Since it dropped right before Thanksgiving, I worry not everyone saw Alon Levy’s excellent piece in Streetsblog on fares and fare enforcement. The proximate reason for the piece is New York’s plan to spend a bunch of money on fare enforcement that’s disproportionate to the actual loss of revenue involved. As per usual, the piece has lots of international comparisons and some good lessons for Seattle.

First, from time to time some Seattle observers have suggested that Sound Transit ditch the current proof-of-payment system and install fare gates at Link stations. This would be expensive, impractical for open-air stations, and wouldn’t work at all for RapidRide. Also, New York has fare gates and, well… see the previous paragraph. Levy writes:

New York itself may have an excuse to keep the faregates: its trains are very crowded, so peak-hour inspections may not be feasible. The question boils down to how New York crowding levels compare with those on the busiest urban proof-of-payment line, the Munich S-Bahn trunk. But no other American city has that excuse. Tear down these faregates.

What’s more, the fare inspection should be a low-key affair. The fine in Berlin is €60. Inspectors who can’t make a citation without using physical violence should not work as inspectors.


Levy also argues that agencies should “make it easy to follow the law…by offering generous monthly discounts,” thereby ensuring that fares are already paid in advance. In the Puget Sound, that would mean getting as many people as possible into a monthly prepaid ORCA pass. Our region is pretty good at this: we have ORCA LIFT for low-income residents and ORCA Opportunity for high schoolers, as well as a fairly successful ORCA Business Passport program. But we could go much further: ORCA for All, as the Transit Riders Union is proposing, for example.

We could also make a monthly pass more of a deal: currently it takes 36 rides to break even each month on a $2.75 pass (in Zurich you’ll break even after just 20 rides, Levy notes) . Today’s fares are somewhat higher than historical averages. Dropping the monthly fee by 20-25% would add more monthly riders and save money on fare collection and enforcement, while bringing fares for monthly riders back in line with pre-2008 norms.

As they used to say, read the whole thing.

49 Replies to “Fares, faregates and fare enforcement”

  1. I while I don’t think we necessarily need to go fully fare-free, I certainly think we need to make our local transit agencies less fare-dependent. I could be wrong, but I think Metro’s farebox recovery standard is 25%, which makes it essentially one quarter taxi company.

    And there is never a serious consideration for lowering it. The options we end up with when it comes time to reevaluate the fare is do you want it to go up a little or up a lot? Lowering the farebox recovery is certainly not free, but if we take the hit and reduce a little service to bring it down to something like 10%, that can reduce the fare by more than half. When the fare is so high that you need to have a special lower fare for poor people so they can afford to take the bus, that seems to me like we are too dependent on fare revenue. Really the fare should be low enough to be both substantial but not something for a user to think too hard about. $1 sounds about right. Maybe $2 cash, and $125 for ORCA.

    What’s more frustrating is that Metro and ST seem to focus on the wrong problems. They act like it’s the worst thing in the world when someone has to say “one county” on an ST express bus to pay a one-zone fare. I think it makes perfect sense to have people on really long bus routes pay a shorter fare for a shorter trip. Saying “one zone please” and then tapping is still waaaay quicker than paying cash, and is probably usually a minority of riders anyway. Though for Metro, it should be route-based and not city limits-based (e.g., route 179 has a higher fare on the express portion, where 124 would be the same fare).

    1. Metro abolished zones a couple years ago. The fare is now $2.75 for everyone who doesn’t qualify for a reduced fare.

      Sound Transit will be abolishing zone resets next summer. Each route will either be a one-county route or multi-county route. All routes will be treated as one-county routes for purposes of the various reduced fares.

      I agree, in general, that fares should be route-based, and based on whether a bus is local or express. The existence of a flat low-income fare that applies equally to either ought to remove the suburban poverty argument against express regular-fare surcharges.

      I disagree that simply reducing the regular fare has much utility. That won’t make change fumbling go away at all, and might even increase it, while significantly reducing the revenue stream from the Business Passport program that accounts for roughly half of all fare revenue.

      1. On the contrary, reducing the fare has great utility in making transit more attractive, especially within the city, but also on frequent suburban corridor routes like the A-Line or the 271, where maintaining ridership is crucial. I think if the bus fare is so high as to make trips under 10 miles not really worth it, then the message to people is clear: just drive and don’t deal with the bus. That’s not a good message.

      2. “Each route will either be a one-county route or multi-county route.”

        Yaay! That’s what Metro should do, like CT has long done.

        Part of the problem is Metro lumps several different kinds of service under “express”:

        1. The peak-only routes to various parts of Auburn and northeast King County seem like a luxury premium service.

        2. The East Kent routes overlapping with Sounder are similar, except they also serve the KDM park n ride, so they’re doing two things simultaneously. Routes that purely overlap ST Express like the 218 and have no unique non-downtown stops seem to be more about capacity management: ST offers only a baseline capacity, and Metro has to make up the rest. The variations between the 216/217/218 at ST Express stops seem like a normal A/B stop pattern like some subways and commuter rail have peak hours: one train makes the A stops, they next one makes the B stops. It’s just disguised because they have different route numbers and two agencies.

        3. Short expresses like the 15 are also capacity management, and compensate for congestion slowdowns peak hours. The 15 is not really faster than a D or previous 15 local could ever be; it just gives the same travel time those routes deliver when there’s no traffic.

        4. The suburbanization of poverty complicates this.

        Premium fares seem important in case #1. However, in cases #2, #3 and #4 they seem inequitable. It’s not individual passengers’ fault that entire busfuls of more people are traveling peak hours on the same corridors, or that car congestion slows down 15th Ave W and Aurora peak hours. It’s inefficient to run all buses local when you have entire busfuls of people going to different parts of the line: it overcrowds the near stops and annoys those sitting through to the far stops. An A/B stop pattern alleviates this, and several of Metro’s express routes are a variation of this; they just don’t appear as such because the route numbers are different.

      3. I meant to separate East Kent from the 218-like routes. The Issaquah/Eastgate overlays and maybe the Federal Way overlay look like capacity management. The 158/159 are hard to categories because they’re doing several things at once:

        1. One-seat ride from Kent residential neighborhoods to downtown.
        2. Said Kent neighborhoods to Sounder.
        3. Said Kent neighborhoods locally to downtown Kent and beyond (Des Moines, Auburn, Renton).
        4. Kent-Des Moines P&R to downtown. This P&R has no all-day routes, and if you accept the goal that P&Rs reduce driving, then a strategic P&R needs a trunk route, and there’s no reason not to consolidate it into a route that also does the other three things.

    2. I think Metro’s farebox recovery standard is 25%, which makes it essentially one quarter taxi company.

      To be clear: you think the key characteristic in distinguishing between taxi is the degree to which the rider is subsidized by another funding source!?

      This seems exactly wrong and exactly backwards to me. If a particular busline sees a huge uptick in ridership, it will see its farebox recovery rate grow. On your heuristic, the full buses are more taxi-like than the empty ones, whereas a poorly designed infrequent route carrying a couple of riders are the least taxi-like bus service. But in terms of efficiency, environmental impact, or simply everyday language, that gets it backwards.

    3. I recently had a conversation about how expensive our fares are compared to LA. LA Metro, which is significantly bigger than King County Metro, has a base fare of $1.75, a full dollar cheaper than KCM or ST Express, and that also appears to be the flat fare for Metro Rail, as opposed to Link where traveling one stop costs $2.25 and more if you go further. The various smaller municipal operators in the LA area have fares ranging from $1 to $1.25. Commuter routes are generally at least $2.50, and I don’t know how overall salaries and cost-of-living compare, but it definitely seems more expensive to get around Seattle by bus than LA.

      1. In LA transfers between system incur a charge … usually around $0.50, and the amount you are credited for the various trips when you move to a different agency is variable and totally unclear and hard to understand.

        With 30+ municipal agencies that accept the TAP card in LA County, there are few trips that require a transfer that don’t involve changing to another agency.

        For my commute, in the morning I ride Metro rail and am charged $1.75. I then change to a suburban commuter route, operated by one of the municipal operators. That ride costs $4.50.

        When I transfer I am charged $0.55 for the transfer. The muni operator credits my LA Metro local fare of $1.75 as $1.50, which is what they charge for a local trip on their system.

        So … I end up with an additional charge of $3.55 when I board the suburban bus, despite having already paid $1.75 to a different agency. One way trip fare is $5.30.

        On the ride home, I’m charged the suburban fare of $4.50. When I transfer to Metro rail, they recognize I’m coming in with an express fare, which is greater than the local fare. Thus, I’m charged an additional $.50 transfer fee, but no additional fare. This makes my return trip $5.

        So yes, the local fares are lower, but the crazy fare credit and transfer polices mean you end up with whacky stuff like the same trip costing a different amount in different directions.

  2. The article originally appeared on his blog (there is a link to it at the beginning). Towards the end of the comment section of that post, I mentioned Sound Transit’s approach, where they require a monthly pass user to tap on. Here was Alon’s reply:

    In Berlin there’s a similar situation – DB Regio runs the S-Bahn, BVG runs the U-Bahn and surface transit – and thus a similar issue arises of how to split revenues. It involves negotiations and confidential ridership data, but boils down to passenger counts, done (I believe) once every three years. To the passengers, this friction is invisible – I buy tickets on the BVG app but they’re equally valid on the S-Bahn, even on S-Bahn-only trips.

    There were a couple other good responses as well. This one:

    In Switzerland, where consolidated fares have been in existence for more than a century, there are regular passenger counts. For local operation (bus, tram, regional trains) they use vehicles which contain a passenger counting system, counting the number of people getting off and on. Let’s assume that a bus operator has one equipped vehicle for each size (standard, articulated). Then they use it for specific services, and get the data.

    In smaller operations, I actually encountered that the driver just counted the number of people getting on and off (well, that was in a midi bus, or even smaller one.

    For more precise recording, there are teams of inspectors checking every ticket, and in the case of pass holders they ask from where to where the trip goes.

    Based on the statistics received with those means, the general pot gets distributed among the different operators. And the operators are normally satisfied.

    and this one:

    Even the fragmented British railway system is able to manage fare revenue distribution for generic tickets.

    So, basically, Sound Transit (and the other agencies) are being unusual and lazy. Rather than work out a revenue sharing policy, they punish riders for their lack of data collection (or coordination — it is possible they already have the data). It isn’t just the rider that forgets to tap that gets punished, but all riders, as this adds to the number of people who are required to tap.

    1. This is really what it comes down to. A lot of lazy, inept people are employed at these public agencies. This is why the Point Defiance Bypass tragedy happened, and this is why the bypass is still closed, two years later. A private company wouldn’t exist if it allowed this level of ineptitude.

      1. “A private company wouldn’t exist if it allowed this level of ineptitude.”

        I’ve worked in the private and the public sector and I’ve seen pretty bad ineptitude in both. Usually people are more passionate about public employees though because it’s tax money.

        That said, seems like everybody is their own fiefdom here in the transit world.

      2. A private company wouldn’t exist if it allowed this level of ineptitude.

        Well, let’s just blow up that argument.

        Alas, if Elon Musk spent his fortune inventing technologies to save the 7 billion of us who will never go into space, humanity might have a better chance of surviving its own mass stupidity.

      3. I didn’t like Paul Allen’s silly Hendrix tribute or science fiction museum [1] either, but later he settled down into more worthwhile causes like Bill Gates. Maybe Musk will do likewise.

        [1] I was expecting something covering the whole history and significance of science fiction; e.g., like the Toronto library has done with its Philip K Dick collection. Instead it all seemed to be just stage props from a few popular TV shows/movies.

      4. Ursula K. LeGuin touched on the notion of free transit in The Dispossessed. The story was set on a moon run by a large population born into anarchism and the world where this population came from, where most of the world was suffering proxy wars between the smallish capitalist empire and the larger communist empire.

        On the anarchist-run moon, the small city in which the main character Shevek lived had a “megabus”. The megabus was operated by a driver who had, through some computerized lottery system, been assigned that as his job. Assumedly, the computer would only let people with proper training apply for that assignment. There was no fare, of course, and the megabus stopped operating after a certain hour since there wasn’t enough ridership to justify night owl service.

        Getting between cities was done by train, IIRC. One of the short stories within the novel was a train engineer telling how he made the decision to run over some track blockers trying to steal the food shipment meant for a much larger city where the train was headed. As plot device, Shevek was a passenger on this train (headed to his new computer-chosen assignment) where the engineer was nonchalantly retelling his story.

        If you are looking for a sci fi book that treats transit deeply and seriously, this is not the book you are looking for.

      5. Free transit should be viewed in the context of the city’s/region’s larger goals. A city and all its residents have an interest in having everybody working, making money to support themselves and pay taxes and buy services from each other. Everyone benefits when mobility is optimal: when transit moves people more efficiently than cars and takes up less space, when there are no artificial barriers to transit use (e.g., lack of routes/frequency/affordability), etc. Likewise, everybody benefits from publicly-funded libraries and fire/police service, and when the electric utility gives a discount for the first thousand kilowatt-hours (for essentials). And everybody benefits if a bus run exists even if they don’t use it today, because it will be there for them when they need it someday.

        The debate about free fares focuses too much on the benefit to riders, and not enough on transit’s benefit to society. Those against free fares don’t want to pay for somebody else’s ride, worry that non-market incentives making people lazy, and fear the homeless will loiter on buses much more than they do now. Those for free fares focus on the impact fares have on the very poor. (Some people can’t afford even ORCA LIFT, and have only two or three dollars in their pocket at a time, and also need to buy food and other essentials).

        But we can also look at the larger picture: what do we want the city to be like and have? We should aim for optimal mobility for everybody. “Optimal” means all the trips people want to take. Nobody wants to ride around in circles all day every day: they want to make a certain number of trips to work, shopping, activities, medical appointments, relatives’ houses, etc. We’re a free society, so let people decide individually what trips are right for them, and design the transit network to serve the widest cross-section of them. The goal is mobility, not collecting fare revenue. How we finance it is a secondary issue. If we stick to these goals, the natural conclusion is that free fares are best. That avoids artificial barriers and hassle to mobility.

        But we’re currently a long way from that, and free fares are less urgent than comprehensive service (i.e., more routes and frequency). The ORCA LIFT and other discount programs, and free public-school passes and employer passes, are a sensible way to at least reduce barriers to access for the poor and encourage transit commuting. But free fares should still be a long-term goal, even if it’s longer than a 30-year planning window. Because it would keep our values and priorities straight, and everything else depends on those.

      6. Two other things:

        Land use matters. If our neighborhoods were more walkable and mixed-use and had a wider variety of businesses/amenities, people could walk to more of their needs and they wouldn’t need as much transit. That would lower the cost of free transit.

        The problem of homeless people loitering is simple: give them housing. They wouldn’t be congregating in buses and parks and libraries and not showering or washing their clothes if they had homes to sit in and shower at. “It’s the housing, stupid!”

      7. @Mike Orr: I don’t think the notion that more pedestrian-friendly land-use makes fare-elimination fiscally easier because of reduced transit demand works out. At least not from a Seattle starting point.

        It’s true that offering less transit service per-resident makes fare-elimination easier, but… making a big city more walkable by adding homes and destinations tends to make more people ride transit, not fewer, because transit complements walking and walkability. That’s true within our region (people take more transit trips to, from, and within our most walkable neighborhoods), it’s true in comparison to other cities, and it’s true compared to our own past. Some of that happens in ways that don’t add much cost to the system (existing trips fill up)… but in a lot of cases more service has to be added to avoid overcrowding and long waits. The places offering free fares in the US today can do it because their residents rely on cars to get around, not walking.

      8. A private company such as …. Boeing? PGE?
        Sorry, the idea that private companies don’t screw things up as much as public is just not true. We’ve had years of privatization to prove this point and it hasn’t blossomed.

  3. Like most paying folks, I prefer to ride transit without criminals…or perhaps here in Seattle we could repurpose the phrase ‘choice riders’ to mean those who choose to pay.

    I don’t think fare payment is complicated. I understand it can be burdensome. As is life.

    1. It isn’t that simple. People who pre-pay with a pass or have a valid active transfer — both of which the fare inspector can see on their ORCA reader — are still subject to a warning and then a fine if they fail to tap on.

      My math says that such false positives may have been responsible for roughly a quarter of supposed occurrences of detected “fare evasion” before ST instituted the double-beep on tap-off. But ST still refuses to keep data on these false positives.

      The effect wasn’t to scare poor people from riding, but to scare people who had the choice to find another way to work to do so to avoid ST’s overzealous fare enforcers (and several people who have been victims of ST’s fare enforcers not honoring their clear-and-obvious proof of pre-payment have told me as much, and I am one of those victims, as are some other people who comment here).

      I’m not a fan of using fares to keep poor people out of public transit (since it is paid for mostly by sales tax, so, poor people have already paid for well over 3/4 of their trip before paying the fare) or as proxy for enforcing other ridership rules, but ST’s uniquely bizarre and businesswise-unethical approach was hitting payers and non-payers alike.

      Fares don’t actually cover 25% of the cost of a trip on Metro. Maybe they do on Link, but the data to show that has not been offered. Fare collection has substantial costs, including slow-downs in operations, cash handling, and the capital cost of fare equipment and replacement. Metro’s and ST’s figures tell us how much fare they collect, but not how much is really net fare revenue after fare collection costs. Sans such a datapoint, I have a hard time knowing how relevant fare collection is to funding transit.

      To some extent, the purpose of fare collection may actually be political, to show that riders have skin in the game when asking politicians to continue to allow transit to be funded by the general public. But everyone who boards — including those who pre-pay with their own money — pay a price in how fast the bus gets them from point A to point B and in how frequently the bus comes, when fare collection slows down bus operations significantly. And Metro (or, rather, the county council) has been afraid to do the simple stuff that will help reduce the operational costs of fare collection. To a lesser extent, ST has, too, since fare enforcers still get tied up arguing with the false positives while fare evaders now know to sit in the middle of the train and sneak out the other direction (and ST actually displays this policy as proof that there is no bias in their fare enforcement).

      Last I heard — and this is year’s ago so they may have changed — Community Transit’s method of fare enforcement on SWIFT is to actually stop the bus while sheriffs check everyone’s fares. So, I count my blessings that Metro’s and ST’s fare enforcement could be more expensive in time and money.

      1. Let’s just get very clear that “poor people” do not pay a massively greater proportion of their incomes on sales tax than do more economically successful folks. While the proportion of their income which is spent on un-taxed services is certainly lower than that by more affluent people, food and rental housing are not subject to sales taxes either. Those are by far the highest portion of the expenses of life for poor people.

        Otherwise homeless people who stay in low-end motels and “transient hotels” do pay “sales” taxes — the hotel and motel “occupancy” taxes — but they are not used for transit.

        So, “No”, poor people have very likely not paid for 3/4 of their fare. Since everyone must buy some non-food items to stay alive, they’ve made a small to middling contribution to that pot, but if they’re genuinely poor they’re not going to be shopping for much except food and Goodwill “previously owned” items at 80% off.

        There are lots of good arguments for a rationalized fare system and overwhelming evidence that giving pass users a discount results in a more efficient transit system. But the assumption that genuinely poor people are bearing a disproportionate burden for the transit system is simply not through through.

      2. Brent, did you actually have to pay a fine, or just receive a warning? Thing I find hard to believe is that after all these years, nobody with the time and the money to fight this piece of crap has challenged it in court and in front of TV cameras.

        Seems like tailor-made indictment for Sound Transit’s enemies. “Stand there calling me a thief with my money already in your pocket? Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present a whole agency of prize-winning Liberals!”

        Since I don’t live in his district, Senator Bob Hasegawa doesn’t take my phone calls. But with his labor record and, I’m told, Bernie Sanders affinity, could be worth lying about my address (wish I still had my old one from Ballard) to enlist his attention.

        Meantime, just have to wonder how many fine-threatened fare-holders had a citation or a warning in their pocket or recent memory the night they dropped their agreement with Tim Eyman down the ballot box.

        Don’t like the way I tapped my ticket, Sound Transit? Failing any notice that my check bounced, compare my performance as a fare-paying passenger over the years and instead of a citation, call it my $124 bonus.

        Mark Dublin

      3. Tom, I believe the point was that collectively, everybody has paid roughly 3/4 of their fare. This point of view is more in line with how taxes work.

      4. Brandon, yes “everybody” collectively has paid 3/4 of everybody’s fares. But the truth is that somebody making $100K is going to pay a lot more sales tax than is somebody making $25K. So even if they take the same bus ride on roughly the same frequency, the $100K person is contributing more to both their rides than is the $25K person.

        Which is completely correct and equitable. But there is way too much whining about “inequitable taxation” on the poor. Yes, they pay a higher aggregate percentage of their income than the idle rich, because most of what the idle rich buy is pieces of paper which represent future cash flows and vacations in Biarritz and Portofino. There are no sales taxes on those pieces of paper or those trips.

        I doubt, though, that they pay a higher percentage of their aggregate income than does the middle class, though, simply because they have to use most of it to survive, and items for basic survival are, thankfully and properly, largely tax exempt.

      5. No, the idea is the poor pay the tax they’re charged and so should get credit for the part of the cost of the right paid by something other than fare collection. A rich person doesn’t get more credit on transit if it pays more taxes. A person who pays lots of taxes but doesn’t ride transit can’t walk up to a full bus and demand a poor person disembark. But as sales tax is essentially unavoidable on taxable itens, everyone is equally credited for having paid their fair share of the cost of transit as paid by sales taxes. That some thjngs aren’t taxed i s as irrelevant as that incomes are not taxed.

      6. If you believe the data of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the poorest 5th of the state’s population pays ca. 13.3% of its income on sales tax, and 17.8% of its income on local and state taxes altogether. Sales tax is the largest revenue source all the way up the chain, as the very richest still pay 1.7% of their income in sales and excise tax, out of their 3% local and state taxes altogether. Sales tax is the biggest hit to everyone in the state, top to bottom. Yes, those at the bottom still pay a much higher share of their income in sales tax, despite the various exemptions. And yet, the legislature is more interested in reducing property tax. Data-driven, they are not.

        We can make transit more affordable for the poor in the short run by simply reducing Metro’s and Link’s low-income fare and youth fare from $1.50 to $1, matching the senior/disability fare. That’s the sort of simplification that achieves more than just simplification for its own sake. Pay for it by raising the regular cash fare to $3. (The additional fare revenue might not cover the cost, but the operational savings and induced additional ridership should.)

        If you are struggling to pay the regular fare, there’s a good chance you qualify for the low-income fare, among other public benefits, since the cut-off is 200% of the federal poverty level. The ORCA LIFT is free if you qualify, and you can get free youth ORCA cards for your kids while your are there. (The card is free, not the fare.)

      7. Mark, it was a warning, and came with public humiliation on the train, mostly for the inept FEO who made a fool of himself in front of all the passengers listening to his nonsense about “attempted theft”, after he admitted he could see I had a pass and an active transfer window. The warning fell off my record after a year, so I am told.

        My attempts to appeal the warning were met with dead air.

        If I do get a warning and then a fine, yes, I will take it through the court process and attempt to get the court to force Sound Transit to clean up their rules, along with any “Shoreline rules” that make it hard for the transit-dependent to access the court process. I could easily pay the fine, but I feel enough loyalty to ST to do all I can to help them help themselves.

        Regarding the court process, I was glad to see that the municipal court (er, taxpayers) was offering to pay for jurors’ bus/train tickets when I had to serve municipal jury duty recently. Those coming by car, however, had to pay for their own parking. Even with the free bus/train pass, it bothers me that jurors are paid far below even the federal minimum wage, making it harder for poor people to not beg for an economic hardship to get excused from serving. Municipal criminal cases may swing on enabling the working poor to be able to serve on juries. The crowd I saw in the jury pool looked overwhelmingly white and white collar, and nothing like the people I work with every day. The City should walk its talk, and pay municipal court jurors the city’s self-imposed minimum wage, if for no other reason that a trial by a a jury of one’s peers is supposed to be a federal right, and serving on a jury when called is also supposed to be a right.

        Sorry to digress. Thank you, Seattle Municipal Courts, for offering to pay for my bus trip.

      8. “the poorest 5th of the state’s population pays ca. 13.3% of its income on sales tax”

        How is this even possible when the sales tax is only 10%? You would have to spend more than 100% of your gross income on taxable purchases in order to do it.

        In the short term, this may be possible by dipping into savings or running up credit card debt, but in the long term, as savings runs out and credit cards get maxed out, you can’t spend money you don’t have.

      9. And, with rent not taxable, spending 100% of ones income on taxable purchases implies either a retiree that’s draining savings or a homeless person. In the case of the homeless person, exceeding 100% seems difficult because that requires debt and no one is going to loan a homeless person any money. In the case of the retiree, if the retiree has a lot of savings, maybe the sales tax isn’t really as regressive at is seems (e.g. perhaps the stats are treating people living middle class lifestyles with considerable wealth, but very little income, as poor people when they really aren’t so poor).

      10. Well, I guess I don’t agree with the Institute. It is beyond absurd to think that someone who makes $2,565 per month (Seattle minimum wage in an “average” 171 hour month) would pay $341 in sales taxes in that month. [Do the math: 2565 * .133 = 341 and change] Two thousand five hundred dollars might buy a small room in a Rainier Valley shared house with enough left over that with food stamps the person could eat.

        To pay that $341 in sales taxes the person would have to purchase taxable items totaling three thousand three hundred and seventy-six dollars, far more than he or she grossed.

        Now grant, the entire bottom quintile does not make minimum wage. But a good portion of it is below $20/hour and the math is just as absurd. [20 * 171 = 3420. 3420 * 0.133 = $454.86 454.86 / .101 = $4503.56 of taxable goods.

        The “Institute” is blowing smoke up everyone’s collective hineys.

      11. Thank you, asdf2. I hadn’t read your reply when I wrote my rant, but I see you said exactly the same thing without all the huffing and puffing.

        It’s completely absurd for them to make an assertion like that. These are economists?!?!?! They must do consulting work for Bernie Madoff.

      12. Brandon, of course it’s true that collectively the citizenry as a whole pays for 3/4 of the operating cost of the bus system. But Brent said

        so, poor people have already paid for well over 3/4 of their trip before paying the fare

        That sounds to me like a pretty explicit claim that “poor people” have pre-paid 3/4 of their fare in sales taxes.

        Believe me, I do NOT object to paying for people poorer than me. I’m just glad it’s there because I don’t like driving in city traffic.

        Give me a country road and I’ll drive to Coldfoot, Alaska, to watch birds. But I am a bitter curmudgeon about the other homo justificans [“self-justifying man”] behind the wheels all around me.

      13. ITEP’s figures include excise taxes, such as the MVET.

        Incomes for the bottom 20% could go from zero to the $24,000. A family earning right at $24,000 would presumably be paying closer to the 9.7% cited for the next 20%.

        I’d guess rental vouchers and subsidies are not treated as income, but ITEP’s figures have the lowest 20% paying by far the highest percent in property tax, at 4.5%. I can only hypothesize that ITEP is assuming property tax trickles down to renters. The two assumptions are not inherently contradictory.

        They might also not be treating EBT allowances as income, since it is dedicated to food purchases and not available as disposable income for just whatever.

        At any rate, the poor are paying taxes, and a lot of them. Obviously, it is less than 20% of the state’s total tax revenue. Expecting impoverished families to come up with $99 each month for each adult in the household and $54 each month for each kid 6-18 to be able to ride public transit makes less sense than ITEP’s math.

      14. The poor pay 50-100% of their income on daily necessities. The rich pay 0-25%. So even if the poor are paying a smaller percent of their income on sales tax, they need every dollar and even 1% is a burden. And the idea that the poor don’t pay much sales tax because food, gasoline, and rent are untaxed is full of holes. Toilet paper, toothpaste, clothes, smartphones, and everything else is taxed. You don’t know how much poor people are paying in sales tax unless you add it up, and none of the comments give specific evidence of somebody adding it up. My fear is that real people will fall through the cracks of this assumption if it turns out they buy more taxable necessities than assumed. And in any case, they need every dollar. Every dollar they’re taxed is money they can’t save, can’t put in an emergency fund, can’t buy medicine and doctor’s visits with. The rich barely glance at their monthly expenses because it’s irrelevant.

    2. You can design a system so that the most intuitive action is the right action, and you can design a system that puts passenger comfort first and avoids unnecessary fare rituals — and still collect a fare. Even if the passengers behave the same in both cases, the results are different. Metro’s and ST’s fare practices are suboptimal, and they can change them internally.

      The county council sets Metro’s fare-recovery window at around 20-30%. When it nears the floor they raise the fare, usually 25c at a time. This happened a few times in the 2000s and maybe once in the early 2010s but it’s been stable for several years. (The last change was the consolidation of the two fare zones, which caused some people to pay more but others paid less.) Link’s fare recovery is higher: it’s able to charge less than Metro for short trips, and high-volume extensions like U-Link increase the recovery rate. Link may even be breaking even between UW and Intl Dist, although I’m not sure about that. (In operating expenses, not capital costs of course.)

      Pay-as-you-go fares (cash, e-purse, and Link tickets) are a direct cash infusion per butt on seat, but the financial effect of monthly passes is different. You’re not buying a trip, you’re buying access to the entire transit network, like a Netflix subscription. The entire tapping/inspection ritual for passholders is about dividing up that pie. If you tap only on Metro, it all goes to Metro. If you tap 25% of the time on ST, a quarter goes to ST (adjusted for the relative fare differences). All this is because they integrated the passes but not their budgets or revenue sharing. Revenue-wise they’re still operating like the 1980s silos, where they gave a transfer discount at Federal Way or Aurora Village but otherwise operated in isolation. And that’s hard to change because they all have their own tax streams/constituencies, and the tax caps severely limit their ability to take a revenue loss without service cuts. So it’s like a tragedy of the commons: every agency trying to maximize their share of the pie, to the detriment of the transit network as a whole. That detriment affects riders directly and hinders the agencies from achieving a broad vision of their mission. That broad vision is what the leaders — the electeds and the top administrators — need to get together and fix. They can find a win-win if they try.

      Pugetopolis is already ahead of other cities in having shared passes. Let’s take the next logical step and have a revenue-sharing system based on the monthly payment rather than on tapping for individual trips. Netflix doesn’t make you do something a the movie studio’s website every time you watch a movie, and threaten you with fines and hassles if you don’t. Your monthly payment is the only thing you need to do.

      Another thing we should copy from other cities is really incentivizing passes and day passes. In Portland and San Jose a day pass costs twice the regular fare, and everyone is encouraged to use them. Some cities extend that to weekly passes. You can buy them at metro stations or from bus drivers. The agencies should make this a strategic direction, and deemphasize both cash and e-purse. London has a daily fare cap, so after a couple trips it automatically converts to a day pass without the passenger having to do anything other than tap normally. The unlimited model is the best, and there are various kinds of smaller packages we could offer for those who don’t want to pay a whole month in advance ore are making only a few trips.

      RapidRide’s tapping requirement was even more ridiculous than Link’s. When Metro had a two-zone system, the E defaulted to one zone at least outbound. People crossing the zone boundary were supposed to skip the offboard reader, board in front, tell the driver two zones, and tap there. So much for the offboard payment that was supposed to be better! Most passengers didn’t even know about this policy; they just tapped the offboard reader because that was supposed to be one of the features of RapidRide. I wonder how many people failed fare inspections because of this. It also made the system more complicated to understand — too complicated to even explain to the passengers on the bus-stop signs. Metro’s consolidation into one zone countywide was partly to eliminate complications like this. So instead of just changing the ridiculous tap policy and revenue sharing with itself, it made people taking one-mile trips pay more and gave people taking 15-mile express trips an incredibly cheap deal that everybody else is subsidizing.

  4. It’s hard to get into a regional inter-operator fare policy without getting into inter-operator cooperation and culture. Citizen attitude surveys repeatedly identify lack of transit coordination as an issue.

    The growth of Link by 2025 will make this even more important. To think of Link as a parallel but separate service is unproductive for the taxpayers.

    What I see is a huge vacuum of inter-operator forums and processes to entice an operator to work in concert with the other operators. The ways to address this vacuum includes:

    – better disclose and set some standards when a transit operator gets funding from grants and specialized tax collections.

    – Direct the proportion of tolls that subsidize transit directly to a regional committee to distribute rather than to a specific operator.

    – Encourage levied renewals and new funding sources to not go to a specific operator (especially to operator B if operator A pursues an approval vote) without a hands-on oversight panel.

    – Focus on more than just fare policy, and provide leadership towards regional transit branding, regional new funding sources at the state level, better regional transfer facilities (transfer point circulation including vertical circulation — a visible “no man’s land” for riders) and needs for better connectivity overnight and on weekends.

    PSRC has a regional operators committee — but a gentleman’s understanding is that it’s not supposed to be very substantive and certainly doesn’t enforce oversight.

    It may take the legislature to set the groundwork for better regional transit coordination. While things are better, I don’t see operators more strongly embracing better coordination without some better financial or regulatory incentives.

    1. ST2 Link will help significantly because Seattle-Snohomish two-zone buses will no longer be an issue. Even Pierce will benefit with Federal Way, because its express buses will be one-zone. I assume Stride will have a flat fare like RapidRide, so that takes care of the 535, 540, and 522. What other long-distance expresses will exist? Probably only Federal Way-downtown (Metro) and Auburn/Kent-Bellevue (ST) and maybe a couple others like that.

      1. You don’t think Pierce will insist on having peak hour direct expresses? There is no way very many people are going to drive to the Dacoma Tome garage, get on a STEX for nine miles to FWTC and then endure a 70 minute slog on Link to downtown Seattle. Or even to the airport.

        Once Link actually gets to Tacoma there might be enough “business” travel from right around downtown to the airport to make a reasonable ridership, but folks from anywhere else in Pierce are going to drive.

      2. If Federal Way to Seattle ST Express still runs after Federal Way TC Station opens, then, so will Tacoma to Seattle. Both will probably continue to exist regardless of the fare structure, just because of the time savings over riding Link, at least when the express buses run frequently during peak (which is ironically the time they have the smallest travel-time advantage).

        That said, the distance-based fares on Link may create a perverse incentive to ride the bus, at least for regular fare payers, who will still mostly just be looking for the quickest trip. Reduced fare payers will see the same fare for each option. The increasing top regular fare on Link may create political pressure to increase the RRFP fare, which in turn requires increasing floor regular fare on Link. I foresee ST trying to close the distance between the floor and top regular fare on Link because of this entanglement. Or, ST might just go to a flat fare when the suburban board members whose constituents will then have stations grow weary of distance-based fares, and the explanation that ST simply needs the revenue will fall on deaf ears. As I’ve said many times, the other reasons urbanists have cited against a flat Link fare haven’t made any sense to me.

        Yeah, I know BART has pretty extreme distance-based fares. Has that really helped revenue or simply dramatically reduced ridership over if the fare were flat?

      3. The Federal Way express would be run by Metro, not ST. It’s in Metro’s long-range plan. All of ST2s’ planning scenarios have all Pierce routes truncated. That’s from before ST3 but it’s the latest we have, and now that the Link terminus will be 320th instead of 240th it makes it more likely, not less. Pierce Transit has never run expresses to Seattle like Community Transit does, except a proto-594 for a couple years.

        This does not necessarily mean three-seat rides but rather moving the transfer point, like Aleks’s proposal for south King County (2014). Instead of transferring at Tacoma Dome you’d transfer at Federal Way, and your feeder would go to Lakewood, Puyallup, maybe even new locations in Tacoma. Tacoma Mall is the long-term Link terminus, so that would be the easiest to add, and it has no other relief coming like the Route 1 enhancements or the Tacoma Link extension to Tacoma CC.

        One issue is that I think ST chose the “Low” ST Express scenario in ST3’s budget, so the service hours will be fewer than current. That would limit the expansion possibilities.

        Recent politics are a wildcard and I can’t predict their net effect, so I’m assuming the scenarios are unchanged until we get a clearer indication. Pierce could demand that the Tacoma-Seattle express buses remain, but that would contradict its stance for lower taxes. They can’t have it both ways, trying to lower car valuations or eliminate MVET, and at the same time demand more services that would put upward pressure on taxes making them harder to lower. The board could decide to keep the expresses to appease Pierce. How likely is that, and how effective would it be in improving ST’s image in Pierce? Another possibility is Pierce seceding from Sound Transit, as its county board member has suggested. (Or threatened, “if Tacoma Dome Link won’t open on time…”) Withdrawing would eliminate all ST Express and Sounder in Pierce County, so route alternatives would be moot. (Would the Federal Way P&R overflow then?) Most politics-related scenarios would lead to cuts, not expansions. Except the appeasement one, and that would be hard to finance without a subsidy from the other subareas.

  5. For those who think faregates will instill a sense of more fairness in the fare payment system … check this out. (foul language alert)

    Okay, the faregates were a ready surrogate for anger at transit police violence (in response to rider violence), and the protest was about several or even many different grievances. Trying to sort out who is at fault for the incidents that set off these protests is off-topic for this blog, but I stand by my point that faregates aren’t necessarily a tool for improving perception of fairness.

  6. My sentiments exactly, Chris. An aircraft builder who refuses to teach its pilots how to fly its own mis-designed flying coffins, thereby killing over three hundred passengers in a very short space of time by crashing two of same plane in short succession, and not firing its CEO ’til forced, has no business operating inside my planet’s atmosphere.

    And on subject of criminals, Mark, while I doubt anybody in the Cosa Nostra can long maintain his “Made Man” status by ever scuffing his thousand dollar wingtips in a transit aisle, it’s in my own most predatory fiscal interest to obey the tyrannical balance-sheet’s decree that it’s cheapest to pay for transit with taxes. What’s world’s biggest sanitary sewage system operating on the coin-flush?

    So while final details are being worked out, use present ORCA card system’s in-built simplicity to save inspectors’ and courts’ time and money by making plain possession of the pass proof I paid for it. Riding on a very old streetcar in Europe, found this scratched into a seat-back:

    “But thus I counsel you, my friends: Mistrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful. They are people of a low sort and stock; the hangmen and the bloodhound look out of their faces. Mistrust all who talk much of their justice! Verily, their souls lack more than honey. And when they call themselves the good and the just, do not forget that they would be pharisees, if only they had—power.”

    For a liberal, Fred Nietzsche was nothing if not observant. And since we’ve mentioned the world of profit-making business, when speaking of their own interests, seems universally agreed that if the Government is making private business do anything burdensome, it’s proof it’s up against liberals who hate it.

    Fare inspectors also don’t seem to like letting evaders get away while they’re writing up a paid-up pass-holder who lost count of their “taps” while being shoved along by condition the industry calls rush-hour ridership. ST’s got accountants to apportion fare revenue. Use ’em.

    Mark Dublin

    1. The Boeing 737 MAX analogy doesn’t really hold water. Maybe if they had crashed the inaugural flight and then grounded the entire fleet for two years, and then stop work on the project completely, while providing basically no information on the status…

  7. I think much of the fare zone designations are a problem not created from a lack of fare gates but a lack of good fare zone station design generally. It’s not a simple binary yes/no to faregates issue.

    – Putting ORCA readers before fare machines (like at Westlake or the Airport) creates a basic logic problem. When a rider buys or reloads an Orca card, they have to go backwards to get to the ORCA reader.

    – Many fare zones are not delineated well. The paid fare zone area boundaries are fuzzy. Better floor treatments to highlight the paid-fare designation is needed.

    Fixing the problem isn’t that expensive. Adding something on the floor and installing something that appears as an open gate (wide enough for wheelchairs) would go a long way. Moving ORCA readers to be after fare machines at every station should also be demanded.

    1. The DSTT mezzanines were ostensibly for future off-board payment but nobody thought far enough about where the readers or turnstyles would be in relation to the stairs and elevators. So you have ORCA readers in random places, rarely right in front of you when you go down the escalators, and almost never in front of the elevators. That’s why so many people forget to tap.

      SeaTac Station was difficult because riders cross into fare-paid zones at the same place non-riders cross to the skybridge to the street, and there’s no room for TVMs there. So I give ST some slack there given the locations of the station and bridge (although ST had some control over these). But there’s no excuse for putting the “Fare-Paid Zone” signs so high you don’t see them if you’re looking straight ahead and thinking of something else. That’s another own goal, and ST is punishing riders for its own bad design.

      The best stations are the surface ones like SODO and Othello. You enter through a narrow walkway with readers right in front of you so you won’t miss them and it’s convenient to tap without going out of your way. That’s what all stations should have.

      Beacon Hill Station is the worst. When you exit on the surface the readers are out of sight behind you. I’ve forgotten to tap out multiple times because of this. And if you enter via one of the inner elevators, again the readers are way off to the side where you might not see them.

  8. I’d rather have hardened stations with faregates or a progressive means to replace the lost revenue than this rolling controversy over fare enforcement and how to enforce fares fairly anyday. That said, I do want a law enforcement presence on the trains just-in-case.

    Of course, for Sound Transit this means grade-separating the Rainier Valley stretch which means this is priority #1 for any ST4 in almost any universe. There are other moral reasons to do this but that’s for another comment.

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