ORCA LIFT on ST ExpressLast week, I explained how the proposal to implement a low-income (ORCA LIFT) fare on all ST Express routes and raise fares to keep up with partner agencies would not just increase ridership, reduce operating costs and travel time, and lower barriers to accessing public transit, but would also almost certainly increase fare revenue.

Some commenters took the opportunity to complain about the complexity of fare structures for other agencies, and among the agencies.

Sound Transit’s fare policy lays out some goals for regional fare coordination:

Coordination with other regional transit systems – fare media and pricing are integrated regionally among partner transit agencies to:
o avoid conflicting pricing;
o facilitate customer and transit employee understanding;
o minimize fare payment confusion as a barrier to regional transit use;
o promote regional consistency in provisions for low income and transit dependent riders; and
o promote public safety

The proposal for raising ST Express fares and implementing a LIFT fare on all routes follows from these goals. The proposal to implement LIFT fares just on routes operated wholly within King County (522, 540-567, and 577) confuses the situation and contravenes some of these goals.

It is useful to chart out how fares on all the agencies that accept PugetPass would look before and after the various proposals, including a proposal pending before the Pierce Transit Board of Commissioners.

The various Regional Reduced Fare Permit fares (for seniors 65+ and riders with disabilities) are as follows:
$0.25: Everett Transit local
$0.75: ST Express 1-county (current), Pierce Transit (current)
$1.00: King County Metro, Link Light Rail, Seattle Streetcar, ST Express 1-county (proposed), Pierce Transit (proposed), Community Transit local, Everett Transit commuter, Kitsap Transit
$1.50: ST Express multi-county (current)
$1.75: ST Express multi-county (proposed)

$2.00: Community Transit commuter, West Seattle Water Taxi
$1.25-$2.50: Sounder (current)
$2.50: Community Transit commuter north/east, Vashon Water Taxi
$1.50-$2.75: Sounder (proposed)

The youth fares (for riders age 6-18) are as follows:
$0.75: Pierce Transit (current), Everett Transit local
$1.00: Pierce Transit (proposed), Kitsap Transit
$1.25: ST Express 1-county (current)
$1.50: King County Metro, Link Light Rail, Seattle Streetcar, ST Express 1-county (proposed), Community Transit local, Everett Transit commuter
$2.50: ST Express multi-county (current)
$2.75: ST Express multi-county (proposed)
$3.00: Community Transit commuter, West Seattle Water Taxi (ORCA)
$2.00-$3.75: Sounder (current)
$3.75: Vashon Water Taxi (ORCA)
$4.00: Community Transit commuter north/east
$2.50-$4.25: Sounder (proposed)
$4.75: West Seattle Water Taxi (cash)
$5.50: Vashon Water Taxi (cash)

Children 0-5 ride free when accompanied by a fare-paying adult.

The regular fares (for riders age 19-64) are as follows:
$1.00: Everett Transit local
$2.00: Pierce Transit, Kitsap Transit
$2.25: Seattle Streetcar, Community Transit local, Everett Transit commuter
$2.50: King County Metro off-peak, ST Express 1-county (current)
$2.75: King County Metro 1-zone peak, ST Express 1-county (proposed)
$2.25-$3.00: Link Light Rail
$3.25: King County Metro 2-zone peak
$3.50: ST Express multi-county (current)
$3.75: ST Express multi-county (proposed)
$4.00: West Seattle Water Taxi (ORCA)
$4.25: Community Transit commuter
$4.75: West Seattle Water Taxi (cash), Vashon Water Taxi (ORCA)
$2.75-$5.25: Sounder (current)
$5.50: Community Transit commuter north/east, Vashon Water Taxi (cash)
$3.25-$5.75: Sounder (proposed)

The fares for LIFT cardholders, using loaded ORCA product, are as follows:
$1.00: Kitsap Transit, Everett Transit local
$1.50: King County Metro, Link Light Rail, Seattle Streetcar, ST Express 1-county (all-routes proposal), ST Express 1-county on routes wholly operated within King County (King-County-only proposal)
$2.00: Pierce Transit
$2.25: Community Transit local, Everett Transit commuter
$2.50: ST Express 1-county (current)
ST Express 1-county on routes not operating wholly within King County (King-County-only proposal), ST Express multi-county (all-routes proposal)
$3.00: West Seattle Water Taxi
$3.50: ST Express multi-county (current)
$3.75: Vashon Water Taxi, ST Express multi-county (King-County-only proposal)
$2.50-$4.25: Sounder (proposed)
$4.25: Community Transit commuter
$2.75-%5.25: Sounder (current)
$5.50: Community Transit commuter north/east

With the proposal for LIFT fares on all ST Express routes, RRFP, youth, and LIFT 1-county fares would be aligned with fares from several other agencies, while the rest of the changes add no disalignment. The LIFT fares would match the youth fares on all PugetPass services except Pierce, Community, and Everett Transit.

The Sound Transit Board of Directors will vote on the proposals Thursday afternoon. The public comment period is over, but anyone can still contact board members directly.

18 Replies to “Regional Fare Coordination and ORCA LIFT”

  1. As one making the point about complexity of fares around the region, just count the ones in this posting.
    52 lines of fares.
    The prosecution rests.

  2. I think the only way to dramatically fix this would be to collapse RRFP, Youth and LIFT fares into one category, and then have a separate category for everyone else. How feasible would that be?

    1. It would put a ceiling of 1/2 the regular peak fare in the appropriate corridor due to the federal RRFP rule. Do all the discount fares fit within that?

    2. Pardon the ignorance, but aren’t LIFT and RRFP trying to do the same thing – providing a lower fare for those passengers who would benefit most from it?

      I agree with Stephen, it seems like common sense to just have 2 fare brackets. Normal and reduced. Maybe youth as a 3rd category, but I’d be happy combining that with the “reduced”

      I also think there needs to be better fare matching for parallel routes. Why is the regular fare different for someone traveling the tunnel from International District to Westlake depending if they take Link or a bus?

    3. RRFP includes non-Puget Sound agencies, and its eligibility is seniors and disabled. LIFT is ORCA only and its eligibility is income-based. So each one has eligible users the other one doesn’t.

  3. What is the most revenue any agency would lose if fares were made as simple as possible regionwide?

    Mark Dublin

    1. The simplest fare is a single price.

      Set that price too high and the people who need to travel short distances get annoyed because their 10 minute trip up Broadway just became the same as a two hour slog from North Bend to Shoreline. Set the price too low and you subsidize sprawl.

      This is one advantage to the Everett Transit / Community Transit split city and suburban model.

  4. Follow-up question: After calculating cost of every operating minute lost over fare disputes and on-board conversations with drivers about amounts and rules…how does the balance sheet read. Total and per agency?

    Wish there was a column with ink in Feed-Lot Floor Brown!


  5. You could convert everything to tap on and tap off, and charge by the minute.

    My most recent trip on Link would probably be several thousand dollars by now.

  6. Glenn, the “model” I’ve got in mind is same as the car industries, and the taxation system based on cars, have had ever since the average person could buy a car. Set a fair price for car and tabs, with the the full intention that people will have the freedom to ride however far they want.

    When I’m visiting Portland, or anywhere else, I’ll generally pay for a day pass- exactly because it offers me both freedom to travel widely or within limits without having to think about a fare after I buy the pass. Intercity Transit down here in Olympia has two fares: One dollar for a single trip, and two dollars for a day pass.

    In other words, I’m willing to make allowances for single short ride passengers. But really would like them to choose a means to travel wider. Nowadays most of us live our lives all over the region. Now about sprawl.

    My definition of the term is a living pattern that first makes line-haul transit impossible to build, resulting second in a situation where, because of the sheer number of cars, nobody can move. Maybe it’s ancestral memories of the interurbans, but I think a really good way to live regionally is a series of towns both compact and well-designed, surrounded by woods and fields.

    Sometimes with street track carrying trains that could handle both street rail curves and over seventy on the tracks between towns. Another lesson from the past. In the streetcar days, developers sometimes built and operated car-lines as a way to attract tenants.

    Same as the Interstates have done at huge Federal expense. Look up “Shaker Heights” in Cleveland, built by the Van Swearingen brothers. Would also tend to weed out developers whose building plan isn’t development, but speculation.


    Set that price too high and the people who need to travel short distances get annoyed because their 10 minute trip up Broadway just became the same as a two hour slog from North Bend to Shoreline. Set the price too low and you subsidize sprawl.

    This is one advantage to the Everett Transit / Community Transit split city and suburban model.

  7. Glen, I didn’t mean to steal your paragraph without attribution. This typing and editing program is very hard for me to handle. Vision thing, not meaning Transit Future. Reason I often end up signing twice. Really do appreciate a contact with Portland, whose electric rail transit system I think has a lot of lessons for us.

    ‘Way beyond the ticket machine by Greyhound which is always my first stop to buy my pass. Without knowing as much about Portland as I should, I really do think that your transit system in general is an important part of a much nicer general attitude toward what people need.

    Though especially for Downtown Seattle, the way this place is compressed really limits how much we can put on the surface. I’m curious about your take on our dual-power-to joint-use approach. And what lessons you think we can take from Portland.

    Starting, since that’s topic here, with our fare system, which seems set up to aggravate as many people as possible.


  8. Two simple fixes the region could adopt to make riding transit more attractive to riders of all categories would be:
    1. Have one fare for regular riders and another for discounted riders at 1/2 price who otherwise could not afford to ride (youth, senior, disabled, low income).
    2. Have one fare for local trips, and another for premium, longer distance trips (STEX, Express buses, Commuter rail). This eliminates the differences between figuring out if riding Link or a local bus is cheaper, or if riding at 2pm or 4pm is cheaper. We should not be trying to discourage riding transit in the most congested hours of the days by jacking the fares up to limit who rides. Let transit rise to the occasion of providing service during peak periods and let’s knock down the walls of zones Metro clings to for parochial reasons.

    1. 1. Yes

      2. Yes (Singapore has the most convoluted fare system I’ve ever seen–charging weird amounts per km, but they likely have nearly 100% smart card acceptance. Here simplicity would take down a barrier that certainly some have regarding deciding to take transit or not.)

      3. Day pass: 2x base fare +$1. With the acceptance of mic’s #2, there would be two day pass options at regular fare, a local fare (say 2x$3 +1 = $7) and an express/Sounder rate (say 2x$5 +1 = $11). Adding the dollar would still encourage people to take additional trips during the day they might not otherwise whilst still adding a bit more revenue. For those with the long distance pass, it would encourage use of in-city or local transit since you’ve already paid for that.

      3, 5 and 7-day passes should also be made available; the longer ones may not need a premium as visitors may not take transit every day and locals would probably gravitate to e-purse or pass on their ORCAs by then.

      I never visit a city without looking into their transit pass options. In some places like Phoenix that means buying a day pass at 2x fare; in others like Rio or London it’s an e-purse (same with Singapore as it made more sense than their daily one for me). The freedom to come and go as you like is not to be underestimated. Our firm just moved to downtown and although the suburban staff grumble a bit, they are all excited for the beginning of the year when we get our ORCA business passes – talking eagerly about all the places they will go once it’s all included. Day passes with simplified, easily understandable fares would give them that flexibility now.

      1. Thanks Scott. I like all your embellishments.
        The vote is 2-0 and the polls have closed. Slam Dunk this one!

    2. ST Express and “express” in general include widely different levels of service. The 41 goes a short distance to Northgate. There’s no local alternative to the 550. The 512 and 522 are basic service; certainly more basic than the 421 (Seattle-Marysville) or 592. Sounder has an identify crisis: is it premium service or is it the regular service we want everybody to use? Routes like the 15X and 218 are arguably to manage capacity demand as much as expresses: they’re a variation of A/B-stop patterns where one busload of people goes to one set of stops and another busload goes to another set, because they are entire busloads. The 26X and 28X will soon be the only routes in their areas. The multiplicity of fares at least vaguely relates to the different levels of service, distances, and expenses on these routes.

      1. I’m fine with erring on the side of eliminating the X designation on routes. Express classification should rise to the occasion of traveling long distances with few, if any stops along the way. Tacoma – Seattle or Everett – Bellevue fit this model. Bellevue – Seattle does not.
        I’m always tickled by how transit likes to tie itself into knots over 10% of the operating cost recovery. General taxes pay for 75% of most services. Riders pay for the other 25%, or less on discounted fares. Most every rider pays at least 12% of the trip cost. So in effect, all this hub-bub over fares is for a narrow slice of the overall cost of the service. Worse, we go to great lengths to define, track, monitor, penalize, and purchase equipment to do it.

      2. I’d define express as routes with a long nonstop segment, but Metro uses it for routes that skip any stops at all like the 66. So some riders are probably counting on that. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to call routes like the 66 and 372 limited-stop rather than express, but Metro has never made a three-way distinction.

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