, unless you buy an all-day pass, which is only good on that train line, and only between the stations indicated.

        I buy a pass that covers the highest Link fare, so even if I forget to tap, ST has no grounds to issue me a warning or a fine.

    2. I have, in the past, seen people just ask nicely that the inspector reset the machine. It’s generally worked. Hopefully, you got him to delete the ID pictures…there’s one Sounder inspector who is, politely, kind of a jerk and i think you got him. I would say more but professionalism dictates that i not…but he definitely has some “issues” with disabled people and let’s just leave it at that.

      1. Please be unprofessional and report anyone you see discriminating against people with disabilities. I’m not sure I got the fare inspector you’re thinking of. He seemed fairly polite, just not intelligent enough to consider the possibility that the machine in his hand may not be working. But the fact that he reset his machine for the non-disabled person after us makes me think he at least could use some diversity training.

        He certainly didn’t seem qualified for any job requiring any more thought or reasoning than the one he has, and seemed a little underqualified for his current job even. If anyone knows who works when, we were on the first sounder that leaves king street to tacoma at 3:15 friday, and were on the first car. He inspected us after puyallup. before he got to the customer after us, i offered to let him watch us tap off, just to prove that we’d tapped on properly. He asked us which stop we were getting off at, which made me wonder if he was playing with a full deck, since tacoma was the last stop for that train, and we couldn’t possibly be getting off anywhere else.

      2. Oh, my comment in public, as in here, involves professionalism. It would be improper to comment here on that on my part. There aren’t too many Gwen Cs out there who are disabled people and live in the Seattle area…you can probably find me in ten minutes on Facebook tops, four if you throw in that i referred to taking the Bar exam below. I deeply sympathize, but this is a public-facing comment.

        Professionalism would similarly dictate reporting disability discrimination. This goes doubly so as i’m visibly disabled. It may or may not be him, but an ST fare inspector called me a “freeloader” once before it dawned on him i had a valid pass, but sadly i don’t have access to my previous complaint on this matter from some time ago.

  4. So i have one of THOSE questions.

    I have to make a fun trip to Tacoma tomorrow afternoon during rush hour. I generally pay my fare with a cash-basis ORCA, and i emailed ST about this last week and they answered that they didn’t know. So, um, uh-oh.

    I ride the 522 into town, easy peasy. But i need to get from Seattle to Tacoma and i have a rolling bag and a big messenger bag so the 594 sounds like suicide during rush hour. So i figured i’d take the Sounder, right? Riiiight.

    So let’s say i pay my first fare at 2:20 and tag on board the Sounder at 3:10. I get permit to travel, but the 3:15 train takes long enough (and i’ve been fare-inspected between Puyallup and Tacoma) that i’m not sure if the Permit to Travel expires. Am i safer just buying a paper Sounder ticket even if it costs more for me? Am i in the clear regardless of transfer status once i get Permit to Travel?

    I told you this was one of THOSE questions. Sorry for being so twitchy but i’m on my way to T-town to take the Washington State Bar Exam so this is SUPER IMPORTANT in my world to not hit potholes, screw up, or get my ID photographed because that scares me four kinds of crapless.

    Your assistance, if any of you know, would be welcomed. I’m so not used to not having my pass from school anymore. :(

    1. On the key question of whether your permit to travel can expire during the trip… No.

      The transfer value might expire (but probably won’t, since tap-on time is generally what counts), but the permit to travel is still good for the duration of that trip. So, the worst-case scenario is that you might get charged 2 fares (unlikely). You can check your card at an ORCA vending machine to see how much e-purse is left, and then buy more if necessary. The ORCA vending machines are at the station. I’d suggest making sure you have at least $7.75 on the card just to be absolutely sure, and you’ll need the extra amount later for the return trip anyway.

      You can check out the Seattle area traffic map at http://www.wsdot.com/traffic/seattle/default.aspx?op=/traffic/seattle/ to see if the 522 and/or 590 might get stuck in a traffic jam.

      1. I have well in excess of $7.75 but thank you for the tip, that’s actually handy to know the highest theoretical fare. I remember when it was $5.25!

        Thanks for a really helpful answer, those are always the best kind!

      2. $7.75 isn’t the highest theoretical fare on Sounder. It’s the highest theoretical fare on 522 + Sounder. Sorry if I wasn’t clear.

    2. I am under the impression that the “permit to travel” always remains open for at least two hours, after which the maximum-possible fare is deducted if you have failed to tag out.

      The permit couldn’t possibly “expire” mid-trip based on a previously-opened 2-hour window, as that would result in the system routinely charging people for prior to giving them a chance to make the second tag.

      I have occasionally taken a second Link ride beginning within 2 hours of my first, and the ORCA reader has explicitly denoted a valid “transfer” in granting me my permit. Tagging out at the other end confirmed that the permit had remained valid through the second trip.

      I am not the absolute authority on the matter, but all of my experience with the system thus far suggests that you should be fine.

      Good luck on the Bar!

    3. Gwen,
      In this case, I think Brent is steering you in a slightly incorrect direction. Once you tap on to the Sounder system, it will upgrade your ORCA card for the fare from Seattle to Tacoma crediting you for the fare you already paid on Route 522. In my experience, the upgrade has reset the two-hour window for you to transfer.

      1. Whoa. The transfer window shouldn’t be able to be reset repeatedly. If it can, the software is costing the agencies a lot of money in fares not be charged.

      2. Only if you repeatedly pay a higher fare at each step. There’s only a few theoretical trips you can take, and most of them are unrealistic. For instance, Juanita-Bothell (stopover 1 1/2 hours) + Bothell-downtown (stopover 1 hour) + downtown-Tacoma (stopover 45 minutes) + Tacoma-Roy “Y”. To be even more creative, spend just half an hour in downtown Tacoma and take a bus to Lakewood, then transfer to Sounder back to Seattle. There will certainly be a few individuals going from Juanita to Tacoma without stopovers, and that’s what the cascading transfer window is for. But essentially nobody will spend an hour in Bothell, another hour downtown, and another hour in Tacoma. It would take so many hours to complete the trip that only a dedicated transit fan on a once-a-year tour would tolerate it.

      3. Mike is correct, the two hour transfer window only extends when you tap something that costs *more* than you’d already been charged.

        For Link and Sounder you’ll be charged the maximum possible fare when you tap in. When you tap out, you’ll be credited back the difference between the maximum and the amount you owe for the trip you took.

        So in most cases (including Gwen’s) you should get a “fresh” two hour window when transferring from a bus to Sounder or Link.

        An interesting case would be transferring from a Metro 2-zone peak or ST 2-county fare to Link. I’d assume that you’d have a valid permit to travel for the Link trip, but you might not get your two hour transfer extended. Maybe someone who’s done an Everett -> Sea-Tac trip on 510 -> Link with an E-Purse can comment.

      4. David,
        When you tap onto Link from a service that has a higher fare, it doesn’t reset the two-hour window. We did a trip from Everett to Tukwila (510 -> Link) and return (Link -> Sounder) with a youth fare and an adult fare a few years ago. At the time, the youth fare was an upgrade from the bus to Link while the adult fare was not an upgrade (at the time both fares were $2.50). The adult card had to renew the two hour window when we boarded Link to go back to Everett. The youth card renewed the two-hour window when we transferred from Link to Sounder.

  5. http://ftawebprod.fta.dot.gov/ContactUsTool/Public/FAQs.aspx?CategoryID=4

    has answers to multiple questions brought up on today’s post. The answer for which I was searching:

    Question: May an individual be charged a higher fee for complementary paratransit than they would pay on fixed route?

    Answer: Yes. Department of Transportation (DOT) Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations at 49 C.F.R. Section 37.121 require paratransit fares to be comparable to the fare for a trip between the same points on the regular fixed route transit system. “Comparable” is defined in DOT ADA regulations at 49 C.F.R. Section 37.131(c) as not more than twice the fare that would be charged to an individual paying full fare for a trip of similar length, at a similar time of day, on the entity’s fixed route system, exclusive of discounts.

      1. Sometimes. Other times it makes me grateful that there are people who actually enjoy getting bogged down in minutiae. I’d hate to do a quick sketch of the rules and then spend fifty years in court arguing details.

  6. I have a suggestion to lower transit costs for families with kids: Raise the maximum age to ride free when accompanied by a paid adult fare from 5 to 11. This way, parents don’t get stuck having to pay multiple fares just because they have to bring their kids with them on errands, etc.

    IIRC the transit systems in Boston and London allow kids up to age 11 to ride free even when riding alone, but I don’t know if that’s politically feasible in the Seattle area.

    1. A question to operators here:

      What actions are you expected to take to determine the age of young riders?

      1. In general, you are expected to state the fare once, and that’s it.

        One of the most consistent forms of fare evasion I saw as a driver was “under 5” kids who appeared to be 8 to 10 years old.

        I had better things to do with my time, like keep the bus on schedule, than worry about it.

    2. Metro had a Sunday family fare until a few years ago. The “4 children ages 0-5 ride free with a fare-paying adult” was increased to age 18 on Sundays. It was eliminated around 2008 when Metro’s budget became worse.

  7. Has anyone taken a look at the HERE Transit app?

    It has two modes: Journey Planner and Transit Nearby.

    Journey Planner takes in your start and end locations and provides a pretty slick visualization of your options. Locations can be landmarks, cross streets, or addresses (maybe other entities?), and there’s decent auto-complete.

    Transit Nearby is fairly onebusaway-ish; the kicker is that there doesn’t seem to be real-time data. [please correct if I’m mistaken]

  8. I guess this is the best place for this question:

    My wife and I will be visiting Seattle this weekend via Amtrak, and are staying downtown. The plan was to use public transit, but I’m having trouble finding out if Metro or ST have day passes. It appears that we will have to pay cash for metro busses every time we want to go somewhere? What if we want to take 3 or 4 trips around town in a day? In Portland, we could buy a $5 day pass that would get us everywhere that Trimet goes, for the entire day. Where is this option in Seattle?

    1. No, there is no day pass.

      If you use Metro and pay cash, you can get a transfer good for about two hours (but only good on Metro). If you want to invest $5, you can get an ORCA card which you can pre-load with some fare money, then use it for interagency transfers good for a strict two hours. You won’t be able to get a refund for either the card or any pre-loaded value when you leave town.

      It’s possible to share one ORCA card between two people, but if you’re traveling together on a bus, you’ll need to ask the operator to set the equipment for two fares before you tap in. I’m not sure how that would work for a Link trip.

      1. Hmm… I guess I’ll just use Car2Go then. Nice job, Seattle. Do you want visitors to use public transit?

      2. Many of us have been asking Metro to institute a day pass or maximum daily fare, but so far it hasn’t. And Metro’s budget is tight right now. But the fact that you’re thinking of driving because of it is concrete evidence to show we need it.

        Metro does give free paper transfers worth a bit more than two hours. ST does not, and does not accept Metro’s transfers. But if you’re sticking to inner Seattle tourist spots you won’t use ST, except for light rail from the airport.

        Metro used to have a day pass on weekends, but that disappeared with budget problems and the transition to ORCA.

Comments are closed.