Source: OECD.StatExtracts (click to access)
Source: OECD.StatExtracts, 2012 U.S. figures (click to access)

A while back I launched an interesting conversation about the senior fare. After reading the comments and reflecting on the questions some more, here are some further thoughts:

  • It’s pointless to begrudge someone getting a better deal than you. There are all kinds of fare discounts for all kinds of reasons, reasons that have little to do with any notion of justice, and to pick on seniors would be peculiar. The point of raising the senior fare is not spite.
  • Several commenters correctly pointed out that imposing income verification has costs, both for administration and because it means some deserving people will go without.
  • Although I think net worth is a very relevant metric, others suggest a more complicated picture. The poverty chart above shows that 75 is a much bigger dividing line than 65, but 65 is the easiest to verify. Median incomes suggest seniors are doing poorly. The OECD statistics linked to above reports that median disposable income was $27,530 for 65 and over and $33,493 for 18-64 in 2012.
  • All that said, the equity case for senior fare in the presence of a low-income fare is not strong, and weaker than other claims on foregone revenue. It would be more progressive, as well as better for the environment, to purchase more service or reduce the low income fare with the money.

Equalizing Senior and low-income fares, rather than eliminating the senior fare entirely, addresses the second point. Among people who think transit should get more resources overall, whether they equalize because the low-income fare goes down or because the senior fare comes up depends on what you think of the value of marginal bus service.

13 Replies to “Further Reflections on the Senior Fare”

  1. Previous comment still holds: best way to completely eliminate need for income-adjusted fares for the able-bodied is to put us to work repairing our decaying country-starting with our sequestered-to-death transportation. Measures which would also get us out of current Depression.

    Personally, I’d be glad to trade my current senior pass for a standard one in return for the complication- and aggravation-free regional transit system promised to us in the campaign for ST2- and whose implementation might improve chances ST3 will pass.

    For starters, would raise my cost by half next month if ST and an infuriated ridership threatened KC Metro with enough intensity to get those damned fare boxes out of the way of Tunnel service- next month for an outer limit.

    Ability to board by one extra door per 2-door bus might save enough operating time for system to relax about some other costs.

    Mark “You young people just don’t realize…” Dublin

  2. There are other issues. A senior, particularly one who actually rides the bus, has a vanishingly small likelihood of improving his or her economic circumstances in the future. And providing an incentive for someone who might be less capable of driving not to drive has a value all of its own. If you don’t believe me, drive in South Florida sometimes, where the seniors have no practical alternative to driving, the sprawl is far beyond anything anyone can imagine here, and their lobby is so good that the law is you cannot administer an eye test to a senior when renewing a license.

  3. Equalizing has the value of simplification. If there’s a “full fare” and a “discounted fare”, that’s much more comprehensible than a whole zoo of fares.

  4. You people are nuts. You eliminated my bus service (47) forcing me to walk at least 6 blocks to a freaking bus stop for a bus that only goes to downtown, not through it (43) AND now you want to tell me that at age 71 my fare is a drag on the rest of the system? Lets be real – merge the 15 or so different transit providers into a unified system that doesn’t fight with each other, invest in rail rapid transit and street car infrastructure and convert as many bus routes as possible to ETB, get rid of cash fares, come up with a one day and/or 5 day area wide pass, coordinate schedules between heavy rail, ferry, and transit and then come back and tell my your are doing something positive.

    As it is you aren’t.

    1. I’m sorry. All I can say is, you should tell this to King County or the state legislature – almost all of us here would agree with every one of your points.

    2. I think Garrison has STB confused with a transit agency, which STB is not.

      That said, I would heartily disagree that Metro and ST are doing diddly squat, and I would agree with most of Garrison’s suggestions.

      If you want the 47 back, the best bet is to vote for Seattle Transit Proposition 1, so funding it becomes a possibility. Vote No, and the 47 is surely doomed.

  5. Surprised there aren’t more comments on this posting. It may really be that very few if STB readers will have to deal with this whole question awhile. Though I suspect that a fair number of us have parents definitely affected.

    Brent, you’re absolutely right about financial prospects for older people right now. But like a lot of our other societal difficulties, this is not a matter of personal inability but rather politically inflicted disability.

    Many if not most of us are living to ages hardly ever seen when Social Security was created. But another change is that many are also both able and desperately willing to work- though admit that it becomes increasingly hard to work for someone else.

    Added to fact that most Someone Else’s are themselves working 24-7-365 to avoid employing people of any age. Excellent reason to start running Government like the people’s own instrument, rather than “a business”- most of which quickly fail if not rescued by guess what?

    On your other point, spot on as to safety. At 69 with years of transit driving, a new lens in my right eye is necessary to maintain my lifelong clean record. And likely innocent lives too.
    Agree a hundred percent that every license renewal at any age require a lot more extensive physical exam-and also a road test with a trained officer.

    However, along with the power that comes to seniors by voting when younger people don’t, there’s the honest fact that with present land-use pattern, causing and combined with miserable public transit, the end of driving privileges is same for personal freedom. Younger transit advocates: ride- or drive- van service for a week or two. However, here a Lyft or Uber service fully accessible and without “Surge Fares” would really ’til we can get to work on patterns transit.

    But be fair, Nathanael. In addition to being cute, if vervets and baboons had an attention span longer than a an international-news watcher on crack, every zoo would be an important think tank.

    Because for these creatures, alternatives-evaluation is easy: Can you eat it, can communicate with it by biting it and screeching, and can you escape from it? While transit is working on the attention problem, communication mode is worth a try for voters and passengers. Sadly elected officials require an appointment, have hearing difficulties, and probably taste terrible.


    However, in these respects, in year 2014, the age gap in the workforce is rapidly disappearing. Everything above applies increasingly to workers of all ages. Including fact that “Employer” is now more of an unconditional condition of hereditary privilege rather than a job description.

    Specifically forbidden, incidentally by the US Constitution. Many if not most of these titled few are working overtime, and paid plenty of time and a half with a lot of expensive vacation, to achieve the goal of never again having to hire anybody. Of any age or skill. Probably requiring an amendment that if an Employer is entitled unearned power, a Worker is entitled to same thing – earned.

    1. Above compositing problem is perfect example of eye-sight needing license denial. Might be better, and give STB wider readership, for Department of Motor Vehicles to use comment space to test both reading and mental function.

      Computer glasses aren’t helping anymore. Riding bus and maybe Sounder or LINK to operation in Ballard in a few weeks. Best I can contribute for upcoming campaigns.


  6. I’ve always thought that we need 3 or 4 low income fares. Seniors who want the lowest fares would need to submit qualifying information, as there is a wide range of income and wealth among seniors.

  7. Senior fares are established at 1/2 cash by federal law (CFR 49, section 5307) when receiving grant money.

    1. Only SOME federal grants require the senior fare to be half the adult peak fare – and then, only during non-peak runs. But many transit agencies – including Metro – charge seniors far less than half, and do so at all times. Meanwhile, children – who are much more likely to be in poverty – are charged more.

  8. I have been of the mind that an artificial number, in this case 65, is not a good way to offer a discount. As some who testified re: the recent Metro bus cuts said, “nothing’s changed other than my age.” The low-income fare is a way to get to this. However, some of the previous commenters offered some great points. First, I’ve read for about the past 17 years where there are, in general, two general older age groups: age 65-75 is healthier and wealthier, age 75+ is less healthy and less well off. However, not all of the former folks ride the bus. Second, age 65 is easier to verify. Third, this gets seniors off of the road, applicable to anybody – senior or not – who has lost – or is losing – some faculty. Fourth, the idea that seniors (however they’re defined), youth, and low-income are the same fare is a great idea. I’d add to this these items: (1) the distribution points for the discounted passes need to extend far beyond downtown: to the north, east, and south end; (2) disabled fares should be separated from the trio of discounts, say one-half of those rates, but I’d like to see the permanently disabled ride fare-free during off-peak hours if not all the time; (3) differentiate between “peak” and “off-peak” for all fare types, to provide an incentive for riding off-peak. This used to be the case for senior fares, and many seniors migrated to off-peak. Those of us non-seniors were suddenly able to find a seat on the peak-hour buses.

    Thanks for the reflections.

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