ST bus 51401
Newly delivered New Flyer XDE60 coach. Photo by SounderBruce.

Metro’s ORCA LIFT program is one of the first low-income transit fare products in North America, and it is fully worth your support. Earlier this year Sound Transit began accepting LIFT on Link Light rail but not on Sounder or its ST Express buses. Pierce Transit and Community Transit don’t participate in LIFT while operating the majority of ST Express routes, so accepting LIFT there would have introduced operational complexity.

But now Sound Transit is considering expanding its acceptance of ORCA LIFT, either to all express routes wholly within King County, on all ST Express buses, or acceptance systemwide including Sounder. It is also considering a parallel general fare increase of $.25-$.50 to offset the lost revenue.

The comment deadline is November 5, and you can comment by taking their survey, emailing, by phone (1-866-940-4387), or in person at Union Station (November 5, noon-1pm).

Please comment and ask for systemwide acceptance of ORCA LIFT, as the other options on the table create absurd outcomes for riders. For example, the proposed option to accept LIFT only on routes wholly operated within King County – crucially, distinct from routes operated by King County Metro! –  would create a nightmare of complexity.

Consider just a trip from Federal Way Transit Center to Seattle. Peak riders on Route 577 would get a low-income fare ($1.50), but off-peak riders on Route 578 wouldn’t ($2.75). Thus Metro would be in the business of having higher peak fares while Sound Transit would be in the business of having lower peak fares. And while Community Transit could blissfully ignore the complexity, as none of their Sound Transit routes operate wholly within King County, Pierce Transit would have to accept LIFT on some routes (such as Route 560, 566, and 567), but not on others (574, 578, 580, 590, 592, 595).

Let that sink in. That would be a terrible outcome for system usability, and would directly contradict King County Executive (and Sound Transit Board Chair) Dow Constantine’s goals for agency integration.

Please comment by November 5, and ask for the simplest system with the broadest access for all. Ask for full LIFT acceptance on all Sound Transit services. See TCC’s Action Alert for example language to use in your comments.

60 Replies to “ACTION ALERT: Tell Sound Transit to Expand the Low-Income Fare”

  1. Naturally, rather than doing something incredibly simple and sensible, we take our usual path of most resistance by increasing complexity and adding on a dozen layers of public outreach spanning 6 months.

    1. These proposals were announced in September, and will be voted on by the Board in November. That’s 2 months, if my math is right.

  2. You’re leaving out the 574! I have a friend who works at the airport who would qualify for Orca Lift. It’s bad enough working at the airport and buying your lunch. Imagine commuting there and paying double the fare of what King County residents do. Not very “regional” of ORCA or Sound Transit…

  3. Regarding complexity: The simple fact that we have two separate governing bodies determining fare policies creates needless complexity. There should be a single governing body determining fares and fare policy for King County. It should not matter whether the bus taking you from point A to point B is operated or branded by one agency or the other. And either there are peak surcharges or there aren’t.

    Regarding subsidies for low income riders: When the way to pay for the low income fare is to increase fares on other transit riders, that is essentially a tax on transit riders. If the public policy objective is to create a low income fare, it should be paid from general tax revenues, not by putting a surtax on transit fares paid by others. The policy objective is to give low income riders a subsidy, not to discourage transit use by artificially increasing the fare.

    1. Most of the fare increase is to keep up with inflation / rising operating costs. It also catches all the ST Express single-county reduced fares up with KC Metro, Link, and the Seattle Streetcar. They are doing what you ask.

      The multi-county ST Express fare will still be lower than CT commuter fares.

      Yes, it would be better to fund ORCA LIFT through other means. But it is needed regardless of the funding source.

      As a bonus, each rider converted from fumbling cash to tapping ORCA saves 4.6 to 6.9 seconds for everyone on that bus, every time the new ORCA tapper boards. ST Express is the Sound Transit service that will benefit most from ORCA LIFT.

      1. Don’t know if you noticed but gas is down to about $2.15 per gallon. And inflation has been under 2% for quite some time. So for people who compare the cost of bus fare to the cost of driving, making transit more expensive while driving is getting cheaper seems counterproductive.

        Catching up fares with Metro just proves the complexity point. Most of the time the Metro fare is $2.50. Only during peak periods is Metro $2.75/$3.25. There really should be a single fare policy for both agencies and then no one needs to catch up. In fact that was touted as one of the benefits of Lift when it came to Link and Metro – that they’d pay the same fare. Why wouldn’t that be useful to the general ridership, too?

      2. +1 Even if there are overlapping operating agencies, there should be a single regional agency determining fare levels and policies, creating synchronized schedules and service levels, a single website and trip planner, etc. There can be a political process to determine service levels that are appropriate to the tax support – we already have to solve that issue within King County due to Seattle’s extra tax support.

      3. Portland’s region is much smaller than ours. How would your single fare structure work? How would it be fair to every part of the region?

    2. +2
      Actually, we’re only talking about the level of subsidy paid by riders going between A and B, which amounts to only ~25% of the cost of the service. The difference between peak and off peak, zone or no zone, MT or ST is largely pointless when looking to offset all costs associated with providing the ride. Why we make collecting 25% of the revenue pot so complicated is beyond me.
      Point 2 really hit home. If the public policy is to level the playing field between the haves and have-nots, then fiddling around with transit fares by a nickle here and a nickel there is equally pointless It may sound good to be doing something for the have-nots, but again, we’re tapping at nails with a feather, when a hammer is more effective.

      1. There is also the question of what is really the cost of service. Because we embed a whole lot of social and political costs into the transit agency. Providing Dial-A-Ride for elderly and disabled are part of the agency’s budget. Equipping every bus with wheelchair lifts and maintaining them. Buy America provisions on bus purchases. Coverage service that attracts few riders. All of these factor into the agency’s total costs. And who benefits when someone rides transit instead of driving their Kia or Hyundai (foreign built, not ADA equipped…) on the free-way, burning oil that transited Puget Sound and increasing CO2 and global warming? So, yeah, I find it strange to say the agency wants to do social good, and they will do it by increasing the fare and have the other riders underwrite the cost.

      2. mic, I will spare you the thought experiment, and appreciate your new-found concern for the operational cost of fares. I lived in Austin when Capital Metro tried this experiment. The fleet could not keep up with ridership, Capital Metro went into a deep debt, and opportunistic politicians used the financial disaster as an excuse to get legislation passed to create a new structure for CM’s board, and stack it with transit opponents. And then the county cut the sales tax revenue going to Capital Metro by 25%. Transit had few friends among the elected class in those days. Even supposedly progressive Democrats were among the vultures. It took me decades before I could even bring myself to say anything nice about an elected Democrat after that.

        They could have just told Capital Metro nicely to end the experiment.

      3. I remember reading about the disaster back then. If the goal is to get most people to stop driving their cars and start riding transit, then the Austin Experiment succeeded beyond belief. Unfortunately, they didn’t add any buses or revenue to make up for the lost fares.
        So we’ll plod along here inventing all sorts of schemes to entice a few more riders onto buses and trains, hire consultants to tinker with the fare system, and add lots of bean counters, fare checkers, orca readers, court clerks and everything related to fare collection.
        At the end of the day, congestion is the same or worse.
        If you really want to shift from cars to transit, it would become a public service, paid in full by the public from the general fund.

      4. “If you really want to shift from cars to transit, it would become a public service, paid in full by the public from the general fund.”

        Can we count on you voting for more funding for transit next time it is on the ballot? My recollection is that you have vocally opposed every tax increase for transit that has been on the ballot in recent years.

      5. If you really want to shift from cars to transit, it would become a public service, paid in full by the public from the general fund.


      6. Ken, do you realize that the proposer of the though experiment has shown no inclination of supporting funding it? That pretty much ends the thought experiment.

      7. Brent, I don’t really track or care how Mic votes. I, however, do support fully funding transit and getting rid of fares. Aside from the fact that it would reduce total costs and speed travel times, it would also allow transit to rise to its true potential.

        What’s the price on this? I’d love to noodle it out, or better yet get some help with it, as a thought exercise. I imagine it’s something like (Farebox recovery rate – fare collection costs ) * metro budget, or just fares collected minus collection costs. You’d also undoubtedly have to be prepared to increase service levels, and so budget accordingly.

        So what’s that number come to? Anyone? My guess is it’s a good chunk of change, but not something that couldn’t be done if the political will was there.

        That’s where my secret Bill Gates plan comes in. When I somehow get my chance to hang out with him and get him drunk, I convince him that he and his friends should fund this as a 5+ year demonstration project. I’m convinced (or at least hopeful) that the political will to pay for this that is lacking now would be there after it was actually implemented.

        Think of how much people liked the ride free zone, and put that on steroids. For stb readers, think of the faster boarding times. Id love once again being able to get on a 49 at 4th and like without waiting at least 5 minutes for riders to board and pay.

        My secret plan works with any billionaire, so if any of you get the chance I highly encourage you to make the pitch! Cheers.

      8. Ken,

        I encourage you to read up on how this worked out for Capital Metro in Austin, TX. There should be plenty of data there as well as anecdotal evidence that elected progressive Democrats can’t be counted on to support it. Granted, that was two decades ago, and in Texas.

        More recently, we got to see how many elected officials supported King County proposition 1 last year for more Metro funding. The county council supported it, of course, since they put it on the ballot. But there were only a couple state legislators I recall who campaigned for it. If that is any indication, political support for funding transit well enough to eliminate fares is DOA.

        Yes, it would be great to happen, but I’m pretty sure we would have to at least double service hours. Doubling the revenue, while eliminating fare revenue, would require nearly tripling the sales tax devoted to transit. We would also be putting more eggs in one basket, instead of diversifying Metro’s and ST’s revenue sources.

      9. What did Austin do? Free buses? Tallin has that, by way of city-provided passes to residents. I think it’s worthwhile as a long-term goal but I’m not sure it would work in the US when we have so much inequality and gaps in the social services. So, we have a problem that whenever there’s a free park or a free bus, the homeless take it over and drive others away. Why are they homeless? Because we won’t provide affordable housing or jobs of last resort or a basic income, and people say “Don’t raise my taxes to help anybody else”, and this is what you get.

      10. If we did have free transit like Tallinn, we need to stop worrying about people overusing it. The right number of trips is the number people want to make. That’s maximal mobility, and it’s the level that achieves the city’s maximum potential commerce and cultural vitality. People won’t ride around in circles all day because there are still non-monetary costs: time, boredom, other things you’d rather do. (I’m assuming the homeless are elsewhere, in a warm dry place with seats that’s not on a bus.) Instead we should think about providing the level of service that meets demand.

      11. The last time there was a significant national study about agencies with no fare, there were four agencies in Washington with none.

        The fact that Island Transit had issues last year seemed to have nothing to do with the lack of fare collection. The fact that other agencies are doing just fine without one seems to indicate there are ways to do this.

        In fact, for the small agencies there are those that do not collect a fare because the headaches surrounding fare collection actually would cost more than the income the fare would produce. If you think that time is money and think about how much time is spent dealing with tiny amounts of cash on these systems, it starts to make sense.

      12. Brent,

        OK let’s break this down.

        You’ve told me that political support is DOA. A couple of thoughts about that.

        First, I more or less agree with you, which is what I meant by “the political will to pay for this that is lacking now.”

        Interestingly, in your own description of Prop 1, you acknowledge that it had support in the County, but not at the State level. Ultimately, the key political question is the local support, since this would presumably be locally-funded. If we ever got to the point where Seattle/King County/ST district voters and politicians were gung ho in support of such a measure, we’d find a way to make it happen. Maybe the State would need to approve it, but that seems like a decidedly second or third level challenge, an overcomeable one, and a problem I’d be happy for us to confront.

        Doesn’t really matter, because right now the support isn’t there even locally. The idea I’m putting out though, is that if we did somehow manage to implement this (hello Bill, and sorry to pick on you!), it would be popular. And IF that is true, the political support for it would increase substantially. This would be even more so since the issue would be whether to maintain an existing popular service, rather than creating one where it doesn’t exist. You could analogize this to the relative difficulty of eliminating Social Security or ObamaCare compared to getting them implemented in the first place.

        Then there’s the question of whether fare free can be sustained, or how it worked out in other places. You pointed to Austin, which was fare free for about a year, 25 years ago, and Island Transit. I’ve never ridden Island Transit and (sadly) have never been to Austin. But I’m not convinced they prove it’s a bad idea. A lot can change in 25 years; it certainly seems clear that political support for transit in our community has increased substantially over the last 20 years (my tenure here). The whole issue of global warming was barely recognized back then. How comparable is Austin in level of transit ridership, and did they have the congestion issues that we currently face here? Is Island Transit really in any way comparable to Metro? Maybe all those things really are comparable, but I start out dubious.

        So is it a good idea? My gut says yes, but I try not to take that as my own last word, let alone ask others to. You’re probably way more knowledgeable about this than me. I have now done what passes for “research” in the modern age, which is to say I went to Wikipedia and read through the first linked source I found. ( I’m now an 11-page expert (or 15 if you count the footnotes and the cover.)

        The biggest issues cited seem to be that it’s expensive, and that it attracts “undesirable” riders. I honestly don’t get the cost issue. Yes, if you don’t budget and plan for the increased ridership and costs, you’re going to have a disaster on your hands, and then a failed experiment for others to point to. But the costs of increased ridership are a problem of success, not failure. Transit by its nature is a money-losing proposition. The most economical way to run transit is to not do it all. But we do provide transit, because of its benefits for mobility, congestion, pollution, etc. I would certainly agree that if we went fare free we’d have to be ready to pay for it.

        As for “undesirable” riders, I’m not sure what to make of that. To the extent that people are engaging in vandalism, criminal behavior, or harassment of drivers and passengers, I see that as a real problem that needs to be addressed and can’t and shouldn’t be tolerated. The police would be a big part of that, and I think that riders would need to be a part of that too, in terms of what kinds of behavior we do or don’t accept. (Much as some people are taking to calling out the manspreaders or people who think their backpack is more entitled to a seat than another rider. Or for that matter, the people who refuse to move back and make room for others.) The paper says Island Transit had some success with 3 strike policies and education in the schools. I don’t know what the right mix is, but I have a hard time believing we couldn’t find ways to address it, or that it should lead us to give up on a better transit system.

        And to whatever extent “undesirable” riders really mean people who are of a different race or class or social group, who seem different and are “scary” not because of any behavior but just by their very presence, I have a hard time going much further than “tough shit. Get over it if you want. Ride the free buses or not, that’s your decision.” Seriously, I don’t think public policy should be built around catering to those kinds of biases and prejudices. I also think that the kind of social mixing that happens on transit is a tremendously positive thing, and one that for example makes NYC a much cooler than place than LA.

        And for those who ride the bus because they are homeless, and/or mentally-ill and/or drug-addicted, and who may have strong and unpleasant bodily odors, I can only say that those folks are part of our community too. People use buses for shelter because they don’t have access to better options, because currently we are collectively unwilling to provide adequate housing, shelter, hygiene and treatment services for people who desperately need them. If we don’t like it, it seems to me that providing those resources is the real answer, not saying that we won’t make transit cheaper and more accessible because some of those folks will use it to. Given the same situation, we all would do the same.

        I’d also note that while the paper’s abstract is rather categorical (“…it is concluded that a fare-free policy might be appropriate for smaller transit systems in certain communities, but is ill-advised for larger transit systems…”), at the end they also state “For fairness, future directions in fare-free demonstrations in larger urban settings should include better controls of the attitudes of staff and directors in those systems. It is possible that predetermined attitudes contributed to the failure of fare-free demonstrations in larger transit systems.”

        So anyway that’s my layperson’s transit take on free fares. We may never get there, there would be challenges for sure, but it still seems like a kick ass idea to me. Maybe it isn’t, maybe it’s a terrible idea. I’m open to hearing more, and maybe I’ll change my mind, but I haven’t yet seen anything that convinces me to do so.


      13. Ken, I appreciate the time and thoughtfulness you have put into this topic.

        I would encourage you to delve deeper, and consider a Page Two post. Clearly, we’re getting away from the topic of ORCA LIFT or not ORCA LIFT on this thread. As a fellow advocate of getting the farebox out of the way of those who can’t afford the fare, I hope you will submit comments in favor of ORCA LIFT being honored on all ST services.

      14. Thanks Brent. I can try to give page 2 a shot. Though I completely understand wanting to keep these comments on lift, at the moment I’m wishing I could get a little feedback or input first, since I’ve pretty much shared everything I think or know on the topic. Or maybe even a little more. ;). But I can give it a shot anyway.

        So back to lift. I’ve got the survey up on my screen now, and I’m wondering what to make of q9, and how our answers will likely be interpreted:

        Should Sound Transit raise general fares to keep pace with the operating costs while providing a discount for low-income adult riders?

        I’ve already answered a lift? Yes! question. So I’m not even sure why lift is part of this q. Seems like they left the alternative unspoken. If it’s “or go broke and shut down” then I’ll go with yes. If it’s “or get some more public funding instead,” I’d go with no. And is a no likely to be interpreted as no to lift?

        Just curious what people think. I’m sure I could pick an answer if need be.

      15. q10 is long-form essay. You can explain there why you found q9 to offer insufficient options, and you can skip q9.

        I was disappointed that there was no option to say I would ride more often. (Honestly, the presence of absence of LIFT, or the decision on the fare increase, will not impact any of my trip decisions, but I wanted to dishonestly answer that I would ride more.)

    3. Here’s a thought experiment:
      Mike Harbour’s newsletter today talked about how congestion has grown since 2009, adding 9 minutes to the Everett commute to Seattle in one year alone.
      WSDOT recently talked about paying 54 cents for each HOT lane trip to its collection vendor.
      What would spending 54 cents per car removed to the i-5 commute do for congestion relief, by making all transit between Everett and Seattle FREE (or pre-paid if you prefer).
      Buses would fill, requiring x more buses to fill the need. Sounder would fill, requiring x more cars to be added. So play along here. We buy the buses and cars needed.
      Is this not a way to reduce congestion too? at what cost?

      1. and just for Brent, how much faster would loading be with NO fares being collected at the bus or train, and NO tapping anywhere.

  4. Why is it that for King County only Lift fares, they can only include routes wholly operated in King County? We already know the driver can apply a different fare level on demand, since that’s how a single county fare is paid. Why is it that they can’t just apply the Lift fare the same way they apply a 1-county fare on two county routes like the 578 & 574?

    1. Lift would ideally be built in as a separate fare category. So riders with a lift card would tap their card and the proper fare would be deducted. No need to tell anyone you’re paying a lift fare (except fare enforcement).

    2. The operator can switch the ORCA reader between charging a 1-county or multi-county fare. The card controls whether an RRFP, youth, LIFT, or regular fare is charged.

  5. I’m confused. And when it comes to transit fares around here that’s no surprise. I, and I expect a lot of people need a Lift for Dummies post that explains how it is funded. I thought it was a King County program to provide subsidized transit to low income people that live in King County. The way I envision that working is they tap their ORCA Lift card. It charges the fare to the card but instead of the person having to put say $2.50 back into their account they only have to pay ~$1.50. The buck difference is covered by the pot established to fund Lift. In other words, an ORCA Lift card works just like a regular ORCA card except funding the Epurse is subsidized.

    I know, stupid me for thinking transit fares could ever be that simple in the Pungent Sound.

    1. I think that’s it, except there’s also some lift price for a monthly pass. With one of the recent bumps to the (highly regressive) sales tax that funded transit, part of that money was used to find lift. I don’t know the funding is specifically or legally dedicated to lift, but that was the package that was put together. There was a lot of homeless/human service advocacy behind lift, which got their support for the overall package.

      On a national level, we are breaking new ground with this:

      But income-based pricing is logistically complicated, which is partly why it has rarely been tried on any large scale, transportation experts said. San Francisco, which many in Seattle see as a kind of big brother to the south — sometimes to be emulated, other times to be scorned — got there first with a fare program called Muni Lifeline, which started in 2005. But after 10 years, Muni Lifeline remains tiny, with fewer than 20,000 card holders in a system that serves about 350,000 people a day.

      Smaller, tentative experiments are underway elsewhere. Greene County, Ohio, near Dayton, recently started a program for low-income riders, with social service agencies buying travel vouchers and distributing them to their clients. In other places, like western Pennsylvania, nonprofit groups have jumped in to provide bus service to the poor.

      But at least for the moment, all eyes are on Seattle, transportation experts said.

      1. Thanks for the link. It doesn’t explain the funding but I think the root of the problem is the discounted charge instead of a subsidized funding. Instead of the insane discounting of one route vs another the owner of the card should take “ownership”. They put $1.50 of their own money on the card and it credits $2.50 to their account (exact numbers are a guess). They can then use THEIR MONEY just like anyone else that has an ORCA card.

      2. I think whatever “insanity” is involved is attributable to metro’s regular fares, not to lift. Lift is a flat $1.50 per ride, which is about as simple as it gets. The rest of the fare structure should move closer to this kind of simplicity.

        Also, I don’t think there is a funding source per se, rather metro just agreed to it as part of that sales tax increase.

        Metro expects to lose about $4.75 million a year in fares by offering the reduced rate, a couple million dollars to manage the passes, plus about $3 million in one-time expenses including software and fare cards.

        On the other hand, ridership should grow, and buses would save maybe five seconds for each person who taps ORCA LIFT instead of fumbling for cash at a stop, a fare study says.

      3. Not sure how this tracks with the thread but if all Lift Fares are $1.50 that’s fine. And I agree that we need to further simplify the fare structure instead of it being base on the color of the bus, the time of day and some random boundary. But the root of this problem seems to be that Lift ORCA was tortured into charging yet another different fare. Instead it should just get charged the same fare as everyone else… that’s fair, right? Then the subsidy comes when the card is loaded with value. The “customer” puts $1.50 of THEIR MONEY onto the card and it gets credited for $2.50, or $2.75 or whatever complex scheme we need because this is Seattle. The various transit agencies don’t care and don’t even have to know; it’s just an ORCA card payment just like every other ORCA card.

      4. LIFT fares are the same as youth fares on all services that honor LIFT. There is no new fare level added, only a new category for a pre-existing fare level. One could argue that there should be only one reduced fare (and I happen to philosophically agree with that argument), but the argument that there should be no reduced fare categories runs into federal law, which mandates a half fare for seniors and riders with disabilities for all transit agencies receiving federal funding.

        For ORCA LIFT holders, ST’s all-services proposal removes a lot of complexity in the fare system. For other riders, it adds no additional complexity, and aligns several of the fares.

      5. Don’t the remaining riders deserve the benefit of reduced complexity? If we orient the transit system to only serve low income and disabled riders, there is the risk that you reduce voter support for revenues. The system should be easy and approachable for all.

      6. The fare increase will be complexity-neutral for regular-fare riders, while reducing complexity for all reduced categories. Reducing that complexity for regular-fare riders is out of Sound Tranit’s hands. Metro is the outlier with peak fares.

        Failure to reduce complexity for regular riders is not a good argument against the proposal. If it actually increased complexity, that would be a real argument against it.

      7. That’s why we shouldn’t have two governing boards and two staffs doing the same thing in the same region. But don’t the 97% of riders deserve the same benefit of simplification as the 3%?

    2. As I understand it, it’s not a “fund” but just the amount that goes to the transit agency. So a lower fare increases their operation expenses. That’s why it was paired with a 25c fare increase, to defray those costs. In the larger context, Metro’s fares are among the highest in the nation, for less comprehensive service than other cities. (That ultimately comes down to lack of state funding and limited county/local funding and the tax ceilings, plus our swaths of low density compared to the most similar cities.) The net result is that fares are high, and many people feel they can’t go much higher without causing a public revolt (“The poor can’t pay those fares!”), so the only way to increase regular fares and tax propositions (to get service levels up to where they need to be) is to introduce a poor-rider’s fare. So it was felt that LIFT would be necessary, if not now then soon, so we might as well do it now. So LIFT is both the cause and effect, kind of; it’s part of a grand bargain.

      ST Express fares used to be higher than Metro’s but they haven’t changed for several years so they’re now equal or less. (Equal for Metro off-peak, less than Metro one zone or two zone. Inter-county trips have no Metro alternative.) Other cities don’t really have anything comparable to ST Express; they either have full-fledged subways and commuter-rail networks, or a few commuter routes that don’t fully address all-day city-to-city transit needs. So we’re on our own somewhat for what ST Express’ fares should be. It makes sense to adopt LIFT across the board on STEX, and as I said its fares are due for an increase anyway. The simplicity of a common fare for all ST routes regardless of where they go or who operates them is a big deal for passengers and operations. It may give an extraordinary subsidy to a few trips (Puyallup-Seattle, Lakewood-Seattle), but the number of new LIFT passengers on those runs is probably small anyway. The biggest number of LIFT riders will be in the major corridors: Bellevue-Seattle, Lynnwood-Seattle, Kenmore-Seattle, etc, so it’s just part of the general need to increase capacity in those corridors.

  6. I disagree with ORCA fares on Sound Transit Express and Sounder, because when it was created the intention was a premium express bus service, not the all stops local. Granted ST has evolved over the years as the agencies have streamlined and consolidated services, however either the “mission and goals” need to be changed to reflect these realties (i.e. more “local” stops; eliminating the provisions where ST cannot provide service wholly within one city), or the design of the service and the fare structure needs to be kept the same. Also, with many ST Express buses running full how much more additional ridership is this going to add and how is it going to be accommodated? Another question, is if ORCA LIFT fares are implemented across county lines, who is going to administer the program in other areas? Right now you can only apply in King County, if you start offering the fares in Pierce County, how are you going to apply without going to King County, which could be an issue in its own right (both technically and legally)? I also think this is a political move by King County to push ORCA lift region wide, something i’m not sure other agency’s can absorb the loss of fare revenue if they did. And if they do try something like this, it does need to cover all routes, not just certain ones. Right now I already have heard a lot of confusion of ORCA LIFT customers complaining about travelling outside of King County and getting charged full fare, this situation would only get worse as some ST routes would be ORCA LIFT routes, and others would not.

    1. One of the options is ORCA LIFT on all ST Express routes, for all lengths of trips. That is what Zach and I have been urging ST to adopt.

      One could look at this as King County subsidizing the administrative cost of distributing ORCA LIFT cards. One could look at this as Pierce and Snohomish County taxpayers subsidizing ORCA LIFT discounts. The latter makes little sense in light of the fact that full fare payers are already being subsidized heavily by taxpayers. Indeed, the whole handwringing exercise about how this is funded ignores the obvious answer: All fare categories are subsidized by sales tax. Some will soon be subsidized a little bit less, and some a little bit more. Seniors and riders with disabilities will still enjoy the deepest subsidy. One could argue that there are seniors who can afford the full fare, just like one could argue that a doctor or lawyer riding the 545 ST Express bus could afford to pay more. In the end, it all comes down to a governmental decision to subsidize transit, while we also subsidize the cost of keeping up roads, so there really is no easy answer to the question of who is funding whom.

      ORCA LIFT is, or at least will be if the Board chooses to apply LIFT on all ST services, simple by comparison to that philosophical exercise. For $1.50, low-income qualifiers will be able to ride any Metro bus, any ST Express bus within King County, Link Light Rail, any Seattle Streetcar, and hopefully soon the monorail (if the ORCA Joint Board can figure out how to Act As One with SDOT), with the same two-hour transfer window as any other rider, so long as they pay with loaded ORCA product. A $54 pass will get a LIFT holder unlimited rides for a month on Metro, the Seattle Streetcar, Link Light Rail, ST Express within King County, and hopefully soon the monorail.

      1. Brent, here’s the critical missing link, however. Metro and now Sound Transit are giving up revenue to create the Lift fare. There is no taxpayer revenue coming to the agencies either to replace the foregone revenue or to provide any additional service in the event that the fare increases ridership.

        Yes, it’s true that all riders are subsidized. That’s because it is good public policy to reduce pollution and congestion (and use available road and land capacity more efficiently). And frankly because operating costs are pretty darn high. The low income fare policy removes revenue from the agencies, and does not replace that revenue other than increasing fares on the remaining riders, so it is an implicit decision to reduce the public subsidy on all other riders. That is not good public policy nor has it been honestly debated in that fashion, but this is part of the decision. Providing discounted rides to lower income passengers may be a worthwhile policy but it should be funded by all taxpayers or general tax revenues, and not by singling out transit riders as the effective funding source.

      2. Carl, again, this is all funded by sales tax revenue, which, btw, is going up. The ST Express fares for all the reduced fare categories (except LIFT) will actually be lower than Link, Metro, Seattle Streetcar, Kitsap Transit, Community Transit, and in March 2016 Pierce Transit fares for those categories if ST doesn’t raise those fares to coordinate with what most of the other agencies are doing.

        If ridership goes up because of LIFT, that is a feature, not a bug, in my book. So far, those LIFT taps have accounted for 2-3% of all ORCA boardings on Metro since March, so I don’t think it is going to be a huge ridership increase just because of LIFT.

      3. Are Metro fares going up again next year? Because the Metro fare is $2.50 other than during the peak, as is Sound Transit. It’s just during the peak that things are kind of weird. Personally, I’d rather see Sound Transit adopt peak fare structure so at a minimum riders really don’t have to care whether they board a blue/white or green/blue/red-ocra bus when both buses go the same place. By the way, and I may be imagining this, but it seems to me that there are some riders coming from the Eastside who have figured out that by exiting at Yarrow Point or Evergreen Point and switching to Sound Transit, they can save 50c off their fare during peak periods. Which I think also translates to $18 off their monthly pass.

        If Lift is only 2-3% of boardings, and has a $1 subsidy, and the rest of the 97% ridership is paying an extra 25c, then they are a raising a lot more revenue from the fare increase than the Lift subsidy. I understand that you cannot do straight math because of transfers, although if the transfer frequency is the same among all riders it would still mean even at 3% vs. 97% that there are 33 * 25c or $8.25 in new revenue for every ~$1 subsidy in fare (if off-peak) or $1.25 peak 1-zone.

      4. BTW, Carl, if you wish to get rid of fare recovery percentage as a performance measure for ST and Metro, I’m with you there. It is a dumb measurement. Net fare recovery is a more honest measurement, taking into account the costs of fare collection, including administrative expenses for distributing the various types of ORCA cards, and dwell time due to fare payment compared to if riders could just board and alight at all doors.

      5. Also, Carl, you could comment in favor of ORCA LIFT on all ST services but against some elements of the fare increase proposals, given how miniscule that lost revenue is in the grand scheme of things, but how helpful it would be to the beneficiaries.

        Indeed, it is quite possible that the operational savings from decreased cash payment will end up covering the lost revenue from the discount. That reduced dwell time makes all of us who ride ST Express beneficiaries of ORCA LIFT.

      6. Among the things I wish for are not only fare unification and simplification between in-county fares and the different operators – but also transfer policies. Because if Metro would get rid of paper transfers that would also drive up ORCA adoption. And has anyone really figured out why we still have the $5 fee for ORCA cards? The cost of the cards must be under $1.

        And maybe I was caught up in the way the fare increase was presented and justified to replace the revenue lost due to the Lift fare. I’m still not sure from a policy perspective we should be raising our fares any further… given low gas prices that show no signs of disappearing and increased traffic congestion. Heck, I’d rather see a tax on employer-provided free parking.

    2. “it was created the intention was a premium express bus service, not the all stops local.”

      ST Express is not a “premium service”, it’s for basic connectivity between the region’s cities. It’s not reasonable to expect people to take the E to Aurora Village and Swift to Everett, or the 72 to Lake City and 372 to Bothell. That takes two hours each way. Sounder was positioned as a premium service (higher fares, with lower fares on parallel bus routes), and there’s significant controversy whether that was a good idea or should be changed. For instance, perhaps Sounder South should be the basic regional service for Kent, Auburn, Puyallup, and Tacoma, and we should lower the fares and get more runs and phase out the 594 and forget about Link to Tacoma. But in any case, even if Sounder is a premium service, ST Express and Link are not.

      1. Remember your history. ST express at one time was in addition to the service offered by local agencies, with a few routes taken over in the process (the old metro 250? And the pierce transit 59x series) along with new additions of theirs. In more recent times, there has been much more coordination of services blurring the lines. However, sound transit must remain a express bus service to avoid having to offer ADA paratransit service.

  7. Brent: I’ve mailed my ballot in, so look for your copy in the mail very soon.
    All Others: I hope Ken follows through with maybe a Page 2 posting to get the ball rolling on this as he seems to grasp the idea of getting more SOVs off the roads and using transit in a big way to do it.
    If you added up all the costs of transit (all the agencies and all the capital costs – Everything), plus the cost of congestion for everyone else who don’t use transit, and divide those costs into say doubling the service hours over a year, then I think our region would be better off than we are tinkering with Lift fares, adding more-different Orca readers,and adding several thousand more riders per day over last year.
    I keep coming back to PSRC’s projections for 2040, and they are supposed to be the experts here. Transit mode share goes up by a percent or two, and congestion continues to get much worse for everyone costing society much more.
    Can’t we even have a discussion about ways to make a huge difference in that depressing scenario of our future.
    Prepaid Fares for everyone might just do it.
    And yes Ken, average people don’t ride transit all day, back and forth, just because it’s free.

    1. So let me ask mic, could you list some funding sources you would support in order to pay for free fares on Metro and/or ST, plus the extra fleet and operator force to meet the ridership demand should it be implemented?

      1. I could but decline to see if someone other than me (I get too much hate mail as it is) is willing to start a separate topic on Pre-Paid Fares. Breifly, I would explore a separate transportation account paying for double the transit service hours (just double drivers, buses, bases, tec) from several new sources. WSDOT for congestion mitigation of their hopelessly plugged up freeways on I-5, with proceeds from tolling going to transit.
        Employee taxes, paid by employers as a congestion charge, encouraging transit use.
        Public Health contributions to offset the cost of providing greatly expanded service to low income users.
        Cutoff Link expansion past Lynnwood and FedWay as being the wrong tool for the job at hand, and invest in a much larger fleet of buses needed to double the fleet size.
        Those are just a few thoughts, oh, and follow the Island Transit model of 3 strikes and you’re off the bus or train. That seems to work when enforcement isn’t far off and applied fairly.
        I should also note the last study done was by a grad student in Florida in 2002, looking at little evidence to base her thesis on. Times have changed. Maybe you could too.

  8. OrcaLift is wrong. It needs to be eliminated. Everyone should pay the same price for the same service.

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