Thursday, Sound Transit’s Operations and Administration Committee moved forward a staff recommendation that would establish a flat fare of $3.25 for all Sound Transit Express bus routes. This change would increase fares by $.50 for 70% of ST Express riders.
The transit agency said this change would speed up boardings and make it easier for riders to understand the fare system. The full board is expected to vote on the proposal at its March 22 meeting, with implementation July 1, 2018 to coincide with Metro’s new $2.75 flat fare.
Currently, ST uses a two-zone fare structure, charging adult riders who cross county lines $3.75, and $2.75 for routes that stay within one county. Riders on two-county routes traveling only within one county can ask the bus operator for an override and instead pay the one-county fare. ST said 13 of its 28 Express bus routes cross county lines.
Sound Transit proposed two options: a $3.25 flat fare, or keeping the current system but eliminating the override for one-county riders on two-county routes. The agency said its goal was to simplify fares and have the change be as close to revenue-neutral as possible.
A ST survey found 59% of respondents preferred the flat fare over the route-based fare, but roughly 40% said the flat fare option was neither affordable nor equitable for riders. Nearly 90% of respondents did say the flat fare option is easy to understand, with only 59% saying the same about the route-based option.
Both options would increase farebox recovery, with the flat fare adding between $800,000 and $1.3M — a revenue gain of 2.1 to 3.6%. The route-based fare would add much less, only increasing revenue by $100,000 to $200,000, a gain of about 0.3 to 0.7%.
Before fares can change, ST must perform an analysis to determine how the changes would impact low-income and minority populations. The agency said “neither option would create a disproportionate impact on low-income riders.” ST staff also recommended conducting ORCA LIFT outreach to ensure all riders who qualify for the program are enrolled.