U.S. Census Bureau
U.S. Census Bureau

Now that a low-income fare is coming, it’s a valid question whether having a separate senior fare is defensible on social justice grounds. After all, seniors are the richest segment of society (see chart above) for all income quintiles, and the low income fare should handle any seniors who are truly in need. It’s hard to see why working adults should have to pay $2.25 and up for themselves and $1.25 for children while the senior fare remains locked at 75 cents.

Of course, seniors are a reliable voting block, but that’s an explanation, not a defense. Many businesses practice price discrimination to capture varying willingness to pay, including among seniors, so perhaps there’s business logic to the concept, if not the precise level. A better defense, at least from the perspective of local transit agencies, is Federal Transit Administration guidance:

For fixed route service supported with Section 5307 assistance, fares charged elderly persons, persons with disabilities or an individual presenting a Medicare card during off peak hours will not be more than half the peak hour fare.

So there is some capacity for the County to raise the Senior Fare, but not to bring it in line with what other adults pay. It’s notable that the first fare increase in the low-income fare era also inched up the senior fare, a process that if continued would bring it in line with the statutory maximum. This frees more revenue to either stabilize the low-income fare or buy more service.

75 Replies to “The Senior Fare is Forever”

  1. Most seniors are on fixed incomes, so even if that income isn’t “low” according to the low fare guidelines, it’s still a wise macroeconomic policy to keep the cost of living as low as possible for seniors. Raising fares on anyone flies in the face of social justice concerns.

    But then, we’re seeing transit advocacy become dominated by young men who have well paying jobs, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when the needs and concerns of others are routinely dismissed.

    1. I don’t understand why a high fixed income is more deserving of a discount than a low variable one. I disagree that raising fares on anyone is a social justice problem. Raising fares on people like me to fund service would absolutely be a progressive move, to the extent that such a thing is practical.

      I’m also not sure why raising the senior fare to lower the low-income fare — a specific suggestion in the post — feeds the young well-paid man agenda, but feel free to bring the axes from other debates to grind here.

      1. How is it sound macroeconomic policy to extend unneeded benefits to people on high fixed incomes? Subsidizing the bus rides of the wealthy does no good that I know of.

      2. Is there any guess just how many elderly wealthy actually use public transit?
        My guess is not enough to cost justify putting the rest of the elderly thru income qualification processes.

      3. It’s not necessarily progressive to raise fares on anyone at all. The most progressive way to fund public services is to pay for it through progressive taxation. Charging at the point of service is regressive since it requires people to have the ability to pay up front. This is why the most progressive public services, such as health care in Canada and the UK, do not require payment in exchange for service.

        I’m OK with letting a few rich seniors ride for a reduced fare, it doesn’t bother me. Use progressive taxation to get funding from them. Means testing is also widely regarded as not a progressive thing to do. As FWIW notes, the burden of proving eligibility routinely leads to reduced access to services.

        Finally, there is the macro point. Raising fares on seniors means you leave them with less money for other things, and that can be a drag on regional economic growth. I’d prefer those seniors use their limited funds on local goods and services, not on basic necessities like transit.

      4. I like taxes to support transit too! But your prescribed policy solutions have no relevance to the decision space for King County today.

        I agree that forcing income verification creates issues. However, the case for a senior fare lower than the low-income fare is extremely weak.

      5. FWIW: is there a guess as to how many of the non-elderly wealthy use public transit? I would guess not enough to require putting them through a complex income verification process.

        Fares should be the same for everyone. Discounts for “favored groups” may be made for business reasons (like bulk discounts), but should not be made as social policy. If the problem is that we have impoverished people, we need to fix the problem at its root by GIVING THEM MORE MONEY.

    2. In these days when neo-liberal economic thought bulldozes its way through established social contracts, it is particularly satisfying to discover some undeserving recipients of a public benefit. Ronald Reagan had his ‘welfare queens with Cadillacs’ and, of course, there are the recent outraged comments about folks “scamming” the disabled parking permit facility. Mr. Duke’s unease at the overall wealth distribution in America and its seeming contradiction to the need for ‘senior fares’ seems to fall into the same category of discourse. While it is certainly true that there are a lot of very rich people who have managed to survive to the age 65 plus, it does not follow that people of the age 65-plus who need and use public transit are very rich. It sounds so reasonable, so rational, to create an intervention in order that only the very very deserving seniors get a break on the cost of transit riding. But the opportunity costs of designing and creating a mechanism by which senior ‘deservedness’ would be proven, recorded, preserved, checked upon and surveiled strike me as likely exceeding the ‘savings’ to the fare boxes of America’s transit systems. I realize that this won’t cut it with Mr. Duke’s hard-eyed rationality, but most of the ‘seniors’ with whom I am familiar, are neither at the food bank, nor spending their spare time in Maui or Palm Springs. Some of the ‘wealth’ of seniors is a byproduct of lifetimes of working and saving, and for most of them, income tapers off quite fast after retirement. As I remember it, it was in the 1960s when senior rates began to appear–and they have been a much appreciated benefit ever since. Somehow begrudging this facility parallels the interesting dynamic in which members of today’s public who have lost their own pensions in corporations’ enhancement of shareholder value, will only be happy if those who still have good pensions lose theirs.

      So, if it will calm everyone, let the senior and ‘affordable’ fares match, but don’t launch into a general assault on senior fares–which, as I recall, in Portland are fares for “honored citizens.”

      1. Um, you wouldn’t have to create anything. Just piggyback on the soon-to-be-existing Low Income Fare verification process.

    3. Robert,

      I realize you may not have been around Seattle then, but Martin was probably the first to publicly call for a low-income fare. Search STB’s archives to see how STB has steadily pushed the issue.

      I don’t think anyone here is going to argue that raising fares is preferable to raising taxes to fund bus service. But raising fares can sometimes be preferable to cutting service. That is a case-by-case debate, not a battle of ideological absolutism. If you want to make the case that the service that could be funded by the fare increase Martin is hinting at is not worth funding, then make that case.

    4. Absolute nonsense, Robert.

      Frankly, young people are just as likely to be on fixed incomes as people over 65. You do know that the “mandatory retirement age” was eliminated back in the 1980s? Lots of people over 65 work. Lots of people under 65 don’t work, often involuntarily.

      Age discrimination is bullshit. Ideally, you wouldn’t need any of this because everyone would have enough income to live on. But short of that (which requires *national* policy changes), the low-income fare should be all you need. Except that people with disabilities have exceptionally high *expenses* (because we don’t have a National Health Service like the UK, or even single-payer like Canada, so they have to pay lots in medical). So a disability fare is needed too.

      … so I don’t see the justification for an extra “I made it to over 65 healthy and with a high income” discount. That’s insane.

  2. Very interesting. I bet you could get an exemption though, if you cared to go through the effort. Since low-income fares are presumably not required by the FTA, you just have to prove that your low-income fare is actually better than their requirement:

    1. Set senior fares at $1.25.
    2. Make low-income fares $1.00 or something lower than half of full fare or the senior fare.
    3. Tell the FTA you want to ensure that all low-income users to get the lowest fare, but can’t afford it without getting rid of the senior fare.

    The main issue, I think, is identification. A Medicare card or an ID that shows you’re over 65 is something almost every senior has, but having something that shows you’re eligible for low-income fares is probably much less common. If you end up having a bunch of low-income seniors that end up frequently paying full fare because they don’t have any income verification, it all falls apart.

    Then again this is probably 90% political so maybe it’s impossible.

    1. Good point about the friction associated with verification. But equalizing the low income fare with the senior fare seems like a no-brainer.

    2. Many transit outfits charge the same fare for youth and seniors, usually half the adult fare. And many European countries allow students over 18 to ride for reduced fare as well. Makes sense.

      1. It would make sense if the over-65s were actually poorer than the 18-65s. In the US, as a whole, the *opposite* is true right now; there’s been some very nasty economic shifts.

        Right now, the senior discount is encouraged by federal law, but in practice it amounts to a penalty for the under-65 working person.

  3. I think looking at wealth alone is perhaps the wrong way to think about this. The median household, per your numbers, has about 170K in wealth at retirement. At, say, 5%, that’s about $8,500 in annual income before Social Security. In other words, not a lot.

    The median 45-54-something household has about $80K in wealth, but they also have about $60K in labor income, and can expect to maintain that 10-20 years into the future. So I’m not convinced the typical senior looks rich once you factor both wealth and income.

    Since few seniors have meaningful non-social security income, requiring seniors to show low income for a reduced fare wouldn’t reduce eligibility much. But it would throw up a thicket of red tape that might be more than the savings. Obviously, the politics are horrible too.

    1. I agree that wealth alone is the wrong number.

      One of the places where I used to work, there was someone who was confined to a wheelchair and therefore qualified for the “Senior / Disabled” fare, but made very good money as a civil engineer. I don’t know what fare he actually paid on the bus, but if he had wanted to he certainly could have paid a vastly discounted fare.

      Doesn’t it seem like some sort of actual need for a discounted fare should kick in at some point?

      1. Lets not forget that a fare portion of those who pay the senior rate are disabled. I’m one of them & it’s been a tremendous aid for my mobility – not just in my hometown of New York, but across the country when I travel.

      2. SEAN,

        The federal requirements limiting senior fares apply equally to fares for riders with disabilities, as well as Medicare cardholders.

      3. I wasn’t talking about limits or restrictions, rather I was referring to the fact that senior discounts serve a lot more people than one may realize & it’s a huge benefit for those who need it. What some commenters here misunderstand is the concept of means testing. Medicade & programs like that are restricted by income & some here think it’s a good idea to place senior bus fares in that category just because a few seniors who ride the bus maybe wealthier? Sorry, that one doesn’t fly.

      4. Disability-rate fares are necessary. Partly because this country still doesn’t pay for the medical expenses of the disabled out of the government budget, dammit. Civilized countries do.

    2. Please remember that our “Net Worth” is meant to last those of us in our dotage for the rest of our lives unless, like me, we continue working full or part time past the “magical” age of eligibility for Social Security. For some in my age cohort who are healthy that could be decades…

    3. And remember that most net worth is based on a real estate asset. Not like you can sell an inch of wall to pay your fare.

      1. These comments regarding reverse morggages shows a lack of understanding of what is involved. Once the equity is stripped from the home, the money must be replenished or you give up the property. You cant have your equity & eat it to paraphrase.

      2. When I think of a reverse mortgage, I think of the type where the house goes to the bank after you die. Sort of a reverse life insurance if you will. The owner of the property gets to live in it for as long as they want, but when they sell it (while alive, or when it goes to their heirs) then it goes to the bank.

  4. Give me an anti-age discrimination law with some teeth, and I’ll even pay a premium! And in spades for a Federal public works program nation- and age-wide, like the civilian work that held this country together ’til that bigger public works project called the Second World War.

    [ot]

    Mark Dublin

    1. “And in spades for a Federal public works program nation- and age-wide, like the civilian work that held this country together ’til that bigger public works project called the Second World War.”

      That’s what we really need, isn’t it? Return of the National Recovery Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, etc…

  5. Seems like over time we’re heading towards the model of ability to pay versus ability to earn.

    So, we’ve got apartments being told to build affordable units. We price bus passes by income. How soon before everything is discounted by income? We do it with taxes right? Food? Homes? Cars? CLothes?

    1. Hey John, there are a lot more discounts based on age, rather than income, or ability to pay. You know that, right? For example, I can get a discount on a motel room just by showing my AARP card. But that is private, so who cares, right? Well, I can get a lifetime card to visit all of the National Parks and Forests for 10 bucks. That is a lifetime card. Meanwhile, if I’m not that old, I have to pay a lot more, year after year, even I’m scraping together a living and have a couple of kids. Just sayin’

    2. Question – are developers in King County not aloud to pay into an affordable housing fund as apposed to constructing actual units? Most developers rather pay into such funds & punt to the county or city in that case or just withdraw the project altogether since profit margins get squeezed when affordable units are involved.

    3. In Scandanavia, they very sensibly do it with fines for criminal activity. So if you’re broke and you run a stop light, you may be fined a dollar (which is a huge amount for you) — but if you’re a millionaire and run a stop light, you may be fined $100,000 (to make sure that the fine actually hurts you).

  6. So, what’s to prevent a transit agency from declaring that “peak hours” are from 5 am to Midnight, seven days a week, and setting their fares without FTA meddling at the levels their financial structure dictates?

    Want the off-peak reduced fare? Better get used to the O-dark-thirty bus full of drunkards and the homeless, granny!

    1. Nothing whatsoever… there’s no requirement that you have different peak and off-peak fares. The edge case I think you are looking for is a transit agency setting it’s peak fare at twice the off-peak fare, and declaring the peak hour to be 2am to 3am.

      1. Foothill Transit in Southern California declared peak hours of 4 am-10 am and 2 pm-8 pm, in order to make their commuter express routes (some of which do start at 4 am and pull in after 8 pm) ineligible for the senior fare. This also impacted the all day express route which ran 24 hours a day. Apparently they got some bad advice since a few years later, they made the senior/disabled fare for the all day express route all day, while still charging a flat fare to all passengers for the commuter express service. So 12 hours of peak is the logical limit.

      2. And the other examples are the San Francisco cable cars, where the fare is $3 9 pm to 7 am (10 hours a day) but $6 otherwise, and Las Vegas RTC where a Nevada drivers license or ID is required to obtain reduced fare on the Las Vegas Strip buses.

  7. Does getting the senior discount require that young person to the Metro customer service building, downtown, in the middle of a weekday, to get a reduced fare orca card? If so, nobody who doesn’t ride the bus extremely frequently is going to bother.

  8. I’d rather seniors use fixed route with low fare as an incentlow fare as opposed to applying for paratransit it which is

  9. If Metro only gets 23% of its funding from fares, and seniors make up around 13% of riders, and then a certain percentage of those would switch to low-income fares if the senior fare increased, how much could Metro gain by increased senior fares?

    BTW, I would think that seniors, when using the bus, travel must less of a distance than the average younger or middle aged adult. And since the average senior, as proven in the above chart, is rubbing elbows with Thurston Howell III, they probably contribute a lot more in sales tax to Metro than a younger adult, so in the end, it all balances out.

    1. Just being 65+ is not enough to be eligible for paratransit. You have to actually have a real disability. Even then, as expensive as it is for taxpayers, paratransit is still such a huge hassle to the riders that anyone who can possibly beg or cajole a friend or relative into driving them around instead will do so.

      1. Also, riders who qualify for Access and pay for a montlhly Access pass get to ride all Metro and ST fixed-route services for free. I’d go one step further and say all Access-qualified riders get to ride the fixed routes for free, but I’m fearful that that would create a flood of Access applications.

        A large chunk of Access riders simply can’t ride the fixed routes, for any number of reasons.

        Some can’t get to the nearest bus stop. Some require supervision from another trustworthy adult. We ought to keep these riders in mind when talking about TOD. Allowing people with mobility issues (including the need for a trustworthy companion) to live next to a light-rail station beats the heck out of having to plan one’s trips over a day in advance.

      2. That is a concern because Los Angeles allowed all Access riders to ride fixed route public transit for free. What was happening was that on Metrolink commuter rail, disabled people were selling rides to strangers to allow them to claim to be Personal Care Attendants, essentially evading fare. When Metrolink implemented a PCA card application process, which required the PCAs to be designated, they were then inundated with complaints that this would hurt disabled travel training programs, and some disabled individuals applied for dozens of PCA cards for any conceivable person who might need to ride with them, which cost them hundreds of dollars. Ultimately Metrolink dropped the PCA card program and gave everyone a refund, as it was a botched program.

      3. There seems to be a general rule that if things are free, Americans disrespect and abuse them.

        There’s something to be said for charging strictly *nominal* fares — just to discourage joyriding and abuse — like a quarter, maybe — but basically funding the whole system the way you would if it were free.

      4. Ah, joyriding, the province of passholders.

        One of my favorite childhood memories was riding with my grandfather to see Longmont the way I wanted to see it: from each of the seven bus lines (which all pulsed at a downtown transit center).

        One driver chewed us out for “joyriding”, even though the bus was mostly empty, and we had both paid the requisite fare. He was a bitter 75-or-so-year-old driver, but his driving was top notch.

  10. This sentence is simply idiotic: ” After all, seniors are the richest segment of society (see chart above) for all income quintiles, and the low income fare should handle any seniors who are truly in need.”

    Of course seniors have more wealth, wealth accumulates! If everyone had the exact same income, seniors will still have the most wealth. Seniors have the most wealth for the same reason children have the least.

    The fact is seniors are truly terrible drivers (see http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/olddrive/pub/Chapter1.html). In this way, a senior fair is a good idea if it encourages seniors to take transit rather than drive. If there are any two age groups we want to get out of cars the most, it’s the youth (hence youth fare) and seniors (hence senior fare).

    This system is actually correctly designed.

    1. I agree. You don’t want a situation like George Weller, who kept driving despite losing his skills and ended up killing people when he “unintentionally accelerated” into a crowded farmers’ market. Disabled people and senior citizens should get a lower fare.

      1. And so should youth, by the same reasoning. Although most local agencies allow childern up to 5 to ride free and kids 6-18 to get a youth fare, that is purely the choice of each individual agency, with agencies copying each others’ age breakdowns to create some consistency.

        Kids don’t vote. The lawmakers don’t give kids a break. But keep in mind that not giving kids a break really means not giving families with children a break, thereby adding inertia to the generational poverty cycle.

        Also, I much prefer universal senior discounts over discounts based on membership in some organization, especially AAA, who then uses the money to lobby against the interests of anyone who needs transit, sidewalks, bike infrastructure, or road maintenance. To be fair, AAA is most venomous about using gas tax money to fund road maintenance. I try to avoid doing business with anyone offering a AAA discount.

    2. Amen! If a reduced fare encourages seniors to drive less or not at all, it is worthwhile for the safety benefit alone.

      1. This is an interesting argument for a senior discount, not one I’d heard before. I guess I can believe it. It shouldn’t be cheaper than the low-income rate, though.

    3. I support the senior discount too, but those who wrote the law didn’t contemplate such details as allowing transit agencies to incentivize senior riders to use a particular fare medium, such as a contactless smart card. Making the senior/disabilities/Medicare half-fare if paid with e-purse or a pass, or full fare if paid with cash, just like the low-income fare, would make a lot of sense, other than the fact that federal law makes it illegal.

      However, federal law allows agencies to require obtaining a special card from the agency in order to get the reduced fare. So, for example, you can’t just show up at a bus, present a Medicare card, and pay the RRFP fare. You have to fill out an application, present the Medicare card to Metro customer service, fork over $3, and then get the RRFP card.

      Nevertheless, Metro/ST has the power to make the Regional Reduced Fare Permit cash fare higher than the RRFP ORCA-product fare. Indeed, that cash fare can be as high as half the peak regular cash fare and the ORCA RRFP fare could be as high as half the peak regular ORCA fare.

      I disagree partially with Martin’s suggestion to raise the RRFP fare to its federal limit. I think more good would come of raising the RRFP cash fare to $1.25 than from raising both the RRFP ORCA and cash fare to $1.25.

      In this one case, the insane $5 fee to get an ORCA card would be irrelevant, since anyone who has an RRFP has already paid $3 to get it. BTW, I would also ditch the $3 fee to get the RRFP card.

    4. As Brent said, using that logic, we should have a discounted fare for young people. A 16 year old driver is the most dangerous, but someone who is 25 is still a lot more dangerous than someone who is 65 (or 75). I think a discounted fare for those 25 or under makes sense (using your logic).

      While we are at it, we should discount the fare for men, since men are worse drivers than women.

      1. Someone who is 25 is still a lot more dangerous than someone who is 65 (or 75).

        That’s not what the data show, and realise by 70 many people have already self-selected out of driving, but that nearly all 25 year olds drive.

        The point about men versus women isn’t salient, because it’s not who is a worse driver, it’s about who isn’t safe to drive.

      2. I’m basing the 25 year old number on this data: http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/olddrive/pub/Chapter1.html
        It isn’t until people are about 75 that they are a worse risk than when they are 25. That’s why I chose that number in my comment. But if it makes you feel better, we can cut it off at 20, where there is an bigger discrepancy between the young driver and the 65 year old (the young driver being safer). Of course, it works both ways, and the senior discount shouldn’t kick in until 75 or so.

        Your self selection comment is bizarre and incorrect. There are plenty of people who are 25 and choose not to drive. They live in cities. including Seattle. OK, they are probably rare in Seattle, but I know several (and have known several). Besides, even if it is true, so what? So some older drivers choose not to drive because they think they are dangerous on the road. Big deal. Why should all drivers of that age, including drivers, get a discount. If you really wanted to do that, then you could simply give a discount to those who don’t have a drivers license for whatever reason. I would be OK with that. It would make a lot of sense, really. There are plenty of people who, for various neurological reasons, can get a drivers license, but shouldn’t drive. These people should cancel their drivers license (some of them, by doctors orders, do). But these people don’t get a discount. That isn’t on the table.

        The “safe to drive” comment is even more bizarre. Exactly how is that determined? By age? If that is the case, then it would make sense to just phase out driver’s licenses when people age? Yeah, good luck with that. Or maybe we force people to take the test again (which some states do). If they fail, they get a discounted bus ticket. I’m fine with that.

        But to suggest that drivers over 65 are more dangerous than teenage drivers (or even those in their early twenties) is simply incorrect. The data suggests otherwise. So if we are trying to discount the fare to reduce the number of accidents, whether by reducing the number of people on the road that aren’t safe to drive, are those that are borderline, the smart approach would be to encourage the very young, and the very old, to take the bus.

      3. Of course (sigh) if people under 25 choose not to drive at all, and then start driving after they turn 25, they will be terrible drivers for the first 5 years or so that they drive…

        So we should obviously discount EVERYONE’s fare to keep them from driving. Reductio ad absurdum; why not charge everyone the same amount and fund the system through taxes?

  11. Great article Martin. Senior discounts like this are a throwback to the days when seniors really were the poorest group in America. That day has passed (thankfully) due in large part to Social Security. It is especially crazy that children pay much more, even though they are typically a lot more needy than seniors. There is an argument to be made that having a senior fare is mostly fair, and requires less paperwork than other discounts (simply show your ID). Even so, it doesn’t explain why the rates are so high for those under 25, which have average income below seniors (http://www.advisorperspectives.com/dshort/charts/census/median-household-income-age-brackets.html?household-income-by-age-bracket-median-real.gif) and a lot less wealth. Wealth matters, as it can both lower expenses (e. g. living in a house that is paid for) as well as serve as a source of income (even though it might not be counted as such). Using that logic, we should do the following:

    1) Extend the youth fare to 25 years of age.
    2) Set the youth fare and senior fare to the same rate.

  12. Of course, seniors are a reliable voting block

    Great topic starter Martin. So many comments I want to respond to but the nut is that it’s a vote getter. As far as need based assistance I’ve been given 4 pre loaded ORCA cards because of where I live and work. Hint, neither are low rent districts. Yet the common complaint is “change fumblers” exist because of the high cost of ORCA. Uh, who actually pays for an ORCA card besides the poor and tourists? I’m sure glad we live in a capitalist society guided by the “invisible hand” rather than a bunch of politicians who’s policy is based on remaining in power. Oh, wait… this is King County ;-)

      1. If I remember correctly, before Orca appeared, ST charged the same fare for youth and seniors, which was half of adult fare. With Orca, senior fare was lowered to match Metro’s. I also remember there was a time when seniors could not ride during peak hours unless they paid regular fare.

  13. In the European town where I was born Adults fares are for people 26 to 64 years old. Younger and older people pay discounted fares.
    What I don’t like is that each town in the country has a different age bracket for the young..some are paying adults at 25, other at 28.

    When it comes to seniors, there is a fare for seniors with a good income, and another fare for low-income ones.

    All FARES are moderate as European transit systems, like the Japanese ones (the later are mostly all private companies) have tons of users. Both in Europe and Japan it is expensive to use a car, not to mention impractical in towns going back centuries (my birthplace is over 2300 years old) so people use transit to go to work, school, shop etc.

    I nearly forgot…I only started to work at 24..after graduating I went to a college for 4 years then did 2 years of compulsory military duties (unpaid). In those days students (high school, college and university) could not work during their vacations. .

  14. Back in (I think it was) the 90s, Metro implemented a 50¢ senior fare, off-peak remaining at 25¢. Before this fare split, peak commuter buses were packed, some with seniors who were obviously retired (back then one could tell, as people dressed up to go to work). After the peak and off-peak senior fares were differentiated, the change was noticeable on the buses I took, and I saw few seniors, as many of them apparently took advantage of the lower off-peak fares. Metro re-instituting a peak/off-peak differential for seniors merits consideration, as does raising the age for qualifying this fare to 70. In addition, disabled fares should be decoupled from senior fares, and those with permanent disabilities should ride fare-free, at least during off-peak times.

  15. The fact that senior households have higher net worth does not necessarily make them more able to pay the fare. Consider the median 65 year old household with a net worth of $170k and about 20 years life expectancy. If they are retired (common at that age), the $170k is worth about $13k annually — far, far below the median household income for working-age people. Now, seniors get social security and pay much lower federal taxes (they have lower income and more of it at preferential rates/untaxed) which evens things out some.

    More relevant is the income of seniors living in the city of Seattle vs working-age people in Seattle… I have no idea whether this is different from the national averages.

    I think equalizing the senior fare and low-income fare is a great idea that will never happen because of politics. But, I don’t think the data shows that seniors are in better financial shape than working age people.

  16. There was a comment about Foothill Transit setting weird “peak” hours so they wouldn’t have to offer discounts on commuter buses. If you look at their website, you’ll see that’s not their practice now. They offer discounts on local buses and the Silver Streak (BRT, basically) but not on commuter express buses. That’s perfectly within the FTA discount requirement, which covers off-peak local trips.

    There are a lot of seniors with a valuable house but little income. On the other hand, there are a lot of younger people with low incomes from minimum/near minimum, often part time jobs, who don’t own valuable houses. Lots of retail workers don’t even know how many hours they’ll work in the following week. A low income fare seems like a lot of work, but ultimately fairer.

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