Fare simplification coming to Metro
Credit: Lizz Giordano

On Monday, the King County Council unanimously approved a fare simplification proposal for King County Metro Transit which eliminates higher zone and peak fares — establishing a flat rate of $2.75.

In August at a press conference Dow Constantine, King County Executive, announced the agency’s intention to streamline fares. Constantine said this change would speed up boardings. According to King County Metro, this change will not affect 65 percent of riders. Changes are set to take place July 2018.

Also approved Monday was $400,000 in additional funding for the Human Services Ticket Program, bringing the total to $4 million a year. This program provides subsidized bus tickets to human service agencies serving low-income residents. With 44 percent of these subsidized tickets used during off-peak hours, Metro said this additional funding will help offset the higher cost off-peak riders would pay under the new fare.

And the council approved eliminating the card fee for Regional Reduced Fare Permits, a regional transit pass for seniors 65+, riders with a qualifying disability, and Medicare cardholders that works on several systems within the region.

A proposal to reduce ORCA card fees for adult and youth riders is still being considered by the Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee. Metro has recommended reducing the cost of those cards to $3 from $5. Recently, STB analyzed the impact on Metro’s budget if card fees were completely eliminated.

According to Cheryl Huston, ORCA Regional Program Administrator, there is agreement among ORCA’s seven participating agencies to keep the card fee for adult and youth riders but reduce the one-time charge to $3 from $5. The ORCA Joint Board is close to approving a $3 region-wide ORCA card fee for adult and youth riders.

14 Replies to “Metro Fare Simplification Passes Last Hurdle”

  1. When are ORCA’s seven participating agencies going to agree that my ORCA monthly pass should give me same blanket immunity from charge of Fare Evasion as LINK’s paper All-Day passes do?

    Mark Dublin

    1. Let me flip the question: Are there other transit systems in the US or the world where someone can get fined for “fare evasion” if she/he has a day pass, multi-day pass, or monthly pass that covers the maximum possible value of the ride?

    1. Agreed. The whole thing is ridiculous. The folks who pay cash because they forgot their ORCA card will likely pay three dollars anyway (who has six quarters for the round trip?). But those stubborn — or cheap — riders who insist on paying cash every time will get a cash bonus for paying with at least five pieces of currency. Metro lags the nation, once again.

    2. Fully agreed, Joe and Ross. This is a big missed opportunity not likely to be visited again for many years. Metro not only lags the nation in this regard, but the world. I’m hard-pressed to think of a system with full card acceptance that I’ve traveled on anywhere outside the US that does not give a discount for electronic payment.

      Even a complex bus fare system like that in Buenos Aires, where you literally have to tell the driver where you are going so s/he can set the correct fare, gives a substantial discount if you use their electronic payment card.

      It’s silly that we don’t incentivize behavior (card usage, elimination of paper transfers, day/week passes) that actually saves the agency time and hence money. Other places around the world with much greater sensitivity to social equity issues than even we have have figured out how to do this.

      1. Other places around the world have more comprehensive transit to all neighborhoods and rural areas, and don’t build car-dependent cul-de-sacs or superblocks residential-only neighborhoods, or office parks without transit, or huge parking lots at supermarkets and malls instead of transit. So it fits a larger pattern of transit being an afterthought, mainly for the poor (and who cares about them), and people pay the traditional way because that’s how our grandparents paid.

      2. While that’s true to a point, Mike, the reality is that people pay the way their grandparents pay because that’s still allowable and incentivized. The problem is not with them, but rather with the people who know better (or should) not changing things. There is a reasonable and valid argument for incentivizing cashless travel – it saves time, and hence money. This would have been a perfect time for Metro to get their foot in the door, so to speak – raise the fare to $3 but then say “if you use ORCA, the fare will remain $2.75.” Make the point as to why you are doing this – there are tons of real-world examples – and fight for it. After all, you’re then not really raising the fare on a good percentage of people, the time savings will end up paying for some if not all of the lost additional income, and the percentage of people with an ORCA card will grow. After all, it’s only 20 rides on transit – 10 days of commuting – at the incentivized rate to pay for the (yes, still overpriced) card, and thanks in no small part to the work of some of the good people here at STB there is a valid option for very low income folks to get a card without even needing that. Now you’ve created a structure that will allow for future fare increases while still keeping card ownership and use high.

        There are so many things that Metro and ST do well, but I often wonder if anyone at either agency has actually traveled abroad and just used transit to get around instead of cabs and Uber. This is the way to see how things actually work in real life elsewhere. I’ve been fortunate enough to do so on every continent that actually has transit (not sure when the penguins will build theirs, but I have it on good authority that they are resistant to ORCAs in any form!), and there are a lot of things that we do better here. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of things that other places – some without the resources that we have – do better than we do, and that we can learn from. Attending meetings and seminars about best practices is one thing, but I think you really need to plop yourself in neighborhoods and figure out the bus, train, and fare payment methods to understand how different cities’ transport systems really work.

  2. another method of discounting ORCA relative to cash would to load $5 in value onto the card when it is sold for $5. the eight ORCA agencies should not fight over which ones get the $5 worth of trips; perhaps ST and Metro could cover it, 50/50.

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