LIFOAC Issues Recommendations, Unwittingly Supports ORCAzation

King County Metro’s Low Income Fare Options Advisory Committee has now issued its report and recommendations.

A general fare restructure proposal that may include some action on these recommendations is expected to go the county council in the next couple months.

At a recent forum sponsored by the Transportation Choices Coalition, a couple of committee members – Kate Joncas of the Downtown Seattle Association, and Alison Eisinger from the Seattle Coalition on Homelessness – were joined by Metro project director Doug Hodson to discuss the recommendations.

The recommendations, some of the discussion from the panel, and analysis, are below the fold.

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We Are the 201%

Senior RRFP
Photo: Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services

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.

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Metro Low-Income Fare Committee Almost Done


King County Metro’s Low-Income Fare Options Advisory Committee (LIFOAC) is close to wrapping up its work and sending a recommendations document to Metro and the County Council. It has two remaining meetings scheduled to come to a consensus: May 29 and June 12, both at 4 pm in the 8th floor conference room of the King Street Center, 201 S Jackson St.

They will also continue taking comments online. For those who want a full play-by-play, you can access all the committee materials, meeting notes, and written comments here.

The bulk of the committee seems to agree that a general low-income fare program is far more expensive than what Metro can afford right now. The value of the program has to be weighed against the service that could be deployed for the same money.

A no-income fare program (namely, free) might be a much smaller and more doable program in the here and now, and can be done in a way that reduces current administrative costs, while enabling recipients to gain real mobility.

Personally, I think the committee should discuss giving out free monthly passes on regular ORCA cards, which they have not done to date. Funding for the no-income fare program, and hopefully an eventual low-income fare program, is unlikely to come from any source other than a Title VI mitigation fund (another idea the committee has not discussed).

Formally, the committee was charged by the county council with seven tasks. I’ll discuss them in order below the jump.

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Route 50 is a Chance to Show Train-Bus Connections Can Work

One of Metro’s most thankless efforts to preserve neighborhood service on low-ridership corridors in the fall restructure proposal is the proposed route 50. The new 50 would replace route 56 between SODO and Alki, and route 39 between SODO and Othello Station. The downtown portion of the 39 would go away, with the savings reinvested in increased off-peak frequency on the 50, or elsewhere.

Route 34, which shadows the 39 from S Othello St and Seward Park Ave S to Rainier Ave S and S Genessee St, but then expresses downtown with stops by the Mount Baker Transfer Center and the I-90/Rainier freeway stop, is also scheduled to be eliminated in favor of the new 50. The 34 has three northbound runs in the morning and three southbound runs in the evening. It has a unique tail continuing down Seward Park Ave S to S Henderson St, turning west at Rainier Beach High School, and terminating at Rainier Ave S and S Henderson St. Due to being one-way only, it is of no use for anyone commuting to or from Rainier Beach High. It is about 200-300 feet away from Rainier Ave S for most of it’s tail’s length, but access to Rainier Ave is limited by hills and dead-ends.

One of the proponents of the 34 recently laid down the challenge to Metro at the final open house for the restructure: She didn’t need a one-seat ride downtown, necessarily, and didn’t mind transferring to Link. However, she did mind having to make the long walk to Rainier Ave S, and did not feel safe waiting on Rainier Ave S for the 7.

Proponents of the 39 laid out similar concerns: They didn’t mind transferring to Link, but did mind waiting a long time in the dark and rain at Columbia City Station, and that, furthermore, they never knew when the bus would finally show up.

The proposed route 50 is an opportunity for Metro to gain the confidence of one-seat commuters that a smoothe train-to-bus transfer can happen, without an excessively long wait at a bus stop, so that future efficiencies involving transfers to Link can become politically viable.

Three steps would help facilitate the success of the 50, should the county council decide to create it:

  1. List the departure times from each Link station. Currently, Columbia City Station and SODO Station are not mentioned in the printed 34/39 schedule.
  2. Make “Connection Protection” a policy at Columbia City Station and Othello Station. Metro’s new On-Board System will let operators know the estimated time of arrival for key connecting buses at timed-transfer bus stops. Adding southbound Link trips to that list should eliminate the painful miss of having an eastbound 50 take off from Columbia City Station a minute before a slow southbound Link train arrives.
  3. Time train-to-bus connections so that the eastbound bus departures are spread out among the southbound Link runs. This is where scheduling math comes in.

I’ll leave it to the pros to determine whether the third and fourth steps are truly viable, but for purposes of this post, let me offer some fun armchair math, below the jump:

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