Sound Transit has rolled out a survey offering 2 options for restructuring ST Express bus fares.
Both options would institute flat reduced fares ($1.50 for low-income and youth riders and $1 for Regional Reduced Fare Permit holders), getting rid of the de facto county line surcharge for each of these payer categories. This is the first low-income fare reduction on any transit service, anywhere in the country, beyond the low-income fare set at implementation of a low-income fare category.
Option 1 would institute a $3.25 regular adult flat fare, splitting the difference between the current $2.75 single-county fare and the $3.75 multi-county fare.
Option 2 would keep the current adult fare levels of $2.75 and $3.75, based on whether the route crosses a county line, rather than the current honor system based on whether the passenger crosses the county line.
Both adult fare options would help fund the elimination of the county-crossing surcharges for reduced-fare riders. The new fares would take effect this coming June, along with Metro’s $2.75 flat fare, and Community Transit’s new route-based fares.
The Community Transit Board has not set the route-based fares, but has established a policy of having a single fare for each payer category for each route. The CT Board is expected to set the specific fares in March.
Fixing Option 2 by using express distance
Option 2 for the ST Express fares has the weirdness of charging a different fare on routes serving the same express trip. Route 577 would charge $2.75 while route 578 would charge $3.75, even though most of the ridership on these two routes is travelling between Seattle and Federal Way, and very few passengers on route 578 cross the county line.
To make Option 2 more sensible, base the bus routes charging the higher fare on express distance (how far the route travels without a stop).
Charge the lower fare on routes 512, 532, 535, and 574, which go no more than 11 miles between consecutive stops. They would be grouped with routes 522, 540, 541, 542, 545, 550, 554, 555, 556, 560, 566, 580, and 596, which are proposed to be $2.75 under Option 2, and none of which go more than 11 miles non-stop.
Charge the higher premium express fare on routes 567 and 577, which each go over 16 miles on their express portion. They would join routes 510, 511, 513, 578, 586, 590, 592, 594, and 595, which are proposed to be $3.75 under Option 2, and have a non-stop segment over 13 miles. This would leave roughly the same number of riders paying the premium fare as under Option 2, but using a more justifiable criterion. And then change the premium express route numbers to another series, such as 700s.
This may not go over well with riders on route 577/578, but if they want to keep their local fares, they should be prepared to drop their expectation that everyone gets a seat.
Speeding up boarding
Have a higher cash fare, set to the next-higher dollar amount, which would be $3 for the shorter distance BRTish routes and $4 for the longer-distance premium express routes. The $3/$4 cash fares would help fund the discount-fare reductions, discourage cash payment at the bus door, and reduce the impact of change fumbling among those still paying with cash. Indeed, this could turn out to be the most popular part of the fare restructure for those using ORCA. (ST Express does not accept mobile payment.)
Sound Transit is not a money tree
Some have suggested simply dropping all the fares to $2.75, and letting Sound Transit find another revenue stream to make up the difference, even though they know the state legislature and federal administration have also had the same philosophy for reducing car tabs and paying for tollways.
I agree that charging $3.25 to ride from Seattle to Bellevue is probably too much, but I don’t see how lowering the regular fares on specialty long-distance commuter routes serves a purpose, especially when Community Transit is charging $4.25 for nearly-identical trips.
A public hearing will be held on the fare proposals on Thursday, February 1 at noon at Union Station. In addition to taking the online survey, you can email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, call in comments to 1-866-940-4387, or snail mail comments to
Attn. Kassandra Andrews
401 S. Jackson St.
Seattle, WA 98104
Addendum: If King County were to adopt an ordinance in the future charging a premium for Metro routes expressing more than 11 miles, eleven Metro routes would end up charging the premium fare: 143, 157, 158, 159, 177, 178, 179, 190, 192, 197, and 208. Setting the rule at 13 miles would leave routes 143 (expressing 12.3 miles) and 208 (expressing 12.6 miles) in the lower-fare category.