King County Metro’s Low Income Fare Options Advisory Committee met for the last time in person Wednesday. They are still wordsmithing the document that will be transmitted to the County Executive and the County Council, but plan to have that finalized document sent by July 1st.
The committee will be recommending 200% of the federal poverty level as the breakpoint for qualifying for a low-income fare, mostly because several federal programs use that threshold, and the documentation from those other programs would enable Metro to stay out of the business of income determination. (For those unfamiliar with the federal poverty level, it is based on a combination of income and family size.)
The committee still wants Metro to do some direct income determination for riders who are either ineligible or uninterested in those other programs for reasons unrelated to income, but did not appear to have a plan for how to limit income determination to just those who fall in that category. Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond expressed discomfort with the idea of putting Metro in that position.
The committee appears ready to recommend the farebox as one of the more immediate sources of revenue to fund a low-income fare program. Indeed, they could not agree to recommend any other source. But they also don’t want Metro to become the primary funder, much less the sole funder. Still, the committee seems willing to move forward with a program funded solely be farebox revenue if no other revenue sources can be found. The idea of the farebox approach is that as fares increase, a portion of each increase would go to funding the low-income fare program. Metro could raise fares more steeply than originally planned, raising more money to save more service while offsetting the increase for those least able to afford it with a robust low-income fare program.
Kate Joncas, representing the Downtown Seattle Association, raised a troubling question: How does someone who earns 205% of the federal poverty level feel about having his or her fare substantially increased in order to fund a discount for someone earning 197% of the federal poverty level. Nobody on the committee had a good answer. After the jump, I’ll try to give a good answer, from the vantage point of someone earning over 201% of the federal poverty level.