Fresh off of its unanimous approval for the creation of a Transportation Benefit District needed for the sales-tax and car-tab increase that is expected to be on the ballot in April, the King County Council will have a hearing on Tuesday, February 18 at 1:30 p.m. on Metro’s fare change proposal.

The proposed low-income fare has been a pet project of the Seattle Transit Riders Union, and has received a lot of support from this blog’s staff. Editor-in-Chief Martin Duke called for a low-income ORCA long before TRU existed.

Answering the call to incentivize ORCA use by making cash fares more expensive than electronic fares, Metro is proposing to make the low-income fare only available electronically. That important element of the program will end up helping fund the program through travel-time efficiencies. It will also give non-low-income riders whose rides will have just gotten faster a reason to like the program, and thereby help the program survive.

But now, TRU and the Seattle Human Services Coalition are calling for the low-income fare to be reduced to $1. In principle, I’d love to see that. In practice, such an outcome would require the youth fare to also be rolled back to $1 (from its current $1.25) in order to avoid making the line for the low-income ORCA a lot longer and creating significant additional administrative burden in perpetuity.

Reducing service in order to fund the low-income fare helps nobody, which is why the implementation of the low-income fare should be contingent upon the passage of the sales-tax/car-tab increase.

Even if the low-income fare and the tax package aren’t explicity linked, the financial reality is that if the tax package fails, the county council will have to scrap the low-income fare program in order to preserve more service.

Everyone who wants to see the low-income fare program become a reality needs to get behind the tax package.

Thank you to all of the County Councilmembers for taking the lead in saving Metro bus service!

79 Replies to “Want the low-income fare? Support the sales-tax/car-tab increase.”

  1. Low income riders who want to pay a low income fare are already getting to do that. It’s called the fare. Bus and train rides are heavily subsidized, allowing people to ride for a fraction of its real cost. Compare a $80 to $90 monthly bus pass to the $700 dollars a month many car drivers pay to operate their cars (much of which goes to subsidizing public transit), and you begin to see that instead of sticking their hand out demanding even more of a break, they should be thankful and grateful for existence of generous Bellevue taxpayers like myself.

    1. One more thing. And I honestly believe this. You may think I sound heartless, but I agree with this quote: “Charity is injurious unless it helps the recipient to become independent of it.” Guess what happens when you give people a suite of income tested benefits with no time limit? Many become reluctant to give them up. More than once in my life someone’s told me, “I can’t get a job because I’ll lose my benefits.” So you can sit there and think you’re doing the compassionate thing and cutting someone a break by creating a new benefit for the poor, like this low income bus fare, when in fact what you are really doing is locking them into a lifetime of dependency and poverty.

      1. BTW, I fail to see how a discount is charity. The low-income rider is paying Metro, not vice versa. Thanks for warning me about all the folks who will quit their jobs just so they can pay Metro only $54 a month. Brilliant personal budgeting move!

      2. Having known some people who were on public assistance, I think you’re misinterpreting the “but I’d lose my benefits” reaction. In most cases it’s not that these people are lazy and don’t want to work; it’s that any job they could land would not pay enough to support them, but would cause them to lose the benefits they would need to bridge the gap.

        A good example of this was a friend I knew who was on disability for health problems — chronic fatigue and brittle diabetes. If he got a job, he lost his government health benefits, but any job he could land would probably not provide health insurance coverage; plus he had no way of riding out the waiting period for coverage to start. (You can’t just decide to go without insulin for a few weeks.)

        People like this are essentially “trapped” in the system. We need to be more generous about allowing people to earn income for a while while still drawing benefits, to avoid this. The current system seems to be designed on the theory that it’s better to punish a hundred people who are trying to do the right thing than to risk one person freeloading, though.

      3. Note that when someone qualifies for the low-income ORCA, she or he qualifies for 2 years at a time. So, the immediate-loss-of-benefits effect Orv describes doesn’t apply to this program.

    2. Thank you for your $20 car tab, Sam. Thank you for the $1.66 you pay to subsidize Metro each and every month. You’re welcome for the $30 in free-ride tickets you got for your car tab, making you a net contributor of -$10 to Metro this year.

      You’re welcome for the senior discount worth up to $81 a month, and the $18 monthly discount over what low-income riders will be paying.

      1. Are you referring to the local road improvements that are funded through the local portion of the sales tax that I pay?

    3. “they should be thankful and grateful for existence of generous Bellevue taxpayers like myself”,

      “they should be thankful and grateful for existence of pompous tools like myself”


  2. From the link above to KC’s proposal:
    “Do any other cities and counties have similar fares for people with low incomes?
    Very few transit agencies offer reduced fares for people with low incomes. Kitsap Transit is the only other agency in Washington that offers one. San Francisco Muni is perhaps the only comparably sized transit agency that offers this kind of reduced fare.”
    Proposing another round of tax hikes on motorists to pay for Metro shortages, and offering another government run program to give away services to someone else is a bad message to lead your campaign with.
    Peter Pan may disagree though.

    1. The reason for the low-income fare is it makes the regular fare hike more politically acceptable. “You can’t raise fares on the backs of the poor! They’re already higher than peer agencies. What are the poor going to do if they can’t afford to either take the bus or drive?” And the reason the fares are going up is that the tax base is too narrow. It used to be like an elephant standing on a platform, but the platform has been shrunk so it’s now standing on a ball, even while the citizens are voting with their feet and increasing ridership.

      1. Implying the poor are doing all the heavy lifting on the fare increase is hyperbole. OMG, what will they do? is more FUD.
        You realize Metro is creating a whole new taxing authority (that makes 3 just for transit in KC now) just to solve it’s income/expense problems. Creating a whole new bureaucracy to administer low income fares is but another expansion into uncharted waters.
        Your last sentence is wrong. Local taxes are up since 2008 for operations ($310 to $420m in 4 years), while ridership remains flat for the same period. Balancing an elephant on a ball is not a good analogy as to what is going on here.
        Government officials drunk driving to the edge of a cliff at 100 mph would be more appropriate.

      2. I’d say the low-income fare is less about the fare increase and more about countering the regressive nature of a flat car tab fee. With the low income fare the overall package may be progressive, as the poorest people stand to pay less under the current scenario than the status quo.

      3. Wait. Hasn’t Mic always criticized rail as taking away from the money available to run the bus system? I guess it really is the case of another BRT-is-better-than-rail fan, who then doesn’t support the bus system. Shocking!

        Expecting Metro to run under the same amount of money without adjusting for inflation would be a more likely description of fiscal-cliff budgeting. Remind me not to let Mic do the budgeting.

      4. Brent: My complaint has been consistent since ST was formed. Creating new revenue streams, by creating new taxing authorities is exactly what is happening here.
        Transit is Transit, whether it’s a bus, train, brt, or gondola. If gondolas do a better job moving people than buses or trains I would advocate for that too.
        Now, check you facts. Local taxes since 1996, when ST was split off of Metro, have risen 400% in King County, or 260% if you account for inflation. In the same period, Metro and ST ridership has only grown by 50%.
        Feeding the beast unlimited and endless quantities of cash is not producing very good results so far.
        “Just wait until Lynnwood opens !” you shout.
        Yeah, and I have a bridge to sell you too.

      5. I’m definitely not buying your bridge, mic. We’re talking about revenue for Metro, not ST. Repeatedly talking about how ST has spent so much money building U-Link, Northgate Link, Lynnwood Link, Angle Lake Station, and East Link, and yet these stations have yet to produce any new ridership (perhaps because they aren’t open yet?), is so transparently deceptive that it discredits your arguments against funding Metro.

      6. For Sale: Single Family Pyramid, located on 100 acres of fertile Nile delta, built at enormous expense over many years. One owner.
        Just because transit is building gigantic stations, taking decades to complete, by no means assures they will be any better than a simple bus grid in generating ridership. Plowing billions into our modern day statements of wealth has been a fools errand.
        So far, after 20 years, transit is losing the battle against the car. I wish it were different!
        Keep drinking the kool-aid Brent.

      7. Correct. That is why we’re building grade-separated connections between those stations, as well. If there were a cheaper way of getting full grade-separation with comparable speeds and capacity, I’d be all for it.

        Also, you haven’t explained why Sound Transit’s expenditures – even assuming for the sake of argument that it’s a waste of money – argue against funding Metro.

      8. because 95% of all trips taken in the region DO NOT rely on ‘Transit’ (regardless of name or livery), yet all tax payers contribute to transit as a needed government service. I agree it is a needed service and we should demand more of it. Unfortunately, after spending over 10 billion dollars over the last 20 years, transit has yet to show any meaningful gains in overall mode share. They should be held jointly accountable.
        When your tax bill arrives, it’s one number, whether on the sales receipt, DOL statement, or Assessor notice. Transit is in the same boat, so you can’t pick and choose the good from the bad to make your case.
        Looking at ST projections of how the long range plan will work, show over half of all trips will be completed on both MT and ST vehicles. If that’s not ‘joined at the hip’ then I don’t know what is.

      9. Mic,

        You still haven’t explained why you keep trotting out these huge numbers for transit line construction on lines that haven’t opened yet, and whine that the ridership on these unopended lines has not met expectations. If they haven’t opened yet, it is reasonable to expect exactly zero riders on them. And that’s what they’ve gotten. The unopened lines have exactly met expectations.

        So, how is starving Metro into huge cuts going to improve ridership?

      10. I was fine just objecting to creating another layer of govt for Metro when they already have one, and two if you count the layer they spun off for HCT in 1996 called the RTA. But you baited me into discussion on why Metro needed more money.
        Brent says: “Expecting Metro to run under the same amount of money without adjusting for inflation would be a more likely description of fiscal-cliff budgeting. Remind me not to let Mic do the budgeting.”
        to which I did the digging you seem to be afraid of doing, and now here we are full circle.
        Taxpayers in general do not look at our fractured transit infrastructure in a vacuum, but rather lump it all under one category. Choices made two decades ago to tunnel and build grand stations have cost us dearly in time to deliver services, and debt that will overhang this region for many more decades.
        Brent, you know there were more logical choices that were ignored for politically hubris reasons, such as using CPS and a portion of the reversible lanes to get to the U Dist for that line, and deal with 1st/Cap Hill with a surface circulator. Getting south to the airport did not have to bore a tunnel under Beacon Hill, when the Dearborn surface option was available down MLK. Skipping S.Center, but going along I-5 did not have to happen, as 99 was still very much a viable option. Skewing the numbers to serve the entire Eastside with real BRT on I-90 has led us to a wasteful ELink alignment that serves very few trips in relation to it’s cost with a mere handful of stops.
        The list keep growing and expecting redemption day in 2016 or 2023 is more folly on your part.
        We are experiencing the results of poor planning decisions. Adding more taxing districts, and innovative taxes for transit will not change the outcome. In 10 years (if not sooner), Metro will be back asking for it’s full authority of another 1/10 sales tax and $40 more for tabs. Then what? Another new transit district scheme? I think 3 (4 if you count the foot ferry) is plenty so far.

      11. mic, calling the TBD a “new bureaucracy” is totally disingenuous, and you know better. Like the existing TBD (which will, in any case, dissolve if the new TBD is voted in), it won’t have a single official. It’s just a device to funnel funding to Metro and King County Roads.

        Of course it would be ideal if we could just fund Metro at the level it needs without going through the artifice of establishing a new district, but our infinitely wise servants in the state legislature see that as not to be desired.

      12. Thank you for clarifying that Sound Transit is your primary target, and the complaint about ridership is a red herring on your part.

        You can see full Metro buses and full Sound Transit buses everywhere you go. You can also see empty ones if you hang out at the route termini, or course. A good transit planner knows that a full bus with no more room for standing passengers means more capacity has to be invested in that route. Even international award-winning planners can grasp this one. Metro has relatively new service guidelines that allow that investment to happen, even in a no-new-service-hours situation. Sound Transit, for its part, has also been moving service hours to where the packed ridership is.

        Metro has been investing in capital projects to make some bus routes faster, and thereby be able to deliver the same (better, really) service using fewer service hours. The E Line demonstrated this principle really well. I can recall the 358 taking an hour, late at night. The E Line took a brisk 50 minutes, with enough riders to fill all the seats and more, in a moderate-traffic Saturday morning run. That’s your tax dollars working more efficiently and effectively for you in perpetuity. Don’t like trains? Then support faster bus lines when they are on the table. That, of course, would mean supporting the ballot proposition in April. Starve Metro, and you’ll keep them from bringing the capital route improvements, which will only build the case for passenger rail as the only way to get large numbers of riders around the region fast.

      13. OK, let’s focus on Metro, just after the recession in 2008 and then four years later in 2012. Now compare these results to peer agencies. Should poor financial and operational practices be continually rewarded with more cash, regardless of the mechanism you conjure up to collect it with.
        In 2008 Metro had 123m annual unlinked trips, costing $550m, for and avg of $4.47 per trip (Source: NTDB, all trips/all costs). In 2012, trips were down slightly, but cost rose to $634m, raising the avg cost per trip to $5.28. How is that becoming a lean, mean, operation?
        Now compare that to some other agencies fighting the same battles of declining ridership and dwindling tax bases during the same period.
        San Diego managed to keep their cost per rider at $2.53, which is less than half that of Metro, while their budget grew only $22m.
        Las Vegas, Portland, Boston, Phoenix, Sacramento and Salt Lake City also performed better ($2.80 to $5.21 per rider) than we did. Denver, Oakland, and Dallas had poorer results.
        My bigger point is this.
        We should be looking to provide more and better transit at lower unit costs, and look to our neighbors who seem to know how to do that, rather than blindly wandering down the path of high costs forever.

      14. Okay, mic,

        Tell us about these best practices by peer agencies (of which I don’t seriously count San Diego or Las Vegas) that you want Metro to adopt.

      15. Brent, I’m pretty sure it will come down to “cut driver pay,” applied without regard to either safety results from an experienced workforce or cost of living in the respective city.

        Of the agencies mic listed, only the bus part of the MBTA in Boston is truly a comparable agency to Metro. The rest are several times smaller. Other true peer agencies by ridership and size of service area include WMATA, San Francisco Muni, and the Baltimore MTA. Metro is doing better than all of those, although none of them sets the bar very high.

      16. Brent and now David:
        This thread is all but bare now, so let’s see if you get your next tax bump in April. If yes, we can wait a couple of more years to deal with inefficiencies in the system and continue doing business as usual. If No, then we should have a separate post on ways to improve Metro’s bottom line, as the ax begins to fall on service as I predict. I’ll be in there waist deep.
        I doubt any of my ideas now would convince either of you two, and the rest of the readers have left the party.
        BTW, you have done a good job of holding the party line. I wouldn’t expect any less of staff.

      17. mic, I’m watching too. So if you want to share your ideas for improving Metro’s efficiency, there’re at least three people who’d love to hear them.

  3. If it weren’t for an enormous subsidy called an interstate highway system- intended to carry trucks, tanks, and cannons in case of an attack on both coasts- Bellevue would still be a cow-pasture. Also, you might talk to Securitas and Olympic for a quote on seventy years of private enforcement for the oil to let you run I-405 and I-90 at five miles an hour twice a day, stuffed with cars like a chute with hogs.

    My average travel day right now is about sixty miles’ driving and sixty transit. Losing the transit would cost me a lot more than the extra gas- like a new car a lot sooner. For me, transit taxes go into the same personal budget column as tires, wiper blades, spark plugs, and the more expensive parts that wear out with mileage.

    Including my own body-parts and temper that mandatory involuntary presence stuck in car traffic .ears out like a hundred miles of logging road.

    Careful who you’re calling a bum, Sam. Unless you’re in your nineties, a lot of surviving people a lot older than you might wish they had back the money they paid all their lives educating you- especially since it doesn’t seem to have accomplished very much. Could have bought them each a new Tesla. Handout? More like overdue payment for services rendered.

    And best show some respect for younger people. Guessing your age by your attitude toward senior passes, considering the financial condition of the country your generation is passing along to the next generation, compared to the one that was left to you, when your rightful heirs demand an accounting, no court will cut you much slack.

    Mark Dublin

    1. And should have read “wears”, not “ears.” With all this damned socialism, Sam, I had to fire my editor!


  4. This seems like a political mistake to me. There’s been a lot of talk about the “funding crisis”, but not a whole lot of talk about cost cutting, or even cost control. Talking to people, it seems to me that the proposed tax increase would be a pretty heavy lift at the best of times. Is it really a good idea to go out to voters and tell them, “We have a funding problem with transit. In response, we’re cutting fares, and are making no effort to change the rapid upward trajectory of labor costs, so we need to raise your taxes avoid cuts?” Perhaps this sells well in Seattle, but the rest of KingCo, not so much.

    1. Without the low-income fare program, transit opponents will cry desert lizard tears about how “regressive” the revenue package is. It also makes the fare increase compliant with Title VI, almost by definition.

      Frankly, the low-income fare will still be not much less than the regular fare in most peer agencies. Just look at the fares for the other agencies in Washington State. Metro’s fares are pricey.

      1. Some might.

        But even _with_ the low-income fare we’re seeing elected officials complaining about the regressiveness of the tax.

        Moreover, for all the whining about how high fares are, we still only manage to collect about 30% of operating costs, which is about average. Do we have particularly high levels of fare avoidance? Or are our costs abnormally high?

      2. Our costs are obscenely high on a per-rider-served basis. And no sane person would argue that’s because we serve riders especially well or make trips especially expedient.

        The overwhelming — and not inaccurate — sense that we already pay more for less, and that Metro is a terrible steward of the money it already gets, is the true danger to passage of the tax package.

      3. Why is that the case? Despite how bad Metro is at running truly urban services, are other agencies, by and large, any better?

      4. William, I think it’s due to a couple of factors:

        1. The relatively high cost of living and average wage level in Seattle, especially given our size.
        2. The relatively long length (geographical distance) of the average Metro trip.

        Here’s an article from the TMP that talks about Metro’s costs. If you look at page 5-13, you can see that the routes within Seattle actually perform fairly well — the cost per boarding is lower than in Portland, and the cost per boarding for the trolleybus network is comparable to Vancouver. But Metro as a whole is burdened with a number of regional services that are much more expensive on a per-rider basis.

      5. Aleks: Two things stuck out to me in that report

        1) Just how few boardings we get per revenue hour outside of Seattle
        2) Just how expensive Seattle revenue hours are.

      6. Yeah, it’s not so simple as Metro’s defensive spin would imply.

        Paying a respectable wage is awesome in the abstract, but the operators’ union is notorious for skewing overtime rules so that a very large portion of this particular high-cost line item accrues to a small number of senior drivers approaching retirement (or receiving inflated pensions).

        Meanwhile, it’s nearly impossible to fire anyone, ever, no matter how incompetent they may be. And there has never been a culture of ongoing retraining to ensure efficient driving habits and to yield a system that responds well to common problems like bus bunching (fucking pass!).

        Metro’s wide coverage area certainly contributes to inflated per-trip costs, but that doesn’t excuse its clinging to grossly inefficient routing choices and uncoordinated redundancies anywhere in the system. Overly complex systems are inherently less efficient. When every bus you run spends 20 minutes within a mile of downtown, whether carrying dozens of people or carrying three, that’s a lot of expense for no tangible mobility benefit.

        What it really boils down to is that Metro has a mission to serve a lot of places at a lot of times, but makes the choice to do most things terribly. Yes, it’s a choice. Scheduling every meandering off-peak route to move at 7 mph in no traffic — and then still somehow being late all the time and missing connections — is a choice. Having no good bunching protocol so that three dozen people will be waiting on Denny for 30 minutes for a bus they can literally see — that’s a choice.

        Bad choices drive away riders. So Metro’s modeshare is awful for non-downtown commutes, and wretched for every type of non-commute trip. That means there are a ton of people not buying into the system — not daily, not monthly. And so the revenue get from the 8-10% of the total urban population that ever bothers with them doesn’t add up to a hill of beans, no matter what the official fare.

        If you want a system with high recovery and good efficiency metrics, build a system that people actually want to use! You’ll be shocked how the revenue pours in.

      7. d.p., one thing always strikes me when Metro tries to make an efficiency change: those people affected by the change almost always see it as a negative. For example, some people up here in Lake City at the breakfast place were complaining about Metro proposing to cancel the 72 and replace it with 7-day 372 runs. That’s a faster, straighter, more efficient trip, and the people who ride the 72 don’t like it. Every single time we hear about a route restructure or a timing change or a system-wide shakeup, people write to the King County Council and demand that Metro be “reigned in” from these “reckless” changes. The NIMBYs exist, even in the world of folks who ride transit.

        Considering the beating Metro took after the 2011 “big bang” service restructure, I’m not at all shocked that bad, inefficient routes remain. Since Metro has to go back to the voters every couple of years to beg for more money, they’re stuck with having to play the political game AND try to run an efficient system in front of voters who are waiting to pounce on every single mistake.

        We’ve gotten ourselves to the same place with Metro as we have with wider politics. A set of loud, minority voices is shouting down sane reforms and insisting that the people who run the government–or any government entity–are troglodytes who can’t be trusted. You’re darn right Metro can’t make any substantive, major improvements. Any ambitious scheme, like David’s Frequent Network Plan, wouldn’t make it past the Council after the avalanche of letters and phone calls.

        Does the foregoing excuse Metro? No, and yes. No, insofar as they should be eking out efficiency gains wherever possible, but yes in that I wouldn’t want to take the beating and neither do the folks who run Metro.

      8. @Brent: KCM’s “peer agencies” aren’t other agencies in Washington state. These agencies (and rural agencies generally) don’t do any better on subsidy per ride than Metro does. But they operate much less service per taxpayer, meaning less subsidy per-taxpayer and lower tax rates. Large agencies that operate lots of service generally need higher fares and higher taxes. They use more money and, hopefully, do more with it.

        That doesn’t mean there aren’t things Metro should do to make more of the money it takes in… it just means the relevant points of comparison are agencies in similar cities.

      9. The rural agencies have no evening or Sunday service, and “frequent” for them means half-hourly. They also don’t run to every residential neighborhood, just along highways and park n rides and shopping centers. So they don’t have the majority of expenses Metro has. But at the same time, because they focus only on high-volume commuting and hourly daytime service for the elderly, they aren’t a viable alternative for choice riders who would like to use it for non-commute trips. That’s the tradeoff. Rural areas don’t expect full-time service and don’t want to pay for it, but urban areas do.

      10. The public responds to levels of convenience. In New York the subways come every couple minutes, and 20 minutes night owl, and the buses are similar, so the majority don’t even have cars. In Chicago and San Francisco, buses come ever 5-10 minutes daytime, in a complete grid, and half-hourly night owls spaced every mile. So ridership there is huge. In Seattle we’ve gotten better from our “suburban” level of service in the 1980s, but it’s still not anywhere near the level where you’d see San Francisco-type ridership.

        The problem with your 260% increase is not that it’s too much, but that it’s not enough. The closer we reach full-time frequent service and a full Link buildout, the closer we’ll be to the tipping point where ridership increases dramatically. Then more people will say, “It’s convenient to get around by transit” and “My car is more trouble than it’s worth.” That’s where we want to be. But if you just cut off upgrades at this early stage, we’ll never reach that point.

        The Seattle, Bellevue, Metro, CT, etc, transit master plans are all pretty consistent: we need a network at least halfway toward Chicago’s. That will cost more than your 260%, but it’s what we need. RapidRide sucks because they tried to do it low-budget.

        I do wish we didn’t have to have three more funding sources for transit. But it’s because each of them maxes out at a low level due to state-imposed restrictions.

        Today the RapidRide E inauguration riders ended at 145th in Jackson Park, and one went home to Seward Park. With ST2 Link it would be a fast, reliable, frequent trip all the way to Othello Station. But because it’s not running yet we had to take the 348+41 (or 73 end-to-end), and get stuck in the massive traffic jam on I-5. Likewise, many people go from the U-District to south Seattle or other places beyond downtown. Without Link, it adds 20-30 minutes to every trip. With Link, the overhead drops to almos zero, and they may be able to take it to a station closer to their destination (rather than just to downtown). All these people who say the billions of dollars aren’t worth it are either ignoring or not realizing these benefits it will provide.

      11. …Which is why charging $2.50 today for something that is simply not $2.50-worthy is a great way to send yourself into a death spiral of irrelevance. It’s Malready cheaper to car2go some trips of not-insignificant distance.

        A marginal revenue bump, with a only a (demonstrated) temporary ability to sustain a structurally broken system — having made little-to-no systemic operational improvement, they’ll be back in another two years, begging for more — probably isn’t worth turning yourself into an irrelevant laughing stock for anyone with better options.

    2. Oh, and lest we forget, ca. $50 million of this annual revenue increase is going to local transportation funding needs. In the suburbs, that probably translates into improved street maintenance.

    3. They’re not “cutting fares”–they’re adding a low-income option, but they’re raising fares for everyone else.

    4. The cost cutting has been going on since 2008. Metro has cut everything else to keep the buses running. Now it can’t cut any further without affecting bus service.

  5. Jarrett Walker at Human Transit wrote something similar to this about Portland ( Here’s the most important part:

    ‘A dispute in Portland is bringing to light the age old question of whether fare cuts or service increases are the best way to “improve” transit. Both options improve ridership.

    The high-level answer is pretty simple.

    If you want transit to be mainly for low-income people who have a low value of time, cut fares, as this is an improvement targeted to benefit only the cost-sensitive. By not improving service, this choice may also lead to an increased “stigma” around transit as it is perceived, with increasing accuracy, as a low-quality experience that is of no relevance to people who have choices.

    If you want transit to be useful to a broad spectrum of the population, increase service.
    Cutting fares is good for lower-income people, while increasing service is good for almost everyone, including many low-income people.’

    1. I’ve read that analysis of Jarrett Walker before and while I don’t disagree with its merits, I think it is inapplicable here. There is a fundamental difference between lowering the base fare and lowering the fare for a subset of riders. In particular, the plan B proposal calls for both an increase in the base fare and a reduction in fair for low income riders, which is not possible in the scenario proposed by Jarrett. The net result of plan B is additional fare recovery over no fare policy change. In this way the policy can both help those who are cost sensitive as well as making service better for “those who have choices.”

      Of course without the low income far you could have even more service, but the key distinction is that lowering the fare for everybody basically states: “this service is for people who are very cost-sensitive”, while creating a low income fare and raising the base fare still states: “this service is for everybody.”

      1. I agree with all of that, but that doesn’t absolve Metro of recognizing that less cost-sensitive people make mental calculations of worth all the time, and that they may balk at $2.50 or $2.75 for a service that at best moves like a smelly snail and at worst completely screws up your day every third or fourth time you use it.

        I may not be the best person to comment on this thread today, as yesterday I had two separate experiences so excruciating that I seriously doubted my ability to vote for more no-strings-attached funding.

      2. But if you don’t vote for it, what’s the alternative? Metro is not going to magically start doing everything you want it to do because they are starved of funds. Rather, they will keep offering the same service as before, but less frequently and ending earlier in the evening.

        It also doesn’t particularly help things that right when Metro is on the verge of making huge cuts to evening service, the city is on the verge of regulating private-sector services out of existence that fill in the gaps.

      3. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: When I return from a day or night out and around Seattle during which I got repeatedly and dramatically screwed by Metro incompetence… I. Do. Not. Give. A. Shit.

        And that goes for everyone who has a recent memory of being fucked over by Metro.

        Which is everyone who ever tries to use the system, because the failures are so excruciatingly routine.

        Metro needs a Rider’s Bill of Rights. It needs a cultural overhaul that reorganizes every aspect of every employee’s job around making sure the trip experience is smooth and fast and reliable. That means better crisis management, better training, better information delivery, and an insistence that stupid and incompetent people (e.g. who sit at one intersection for ten mintues because they can’t problem-solve) do not get to keep their jobs for life.

        You’re right that 17% cuts would be painful. But more painful than what I already get for $2.50? Not necessarily. Maybe the need to stop dicking around and move the damned vehicles forward will finally get through to people at all levels of the organization. Maybe route consolidations actually happen. Maybe someone realizes that more service is better than quasi-clockface bullshit used in no high-functioning transit systems on earth.

        I’m seriously tempted to vote against the tax package just to finally give some fucking shock therapy to those in charge.

  6. I don’t see how this has a positive impact for most low-income riders. Just like they were harmed by the institution of ORCA — which is obviously good for the system overall — they will be harmed by this. How many low-income riders are not going to get an ORCA card, or are not going to have a nearby machine to put a few bucks on every time they want to ride, or don’t have standard access to internet and debit cards to have the cards reload all the time?

    More importantly, how many low-income folks will be hit by a tax on their cars which they need to own because they have to drive to/from work because transit either doesn’t serve their neighborhoods or schedule frequency drops off at night/early morning/weekends when they most need to commute to work?

    This sounds like more “feel-good” politics to get the package passed by voters. I’d love to see actual data on low-income ridership.

    1. Could you explain how low income riders have been hurt by ORCA? How about how they are going to be hurt by the institution of a low income fare, considerably lower than the fare they currently are (at least in theory) required to pay?

      The car tax impact will be less than the benefit they get from the low income fare if they take one bus roundtrip (or a single two zone peak journey) a month.

      Housing, food, and gasoline aren’t subject to sales tax. What are they buying that’s taxable? Let’s say they spend 2000 dollars a month — that’s 24K a year on things other than rent, food or gas — they’ll be spending another 2 dollars in sales tax a month. So another round trip a month.

      So after two round trips a month, this is pretty clearly a net win for your hypthetical low income person. No doubt there will be low income people this hurts, but on balance, not if they are regular tranmsit usersa.

    2. Houston has machines on its buses allowing people to stick in cash and refill their equivalent of Orca cards while on board the bus – no credit card or internet connection required. There is nothing stopping Seattle from doing the same thing.

    3. If low-income riders don’t get an ORCA card, that’s their problem. As for refilling it, they only have to determine the one venue that’s closest to their house and they’ll go there repeatedly. It’s like how people choose their primary ATM: you only need one of them. If there aren’t enough locations to get the card and not enough venues to refill them, those are smaller problems that can be addressed individually.

  7. The sales tax already disproportionately falls on the heads of the poor.

    Now you’re going to be making a fraction of them pay even more to subsidize transit which may or may not be used by the others (transit in this case being a codeword for paying Ed Murray’s staffers higher salaries).

    Initiate a SIT — tax on passive income from assets.

    1. Awesome. Which law allows the King County Council to do that or which proposal in the state legislature would give the Council that ability and also stand a snowball’s chance of passing before the service cuts begin?

    2. Mr. Bailo, go through the math. Someone earning $23,000 (200% of the federal poverty level) will certainly not spend more than $23,000 on sales-taxable items in a year. So, the most additional sales tax any low-income qualifier could pay per year due to this ballot proposition is 0.1% of that, or $23. Given the lack of sales tax on food from the grocery store or rent, the real life hit on low-income qualifiers is much, much lower than that, probably not more than a couple bucks per year. Most who qualify and get the low-income ORCA will make a profit within one or two round trips.

      The car tab is the much more regressive portion of the revenue plan, and the council is working on a rebate proposal for low-income car tab payers.

      1. Brent,
        It’s the proportion of income that goes towards taxes that is the issue, not the total amount of sales tax paid. To address this, it would be better if low-income advocate’s efforts were spent on creating a state-wide “debit card” that would be designed to reduce the amount of regression of the sales tax than try to mitigate the regressive sales tax through alternative means such as a low-income fare. It could possibly refund a portion of the sales tax at point of purchase. To me, it seems as if the low-income fare is treating a symptom, but not curing the patient.

        That $23 could mean a lot to a person, almost $2 per month which is a train ride through downtown Seattle.

      2. J.,

        The $23, as I said, is a ceiling, but no no-income qualifier is going to come anywhere close to that. The concern about the effect on the poor from this 0.1% sales tax increase is goofy.

        The low-income fare isn’t designed to single-handedly get people out of poverty. It is designed to merely enable people who have at least some income to have mobility without breaking their bank. So, no, it won’t cure every straw ailment someone could bring up.

        As for allowing all low-income people to have a debit (or credit?) card that bypasses sales tax, I can see how that would help some people get jobs tagging along with everyone who wants to buy some big-ticket items. The poor person uses the credit card, and the actual buyer refunds in cash. That would wipe out the sales tax revenue stream real fast.

      3. A statewide debit card sounds like a good complement to the infrastructure bank some people are calling for. Have a state-sponsored bank for state purposes, rather than paying fees to out-of-state national banks.

      4. That, or join a credit union. Several of them have progressive interest-rate structures that offer the highest rate for the first $500 in savings and/or checking, and then the rate drops off.

      5. Credit unions don’t offer business accounts, or at least BECU didn’t when I inquired once. So they can’t be the state’s bank or an infrastructure bank unless that changes. Whether they’d want to paricipate in a program for tax-advantaged debit cards may be another question, if their bylaws allow that kind of account.

      6. My wife has a business account at BECU. So yes, it’s possible. I don’t know that BECU offers the kinds of services that a government would need, though.

  8. A devel­oped coun­try is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use pub­lic trans­port
    – para­phrased from Enrique Penalosa, for­mer Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia

    To encourage more rich people to ride, we should look at a fare discount for the high-income earners also.

    1. A lot of folks with six-figure incomes do have a fare discount: their employer pays for a transit pass with an end-user cost of $0.00.

  9. Speaking of screwing around with perks, I just turned 63, looking forward to getting that $1.00 regional ride in a couple of years. Will I be able to afford to pay more? Probably. Will I get the RRFP anyway? Yes. Unless KC wants to go to extremes to keep “geezers” like me out of their cars and on the buses, it seems reasonable seniors should pay the same as the proposed low income fare. Another option: raise the age level for the senior discount. But boo hoo….I can honestly say that great low fare will likely cause me to use my Orca purse more often, and use my bicycle less.

    Regarding fare evasion, I am not sure how much reducing it would put back into the coffers, but I liked the suggestion of one Metro driver who formerly drove a bus in LA – when someone boards and refuses to pay, driver calls the cops and waits for them to come escort them off the bus and run a check on their ID (often troublemakers). Sure it would disrupt service at first but after the message gets around, nobody tries it anymore. Of course, they can’t police the back door……

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