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:
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.