King County Metro’s Low Income Fare Options Advisory Committee has now issued its report and recommendations.
A general fare restructure proposal that may include some action on these recommendations is expected to go the county council in the next couple months.
At a recent forum sponsored by the Transportation Choices Coalition, a couple of committee members – Kate Joncas of the Downtown Seattle Association, and Alison Eisinger from the Seattle Coalition on Homelessness – were joined by Metro project director Doug Hodson to discuss the recommendations.
The recommendations, some of the discussion from the panel, and analysis, are below the fold.
Here are the recommendations of the Low-Income Fare Options Advisory Committee:
- A low-income fare program should be created.
- All fare categories, and the policy bases for them, should be evaluated in an effort to rationalize the fare structure and ensure greater equity.
- The Human Services ticket program should be maintained due to its important role in providing mobility for the homeless and those with no income through distribution of free tickets.
- A low-income fare program should minimize the burden on Metro, other agencies, and the people served.
- Rather than create a new entity, existing eligibility verification systems run by third-party agency partners that determine eligibility for existing benefit programs should be leveraged.
- An option to verify eligibility based on income should be made available for those not enrolled in other benefit programs and explored with agencies that already verify income or that would be willing to provide this service.
- Multiple funding sources should be evaluated to offset the financial impacts of a low-income fare program, including revising the existing fare box structure and other revenue sources.
- A low-income fare program should be considered as a beneficiary if the County has new increased revenue.
- This report should be transmitted to the heads of the agencies included in the ORCA Joint Board.
- King County and Sound Transit should coordinate on the implementation of a low-income fare when it is approved.
The panelists said the committee rejected the idea of using increased farebox revenue as a funding source. However, reading these recommendations, it appears more accurate to say the committee declined to specifically recommend using increased farebox revenue as a funding source, even though recommendations 5 and 6 point heavily toward doing just that.
One of the audience members brought up the question of whether Kitsap Transit’s low-income ORCA is honored by other agencies, including by paying the difference in fares in cash. The panelists were under the impression that this card is honored at its presumed face value ($1) and can be used on other services to get a $1 cash discount on fares. However, I called Kitsap Transit Customer Service and confirmed that (1) the card looks just like a regular blue ORCA; (2) that it is not honored by Kitsap Transit to pay the reduced fare with cash; and (3) that no other agency honors the low-income card feature, either for an electronic fare discount, nor for a cash fare discount. See the graphic at right, from page 35 of the appendices to the report.
I asked whether the committee had considered the question of requiring ORCA product to access the low-income fare, or allow such an ORCA to allow the holder to pay the reduced fare with cash. The two panelists who were LIFOAC committee members said they didn’t expect there to be special branding, but did expect it to allow holders to pay the reduced fare with cash, and that doing so enabled a more private and dignified fare process.
So, if Metro goes with the normal-looking pass that just happens to be programmed for the reduced fare, how would drivers know it is a reduced-fare card, so that they could accept the reduced cash fare? For the sake of dignity and privacy, hopefully they wouldn’t. That would mean no loaded product, no reduced fare.
For those of you who might say this defeats the point of the low-income fare option, I must point out: The low-income fare is for frequent riders who can’t afford to budget for a full fare over the long term. But getting caught once or twice without loaded ORCA product is going to get qualifying riders in the habit of loading up their card. It is not as if they are being denied service. So, this occasional hit isn’t a big deal, when we are not talking about no-income riders. But using this opportunity to bribe a quarter to a third of the ridership to use ORCA product would be a very big deal to all riders, who would notice and be grateful for the improved travel time, whether or not they qualify for the discount.
An audience member asked if the committee had considered letting human service agencies loan out ORCA cards with some loaded e-purse to their no-income clients. They had not. I haven’t heard of this approach before, so I’m wondering what others think.
In previous drafts there was a word “administrative” in the main sentence of what is now recommendation 4. Now, it can be interpreted to include operational burden. I’d submit that having lots of low-income riders fumbling cash, when they could have been coaxed into using ORCA product, may be a larger burden on Metro than the personnel cost of giving out the low-income cards and discounted fare product.