Queues at ticket vending machines don’t have to be long and slow.

Distance-based fares have a lot of fans among transit nerds, for a number of reasons, from practical – raising more revenue when the train lines become really long – to the patently absurd, such as that they will incentivize people to live closer to their jobs or incentivize Sound Transit not to build really long lines. The latter has already been disproven.

Distance-based fares have had some practical impacts we didn’t see coming in 2009.

  • Queues at ticket vending machines are often slow due to the complexity of buying tickets and day passes.
  • You can only buy a full-length ticket or day pass at the terminal stations, or on the mobile ticketing app.
  • Riders get nabbed by fare enforcement for mis-tapping or riding outside the areas permitted by the printed ticket or pass.
  • Riders using ORCA can’t get a “permit to travel” without having some combination of a high enough pass value and enough e-purse to cover the longest Link trip one could take from the station where they are tapping on. (Doing otherwise would have other unfortunate side effects, such as warning and fining riders who rode too far after being shown “permit to travel”, or needing to add a dollar to the cost of getting an ORCA card. As the train lines grow longer, the cost of an ORCA card would have to increase.)
  • Those trying to evade paying any fare have a simple algorithm to do so: Sit in the articulated section at the center of the car. Fare enforcement officers start at each end and work to the middle. The likelihood that at least one officer checking fares will stop to lecture someone about mis-tapping, messing up on their paper ticket/pass, or trying to use a Metro paper transfer is quite good, allowing the real fare evader to sneak away from the other officer.
  • Thanks to ST making the senior/disabilities fare a flat fare in June 2011, and federal law, that fare will always be no more than half the fare for the shortest regular-fare trip, creating an ever-widening gap between typical regular fares and the senior/disabilities fare.

Seniors 65+, riders with disabilities, youth under 19, and holders of ORCA LIFT (low-income) cards are blessed with not having to deal with the complexity of distance-based fares on Link, and get to buy full-length tickets and day passes from stations in the middle of the line. To further simplify the distance-based fares, ST made the fares to and from each of the downtown stations the same, moving away from the strict distance formula.

When East Link opens, a further conundrum will arise: having tickets and day passes good only on one line. Presumably, reduced-fare tickets and day passes will cover the full length of both lines, but that has not been decided yet.

Moving to a flat fare of $2.75, at least for the time being, would bring some new slickness to Link operations:

  • The fare would be part of a One Center City Fare of $2.75 with Metro buses, ST Express intra-county buses, the Seattle Center Monorail, and possibly the Seattle Streetcars. (The streetcar fares are officially set to match Link’s, which in practice makes the regular fare $2.25, but that could change.)
  • Those wanting to get a regular-fare monthly pass to cover riding Link would simply need the $99 pass.
  • Regular-fare tickets and day passes could cover the whole length of the line, regardless of where they are purchased.
  • The queues at ticket vending machines could get shorter and faster, including for those paying reduced fare and caught in the same queue with the full-fare payers trying to figure out how to get the best value out of the distance-based fare mousetrap.
  • Sound Transit could get rid of “tap off”, as it would no longer be needed to properly calculate the fare. This would eliminate a chunk of warnings to frequent riders who miscounted taps. (If someone accidentally tapped a second time, they would get the distinct cancellation beep.)
  • Fare enforcement officers would be freed up to just warn and fine actual fare evaders.

Getting rid of “tap off” would cause Sound Transit to give up some valuable data. But Sound Transit has been uninterested in changing the “tap off” sound to be distinct from the “tap on” sound. If they can’t make that simple fix, then getting rid of “tap off” altogether is the next best fix for Sound Transit to help itself do a better job of collecting the correct fare, and to stop harassment of very frequent riders who have made a best-faith effort to pay their fare, including those who have pre-paid with a sufficient pass or have a valid transfer covering sufficient value.

At the same time, Sound Transit is forgoing a chunk of fare revenue by having distance-based fares at this stage of Link Light Rail development.

Station boarding/alighting data from the 2018 Draft Service Implementation Plan (See page 79.) shows most trips are getting charged less than $2.75. For simplicity, let’s assume travel patterns for reduced-fare riders aren’t dramatically different from those of full-fare riders.

56% of southbound weekday riders are alighting by Mt. Baker Station or boarding at Tukwila International Boulevard Station or SeaTac Airport Station, and therefore paying no more than $2.50. Similarly, 56% of northbound weekday riders are boarding at Mt. Baker Station or later, or alighting at SeaTac Airport Station or Tukwila International Boulevard Station, and therefore paying no more than $2.50. The total number of passengers paying $2.50 or less is much larger, since there are plenty of $2.25 and $2.50 trips in the middle of the line, but the precise number can’t be teased out just from this data.

To pay more than $2.75, you have to travel between Rainier Beach Station and Tukwila International Boulevard Station, which only 28% of riders are doing. A chunk of those rides are paying less than $3.00 of course, but the data doesn’t provide a clear path to that number.

Since a clear majority of regular fares are $2.50 or less, the average applicable regular fare will be less than $2.75. The real fare charged has to account for shared revenue among multiple rides due to transfers and passes, but the math remains the same, in that Sound Transit would get more for each of those rides on average by charging a flat $2.75 fare.

Sound Transit is leaving fare revenue on the table, while inconveniencing lots of riders just trying to pay their fare.

112 Replies to “The Practical Pitfalls of Link’s Distance-Based Fares”

  1. The thing that’s nice about distance-based fares is that, by raising more revenue from longer trips, it allows shorter trips to be cheaper. In a city whose terrain makes short-hop transit more than a luxury for lots of folks, cheap local transit is good to have (there are lots of cost-conscious people in the middle class that don’t qualify for reduced fares)! Unfortunately in the bus system short trips are getting more and more expensive!

    1. While I have some empathy for your quest to make short trips cheaper, I don’t think it’s a good reason for only one service to have distance-based fares. If we are to have a distance-based fare system, it should be based on zones (origin and destination) and apply to all services. But that always introduces complexity and inequities (short cross-zone trips). Another alternative is to have a special short-distance fare (no transfer permitted, say up to 5 stops) But without proof of payment type of enforcement or tap on/tap off there is no practical way to do that.

      My other counter argument is that people only going a few stops slow the bus for everyone who is going longer distances, and they may jam it up in peak segments, so if people choose to use the bus for a short distance, it must be worth it to them. Unless you are disabled or elderly (and qualify for the reduced fare) you should be able to walk a mile in ~20 minutes, so I don’t know that we need to offer a reduced price for those trips, and when it starts being long enough to be worth wait time and a fare, does it matter if the fare is $2.00 or $2.75?

      1. Just because the bus service doesn’t have a distance based fare system (anymore) doesn’t mean the train shouldn’t.

      2. This is where buses are different from Link. Buses, people getting on to ride only a couple of stops definitely slow things down for everyone else. Link is different. The marginal delay of a few more people getting off and on at each stop is negligible.

      3. I’m not sure about that. I think you need to consider that trains go longer distances and flat rates seem nice when it’s $2.75 which is the same as a bus, but when that rate climbs in the future as the length of the system grows and the costs of maintenance start to add up, you’ll see it climb. I say that because distance based pricing put BART over $10 from SFO to DT last time I was there. The idea that a trip from Everett or Tacoma to DT Seattle would be the same price as someone from the hill to DT, seems really silly. I foresee the rate going up to easily over $5 at that point and then everyone inside of Seattle starts taking just buses again.

      4. @Jon,

        BART has a surcharge for using the station at the airport, so the basic distance-based fare for that trip would be much lower, FWIW.

        I certainly wouldn’t want to see a flat Link fare grow to be twice that of a bus trip, but I also am not sure BART is making much off of the higher fares for the longer distances because (1) Ridership from the most surburban points in the line is anemic (and I don’t know if that is because of the high fares); (2) Some rides on BART may be dissuaded by having to have enough pass value or e-purse to ride to the farthest end of the line, with the difference rebated upon tap-off; (3) Get off and back on in the middle to save a couple bucks; and (4) DC Metro took the other approach — allowing cards to go into negative value — which has created a political morass over why SmarTrip can’t be dropped below $2.

        If the top fare eventually reaches, say, $7, should ST require $7 of fare value on ORCA in order to get the “permit to travel”, or should the card be allowed to go into negative value?

      5. If one were to travel the entire length of the spine from Everett to Tacoma they would cover about 60 miles. At current rates the fare would be $2.25 + 60 miles x 5¢/mile = $5.25. Sounder’s maximum fare is $5.75 to go from Lakewood to Seattle.

        The “permit to travel” is a result of Link’s open system to encourage people to tap off because there are no physical barriers. Other systems like BART and DC Metro have faregates that prevent you from exiting the paid area if you have insufficient funds. In that case there’s an “addfare” machine that lets you pay the difference.

      6. SFO to Pittsburg is $12.05, while San Bruno to Pittsburg which is only slightly shorter $7.40, Airport workers can get special passes which don’t charge the $5 surcharge.

      7. The flat fare doesn’t need to be the same outside of King County, just like ST Express fares are higher to travel outside King County.

        For $2.50 or $2.75 you can travel from Shoreline or Bothell to Auburn or Federal Way on Metro and Sound Transit buses. Why should Link charge much more for intra-county trips? And should it really matter how much of your trip you can cover in buses before you transfer to Link or where you transfer?

      8. The flat fare doesn’t need to be the same outside of King County, just like ST Express fares are higher to travel outside King County.

        This is basically a zone system with few of the benefits because the zones are too large. ST Express inter-county fare is a $1 increment just for crossing a line whether you are going from Shoreline to Mountlake Terrace or Federal Way to Lynnwood. The current system doesn’t have this issue. Either you flatten the entire ST region or have a reasonable fare gradient that doesn’t have huge distortions at arbitrary boundaries.

        Why should Link charge much more for intra-county trips?

        For many trips within the city of Seattle and short suburban trips in the future it charges the same or up to 50¢ less.

        And should it really matter how much of your trip you can cover in buses before you transfer to Link or where you transfer?

        It shouldn’t and ORCA abstracts away most of the complications that come from interagency/intermodal transfers.

      9. I don’t think it’s a good reason for only one service to have distance-based fares.

        But this isn’t true. Sounder is distance based. Community Transit commuters isn’t strictly distance-based, but charges more for rides from further North (and less for local trips). ST express charges more for buses that go further. Ferry fares seem to be roughly based on the distance of the ride.

    2. We really want to discourage short rides on the train to alleviate crowding. A financial incentive for some to walk from downtown to Capitol Hill is a good thing.

      1. Interesting. So I pay taxes on this thing, but then I’m discouraged from riding it? Sounds fair.

        (and I say that as someone who walks from downtown over Capitol Hill nearly every day)

        What discourages short rides is the time penalty going down into the station then back out again. On a long commute that’s a small percentage of trip time and is ignored; on a short one it may be the difference between taking the train and walking/bus. Aside from the “get out of the way of the suburban commuter” thing, though, if a normal trip from downtown to Capitol Hill – including entering/exiting the stations and wait time – is 10 minutes, and it’s a 15-20 minute walk between the same two points, why should anyone be discouraged from saving the time? Is time that much more valuable to someone traveling from Northgate or Lynnwood? (no) You’re also introducing a blanket penalty on short distance commuters that affect those who can’t walk or find it very difficult no less than on the able-bodied and willing. If you’re going to go down that road, do what nearly all transit systems do elsewhere in the world and ban bicycles from transit at peak times – after all, they can by definition easily make it up the hill and take up 3-4x the space of a standing passenger.

  2. Moving to the same $2.75 flat fare would also make Link equal to all other in-county transit service (excluding Sounder) and make it so that all trips would cost the same regardless of how you transfer.

    Currently you have strange situations where a trip from UW to the airport is $3.25 but if you start on route 48 and transfer at Mt Baker it is only $2.75 (or is it $2.50?). And Bothell to the airport via 522 is only $3. It really makes little sense to charge distance based fare only on Link, where all in-county bus service is flat fare. And the unfairness only increases as Link increases.

    You also create weird situations where there is a financial penalty to riders when you move the transfer point to UW vs. a transfer point in downtown Seattle.

    There are a lot of practical advantages as well as some equity advantages to moving Link to a flat fare. And I will continue to advocate for a simple all day pass and eliminating paper transfers. Once we have flat fares, then make an in-county all day pass $5.50 or $6, and make it automatic (in-county fare capping.) Only Sound Transit and Metro need to agree – since this won’t affect Pierce or Snohomish Counties or the Ferries.

    1. Best practice is a zone system (the natural zones here are “King County” and “not King County”) with flat fare within one zone, and flat fare on buses even when they exit the zone. This handles a lot of pragmatic issues.

  3. Interesting that roads are moving away from gas tax to distance based (mileage based user fees) and demand based (I-405 Express Toll Lanes) while Transit is going from distance based to flat fares.

    The problem with both flat fares and mileage based user fees is they complete ignore the peak travel component in which people will pay more (proven over and over and over) for better service levels during peak travel times. Politicians (in the US) hate seeing $1,000 plane tickets, $10+ tolls, $5 bus fares, or surge pricing on Uber but its economically efficient and generates extra revenue to pay for better service levels (or assets stuck in congestion). In the case of Seattle peak transit pricing could contribute revenue to the acceleration of Ballard-West Seattle providing actual congestion relief to the entire metro region.

    So if you drop the distance implement the peak.

    1. The gas tax is more or less mileage-based relative to the efficiency of the car. The reason for getting away from it is that it’s ineffective for a growing percentage of cars, hybrid and electric, that use the roads just as much but pay little or no gas tax. And they may even use the roads more because they don’t have the expense of gas or the gas tax. Also, the gas tax is paid at the pump, which is like an e-purse except the value automatically goes down with driving, rather than people having to tap or getting fined if they forget or misunderstand the beeps. The toll machines charge your transponder if you have one, or they send you a monthly bill at a higher rate — you don’t have to turn around sideways and look behind you for a toll reader and tap it, or get over a hundred dollar fine if you don’t.

      1. Trucks do almost all road damage, but they are undercharged under all current systems (gas tax, mileage tax, even tolls).

  4. Brent, you’ve got no idea how glad I am to see this posting. Let’s talk about four measures that can be done before noon.

    1. Immediately and permanently make possession of a valid pass be Blanket Immunity against any charge of Fare Evasion.

    2. Immediate order to Fare Inspectors that a valid pass in the possession of an eligible pass-holder is all they need to see.

    3. Order them to issue nothing but friendly reminders to any passenger with any compliance problem at all until further notice.

    4. Tell me what I can do starting now to save STB’s server farm from blowing out over next word by me.

    Eight years of provable injury to LINK’s most compliant passengers should at least get us a Cease and Desist. Brent, Thank You For Your Service.

    Mark Dublin


      I don’t think any of this can be accomplished by noon.

      As you know, Metro has been subsidizing South Lake Union Streetcar fares since the line opened, based partially on the ridership approximations.

      Sound Transit could choose to do approximations of full-pass riders who forgot to tap and don’t have a valid transfer or pass, riders who double-tapped and didn’t have a valid pass or transfer, riders who had a valid transfer or pass and forgot to tap, riders who had a valid transfer or pass and double-tapped, and various other categories. The fare enforcement officers collect this data every day, and ST can do the simple division of riders divided by riders whose fares were checked.

      This may still require another agreement at the ORCA pod, but the pod has acted pretty reasonably so far. Metro might want a similar deal, so it should not be politically difficult.

      I’m still amazed nobody has filed an ADA claim on the “tap off” being the same as “tap on”. If the problem is the vendor trying to charge for the added tone, that problem goes away in 2021. Good riddance if the vendor was this difficult.

      The problem with the $124 minimum fine prescribed by state law has a simple solution: Rebate half that value onto the ORCA card of the person being so fined, if the person has a card registered to her/his name, and it is one of the reduced-fare-category cards. State law doesn’t proscribe rebates. This would be one more incentive to have a card, to use it, and to have it registered.

      The action of the rebate might cause some ST or court bureaucrats to notice that some of those people getting the rebate were fined wrongfully in the first place, if they look at the payment history.

      I’d be willing to bet that (real) fare evasion is costing ST less every year than the difference between what ST would be collecting with a flat fare (right now) and what ST is collecting.

      1. Real stinker of a problem with the $124 fine is that $120 goes to the court, with ST getting the rest. $124 is lowest fine District Court will enforce.

        ST says it’s a benefit to prove the system isn’t issuing penalties to save money. Way I look at it, ST’s goal is to “compel compliance.” Taking my money to pay for right to fine me. Two c-words equal t-for torture.

        Coming from Chicago, would rather pay honest graft. Public servants like the police officers who adopted our Irish setter for a mascot deserved some extra pay. Well, the dog loved them too. His name was Mike.

        If I ever miss a tap, revenge will be to publicly give Sound Transit the money- and watch them order me not to. With every weasel-faced 12 year old girl in all three counties
        waiting to click us all Viral.

        A couple of Republican legislators, and Bob Hasegawa who favored Bernie Sanders will probably find whole thing confirmation of whatever’s wrong with car tab prices.

        And only a pond full of Please Don’t Spread snail species separates me from all their offices.

        But best of all, Maggie Fimia used to be a nurse, which means she’ll save me when my doctor is golfing.

        So since ST Express thinks that affectionate kick to a front tire counts as tapping off-right, Dave? – she’s right. Buses are better.


  5. Having recently used transit in various European cities where English is not the primary language, I can definitely say that a flat fare is much easier to understand as a tourist.

    In particular, I’m thinking of an experience on the Stockholm streetcar, where it took 20 minutes of fiddling the machine, trying to decipher the Sweedish to figure out which fare product to buy. I’d imagine that for a Sweedish person visiting Seattle, the experience with Link would be similar.

    1. The Copenhagen ticket machines have an English option, and their distance based fares are complex enough that they have a menu system where you are able to select the destination station.

    2. I have never seen an automatic dispenser of any kind in Stockholm that doesn’t have an english option. Better yet, every Swede in Stockholm (under the age of 80) speaks perfect English. Sweden, and in particular Stockholm, is a very bad example of a language barrier for an english speaker.

      Anyway, distance based fares are equitable and logical. If you take more you should pay more. At least ST cares about collecting fares, unlike Metro…and this is definitely reflected in the ride quality of their products (number of sketchy moments aboard, at least).

      1. Let’s get one thing straight. Starting with first cash machine I find, probably in an hour or so, Sound Transit will have every dime I’ll owe them if I ride a thousand miles or not one inch.

        Proof that transit has, and controls it is what’ll happen if I demand my money back. Claim that ST can’t control it after giving it to the ORCA corporation is same as my saying I can’t get find because I put my $124 in my credit union.

        So I’ve got no skin whatever in arguments over distance-based fares. And less than no objection to helping the system by every “tap” I’m supposed to. I’ve been advocating off-board payment for literally decades.

        Fact is that I was issued last warning because I TAPPED ON! As every warning on every TVM demands. Find me similar warning anywhere that if I do that without tapping off from last ride, I’m a thief.

        And word to everybody system official who’s been telling me I’m only being punished for theft, not identified as a perpetrator: Their claim to minimum wisdom for authority blows one more bulb out of the marquis every single incident.

        So for the record, only negotiation-free demand. Make my pass work exactly like the All-Day paper pass I buy before LINK Trip One every travel day. Which should also lose the ride-limits, even though they don’t apply to me.

        Even if they have any use for all day rides between Westlake and University street, what visitor is going to even find the fine-print warning about which stations are permissible. Probably more than will be able to reach the RCW link on the ST website. Which doesn’t list criminal liability for either.

        Chance of legal liability written into present system for an action ordered by an official posting and nowhere else is same as tolerating an occasional $124 tear in someone’s good coat to make an example out of an inadvertent mistake.

        An action, incidentally, that boarding speed required by future rapid transit will require the seamless transit that ST’s founding promised in 1996.

        Knowing then what I know now, I would’ve used the extra year’s editorials that the ATU Local 587 News Review to advocate a positive vote to same effort other direction. Pleasing a larger audience.

        Sound Transit, just make my plastic pass do like my paper one. You’ve been begging the world to buy one. Now sit up and whimper!

        Mark Dublin

    3. Yes, Felsen. Every adult Swedish relative of mine under about 70 speaks great English. It’s not a great example.

    4. >> I can definitely say that a flat fare is much easier to understand as a tourist.

      Of course, but in general the problem has less to do with the fare, and more to do with our system. We make it way too expensive to buy and use ORCA cards, then make it confusing to purchase tickets. So folks are torn between the two methods, finally concluding that the cheapest solution is to purchase tickets, even if they plan on using the trains all week. They then have to figure out where they are going, and how much that costs.

      As Oran said below, in a lot of cities, people just get a card, add money, and keep using it. You do have to remember to tap off, but that really isn’t that hard. The problem is that ST makes that hard as well (by using the same beeper, and not having a different sound).

      1. In MOST cities, tourists buy a day pass, or a three-day pass, or a week-long pass. Great products.

  6. Excellent debate strategy: call anyone that disagrees with you “patently absurd”.

    The way I see things, sprawl is a function of two factors: travel time to work and distance based cost of that travel. It’s true this difference in cost works out to be less than a thousand a year for daily commuters, but I would call that quite significant when discussing marginal commuters.

    In the end, you’re advocating that city dwellers subsidize suburban commutes. Not a fan of that.

    1. Poor debate strategy: turning an argument into an ad hominem. Nice try. But that wasn’t what I said.

      All taxpayers (and many employers) are subsidizing transit riders. Suburban commuters would get more subsidy, assuming they are commuting to a distant workplace, but inner-city riders are still being subsidized to the tune of $2-$3 per ride.

      In an environment where the cost of buying a home drops a few hundred thousand dollars when one buys in Lynnwood rather than Seattle, the time cost of being on transit instead of at home with one’s family remains more significant than the financial cost of paying $2 more per ride, for the minority of riders who aren’t having their ride fully subsidized by their employer.

      The math is similar for apartments, where rent is noticeably higher in Seattle than elsewhere.

      Those making the argument that distance-based fares discourage sprawl are not patently absurd. Their argument is, once you look at history and math.

      I was hoping you would bring better arguments.

      1. There are far more factors than just bus fare in the decision on where to move, but a thousand dollars here, a thousand dollars there – at some point you’re talking about real money. If you could offset this with one of the many other subsidies we give to sprawl like the real estate tax deductions, subsidized roads, utilities, parking lots, etc. I’d be fine with that. But you’re adding to the wind pushing people away from the city. That’s bad policy, and absolutely will help add sprawl.

        Anyway, we all voted for an ST3 with distance based fares.

      2. >> In an environment where the cost of buying a home drops a few hundred thousand dollars when one buys in Lynnwood rather than Seattle,

        Not from what I can tell. According to Redfin, there are just as many homes available in Rainier Valley below 500 grand as their are in Lynnwood. Explain to me again why folks in Rainier Valley should subsidize folks in Lynnwood, or those headed to the airport?

      3. Sprawl is a function of land-use policy, or the absence of large bodies of water. Not even tall mountains seem to fight sprawl, as Rio has shown.

        Discouraging people from using transit certainly doesn’t help.

        And for the umpteenth time, no transit ride is subsidizing another transit ride. They are all being subsidized by taxes and enlightened employers. (Are you actually paying for your own transit rides, or is your employer paying for them?)

        If you want more people to live in Seattle, allow more people to live in Seattle. That has nothing to do with transit fares. That is pretty much entirely the fault of our antiquated wealthy-white supremacist zoning and other artificial barriers to housing construction.

      4. >> And for the umpteenth time, no transit ride is subsidizing another transit ride.

        Right, and for the second (or is it umpteenth) time, I will satisfy your pedantic urges, and rephrase the sentence. Folks in Rainier Valley are being subsidized at a lower rate (if at all*) than those headed to the airport. Why should they (or anyone else) support an even larger subsidy, by treating them all as if they cost the same to deliver?

        * For a guy who has made a claim an umpteenth time, you have provided no evidence to back it up. I get it, the math is tricky. But there is nothing in the documents that breaks out “subsidy per trip”. Given the very short distance between these trips (in comparison to the rest of the system) it is quite possible that the riders (who are paying a decent fair) are, in fact, subsidizing the long haul riders. It certainly isn’t the other way around.

      5. I’ve seen no evidence that there is a large contingent of would-be Link riders who would suddenly take a train trip if the fare dropped from $2.75 to $2.50, and wouldn’t do so otherwise. Who are these people? The 42 riders?

      6. “According to Redfin, there are just as many homes available in Rainier Valley below 500 grand as their are in Lynnwood.”

        1. That is for today, and it contradicts the higher pressure on prices closer a city center. In other words, there’s a good chance that the number of houses available will be fewer by the time the policy goes into effect, and perhaps close to zero.

        2. That statistic doesn’t address demand: how many offers the person is competing against, or how high above list price the house will sell for. Seattle houses are getting multiple offers, and selling in one or two days, above the list price. Suburban houses are probably getting fewer offers.

        3. That statistic doesn’t address rent. People do pay rent and pay transit, and generally they can’t afford to buy even the least expensive house/condo.

      7. no transit ride is subsidizing another transit ride.

        That’s a little simplistic. In almost any context where public transit is provided, there’s a politically tolerable farebox recovery ratio. (Around here it seems to be about 25% for buses.) If a bunch of urban riders are use short, efficient routing that has a farebox recovery ratio substantially higher than that, it makes expensive, low fare-generating trips more politically palatable. This is a kind of subsidy even if the urban rides are still under 100%.

    2. I think a few decades ago there could have been a good argument for higher fares for longer distances specifically to deter sprawl, but I think the suburbanization of poverty in recent years has effectively nullified that argument on equity grounds.

      For every person that thinks to themselves, “gee, I’ll buy a bigger house because I know by bus ticket will be the same price farther out here,” you’ll get someone you lives far away simply to afford the rent. From a policy standpoint, it seems like a wash.

      Rather than discouraging sprawl, our transit system & land use should encourage people to live near transit nodes. Moro “pro,” less “anti”

      1. >> I think the suburbanization of poverty in recent years

        Folks make this claim often, but provide little evidence that it exists. If by a “suburb” you mean Rainier Valley, then certainly, Rainier Valley has far less wealth than the Central Area, and that wasn’t the case fifty years ago. But there are plenty of suburbs (in various directions) that are far wealthier than Rainier Valley. America’s unusual urban poverty situation (born from racial ghettos) is disappearing in some cases, but that doesn’t mean that we suddenly have become Paris, where most of the poor ring the city. It is more complicated than that, obviously, and a policy like the one prescribed would not necessarily benefit those in need. It is pretty hard to stand in the middle of Rainier Beach and say you want to raise fares here — for every single trip — because there are now poor people in the suburbs.

      2. I’m not advocating for higher fares. I’m just objecting to the archetype that suburban transit riders are wealthy commuters.

      3. FWIW, “first ring” suburbs (old streetcar suburbs) are doing all right. Outer suburbs are really turning into ghettos. Banlieues, perhaps.

        This is unsurprising since it’s the historical pattern almost everywhere through most of post-industrial-revolution history.

        There was a weird inversion for a few decades in the US when leaded gasoline caused a brain damage epidemic in the inner cities (which caused high crime about 20 years later), and simultaneously racism caused “white flight”. This was abnormal.

    3. The majority of people in suburbia drive. They don’t even know what the transit fare is, much less consider it in their decision. The difference between a $99 monthly pass and a $120 or $140 pass is dwarfed by the other differences of living in suburbia, both good and bad, financial and non-financial. The idea that somebody would choose an apartment or house based mainly on the transit-pass price difference is ludicrous. The rent, the building, and proximity to non-work destinations are much bigger factors. People aren’t just moving out for a large house with a yard; it’s more complicated than that.

      So we should look at other factors for deciding on flat fare vs distance-based fare. A lot of the argument for distance-based fares focuses on wanting to punish long-distance riders or make them pay their “fair share”. That’s uncomfortably close to what Republicans are doing all over the place trying to eliminate social programs and health-insurance subsidies by making it an “us vs them”. Another basis for fare policy is what ensures optimal mobility in the region — making sure that they can get to their job and errands and family/cultural activities without an undue hardship of cost and/or time. Because that maximizes commerce, tax revenue, public health (via social interactions and lack of stress), and environmental sustainability — which is the purpose of local government and transit. New York City has a flat fare across the four contiguous boroughs, which is roughly equivalent to King County in area. Having a flat fare under $3 for thirty miles to Everett and Tacoma (or 60 miles from one to the other) is unusual but not necessarily bad. The counties have placed their growth centers all over the region. People can only live where the zoning allows them to. The counties have screamed up and down that they want people to live in Everett, Lynnwood, and Tacoma, that that’s their solution to more-affordable housing. The transit policy should be consistent with the other policies. The issue is not so much whether people from Federal Way or Everett pay the same fare as people from Capitol Hill to Westlake, but whether the fare from Capitol Hill to Westlake is reasonable and not too burdensome. Metro has already decided to switch to a flat fare, regardless of those Auburn-Seattle and North Bend-Seattle commuters. Having Link match it might be a good idea overall.

      And eliminating tapoff would be great. Although the whole tapon/tapoff system is distorted by the lack of fare gates. The fare gates eliminate forgetting or mistapping because everybody inside either paid or is a turnstyle-jumper. And free transfers can be guaranteed by putting them inside the gate. But Link with its open entrances and hodgepodge of readers not always in front of you makes it hard for people to avoid accidentally walking on, and how would train-to-train transfers work if you have to go outside the fare paid zone to get to the other platform.

      1. People deciding to live at a suburban station with TOD will absolutely consider the cost of a transit pass if it isn’t subsidized by their school or employer. As more growth is being directed to areas around transit stations and lines, transit fares will become a factor of greater importance when deciding where to live and whether to maintain a car.

      2. Little-known tribute to timeless practical technology is the US Patent Office’s display of classic absurdity.

        19th century absurdity generators were cunning little brass beauties you always get your cuff link caught in. Revealing them almost absurd enough to patent.

        Pioneering electric models had the lightning rod connected to your bathtub faucet as first phase of powering up the rest of your weird home’s Charles Addams vintage absurdism.

        Tragedy is that digital technology is in itself so absurd that there’s no way to patent it. As well as a being a boring museum exhibit.

        Wait! Fantastic indie movie starring Tom Hanks called “California Typewriter”, which proves that huge flood of mass produced low-grade absurdity owes to loss of giant machines that sounded like machine guns that go “Bing!”

        The absurdities that came off those stately instruments were produced by …too bad nobody reading this either remembers or heard of them.


    4. ‘Nother possibilty, Matt. Treat present dispersal as the justified escape it is from what used to be Seattle, and you’ll also see a massively improved political opportunity.

      Worst clear-and-present to our political system is stampede of young people who like our politics, giving back- home voter rolls to enemy politicians. Who keep their full power while representing ever fewer voters.

      Pre-Civil War Kansas stayed a free (well slavery-illegal) State because literal armies of well-regulated New Englanders, not only bearing Constitutional firearms but shooting slavers with them, won first round of the approaching war. Why History should be more mandatory than reading and math for awhile.

      Organized regrouping is different than sprawl. And Streetcar Suburbs have a long and hopeful history. And former Seattle and present fare policy deserve each other.


  7. Those trying to evade paying any fare have a simple algorithm to do so: Sit in the articulated section at the center of the car. Fare enforcement officers start at each end and work to the middle. The likelihood that at least one officer checking fares will stop to lecture someone about mis-tapping, messing up on their paper ticket/pass, or trying to use a Metro paper transfer is quite good, allowing the real fare evader to sneak away from the other officer.

    That sounds like an argument for turnstiles, not an argument against tapping off. It would still be possible for people to mess up with a “tap once” system.

    … (If someone accidentally tapped a second time, they would get the distinct cancellation beep.)

    But Sound Transit has been uninterested in changing the “tap off” sound to be distinct from the “tap on” sound. If they can’t make that simple fix, …

    I’ll admit, I’m confused. I don’t know what sounds the machines make. Nor have I ever tried to cancel a trip. Does the machine make this “distinct cancellation beep” right now? If not, what makes you think ST would add that feature, when they can’t change the “tap off” sound?

    I’ll assume that it does exist. If so, then you’ve only solved one part of the problem. It is still quite possible to make a mistake, just as people are making mistakes right now. Here are a couple scenarios:

    1) I walk onto the station, but tap twice. Apparently I just cancelled my trip, which is why I should have heard the distinct tap off sound. Obviously this means nothing to most people, which is why many get hassled by fare enforcers. If you eliminate the “tap off”, then nothing changes with this scenario.

    2) On a different day, I get on the train. This time I tap on correctly. When I tap off, I do it wrong. Once again I do a double tap, and, to be honest, I’m not sure what happens. I’ve already canceled my first trip with the first tap. The second tap is essentially starting a new trip. How does that work — am I charged for a new trip (at the highest rate)? If so, then it hardly seems like the end of the world — I messed up, and now pay an extra $3.25.

    3) I get off the train, but forget to tap off. I get charged for the maximum fare ($3.25) instead of the minimum fare ($2.25). This is irritating for regular users, but likely rare.

    Under your system, the first scenario is still a possibility. I could still get a whopping ticket, and be very upset, just because I accidentally tapped twice. This is by far the worst scenario, as not only is it very bad for me, but it is very bad for the system. There is an argument to be made for doing away with fare enforcement, but the purpose of fare enforcement is not to wring every dime out of customers, but to catch scofflaws. I don’t see how this helps that situation at all.

    The second scenario goes away, but how often does that happen, anyway?

    The third scenario goes away, but now things are worse for me. Instead of getting charged an extra dollar when I forget to tap off (which is rare) I get charged an extra 50 cents every time I ride the train.

    Riders using ORCA can’t get a “permit to travel” without having some combination of a high enough pass value and enough e-purse to cover the longest Link trip one could take from the station where they are tapping on.

    That wouldn’t change. You simply make that “biggest possible fare” a lot cheaper. If I have $2.50 in my e-purse, I can’t get on the train right now, even though I want to go one stop. Under the new system, I can’t get on the train either, because the train costs $2.75, even if I want to go one stop.

    Queues at ticket vending machines are often slow due to the complexity of buying tickets and day passes.

    Would this really clear that up? There are lines at every subway ticket system I’ve ever seen. Every one is different, and it takes tourists (like me) a while to figure them out. Where do you put the cash? Does it give change? Is it worth buying a day pass, or tickets?

    You can only buy a full-length ticket or day pass at the terminal stations, or on the mobile ticketing app.

    Why would that change?

    In general this just reads like a bunch of complaints about how Sound Transit operates their system, mixed in with a very different form of payment. The complaints sound justified, but that doesn’t mean those problems suddenly go away if we eliminate “tap off”.

    1. Problems will still exist with fare enforcement. Yes. The problems will hopefully become fewer. Just like Vision Zero will not actually eliminate accidents and none of the 65 strategies in HALA will end homelessness. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth doing.

    2. “I don’t know what sounds the machines make. Nor have I ever tried to cancel a trip. Does the machine make this “distinct cancellation beep” right now? If not, what makes you think ST would add that feature, when they can’t change the “tap off” sound?”

      There’s one sound for tapping in or out, and at least one more sound for error. So tapon/tapoff is identical, while cancel or insufficient fare is different. The problem is not tapping off at the same station within 15 minutes: that generates the “cancel” sound, but getting off at another station without tapping off, then taking the train again within 2 hours where your tapon is interpreted as a tapoff. However, all that assumes recognition of the error sound. It’s not uncommon to see people interpret the error sound as OK and not realize there’s a message on the screen.

      There’s a simple intuitive standard tor tapon/tapoff sounds: high for on, low for off, or two tones rising for on, falling for off. That’s what conference-call systems use.

    3. “The second tap is essentially starting a new trip. How does that work — am I charged for a new trip (at the highest rate)?”

      It says “Continue trip”. I don’t remember which beep it uses. But it doesn’t matter if it’s continuing or new because you still have your transfer credit.

      1. For some time I didn’t understand the different beep sound that meant, “your tap-off has been registered, but your e-purse is getting low, you should add to it now”. I had interpreted it as an error and would re-tap. Because of this I was charged for my first trip ending, then immediately getting a continue trip for which I never tapped off. The result was a $3 fare on several instances when my normal fare would have been $2.50. Not a huge deal in the overall scheme of things, but it still left me feeling cheated out of some of my money.

    4. … although if you don’t tap out a second time, you’d eventually be charged for the longest possible trip from that station (if it’s considered a new trip) or from the original station (if it’s a continuation). But your transfer credit would still apply, so it would be much less than $3 in any scenario, at least with Link’s current length.

  8. I think that two comments are important regardless of fare policy:

    – More fare machines are needed, especially at the airport. They are not the most reliable pieces of equipment and making anyone wait more than one minute is offensive.

    – Changing the tap off sound seems to be technically doable, as machines already have different tones and the ability to repeat tones. Just program them to beep twice for tap off, for example!

    Can we agree to get these two things done no matter how we feel about fare policy?

    1. These little fixes should be much easier to do than completely revising the fare policy which will require public hearings, a Title VI equity analysis, and everyone to relearn the system.

    2. Regarding the VMs at the airport, I don’t think there is much more room to put more in. They are also not cheap. If anything, put them in the airport itself, on the luggage-retrieval floor, so riders can get their card/fare/pass while waiting for luggage, and get to see a map to get to the station. (The Port of Seattle would probably charge an arm and a leg in rent for the space, BTW.)

      Every change to hardware or software functionality lets the vendor charge an arm and a leg for developing the feature. That charge will certainly be larger now that the vendor knows it is being given the pink slip in 2021.

      If we can’t get the distinct beeps in ORCA 2.0, then it is a sign of incompetence somewhere in the government agency running ORCA 2.0.

  9. Riding the NYC subway this weekend was a joy. One fare. For all of the trips. Slide the card, enter the system, travel wherever needed. No guesswork. Oops, I crossed into a different borough? Not a problem.
    Not two or three separate systems. Just one. This is what we need. Simplicity. One fare for all of ST, PT, Metro, CT, and ET.

    While we are at it, I tried using my new/fixed Orca card coming home from the airport and, once again, it doesn’t work. Can we go back to old fashioned magnetic strips that don’t break constantly????? Now I need to get on the phone with Metro to figure out getting yet another replacement (second one in a year) for a card that I barely ever use.

    1. If you keep the magnetic strip in your back pocket with your ORCA card and sit on it too much, it, too, can break.

    2. I get your point but NYC has a similar problem if you want to ride Metro-North or LIRR or PATH or the AirTrain, which all have completely different fare structures and would be useful to people if the fares were integrated. At least with ORCA you can load e-purse or a pass knowing it will work on pretty much any system in the region.

      1. Which is the key difference. The New York City Subway, despite having miles and miles of tracks, stays pretty close to the central city. It doesn’t serve places like Yonkers, despite it being closer to the center of town, and far more densely populated than any of our suburban cities. As mentioned, it doesn’t even go to either airport, and when you want to take a ride from the airport on the new AirTrain, it costs five bucks (plus subway fare).

        Our subway isn’t like New York’s. It is a hybrid subway/commuter rail system, like BART. BART, charges based on distance, while Muni (which operates only in the city) does not.

    3. Okay, sure, if you stay within the confines of the MTA. Try going to EWR or riding any number of adjacent systems with that card. ORCA has its problems, but the regional buy-in means that I can make it much further with an ORCA card than a MTA one.

      1. Actually, that suggests a novel idea: One great strategy would be to merge an ORCA-type system with our driver’s licenses or ID cards.

        Think of the convenience! Think of the accountability! Considering that our fare checkers ask for ID when someone has evaded fares anyway AND that people make an effort to carry their ID, this would be a very convenient solution.

        1. If you don’t load your card or have a minor negative balance (say under $50), the fare gets tacked onto your driver’s license renewal (no more questioning about tapping on or off, or whether adding fare will make someone miss their transfer or having a deficient amount on your card because you suddenly took a longer trip).
        2. If you agree, your fare evasion penalty gets tacked onto your driver’s license renewal.
        3. You would be less likely to lose your ID card.
        4. It would be a great way to keep people from using Senior or Student fares illegally.
        5. You could expand its use to inter-city services.
        6. It would reduce the extra costs over ORCA cards.

        The biggest challenge would be how to provide temporary cards or alternative fares to those without a Washington State ID, such as visitors or minors. Some alternative way to pay fares would be needed. However, it would radically cut down on the amount of needed transactions in those circumstances.

    4. I just returned from Buenos Aires and, for the Subte (Subterraneo or subway), same thing. One fare, all lines, free transfers between lines. The bus system, however, is nearly incomprehensible to a short-term visitor, as most – if not all – individual lines seem to have a completely different operator, different paint schemes, and the like, and I’m still not sure if there is any sort of transfer mechanism between the Subte and the bus lines or between two bus lines (I never took a trip using both, just one or the other; I also didn’t check to see if their smart card worked with their bike share system.) There are, on some of their very wide boulevards, BRT-like stations where several lines make stops before branching out to their destinations, and it seems as if in some of these locations they are actually creating BRT lines themselves (perhaps similar to Quito’s…hint, hint, Aurora, Lake City Way, any other wide arterial that might serve the same purpose). The city government does have a useful app that gives you line and transfer options between any two points (in Spanish, of course), but that wasn’t made clear until a local told me about it.

      To ride the Subte, buses, or commuter rail, you use a smart card (“Sube”) or pay substantially higher fares in cash. Commuter rail fares are distance-based; buses and rail are flat fare (I think the buses are but not sure). If you think it’s difficult to get an ORCA card here, in Buenos Aires to get a Sube card you must go to a Subte station or one of 8 visitor centers, present photo ID, and wait until someone enters all of your information into a database that apparently is connected to your card. Yes, if you’re a tourist and want the useful Sube card, you have to find one of these places and bring your passport! Card is 25 pesos (about $1.50). However, you can add value just about anywhere including about a billion little stores and news kiosks.

      Like our system/ORCA, an e-purse works on most if not all of the area’s transit, but there are no day passes or any other form of pass that I could find that would make a visitor’s use of transit easier. Because there is a need to register your Sube card with your data, hotels can’t sell or hand them out to guests as they could do here if they wanted, and if you’re not near a station it can be challenging to get your card in the first place.

      Much like New York (and the lines are almost the same age), the Subte primarily stays in the central area of the city and commuter lines serve areas further out.

  10. There will be a ridership loss to offset the revenue gain when short distance fares are raised. Whether that is worth a major change to the fare structure. Changing it back to distance-based a few years later when we need it will be difficult and is too much disruption in my opinion.

    As Link expands a Regional Day Pass will be a better deal than a all-Link-only day pass because it includes buses.

    If you want a “One Center City fare”, then there should be a One Center City zone where the same fare applies to all modes like in European cities. But we got rid of zones and can’t figure out how to make them work when metropolitan areas in Germany have used them for decades with paper tickets and POP.

    I don’t think ST actually simplified the DSTT station fares, doing so would require Board action. They just grouped them together under one category for presentation. The DSTT is only about a mile long so the difference would have been a nickel rounded up or down to the nearest quarter.

    When I was in Tokyo, which uses distance based fares on its rail lines I didn’t bother buying an individual ticket or figuring out fares. I just load a card with a bunch of cash and tapped away. They make card fares cheaper than cash by not rounding them to the nearest quarter like ST does here. Yes, there was a $5 deposit for the card but the convenience of not having to fumble cash and stop at ticket machines for every ride was worth it (and I can get my deposit back if I wanted).

    1. You made some very good points. I think this is just a desperate attempt at finding a solution to our current mess. Some of this mess has nothing to do with ST, such as the very expensive ORCA card, or the fact that there is no discount to using it. Our fare system is a mess, it is unfair, expensive, and clearly one of the worst in the country. Let’s not make it worse. Let’s fix it.

    2. That is a point. The size or complication of single-use fares doesn’t matter as much if day passes or week passes are equally available. Portland, San Jose, and Vancouver have all-zone train/bus passes at train stations for twice the price of single-trip, and at least San Jose sells them on buses too. That effectively discourages buying single-use fares unless you’re absolutely sure you won’t ride again or you have only a couple dollars in your pocket. And a maximum daily fare avoids having to choose between the two because the day pass is automatic when you reach the ceiling.

      1. Pretty much all European transit systems which use zone fares strongly encourage people (through price & convenience) to buy day/week/month/annual passes over single ride tickets.

      2. If the goal is the discourage single ride fares (which is a good policy outcome), just have those be a higher price, zone or no zone.

      3. In San Diego, famously, the day pass price is the cost of 2 tickets. (For “local” or “regional” — see, they have zones.) Essentially nobody buys single tickets. Fare verification is *easy*, and mostly consists of checking the dates on the day (, week, month, etc.) passes.

  11. It costs money to run a railroad. The farther you run trains, the more expensive it is to operate them and maintain the tracks.

    You can look at mileage or time, but time is simpler. This is a strong correlation between the amount of time spent running a train, and the cost to run it. Now compare a couple trips:

    UW to Westlake — 6 minutes
    Westlake to SeaTac — 34 minutes.

    It costs roughly five times as much to provide the second trip as it does the first. That is assuming the trains are empty, and you are simply running it back and forth. Of course they aren’t. We have to pay more, because people actually use it. The train cars themselves cost money, and no one wants to be left at the platform. In the first trip, the rider skipped one stop. Those riding within downtown, or from downtown to Rainier Valley, or within Rainier Valley aren’t effected by his ridership. In contrast, the second rider takes space on the train that all of those riders want. Thus the second trip is even more expensive than the first than simply the extra time spent providing the trip.

    By charging everyone the same, you would be asking those who take short trips to subsidize long haul riders. That would not only be unfair, but would also encourage the most expensive trips in our system. Right now it is likely that the short trip rider (e. g. someone riding within downtown) is subsidizing the long haul rider, even though they are paying way less. If we change the fare system to be flat, we make the system even less cost effective, which makes the system worse in the long run.

    1. Amen. I think we need a good single/multi day option for the short term all-you-can-eat crowd, but in what fantasy realm is it economically efficient to not make those who take more, pay more. The fact that it will cost somebody going from CHS to Kaiser-Permanente (Group Health) the same as some epic cross county journey is crazy. Without a monthly pass, those sorts of trips are very expensive.

    2. Short-trip riders are not subsidizing long-trip riders. Employers and taxpayers are subsidizing all the riders.

      If Link only ran from SODO to UW, it would still be operating at a loss.

      1. Short-trip riders are not subsidizing long-trip riders. Employers and taxpayers are subsidizing all the riders.

        Now you are arguing semantics. Even if what you say is true, long haul riders are getting subsidized at a much higher rate than short trip riders. To put it another way, the subsidy for long haul riders is too large, while the subsidy for short trip riders is too small. Based on the math, it would be quite reasonable to charge $1.00 for UW to Westlake, and $5.00 from Westlake to the airport. This would make the subsidy *per trip* roughly the same. But instead, you want to move things the other direction.

      2. Employers and taxpayers are subsidizing long-distance riders more than they are subsidizing short-distance riders. If you look at operating costs, a full-fare trip from UW to Westlake probably makes money for ST.

    3. Shifting from theory to the here-and-now, if a ride on Link from Federal Way to downtown Seattle costs more than taking an ST Express bus, the distance-based fare will become a big money-loser for ST by keeping the 577/578 alive, with its much higher marginal cost per rider.

      Most long trips cannot be discouraged out of happening. They are just incentivized onto other modes with a higher carbon footprint per person-trip.

      If a flat fare identical to the bus fare pushes riders into more walking or subscribing to one of the bikeshares, then that is a feature, not a bug.

      1. For long haul routes that parallel a HCT corridor, charging a premium for express bus service seems pretty logical, especially if paired with non-premium truncated service outside of peak.

    4. I think it’s easier to encourage short trips than to discourage long trips. On urban rail lines with regular turnover between stations you can have much higher ridership (and revenue) with less of the capacity issues found on systems geared towards long haul riders.

    5. The decision for the long train line was made by the local governments and voters, not by the passenger. The argument was that it would overall be good for the region. Most of the operating costs and all of the capital costs come from taxes, not fares. And if buses are eliminated, people have no choice but to take the train.

      “That would not only be unfair, but would also encourage the most expensive trips in our system”

      Not by enough to be noticeable. The fare doesn’t change the fact that it will take an hour from Everett to downtown, or forty minutes from downtown to Highline CC. The travel time also deters people from using it more than necessary, and makes them try to combine multiple trips together. If they combine two tasks at different stations (say Lynnwood-downtown-UDist), then they’re traveling a shorter distance and ceding their seat to somebody else for the other segment. If they combine two tasks at the same station (say Lynnwood-downtown with maybe buses in the middle), then they’re making the trip twice as productive. People economize with their time like that when the travel overhead is 30-60 minutes one way.

      1. I think you are forgetting the other side of things, Mike. This would raise prices on some of the most cost effective trips in our region. We want people to take the train from one side of downtown to the other, or from one side of Rainier Valley to the other. If we charge as much as a bus, they might just take the bus (or call a cab).

        More to the point, something has to give. If we subsidize long haul routes, we aren’t likely to get a lot more long haul rides (as you point out). If we charge more for short haul routes, we are likely to get fewer of those rides. We would need to spend more money subsidizing the entire system, which is not a good thing.

      2. Thanks for coming up with a set of passengers who might actually care about the difference between $2.75 and $2.50, RossB.

        As the system grows, we might not want peak riders taking Link across downtown, its zone of maximum constraint. Those rides add to the maximum ridership load on the train they happen to ride the same as a commuter going from south downtown to Lynnwood, and more to the maximum ridership than a commuter going from north downtown to Lynnwood.

        If downtown buses are also full, more local bus service might be cheaper to deploy than more capacity on Link. Link is already programmed to max out capacity, hence the second tunnel.

        I suppose turn-back runs could be deployed on Link to help with peak surgeloads, but having turnbacks as part of the regular operational plan has never gotten through the Board, and the 2018 SIP has the plan for East Link running trains all the way from Redmond to Lynnwood.

      3. If the difference between the train and the bus is 25 cents, all other things being equal I’m still taking the train. However, crowding itself can encourage people to take the bus instead for short trips. Sunday afternoon I opted for the bus and sat in traffic for a few extra minutes because I knew the train would be packed with sports fans. Good to have options!

    6. “the distance-based fare will become a big money-loser for ST by keeping the 577/578 alive”

      All ST’s planning scenarios truncate them. Metro’s planning to replace the 577, which may be reasonable given Link’s south-end travel time.

      1. For the long haul routes, another good alternative is to charge a premium fare solely for peak-only 1-seat rides to downtown (or UW, Bellevue, etc.). If someone doesn’t want to pay the premium, they can roll with the multi-seat ride. This is a good way to add peak capacity and price discriminate – those who want to pay more for more direct service can, and those who do not have an alternative.

        The premium routes can be branded differently, which should be much more clear than zoned fares.

      2. The irony is that the premium bus rides could cost less than the Link fare. Just as is happening today with routes 157-159, which are cheaper alternatives to the Sounder trains that value business-class comfort over capacity. I wish they could have new Sounder cars that are mostly SRO, and charge no more than the bus fare for the same trip if you ride on those economy cars.

      3. It would be totally absurd to run an express bus that duplicates Link service with fares that are a discount to Link service. That is an absurd outcome of fare policy.

      4. The CTA infamously runs express buses down Lake Shore Drive which duplicate the Metra Electric railroad line, but charge less. Advocates have been pushing to end this insanity for decades with no success. (Metra Electric should charge the same fares as the CTA and the express buses should go away.)

  12. Is East Link really going to require a new fare or a re-tap for SeaTac riders? That’s the first that I’ve heard of this.

    If this is the case, major anger will ensue. I can’t think of a rail system with common platforms that makes a rider do this because it would be a wildly unpopular thing to implement.

    1. I don’t know what the plan for East/South transfers is ticket-wise and printed-day-pass wise.

      For riders using ORCA, the transfer is free within two hours, and passes would cover all riders that aren’t too long for that pass. Yes, it will require a lot of taps at ID/CS.

      Frankly, I’d love to see a trade in which ST gets rid of the printed media (while relaxing harassment of passholders) and Metro gets rid of paper transfers. That would, of course, require free or super-cheap ORCA cards.

      ST loves the printed media because that is revenue that doesn’t have to be shared with other agencies.

    2. I don’t see how ST could require passengers tap on again when transferring to a new line. If 2 lines share a station, are there going to be different colored ORCA readers on the platform? Would ST require people go upstairs to the mezzanine to buy a new paper ticket? Seems like the only sensible system is to have all Link stations available in the same ticketing system.

      Also, wouldn’t separate East Link tickets lose money for ST? If Northgate-downtown is $2.75 and downtown-airport is $3, then with separate taps on ORCA, people would pay the more expensive of the 2 legs = $3. When they really should pay the combined distance closer to $4. In other words, Ballard-airport on the same line would be more expensive than Northgate-airport on 2 different lines despite Ballard being closer.

      Actually, how does that work now? UW-Angle Lake is $3.25. But UW-Othello and Othello-Angle Lake are both $2.75. What happens if someone runs off the train to tap off and then on at Othello and reboards the same train? Does ORCA count that as a $2.75 to $2.75 transfer?

      1. LA Metro, which has a flat fare, requires people changing lines to tap again before boarding. At interchange stations they have special validators located between the two platforms for transfer passengers marked with big signs and floor tape. The exception is between lines that share platforms.

        London Underground, which uses zone fares, has special pink validators at certain interchange stations that people can tap to avoid paying the higher central zone fare.

      2. On further reflection, I’m not sure what the point of riders tapping at ID/CS would be. If ST establishes fares between South Link stations and East Link stations, the middle tap-off-tap-on is superfluous.

        If they charge based on distance as if it was one ride, riders will catch on and tap off and on at ID/CS so that they are charged appropriately as two rides with a transfer, since they are walking right by the ORCA readers anyway.

        If you can’t buy a ticket from a South Link station to an East Link station or vice versa, that will certainly disincentivize buying paper tickets. Hopefully, they’ll offer the interline ticket options, or better yet, offer the full-length ticket. Of course, this could slow the queue down immensely. Just make the less-than-full-length fare an OCRA-only option.

        When ST sells the day passes for less than twice the full-length value, they are forgoing revenue. I wish they would just offer the full-length all-lines day pass, and make the queue flow.

        I really do think infrequent riders will be willing to pay a little more rather than miss the next train because fare complexity.

    3. ST hasn’t said. It would be best to treat the entire train system as one as BART does, since the fare is unambiguous even through multiple lines (e.g., SFO to El Cerrito). The London pink validators are because the network is so complicated that there are multiple paths for certain trips, with a higher fare if the path goes though the central zone. Link would have to have a parallel closed loop for that to occur, like a 405 line or Aurora line that joined Central Link at two points.

      If ST requires tapon to transfer to a second line, then it would have to figure out how to distinguish transfers from tapoffs. If it requires people to both tapoff and tapon to transfer, then that would be draconian and a major source of revenue via fines. It would be especially egragious at Intl Dist if it doesn’t get center platforms, because you’d have to up to the surface to change direction for SeaTac – Ballevue), which is already annoying, and tapout/tapin on top of that. And there would be lines for the readers of course. So hopefully ST won’t do something stupid like that.

      However, ST’s default position is solidly toward distance-based fares rather than flat fares. ST has never said it would consider a flat fare, just like it has never said it would consider a Metro 8 line. So we have to assume their likelyhood is 1%, unless perhaps the mayor and city council boardmembers start making it a priority.

    4. Also, keep in mind the tap-on tap-off provides data for transit agencies to get a better understanding of what are the trip pairs driving ridership.

  13. Those who want to softly (partially) evade the fare on long rides just have to decide whether the discount from getting off the train, tapping twice and getting back on four or five minutes later is worth the value of their time.

    The distance-based fares are primarily about soaking employers whose employees mostly happen to live far away. (And that is why they can charge so much for Sounder.) But then, the farther they are away from the Seattle core, the larger the discount they get on the Business Passport program.

    1. Really? They have nothing to do about operating costs?

      Is that why Amtrak charges more to ride to Portland than it does to ride to Olympia? They just want to soak the taxpayers? See how that doesn’t make any sense?

      1. I think there is a big difference between intercity transit and intracity transit. I’m a big proponent of flat fares within the ST system, but I have no problem with a higher bus fare to get to, say, Olympia.

    2. Chris I,

      I’m just taking about Link, not Amtrak.

      ST at least has a plan. Amtrak is rudderless, with a federal government that doesn’t understand why it exists.

  14. I know I’m probably not educated enough about this problem, but in my opinion, in 2019, once buses leave the tunnel we should introduce turnstiles at all stations. In my opinion, (I may be wrong) the cost of installing turnstiles will be partially funded with the reduced need for transit police and the fact that more fares are recovered from the system. You could probably even keep the current ORCA system and make the scanners pretty much just ORCA scanners with doors. The thing is, unless we install two way turnstiles that require you to scan on the way out, which could fix the problem but likely is illogical, we would have to drop the distance-based and use the flat fares. The one other problem this could create is that tickets would either have to: be loadable ORCA cards with a fee (or no fee) to get one, or be disposable, potentially cheaper one time tickets (maybe you could make them multi use) that would have no fee to create. Sure, there are other ways, but likely a lot more complicated.

    1. @Henry,

      Generally speaking I agree with you; although it would quite easy to “jump” the turnstiles at the at-grade stations where there is no structural barrier to walking around them by using the tracks. However, that seems to me to be an excuse not to do something that otherwise makes sense, and perhaps that’s where you station fare enforcement people (or rotate them through those stations). At the very least, an effective barrier whether it be physical or visual, using card readers, stanchions (as at Sea-Tac), and/or turnstiles as virtual gates, should be installed at all stations. They are an excellent reminder that you are entering or leaving a fare-paid area and that you need to tap. Where they are located off to the side somewhere I usually see 20-30% of people leaving the station either forget or choose not to tap off.

      There are many systems where you tap both to enter and to exit, along with those using a flat fare where you just tap to enter. Either way, once you enter the system by tapping on, there should never be a need to tap anything again until you leave. There shouldn’t be card readers on any platform (save at the entrances to the at-grade stations, and those should be as far from the actual platform as possible). There should be no way to consider tapping off, then on again right away, at transfer stations. You should just be able to change trains as part of your journey and pay whatever the fare is between the two points. Most of the stations are or will be constructed in such a way so that there will be a mezzanine area that can serve as the barrier between fare paid and not, and that is where the barrier and card readers/turnstiles should be (one can be added at elevator entrances – not at the platform – if the design has a direct elevator from street to platform).

  15. ORCA has its issues, and to avoid fare difficulties I’ve tapped on and off at Link stations in order to get value loaded onto a card.

    One example: I used the web to load value, but then never took the planned trip to Seattle. During a layover on my way up to the San Juans I tapped on and off at ID station to get the value loaded onto the card so I wouldn’t have to go through the money extraction process once the grace period is over.

  16. I think Link’s issues must have more to do with implementation than distance-based fares. Plenty of systems, like Tokyo’s metro, use distance-based fares and I haven’t noticed substantial lines at their ticket machines.

  17. Am I the only one in the region whose average day can take them a wide variety of places by a wider variety of service? Ever since I had to flee Seattle, I’ve been getting ever more fond of living in a region.

    Someday served by a transit system that does not threaten me with a serious fine over a system of distance measurements and calculations about which my chosen way of life could not conceivably make me care less.

    Which, come to think of it, is getting to be one of the things I like increasingly better about my car.

    Like it or not, and I’m getting increasing enjoyment annoying the transit advocacy world with it, this is probably the main reason for the rebellion that brought millions of people freedom from the expensively inane rules of a deteriorating mode of transportation.

    Of course I’m planning on spending the rest of my life creating the regional transit system that this whole effort was originally meant to be. It’s the way an increasing number of us want to live our lives. Which includes freedom that automobiles truly no longer deliver.

    But successful good-guy activists often become Hell’s ugliest secret police in the name of a goal that picks nits like a monkey.

    The better the cause of transit, the harder I have to smack an element that’s going to fine me a pair of shoes for the tiniest misstep. Talk about evidence that buses really are better than light rail.

    Remember. The company towns that made imprisoned debtors out of the workers who had to live there had their grip pried loose when the average logger or miner finally got a car.

    Before I forget: how many reading this have actually had to pay the whole $124 for being a pass-holder with a wrong tap?


  18. If this were the only line and it wasn’t going to be extended, I’d be on board, but we really shouldn’t be setting a precedent that people using link to travel 30+ miles will be subsidized by people going from UW to Capitol Hill.

    1. The formula could be reset to make the base distance longer than the current line, and retain the distance surcharge once the line gets longer.

      My fear is that once the lines are ready to reach Redmond, Lynnwood, and Federal Way, an alliance of the Pierce County, Snohomish County, and suburban King County board members will say “Seattle got your weird fare system while it was just in Seattle. Now we need a fare system that words for all three counties and all five subareas.” We’ll have suffered distance-based fares this whole time for nothing, because we failed to look at the long-term politics.

      If the suburban board members think Link’s fare system is goofy, they should raise the issue now, not in 2023.

  19. With regard to BART, some urban advocates have argued that suburban riders are getting an unfairly better deal, because the cost per mile is lower for suburban rides than urban ones.

    It probably doesn’t help answer Link, but in the US commuter rail systems have almost always had distant based fares and metros had flat fares, except for the other Washington.

  20. I have a Passport Orca through my emloyer. So there’s no purse value to stay cognizant of. How do i know if right now, having not used my orca card for three days, if it’s currently in ‘tap on’ or ‘tap off’ mode? Absurd and infuriating.

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