ST Express 594 / Photo by Zach Heistand / flickr

The King County Council recently approved a $2.75 all-the-time flat fare, which will take effect in July of 2018. This will eliminate most of the passenger-requested resets on ORCA readers that require operators to push some buttons on the reader, and eliminate one more source of fare arguments. Community Transit has followed suit on the ORCA reader resets by proposing that each of its commuter routes have a single fare for each payer category.

Sound Transit hasn’t yet put forward a similar proposal to get rid of ORCA reader resets on inter-county ST Express bus routes, but has been looking at the issue. Any ST Express fare restructure would likely be implemented in latter 2018.

If the Sound Transit Board opts to transition to route-based fares to replace the county-line-crossing surcharge, thirteen routes would alter their fares. Fifteen ST Express routes do not cross a county line, and would therefore be unaffected by such a fare restructure: 522, 540, 541, 542, 545, 550, 554, 555, 556, 560, 566, 567, 577, 580, and 596.

The thirteen routes that could end up with an automatic 2-county fare for all passengers are listed below, in order of percentage of riders on a typical weekday who do not cross a county line, using data from the 2018 Service Implementation Plan.

25.1% of weekday riders on these multi-county routes (9.1% of total ST Express ridership) could face the choice of paying a 2-county fare for a 1-county ride or having to take an alternative local route. Simultaneously, the other 74.9% (27% of total ST Express ridership) cold lose the opportunity to request a 1-county fare before taking a 2-county trip.

Some routes clearly ought to charge a 2-county fare, as the vast majority of their riders are riding a long distance, and across the county line. This includes routes 510, 511, 513, and 586. Most of those riding within the county on these routes are using the route for a local ride within Seattle, Tacoma, or Everett, and have frequent alternatives.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is route 578, which is overwhelmingly intra-county trips. ST may as well just make it a one-county “local” fare, especially since route 577 is already that way.

49.1% of the trips on route 535 are intra-county, which can lead to a lot of reset requests. Since it serves a corridor similar to route 532, the two ought to be considered together. But are most of the trips on these routes long distance? The answer to that is not clear from the ons/offs data, but there are plenty of stops on each close to the county line. For the sake of simplicity and speed, ST ought to consider charging a “local” fare on these routes.

While a majority of route 574 trips cross the county line, most of them are neither long-distance, nor truly express. Charging the local fare seems more appropriate for this route that serves SeaTac, Kent-Des Moines Park & Ride, Star Lake P&R, Federal Way Transit Center, Tacoma Dome Station, and Lakewood.

Route 512 gets into a gray area. It serves the same corridor as routes 510, 511, and 513, but it also has lots of stops spaced throughout the corridor. There is only one stop in King County that prevents all the inter-county trips from legitimately being considered “long-distance”: 145th St Freeway Station. However, that stop only has 37 passengers getting on northbound and 32 getting off southbound on a typical weekday.

Route 590 has 100 daily local trips within downtown Tacoma and 407 within downtown Seattle, but a supermajority of the trips are long-distance. Charging a long-distance fare for all riders may displace most local riders to local routes, but that shouldn’t be problematic within these corridors with many routes.

Route 592 will soon revert back to has reverted back to terminating at DuPont Station since this data was collected. The DuPont – Lakewood local trips are the only reason not to charge a long-distance fare to all riders. However, the number of riders getting off northbound in Lakewood is 16. Remove the Thurston County riders, and the ridership using route 592 to connect between DuPont and Lakewood is somewhere in the single digits.

Route 595 has only 3 daily riders riding just between Gig Harbor and Tacoma Community College.

Route 594 has 3 daily boardings in DuPont. There are at most 50 going from Lakewood to downtown Tacoma.

If a long-distance express fare is applied just to routes 510, 511, 513, 586, 590, 592, 594, and 595, then only 1252 daily boardings (1.9% of weekday ST Express ridership) would have to switch to local routes to avoid the long-distance fare, while 2164 daily boarders would no longer need to ask the operator for a zone reset in order to avoid being charged a 2-county fare for an intra-county ride.

Renumbering the routes that charge a long-distance fare as 600-series routes could help riders quickly know what fare to expect.

This fare streamlining could be slightly revenue-negative, even accounting for the time saved by eliminating most passenger-requested ORCA reader resets. A simple way to make it revenue-positive would be to take this opportunity to raise each of the cash fares to the next even-dollar amount. The new slicker fares could look something like this:

ST Express local buses
(500 series routes)
Cash Fare Electronic Fare
Adult (Age 19-64) $3 $2.75
LIFT (low-income card) $3 $1.50
Youth (ages 6-18) $2 $1.00
Senior 65+ / Disabled
(with RRFP card)
$1 $1.00
Long-distance express buses
(600 series routes)
Cash Fare Electronic Fare
Adult (Age 19-64) $4 $3.75
LIFT (low-income card) $4 $2.75
Youth (ages 6-18) $3 $2.75
Senior 65+ / Disabled
(with RRFP card)
$2 $1.75

33 Replies to “Streamlining ST Express Fare Collection”

  1. Excellent! Coupled with the intercity stair configuration of much of the ST Express fleet, complication and computation delays at the farebox can put a schedule late at least five minutes per stop.

    Mixed feelings about the buses. Really appreciate the comfortable seats- and also being able to see out the windows, bad on the new artics, and flat terrible on the new forty footers. Everybody ahead of the back door might as well be in a bathtub. Behind it, maybe two comfortable seats per coach.

    Might also be good exercise (I mean it!) for drivers to help passengers get luggage into the under-coach compartments.

    But about fares, a suggestion I promise is going to get progressively less polite every time I have to make it: Apply above program to every inch of LINK. A distance a lot shorter than most ST bus routes. Especially, like tomorrow, for those of us who’ve already given the system a month’s worth of travel in advance. Being personally under threat that I’m down $124 next offense.

    And every time I’m told that my money doesn’t actually go to Sound Transit, it goes to the ORCA corporation to be apportioned among seven agencies, so if I miss a tap-off poor LINK (which is different from ST Express) gets robbed into receivership…every Board meeting I’m going to yield my time to Alex Tsimerman.

    Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Channukah and just frigging do it!

    Mark Dublin

  2. The 592’s extension to olympia was terminated last June or July and all trips end at DuPont. Also there is only one 594 trip that starts at DuPont. They are as underserved as the rest of Pierce County.

  3. 592 would have carried more passengers out of Olympia if it had more schedules. I think it had two, very early. Also if it hadn’t had to do Hawk Ridge Park and Ride, where it could lose ten minutes re: traffic lights at Marvin and I-5.

    And Dupont, if the routing had taken it straight north from the park and ride, instead of tour of Downtown on its way out. Another ten, or more if it had to wait for its scheduled departure time. If that stretch of I-5 past Tacoma ever gets finished, might be some point in non-stop, except for hellacioius traffic between SR 512 Park and Ride and Seattle.

    Suggestions: Hawk Ridge- if mandatory- absolute signal pre-empt to I-5. ‘Til we can get at least a diamond lane from there on. Dupont- routed as above, safe signal to the freeway. But meantime main thing: Time buses (even more mandatory for ST and Pierce than my tap atrocity) to meet Sounder at Lakewood and terminate and turn back. Or starting next year, Dupont.

    And even better, enlist JBLM for an emergency Seize and Occupy Olympia (ok, invent one to show those North Koreans we mean business ) drill to give Sound Transit a beachhead. Or whatever ground equivalent is ’till the Nisqually floods. Maybe say we’re rescuing all the hostages under the Dome. Starting with all their lady staff.


    But meantime, since Lacey is close into Olympia as trains can get, run the 592 non-stop to and from Downtown Olympia for scheduled meet. My own term is “A Freeway-free trip.” But meanwhile, 512 train-meet gains passengers speed, Sounder gets passengers, and ST 592 gets ridership.

    And while we’re at it, after 512 Park and Ride, 592, missing Tacoma, and headed straight for the Airport. Could save Intercity Transit an agency-violating three minute hold for the 574. As well as finally connecting our State Capital with an international airport. Let’s see the debit column. What does anybody lose?


    1. Incidentally, mistake on transfer point from ST 592 to Sounder: Lakewood Station, not SR 512. Lakewood My own best connection to either 600-series or 592. Four years ago. Now due to traffic if I don’t get across the Nisqually by 5:30AM, next usable bus is after nine.

      So hundred percent Seattle trip is to drive to Tacoma by side-roads, and park at Tacoma Dome Station. Could take ST 594, but hate being stuck in traffic. So pet path now is ST 574 to the Airport, and LINK on in. Making sure to buy a paper All-Day pass serving two functions.

      One, eliminating every present- and pretty sure intended- fear of a tap-induced raid on my bank account. And two, depriving present fare system of as much information as I can. Want info, boy? Want ifo? Sit up and beg. I’ve got a rolled up newspaper too.


      1. If you’re getting a Link paper ticket then you’re not getting a transfer, so you’re paying a double fare. You really do that every trip?

      2. BTW, Mark, How long ago was your last warning, and when does it slide off your record, for purposes of getting a follow-up fine? I only had to go into fear mode for a year after my warning. I had a pass that covered the highest possible fare, and a valid transfer.

        And I never got an apology after I raised the issue with STPD.

    2. First off 512 P&R either needs to be closed and a new lot built at the Lakewood Station, or transit lanes and signals need to be installed there. I can see how buses can loose 10 minutes simply accessing the station.

      Also, agreed about the Olympia and Lacey Routings. I could see little benefit of serving Downtown Olympia directly on those trips (if it were an all day service it would be another story), Hawks Prarie P&R was a given as its a new facility with little transit service, and the other lot at Marvin Way is full. Of course the design of the facility does not help speed service along, plus the lack of TSP and/or HOV access lanes.

  4. 600-series is the Thurston Transit (other counties have cities too) routes in to Pierce County. Maybe 700-series for ST long-distance routes.

      1. MrZ you are correct but that is for Metro’s in house identification method. If they really had to it would be a lot easier for KCM to change their RR #’s to make them compliant. But unless Metro operates a long distance sound transit (Which they don’t operate any right now) bus in the 670s or 680s I doubt this would be a problem. It would be perfectly fine to have a ST 674, as no one is going to confuse that with the Rapid Ride “D” Line.

    1. CT probably has enough unused 4XX routes to use those. It would make some sense since CT’s 4XX routes are also long-distance express routes.

  5. Eric, glad you brought this point up. Not for the number series, but for what it will signify when the fleet numbers are all in same coherent order. Which is that our region will finally have a single, unified transit system across its whole service area.

    I’ve always truly hated hearing “Well- separate agencies!” to excuse one more preventable inconvenience- or in the case of the ORCA rules, expensive punishment- inflicted by agencies too lazy and perniciously divisive to produce the Seamless Integrate System, of fares and all else, promised in the Sound Transit vote in 1996. Which mandated, among other things, schedule connections with each other.


    Like every time somebody in authority, from a transit driver on up, uses Separate and Agency in the Same sentence. Causing a fortune in operating time and public good will to die horribly. [OT]

    Prime directive seems to pay every individual entity exactly what their fare boxes, metal and electronic, have gained them. Begging the question of whether a lower-performing agency might reverse its trajectory if it got some money in addition? As any Seamless system would do without dropping a stitch.

    So thanks for bringing this up Eric, but [OT]


    1. All a single, unified transit agency will do is send metro’s high cost of operations out regionally like wildfire, as each operator now just becomes another metro base. Some overhead will be lost, the rest will get ate up in metro’s higher cost per hour.

      1. MrZ, not looking at this ideologically. Truth is, a very large agency often eventually morphs into a cat-cage of warring little offices with the dynamics of a Reality Show with a cast of rabid wolverines.

        Also, unless there’s some real malfeasance to cure, passengers might take it ill to have something unfamiliar imposed on them.

        So I’m not really asking for thousands of employees to get the same uniforms and pay-slips. Only to play a unified agency on TV. Or, more to the point, on the radio between dispatchers to be sure connections take place.


      2. I think there are things on both the back and front ends that could be done to harmonize the services provided. For example, a unified regional scheduling software so one agency could tell it to build a schedule based on connections to another’s routes or services. There are other things that may also be of regional value, such as a common CAD/AVL/Radio system, ngORCA, etc. This would allow for easier coach movements in-between agencies, the ability for one communications center to send out messages to all coaches in area informing them of an issue or re-route at one time, better communication in-between support staff, and some level of redundancy in the event of a disaster as there will be multiple communications centers to operate from should the need arise. The problem comes with agencies being inflexible about changing business practices to suit the new systems, or protecting their individual silos. On the passenger facing side, some really easy things like standardized layouts for all maps/timetables is negligible in cost, a little more expensive comes with a standardized bus stop sign flag format, and even a common route numbering system across all agencies.

    2. The one time I took the Straight Shot bus from Bainbridge ferry dock was a day when the ferry was delayed. Despite advertising that they will wait ten minutes after late ferries, the bus was gone, and fortunately one of the folks assigned to test the new route was “in the same boat” and called Clallam Transit, which was able to direct the bus to go back to the terminal to pick us all up. Kitsap Transit busses seemed to have got the message about the late ferry, but not the poor Straight Shot driver.

  6. [OT]

    [actually related to transit, but still OT]

    Granted, a large one-time expense might be hard on lower-income passengers. Who considering present economy of Seattle, will make up just about all regional ridership. So term “working people” might be better than “low income, especially if we develop sliding scale fares.Which will put an end to the Democratic-Party-Killing habit of leaving people with too little money to live, and too much for a break.

    Another overdue feature for monthly passes as well: On passenger’s request, refund whatever fare hasn’t been used. Or carry unused remainder over to next month, or year. Might at least be time to start taking surveys to get passengers’ thinking.


    1. “Another overdue feature for monthly passes as well: On passenger’s request, refund whatever fare hasn’t been used. Or carry unused remainder over to next month, or year.”

      That defeats the purpose of offering passes in the first place. The purpose of a pass is to get a steady and prepaid amount of revenue every month to make budgeting easier and minimize last-minute spikes and dropoffs that strain the system or are wasteful.

      1. Monthly passes should be done away with. Passes should be sold in X day increments, 1, 5, 10, 15, 30, 60, 90, etc. with a discount on the same scale.

      2. Passes ARE sold in 1-day increments. The Regional Pass isn’t selling so well because you have to purchase it online (at least three days in advance, to be sure it is uploaded) or at an ORVA VM. ST is creating an artificial market for the paper passes (for which ST doesn’t have to share revenue) by making them the only reliable method to avoid the threat of getting fined. And then, if you get it in the middle of the line, it won’t work to go the other direction from that station, so you have to get another one. They really ought to have a full-length option for both the tickets and day passes, for the un-smart-phoned. Or a simpler fare system altogether.

        Most of the monthly passes are sold through the Business Passport program or employers paying face value. I don’t know whether having renewals at the same time each month stresses the system more than whatever efficiency it creates. Regardless, the ORCA pod seems not to be interested in scrapping the monthly system.

  7. Mike, honest answer is that my senior pass gives me an All-Day pass for $2.00. Also, I only go into Seattle two or three days a week. No problem with buses at all. But full fare for paper passes would also be worth it. Meds or age, repeat likelier than not. Train seat used to be my life’s main place of peace.
    Guaranteed, I thought, by payment in advance.

    Final California Redwood size straw is how seriously the system is willing to defend the practice. By word and tone: “The policy’s not going to change. Just tap off and get used to it!” My last 34 years’ work, I cooperate with everything it needs. Including riddance of an attitude so ugly, abusive, and inexplicable.
    Dare anybody to find a single posted explanation of how a missed tap off can result in a fine for a dutiful tap on. Or explain and defend its reasons in public at all.

    Incentivize? Curious, Brent. Plenty of enthusiasm with no help from me. I’m told that ST doesn’t get a dime of my fine- it all goes to the District Court. Purpose is not to reimburse for damage, but to compel better memory. And make me an example to remind everybody else. Not my customary language for persuasion, but can speak it if manners require.


    1. Mark,

      If the FEO who gave you the warning was as lacking in logic as the one who lectured me in public, getting astonished faces from the surrounding riders when he had already admitted I had a full monthly pass and a valid transfer, then, yes, the training could stand some upgrading. But then, they are trying to explain why ST’s policy is ethical, when it is not.

      You are paying ST more now per trip than you were before the warning. From the bean-counters’ perspective, the fear-based system worked. If you want to punish ST, go back to using ORCA, claiming your transfer, and being ready to take ST to court should they wrongfully try to fine you. Ask for at least triple damages. And don’t yield your time to Alex. Keep telling the Board what the problem is. I think they all ride Link rarely enough that none of them have gotten a wrongful warning, so they aren’t aware of the problem. Write out the speech ahead of time. Ask a friend to look it over. (Your poetry is often inaccessible to us right-brainers.) Then distribute copies to the Board when you give the speech.

      Let me emphasize a key step here. Please have someone edit your speeches before you give them. That takes maybe a half hour, so that your day trip becomes more effective when the Board understands what it is you are trying to say.

  8. How big of an issue is this and are the numbers boardings or actual requests for a one county fare? I used to ride the 535 daily and it was relatively rare to hear someone ask for a 1 county fare. A lot of people are using employer-provided passes and don’t bother doing it or are actually going two counties. I don’t think boarding was really that slowed down by it.

    In terms of local alternatives, at least for the 532/535 in King county, there are no good ones. The 237 would be great, but has 3 daily trips one way and 2 the other. The 342 stops at 70th St and is slowed down substantially by not being able to use the 405 ETLs, and also only has 5 and 4 trips. You can do the 234 to the 236, but that’s a long trip.

    In any case, 405 BRT is coming in a few years. It will be interesting to see how they set pricing for it.

    1. The numbers in the tables only reflect boardings, and how many riders crossed a county line, not fares paid or fare resets requested.

      In your experience, has change fumbling been a problem on ST Express?

      1. I don’t think even change fumbling is a huge issue. Most people pay with ORCA cards. The CT and Metro buses have enough space at the front that someone can figure out paying in cash while others tap their card and walk around that person. Even if that’s the last/only person boarding the bus, most drivers will just start driving while the person finishes putting in their fare.

    2. When I rode the 535 regularly most of my trips were in King County so I preset my ORCA card to 1-zone through the website.

  9. I say, have two fare tiers. One for the 590-series (and 586), one for everything else. In the process, they can also fix Sounder fares to charge the same amount as the bus. It is silly to have overcrowded buses (and extra buses added just to handle the crowds), while the trains leave with empty seats, simply so people can save 50 cents on their fare by riding the bus.

    1. I don’t know if empty seats on Sounder are a function of too many buses or of uneven spreading out among the train cars. I assume the end cars are the most crowded, and most riders will claim the train is SRO, when there are actually empty seats in the middle car.

      If Sounder does reach capacity, I suspect adding more service is more expensive than adding 2-3 more buses.

      Crowding is also a function that all the cars are uniformly business class, and there is no cheap-seat car. It is clearly a luxury service compared to the bus. Have a non-luxury car, and we’d have a better argument about the marginal cost of more buses.

    2. Half of Sounder riders are in south King County ; did you take these into account regarding empty seats in Tacoma?

    3. I work in Kent. I rarely ride Sounder, but when I board a southbound peak train to Lakewood, the trains are packed!!! Nowhere to sit. By the time we get to Tacoma, there’s plenty of room!!

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