PrintOn the first birthday of the ORCA LIFT (low-income fare) program, this coming Tuesday, March 1, low-income fares will go live on two more services:

  • Sound Transit Express buses
    ($1.50 in-county,
    $2.75 inter-county)
  • Sounder commuter rail
    ($2.50 to $4.25,
    based on distance)
  • .
    It took 30 years for Kitsap Transit’s low-income fare program, started in 1985, to be adopted elsewhere. Martin proposed the idea of a low-income ORCA card for King County Metro back in 2010. A coalition of transit and social justice advocacy groups, now known as Transit for All, got together and sent a joint letter to the King County Council in late 2012, asking for such a program. The County Council unanimously created the Low Income Fare Options Advisory Committee, which issued its report in June 2013. The council then created the Low Income Fare Implementation Task Force, which issued its report in August 2014. The council formally adopted the low-income fare program in its 2015 budget, and the program was given the name ORCA LIFT.

    On March 1 of 2015, the ORCA LIFT card went live, and was honored on six different services:

  • Kitsap Transit buses and foot ferries ($1)
  • King County Metro buses ($1.50)
  • Seattle Streetcar ($1.50)
  • King County Water Taxi ($3 to West Seattle, going up to $3.50 on March 1; $3.75 to Vashon Island, going up to $4 on March 1)
  • Link Light Rail ($1.50)
  • Thanks largely to the work of the two blue-ribbon panels, ORCA LIFT was done right in several ways:

  • The card is free. Given the amount of effort it takes to get the card — including making a trip to one of the locations where it is available — there is no incentive to just toss it and get another.
  • The qualification level — being part of a household at or below 200% of the federal poverty level — makes it easy to use other benefit qualifications to verify income.
  • If you get the card at Public Health Seattle & King County, you can sign up for various other public benefits at the same time. This doesn’t just save the customer time. It saves staff time and taxpayer money.
  • While getting the card at Public Health, the recipient can also get youth ORCA cards for free for each child 6-18 in the household, if the LIFT card recipient brings along the appropriate documentation. (Neither the LIFT nor youth cards come with free passes or e-purse value.)
  • Unlike with some other public benefits, the customer is not kicked out of the program immediately upon crossing above the 200% poverty line. The ORCA LIFT card is good for two years from the date it is handed out.
  • Inter-agency agreements have made ORCA LIFT a regional program, in which King County and Kitsap County honor each other’s low-income ORCA cards.
  • The card looks exactly like a regular ORCA card, protecting the customer’s privacy.
  • Each agency adopting a low-income fare has matched it to its youth fare.
  • Getting the low-income fare requires having a pass and/or e-purse loaded on the ORCA LIFT card. This may not seem helpful for the customer, but it makes the program popular with the rest of the ridership, as fewer and fewer riders fumble change at the bus farebox.
  • Loading passes and e-purse on the LIFT card is done just the same way as for other ORCA cards, making it the most convenient low-income fare program in the country.
  • .
    Due to the adoption of low-income fares on ST Express and Sounder, ORCA LIFT cards will start being made available in Pierce County and Snohomish County in the very near future. However, you don’t have to be a resident of King County to get the LIFT card at the locations it is distributed in King County, including the Public Health office next door to the King County Metro office, 201 S Jackson St, just west of King Street Station.

    While ST Express and Sounder will start honoring low-income fares on March 1, they will raise other fares. ST Express fares will go up by 25 cents in all categories. Sounder fares will go up by 25 cents for Regional Reduced Fare Permit (RRFP) holders (for seniors 65+ and riders with disabilities) and 50 cents for youth 6-18 and regular-fare riders.

    King County Water Taxis will be raising its fares for all categories. The West Seattle route fares will go up 25 cents for RRFP holders and 50 cents for everyone else. The Vashon route fares will go up 25 cents for RRFP holders, 25 cents for youth and LIFT cardholders paying with ORCA product, 50 cents for others paying with ORCA product, and 75 cents for others paying with cash. Children 0-5 will still get to ride free, when accompanied by an adult (four per adult).

    Pierce Transit will be raising its discount fares from 75 cents to $1.

    Here are the single-ride fares for all services that accept the PugetPass (ORCA’s regional monthly pass), as of March 1. New fares are in bold.

    Agency Service RRFP.. Youth LIFT… Full Adult
    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 $2.25 $3.50 $3.50 $4.50
    KC Water Taxis West Seattle cash $2.25 $5.25 $5.25 $5.25
    KC Water Taxis Vashon ORCA $2.75 $4.00 $4.00 $5.25
    KC Water Taxis Vashon cash $2.75 $6.25 $6.25 $6.25
    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 bus and foot ferry $1.00 $1.00 $1.00 $2.00
    Pierce Transit bus $1.00 $1.00 n/a $2.00
    Seattle Streetcars streetcar $1.00 $1.50 $1.50 $2.25
    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 Sounder minimum $1.50 $2.50 $2.50 $3.25
    Sound Transit Sounder maximum $2.75 $4.25 $4.25 $5.75
    Sound Transit ST Express intra-county $1.00 $1.50 $1.50 $2.75
    Sound Transit ST Express inter-county $1.75 $2.75 $2.75 $3.75
    Sound Transit Tacoma Link $0.00 $0.00 n/a $0.00

    13 Replies to “Two New Services for ORCA LIFT Tuesday; Other Fare Increases”

    1. Regarding LIFT customer privacy: When Fare Enforcement Officers scan your ORCA card on Link, “LOW INCOME” is displayed in big bold letters on the screen of the card reader.

        1. Not according to what Brent wrote above: “The card looks exactly like a regular ORCA card, protecting the customer’s privacy.”

        2. Actually, they do say “Reduced fare only with Pass or E-Purse” in English and Spanish on the back, along with the expiration date in clear red letters. I got mine last month at the Renton King County Public Health office, and when I went to register it, it was already registered and I couldn’t access it with my Orca account. So I wound up having to go to Metro Customer Service anyway. They could tell just from the new card who I was and they synced the new card with my existing Orca account.

        3. @Arthur I managed to get an online account for my LIFT card, although the process wasn’t that smooth. There was a little pamphlet in the envelope I was given instructing me to register for a new account, and my friend was “orcalift” or something like that.

      1. This is totally unnecessary. Why would the bus loader or driver need to know the economic status of a rider?

        1. Perhaps the FEO sees the fare paid as being $1.50 and thinks that this obviously-overage rider might be using a stolen/forged youth card?

          Does the scanner even display things like Reduced Fare/Youth on their screen?

    2. I’ve had a mixed experience with mine. The epurse balance of my previous card never successfully transferred to my LIFT card, fortunately I only lost around $5. I could try chasing it down but my sanity is worth $5 and Metro isn’t evil like the phone company.

      I find the requirement to load a minimum of $5 cash at a ORCA vending machine to be inconvenient when I’m strapped for cash. It would be nice if I could load it for less with whatever singles I had on me. I’m sure that there are other people that would like to load $3 for two trips worth of fare to get them through the day when they aren’t flush with cash.

      Otherwise it just works (or doesn’t work) like any other ORCA card.

      1. Just to be clear, the problem cited in your second paragraph is not specific to the LIFT card. I understand why there is a minimum credit/debit card charge of $5 (though they could simply charge an extra 25 cents for loading amounts less than $5 via bank card). I haven’t asked about the cash minimum.

        Houston has a straight-forward solution to the problem in your first paragraph: You can bring in the Q Card you already have, and they can convert it into a senior or disabilities discount card through a simple re-programming. They don’t have a low-income card, but the principle is the same. In practice, Metro/ST appears to be afraid to give anyone outside a well-controlled office the ability to turn an unlimited number of regular cards into discount cards. But they aren’t afraid to give agents the ability to program in expiration dates. If a LIFT or youth card is given out without an expiration date, or the LIFT card is given more than two years, the readers can catch that.

        At any rate, ORCA 2.0 is supposed to be account-based, so the second problem should go away eventually.

    3. It’s bad policy to tax transit riders in order to fund a social program. The ORCA Lift fare should be funded by general tax revenues, not by fare increases on other riders.

      1. Regular, LIFT, youth, and even more so senior and disabilities fares are all funded by general revenue, mostly sales tax. No rider is subsidizing any other rider through their fares. Depending so heavily on sales tax is a more questionable policy, but subsidy by the general public is not, unless we want to get rid of all the subsidies for automobiles.

        There are more nuanced questionable policies that hinder operational efficiency and system usability, like charging $5 to get a card when we want everyone to get and use the card.

        The most any other bus smart card in the country costs is $3 in Salt Lake City, but their card is an alternative for those without private bank cards, which are all tappable on transit. For agencies where only the cards issued by the transit agency work, the most expensive bus smart card is $2, but a majority of agencies give them away for free, since they get it that they want everyone to have and use it.

        Metro/ST cite the $2-3 cost to the agency for each new card, but that doesn’t explain why they upcharge a couple dollars. They also cite the need to have riders not treat the card as disposable. Fine. Charge 25 cents for the card, for those available from vending machines, and make the ones that require effort to mail order or pick up during business hours free.

        The youth cards are such a pain to acquire — either getting them through a school program, getting them at the downtown Metro office during business hours, ordering them through the mail, or (for those with parents who qualify for the LIFT card) getting them at Public Health offices at the same time the parent(s) get LIFT cards. I believe wards of the state also qualify for the free youth cards, but I haven’t confirmed that. A simple short circuit is to make the youth card free, for all riders 6-18, at the same facilities that distribute LIFT cards.

        The policy of giving out paper transfers, in this day and age of the LIFT card, is an anachronism that is slowing down buses for everyone unnecessarily, but only on King County Metro. The rest of the ORCA pod has moved on, even while some agencies haven’t yet adopted a low-income fare.

        For those concerned about losing transferability on free passes, having the first operator the day it is used write a date on it would let free passes work just fine as day passes. Indeed, I think they already function as day passes. It remains an expensive program to administer, but provides a life-saving safety net for the penniless who need to get places outside of walking distance.

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