On June 1st, Sound Transit instituted a “recovery fare” of $1 on Link and $2 on Sounder through June 30th, after a period of not collecting fares at all. ORCA is still charged at the normal rate; cheaper fares are only available through ticket machines or the TransitGO App. Early reports say 19% of Link boardings are using this fare. Thanks to social distance measures, mere possession of a ORCA card will satisfy enforcement.

This will make a little money. However, this is clearly intended to also deter a growing hygeine and security problem. ECB discussed this purpose at length and pointed out that the collateral damage includes people who are homeless seeking a warm and dry place.

An internal Sound Transit chart obtained by STB indicates a legitimate problem:

HW = headways

Fares ended on March 21st, followed by a steep increase in “biohazard” incidents until Sound Transit increased its security coverage. It did this not by hiring more security staff or increasing overtime, but by reducing the frequency of trains.

Sound Transit therefore faces a series of unpalatable options:

  • Allowing these health and safety incidents to escalate, increasing cleanup costs, amplifying hazards for staff, and driving away riders with an understandably low tolerance for this environment;
  • Cutting frequency to two trains per hour to provide adequate security coverage, punishing riders and providing less social distancing space than desired;
  • Adding to the security budget, or providing more hygiene facilities at stations, which at some level is shifting transit funding to address homelessness; or
  • Deterring the use of the train as a living area by requiring a fare, even if that person is meeting reasonable conduct guidelines, and potentially discouraging riders with a destination as well.

Most transit advocates would be particularly uncomfortable with the first two options. The latter two really depend on the relative priority one places on homelessness spending vs. transit spending. It’s worth pointing out that Metro has not restored a fare. While the space constraints for social distancing on a bus are more acute, the proximity of a human (driver) on every trip probably deters some of the worst behaviors.

Peter Rogoff’s report to the Rider Experience and Operations Committee meeting (7:25) clarified that Sound Transit will not issue citations and warnings, ask anyone to leave the train, or contact law enforcement, solely based on failure to pay the fare. This is thanks to Joe McDermott and Claudia Balducci’s input (13:55) at the Sound Transit Board May meeting. The effect of the fare on behavior will therefore be the same social pressure that bus drivers leverage, not the force of law.

37 Replies to “The “recovery fare””

  1. Maybe this is a silly question, but if fare enforcement “will not issue citations and warnings, ask anyone to leave the train, or contact law enforcement, solely based on failure to pay the fare”, maybe the right answer is just to have FEOs be security guards instead and not bother with looking for the possession of an orca card. That way if there’s an emergency on the train or a biohazard, they can alert the necessary people. Otherwise just seems silly to have fare enforcement theater.

    1. My guess is they will gather data, if nothing else. They may find that fare levels are very close to what they were before (the honor system works). Of course since so much has changed, the rider pool is likely to be significantly different.

    2. Oh, come on, Brad! Haven’t you ever been to a rodeo over in the cowboy country where the Town Marshall and his posse save the bank from being robbed exactly once an hour? Imagine the excitement at noon when Pioneer Square Station once again becomes the setting for “Tim Drop That Chair!” Leading villain played by…..GUESS WHO?

      Though real action is when his escape to Olympia is foiled when he comes up against the “Waiting For Federal Funds” sign on the Airport elevator as the 574 pulls away five stories below.

      Also, nowadays, excitement can be varied with spacing – resistance standoffs in period transit dress from the days of Doc Maynard. Ok, Paul Kraabel, Charlie Royer and Greg Nickels. Crowning howl is when Peter von Reichbauer comes on platform trailing an old-fashioned spring-coil telephone cord three blocks long!

      Providing only that it’s your American flag and not the Ballard one you stole from me, there’ll be velcro-tape stuck to the walls at regulation distance where protestors in real Election Day 2016 dress can dramatize their resistance to Jay Inslee’s limits to their freedom of movement. Know ST’s PA has a disk of one of those frantic pianos somewhere.

      Main “hitch”, though. Fare Inspection will have to dye one of their pullovers white to be the one who rescues Jennie Durkan from the lane on First where the CCC streetcar tracks she’s supposed to get tied to haven’t been delivered yet. Somebody get the Fred Rogers’ riffs off that Wurlitzer!

      Good thought though.

      Mark Dublin

  2. How does less frequent trains mean more security coverage? The stations are the same. Is the issue that we now need security guards on the trains, in addition to the stations, thus some of the former train drivers have now changed roles to security guards?

    1. I assume they have the same number of guards on the train as they have before. Less frequency service means fewer trains in operation. If there are fewer trains, then the guards are more concentrated (i. e. the odds you will see one increases).

    2. Yeah, that was my assumption as well as far as what ST means by “greater security coverage”. It’s just how the math works out, assuming none (or few) of the FEO’s have been furloughed during this period of lower frequency runs.

    3. So, the lesson here is that each service hour now costs double on a Link train compared to a bus, because you have to pay both the driver and the security guard, in addition to the security guards at the stations. This is a big disappointment, and may have long term effects on both the frequency and span of service long after COVID ends.

      Does this mean we should just resign ourselves to the fact that Link will remain at 30 minutes on weekends, indefinitely, until the large downtown sporting events return? And, if the answer is “yes”, does this mean that all the feeder bus routes get reduced to every 30 minutes also? If so, this can have a cascading effect on transit throughout the region, affecting even trips that don’t involve Link.

      1. I don’t think ridership will recover to require anything like the prior frequency until there is a vaccine. 10-15 minute service may be sufficient even as certain employers return.

        Most office-based employers can’t come back until King County is in Phase 4. Even then, my employer will require masks and social distancing in the office, which prevents full capacity (and will incentivize many to stay at home – given the choice I’d rather not wear a mask 10 hours a day).

        Large sporting events are going to be non-existent until ~2022 based on the current guidelines and vaccine timelines. Since social distancing is required at stadiums even in Phase 4 the allowed capacity is going to be a tiny fraction of nameplate capacity.

      2. I’m not sure it’s incremental cost, if ST is committed to the certain staffing level in the FEO contract.

      3. The FEO’s aren’t anywhere near one per train, like 95% coverage would indicate. This means hiring significantly more security guards.

      4. So, the lesson here is that each service hour now costs double on a Link train compared to a bus, because you have to pay both the driver and the security guard, in addition to the security guards at the stations.

        It probably isn’t that bad. Each train has a driver, but there isn’t a security guard on every train at every moment. It is simply that the ratio increases as the number of trains decrease (assuming there are the same number of security guards).

        But in general, running trains is expensive, which is why they are more prone to cutbacks as ridership drops. It may be cost effective to run a bus if there are only 100 riders an hour, but a train would be losing a lot more money at that level.

        Does this mean we should just resign ourselves to the fact that Link will remain at 30 minutes on weekends, indefinitely, until the large downtown sporting events return?

        No. It means everything is in flux for the foreseeable future. It is tough to tell what will happen.

      5. This is the strangest reason for reducing frequency I ever heard. If you don’t have money you have to cut. If you don’t have ridership then it may be worth cutting, but not to 30 minutes which makes it unusable for many trips. Yet here we’re reducing it to 30 minutes because we can’t keep the homeless out. This really means the city/county/state should invest in more housing and services so that homeless people have a better alternative than the train. Unfortunately that depends on other people outside the transit sphere doing something, and they haven’t for twenty years so why should they start now?

        I don’t think much of this “Defund the police” slogan or blindly choosing a percent without looking at which services should remain and how much they cost. That’s like this $30 car tabs thing. But it would certainly be lovely to take an amount equivalent to 50% of the police budget and put it into housing and social services. That would make a significant dent in the number of homeless and their living conditions.

      6. At this point 15 minutes would be wonderful. The long-term minimum should be 10 minutes but we’re in an extraordinary time with most businesses closed. I’m glad weekday service has reverted to 15 minutes. I haven’t had occasion to use it yet, but it’s a benefit having it available.

        It sounds like the first thing we should do is pressure the politicians to give the homeless some better place to go to than trains and buses. Then Link can raise its frequency.

        The justification for frequent weekend service isn’t just ballgames. High-capacity transit has a unique ability to transport large crowds, but 95% of people’s trips are to places other than ballgames, and those are what decreased frequency is hindering.

      7. “Yet here we’re reducing it to 30 minutes because we can’t keep the homeless out.”

        In the end, it all does come down to money. The monetary cost of hiring people to keep the homeless out is the limiting factor of how much service we can have.

        As I said, I hope the above does not become permanent.

      8. Not so much “Yet here we’re reducing it to 30 minutes because we can’t keep the homeless out.” as ““Yet here we’re reducing it to 30 minutes because NIMBYs won’t shut until we keep the homeless out.”.

        The problem isn’t the homeless. The problem is the pearl clutching.

  3. Cards-on-the-table time: If fares are indeed our only source of revenue, how much money do we need to collect to keep our service both usable for passengers- reason for riding, their own business- and maintain sanitary standards at the level where the wards can be kept clear for COVID?

    Question: If some transit-oriented Employment were to increase my Ability-to-Pay above subsidy level- I can write, have no fear of public speaking, and have done consulting- how much would my fare have to rise to be sure your schedule doesn’t get me fired for lateness? And how many more of us would Transit have to hire to let our now-unreduced wages put our fares at the required level?

    Work opportunity to include not only cleaning and sanitation, but also assists like instruction for operating personnel- ask your drivers to what degree that need’s being met! And, from very direct recent experience, passenger information. Number of new people might indicate some extra retirees.

    Who can definitely help with this: Not the newcomers’ fault at all, but lately my every inquiry gets handled by someone intelligent, polite, and for their sins, put on duty with just about zero institutional background. Who deserves a week of instruction at double time learning what a “headway” is.

    Now. Since landlady CHARITY Dingle is obviously having such a bad day her whole life, and the yogurt flavor is spelled CHERRY, how many passengers who like me pay $36 for a monthly Senior Orca pass would be able to make up a month’s damage to schedule and sanitation if we volunteer to contribute $50 instead?

    Leaving Fare Inspectors with the duty of giving passengers the exact self-same cardboard Day Tickets sports fans get…in this case, for the asking. Except make them all good for a month. And the inspectors receiving supplementary training as mental health workers, freeing the police to deal with plain crime.

    Hopefully putting [On][Topic] this morning’s friendly word to my friends the liberals: Relieving sworn police officers of their present dangerous obligation to work out of grade at medical duty far from their job description does not amount to punitively CUTTING THEIR BUDGET!

    Understand that and I could make it $75.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Metro’s fare recovery is between around 20-30% per county policy (when it nears the floor the county raises the fare). Link’s fare recovery is higher but I don’t know the exact percent. Link’s cost per rider fell below Metro’s several years ago; that’s why Link’s fare is less than Metro for distances up to Westlake-Rainier Beach. So Link’s fare recovery may be around 35% or even above 50%. If it’s one of those two, then doubling or tripling the fare would fund operating costs — pre-covid. I don’t know how much the additional cost would be to add as many security staff as ST thinks it needs for normal frequency. Maybe add another fare’s worth or two. That would raise a $2.50 fare to $7.50 to $12.50. Or since you ride from SeaTac to I don’t know where, let’s say UW, your $3.25 fare would be $9.75 to $16.25.

      But consider that if fares for that distance rose above $5 you’d lose a lot of riders. Sounder’s fares only go up to $5.75, and that is already diverting cost-coscious people to ST Express buses. It’s one thing to pay $10 each way for an occasional round trip. It’s another thing to pay that amount five days a week.

      1. ST’s minimum farebox recovery ratios standards are as follows:
        STX 20%
        Sounder 23%
        Link 40%

        Per the 2018 Fare Revenue Report, these were the actuals:
        STX 28%
        Sounder 33%
        Link 38%

        Thus Link missed its benchmark and declined significantly from the prior year achievement (43%).

        2019 results won’t be released until later this year, based on past reporting trends.

        Fwiw. The last quarterly performance report that ST put out was for 2019 Q3. It shows the Link YTD cost per boarding at $4.95.

  4. It definitely sucks. At current headways, link is non useable on the weekends. I received a response from sound transit. They echoed what many have said here. No planned increases to service for the time being. I can’t imagine them opening the Northgate extension and still running 30 minute service next year. Hoping they settle on 15 minute headways on weekdays and 20 minutes on weekends. Still a far cry from prior years service levels.

  5. A light rail system that carries tens of thousands of riders on a single line on a normal single weekday is more than just transportation; it’s also becoming a known shared daily experience among the populace.

    To that end and in the spirit of police reform, should we revisit the intent and job descriptions of “fare enforcement officers” at its core? For example, the entry bar and pay of an FEO is low and the limited training is focused on how to fine people who may be in serious need of other life assistance. They are viewed as employees to be feared and avoided — because something as minor as forgetting to tap can result in being declared and shamed as disobedient.

    I cannot specifically envision how to transform the employment of punishment-seekers to become the employment of assistance-seekers. With all of the programs we have created to make transit use free under the right criteria, the fare enforcement encounters appear to be a horrible regulatory-driven example of a policing approach that’s in need of reform in general.

    We can know when that change is being made when we can board Link and feel hope rather than dread when we see Sound Transit staff encountering the diverse public.

    1. The reason we have fare enforcement on trains is we don’t have turnstyles. ST has always said the number of riders who don’t pay is 3% and that the lost revenue is less than the cost of installing turnstyles. Maybe this gives another reason to add turnstyles. A turnstyle is a mechanical device; it doesn’t judge you or issue you a fine, it just doesn’t turn. If it’s wrong there’s somebody at the station to complain to. If there are already security guards hovering around the stations, thay can be the ones to complain to. And video cameras could watch the turnstyles to detect jumpers.

      The biggest problem is our stations weren’t designed for them. You’d have to put them in front of both the escalators and the elevators.At UW does that mean you’d put them around the whole entrance and relocate the TVMs? In the DSTT you could put them in front of the stairs but sometimes the elevators are away from them on the side. And the surface stations, you can’t prevent people from walking around and they’d walk on the track, which ST really doesn’t want. Still, these problems are a further indication that the proof-of-payment system was shortsighted.

      1. Why is Seattle a uniquely deadbeat honor system? Few light rail systems have turnstiles, because almost all are at-grade at some stations.

        Do they not have this problem?

      2. Maybe this gives another reason to add turnstyles.
        Seattle snowflakes can’t push through a turnstyle. They are only good for ruffians like New Yorkers. Surely you’re not suggesting that Seattle be anything like NY or London. Seattle doesn’t really want to be a city.

    2. Alex, knowledge, experience, and money-wise, how far are you from being able to participate in running our transit system, as either a board member or an employee or both?

      Check it out, you might surprise yourself. And if you’re in any way connected with our schools at any level, if none of them are offering this particular instruction…that’s what, from K-12 to community college boards of directors, that’s whats are about. Or if not, should be.

      I’m not kidding at all about the idea of bringing our community colleges into transit big-time, management, operations, and especially equipment design and repair. In addition to imparting valuable wage-earning skills, I’m seeing a way that We The People can seriously make our transit system in every sense be OURS.

      But Al, your first paragraph can’t be more right. Our transit system isn’t just something we ride. It’s something that belongs to us. By the thousands. Especially if today finds you graduation age and lacking a school.

      For passengers and most of the system’s Fare Inspectors, for any possible conflict, your years put you on the same side, and if you want to live, you’ll learn to work it to your advantage. Our multiple emergencies have taken the
      matter of fares out of the realm of punishment completely. Whoever doesn’t like it, get hired someplace else.

      What-all extra may be needed from me, I’ve said I’m willing to help pay what I can afford, and I trust I’m not alone. Another posting on that, much in order. But regarding the prevention of violence, this danger is all of ours to deal with, and we all are each others’ to protect.

      If I see anybody hit or grab an Inspector, anybody I can’t fight- and I think that from grade-school up, we should all demand some real martial arts training- I can observe, report and point out. Knowing my Inspectors have sworn the same about me.

      Right now we need to start having regular liaison meetings to familiarize, and just get comfortable with each other. The giant beautiful hall that used to be Union Station needs to get its espresso machine back, and the library brought back to the life it used to have in the Exchange Building.

      Because in no way on Earth is our transit system going to run itself anyplace but Hell. Fact Seattle and our system are not dead is itself going to impose a ton of work on all of us. Which we should also shape to contain some Employment.

      Our Educational system and especially our Community Colleges, like with the policing, we’ve got a lot that we can offer each other. Transit Riders’ Union, I’d appreciate some serious comment here, and same in spades for both ATU Local 587, the Police Officers’ Guild, and also, as a special gesture, the Washington State Police.

      Whose motto “Service With Humility” is a Congressional’s worth of guts.

      Mark Dublin

  6. Metro needs to get with the program and start charging a fare too. Free transit is not a substitute for homeless services, nor should it ever be. And turning Metro buses into rolling Corona Coaches is not doing anyone any favors.

    Plus the current situation with Metro buses is hurting ridership. My wife’s company switched from encouraging transit use to actively discouraging it as soon as Metro eliminated fares and the homeless problem on Metro buses started to manifest itself. They are now providing free parking downtown to all their employees who request it. This doesn’t help anyone.

    There are subsidy programs that allow for low income and homeless people to access transit. They should be encouraged to use these programs, and the programs should be expanded. But free transit with no accountability is not the solution.

    Kudos to ST for stepping up to the issue and making the right call. Metro are you listening?

    1. The free fares were so they could close the front section to minimize people close to the driver. The need exists with or without homeless riders. Without it, drivers would refuse to work and there would be a huge driver shortage. Companies didn’t discourage people from transit and provide free parking because of free fares and homeless riders, they did it because they thought all riders are disease-spreaders and buses spread the virus more than other enclosed places due to people sitting near each other, touching the handrails and bell cord to get on/off, sitting in a seat somebody else sat in, and the air circulation system which must be worse than buildings and taxis and airplanes because, well, because somebody tweeted transit is unsafe. None of that is unique to homeless riders. Companies discouraged transit because of all riders, and then afterward homeless riders proliferated. And it’s still not true that there are a lot of homeless riders during the day. In central Seattle I don’t see many. The buses have normal loads, most people get on/off in the middle of the route, and most look like working-class or middle-class people who have a home. I’ve only seen a “Sorry bus full” sign twice, both times on the 132. I’ve heard it happens more on the E and 7. The E and its ancestors have had an above-average number of poor people and troubled people for decades because that’s where the motels and low-cost apartments are.

  7. Nobody’s arguing with you about the need to keep service civilized. Or unwilling, either, to pay our share so that anyone violating anybody else’s rights gets promptly arrested and dealt with.

    If they’ve committed a crime, jailed. And if, as in a mind-boggling percent of the disturbances due to mental illness, put into the hands of people specifically trained to treat insanity, as our police neither are, nor have any desire to be.

    I have read that Western State Hospital, a very large institution a few miles from where I live, is still operating despite the loss of its accreditation, and has been for years.
    But for people who want to ride and simply cannot afford train fare…on as system that taxes of theirs might very well have helped build.

    To me, it trashes the credit score of my country to leave them unable to do something that to a lot of us my age and income, is a measure of suicide prevention. Might ask why you think the prohibition you’re demanding will never apply to you? What’s the most dangerous job you’ve ever done?

    What’s the tallest tree you’ve ever felled, and how close to the power lines that killed my fellow employee? If you ever did work for a living, would admire to see the safety-pass that two-ton block of building stone handed you as it avoided leaving you crippled by a half inch.

    Somebody who’d use my fare system as a means to be sure other people can’t? Whatever it’ll cost me to keep you off of it- my banker says my credit’s so good he’ll drop me if I don’t borrow enough to be rid of you.

    Mark Dublin

  8. Your wife’s company’s policies are the results of CDC guidance (and their windshield perspective), not from lack of fares on the buses. I doubt reinstating fares would change things.

    I have written extensively about the two tier reopening starting to emerge, where those with cars are allowed to resume their normal life, while those without are expecting to continue living under stay-at-home, all the way until we have a vaccine. It’s not reasonable, and the risk vector of transit is being greatly exaggerated. Just wear a mask and you’ll be fine.

    1. Does “windshield perspective” cover a certain Administration’s campaign to subsidize oil companies underpriced by wind and solar by drying up public transit?

      Remember: these people made Betsy de Vos our Secretary of Education. She’s using unclearable loan debt to do the same for our public schools.

      Mark Dublin

  9. One way to do a bit of “fare enforcement,” without imposing a $$ penalty or a record of violation, would be to simply kick the fare-dodger off that train. Make them wait until the next train.

    1. Will do you one better, Roger. Back before Perestroika, visitor to Russia told me about fare enforcement in the Hands of The People!

      On many a trolleybus, suspected fraud resulting in an impromptu jury of elderly ladies in head-scarves minutely examining the defective pass.

      So would be really great to dress volunteers to impersonate these women on the Fare Inspector’s beck and call. Might actually put a stop to the problem.


    2. That way, the rider can potentially contaminate two different seats on two different trains.

  10. It occurs to me I’m not making clear the lengths I’ll go to to protect my transit system, its passengers, and its employees including and especially peace-officers from being injured, infected, or just plain disgusted aboard transit.

    Having been raised in an alcohol-avoiding background, I neglected my martial arts ’til age 50. When, due no small measure to conditions on the routes I drove like the 7, I took enough lessons from a Russian mystic whose art could send somebody elliptically through a wall that I rose with a bow after contacting 24 granite steps at IDS.

    Unfair! I couldn’t sue for anything! My point being that as part of a public education, I think every single citizen from kindergarten on should know enough throws, falls, and diversions that conscription’s not resisted and no streetcar need be feared. And no one innocent hurt for lack of my help.

    As a resident and citizen of the Greater Puget Sound Region, my main remorse is my inability to remedy the fact that I can’t make the legislature of the State of Washington, whose offices are shamefully close to my residence, refuses to build us a mental health system.

    Every mental health-worker injured on duty by a patient beyond control. Two police officers on a call they were never trained for, shooting an insane woman seven times as she went to rip them to pieces with a couple of knives. A Tacoma judge threatening to jail the Western State director because she wouldn’t adjust her patient roster on his orders….Is there such a thing as the Fourth World?

    You know what’s tempting? College days, a friend of mine doing ward work in California took a whole class of disabled children into his Representative’s office and left them “Acting Out” ’til they got his attention. Unethical and dangerous. But so’s the condition of my State’s mental health system.

    No I’m not advocating that they be housed aboard transit. Word to my reps is fix Western State! But I won’t have my fare system used to leave someone who’s lost their years-long job with nobody’s company but the mentally ill . Nor am I kidding a giggle’s worth about folding my ORCA card in a copy of my rental agreement.

    The one I had showing ten years in Ballard went void in three days. Whoever your landlord is, Lazarus, I hope his name’s John Goodman.

    Mark Dublin

  11. I am all for:

    a) Sound Transit coming 100% clean on what led to its decision to restore fares
    b) If the cleanliness issues are for real – and I have little reason to doubt this but still want my public records request fulfilled; then by all means have a law enforcement presence on the trains. Transit at the cost of light rail needs to be for choice riders and the truly transit dependent – NOT a homeless shelter.

  12. Thanks to STB, why pay? All you need is an ORCA card, any ORCA card. Are the other agencies doing similar?

    1. Pay because it does a little bit to give ST flexibility to expand Link’s frequency long-term, and accommodate somebody who needs a free fare more than you do, and just to support transit.

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