CT 18700 in Downtown Everett
Credit: Bruce Englehardt / flickr

Last Thursday, Community Transit announced a proposal for a low-income fare on CT buses.

The proposal would establish a low-income fare of $1.25 on local buses and $2.00 on inter-county commuter buses.

Public comments are being accepted through March 8. A public hearing will be held on March 7. The link above provides several media through which to ask questions and submit comments. The CT Board is scheduled to vote on the proposal April 4.

Update: A previous version of this chart showed the wrong local youth fare. Sorry.

If approved, the fares would take effect on July 1.

CT would be the second agency for which a low-income fare “can save you 50% or more on transit fares” is actually true on all its services. The first is Kitsap Transit.

CT’s low-income fare would operate through the ORCA LIFT program. To qualify, one’s household income would have to be 200% or less of the federal poverty level. Details for administering card distribution remain to be worked out, but would primarily be through human service agencies.

As is the case with the other ORCA transit agencies’ low-income fare programs, the discounted fare would only be available through loaded fare product on an ORCA LIFT card. But the fares thusly paid would be good for two hours of transfer credit on all ORCA-accepting agencies, except Washington State Ferries, which does not accept inter-agency transfers or passes.

CT would be the first ORCA agency not to match its low-income fare to its youth fare. The youth CT fare is $1.75 on local buses and $3.00 on commuter buses. Instead, CT would match its low-income fare to its Regional Reduced Fare Permit (for riders 65+ or with qualifying disabilities) fare, which, by federal law, is required to be no more than half the regular peak fare, at least during off-peak hours. As a result, CT would be giving ORCA LIFT cards to youths 6-18 who qualify by way of their family’s household income. Kitsap Transit has simply consolidated all its reduced fares to be identical for each service.

The fare revenue hit for CT is estimated at up to $1 million annually, out of annual gross fare revenue of $23 million.

The July 1 rollout is designed to be simultaneous with Everett Transit’s next fare increase, for which a low-income fare is under consideration by the city council. The current ET fare proposal would set its low-income fare at $1.50

Starting July 1, assuming passage of both fares and the Seattle Center Monorail completing the process of joining the ORCA pod in time, the following low-income fares would be available on ORCA, from cheapest to most expensive:

  • $1.00: Kitsap Transit buses, KT local passenger ferries, and eastbound KT Fast Ferries
  • $1.25: Community Transit local buses
  • $1.50: King County Metro buses, Link Light Rail, ST Express buses, the monorail, Everett Transit buses, and Seattle Streetcars
  • $2.00: CT commuter buses
  • $2.50-$4.25: Sounder commuter trains
  • $3.75: West Seattle Water Taxi
  • $4.50: Vashon Water Taxi
  • $5.00: Westbound KT Fast Ferries

Within the ORCA pod, the remaining agencies without a low-income fare would be Pierce Transit, which charges a $2.00 regular fare, and Washington State Ferries, which charges much more, different fares by route, and does not accept inter-agency transfers or passes.

Per Deborah Daoust, Seattle Center Director of Communications, “Seattle Center Monorail is working through the ORCA process, and we hope to have ORCA available on the Monorail sometime this year!” Its low-income fare is a required part of its proposal for joining the pod.

20 Replies to “Community Transit Proposes Low-Income Fare”

  1. I clicked on the income link.
    From King County Metro:
    “To get an ORCA LIFT card, you must be between 19 and 64 years of age. Children six through 18 are eligible for an ORCA youth card, which may be obtained free of charge by LIFT cardholders, and those 65 and older are eligible for a Regional Reduced Fare Permit (RRFP) card. People with disabilities may qualify for the RRFP card.”
    Somebody explain to me why an 18 year old, somebody who legally can get kicked out of foster care, somebody who legally can buy real estate, somebody who, in many cases, is ON THEIR OWN, would not qualify for ORCA LIFT???????????????? So, if you’re 18, you just got kicked out of foster care, or your parents are real SOBs and kicked you to the curb (happened to two friends of mine growing up), you have to find an adult with a LIFT card to get you a youth card? Am I reading this right?
    Jesus, we sure treat our young people like shit. It’s no wonder Millennials are so pissed off. What I am reading is, you are on your own at 18, but you still have to beg for permission until you’re 19. If you are on your own at 18, if it is legal for your guardians to kick you to the curb at 18, then you should have every single right and privilege (including getting yourself an ORCA LIFT card as a low income adult) at that same age.

    1. 18 year olds are still counted as youths for bus fares. So they don’t need ORCA LIFT until they turn 19.

      That being said, it seems weird the proposal isn’t matching youth and LIFT fares for all routes.

      1. Youth will get to qualify for the ORCA LIFT, at least in Snohomish County. Youth in other counties will end up paying an extra 25 cents when transferring to a local CT bus. That’s a little clunky.

        My advice to CT would be to just lower the youth fare to match the low-income fare. Having to distribute the cards to both qualifying adults and qualifying youths whose parents/guardians aren’t interested in ORCA cards for themselves could be an administrative nightmare for the human service agencies involved. Or it might push the parents/guardians to get ORCA LIFT cards for themselves, and ride the bus.

    1. I’m looking for any error in the charts CT used, and not finding this mistake. The error was unique to our own re-formatted chart. I apologize for the error.

  2. I’m under the opinion that if you need a low income fare, then that’s because the regular fare is too high. Helping poor people is great, but so is getting people out of cars, so maybe helping both people at once is a better idea. Since public transit is at least 75% funded by taxpayers, there’s no reason we should leave any transit users with a last dollar problem.

      1. I think a good fare would be $1, or $1.50, for all fares, with probably a big premium for Sounder (I’d say distance based starting at $1.50 and capping at $3), and distance based for Link but logarithmically rather than linearly increasing price (e.g., rather than adding 25 cents per 5 miles, start with the base fare for the first say 4 miles, add 25 cents if going 8+ miles, then another 25 cents if going 16+ miles, then another if going 16+, then 32+, etc. Otherwise you’ll have a situation where an express bus from Federal Way will cost less than the train, despite taking less time)

        I’d be fine with having a 50 cent or $1 surcharge for express buses, that’s probably a good sweet spot. If it really is so import to have “simplicity” to the degree of having only one fare, then just make the express fare the same as local fare, don’t raise all fares.

        Then I’d support making transit free for low income, like super poor (probably 100% of poverty line rather than 200%), then granting fare enforcement forgiveness for anyone who is caught without fare who can prove to qualify for the free fare. I think this would be a good solution because it allows fare evaders to catch people who just don’t want to pay, while making it much less punitive for people who really can’t.

        If this fare structure would result in such low revenues to barely recoup costs (which I doubt, a lot more people would be riding the bus as a result), then I’d kill fares.

    1. And that’s 75 percent of just operations. Capital improvements ect are pretty much 100% taxpayer funded! Transit could in principle be free to use, but it’s never easy to do this “on the ground,” esp. when you are talking about something that has always had a fare. In addition to the direct budget implications, our bus systems have legitimate capacity issues, so you’d need a way to accommodate many more riders. More busses wouldn’t be enough, more bus right of way would be needed. Which, somewhat ironically, is really something that we want *anyway*.

    2. One fundamental problem with the way fares work with ORCA passes is that because a lot of employers buy ORCA passports for their employees, Metro sees that as a way of getting a lot of money out of companies that is many levels removed from affecting employees, but doing so requires high enough fares to justify high ORCA passport prices. That makes it so that people who don’t work for companies that have some sort of arrangement with Metro to get ORCA passports, or low enough income people to qualify for ORCA Lift, always pay the highest relative portion of non-taxpayer-funded part of their ride, no matter how far they are going.

      It seems like a very anti-urbanist scheme because non-poor bus riders who want to make short urban trips (or non-urban trips for that matter) will pay $3.25 to go, say, 2 miles, a point where it’s really difficult to compete with cars. So in effect, it seems like they are taking a large amount of corporate ORCA passport money to fund an urban bus grid, while ignoring the fact that to have access to that money, they need to have high enough fares to make it less urban friendly and ensure long-term car dominance in central Seattle.

      The only solution I see is to bite the bullet and drastically reduce farebox recovery to something like 10%, make the necessary cuts, then from there build out a robust network that will actually be used and not hindered by a last dollar problem.

      1. It’s the high fares that cause the high Passport prices, not the other way around. Although do you know what the Passport prices are? It’s like U-Pass; it’s a lot less per individual than an individual pass, based on the percent of people that use transit and particularly use maximum-fare services.

    3. Metro fares in the 1980s were 40c one zone, 60c two zone. In the 90s they gradually went up to $1 and then $1.25. This was in line with our peers in other cities. Then Metro had a series of revenue shortfalls and increasing expenses due to the tax-slashing initiatives, recessions which sales tax is acutely sensitive to, up-and-down oil prices, rising healthcare costs, etc. The county keeps fares within a certain window of expenses, covering around 20%-20% of expenses. So when it reaches the bottom of that window they raise the fare. This led to an acceleration of fare increases, so the current fare is among the highest in the country for a large bus-only agency. (New York is around that high, but you get a lot more subways and frequency for it.)

      The ultimate problem is severe state restrictions on what kind of taxes and what level Metro can charge. The state forces local transit agencies to use sales tax, which is very sensitive to the boom-and-bust cycles in the economy. And it caps the rate at the level Metro has. To increase it requres asking the legislature on a case-by-case basis, and sometimes it approves them but often it rejects them, and it wants to keep all transit agencies in the state fairly even and at a low level. ST is an exception to that; the agency was created and ST1/2/3 authorized through special legislation.

  3. 1) I sure hope a lot of us regular STB commentators comment. Let’s see if Community Transit actually values public input… ;-)

    2) My comments which are already public record are as follows:

    8 Feb. 2019

    Dear Community Transit;

    I will be blunt and acute: I would enthusiastically support the CT Low Income Fare if there was an offset of some kind to cover the revenue loss that yours truly would be paying more for. Connecting the Future of Flight with quality & safe service within 0.25 miles when the Future of Flight is actually open, other system expansion needs as requested less publicly, and renewing the CT fleet need to be priorities too. Balance, basically.

    I do also support the concept of some kind of family fare though. Again, with an offset to whack single adults like me to protect system expansion funding CT Prop 1 the 0.9 to 1.2 sales tax increase was for (and rightfully hard to win). Whether or not waiving the child fare for children with an adult or completely, giving up 4.3% of fare revenue; this will allow families to find it more economical to go to events and museums via transit and not the personal car. I just feel this needs to be part of the discussion at some point please.

    Please forward my comments to the CT Board. Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

    Very respectfully;

    Joe A. Kunzler

    There you go.

    1. A good start would be if Everett Transit was in revenue service (= carrying passengers) in both directions on its #70, which goes from Mukilteo ferry to Boeing/Everett in the morning, then empty back down the hill, repeat, and in the afternoon the opposite. They already have a bus stop near to the Future of Flight, so the cost would be almost nothing, and their fare is presently $1.00 lower. If there was sufficient demand, they might think about doing a loop inside the Future of Flight, or go in there “on demand,” the first that makes more sense than having the #8 loop through the Wal-Mart in South Everett. I’ve heard that CT is perhaps re-routing its #107 to/from Lynnwood Transit Center and Swift Blue at Lincoln Way past the Future of Flight, but haven’t heard whether they figured out where a stop might safely go along that high speed road.

    1. … and Mason County. If they can get by on bus service that runs less than hourly and mostly not on weekends, why can’t the rest of us?

  4. Having high youth fares does not encourage families with children to use public transit at all. They should be the same as senior fare, or even lower. And have special family fares on weekends and holidays, like Metro did for so many years.

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