Following the lead of the Transit Riders Union, we’ve written a bit lately about the pain points introduced when disjointed interagency fare policies meet an evolving system in which Sound Transit plays an ever stronger role. With the ULink restructure incentivizing transfers between agencies at a greater clip than ever before, much noise has been made about the ineligibility of Metro’s human services bus tickets with Link. (See previous writing on this here and at The Stranger.)
The basic problem is that while Metro and Sound Transit both issue deeply-discounted tickets for their own services to human service agencies, those service agencies do still have to pay for them. Given that Sound Transit’s tickets are good only on Link, and Metro’s are valid systemwide, agencies strongly prefer to use their limited dollars on Metro’s tickets. In a network being progressively restructured to rely on Link, that’s an effective service cut for those who can’t pay any fare at all.
While we await the interagency policy alignments necessary to fix the problem – we’ve suggested free ORCA cards, broader Lift access, the elimination of paper transfers, and fare alignment between the agencies – yesterday Metro and Sound Transit announced an interim fix. The two agencies will keep the same programs and policies, but will simply issue a single joint ticket, perforated with two Metro 1-zone passes and a Link Day Pass. Service agencies will pay $11 for a book of 10 combo tickets. The internal administrative burdens of these programs will remain, as will the disparate fare policies, but this step should serve the immediate need while long-term solutions are found.