In a public process starting today and running through May 5, Metro is asking for public feedback on two fare overhaul proposals. There is a new survey up here, and a final proposal will be taken up by the King County Council later this summer.
The overhaul comes after 4,000 survey responses and 2 meetings with a 19-member Advisory Group. Whereas currently there is a complicated 3-layered fare structure – a base fare of $2.50, a peak fare of $2.75, and a peak fare of $3.25 for trips crossing the Seattle city limits – the new proposal would significantly simplify things:
- Option A: a flat fare of $2.75 for any Metro route, anywhere, anytime
- Option B: a flat fare of $2.50 during off-peak periods, and a flat fare of $3.00 during peak
So no matter the outcome, Metro will do away with zoned fares, and any surcharges will be based upon time rather than distance or geography. Metro will also not consider pricing based on class of service, where peak expresses would be priced differently than the all-day network.
Metro estimates both revenue gains and modest ridership losses from either alternative. The $2.75 flat fare would reduce ridership by an estimated 400,000 annually, while the $2.50/$3.00 structure of Option B would reduce ridership by just 200,000. While this may seem like a lot, it’s worth noting that it’s less than 1 day’s worth of Metro ridership, or 0.1-0.2% of the total. Revenue gains are estimated at between $3.5-$4m annually, again quite modest in the context of Metro’s overall budget.
How can Metro make more money from fewer riders? In Option A 33% of riders would pay $0.25 more, while 7% of riders would pay $0.50 less. In Option B, 30% of riders pay $0.25 more, while 7% of riders pay $0.25 less. The increased revenue from current Seattle or intra-suburban riders pays for the cut to current city-to-suburb fares.
Any simplification is welcome in reducing customer ‘friction’ and creating a more legible system for riders. But simplification also magnifies tradeoffs, and these proposals are no exception. Option A ($2.75 flat fare) would further increase the price for off-peak urban trips by 10%, while reducing peak suburban express trip fares by 15%. Urban riders may feel that this further incentivizes long commutes, sprawl, and Metro’s most expensive services. A rider from Black Diamond to Seattle would pay the same as someone riding from Belltown to Pike Place Market.
On the other hand, Option B would be closer to status quo for short trips, with the same price off-peak, a 9% fare increase for peak urban trips, and an 8% reduction for peak suburban trips.
Both options would still align awkwardly with Sound Transit’s fares, though the outcome would be much better than the status quo. A flat fare of $2.75 would match Sound Transit’s one-county fare, which would finally align fares between agencies for routes across Lake Washington and from Seattle to Federal Way. Retaining a peak surcharge would make Metro more competitive with Link during off-peak hours, yet make it even more uncompetitive during peak. Metro also notes that peak pricing complicates the implementation of the ORCA Next Generation project.
Please take the survey and let Metro know what you think. There will also be two public meetings on the proposal: