Erica has an excellent overview of Metro’s latest report on the possibility:

In a recent report on the future of Metro’s fare system, the agency outlined its plans for smoothing the transition to eliminating cash fares, which—according to Metro—will make boarding faster, ease conflicts between riders and drivers, and eliminate the need to periodically repair Metro’s 1,509 on-board fareboxes, which are a decades-old model that is no longer being produced. Replacing fareboxes with new ones that accommodate cash payments would cost around $29 million, Metro estimates—a substantial cost for a system that is still recovering from the pandemic. Cash riders also have to pay a second fare to transfer to Sound Transit trains and buses, a problem that will only become more acute as Metro terminates more routes at light rail stations.

The flip side is access: many people simply don’t have ORCA cards. It would be impossible to even contemplate until next-gen ORCA is more widespread. Getting ORCA cards into more pockets is always a good thing, and if this facilitates wider distribution of ORCA LIFT and other similar low-income programs, all the better.

72 Replies to “Eliminating cash fares”

  1. We spent millions on upgrading to nextgen Orca. Millions more on fare collection. We would have been better off , not upgrading ORCA, and going fare free. No orca, no fares… On any system.

    1. The ORCA upgrade is a one-time cost. “Millions” for fare collection sounds like an exaggeration. The subsidy for no fares would be ongoing every year forever. We know how much it would be because Metro’s fare-recovery ratio is 20-25% and Link’s is around 50%, so that’s the money that would have to be replaced by another source.

      1. Metro’s farebox recovery GOAL is 20%. For Link it is 40%. Farebox recovery is the sum of riders X fares paid.

        If farebox recovery does not meet the assumptions made for future operations costs (assuming the operational costs were honestly estimated) there are three options:

        1. Raise fares.

        2. Cut coverage and frequency.

        3. Pass operations levies.

        Probably all three will be necessary post pandemic because of the loss of the peak commuter who usually pays 100% of his/her fare, the low fare paying percentage of riders today and Link’s honor system (and NY’s subway system announced this is an issue for them), and ST’s overly “optimistic” farebox recovery goal. The last numbers I saw suggested Northgate Link to downtown had or will have around 2/3 the estimated riders, but East Link, Lynnwood Link, and Federal Way Link will likely have closer to 50% of estimated riders (due to the pandemic, WFH, and ST’s inflated ridership estimates to sell ST 2 and 3), which is a huge hole even if every rider paid their full fare.

        IIRC the last two county-wide Metro levies failed. The loss of the peak commuter on transit is going to hurt the chances swing areas like East King Co. will vote yes on future transit levies (especially when their ST taxes are so high already).

        So that leaves 1 and 2 above (and of course skimping on maintenance). But if riders are not paying fares today what is the point of increasing fares if the goal is to increase farebox recovery? That leaves cuts to coverage and frequency, something we saw during the pandemic. We might have built a 90 mile light rail spine, but we can’t afford to operate it, not at these farebox recovery numbers.

        Some have pointed out recently that the real purpose of “transit” (which is not the same thing as Link) is to provide mobility to the poor who cannot afford a car. I agree, except someone has to subsidize that model, and the reality is when you remove the employer paid ORCA card, peak commuter, and discretionary rider from transit the willingness of the voters to subsidize transit that no longer benefits them declines.

        Link and light rail were never designed to provide mobility for the poor, because the cost is too high, and the route pretty much proves that. If the goal really was to provide mobility for the poor I can think of many better ways to spend $130 billion, because the coming cuts to coverage and frequency will hit the poor because they will be the ones riding “transit”, although they will be able to take Link to The Spring District, Microsoft, and Redmond.

        “Free transit” is like most free things, including housing: crummy.

      2. “If farebox recovery does not meet the assumptions made for future operations costs … Raise fares.”

        That’s exactly what King County does. Metro’s farebox recovery window is an arbitrary political policy. When it gets near the floor for an extended period of time, the county raises the fare. It has done this several times in the past two decades.

        The current covid/post-covid situation is murkier because there was the unprecedented period of free fares, “essential trips only”, pandemic-related ridership loss, a new equity emphasis, and the uncertain and ever-changing recovery period, and federal and state covid funding. All that has thrown the window off-kilter in multiple ways, and I don’t know how the county plans to return to a long-term formula. We’re all waiting for the recovery to finish. My office just started reopening this week, and it will take two months to fully implement to a new hybrid system.

        “2. Cut coverage and frequency. 3. Pass operations levies.”

        The counties and agencies know all those alternatives already. There’s a saying about grandmothers and eggs. We’ll get the revenue reports from the agencies and response plans as they have actual needs. We don’t have to twist our fingers into a knot worrying about what they might or might not do in the future. We also shoudn’t overestimate the problem. There can be several months or years between when revenue falls and when the reserves run out. The 2008 recession started in 2008 but it didn’t affect Metro’s operations until 2012. (At that time the county passed a temporary tax surcharge, delaying the cuts until 2014.) Likewise now, Metro’s revenue is lower but its expenses are also lower because some peak-express runs are still suspended, and it got federal/state covid funding to fill some of the gaps.

        I know less about ST’s and Link’s situation.

        “Some have pointed out recently that the real purpose of “transit” (which is not the same thing as Link) is to provide mobility to the poor who cannot afford a car.”

        You keep coming up with creative notions on what transit is for and who are the most-coveted riders.

        The purpose of transit is to have a baseline of mobility in a metro area that’s too big to walk from end to end. That’s both for people who can’t afford cars, people who don’t want cars, and because society and the environment are better off if fewer people drive. We want transit to be people’s first choice, not their last choice. That requires a robust, frequent network. Most industrialized countries have pretty comprehensive transit in their cities: they consider it a basic requirement like schools, police, libraries, park, trash collection, utilities, and planning.

        The poor aren’t the primary reason for transit; they’re just the most severely affected when it isn’t there. I could drive or take taxis if transit didn’t exist, but poor people can only walk or bike. That’s problematic when your destinations are ten or twenty miles away like they often are. We could improve that with a better physical layout so people didn’t have to travel as far, but that’s not a short-term fix, especially when people like you are resisting upzoning and more mixed-use zoning. So the only way we can address it in the meantime is to ensure the poor have access to transit, that goes where their essential trips are,

      3. “The purpose of transit is to have a baseline of mobility in a metro area that’s too big to walk from end to end. That’s both for people who can’t afford cars, people who don’t want cars, and because society and the environment are better off if fewer people drive. We want transit to be people’s first choice, not their last choice.”

        “The poor aren’t the primary reason for transit; they’re just the most severely affected when it isn’t there. I could drive or take taxis if transit didn’t exist, but poor people can only walk or bike. That’s problematic when your destinations are ten or twenty miles away like they often are. We could improve that with a better physical layout so people didn’t have to travel as far, but that’s not a short-term fix, especially when people like you are resisting upzoning and more mixed-use zoning. So the only way we can address it in the meantime is to ensure the poor have access to transit, that goes where their essential trips are,”

        The primary reason for transit “subsidies” is to serve the poor. I am not subsidizing transit to create some kind of urbanist utopia (and look at downtown Seattle today). Transit generally is the last choice for over 90% of trips, the other 10% not being able to afford a car. What is the first thing poor people want after housing? A car. After that micro-transit.

        Create your urbanist utopia on your own dime. The idea the issues with transit and Link have to do with zoning is the same ideological thinking that gave us the spine. Transit ridership did not suddenly plunge due to zoning, and TOD will not manufacture the dishonest ridership estimates ST used to sell ST 2 and 3. The reality is the 100% fare paying rider no longer needs to ride transit, so they don’t, and they certainly are not going to change their zoning for something as unreasonable and unnecessary as Link.

        That is the problem with transit today. Not zoning.

        I will willingly agree to subsidize transit for the poor, but not for a bunch of free loaders who don’t pay fares, or urbanist ideologues who think the region should pay $130 billion for a vision most don’t share. I live in the swing subarea that decides whether transit subsidies pass in King Co. (or for ST) or not. From what I read on eastside blogs a transit levy will not pass on the eastside, which means it won’t pass county-wide, and don’t count on a change of heart on zoning (and God forbid don’t predicate transit funding on them changing their zoning, because they love one and pretty much don’t care about the other).

        So that leaves 1 or 2: raise fares (to around $10 one way unless more begin to pay their fare); or cut frequency and coverage. I don’t care which, but choose one. Transit advocates, and especially urbanists, have to stop pretending this issue and this choice don’t exist because it is other people’s money, for a vision they don’t share.

      4. “The primary reason for transit “subsidies” is to serve the poor.”

        The primary reason for transit subsidies is the middle class and the majority of the population can’t or won’t pay $12 fares. It’s the same reason highways are subsidized and the price of gasoline and parking is artificially low. The difference is it’s more justifiable to subsidize a baseline transit network than to subsidize SOV drivers. And if the transit subsidy makes some people choose transit who otherwise wouldn’t, it’s a net benefit for everyone else and society (i.e., taxpayers).

        “I am not subsidizing transit to create some kind of urbanist utopia”

        You may not be, but your Eastside elected officials are expanding transit to improve the quality of the Eastside.

        “(and look at downtown Seattle today)”

        That’s neither here nor there. There are many urban areas in the region that are less dense than downtown Seattle or downtown Bellevue, and many of them are thriving, and they all need appropriate transit.

        “Transit generally is the last choice for over 90% of trips, the other 10% not being able to afford a car. What is the first thing poor people want after housing? A car.”

        That’s the problem we’re trying to solve. It’s not an inevitable law of nature, and most other countries solved it long ago. It’s policy choices that created the car-dependent infrastructure we have, that makes people drive 90% of the time and makes the poor put a car as their first prioriity. We need to reverse the bad infratructure situation we inherited, not double down on it for the next generations.

      5. Remember that “farebox recovery” is based on *gross* fares, i.e. it does not include the costs of collecting those fares. In addition, at least at one time, Metro included advertising revenues in the numerator. Thus, true farebox recovery is much lower than the “spin” numbers that transit agencies report. That’s why I’m sure that you’ll find that Intercity Transit isn’t suffering from their transition to fare-free, as it makes a lot of sense for agencies with low gross farebox recoveries, which they had and which others like Everett Transit have. It does, however, involve some initial pain in transitioning their funds and planning in that direction, however.

        The costs to get fares include, but are not limited to: the human and other costs of depositing cash, sorting tickets, IT folks to pore through ORCA data, programming ORCA for the several transit agencies’ unique fare structures (and the many problems that routinely entails), fare signage at stops/stations, ticket vending machines-purchase/service/maintenance, armored car service, fare ambassadors, commissions to resellers, website design and maintenance, numerous meetings about fare policy within and with other transit agencies, and a slice of security and the management of all of the above.

        “No fares” is probably too far a reach given the costs already sunk into ORCA. However, simplified fares is not beyond the pale, except that this region has too many transit agencies, each with their hidden agendas. Most of you don’t realize that it took 2 years of meetings just to agree on the design for Northgate’s Link/bus station! That’s not free, that’s a lot of hidden costs. On fares, imagine if all providers could agree on a two-fare system, similar to what Pierce Transit has today: Full fare, reduced fare, and free. Reduced might be 1/2 of full fare and would include, at least, youth (the potential commuters of tomorrow) and low-income (those who are age 65 aren’t necessarily low-income and many are still working, the age could be raised). Free would be those with a permanent disability. Imagine a single transit fare authority for ALL Puget Sound transit agencies establishing a full fare of $2, reduced of $1 on ALL Puget Sound transit services. How much better that would be for riders.

      6. TransitRider,

        Under your proposal would there need to be additional tax revenue or a levy to offset the lower fares? Would this two/three-tiered fare system apply to ferries, at least walk ons? If additional tax revenue was not needed and the cost savings of a unified fare system offset the lost fares (including non-payment) I would think Metro/ST could implement that on their own without a vote.

        The history of free fares on Wiki states:

        “A King County Auditor’s Office report released in September 2009 found that Metro “can neither fully explain nor provide backup documentation for the operating cost savings that offset the fare revenues in the calculation of the annual charges to the City of Seattle for the city’s Ride Free Area” and that some assumptions in the methodology Metro used to calculate the amount of lost fares were “questionable” and have not been updated to reflect changes to the fare structure and fare collection methods.”

        I think the key is whether some kind of alternative form of funding — levy or tax increase — as Ross suggests would be necessary to go to free fares or reduced but simplified fares. And the cost to screen those who receive different fare rates. I mean, how much less expensive would it be to collect a $2 fare rather than a $3.75 fare?

        Even pre-pandemic ST’s ridership assumptions and farebox recovery goal were pretty unrealistic but used to lower the general fund tax increases in order to sell the levies Post pandemic the assumptions are totally unrealistic, even if riders pay their fare, unless, I suppose, the cost of collecting fares is more than the fares themselves. As far as I know around 99% of U.S. public transit systems charge a fare, so I assume there is some profit in collecting fares, certainly from employers who can pay it, who probably will benefit more than poor folks who get subsidized fares or don’t pay a fare.

        If everyone can ride for free for the same tax revenue as now (ideally without a tens of billions of dollars “realignment”) I say go for it, but my guess is the reality is going to much less rosy.

      7. ““No fares” is probably too far a reach given the costs already sunk into ORCA.”

        Metro can’t unilaterally abolish ORCA or tell other agencies to stop charging fares; that would require a joint decision by all member agencies.

        “However, simplified fares is not beyond the pale, except that this region has too many transit agencies, each with their hidden agendas.”

        Metro and ST have simplified their fares in preparation for ORCA-ng (next generation). Metro had four fares: 1-zone peak, 2-zone peak, 1-zone off-peak, 2-zone off-peak. It consolidated the last two, and later it consolidated all four into a flat fare. ST Express had two fare levels for single-county vs multi-county; it too now has a flat fare.

        Some have argued that Link should have a flat fare, or even that it should be the same as buses. That runs into the problem that we’re building a very long Link network with high costs and a maximum fare above $5. You can’t expect people going one or two stations to subsidize people going thirty miles and pay $5 fares. That would be unfare and the price would deter riders — the opposite of what we want.

        “Most of you don’t realize that it took 2 years of meetings just to agree on the design for Northgate’s Link/bus station!”

        That was in the context of an entire Link extension, not one station in isolation. Those public hearings and the EIS process and the time it takes are required by law. if it were just remodeling Northgate TC in isolation it would have been a lot simpler and shorter. The art would have been scaled down too; that would have eliminated half the meeting time. If you’re just remodeling one transit center you put in something simple. The big art thing was so that our hundred-year subway line would have iconic art at every station. Both because that’s what they do in Europe, and to make it easier to tell which station you’re at or approaching.

        “That’s not free, that’s a lot of hidden costs.”

        It’s not that much, and a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of constructing a line, We voted for the whole package, and it included the station designs.

        “On fares, imagine if all providers could agree on a two-fare system, similar to what Pierce Transit has today: Full fare, reduced fare, and free.”

        Metro and ST Express have that now.

        “Imagine a single transit fare authority for ALL Puget Sound transit agencies”

        There are tradeoffs between having a single agency vs multiple agencies; it’s not all one way. Human Transit has an article on this somewhere. A single agency can have a simpler fare structure but may not respond to local needs as well or have as close relations with all the cities and counties it serves. Sometimes the cities are even antagonistic to the single agency.

        “establishing a full fare of $2, reduced of $1 on ALL Puget Sound transit services. How much better that would be for riders.”

        Whether that’s possible would require complex calculations for each agency. It may be possible but you can’t assume so. If Metro could reduce its fare 28% with the same level of service and subsidy, it would already have done so, to increase ridership and public satisfaction. All the fare increases since it was $2 were to deal with rising fuel, labor, healthcare, and materials costs.

      8. As part of the expenses for having a fare, don’t forget all the auditing and accountability stuff that goes with it. It’s one of the reasons a small agency like Island Transit can be better off not charging a fare at all. A larger agency has a much different infrastructure.

      9. @DT:

        “What is the first thing poor people want after housing? A car. After that micro-transit.”

        As a poor person, I care to disagree. After housing, I want macro transit. A car does not interest me at all, and I think micro-transit or “last mile solutions” are a huge mistake to invest in. I want transit more like BART and the farthest reaches of Link with the least number of stops. I don’t care about the cost. I care about reducing carbon footprints, and getting people the farthest distance the fastest using something other than an internal combustion engine.

        The poor are not a singular group. We do not all hold a monolithic hive mind opinion. But I am strenuously suggesting that you are out of touch with the poor enough that you have little to no idea what most poor people want in terms of personal and public needs.

      10. Daniel Thompson has never bothered to interrogate the (relatively new, and artificially constructed) idea that all persons should own and want to own a car. Cars are only viable as transportation inside cities because trillions of federal infrastructure dollars were spent in the midcentury to make it so. The multiple floating bridges across Lake Washington are part of this. The massive scar through Seattle’s downtown is part of this. Would cars be viable if the interstates didn’t exist? Would cars be viable if downtown streets weren’t turned into one-way 3-4 lane highways? As usual for leading questions, the answer is “no”.

        Car dependency costs ~$7-9k per year, if you assume the IRS’ rate schedule of $0.56/mile, and take the range of average mileage to be 12-16,000 miles driven per year. The Seattle Housing Authority says that 80% AMI is in Seattle is $63,350 as of April 2021. So, taking an average annual cost of $8k per year to drive ~14k miles per year, that’s 12% of an 80% AMI-earner’s income just to own, maintain, and fuel basic transportation around the city. A monthly transit pass is ~$1,200 per year, and that price doesn’t jump 20-50% whenever an Exxon executive decides that he wants a new megayacht (or whatever it is they buy with all their profit-shares).

        A final leading question: is a passenger transportation system that costs 12-15% of the average American’s full-time income every year, and kills 30,000 people every year, a transportation system that’s earned its de facto mandate?

      11. Nathan, are there no cars in Vancouver, a city without a freeway?

        Urban freeways shift land values and encourage sprawl (, but I’m skeptical they have much impact on car ownership, which is primarily driven by household wealth and gas prices. The vast majority of trips are on local trips (freeways would have higher share of VMTs, but trips not VMTs is likely a better filter of car ownership). There will always be a share of people who simply do not want to drive like A Joy (which is a reason to support good transit!), but the data is clear that the vast majority of Americans would like to own a car if they can afford it, even if they don’t plan on using it daily.

        A large city without a freeway is likely a city with a denser development pattern, and denser land use supports better walking & transit quality and therefore lower SOV mode share, but that’s a second order effect that’s also dependent on other factors. There are literally hundreds of town & small cities throughout America that don’t have freeways and yet also have negligible transit due to either lack of scale or lack of investment (or both).

      12. Glad to see you back A Joy and able to post. I have missed your posts.

        We were poorish when young, but it is much easier to be poor when young. I have represented workers since 1990 who suddenly found themselves poor due to an injury or disability and so have some understanding of the terror of poverty.

        What I have found is that the poor — which as you note are not a monolithic group, and I would suggest you are somewhat unique among them — want the same things the middle class and wealthy want, but can afford: stable housing, safe neighborhoods, good schools, affordable medical and dental care, access to green areas and parks, the ability to buy food and nice things for their family, the chance to go out to a restaurant or take a trip, and yes a car.

        The poor are not different in their desires, just their ability to afford those desires. If there is one thing the non-poor don’t really understand it is the terror of poverty, but the poor just want the same things everyone else wants.

      13. “Daniel Thompson has never bothered to interrogate the (relatively new, and artificially constructed) idea that all persons should own and want to own a car.”

        Nathan makes a classic error: I never said all persons should own and want to own a car, I said they do, at least those who can afford a car. They have decided they want a car. It is why Seattleites own 460,000 cars. Not because I said they should.

        Basically this desire has existed since the car replaced the horse and buggy. Unless there is traffic congestion, or oversubscribed and overpriced parking, cars have inherent advantages over transit when it comes to safety, perfect first/last mile access, time of trip, convenience like weather, and the ability to carry things like kids and pets and groceries, which is why there is little transit in non-urban areas (and why lack of safety in Seattle is such a factor in transit ridership because safety is by far the number one factor).

        Although Nathan’s calculation of the cost to own a car is probably high for the average person (for example, the deduction is 16 cents per mile for medical trips and 14 cents for philanthropic trips,mile%20%28applied%20only%20to%20active-duty%20Armed%20Forces%20personnel%29.) the fact is a car is something most budget for, like housing. I owned a car when I was a student and had little money. Today it is Uber/Lyft cutting into local transit, because it provides a better service for a price folks are willing to pay.

        It is true some highways and roads are heavily subsidized, but those are mostly rural areas. The fact is the U.S. is very large with little population density between cities, and even in most cities, and so connecting all those areas is expensive, but a decision like universal mail delivery or completing rail from coast to coast the governments at the time felt was necessary to form the U.S., but also a great jobs and pork vehicle (like transit) which is why transportation spending is one of the few bipartisan things today.

        Of course all those roads are necessary to deliver and carry freight as well, and ambulances, police, buses, et al.

        The difference between Nathan and me is I believe people should be able to make the transportation decision that best fits them. All the global warming gymnastics to support transit, or traffic fatalities compared to miles driven, just don’t move the needle on the decision which mode to use. I think transit should be a complementary form of transportation, but it needs to be judged by dollar per rider mile, understanding roads and rail and transit are all more expensive per rider mile in rural areas.

        What I don’t believe in is transit can or should be a tool for some to force their zoning or vision for a city on others. Building highways was not why folks left urban cities beginning nearly 100 years ago: highways were built because folks wanted to leave urban cities. If you want more riders on transit, or greater density or urbanism, then make those more attractive to folks than the alternatives.

        The reality is the three county ST taxing district, and four county PSRC area including Kitsap Co., are never going to have the density to create the demand for the expense of light rail, and that was before WFH and the pandemic, except parts of downtown Seattle. WSBLE is just the nadir of this foolishness of mode for mode’s sake, or light rail will create the urban utopia some dream of but can’t really point to anywhere in this region.

        Even downtown Seattle today does not have the jobs and traffic density that create the two things (other than cost which isn’t a factor for most) that create the advantages transit need: traffic congestion and parking costs. Bellevue certainly does not, which is why parking is mostly free and East Link runs on 112th.

        As I always say, it is nearly impossible to make Americans do what they don’t want to do. So if you want them to ride transit make it better than driving, and if you want a dense urban scene than make that better than suburbia, because today we are going in the opposite direction.

        I don’t care what decisions folks make when it comes to housing or transportation because I figure they will make the decisions that benefit them, although they may not please Nathan, but at the same time Nathan is unwilling to take an unvarnished view of why they are making decisions he thinks are wrong.

      14. “A monthly transit pass is ~$1,200 per year”.

        Is that correct? Day passes are $8/day.,on%20the%20pass%2C%20a%20fare%20upgrade%20is%20required.

        One-way fares are $2.75, or $5.50 round trip. $1200 would cover one round trip/day for 218 days, which would leave 147 days without transportation.

        If we use 16,000 miles/year X the IRS mileage rate for philanthropy (14 cents/mile) that equals $2240/year for a SOV. If on the other hand a transit user bought 365 daily passes at $8/day that equals $2920/year. If they simply took one round trip per day over the year that would equal $5.50 X 365 days = $2007.50 (per person).

        This probably explains why cost is not a major factor for most when deciding whether to take transit or drive, and of course as one’s income rises the cost differential — if any — becomes less decisive.

        IMO the factors in order of importance are: safety, safety, safety, time of trip, first/last mile access + transfers, ability to carry things like kids, pets and groceries, convenience (weather, not being around crazy people, etc.), traffic congestion, parking costs, and for some the love of driving or taking transit.

      15. “I believe people should be able to make the transportation decision that best fits them”

        And so do I, and so does Nathan.

        Of course, if the interstates didn’t exist, cars would still exist, and those that want to drive would still be able to do so. Vancouver, B.C. is an example of an urban downtown not surrounded by freeways. The lack of freeways makes the city quieter and cleaner and easier to get around on foot. But, it’s not car-free. People still drive there, for the same reasons they do everywhere else.

        The problem is, when you create a transportation system that focuses exclusively on cars, ignoring everything else – you’re not really allowing people to make the transportation decision that best fits them – you’re just forcing everybody into driving, whether they want to or not.

        By contrast, a neighborhood that is less accommodating to cars (but still allows people who really need to drive there to do so) has much more greenery, and starts to look like an actual gathering place, not just somewhere to drive to and run into a building. In many cities, the only places allowed to prioritize the atmosphere of their campus over the need to accommodate endless cars are universities. Imagine if the UW had enough parking in front of every building to accommodate every student driving from building to building as they go from class to class. It would be absurd, and it all that pavement would make the campus a miserable place to be. Instead, the UW puts most of their parking out by the stadiums. Students who drive have to walk further, but the tradeoff is a pedestrian-friendly campus filled with greenspace, that would be impossible to have, otherwise. Notice that this is not forcing anybody to do anything – those that want to drive to campus still can, you just have to be willing to pay for parking and walk a bit.

        From the standpoint of zoning, what myself and many urbanists want is for there to be better options for people to live that combine walkability, green space, and relative affordability (it doesn’t need to be affordable for someone in poverty, but it at least needs to be not the exclusive domain of the super-rich). Constructing the building with a parking spot for every single person who lives there goes against these goals. Surface lots are hot and ugly, and take away green space. Underground garages are better, but very expensive to build, making the building more expensive to live in. So, you build the building with a parking space for every 2 or 3 residents, rather than every resident and let people choose. Those that place a high value on quick access to their car and don’t care about walkability don’t have to live there – it’s a free country, and there are plenty of car-oriented places elsewhere for those who want one. But, those that do value walkability and don’t care about driving as much should have the option too. This is not about climate at all, but simply a statement that different people have different desires, and cities should provide a menu of options to allow people to choose where to live based on their needs. Not force the car-dependent choice as the only option, under the pretense that doing anything else is somehow “forcing” people to give up driving.

      16. @DT

        “If we use 16,000 miles/year X the IRS mileage rate for philanthropy (14 cents/mile) that equals $2240/year for a SOV. If on the other hand a transit user bought 365 daily passes at $8/day that equals $2920/year. If they simply took one round trip per day over the year that would equal $5.50 X 365 days = $2007.50 (per person)”

        Monthly transit passes cost $99, so the annual cost won’t be more than $1188. Gas alone for 16,000 miles would cost $2,496 assuming $4.68/gallon (WA current average) @ 30 mpg (city average for cheapest car on the market). That doesn’t include insurance, fees, maintenance, loan interest or depreciation.

      17. asdf2, thanks for being more eloquent than I am when I get riled up.

        Dan, I thought about responding to your comments, but since you can’t even do basic research to check facts regarding monthly ORCA pass rates, it’s hard to take you seriously.

        Monthly PugetPass information is here:

        Mileage rates reference:

        The standard mileage rate for business use is based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile. The rate for medical and moving purposes is based on the variable costs.

        It’s not obvious if they publish the annual study or not, but this is the result. The “variable” costs are basically just the cost of gas to power a vehicle. I’ll leave that calculation as an exercise to the reader.

      18. “Monthly transit passes cost $99, so the annual cost won’t be more than $1188.”

        That’s what my pass is. A $99 pass covers $2.75 fare. That’s sufficient for Metro, Link from Westlake to Rainier Beach, Link from Northgate to Mt Baker, and CT/PT/ET local routes. ST Express is a 50 cent surcharge, but a $10 e-purse is enough for 3-4 months of weekend trips to Bellevue and once or twice a year to another county or the ferries.

        “are there no cars in Vancouver, a city without a freeway?”

        Fewer than in similar cities with freeways through them and less developed transit. Vancouver is not low-car like New York, but it’s not high-car like San Jose or Atlanta either. it’s on a continuum.

  2. As a traveller to Seattle, this makes the bus viable only if there are Orca cards available at every single bus stop, which isn’t even close to feasible. Cash has to remain an option if they want transit to be feasible for occasional riders.

    Solutions like tap a credit/debit card (or, equivalently, phone with Apple Pay or the Android equivalent, which are the same as tapping a credit card as far as the reader is concerned) to pay (as has been routine in London England and Vancouver BC, at least, for many, many years, and is being implemented in buses across BC this year) help a lot, but not everyone has credit/debit cards with the tap functionality (especially in the US, which is weirdly way behind on widespread use of tap cards). Also, foreign cards are often problematic (my American card didn’t work in London, for example).

    Telling people to ride transit but that they can’t pay cash or have to go into a random store that may not be open or near their stop is a brilliant way to turn people off. Incentivize other faster, cheaper payment methods for sure, but cash needs to remain an option.

    1. (The above assumes fares remain; eliminating fares is a wonderfully simple and appropriate solution.)

    2. The cities I know of with cashless fares have more extensive subway/commuter rail networks, so most areas are near an easy-to-find train station with a vending machine. It will be harder for Metro, where many locations are miles from a TVM like Kent East Hill. The Eastside has only one as far as I know (Bellevue TC), but that will change when East Link and Stride open. Although it will still be miles to a station from some areas.

      It’s not only visitors that are affected, but occasional riders who don’t know where the retail outlets are or how to get to them from a bus stop, people who suddenly ride transit because their car broke down or their ride disappears, and people (including me) who forgot to renew a pass before the beginning of the month. And visitors who come by car or get a ride from the airport, so they have no chance to get a card when they arrive, or they don’t realize until later that they’ll use transit. And while accepting credit cards and the smartphone app is nice for those who have them, we shouldn’t be forcing people to use those if they don’t have them or don’t want to.

      I’m also concerned about the creep of a cashless society. Cashless transit alone dones’t bother me, because so far it has been with a transit-agency card, so it’s no different than buying a ticket except this one is for all your trips instead of than just one. That situation changes if stores and venues in general stop accepting cash, and start requiring a debit card, credit card, phone app, or cryptocurrency. I’ve seen a few restaurants not accepting cash, and I’ve told them I won’t come back because of it.

      The simplest way to accommodate occasional people who don’t have an ORCA card or it has run out, is to give them a free ride to where they can load/buy a card, or when the retail stores are closed.

      1. New Orca is supposed to be able to take contactless credit cards (the new one, not the WaMu one from Salt Lake).

        Remember how SKAT started fare collection? Those silly cards…

    3. When’s the last time you were in Seattle? I use Apple Pay almost everywhere and rarely need to use a physical credit card. Also every credit card I’ve had renewed for the past 2 years has had tap builtin.

      Apple Pay worked fine for me in London with my American card. I think tourists can figure out getting an ORCA card if they can figure out how to get cash, especially since there are or at least will be machines at the airport.

      1. February. I still generally find that tap to pay is neither widely-enough available nor widely used by people in the States, so I don’t think it would be widely used by transit riders and certainly isn’t a viable replacement for cash – I think the number of people who use what is perceived as fancy new tech (even though it’s been in widespread use elsewhere in the world for a decade) but don’t have an Orca card is vanishingly small.

        Getting an Orca card is easy if you arrive at the airport and take transit away from the airport, or if otherwise your first transit trip originates at a Link station. But if your first attempted transit trip is a bus (say, the bus near where friends/family live, as is often the case for me – and I sometimes but not always remember my Orca card when leaving on a trip that involves Seattle, but I’m a nerd who pays lots of attention to these things), there needs to be an option that most people can and will use on the bus. (Apps with proof of payment probably go a long way for tourists and other reasonably well-funded occasional riders.)

      2. No. You have to cross the 2nd Ave extension and then 4th Ave to get to the Link station to get them.

  3. In some googling, I found this article:

    The study looked at instances where no cash was accepted, where cash was accepted at retail partners, where cash was accepted for payment on board transit, where cash was an option at ticket vending machines, and where cash was accepted everywhere. Golub’s research found that all of the payment options that included cash fares increased transit access among residents in the case study cities. When no cash was accepted, 91.62% of previous riders could still use the transit system. Retail-based fare purchases allowed 95.08% of previous riders to participate. Systems that accepted cash on board allowed 96.90% of previous riders to participate. When cash was accepted at ticket vending machines, 96.54% could use the system; and 100% of previous riders could use their transit systems where cash was accepted everywhere.

    Based on this, it seems 4% of the study riders faced barriers when cash wasn’t accepted on board (can’t ride buses); a different 4% faced barriers when cash isn’t accepted at ticket vending machines (can’t ride trains).

    There is a small but significant portion of the population that does not have a bank account, for whatever reason. These people would be unable to pay fare, and thus be subject to fare enforcement, if cash were eliminated as payment option. Until society is cashless, cash will be a fundamental means of value transfer for the most vulnerable of folks.

    (to preempt a bad faith argument: sure, if you paired cashless fares with no fare enforcement, all the cash-only riders would simply have to skip paying fare. Fortunately, most people are interested in following the rules and want to pay fare when required. I hope I don’t have to explain that it’s problematic to normalize non-payment of fares for anyone. )

    1. We must eliminate fares. Fare enforcement targets people of color at higher levels. It is wrong, and elimination of fares creates a more equitable system. I don’t care if we need to raise taxes or cut service. Fares are wrong and discriminatory. They must end….. NOW!

      1. I believe the fare enforcement argument for going fare-free is not valid, since the simple answer is to eliminate fare enforcement and figure out a better way to ensure people who can pay fares, are paying fares. Metro and ST are working on this.

        Fares are not inherently wrong. It’s requesting payment for a service; the service is subsidized and safe transportation (and all transportation services are significantly subsidized). Fares are only discriminatory to economic status, since ~$3 is far more expensive to a part-time minimum wage worker (or the unhoused/unemployed) than to a stably housed AMI+ earner. This is resolvable by offering unquestioned reduced fares for impoverished riders, not by eliminating fares altogether.

        Going Fare-Free is not an “easy win” as many would argue. It’s extremely expensive, and the fares aren’t causing the discrimination – unless it’s “discrimination” to believe that transit shouldn’t be used as emergency housing.

        Eliminate fare enforcement before eliminating fares. You’ll find people still paying fares when they can, and not being discriminated against when they can’t.

      2. I agree, Nathan. One of the fallacies of going fare-free is that it helps poorer people afford transportation, but if going fare-free also involves service cuts, it’s basically just saying that poor people’s time isn’t worth much. Comprehensive, frequent transit is a societal good for everyone and fares can help support that. I’d prefer seeing expanded low-income fare programs rather than just eliminating fares altogether.

  4. I would complain that refusing cash would be an unacceptable hurdle for infrequent riders, but… in my experience the drivers don’t care anymore if you pay or not. I’ve been on buses in Seattle where only about 20% of the riders bothered to pay. Without fare enforcement, we will eventually reach a point where the money collected is more “donations” than “fares”.

    (I would also point out that the people smoking fentanyl on the bus never pay their fare – we can kill two birds with one stone here.)

    It would be nice if we got more Orca vending machines. Obviously we can’t have them at every bus stop, but how about at RapidRide stations, or transit centers?

    1. People should be allowed to do drugs safely on transit. Transit should offer harm reduction options for drug addicted riders. By giving out free needles on buses and trains, including special trash receptacles to dispose of used needles. We should encourage transit as a safe place to use your drugs.

      1. Sorry Mark and Joe.

        No drug use on transit period. fumes do affect drivers and riders health and a passenger might be poked by a needle that is just left behind. Do you want a bus driver/train operator to start feeling woosy while operating. Most will stop the bus/train before that point. When that happens, riders who are just riding to get somewhere, are not going to be happy that there is a delay, thanks to the drug user (smokers are most likely). just look for foil, that is how most fentanyl users snort their smoke.

      2. I thought this reply would be removed as an obvious troll, but I guess not.

        If we allow drug use on buses, bus ridership will wither away to almost nothing. Nearly everyone who isn’t a drug addict will buy a car instead.

        Speaking for myself, personally, I am adverse enough to cars that I will never buy one, but if I have to put up people smoking blues on the bus, I won’t be sticking around here, either. I will move to a city where the laws are enforced.

      3. “People should be allowed to do drugs safely on transit.”

        When I first read this, I thought it was a joke. If this is actually a serious suggestion, it’s misguided. Transit is for getting around; you don’t need the expense of drivers and moving vehicles for a drug zone. Nor, should people simply trying to get around have to put up with that.

    2. Link is already essentially free. 70% of Link riders ride for free. And when contacted by fare ambassadors, 76% of people riding for free refuse to show ID, making it impossible to track habitual non-payers, and issue warning or fines for repeated non-payment. On the other hand, the Link fare is a fourth tax on the rider. They are taxed once through a sales tax. They are taxed again through MVET. They are taxed next through property taxes. And the fare is a fourth layer of tax. So even if someone doesn’t pay the fare, they’ve already paid three different times. They just aren’t paying a fourth time.

    3. Safe injection sites should be in buildings, not on buses. Having needle collection/distribution on buses is less problematic than allowing people to blow toxic smoke to all other passengers and the driver. Marijuana smoke just makes third-party recipients high and some people have bad reactions to it, but fentynal smoke and residue kills people. Allowing that on buses is the same as destroying the transit system: you might as well just shut it down.

      1. I respectfully disagree. We can encourage safe drug use on buses and trains. Perhaps, we can enclose a section in the back of the bus, with plexiglass shielding – where fentanyl users can consume their drugs. The bus driver can then monitor and report any overdoses.

    4. “76% of people riding for free refuse to show ID”

      Did you make this up, or did you get it from a reputable source?

      Lost revenue from nonpayment is around 3-4%. It may have risen to 25% at times in the covid/post-covid era. That’s hard to square with 76% not showing ID. And, do all homeless people have ID to show?

      “the Link fare is a fourth tax on the rider. They are taxed once through a sales tax. They are taxed again through MVET. They are taxed next through property taxes. And the fare is a fourth layer of tax. So even if someone doesn’t pay the fare, they’ve already paid three different times. They just aren’t paying a fourth time.”

      All those tax sources add up to one operations-funding. If you pay for a pizza in four $3 installments it’s the same as if you pay $12 in one installment.

      -Mike, Sam Fact Checker

      1. That’s almost word-for-word the same. The box next to the article says “Originally published by Fox News”, so it’s the same story in a different form.

        Your reference to the Wall Street bull reminds me of a story I heard in childhood:

        “Two and two are four. Four times three is twelve. Twelve inches make a ruler. A famous ruler was Queen Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth sailed the ocean. Oceans have fish. Fish have fins. The Finns fought the Russians. Russians are red, so fire engines are red, because they’re always rushin’.”

    1. “As many as 70%” smells like when the store posts “up to 70% off” on the rack. Technically, it’s probably true, but it may not be very representative.

    2. I thought Sam was the most brilliant journalist and academic expert in the country. It’s hard to believe he gets his transit information from Faux News. I watched the video to see how sound its sources were. It’s a mishmash of cherry-picking a few facts and describing the situation in the most misleading and out-of-context biased way. Did the three people interviewed/quoted know that their quotes would be used in such a way and would they agree the whole episode is accurate? Undoubtedly not. I was going to ask which show this was on but it says “Special Report” so it”s probably not part of any show. I just wish I’d remembered to open it in an incognito window so my browser wouldn’t have its cookies snooping on the other sites I visit.

  5. I think Rogoff used the figure 30% for non-paying riders on Link, which is exacerbated by the decline in riders, certainly compared to ridership estimates used by ST to set operations assumptions. (However I thought I read Rogoff stating 76% of riders asked for ID refused to show ID).

    The reality is the percentage of non-paying riders is higher because the 100% fare paying rider — the peak commuter — is not riding transit, another example of why Link was designed for the peak commuter (the honor system when it comes to paying fares, especially if the employer is paying).

    Somehow someone has to make up that lost operations revenue. Right now, it looks like that will have to be service cuts, certainly in the long run. Transit advocates tend to avoid any discussion about money, or funding, maybe because they think it is other people’s money. So for example there might be endless posts on the location of tunnels and underground stations in West Seattle and Ballard, but nothing about how to pay for them even though the DEIS is premised on “third party funding” (without stating how much, because how much is too much), and the cost of operations along with everything else is going up rapidly.

    Same with operations funding. Some on this blog think free fares will magically maintain equal service, because someone else will be found to make up the fares. Not this time. You can ride for free, but frequency will be at least 30 minutes, and closer to 60 minutes especially with so many fewer riders, and many routes will disappear altogether.

    If someone on this blog posted they would trade free fares for 60-minute frequencies I would think that is a sober assessment of the trade off.

    1. Transit advocates tend to avoid any discussion about money, or funding …

      What??? That is ridiculous. Transit advocates talk about funding all the time. If you read an analysis in any transit blog it focus on, or at the very least alludes to funding. For example, here is an article by Jarrett Walker, where he explains a “basic” concept: Does this have local ramifications?

      Yes! I repeatedly criticized the Northgate restructure because it put too much money into (poorly performing) express service.

      Or how about this essay, arguably the greatest one posted on this blog: It makes the case that we should build more of a grid, and less of a hub-and-spoke system. This has cost advantages (as anyone who has read Walker knows) but for those who haven’t, it is right there in the title! No more money. Really.

      As for West Seattle and Ballard, we are all aware of the huge costs. It is absurd to think that there are transit advocates who aren’t. It drives many of the arguments (why spend all this money, if it won’t have this, or that). Come on man, this idea that you are the only one paying attention to the spending is absurd.

    2. “the 100% fare paying rider — the peak commuter — is not riding transit …
      Somehow someone has to make up that lost operations revenue.”

      The extra peak service for those commuters costs more to provide than baseline all-day service. Those commuters aren’t paying 100% of their operating costs, so they’re a net loss to the agency, not a gain. Metro and ST can adjust for them the same way they’re actually doing: by reducing the number of extra peak-hour runs. A minimum amount of transit is necessary for baseline frequency regardless of ridership: that’s where the 15-minute and 30-minute all-day service comes from. But extra trips beyond that are just to meet capacity demand. If that capacity isn’t being used, the runs can be eliminated, and are eliminated. It’s widely known that returned to almost-prepandemic peak levels in October expecting offices to reopen — but then Delta and Omicron hit, and that may have increased long-term WFH and decentralization further. If that happens, Metro and ST will do what they’ve done throughout: suspend/delete extra peak service. It’s easy to provide baseline service compared to extra service. That’s why Metro had a peak surcharge, and why it eliminated two-zone fares off-peak years before it eliminated them peak. And Link’s expansion lessens the need for long-distance peak-express runs, because they can go a shorter or sometimes much shorter distance to a station.

      “Transit advocates tend to avoid any discussion about money, or funding, maybe because they think it is other people’s money.”

      Or maybe because we’re waiting for the real information and timeline from the people who know, not from armchair non-experts who have no idea when or how much even though they say they do.

      Long-term riders have been through several cuts before. They know they can happen again. They’re just waiting to hear when, what, and how much will be cut. When it happens, we’ll know. There’s no need for useless speculation and worrying in the meantime, or overestimating the severity of them.

      My main concern is Link frequency, because as I’ve long stated every line should have minimum 10-minute frequency until 10pm to keep the network high quality. There have been some suggestions going back to ST2 planning that ST may target 12 minutes instead of 10. That would be unfortunate but not a catastrophe. The 2021 realignment plan postponed opening dates but said nothing about decreasing frequency. There’s no concrete evidence ST would decrease frequency below 12 minutes, or would have to to afford operations. That’s just your dire speculations. If ST gets into a major financial difficulty, it could simply defer some extensions, and then it would have plenty of money for operations, because construction costs more than operations or planning do. In a worst-case scenario, if Everett and Tacoma Dome are built, ST might reduce Everett-Mariner or Federal Way-Tacoma Dome service to 15 or 30 minutes. I wouldn’t like that but it’s not the end of the world. And I’m sure the core part of Link would be more frequent.

    3. I will amend my comment Ross to note that you have consistently raised cost, especially light rail compared to buses, and dollar per rider mile, a concept I learned from you. Also you have consistently pointed out transit mostly should follow ridership, and you begin with a bus, and when ridership overwhelms that route you add buses, then rapid buses, until in the rare urban situation the cost of light rail and subways are justified. But you are in the minority IMO. Too many think mode is justified by mode alone, and don’t even blink at the numbers in the realignment, WSBLE, or other Link projects. If the cost of WSBLE would afford somewhere between three and six $60,000 EV’s for every estimated rider that is not a good deal, and yet there are endless posts about how to make WSBLE “work”.

  6. As many have mentioned, Metro should consider eliminating fares altogether. This would cost the agency money, but there would be plenty of savings, coming from lots of different areas:

    1) No dealing with processing cash or transfers (the point of this change).
    2) No ORCA card readers on the buses or the streets.
    3) No processing of the discounted fare system (someone has to go through all that paperwork verifying age or income).
    4) No ORCA system to manage (or at least they would opt out of whatever shared costs exist).
    5) Agencies wouldn’t have to deal with providing ORCA cards or paper fares to low income residents (none of the issues Erica Barnett raised).
    6) Fast boarding (the same sort of speed you would get with off board payment).
    7) No fare enforcers (on the RapidRide routes).
    8) No money spent dealing with the outcry over these existing issues. For example, the RapidRide replacement of the 7 met with fears of heavy-handed fare enforcement, which in turn would likely lead to lots of public meetings, hiring a community new liaison, etc.

    All of these add up. Of course they don’t exceed the money raised by the fares, but they put a big dent in it. In other words, the net money from fares really isn’t that much, when you consider all of those factors. Throw in the fact that the riders experience would be significantly better, and it could very well be worth it.

    But you would have to pay for it somehow. The county is limited in how they can raise money. One option that makes sense is a per-employee tax. This essentially exists now, as large employers are required to provide transit for each employee. So instead of requiring them to buy every employee an ORCA card, they simply pay a similar fee that goes into the county transit system. Since this would be county wide (not based in the city) a company is less likely to try and move jobs because of it.

    The fear, of course, is that the county would eliminate fares, but not provide additional funding. That could easily happen, but I don’t think that is likely. I think funding will be largely based on political decisions anyway (e. g. when they decide to put a transit levy on the ballot — hint: do it during a presidential election). This brings up another issue, which is whether people view transit differently if you eliminate fares. Again, I don’t see it. I think the people who don’t want to fund Metro don’t care, while the people who want funding don’t either. I think the key is to approach it from this angle: this is just simpler. It isn’t about helping out the poor (although that is clearly something lots of people in this county want to do) but about reducing the bureaucratic and physical hassle of dealing with fares.

    1. I should add that these arguments probably apply to other transit agencies in the region (Community Transit, Pierce Transit) but less so to Sound Transit. Sound Transit has a much higher fare recovery rate. You would expect that with a rail system (the capital costs are high, but maintenance costs are relatively low per rider (assuming you get a lot of riders)). The system is already set up to accommodate it. There aren’t that many stops for the trains, and they are huge (they call them “stations”, not “stops”). The infrastructure necessary for all of this is relatively cheap. In contrast, there are hundreds of bus stops, many in remote areas. Even RapidRide routes have some “stops” (which don’t have ORCA readers) and “stations” (which do).

      The Sound Transit bus system is express in nature, and thus doesn’t have many of the issues that Metro buses do (e. g. there are fewer stops). It isn’t trying to strike a balance between coverage and ridership; it is expected that Metro will provide service for those who need it (serving the so called “captive” riders). It also has a completely different funding mechanism, making a transition to free fares trickier. I could also see ST doubling down on the current system, but simply raising fares for some routes. For example, you could keep the express bus from Tacoma to the UW, but simply charge more (even the express bus from Tacoma to downtown Seattle could work like that). Buses that are more feeder oriented (e. g. downtown Bellevue to Issaquah) would be cheaper.

      All of this suggests that getting rid of fares is not a great idea for ST, but could make a lot of sense for other agencies in the region.

    2. Although I am not sure history proves that free transit fares create a better transit experience, or that additional funding will be found to replace the fares, I would suggest not placing the measure on a presidential ballot, certainly not in 2024. That is why most local school levies are during odd times, like February (Mercer Island), April (Issaquah), or often in August. The advocates pay attention and vote, but not many others. You want LOW turnout when placing a tax increase on the ballot.

      November 2024 is looking like it would be the worst time to place a transit levy on the ballot, if it is countywide. R’s and independents on the eastside are motivated (although never discount the ability of R’s shooting themselves in the foot if they retake Congress in 2022), and I don’t think you can pass any kind of levy — or tax increase — countywide without it passing on the eastside.

      Do eastsiders want to ride transit if there are no fares. I doubt it. A measure to require employers to pay a tax to subsidized free fares might be a tough sell when their employers voluntarily provided subsidized ORCA cards, or did pre-pandemic.

      Will they tax themselves to pay for free fares for all others. Doubt it, especially today when so few eastsiders ride transit. Sounds a lot like other people’s money. I like the idea that free fares will pay for themselves, which means a levy or tax would not be necessary, although I have a hard time believing free fares pay for themselves. But I am not an expert on the issue. I think many eastsiders would like the idea of free fares paying for themselves (depending on coverage and frequency) and so would wonder what the tax increase is all about, especially if it is large.

      If anything I would consider a Seattle only levy/tax to create free transit fares within the city taxing district, like another head tax, maybe as part of a $7 to $10 billion SB5528 levy to complete WSBLE (with free fares).

    3. There’s no serious proposal to make transit free in 2024 or anytime soon; it’s just a few armchair speculations.

      “You want LOW turnout when placing a tax increase on the ballot.”

      Transit levies do much better in presidential elections than in off-years. Liberals tend to vote only during presidential elections, while conservatives and tax-haters vote in every election. So the worst time for a transit-tax increase is in an off-year election or special election. King County knows this, as do ST and Seattle, so they time transit levies for presidential elections. Sometimes they haven’t in the past, but those were more prone to failure, so they don’t do it anymore.

      The Metro Connects levy was going to be on the November 2020 ballot, but then covid hit. That sucked all the county’s time between Februrary and April when it would have written the measure, and then it wanted a Harborview levy alone on the November 2020 ballot to maximize its chances, so the Metro levy got bumped. The county still hasn’t scheduled it, but it will probably be when there’s no other major levy and probably during a presidential election.

      Remember that both Trump and ST3 won in November 2016. One didn’t preclude the other. Even some conservatives take transit, or think it’s necessary infrastructure, or a local tax is more acceptable than a federal tax.

      ST has some unique headwinds that might make future levies fail, but Metro doesn’t have that bad reputation. So I’d suspect a Metro levy in 2024 would have similar chances as in any other presidential election. The presidential and Congressional races aren’t really relevant. Even if Republicans win the Senate or House nationwide, they’re not likely to win in Pugetopolis, and even if they do it wouldn’t necessarily doom a Metro or Seattle TBD measure.

  7. Fare collection is a complex topic. However, some barrier to keep the buses free of becoming an extension of a homeless encampment or a pétri dish for disease is appropriate. It’s also important for transit to not slow buses down due to their use for very short free trips lowering bus speeds (and the notion that free fares make buses go faster isn’t the case when they get overcrowded). Drivers do many things and adding social welfare custodian shouldn’t be in the job description.

    Transit’s primary objective is to offer clean, safe, reliable transportation as frequently as financially possible for everyone. It’s designed to move people rather than house them.

    If there are surplus buses, I have no problem supporting their reuse for mobile shelters or whatever. If there is a user-side subsidy like Orca Lift or student passes, great! If trained social service staff ride buses to provide more outreach to people in need, that’s awesome! I even don’t have a problem with free short distance shuttles to offset the unfairness of charging someone for a 3/4 mile trip the same as a 10 mile trip.

    Just don’t open the a pandora’s box of a fully free-fare system for every bus ride. I know plenty of very poor people living on disability who are immuno-compromised who depend on buses to get around — and who support modest fares just to protect themselves.

    1. We did have free fares on buses and Link for several months during an unexpected experiment in 2020. The number of homeless people, vandalism, misbehavior, bodily excretions, and driving other passengers away rose significantly. It didn’t reach the extent of 90% of the ridership like some anti-transit activists claimed, but it did increase it to something like 5-10% (widely varying depending on the neighborhoods the route served and whether it was local or express). It increased security costs at Link stations enough that ST reduced Link’s frequency to a practically-unusable 15-minute peaks and 30-minute weekends.

      That was at the same time as the “essential trips only” policy and 25% capacity cap and lockdowns, so most regular passengers were absent, and thus it was easier to abuse the stations undetected and unchallenged. In a normal no-far environment the regular passengers would be there. But there would still be increased use of buses/trains and stations as homeless shelters, and that would deter destinational riders to some extent. So that has to be factored into the equation. Of course the ultimate solution would be universal housing so that people aren’t camping at transit facilities with no better place to go, but the US has difficulty finding the will to do that.

      1. Transit’s purpose is to move people from A to B so they can do other activities at their various destinations. If homeless people do that and are as well-behaved as other riders, they’re welcome on transit. But when they ride back and forth all day as a quasi shelter or warm room, that’s not all right.

        When people (not necessarily homeless) take drugs on buses, especially toxic smoke that harms everyone around them, that’s not all right.

        When I see one or more people sitting on a bus-stop bench and the only route that serves that stop comes and they don’t get on, that’s not all right. Especially when there’s no room for legitimate bus riders to sit, or when they’re too intimidated to sit there, or when the stop is left littered.

        Expecting the homeless to behave like we expect all other riders to do, is not dehumanizing them. Why do buses and trains need to accommodate drug use? Why should people who want to take drugs be directed to buses? Why can’t people postpone drug use for one hour until they get to their destination? If it’s because the cops won’t see them on buses or they’d be arrested if they’re in a park or sidewalk or beach, then it doesn’t belong on buses either.

        We don’t need to entice homeless people to use transit; we need to entice SOV drivers to use transit. Homeless people use transit because they can’t afford taxis or cars. That’s fine, if they use it for its intended purpose; i.e., getting from A to B.

  8. Consider the RossB list. If transit were fare free, would conductors be required to maintain security? That would be an added cost. Pre-Covid, fare revenue was a significant share of operating revenue and the share was expected to increase. Post-Covid and ridership return, would the capacity of key routes be exceeded without the farebox revenue to help fund service.

    Fare collection, transit speed, and fare inspection are intertwined as issues. We want fare collection to be fast; that makes service faster and more attractive. To shift to ORCA from cash, there may need to be change in fare structure. There could be a volume discount on the e-purse of ORCA. ORCA only has monthly passes at the pre-Covid regular commuter rate or the e-purse. Other agencies provided volume discounts on media even before smart cards; NYC MTA did; the per trip rate declined the more trips one purchased. Before ORCA, Metro provided a volume discount on books of tickets.

    How can ORCA be ubiquitous? Why does it cost $3 or $5? Could they be sent to all households in utility bills?

    1. The fee is to discourage people from using the card once and throwing it away, or so say the agencies. The lack of a discount when loading an e-purse is because it would cut into revenue and lead to service cuts, and the service is already inadequate for the size/density of the region. The lack of a day pass at 2 times the regular fare, or an automatic fare cap that automatically converts to a day pass or monthly pass, is for the same reason. Your discount option is a monthly pass; that’s it.

  9. So, under a cashless system, what would I have done a couple weeks ago when I discovered my Orca Card was lost at 2:00 am?

    1. Theoretically you would do what everyone who doesn’t have an ORCA card would do. You go someplace and exchange cash for an ORCA card or ticket. It doesn’t matter if you are new to the system or not — that is the idea. Whether they can pull it off to the satisfaction of the public is a different matter, and what Erica Barnett’s article is about.

  10. What about privacy? Cash payment is the only way to pay for public transit without our travels being tracked.

    ORCA cards hold not just value but also a record of travel, and even one that was purchased anonymously (at a machine that almost certainly captured an image of the purchaser’s face) is easily de-anonymized, as fare inspectors regularly stop riders to demand to examine the cards’ content.

    We should maintain the ability to use public transit without identifying ourselves. Someday, people in charge may not like the reasons for our travel.

  11. I have every transfer ticket saved up. A, D, H, J, N, S, T and X, Orange, Pink Green, Blue, Purple and Black. If Metro does away with cash, will they have some sort of transfer ticket buyback program so I can exchange my tickets for money or a fully loaded ORCA card? If a monthly transit pass costs $1200/year, how much does everyone here think I’m entitled to if I turn in my transfer tickets?

    1. Sam, fare dodger extraordinaire.

      Transfer tickets are only supposed to be used within the transfer window on the day they were given.

    2. If Metro stops issuing transfers, they’ll become more valuable as collectors’ items, like old coins are. Save your transfer collection for thirty years and then sell it to a collector or donate it to MOHAI. Wouldn’t it be great to have a perpetual “Sam’s room, sponsored by Sam” at MOHAI after you’re gone?

  12. Cash fare = 2x orca fare, to account for it’s extra costs to handle and collect.

    Those that choose not to pay will still just walk on by anyway.

  13. This is all academic. Metro and ST are now fare-optional systems, because people who don’t want to pay simply don’t pay. And it’s really catching on. The people who suffer the most are low-income riders who could get away with not paying, but they are honest people who always pay their fair share throughout life. I’m sure they could think of something else they’d like to spend their money on, but they pay nevertheless.

  14. Everyone, I am Erick, and this is my first time making a thoughtful comment on this great website of all things public transportation in the Seattle area. I want to, as a small disclosure, mention that I am an Olympia resident, and Thurston Co.’s Intercity Transit (for the time being) has fare-free bus and shuttle services covering my area. Isn’t it time for your county’s authorities to, for the first time in KC Metro’s history, to feature fare-free transportation?
    I have some points that might back up my thought:

    No more issues (fights, arguments, or the operator having to wait a while until the rider pays for the ride) arising from lacking cash or Orca cards.

    Equity of service: Riders, including from rural, unincorporated, and even socially-disadvantaged areas would benefit the most from using fare-free KCM.

    KCM could secure funding from the U.S. Dept of Transportation in order to fund such a venture, following a complete study of the idea of implementing fare-free rides.

    Furthermore, if (again..) equity of access is of so much importance to Metro, then the agency should advocate for a such system.

    Of course I am concerned with the viability of the idea of fare-free transportation brought by Metro. Even so, the agency has resources to consider the idea, pros and cons, and so on.


    1. for the first time in KC Metro’s history, to feature fare-free transportation
      Wouldn’t be the first time. For years Metro operated the RFZ (Ride Free Zone) downtown. It was meant to speed boarding in the pay as you enter to DT and pay as you leave from DT (because of the two zone fare system). The problem with free transit is it becomes a “free for all” as people treat it as being worth what they paid (i.e. worthless).

      Small transit agencies go fare free because they would spend more in collection than they make. Fares in King County provide a large portion of the operations budget. Going fare free would be a death spiral for Metro. I don’t think it’s even legally an option for ST although Tacoma Link was fare free for years. Did they actually start charging or has that been delayed?

      1. Bernie,
        I believe both Metro and Pierce Transit should study the possibility of fare-free public transportation by observing various cases of industrialized countries that adopted fare-free transportation, funding sources, and rider culture.

        I concur with you there are several factors to consider in the adoption of zero-fare transport to increase ridership (either by bus or rail link) because it might create incentives among certain people to overuse the service and, worse, engage in disorderly conduct.

        Nonetheless, Metro should secure federal funding to study and test zero-fare transport. Undoubtedly, zero-fare transportation, from a social standpoint, could benefit everyone (regardless of the area within King or Pierce County) using it.

        Otherwise, Metro must drastically lower its exorbitant rider fares and include double-option for fare payment in Orca cards or cash.
        P.S. Metro’s budgets should, at least, go towards the study of fare-free Metro transportation within the county.


    2. Fare collection has lots of fixed costs, so for smaller agencies there is a much stronger argument in favor of no fare collection. For very small agencies (a rural only service, a small college town, a national park, etc.) it’s very compelling to be fare free.

      But for large agencies, the cost of fare collection relative to the revenue generated is much smaller, and the fare revenue is a essential source of revenue. A good framework is to look at the rider subsidy (whether it’s 50%, 80%, 100%, etc.) and consider if money can be better spent elsewhere:

      Depending on the Feds is a horrible idea, especially for Operations:

    3. Hi Erick, if you can get the Feds to pay for free fares in a city considered quite white and wealthy then free fares sound good to me. Of course you have until Nov. 2022 to have any hope the Feds will subsidize free fares in Seattle or King Co.

      I doubt the region — King Co. or the ST taxing district — would vote for free fares. So that leaves cuts to service to make up the lost farebox recovery.

      Around 90% of riders can afford a — heavily subsidized —. transit fare. Pre pandemic many fares were paid for by businesses. Our firm paid the transit fares for our staff, although naturally the partners drive to work and write off the parking.

      Do I need a free fare from Mercer Island to Pioneer Square? Is it worth it to cut coverage and frequency for those who must rely on transit so I can save $6.50 I write off?

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