ST proposed fare changesThe Sound Transit Board of Directors will consider joining Metro’s low-income fare program on Thursday, November 20. The proposed fare would match the youth fare, but might only be implemented on some services, if at all.

The service combinations under consideration for the low-income fare are:
Option 1. None
Option 2. Link only
Option 3. Link and ST Express intra-county
Option 4. Link, all ST Express, and Sounder

For each service adopting the low-income fare, the proposal calls for raising the other fares on that service by 25 cents across the board, except for the free categories (children 0-5, Access riders with a current monthly Access pass, and uniformed law enforcement).

The low-income fare would be the same as the raised youth fare (for ages 6-18): $1.50 on Link and ST Express 1-county, $2.75 on ST Express multi-county, and $2.25-$4.00 on Sounder. The low-income fare would require using loaded ORCA product, while the youth fare would merely require ID with age. Children ages 0-5 would continue to ride free with an adult, up to four per adult.

The resulting regular adult fares would be $2.25-$3.00 on Link, $2.75 on ST Express 1-county, $3.75 on ST Express multi-county, and $3.00-$5.50 on Sounder.

Fares for Regional Reduced Fare Permit holders (for seniors 65 and older and riders with qualifying disabilities) would be $1.00 on Link and ST Express 1-county, $1.75 on ST Express multi-county, and $1.50-$2.75 on Sounder.

A series of open houses will be held, leading up to a public hearing on Thursday, October 23. Comments, including online, will be accepted through October 23.

Any approved fare changes would take effect on March 1, 2015, to coincide with King County Metro’s fare changes. Public Health – Seattle and King County, and other agencies, are expected to start issuing the low-income ORCA card in February 2015. To be eligible, you have to be at 200% or less of the federal poverty level.

48 Replies to “Sound Transit Considering Low-Income Fare and 25-Cent Fare Increase”

    1. Sound Transit is simply following Metro’s lead on the fare levels. Metro couldn’t afford making the low-income fare lower than $1.50. Since the regular peak fare is only going up to $2.75, the RRFP fare couldn’t have gone higher than $1.37, due to federal law.

      1. Why don’t they split the difference and make it $1.25? I think it’s weird to be that people over 65 (who may or may not have money) get a bigger discount for people we know don’t have money, who are under 65.

      2. The RRFP is also for riders for disabilities. The increase from 75 cents to $1.25 (a 67% fare increase) would be an incredibly hard sell. Moreover, since it can be paid in cash, that would just mean more riders pulling out a dollar bill, then fumbling around for a quarter.

        Over the long run, I think equality will be achieved by holding down low-income and youth fare increases while bringing up RRFP fares one quarter at a time.

      3. Metro can’t afford to pay for $1.50 — in case you hadn’t noticed, they are cutting service next week to help pay for this — what’s another unfunded quarter between friends?

      4. Metro can afford $1.50 or it would not have proposed it. What it can’t afford to do is not raise the regular fare. Keeping the regular fare as-is would require deeper cuts and make Metro more like Community Transit. King County is much larger and more urban than Snohomish County and has more poor people, so CT’s level of service coudn’t possibly address King County’s mobility needs or non-driving desires. (See the Valley Transit Authority in San Jose for an example of suburban transit levels in a large city.)

        Until now low-income people without an RRFP have paid the regular fare as it periodically rises. That’s fine when the regular fare is $1 but it becomes untenable when the regular fare is $2.50. Raising it further risks a populist revolt (Hello Kshama Sawant!) and more fare evasion (transfer roulette, change fumbling with “I don’t have the last 50c”, “I don’t have money”). A low-income ORCA fare will reduce fare evasion and speed boarding.

        Some will object, “They still won’t pay the fare because the driver won’t force them.” But some low-income people want to be law-abiding and don’t want to confront the driver, and they want faster boarding too (and understand it leads to more frequent service). This will help those people out.

        Another thing Metro can’t do is set the low-income fare at $1.00 as some activists wanted. $1.50 is as far down as Metro felt it can go.

    2. I wouldn’t say we know low-income people don’t have money. A low-income person, after you factor in they may be taking advantage of 5 to 10 different income-tested benefits (I know one “low-income” woman who pays under $100/month in rent for an apartment that would rent for $1400/month, sells her EBT card balance for cash, works under the table and doesn’t declare that income or pay tax on it, and gets free day care), may have a higher discretionary income than a middle class person. It very well may be that a person who has a low-income status has more discretionary income than a person making $70,000/year.

      1. Yes, there exist examples that go against the statistical trend. Would you disagree that low-income riders will have less average disposable income than non-low-income riders?

      2. Not to mention that it’s very easy for someone with disposable income to count as “low-income” if she’s committing fraud by not reporting her income…

      3. I was respondinig to Stephen’s comment that “we know” low-income people don’t have money. We don’t know that. And I’m not here to discuss averages. I also believe income-tested benefits, including things like low-income fares, do more harm than good.

      4. If I were trying to hide from the law, I wouldn’t get a low-income ORCA, registered to my name, that could be used to track where I have traveled on the bus when the police bring a search warrant to Metro or ST.

        Sadly, this may mean, for example, that undocumented immigrants and people hiding in shelters from domestic abuse may need special outreach and accommodation to obtain the low-income ORCA.

      5. Brent, people in shelters ride for free. Metro gives human service agencies subsidized bus tickets to hand out to people staying in shelters.

      6. The supply of tickets for shelters is limited. They run out. It is also a time-consuming exercise (filling out paperwork for each ticket). Getting a card and putting a pass on it is so much cheaper for the agency handling the tickets, and therefore for the taxpayers who fund the shelters.

      7. How long would a monthly pass given to a person at a day shelter stay in their hands? It will be sold for cash pretty quickly i think. Bus tickets are better for shelters

      8. If it is someone that is legitimately looking for housing, they will be having to run all over the region going to housing interviews, and they won’t be able to do that if they have sold their pass. That and trying to get between the day and night shelters (which are in two different parts of the city) are the two biggest uses of the transit passes I see where I volunteer.

        Not everyone on public assistance is there because they are trying to game the system ya know!

      9. Has Sam ever looked at what people on benefits go through? Hours and hours of filling out forms and talking to interviewers and collecting tax returns and receipts to qualify for benefits and renew them. Stress-inducing treatment by exasperated and overworked agency staff trying to keep up with the caseload and screen out fraudsters. The stigma of applying to benefits, and the time it takes to go to the offices on the bus (since they often don’t have a car). This on top of whatever disabilities they may have.

        The first thing to look at is what percent of recipients work under the table or are otherwise ineligible. I would guess it’s more like 5% or 20%, not 50% or 75%. So the majority of individuals need the benefits, and adding more hoops on top of the existing ones is unnecessary and cruel. If you think there are a significant number of fraudsters, start a group and do some research and send the agencies their names and what makes them ineligible.

  1. Possible theory: For low-income people eligible for reduced fares, transit service behaves as a Giffen Good, a product or service where demand directly (as opposed to inversely, like most other goods) correlates with price.

    A low-income family with multiple driving-age members may only be able to afford one car, or a single adult forgoes a car due to the high cost of transit fares. Lower the fares, and people have more spending money; if this amount is enough to allow them to purchase another vehicle, and they consequently reduce their transit usage. If transit service behaves as a Giffen Good, then a low-income fare would actually decrease, not increase ridership.

    1. “Evidence for the existence of Giffen goods has generally been limited.”

      Given that there is more empiracle evidence for the Higgs Boson than there is for a Giffen Good, I think the appropriate word is “hypothesis”. Sure, there exist people for whom such behavior has happened, but that’s not the same as a statistical tendency.

    2. Giffen Goods are rare art and antiques, new versions of the iPhone (for a few days), and overhyped IPO’s, not bus rides. Would be drivers “forego” getting another car because bus fares are too high? That may happen one or twice a year in King County, but as Brent said “it’s not a statistical tendency”.

  2. It won’t shock most STB readers that I happen to support Option 4. Nevertheless, I have to point out the missed opportunity to tack on a 25-cent cash surcharge on regular ST Express fares, which would make them an even $3 and $4.

    It also pains me to see Sounder continue to cost more than ST Express for identical trips, unless Sound Transit is trying to get people to not ride Sounder.

    1. The cost to provide another Sounder trip once a schedule is full is stupendous, so ST has a strong incentive to limit ridership growth. It’s doing the right thing.

      1. How close to full is South Sounder? Have we reached standing room? (I’ve only ever taken Sounder North, and reverse-trip South).

      2. DJW,

        It doesn’t matter how close it is presently. Eventually all of the trips for which slots have been purchased will be full. At that time ST will have to raise fares differentially (e.g. return to the current system), so why change.

        And, as William pointed out, Sounder is a faster, more reliable and more comfortable service than is ST Express. It should command a higher fare. Being for public accommodations doesn’t mean every option has to be available to every person. The government can’t afford that so it’s a good idea to price scarcer services higher.

      3. Both Link and Sounder get less expensive per rider with each additional rider. But Link can slip below ST Express and Metro pretty easily, and probably has gone below Metro in some cases (e.g., for distances up to Westlake – Rainier Beach, which are cheaper on Link). But Sounder’s operating costs are several times higher than ST Express’s even if the trains are full. That poses a dilemma for making Sounder the primary trunk line in its area.

      4. Sounder capacity can be increased by lengthening train consists. If you can fill the seats, that lowers the cost per boarding. It makes plenty of sense to do this given the high operating costs. It’s not a panacea though; you would need the spare rolling stock and at some point the station platforms would need to be lengthened.

      5. Aw, Mike,

        You are both spot on in your respective analyses, but no matter how long the trains get (and I’m pretty sure they can’t get longer than the KSS platforms as they are today) eventually to accommodate more riders they’ll be faced with the cost of another pair of slots.

        And that’s assuming Matt Rose thinks he can spare them……..

  3. After this country’s economy and politics this last forty years, either I’ve got a serious anger problem or maybe just plain rabies over the outrage about people cheating because their income isn’t low enough to get a break.

    One of the reasons for so many right-wing bumper stickers on beat-up pickup trucks with beds full of tools is that it’s an arbitrary mandate with a lot of teeth separating poor people who can’t work from people who are still poor no matter how hard they work.

    Definition of “poor?” “Inability to participate in society as a full member due to lack of money.” Written about 40 years ago, as so much manufacturing work started getting shoveled across our borders and shorelines.

    I’ve got a real simple solution that’ll automatically cure our fare elegibility problem: put everybody physically able to work at such high wages that nobody qualifies as poor. Add four weeks’ vacation per year, some national health care that doesn’t lose national elections for Democrats, and labor unions with some power- and we can raise the fares triple.

    Someone asked George Bernard Shaw: “Don’t you just love the poor?”: His answer: “I hate the poor and look forward to their speedy elimination!” Which will do the same for a few really savage hates of my own: bridges falling out from under our cars, trains, including oil ones, derailing from decrepit tracks, and seatless prison toilets in ST bathrooms.

    In other words, I’m a real conservative.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I think Mark hits the nail squarely on the head. The reason welfare does so poorly at the polls isn’t because of the greedy 1%-ers (not that they don’t exist, just that there aren’t *by definition* very many of them). Rather it’s the hard working poor who barely eke out a living, one missed paycheck or medical crisis away from utter ruin. They see neighbors apparently gaming the system, living better with much less effort. I’m not sure that they’d agree with his solutions, but I’m certain they’d agree with his basic diagnosis of the problem.

      1. I’m not a Christian, but do these people (whom I assume are by and large Christian) have some special annotated version of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus suggested means testing the poor?

      2. There’s also a lot of misinformation about welfare. Long-term welfare has been gone since the Clinton administration. There are now lifetime limits, and people who can work have to work at least part time or be in school to keep their benefits, even if it wreaks havoc on the person or family (e.g., single mothers). Able-bodied men and childless women need not apply, only women with children and the disabled. And as for “welfare queens” who have a child every year to keep her benefits (and has a beloved SO whom she won’t marry to remain eligible): there’s no way that the benefits can fully compensate for all the costs of raising a kid, much less to age 18 when the welfare will have long run out.

      3. If you truly want to help a poor person, do what I do, and lecture them on everything they’re doing wrong.

    2. National single-payer health care (like Canada), or a National Health Service (iike the UK) would make a huge difference. Medical costs are frequently crippling; I believe 2/3 of all bankruptcies in the US are now due to medical costs. And obviously, being sick frequently prevents people from working.

      We also have a particularly nasty quirk in our “welfare” non-system where people who have pretty severe disabilities, but who could do *some* work part-time (but not enough to make enough money to live on) frequently lose their disability benefits if they do *any* work. Nice, America, real nice.

      Basically the US doen’t have a welfare system any more. It’s horrible. It’s worse than Mexico — and I mean that literally, since Mexico is establishing single-payer health care one state at a time, as we speak.

  4. Reason I stress this point, William, is that I’ve not only worked among people for whom this reaction is an understandable reaction to an unfair system. My wife and experienced this exact situation at a very bad time, at the hands of both public and co-op run agencies exactly because our real economic distress didn’t leave us poor enough for a break.

    A “sliding scale” for a working according to provable income is not the same thing as a handout.So while it’s only human- and extremely beneficial to the unjustly powerful- to direct anger downward, I think the main force behind the fury is that good qualities themselves are punished. Worse every year for the last forty.

    “Back in my day” needs a pitchfork and a gabled farmhouse. But very On-T fact for transit is that hardly anyone just turning voting age in this country now has ever seen either government or political effort of their own bring them anything worthy of either respect or a minute of their own time.

    Or any experience whatsoever with any labor union, let alone one with the power to be their own force for improving their lives. Basic blame for situation? Two things: One, the world’s recovery from World War II around 1970 left Uncle Sam with his pants down and his belt stuck in a rusty gearbox. And two, the Viet Nam war took both the money and the young leadership we needed to retool.

    Cure right now?: For a young transit driver, two, run for precinct committeeman and succeeding positions in either major party or one of your own making. And one, drive your bus or train so every as if the the next forty years of work shifts can make up for every day of the last forty. Side benefit? Chance that next contract will suck a thousand days less than this one.


  5. I think it should also be pointed out that this policy would help encourage low income to ride Link, where (as best as can be determined from the reports) their trip costs quite a bit less per mile than on parallel bus lines.

    It makes absolutely no sense to encourage, by any fare policy, passengers to take a more expensive trip when a less expensive one may be provided.

    1. The Link, ST Express single-county, and Metro low-income fare would be identical ($1.50) if Option 3 or 4 passes. The Link and Metro low-income fare would be identical if Option 2 passes.

      That said, there are some Metro bus trips with cheaper regular fare than Link for the same trip. For example, an off-peak trip on route 124 from downtown to Tukwila International Boulevard Station costs $2.25 (and will cost $2.50 effective March 1, 2015). That same trip on Link costs $2.75 (and would cost $3 effective March 1, 2015, if any option other than Option 1 passes). One could also keep the cost of that Link trip down to $2.25 (or $2.50 after March 2015) by tapping off and back on at Rainier Beach Station.

  6. So the question becomes:

    If we continue to fund fare decreases for the poor with fare increases for everyone else, will we end with a mobility system for the poor, rather than a mobility system for the public at large? We are already at the point where bus fares are more expensive than the monorail, and more expensive than driving for a large number trips (assuming you already own the car and parking is free). A group of 3-4 people can even travel short trips (up to 1-2 miles) for less money on a taxi than what they would spend on bus fares.

    1. The trips where mass transit truly wins on price these days are trips where parking isn’t free. For the rest of the trips, taken individually, whether it wins by a little or loses by a little on price isn’t that significant if it’s inconvenient compared to the alternative. If you already own a car and are going somewhere with free parking, driving your own car is at least faster most of the time, and speed is the biggest part of convenience. What matters is not the price of individual trips once you’ve already decided on car ownership, but the aggregate: is the transit system good enough for a household to decide the cost of car ownership isn’t worth the benefit? When it comes to that, service quality and quantity is what’s most important, at any fare level from Island Transit up to TfL.

  7. It seems more than a little odd to me to propose a huge fare reduction for a big part of the ridership as the system now more than ever is pressed for money and cutting service.

    I have no problem with a low income fare, I just have a problem with where the money is coming from to pay for it. Why cant this be some new social service budget item that reimburses Metro and ST for difference in fare from full fare instead of throwing this burden on the back of Metro and ST’s already tight and shrinking budgets? Our transit systems need all the money they can get to just hold onto what dwindling service we already have.

    1. It would be wonderful if transit agencies were properly compensated for these discount fares when their federal grant money was obtained. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of aim towards doing that, which in the end hurts the ability of the agencies to provide transit.

      This is an ongoing problem everywhere in the USA. Twin Transit in Centralia illustrates the problem very well: they cut back their bus service, forcing more elderly / disabled to the lift type on-call service which costs about 10 times more per passenger to operate – forcing yet more cutbacks.

      The Lower Columbia Community Action Program (CAP) is a social services agency but winds up providing scheduled bus service from Castle Rock to Vancouver due to the importance of transportation for those that need social services. At one time their bus service went all the way to Olympia, but they’ve had to cut that back to Centralia, and now Castle Rock as the funding has been cut back.

      1. Problem is indeed nationwide. In upstate NY, the majority of rural bus services have actually been funded by *Medicaid* for decades, because it was cheaper than paying for the necessary taxi / shuttle trips for the disabled people on Medicaid who needed transportation to their doctors. Cuomo is trying to cut this, which will actually increase the expenses of the counties (which are forced to pay for Medicaid in NY) and simultaneously destroy most of the rural bus systems.

        (By the way? Cuomo is awful.)

      2. Some links on the horrorshow created by Cuomo out here:

        It’s actually more cost-effective to run the bus system, but Cuomo is insisting on burning the Medicaid funds to pay for taxis. The really awful thing about it is that they aren’t state funds, since NY requires the counties to pay for Medicaid out of property tax.

        Evil, vicious little thug — Cuomo can’t die soon enough.

    2. That’s the same argument as why doesn’t the county fund Access as a social service rather than taking it out of the transit budget. That would enable regular buses to be more frequent. But nobody in government seems interested.

  8. This is so stupid. Everyone should pay the same fare. Safeway does not give me a discount because I make minimum wage. I think I qualify for this but will not take part. Stop the deadbeats who think that the service is free.

  9. Given current efforts to further integrate Metro and Sound Transit services, it’s past time to have a single integrated fare structure for the two systems.

    I was at SeaTac/Airport Station yesterday, and as often happens there I helped an arriving visitor get to his destination on transit. Told him to get off the train at Westlake and catch one of 4 EB Metro buses to get him to his Capitol Hill destination.

    He asked if we had integrated fares, if his train ticket would get him the last 14 blocks on the bus? And I had to tell him No, we can’t do that here. He will have to pay a separate fare for the bus. Truly embarrassing.

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