Update: Geoff at ST pointed out that the Tacoma Link streetcar fare is set to go up automatically in September 2016, unless a funder (such as the Tacoma Business Improvement Area has been doing) covers the revenue ST would gain from installing fare collection equipment and collecting fares.

ORCA LIFT on ST ExpressA menu of proposals will be considered by the Sound Transit Board to honor the ORCA LIFT low-income reduced fare program on ST Express and Sounder. The proposals involve fare increases on these services, partially to offset the administrative costs and lost fare revenue from the LIFT program, and partially to keep up with increased operational costs, including inflation. Any fare changes would take effect March 1, 2016.

For ST Express, the options under consideration are:
1. No fare change at this time.
2. Increase fares across all categories by 25 cents, and create a new LIFT fare category for ST Express routes that serve only King County, matching the freshly-increased youth fare, $1.50. The ORCA LIFT fare would only be honored on routes 522, 540-567, and 577.
3. Increase fares across all categories by 25 cents, and create a new LIFT fare category for ST Express, matching the freshly-increased youth fare of $1.50 1-county, and $2.75 multi-county.

For Sounder, the options under consideration are:
1. No fare change at this time.
2. Increase fares for full-paying adults and youth by 50 cents, and seniors and riders with disabilities by 25 cents, without honoring ORCA LIFT.
3. Increase fares for full-paying adults and youth by 50 cents, and seniors and riders with disabilities by 25 cents, create a new LIFT fare category for Sounder, and match the LIFT fare to the freshly-raised youth fare.

Decisions on each service could be made independently of the other service, but won’t be made until the ST Board meeting on Thursday, November 19. The announcement lists several options for providing feedback, including an online survey, with a comment period opening Saturday, September 19 (today) and closing Thursday, November 12. There will be a hearing on the proposals at noon on Thursday, November 5, at Union Station, 401 S. Jackson St.

The Board voted last year to honor the low-income fare on Link Light Rail, which took effect March 1 of this year, the day the LIFT fare went live on King County Metro, the South Lake Union Streetcar, and the King County Water Taxis, partnered with the low-income fare program that has been in place for Kitsap Transit since 1985. Riding the Tacoma Link streetcar remains free until September 2016, at which time the fare will go to $1.50 for adults, and 75 cents for RRFP holders and youth, unless the Tacoma Business Improvement Area extends its subsidy of Tacoma Link to cover lost net fare recovery. , until board action changes that.

Riders in households earning 200% or less of the federal poverty level are eligible for the LIFT program. The application and card are free. Getting the reduced fare requires loading a pass or cash value onto the ORCA LIFT card, and tapping the card for fare payments. The card’s LIFT fare discount is good for two years from the time of receipt.

Non-low-income riders benefit from the ORCA LIFT program as a result of more of their fellow riders tapping instead of paying with cash.

Some data regarding the number of LIFT cards in use (page 0), and their usage (page 16), is now available at the 2015 2nd Quarter ORCA Joint Board Program Management Report.

Fares have only increased once in the history of Sounder, in 2007, as a result of Sound Transit Board Resolution 2007-06, wherein the Board voted to switch from a 3-zone fare system to distance-based fares. As it happens, the current proposals are nearly identical to Option 2 that was not selected in 2007, for the trip pairings and payer categories that existed at that time. The youth fare was set at 3/4 of the full fare, rounded down to the nearest quarter. The RRFP fare was set at half the full fare, which is the legal maximum for senior/disability fares, rounded down to the nearest quarter. The current proposals would alter the youth-fare formula slightly, to round off, and round up if halfway between quarters.

ST Express fares last went up in 2011, as a result of Resolution 2010-11.

Here is what fares on all agencies that honor the PugetPass would look like on March 1, 2016 if these proposals pass:

Agency Service RRFP.. Youth LIFT… Full Adult
Sound Transit ST Express intra-county $0.75 $1.25 n/a $2.50
Sound Transit Proposed ST Express intra-county $1.00 $1.50 $1.50 * $2.75
Sound Transit ST Express inter-county $1.50 $2.50 n/a $3.50
Sound Transit Proposed ST Express inter-county $1.75 $2.75 $2.75 * $3.75
Sound Transit Sounder minimum $1.25 $2.00 n/a $2.75
Sound Transit Proposed Sounder minimum $1.50 $2.50 $2.50 ** $3.25
Sound Transit Sounder maximum $2.50 $3.75 n/a $5.25
Sound Transit Proposed Sounder maximum $2.75 $4.25 $4.25 ** $5.75
Sound Transit Link Light Rail minimum $1.00 $1.50 $1.50 $2.25
Sound Transit Link Light Rail maximum $1.00 $1.50 $1.50 $3.00 ***
Sound Transit Tacoma Link streetcar $0.00 $0.00 n/a $0.00
Community Transit local bus $1.00 $1.50 n/a $2.25
Community Transit commuter south/Everett $2.00 $3.00 n/a $4.25
Community Transit commuter north/east $2.50 $4.00 n/a $5.50
Everett Transit local bus $0.25 $0.75 n/a $1.00
Everett Transit commuter (Route 70) $1.00 $1.50 n/a $2.25
KC Water Taxis West Seattle ORCA $2.00 $3.00 $3.00 $4.00
KC Water Taxis West Seattle cash $2.00 $4.75 $4.75 $4.75
KC Water Taxis Vashon ORCA $2.50 $3.75 $3.75 $4.75
KC Water Taxis Vashon cash $2.50 $5.50 $5.50 $5.50
King County Metro off-peak $1.00 $1.50 $1.50 $2.50
King County Metro 1-zone peak $1.00 $1.50 $1.50 $2.75
King County Metro 2-zone peak $1.00 $1.50 $1.50 $3.25
Kitsap Transit buses and foot ferry $1.00 $1.00 $1.00 $2.00
Pierce Transit bus $0.75 $0.75 n/a $2.00
Seattle Streetcar streetcar $1.00 $1.50 $1.50 $2.25

* The Board may choose to honor ORCA LIFT only on routes wholely within King County, or on all routes.
** The Board may choose to raise Sounder fares without honoring the ORCA LIFT.
*** The regular adult Link maximum fare may increase further due to the opening of Capitol Hill Station, University of Washington Station, and Angle Lake Station in 2016.

The youth fare applies to riders ages 6-18. Children age 5 and under ride free when accompanied by a fare-paying adult, up to four children per adult.

Getting the ORCA LIFT card requires a visit to one of the many sites that process applications. Getting a disabilities Regional Reduced Fare Permit (RRFP) ORCA card requires a visit to one of the transit agency offices, in particular the King Street Center at 201 S. Jackson St, between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm on a regular business day, for King County. Getting a senior Regional Reduced Fare Permit ORCA card or a youth ORCA card can be done through snail mail. The regular adult ORCA card is available at all Sound Transit train stations, and lots of other locations.

65 Replies to “ORCA LIFT and Fare Increases Being Considered for ST Express and Sounder”

  1. What I hope DOES’NT happen, is that Sounder fares go further up without an increase in the ST Express. I mean, it never made any sense to me in the first place why trains are more expensive than their bus counterparts in this part of the country. It should be the opposite.

    1. Because a) ceteris paribus a train ride is a more valued, in-demand product than a bus ride, and b) Sounder is considerably more costly to operate, and requires almost twice the per-rider subsidy as STEX?

      1. Everett->Seattle and Tacoma->Seattle are served by both Sounder and buses. Given that the board has decided that Sounder is going to run and that, once it’s running, Sounder has a huge capacity, and that the marginal cost to fill an empty seat is zero, it is in ST’s interest for as many people as possible to choose the train over parallel bus routes, as that means fewer parallel bus trips, which means real money saved.

        Pricing the train at a fare higher than the bus has the opposite effect. When people choose to ride the bus over the train to save money on their fare, ST needs to operate more buses, and their operating expenses go up, not down.

      2. Such a Laffer curve would be multi-dimensional, taking into account the base fare, the distance rate, and the discount category. Plus the effect of passes, and then consideration of whether the distance calculation should be inverse hyperbolic, or some other concoction, and whether any particular rate shift might swing the result of an election. Setting up the laboratory conditions to test the hypothesized fare recovery would not be cheap, perhaps negating the utility of the Laffer curve. If I’ve lost you by now, ask Mark to explain.

        I will offer a crazy prediction: Link fares will get flattened some day, because of the need to increase RRFP fares. Ponder thereon.

      3. South Sounder has no problem filling the trains with the current fare structure.. North Sounder has issues due to geography and travel time. Lowering North Sounder fares wouldn’t likely increase ridership by much at all.

    2. I don’t foresee the Board voting to apply multi-county LIFT honoring to Sounder (which would include the fare increase), without applying multi-county LIFT honoring to ST Express (which would include a fare increase, and which would provide a more noticeable benefit to non-low-income riders from reducing change fumbling),

      I don’t foresee the Board going for that messy halfway option on honoring LIFT on ST Express, if only because of the 577/578 problem.

      I don’t foresee the Board raising fares on Sounder without also raising fares on ST Express, which *has* fallen behind the fares for comparable services offered by other agencies.

      I also don’t foresee the Board honoring LIFT multi-county on ST Express without also doing so on Sounder, just because of the optics.

      So, out of the nine outcomes from cross-hatching the three options on each service, the ones I see as realistic possibilities are:

      1) No fare increase on either service at this time.
      2) Increase fares on both, and fully honor LIFT on all ST services, across county lines.

    3. Link’s fare is less expensive than Metro for trips up to 5 miles (Westlake – Beacon Hill) and the same as Metro up to 10 miles (Westlake – Rainier Beach). Westlake-SeaTac is less than Metro’s 2-zone peak fare.

      Sounder has a lot of expenses, starting with the BNSF track leases, trains that are twice as heavy as European ones (due to federal regulations requiring them to be like freight trains), and the number of personnel on board. That’s why its subsidy is higher. But as asdf2 says, additional passengers on a train that has room for them are essentially free, so more cars and passengers could bring that subsidy down.

      Sounder’s fare structure is designed to position it as a premium luxury service. That creates a different incentive for passengers compared to making it the same price as buses or less, or deleting the buses. So far ST has not been willing to change its position, which leads to cost-conscious riders taking ST Express instead. There are arguments on both ways of whether this is a good thing.

      1. Unless the Sounder trains are sold out, Sounder trains and ST Express trains taking the same route should have the same price.

        I have not personally evaluated whether Sounder South trains are sold out.

  2. The ORCA LIFT fare would only be honored on routes 522, 540-567, and 577.

    Oh, good, I was just thinking about how the fare structure for Puget Sound area transit was entirely too transparent and logical, and nowhere near byzantine enough.

    1. Yes, I checked and double-checked. Per ST staff, route 577 would honor LIFT under the second ST Express option I listed, and route 578 would not.

      1. What???? WFT? Seriously? Not even for trips fully within King County? On weekdays, all off-peak Federal Way-Seattle (note: both are in King County) trips are on 578. On Weekends, half of the trips are 578, and half are 577.

      2. Please tell me you are mistaken. Please tall me that 578 will get ORCA Lift fare for trips within King County, and a multi-county fare for trips crossing the county line for option 2. Please tell me that Sound Transit isn’t so clueless about their own bus schedules and how people use it.

      3. According to the Sept 2015 – March 2016 ST Ride the Wave Transit Guide, there are no 578 trips that operate just within King County.

        Why would any LIFT holders want option 2? I’d assume they’d all want option 3, unless they have enough youth-fare or RRFP riders in the family to erase the savings.

        Well, some will want full LIFT honoring, without a fare increase, but that is not on the table.

      4. Well of course not, it’s a two county route. But it’s also just the 577 with a Pierce County tail. Why on God’s green earth can’t they just have a one-county with Lift fare for King County routes and 578 for trips within King County (Seattle – FW – Auburn), and a regular two-county fare for cross-county trips on 578?

        Also, as a frequent rider of the 578, I always see generally 50-90% of passengers’ trips to Seattle originate in Federal Way (or vice-versa).

      5. Of course LIFT holders would want option 3. Option 2 is what Sound Transit might want, to increase net revenue.

      6. Are the ORCA readers on 578 set for a 1- or 2-county fare as default? Is anybody going south and using ORCA actually paying the multi-county fare?

    2. I think the ultimate goal must be to have each rider of each service pay a fare determined for them alone. We’re all special snowflakes here, you know.

      1. I am agape at the ability of Seattle-area transit agencies to make the fare structure incomprehensibly confusing.

    1. Taxpayers are still subsidizing all riders. The subsidy would be a little bit less for adult riders who can afford to pay more, and a little bit more for adult riders who can’t.

    2. Also, LIFT is not a free fare. Everyone who isn’t flat-out evading the fare or riding a free-fare service are still “paying riders”. (I believe Metro’s free-fare tickets are not honored on ST, but I forgot to check.)

      Indeed, the LIFT and youth discount is not very deep, when compared to the discount for seniors and riders with disabilities, who might actually be able to pay more.

      1. If ORCA overcharges you and you call customer service, they offer you a free fare ticket for Metro or ST, but you have to decide beforehand which one.

  3. Hmmm… Is there an estimate on how much revenue would be lost if they just implemented the $1.50 Lift fare for trips within King County (including 578), and changed nothing else? Basically, how bad of a hit would they take if they just ate the cost of adding a Lift fare within King County?

    Is ST so dependent on fare collections for operations that much change will significantly affect operations? Sales tax is volatile. But fare collection is arguably even more volatile, since you only get it if people ride.

    I think in general, transit agencies have a hard time putting a ceiling on high fares. For example, Sounder to Lakewood costing $5.25 when a bus that takes I-5 and doesn’t detour to Puyallup costs $3.50 (does the 592 cannibalize Sounder ridership because of this? Without a doubt.). Another astronomical fare that lacks precedent is the CT North/East commuter fare ($5.50). In that example, a $5.50 fare, or $198 per month for a pass, is a huge barrier to entry for a publicly funded system that we all pay into.

    1. CT is doing it right: they should charge premium fares for ultra-long-distance trips, and it has a three-level fare structure for local, Seattle to Everett, and Seattle to north of Everett. $198 per month is only $88 more than the one-zone pass I have, and it properly reflects the cost of providing service from Marysville to Seattle. If they drove they’d be spending 40 miles of gas money each way; why shouldn’t they expect the bus to cost around $5.50? Metro should put premium fares on the downtown-Auburn expresses, and charge a one-zone fare on RapidRide E and the other local routes that cross the Shoreline, White Center, and Skyway boundaries.

      As for your concerns about the 578, you’re assuming that ST has already chosen an alternative. These are just the initial options. If enough people speak up about the 578, ST may realize that option 2 is too unpopular to implement as-is.

      Ultimately I would like to see more fare consolidation, and cheaper or at least equal fares for the high-volume services: RapidRide, Link, Sounder. These are the routes we’re trying to get everyone to use if they can, so they should be priced to incentivize rathe than disincentivize. And I would like Link’s fare to be flatter. But ST3 Link is so long that how can you charge the same fare for downtown to Everett as U-District to Northgate? I don’t think most people have fully realized that ST2 Link’s longer trips will bring significantly higher maximum fares. SeaTac to Lynnwood and Lynnwood to Bellevue will not just be the $3.00 that Westlake to SeaTac is.

      1. The old Metro route 152 got axed for underperformance. Perhaps if it had charged a super premium express fare, it might still be around.

      2. The other thing they’d be spending money on if they drove 40 miles is parking, since just about all these high-priced routes go downtown. That’s $10/day right there. And there’s lots of precedent for this — long-distance P&R transit is expensive in many cities. Actually I’d guess there’s less precedent for how high our local fares are in King County. Most of the day it costs the same to catch an ST bus from Seattle to Issaquah than a Metro bus across downtown. During peak hours it costs less. And long-distance commuters here get free transfers to local services (except during peak hours when they may have to pay an extra quarter), which is a growing but hardly universal trend. It’s really not a bad deal here, except for poor reliability due to WSDOT’s failure to complete and manage its HOV network.

        In CT-land the choice on fares is really brought into focus. CT’s express service is popular both in terms of ridership and politics. They couldn’t shift much money from shorter routes or other areas even if they wanted to. ST isn’t (yet) a big truck you can just dump something on. So it’s a balance between fares and service level, and taxation. Snohomish County has chosen a balance including $5.50 fares. This balance is, more than most transit planning decisions around here, set by a reasonably well informed democratic process. For KCM and ST it’s more complicated — because downtown Seattle and UW aren’t in the middle of CT’s service area CT can set its express-to-Seattle fares totally independently of other routes. When they do they end up with a bigger spread of fare levels than other agencies — a good case that the other agencies should have bigger spreads than they do.

  4. Transit should be working towards a single and easily-understood fare structure, regardless of agency or mode. Something to make it easier for riders to use transit as a system, something more than just their everyday routes. Instead we get this; more complications, not fewer.

    1. What “this” are you talking about?

      Distance-based fare charts?

      The LIFT program?

      The randomness of when LIFT is honored?

      The multiple discount levels?

      Fares based on crossing an arbitrary line rather than on the type of service?

      The fact fares are charged at all?

      1. If anything, these fare increases are complexity-neutral, except for adding the LIFT option if done the Option 2 way. As I said above, the only likely scenario involving a fare increase will simply align the LIFT fare with the youth fare, which will make the fare system LESS complicated for LIFT holders, and no more complicated for anyone else.

        But in the case of ST Express, ST is actually catching its RRFP and youth fares up to Metro’s, and aligning the full adult fare with Metro’s peak 1-zone adult fare. For multi-county, ST Express is way behind CT’s fares already. That makes the fare system a little less complicated.

        Is there a feature of the fare increases you don’t like, other than the fact that fares would be increasing?

      2. I visited Rome this spring and rode transit daily. Bought my transit tickets in the local convenience store, and those were good to ride any city bus, tram or train. One ticket, one fare. Simple enough even a non-Italian-speaking visitor could figure it out. In fact, the only figuring out I had to do was which route to take.

        But in Puget Sound country, we not only make the system complicated, we make it dumb. Like the guy I was helping at the Airport Link station. He was headed to Capitol Hill; he bought his ticket to Westlake Station easily enough, but when he picked it out of the bin, he turned to me and asked, I don’t suppose this ticket will be good on the bus to Capitol Hill? And I had to tell him No, you have to purchase another separate fare for that last mile.

        When transit decision-makers start solving problems like that, I will know they are serious about making the system understandable and workable for all. Until then, it’s just a hash-job comprehensible only to transit techies like us.

      3. So, what you are saying is that ST should get rid of Link-only and Sounder-only tickets and day passes, the streetcar and SWIFT should do likewise, Metro and Kitsap should ditch paper transfers, PT should ditch their brand-new day passes, the monorail should be allowed into the ORCA pod, WSFerries should accept PugetPass and transfers, and everyone should align their fares, to the maximum extent feasible.

        This proposal doesn’t move away from that goal, and aligns ST bus fares with Metro’s for seniors ($1), riders with disabilities ($1), youth ($1.50), and LIFT holders ($1.50). It also brings the adult fare more in line with the fare Metro is charging most of its riders, the 1-zone peak fare of $2.75.

      4. You’re getting close. What I’d like to see is a single regional public transit agency. It appears to work pretty well down in Portland; I don’t hear any outcry for 3 – 4 separate bus agencies with a rail transit overlay. In Oregon that would be rejected out of hands, as just nuts.

        Does any region in the country have as many different color schemes for its public transit buses? How many separate “brands” do we need? Do our transit agencies go out of their way to confuse people? Or does it all happen accidentally?

      5. Yes, two of the biggest regions on the West Coast.

        The Bay Area: Muni (bus/rail), BART (rail), Caltrain (rail), AC Transit (bus), SamTrans (bus), VTA (bus/rail), ACE (rail), Golden Gate Transit (bus/ferry), etc all on the Clipper Card

        Los Angeles: Metro (bus/rail), Metrolink (rail), Foothill Transit (bus), Big Blue Bus, Long Beach Transit, LADOT DASH, etc (26 of them in LA County which finally are all on the TAP Card)

        None of them have the liberal transfer policy that we do.

      6. Does any region in the country have as many different color schemes for its public transit buses? How many separate “brands” do we need? Do our transit agencies go out of their way to confuse people?

        Never visited the bay area, I take it? 20 agencies overall, around 10 of which enter SF, some of which don’t even take the regional smart card. To my knowledge there’s no multi-agency pass.

      7. That’s the reason I only ride Muni in SF. Everything else is just a confusing blur. Probably the same reaction for Seattle visitors once they get off Link in downtown — a big WTF? when it comes to trying to get somewhere on transit.

      8. When you were in Rome did you stay in the city or did you go to anywhere comparable to Everett, Marysville or Tacoma? Unifying fares within a city is in tension with keeping fares comaprable across a sprawling metropolitan area of which 2/3 is low density. Cities with flat fares like Chicago, New York, and San Francisco generally have city-only transit agencies, and suburban service is provided by a different agency with different fares. Visitors often never encounter the suburban services so they don’t experience the different fares, and the different agencies make it clear that”one agency, one fare.” Europe doesn’t have low-density sprawl like Lynnwood or south King County, so the transit doesn’t have to go through expensive holes of nothingness where 90% of the people drive to reach satellite cities. It just goes from one end of the medium-density metropolis to the other, and the only emptiness is greenbelts. Since we’re trying to unify an entire low-density metropolis under one set of fares, the tension between short-distance trips and long-distance trips become more acute: the former don’t want to subsidize the latter, and the latter want a “reasonable” fare, meaning less than $5 or $10.

      9. “What I’d like to see is a single regional public transit agency.”

        Be aware of the dangers of a single uber-agency. The more you integrate the agencies into one, the more you disintegrate them from their cities and counties. It’s the cities that maintain the roads and construction permits and know most what their residents need, so they have the power to make the transit great or crappy, and in worst-case scenarios they become antagonistic to the external transit agencies. It works better in Europe and Canada where they give the transit agencies (or combined transit/road agencies) enough power to do things right in all aspects. Americans are more suspicious of large entities; that’s why autonomous suburbs exist and city-limited transit agencies.

        In Pugetopols’ case what we need is more a harmonization of fares and routes than a single agency. A single agency just reorganizes the political structure; it doesn’t necessarily improve the routes. One of the arguments for a merger is to save money by eliminating administrative duplication, but there’s been no study on how much duplication there is how much would be elimiated. The corporate world is full of mergers that were supposedly going to lower costs and turn the company into a powerhouse but they don’t end up doing much of either.

        “Does any region in the country have as many different color schemes for its public transit buses? How many separate “brands” do we need?”

        That is more of a problem. ST created its own brands, which makes some sense for new regional services. But at the same time CT and Metro made their own premium services, Swift and RapidRide. Part of that comes down to federal grants: the “BRT” grants require a distinct brand from regular service, and CT and Metro and PT each invented their own (Swift, RapidRide, and the one-digit routes). To be sure, Swift really is a different level of service: it’s limited-stop with a local shadow (like Link), while RapidRide and the one-digit routes are enhanced local routes. So they shouldn’t be squashed into the same brand, but maybe there could be more commonality between them (Brand A level 1, Brand A level 2). Although I wouldn’t call the three local brands a major problem. The counties are large enough that most people will not encounter more than one of them very much.

      10. LA is probably the biggest mess I’ve seen. You have a commuter rail agency with metrolink. You have the LACMTA which operates the metro, light rail, and much of the bus service. The bus service operates under 4 different brands: BRT, express, local, and their version of rapid ride. You have other semi-regional agencies like Foothill Transit and Antelope Valley. In addition many cities and the county operate their own transit services. Some are just local circulator shuttles and some are quite comprehensive and serve areas outside the city limits such as Big Blue Bus or Long Beach.

      11. Thanks for all the good feedback. My bottom line is we need to create a transit system (emphasis on the word System) that is easily understood by casual users, including visitors and local motorists. The more comprehensible we make the system, the more riders it can attract.

        Unfortunately, system comprehensibility is not a criterion being considered by transit decisionmakers.

      12. To be fair to Los Angeles, LA Metro is the “800 pound gorilla” and everyone else is marginal by comparison. This makes the fare complexity not as bad as it looks. It is a mess.

        San Francisco Bay Area is a more severe mess.

        There are cities which have multiple operators but have a single coordinated fare system — London, UK is the most prominent example. It’s complicated behind the scenes, but simple for the user. Seattle should try to copy that, rather than the chaos of San Francisco.

    2. Most cities have low income fares and different fares for different transit modes.

      I am in agreement with you that LINK charging by difference is stupid.

      1. Not counting free tickets for homeless riders, only a handful of transit agencies in the US have low-income fares, and the ones that do are much smaller than KC Metro.

        Thanks for reminding me to look up the latest happenings at Sun Tran (Tucson, AZ), which has long offered its economy fare pass to low-income riders, in addition to seniors and riders with disabilities.

        Sun Tran recently joined the smart-card revolution with its SunGo card, and now requires Economy ID holders to tap the SunGo card in order to get the discount. However, you can then proceed to pay with cash after tapping your pass, but Sun Trans asks that the rider please have product loaded.

    3. The movement to consolidate fares is more at the full-fare level. Discount fares will always be different; otherwise it wouldn’t be a discount. The vast majority of riders are full-fare payers who know to read just the first line on the fare chart and ignore the ones below it. The distinction of King County only STEX LIFT routes — if it happens — will not affect full-fare payers at all. It’ll only affect LIFT payers, who have already signed up for the special card and presumably looked up what their fares will be. To them STEX LIFT will be a new benefit, and having it on some routes is better than having it on no routes. Unless the only routes you use are the ineligible ones.

      1. In most cities I have visited the youth and senior fare is one-half of adult fare. Perhaps the LIFT fare could also be one-half of full adult fare (with strict eligibility requirements) to keep everything very simple and making much sense.

      2. Most places in the world have a very very standardized discount fare: it’s half the full fare, and all discount fares are the same price.

    4. For a relatively compact urban area (like Rome, or Seattle, or Seattle and immediate suburbs), I agree. There should definitely be a surcharge for ultra-long distance routes. It simply costs a lot more (and causes more environmental harm) to transport people from Marysville, North Bend, or Olympia to Seattle, and they ought to pay a larger share for that reason. Otherwise, we end up overcharging short, urban, high farebox recovery trips to subsidize ever more sprawl.

      1. This is one argument for distance-based fares that doesn’t hold much water, IMHO. Will anyone actually make a decision about where to live, or where to work, based on the transit fare system?

        I think they will consider the availability of transit when making such a decision, but the fare just isn’t part of that home-looking calculation, as long as it is much less than the cost of owning and maintaining a car.

        Where has distance-based fares succeeded as a tool to fight sprawl?

        OTOH, the complexity and cost of riding transit is a part of a suburban commuter’s decision to take transit, or drive a car they already own and are paying monthly to care for, since they haven’t discovered MetroMile. Make the distance-based fares too steep, and you have both failed to fight sprawl and failed to get choice riders out of their cars for that long slog.

        In the case of King County, there is an additional social justice conundrum: The lower and middle class are being squeezed out of Seattle by the dearth of affordable housing, and pushed into the suburbs. And then we double the punishment by charging a premium to hop on Link and go downtown, at least until they figure out that ST will essentially pay them to hop off the train, tap off, tap on, and catch the next train. In that context, those valuing their time enough not to do the hop-off-halfway trick are being signaled that they should take an express bus instead of Link.

        Some have even theorized that the (as-yet-unpublished) distance-based fares will even make voters and ST think twice about building a giga-expensive line to distant neighborhoods where ridership is much more sparse. Uh, yeah.

      2. “Will anyone actually make a decision about where to live, or where to work, based on the transit fare system?”

        They do in New York and Chicago. There’s a big difference between “on the subway” (flat fare) and “on the commuter rail” (large distance-based fare), even when both are the same distance.

      3. But do the subway and the commuter rail have the same frequency and span of service? In other words, do people move to live near the subway because it is cheaper to ride, or because it is always there for them?

  5. So, what you are saying is that ST should get ride of LInk-only and Sounder-only tickets and day passes, the streetcar and SWIFT should do likewise, Metro and Kitsap should ditch paper transfers, PT should ditch their brand-new day passes, the monorail should be allowed into the ORCA pod, WSFerries should accept PugetPass and transfers, and everyone should align their fares, to the maximum extent feasible.

    This proposal doesn’t move away from that goal, and aligns ST bus fares with Metro’s for seniors ($1), riders with disabilities ($1), youth ($1.50), and LIFT holders ($1.50). It also brings the adult fare more in line with the fare Metro is charging most of its riders, the 1-zone peak fare of $2.75.

  6. Sounds like KC Exec Dow Constantine strong-arming Sound Transit into using LIFT fares. Of course, its hard to have a seamless system when you have so many different fare and transfer policies to begin with. Personally, I object to it as ST Express & Sounder is (was?) a premium service. Not to mention that ST Express is already lacking in capacity on many trips I ride, along with other quality of service issues (mainly involving other passengers) I just don’t think this would be a good fit.

    1. That’s the issue: should they be premium services anymore? Or should we position them as the primary way to get between Seattle and South King County and Snohomish County and the Eastside? Some of the routes ST Express replaced no longer exist: there is no 174 to Federal Way or 226 to Bellevue or 307 to Bothell. You can get to Federal Way but you have to take two buses (124+A), and you can get to Bothell when the 372 is running. But you can’t get to Bellevue without taking ST unless you go to the U-District and take the 271.Actually, some people do take the remaining Metro routes across the lake to avoid ST’s higher fares (although they’re not higher right now, but this action would make them higher again).

      I think we should position Link, Sounder, STEX, Swift, and RapidRide as the primary transit option in their corridors, with a fare equal to or less than the alternatives. But travel to Everett has to be more expensive than just travelling within Seattle and the Eastside. And Metro’s long-distance expresses need to have premium fares like CT’s expresses do. And abolish 2-zone fares for local routes like the E and 150.

    2. If you want ST Express to be a premium service, you charge fares at least as high as the non-premium options, which is currently not happening, at least before considering the proposals on the table.

      When the buses have reached their capacity is the best time to raise fares. There aren’t too many other options right now to fund additional capacity, besides scavenging money from capital improvement projects.

      Adding LIFT will reduce occurrences of the anti-social behavior of paying with cash, and make the buses even faster (and therefore more of a premium service, without the uglier alternative of putting out a “not welcome” sign), which can translate into even more service. Though, the investment in LIFT would be more impactful if an additional surcharge of 25 cents for paying in cash were added, across all categories of payers and fares (except LIFT, for which the surcharge is having to pay the full adult fare, and would still have to pay any hypothetical cash surcharge on top of that).

      1. @ Mike Orr I think his is a problem that Sound Transit is having on a region wide basis. Who are they and what do they actually do? I don’t think they know. They Contract services out, run some in house, and some jointly alongside contractors. They have their long term plan, and passed measures, and everything they do seem to have to be based off the goals in these plans, which really hinders their ability to be creative and flexible when it comes to designing, adding, and improving services and facilities. You hardly see them go out for grants and fund improvements not part of ST 1 or 2 yet they are needed to improve their existing services. Regional “integration” winds up turning them more into a local service agency, and can hinder their ability to actually be flexible when it comes to changing service.

        Even on their own routes they have an identity crisis. Some routes seem to make a dozen or more “local” stops, while others barely have one or two outside of major transfer points. Adding to this their signage is a mix & match of theirs and whoever they contract out with. You can have routes with stops on 2-3 different kinds of stop flags depending on who owns that particular stop. On top of that their ridership is soaring and there really does not seem to be a plan to address shortcomings, because everything is tied to earmarks in ST 1 or 2. Personally, ST 3 should be pure operations and improvements in the same, no major capital projects. Lots of service added, with some new routes/corridors/BRT service. Added P&R facilities to keep up with demand and a serious look how to use existing facilities better. But instead of realizing they are an operations outfit, they will continue to invest in capital facilities first and screw operations because really they seem to be here to build things, and the rest is just icing on the cake.

        @ Brent White I find the anti-social behavior isn’t so much people digging for change at the farebox, or not having their business in order before alighting the vehicle, its a growing disrespect for other riders and the operators I am finding on some routes. These issues you’d typically find on other very busy and urban local transit routes seem to be cropping up more on ST lately. For a $3.50+ ride I should be a bit more insulated from people talking to themselves, and people causing other disturbances on the coach or at the stops.

      2. Metro and ST might keep stats on how many LIFT holders have been subjected to enforcement actions. Once someone is using the LIFT card, they have less anonymity. The card is registered to the passenger. Most miscreants who intend criminal behavior will get a nonregistered ORCA and pay the full fare, or try to dodge the fare, or just pull out their paper transfer from five years ago.

        I betcha LIFT will help reduce passenger incidents wherever it is deployed. And so will getting rid of paper transfers that enable criminal behavior. And so will adjusting fare enforcement to not waste time on passholders who simply goofed up the tapping process. so the focus can be on finding the real fare evaders.

  7. I’ll echo a few dozen other previous comments. Too *&^%-ing complicated!!!!!!

    We have LIFT, RRFP, and Youth Fare, plus differences for various different zones. And we’re talking about implementing LIFT fares for specific ST routes that only operate in King County? Fares are different on ST & Metro (understandable, but needlessly complex for infrequent riders or visitors). Could our fare structure be more complicated? Is there a reason that we have three separate discount fares for three separate categories of people who are disadvantaged? Could we not completely eliminate two of them and just have a single fare for people who can’t afford it? We can call it “LIFT”, since that seems to be the new hot thing and eliminate the old “Youth” and “RRFP”, since those are soooooo last year.

    I’d like to propose culling the number of discount fares down to one program, call it what you want; a single fare for all rides on all Metro routes; and a single fare for all rides on all ST routes. Let’s match Seattle Streetcar fare to Metro bus fare because, let’s face it, they serve the same function. Heck, I’d even advocate matching Link fare to ST bus fare, as it isn’t much faster than any ST bus routes. No more zones. Zones are ridiculous for the people who live or work near a zone boundary. And, that table up there is way too complicated for anybody visiting here or potential new transit riders to even bother with unless there is a huge financial incentive. It’s time to simplify things!!!!

    I won’t propose anything for PT, because that system is broken; and I don’t care about anything north of Seattle.

    Brent White, cash needs to continue to be an option for all passengers, as there are plenty of people who are infrequent users and/or don’t wish to load money onto a card that they may not necessarily be able to spare on a given day. It isn’t anti-social, it’s reality. When you are making WA state minimum wage and paying an insane price for rent on a dumpy apartment in Burien or Kent, you may not have the luxury of putting a bunch of money on an ORCA card, not to mention the person who is using the bus for isolated trips such as job interviews (which may not yield a job) and may only spend $10 ever three or four months on bus fare.

    1. I am certainly not suggesting banning cash, at least outside of downtown or away from walking distance from a TVM. A 25-cent surcharge on cash payment is not a ban, but an incentivization — a reward for making the effort to use ORCA. Paying with ORCA is still an act of courtesy to one’s fellow riders and to the taxpayers. Since Metro incentivizes paying with cash, you’re right that I shouldn’t call it “anti-social”.

      I agree that there ought to be one consolidated discount fare. The RRFP fare is set at half the full adult peak fare, or less, by federal law. Many agencies around the country don’t have a youth fare, and few have a low-income fare. Some charge more for the youth / school fare than their senior/disabilities fare, but many don’t. Metro and ST charge a higher youth fare because they can (and pass along the cost to school districts), and because it is real money to them.

      Simplicity comes with a price tag, unfortunately. But I think that price — the lost fare revenue from reducing the youth/LIFT fare to be the same as the RRFP fare — is justifiable on social equity grounds.

      That said, I think most of the reduced fares could be consolidated quickly, and in an essentially revenue-neutral manner:

      For Metro, raise the RRFP fare another 25 cents, and simultaneously drop the youth/LIFT fare 25 cents. Same for ST Express 1-county, the streetcar, Everett Transit, and Community Transit local buses. Doing so on LINK would require raising the base adult fare by 25 cents though, which will become an ongoing problem with distance-based adult Link fares.

      On ST Express multi-county, the RRFP fare will be maxed out after the upcoming proposed fare increase, unless ST wants to go to non-quarter increments. The youth/LIFT fare would have to drop a dollar to be consolidated. That’s real money, albeit a rounding error in ST’s budget. But the full adult fare will still lag behind CT’s fare for similar service by 50 cents even after the upcoming proposed fare increase.

      I have to point out the irony that PT, which you describe as “broken”, has the simple fare structure you are suggesting for other agencies, and with which I agree.

      1. Brent, the irony regarding my PT comment is fully acknowledged. Thanks for pointing that out. While it does have a simple fare structure as I propose, Pierce County’s voters have decided at the ballot box to dismantle the system one route at a time over the past decade. Even though I work in PC with a bus stop outside the front door of my office, I can’t take transit to work, or more accurately, it takes me two hours on transit what I can do in under 30 minutes in my car.

  8. For notification purposes: The post has been updated to reflect additional information from Geoff at ST regarding the automatic fare increase on Tacoma Link set for next September.

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