Crowded Link train on Sunday

The Sound Transit Board of Directors rolled through a series of momentous decisions Thursday afternoon. The agenda and links to back-up materials are available here. Video link is here.

Low-Income Fare and General Fare Increase for Link Light Rail Only

The Board followed the recommendation of Staff and the Board’s Operations and Administration Committee to create a low-income adult fare category, consisting of riders who qualify through King County Metro’s or Kitsap Transit’s low-income fare program (namely, individuals at or below 200% of the federal poverty level), but to offer a low-income fare only on Link Light Rail.

The new low-income fare on Link will be $1.50, matching Metro’s low-income fare. The low-income fare will be available only with an activated low-income ORCA card provided through King County Metro or Kitsap Transit.

All other riders will see their Link fares increase by 25 cents. Riders with a Reduced Regional Fare Permit (seniors 65+ and riders with disabilities) will see their Link fares increase from the current $0.75 to $1.00 per ride. Youth (6-18) will see their Link fares increase from $1.25 to $1.50. Full-fare riders will see their Link fare increase, from the current range of $2.00-$2.75 based on distance, to a range of $2.25-$3.00.

All fare changes will take effect in conjunction with Metro’s fare changes, on March 1, 2015.

Two other options reviewed by staff would have implemented low-income fares on ST Express just within counties, and on ST Express and Sounder throughout the ST service area. Other fare categories on the modes with a low-income fare would have been raised by 25 cents to offset the fiscal impact. Both options would have required making the low-income fare available to riders in Pierce and Snohomish County. They ran into opposition from suburban mayors on the ST Operations and Administration Committee, including Redmond Mayor John Marchione and Sumner Mayor Dave Enslow.

Othello Property Sale for Multi-Use Affordable Housing TOD

The Board authorized the CEO to sell a parcel of surplus property next to Othello Station to Mercy Housing Northwest 9 Othello East LP for $1,900,000, for mixed-use affordable housing transit-oriented development. Mercy Housing Northwest offered the better of two submissions in response to a Request for Proposals put out by ST in January.

Mercy Housing Northwest’s development, named the Myrtle Street Apartments, will have approximately 108 units of workforce housing ranging from 30% to 60% of area median income. 60% of all units are planned to be 2 bedrooms or larger. The development will provide 10 commercial parking stalls and 40 residential stalls for a residential parking ratio of 0.37. Mercy Housing Northwest applied for City of Seattle Housing Levy Funds in the fall of 2014 and plans to apply for Low Income Housing Tax Credits in January and February of 2015.

In related action, the Board authorized the CEO to execute an agreement of cooperation with the City of Seattle, MHNW 9 Othello East LP and Mercy Housing Northwest, to share information about the Myrtle Street Apartments and create a process for corrective action if the developer defaults under its loan obligations to the City or if the project falls behind schedule.

Long-Range Plan Update Process

Part of the meeting materials was a list of amendments to the Long Range Plan being offered by board members.

Other Actions

· authorized the CEO to open up a new trust fund account for employee health care benefits.
· approved the 2015 State Legislative Program, including seeking authorization for ST3 funding.
· authorized the CEO to extend the 5-year ST Express service agreements for 6 months with King County Metro and Pierce Transit while negotiations on long-term contracts continue. Both service agreements expire at the end of 2014.
· authorized another $12 million for Link construction contracts.
· authorized issuance of up to $1.33 billion in bonds in order to access a federal loan at 3.1% interest in support of East Link.

49 Replies to “Sound Transit Raises Fares, Approves Low-Income Fare for Link”

  1. I like how ST is selling a parcel to an agency that (to the best of my understanding), doesn’t pay property taxes on (at least some of) its properties, while at the same time wanting more money from property taxes. (If I’m wrong about the type of affordable housing mentioned above not paying property tax, someone correct me).

    Also, is there a time limit on the low-income pass for an individual? Can the same person, as long as they meet the 200% requirement, have a low-income pass for life? Why not put a time-limit like 5 years on it? Shouldn’t our goal, as a society, is to help and encourage the poor to leave poverty?

      1. My comment wasn’t about location. I was commenting on ST wanting more from property taxes, while at the same time selling a parcel to an agency whose properties don’t pay property taxes. But yes, keep low-income housing concentrated in Seattle, where more of the social service agencies are and better transit is.

      2. So, no matter where they put the housing, it won’t pay property taxes. Why do you think putting it here worse than any other location?

    1. Couldn’t agree more. There must be lots of people out there who could earn a lot more but choose to remain under 200% of the federal poverty level so they can get a discount on bus rides.

      1. Emily, I knew you were being sarcastic, but there are a lot of people out there who choose to remain in poverty because they enjoy not just a discounted bus pass, but free or discounted 15 to 20 other things, like rent, utilities, food, clothes, daycare, medical, etc. And if they work just a few more hours a week, or accept that assistant manager job at some fast food place, and begin to climb their way out of poverty, all their benefits will go away, and they’ll literally not be able to afford to pay full market rates for all their expenses. So yes, for many who are taking advantage of multiple income-tested benefits, there is an incentive not to earn over a certain amount. It’s a false choice to ask “Oh, so they’d rather be poor than make $60k/year?” The road to a middle class income is usually gradual. And for many, they are addicted to all the handouts and discounts, and have built a rather comfortable lifestyle around it.

        But think about it. “The more discounts and handouts you give someone, the more you are helping them.” So in your world, if we went through every expense a person in poverty has to pay, and told them they only have to pay 0 to 30 cents on the dollar for anything they ever have to pay for, including rent, as long as they stay in poverty, you can’t tell me that you aren’t encouraging that person to stay poor.

        Put a time limit on the low-income fare for an individual. How about 5 years?

      2. Where’s your evidence that a lot of people are remaining jobless or working less than they could to keep benefits? How many are there? What about the time it takes to go to all these agencies and wait in line and answer degrading questions and fill out tons of forms repeatedly and photocopy their tax returns? The level of patience and stress it requires is worse than many jobs, plus you have to wait to see if you qualify or will be renewed. It’s not just lazing on the couch watching soap operas.

    2. As a renter, I am not intimately versed in property tax laws. But wasn’t the property already not paying property taxes, since it belongs to Sound Transit?

      BTW, the discount gets even deeper when you hit 65. Should we really, as a society, be encouraging people to get old?

      1. Right, I don’t think ST (or any governmental agency) pays property tax today. Nonprofits are tax-free if the property is used for tax-exempt activities (e.g. church worship, community food bank, museum) but not if it is used for profit-making activities (e.g. renting out a parking lot)

        Nonprofits and governments still benefit from police protection, fire protection, and many other city services that the rest of society must pay for. Whether that is a fair deal, I don’t know.

      2. In case Sam can’t figure it out, the specific issue here is whether the workforce housing is sufficient public benefit to forego $X in tax income. Workforce housing is one of the Seattle public’s top priorities right now, so the answer is probably yes.

    3. “I like how ST is selling a parcel to an agency that (to the best of my understanding), doesn’t pay property taxes on (at least some of) its properties, while at the same time wanting more money from property taxes.”

      That sounds completely irrelevant to me. What matters is the intrinsic value of the social purpose: is it important enough to justify the tax exemption? The status quo answer is yes. If you disagree, tell your leaders to abolish the program and sell the parcel to a regular developer. The fact that it doesn’t pay property tax is a corollary: the benefit of the public use was considered more important than the tax income from the parcel. If you want public libraries, they have to be somewhere. If you don’t want public libraries, then say you don’t want public libraries. Don’t complain that the library exists and doesn’t pay property tax. If the library did pay property tax, it would be just a shift from one taxpayer fund to another, from the library fund to the general fund. That would cut into the library budget, for what? Isn’t the library budget set where it should be already?

      whether the parcel serves an important enough public purpose to justify the tax exemption. The fact that the parcel is designated as such means the powers that be think yes. If you disagree, tell your neighbors and leaders that you want that program abolished and the parcel sold to a private developer.

      1. I think he, along with say… libertarians and other social conservatives can’t stand the idea that some people are afforded economic opportunities not available to middle and upper income individuals.

        My answer: Washington state needs a personal AND corporate Income Tax pronto!

  2. When trains get longer, perhaps all the public service agencies can chip in and add a ‘one stop shopping car’ to the end of each consist. Government comes to the people!
    Get your transit passes, pay taxes, get food stamps, a little counseling, and maybe some methadone while we’re at it Just think of all the trips this would save..

    1. While I realize that you are being sarcastic here, there is actually quite a lot of merit at having government services immediately adjacent to rail stations. It’s great to have high-density residential next to stations –but in terms of daily foot traffic one of the best station area land uses is to relocate the government offices that get visited by large numbers of the public on a daily basis.

      1. Is there a major government agency not located downtown (besides the VA)? I think they’re all pretty much already within a short walking distance of a downtown Link station.

      2. “Government offices” include more than agencies. They include post offices, election departments, county service centers and city halls (including Tukwila, Shoreline and other cities besides Seattle). While we have many close to rail Downtown, we have plenty that aren’t on either an existing or future light rail line.

    2. Mic, tell me one thing: Are you suggesting that there is anything the matter with any of the things you’ve listed? If it’s about preferential use of rail cars for them, that’s an easy one. Average light rail car has two cabins.

      Have the added car use one for above services. And for the other, have our car-builders study the private railroad coaches of the nineteenth century- wood paneling, brass fittings, and cut glass panels. Fit them with padded leather armchairs and tufted ottomans (the furniture, not the Turks.)

      Modify smoking laws to permit cigars worth not less than a hundred dollars each. And equip the section with a mahogany bar, with a picture of a generously curved woman (in those days, Winona Ryder would not have been able to get a part playing a starving Irish orphan)on the ceiling.

      And direct access to various stock-market stuff via a computer system having brass manual telegraph keys in place of keyboards an mouses. And above all, have a mail-hook at every station, so that demands for tax breaks can be placed in mail-sacks be grabbed as the consist goes roaring by.

      Also, Sam: balance: a five year benefit limit for the poor, to increase their incentive to leave poverty, with a two hundred year minimum time for tax breaks- because it’s been proven that a gift of money ruins the initiative of the poor, while the lack of it ruins the initiative of the rich.

      So the sight of a LINK car speeding by with half of it streamlined with ST colors, and half based on something JP Morgan traveled on and owned will be perfectly symbolic. Vape-technology smoke stack, bell, and recorded whistle would be perfect.

      Meantime, we really could add bistro sections, as they did for awhile in Karlsruhe, and also put pub cars on both LINK trains. And as they do in Europe, add these cars to our streetcar fleet for charter tours. And also, as they do on similar cars in the Bay Area, have one bistro car on every Sounder train. Likewise selling transit passes with the coffee and pop.


    1. It’s on the meeting video from the 9th. Marchione said the county council never reached out to the suburbs regarding the low-income fare program. He can have that argument with Councilmembers Lambert and Hague, who enthusiastically supported the program from the get-go.

      Enslow said transit fares are already subsidized 80%, which is enough. He might be thinking of Pierce Transit, since ST’s subsidy is less than that.

      I look at the support for option 2 as filling up the glass halfway, since it is just a matter of time before Link has the majority of boardings in ST, and ST Express routes start going away, especially in Seattle and King County.

      1. Is it any wonder why, when you let the mayor of a suburban hamlet like Sumner head up your regional transit agency things are FUBAR?

  3. But is it right to fund the low income fare by a “tax” on other riders? That’s essentially what it is the raise the fare on the other riders in order to fund the low income fare. It should be funded by the general taxpayer, not by transit riders.

    1. The argument that RRFP-holders are subsidizing low-income riders, when RRFP riders are still paying *less* than low-income riders, is nonsense. Same for youth riders. All categories are still being heavily subsidized by general taxpayers.

    2. Other riders are paying only 30% of the fare. The fares and subsidies are arbitrary, so if it’s raised for one group and lowered for anther I wouldn’t really call it one group “subsidizing” the other. Both are being subsidized by taxpayers, and low-income people are subsidized a bit more so they can make ends meet.

      1. Actually, transit riders are subsidizing auto drivers by not requiring them to fund more highway, bridge and parking capacity that would be required if the transit riders all shifted into SOVs

        The transit fare should be set at such a level as to not encourage additional SOV use. That level shouldn’t vary based on the decision to provide additional subsidies to low income riders, nor should such additional subsidies mean less transit can be operated – it really ought to come out of the social services budget, not the transit budget.

  4. LRP alerts.

    M7: light rail Northgate – Lake City – Bothell – Totem Lake.

    M10-M11: Why is ST perpetuating the ambiguity between Central Link and Tacoma Link technology? They’re all called just “light rail”.

    M26: ST Express on 145th Street from I-5 to Lake City Way. Can you say “Route 522 bypassing Lake City”? Sponsored by Murray and O’Brien.

    1. City of Kirkland asked that M7 be amended so that the previous generic reference to North Kirkland be replaced with a specific reference to Totem Lake.

      I’m scratching my head over M27. “Amend the Long-Range Plan map to add Corridor No. 41 from Totem Lake Urban Center to downtown Seattle via the South Kirkland Park and Ride and State Route 520 as a Regional express bus corridor.” (Sponsored by Murray, O’Brien and Balducci). Earlier language had referred to North Kirkland generically and had omitted the reference to the South Kirkland P&R.

      Maybe I’m reading too much into the tea leaves here. The language about South Kirkland P&R is redundant because there is no route to 520 that doesn’t pass there (whether it’s via the rail corridor or 405). As an incremental add to the LRP, it would seem to be giving up on serving downtown Kirkland in favor of express service on 405. If M27 is implemented along with 405 BRT, then Totem Lake will get a lot of express service, and Kirkland is otherwise cut out of ST3.

      1. Lots, in fact most routes bypass S. Kirkland P&R. Only the 255 goes from Totem Lake to S. Kirk P&R. ST 540 only goes to Kirkland TC. Metro runs several routes that stop at the Totem Lake Flyer Stop and go 405 to 520 to DT (311, 237 are the two I can think of off the top of my head; 277? that goes DT to Houghton to ?). The 235 sort of serves Totem Lake and S. Kirk P&R. I think most/all ST routes that hit the Totem Lake Flyer Stop terminate in Bellevue (522 and ?). The problem is S. Kirk P&R is in no man’s land. There was a chance to fix that and do a land swap with WSDOT to move it adjacent to 520 but instead the low income housing cartel turned it into another Overlake Village. Well, not that bad really as they did include a majority of “market rate” units. Interesting regarding the discussion of property tax. Since this is county owned land there is no property tax collected; yet the majority of the apartments will be for profit units making money for the not for profits (ARCH, and ?).

      2. Thanks, that’s correct (although I believe the 540 has now returned to the South Kirkland P&R). I was being parochial and thinking of how the Kirkland Metro buses all seem to go through there.

        A Totem Lake – South Kirk – Seattle express service sounds a lot like today’s 255. Only it saves time by skipping downtown Kirkland, and Houghton, and Juanita. That’s a lot of ridership sacrificed in order to make a faster service to Totem Lake. On the other hand, if it is in addition to the 255, then is there enough ridership to Totem Lake to justify the service hours? Or is it a rebrand of the 255, and what would be the point of that? And how does it make any sense if there is BRT on the corridor?

        Kirkland (or one council member, at least), wants more of the buses on SR520 going through the South Kirkland P&R. So I guess this sort of meets his concerns.

        The whole thing feels like a fig-leaf to me. It meets some of the stated concerns of the electeds in Kirkland (something for Totem Lake Urban Center, something for South Kirk P & R). But makes no sense independently unless Kirkland is to be otherwise excluded from ST3. Because you’d never want to do this if you were to have any service to central Kirkland.

      3. They are a few years too late to have influenced the 520 rebuild which should have included an inline freeway stop that routes like 545 and 252/257 could have serviced while continuing towards Redmond or Totem Lake – together with an HOV ramp.

        But none of that was built so it won’t be possible to service S. Kirkland cost- effectively, and buses going to 405 will be in general traffic. Even the 520 HOV lanes didn’t get moved to the center as was promised in this project. Lame, lamer, lamest

      4. Yes, it’s too late now to do anything with S. Kirkland. However, the rebuild netted essentially zero extra capacity and I expect the housing and retail will add more demand than they built in underground parking. Right now with only about a dozen stalls blocked off for construction the lot is completely full by 10am with numerous people showing up and circling the lot and parking garage looking for a spot or someone to leave. Hougton on the other hand is left half empty. So I think the best use of money at this point is to add a center exit/flyer stop at Houghton. BTW, the 520 center HOV lanes did happen as part of the rebuild and are currently being used. The buses have a dedicated on-ramp at 108th and cruise through the new center flyer stations at Hunts Pt and Evergreen Pt. Not sure but I don’t think they funded direct HOV to HOV 520/405 access. That’s bad but it could actually be good in the sense that if you’re in the far right lane it might make sense for the buses to just stay there and exit/re-enter at Houghton. At the very least Houghton should have a direct bus to Bellevue TC. I wonder if anyone has looked at rerouting the 235 (stay on 124th to Old Redmond Rd. instead of going down 85th St. to Kirkland TC) or the 238. The 235 duplicates the 234 route between Kirkland TC and S. Kirk P&R. People at Totem Lake can use the 236 route to get to Kirkland TC. The easiest reroute would be the 238. Instead of going down the hill from Houghton P&R and then backtracking to Kirkland TC it could use 116th (fast and direct) and then travel the Medical Mile down to NE 6th and the TC. Better yet, turn on NE 12th and then 110th Ave NE past the library.

        Totem Lake is growing. The City just opened a Jail/Court house/Police HQ there. The existing business park is gaining tenants. The retail west of 405 is booming and 124th is lined with multifamily. Lake Washington Technical College is a big draw. Of course the dead gorilla is the old Mall area but with the new Cross Kirkland Corridor, the clean-up of Totem Lake, Evergreen Medical Center and new multifamily (like 116 Slater) I think it’s set to grow with the rest of the Eastside.

      5. The center HOV lanes pretty much end at 108th Ave NE.

        This project was officially called “SR 520 – Medina to SR 202: Eastside Transit and HOV Project” and the plans as well as EIS had center HOV lanes going at least all the way to NE 40th St at Overlake. But in order to help SOVs, DOT has decided to keep outside HOV lanes east of I-90, which means those HOV lanes aren’t well connected, and in most cases the westbound the left traffic lane flows much more freely. In the eastbound direction there usually isn’t much backup but buses in the HOV lane have a greater degree of intersecting traffic and merges. Basically the projected didn’t really do anything for transit east of 108th Ave, despite the name. It could have made the vicinity of the S. Kirkland P&R a good transfer point if there had been HOV ramps continuing eastward (so that the 545 and 542 could serve it) and even better if it also hooked into a 405 ramps, which could mean that routes like 252/257 or future TotemLake service, and even routes like ST 555/556. More connections is always better.

        The Houghton P&R is pretty crippled by the Metro service reductions as the walking route from the P&R to the southbound freeway stop is pretty awful.

        It would be nice if transit service and pedestrian walking patterns would be a factor in Totem Lake development. I haven’t seen much evidence of that.

      6. While the direct access ramps were intended for the 255 and 540, I am pleasantly surprised to see them benefiting the 542 and 545 also. During the westbound afternoon commute, I have seen Redmond->Seattle buses actually exit the freeway with the right-hand exit to 108th, then immediately re-enter it using the HOV direct access ramp. Because the exit ramp tends to consistently move, even while the rest of the freeway is a parking lot, this trick sometimes shaves off as much as 10 full minutes of travel time. The only problem is that, while the trick exists, only about half the bus drivers seem to know about it and, if you get somebody who doesn’t, you get to sit in traffic while other buses with better-informed drivers zoom past you.

  5. In the Sound Transit press release: Sound Transit Board Chair and King County Executive Dow Constantine said “Having the same reduced fare for Link and Metro keeps our systems in alignment and makes them simpler to navigate.”

    And why does this compelling argument apply to low income riders only, and not to all other riders who continue to have a mish-mash of fares and fare policies?

    1. It doesn’t even apply to low-income riders, given that they will still be paying $2.50 or $3.50 on ST Express, and the regular full fare, which would take too long to list here, on Sounder.

      1. Yeah, it’s really a “Let them eat cake” policy. Sorry low income, if you can’t afford to ride transit with panache then too bad. This is Seattle after all and we want to encourage a high class low income population and bus riders commuting from places like South King County or Tacoma just aren’t the type we’re looking for.

      2. So low income riders from Kirkland on the 255 get the $1.50 low income fare, but low income riders who use the 545 or 550 to get to work or appointments have to pay $2.50?

        So this was really a Seattle-centric decision?

      3. “So this was really a Seattle-centric decision?”

        No, the 255 is an anomoly. Most intercity routes are ST so people forget about the 255. I can kind of see an argument that low-income riders don’t take ST Express because they usually stay in their own city, which is sufficient for the grocery store and social services and medical appointments (except when it isn’t). So going to another city is a luxury and shouldn’t have a low-income fare. Whereas Link has been positioning itself as the primary service in southeast Seattle and from there to downtown, and that’s specifically targeting low-income riders (and Link’s cost and fare are lower than Metro’s), so a low-income fare there makes sense. What makes my head scratch is, is it really a flat $1.50 fare from Seattle to SeaTac, or Lynnwood to Des Moines? That would surprise many people and look excessively low I think. However, it’s not really true that low-income people stay in their city. They have appointments at First Hill hospitals and clinics; they go to the Section 8 office in Tukwila, they work wherever they can find a job, etc.

      4. I would not just flat-out assume that a low-income person going from Kirkland to Seattle is a “luxury”. People live where they can afford to live and work where they can find employment. Sometimes, people can’t afford enough in rent to make the two close together.

        Sometimes, there are even other constraints, such as married spouses who can’t find jobs in the same city, or people choosing to live with their parents in order to avoid rent entirely, at the price of a longer commute.

    2. I’m pretty sure you can go from Des Moines or Federal Way or Auburn to Aurora Village on Metro for $1.50 on the low income fare. I’m not really sure it should matter whether Metro operates the 150 or 101 or 312 or RR E while ST operates the 550 or 545, if you are low income. The distance if much shorter on the 550 and 545 than the 150

  6. Had an experience this morning trying to help a couple my age group, late sixties, visiting from Idaho. And trying to figure out fares from the Freighthouse Square Sounder station to Westlake Center. Bill that at an attorney’s time-scale!

    Portland issues paper all day cards at every car-stop. Six dollars standard. Two for seniors. It would be the best possible and least cost subsidy to passengers of all income brackets to have machines issue similar passes standard just about everywhere else.

    Without having to also pay five dollars for an ORCA card and then add the fare amounts to it- after one figures them out. A five dollar Orca card with a day pass on it, and other simplifications like it, would deal with a huge amount of the real discrimination against everyone who has not either time or story-problem skill- or the means to hire someone who does- that our fare system involves.

    Present system gives high premiums to those with the resources to deal with complexity. Or the ability to hire people to figure it our for them. Fix this factor, and fewer people would ask for, or need, subsidies.

    I always liked George Bernard Shaw’s attitude toward the poor: Eliminate them! Method being the elimination of poverty. Do that and we wouldn’t have to spend whole postings on philosophy over bus tickets. Good thing we don’t have to talk about sewers like this.

    Mark Dublin

    1. And the reason so many people are poor now is that profit increases since the 1970s no longer translate to wage increases and instead companies pocket the difference or give them to their shareholders. So as prices go up people can afford less and less and eventually they’re poor. The opposite of eliminating poverty or the right of abode. Note that social services would be unnecessary if so many people weren’t poor.

  7. I can’t wait: finally, a ride on the bus in Seattle will cost more than a subway ticket in New York city!

    1. Well, the subway fare is going up next year as well, so that might or might not actually be true. (The MTA Express Bus fare is still comfortably higher than ST Express, in any case—the subway fare could hit $2.75 next year or could stay at $2.50 with some other tweaks.)

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