Pierce Transit 2021 Gillig Low Floor Electric 526
New Pierce Transit electric bus / photo by Zach Heistand

The Pierce Transit Board of Commissioners voted unanimously today to approve a proposal to have Pierce Transit join the ORCA LIFT low-income fare program, bringing its extent to all transit services that accept ORCA except Washington State Ferries. Pierce Transit’s ORCA LIFT fare will be $1, joining King County Metro, all Sound Transit services, the Seattle Streetcar, Everett Transit, and Kitsap Transit buses and intra-county ferries in charging just $1 for riders in the program. Pierce Transit’s low-income fare will take effect April 1.

Pierce Transit Senior Planner Lanai Tua presented the proposal on behalf of staff. 2% of Pierce Transit boardings are by riders who already have an ORCA LIFT card (due to transferring between PT and Sound Transit). 88% of respondents in a survey supported the change, while 2% opposed, with 30% of respondents being ORCA LIFT users.

Laura Svancarek from Downtown-On-The-Go was the lone public hearing testifier, via Zoom, in enthusiastic support.

The Sound Transit Board voted on January 31 to make permanent its $1 low-income fares, after a pilot program last year had dropped the low-income fares to that level.

Riders age 19-64 can qualify for the program if their income falls below 200% of the federal poverty level, and qualification is good for a year at a time.

Riders age 65+ already qualify for the Regional Reduced Fare Permit, with fares that are at least as low as the low-income fare. Riders under age 19 get to ride free, due to new state grants to transit agencies, on nearly every public transit service in the state, including all that accept ORCA, with the exception of the Seattle Center Monorail ($1.75 for ages 6-18).

ORCA LIFT is a program that started in 2015 with King County Metro, Link Light Rail, and the Seattle Streetcars. Kitsap Transit has had a low-income fare since 1985 and was the model for the program.

Services that charge more than $1 for their low-income fare include Community Transit ($1.25 local and $2 on 400- and 800-series commuter routes), the Seattle Center Monorail ($1.75), the King County Ferries ($3.75 to West Seattle and $4.50 to Vashon), and the Kitsap Fast Ferries westbound ($5).

Low-income fare programs are also available in New York City, Jacksonville, Miami, Columbus, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Austin, Dallas, Denver, Salt Lake City, the San Francisco Bay Area, Honolulu, and Portland. Additionally, various mid-sized and smaller transit agencies across the country are still free to ride.

6 Replies to “$1 low-income fare will expand to Pierce Transit”

  1. This is excellent news.

    Anecdotally, I see less than 50% of riders paying their fares on the 1, 45 and 48. That takes a toll on both the individual and the system. A buck will still be too much for some, but hopefully this will allow some folks who might have wanted to in the past to pay their way in the future.

    1. I agree about this being very good news.

      I think the running battle about “fare box recovery” is far from over, but at least transit is moving in the right direction. Transit often benefits form this crazy “stealth tax” where major employers are expected to but transit passes for their workers…. and more and more employers have backed out as the cost of passes has went up and up and the number of people going into the office dropped like a rock.

      Back in early 2000’s the big insurance company my wife worked for bought monthly transit passes for anybody who (turned out close to everybody) asked for one. Riding the bus back then just wasn’t that expensive. Then the whole ORCA mess started and company is OK paying for 10 rides a week…. if you didn’t drive. I’d guess the company was paying the same basic money for way less transit. Now it’s work from home and zero transit money.

      I hate that the Sound Transit board has implied that “fare jumpers” are the problem. The real problem is Big Business not buying huge amounts of transit passes. I suspect the “free riders” have always been there and aren’t likely to go away…. but the buses and trains still need to run.

      1. Tacomee, the 2017 tax reform bill eliminated the ability of employers to deduct transit passes for employees, which raised their cost for employers about 1/3 instantly depending on their tax rate (and in WA the B&O tax is based on gross income so costs like transit passes are not deductible).

        Employees can still get up to $276/mo. in employer transit subsidies without it counting as income, but now employers are supposed to document each trip and that the transit fare was to and from work to determine which part of the transit subsidy should be counted as income, a big accounting hassle.

        So a lot of employers even pre-pandemic abandoned subsidizing transit fares. Our firm continued to subsidize them, including Sounder, but the staff did not want to wait for a bus on a Seattle street so it was hard to get staff. We then moved to Mercer Island when our lease expired and parking is free for staff, and they love it (and drive EV’s to boot) even though they drive from the Seattle area. Personally I walk to work now.

      2. Daniel,

        Yeah, COVID did some damage, but honestly the employee transit program was in deep trouble before that. I didn’t know about employers having to track trips for tax reasons…. such bullshit. I do know that route #1 in Tacoma was nicknamed the “rapist and loser express” by the customer service ladies working in the Tacoma call center. Many of them rode the #1 to work and back from the South side of the freeway. The sketchy behavior on that bus generates so many complaints to Pierce Transit…. but nothing ever gets done about it.

        Now everybody is working from home and there’s been a few call service folks move to rural Washington and Oregon. I guess it frees up some more housing in Tacoma. But the good old days of the boss having a pile of monthly bus passes with a rubber band around them in her desk at the last of the month….. those days seem long gone.

      3. If you don’t pay a fare, you are a fare jumper, and yes you are by definition a problem, because the system can’t run without either fares or without some other revenue source to replace fares. It isn’t a business’s obligation to pay its employees’ commuting costs, so how does that make them the problem? And no, the free riders haven’t always been there in the kind of numbers they are now. I see it most every time I ride the bus and at certain light rail stations. I see people enter stations and trains without having paid. If you say this isn’t a problem, then what is it?

    2. Too many people assume that when people don’t pay, it’s because they can’t afford to.

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