King County Metro Transit wants to simplify bus fares by establishing a flat rate of $2.75 for passengers — eliminating zones and peak-rate fares.
Calling the current fare system one of the most “complicated” in the country,” Dow Constantine, King County Executive, announced a proposal to streamline fares at a press conference Thursday. The change could take effect as soon as July 2018 if approved by the King County Council.
“I believe that access to opportunity depends on providing people with safe, affordable and reliable ways to get around this region,” Constantine told the crowd. “Rising home prices means a lot of folks have been pushed further and further from the place where they earn their living, for them this new fare means more money in their pockets.”
According to Metro, roughly 65 percent of riders will see no change or a reduction in their fare with the proposed $2.75 flat rate.
Currently, riders traveling between two zones during the morning or evening commute pay $3.25, the proposal would reduce that cost by 50 cents. However, for riders traveling during off-peak hours, the new fare would increase the cost of their ticket by 25 cents. There will be no change in cost for riders that qualify for ORCA Lift, youth, senior and disabled fares.
“We will make Metro fares simpler and we will make boardings faster, and faster boardings mean more service,” Constantine said.
Also included in the proposal is an additional $400,000 in funding for the Human Services Ticket Program which provides subsidized bus fares to human service agencies serving low-income residents. With 44 percent of these subsidized fares used during off-peak hours, Metro said this additional funding will help offset the higher cost these riders would pay under the new fare system.
The agency said this change was not about increasing revenue, predicting the fare change along with an increase in funding for subsidies for low-income riders would make only a marginal difference.
“I think it makes a lot of sense to do away with the higher two-zone fare,” wrote Katie Wilson, general secretary of the Transit Riders Union in an email. “It’s not right to make someone who commutes to Seattle from Kent because they can’t afford to live here pay more for their ride, even though it’s more expensive to provide the service.”
However, Wilson is concerned about the impacts of the off-peak fare increase on lower-income riders who don’t qualify for a reduced fare.
“Many households that do not qualify for reduced transit fares are cost-burdened, and the increase from $2.50 to $2.75 will impact them,” Wilson said. “At the very least, I think all additional revenue from the fare restructure should be directed to programs that make transit more affordable for lower-income riders.”
While considering a change to streamline fares, Metro received over 11,000 comments through two public surveys, of which a third of participants said the current fare system was too complex and difficult to understand. In one survey, 80 percent of participants supported a flat fare.
“Simpler fares improves accessibility for everyone, but particularly for new riders, people who haven’t tried the system yet, for infrequent riders, for visitors,” said Claudia Balducci, King County Councilmember. “No more hovering near the bus driver and trying to figure out which zone you are going to, or whether the peak hour has started or ended yet. Just climb on, pay one fare and off you go.”