Intercity Transit looks to go fare-free

An Intercity Transit bus at Olympia Transit Center

Intercity Transit is looking to make the rare jump to zero-fare service beginning January 1, 2020, pending a board of directors vote next week. Last year, voters in the urbanized portion of Thurston County approved a 0.4 percent sales tax increase to fund more transit service. Riders on Intercity Transit buses currently pay $1.25 for adult fares on local routes and $3 on express services to Tacoma and Lakewood.

The zero-fare proposal, not part of the long-range plan and goals of the ballot measure, came about as part of a simple opportunity: the fareboxes for the system are in need of replacement. Intercity Transit is not part of the ORCA program and would need to spend more than $1 million to outfit its buses with farecard readers and other equipment.

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How the County could reduce downtown gridlock and preserve more service

Author’s Note: SEPTA’s 50-cent electronic fare discount has been added since the original post, thanks to an observant commenter.

King County Metro is at the mercy of cities for giving right-of-way and signal priority to buses, at the mercy of the State (and Tim Eyman) for being allowed to ask for local tax revenue, at the mercy of a more generous federal government for subsidization, and at the mercy of thousands of daily riders to choose to put the speed of buses over their personal convenience when they choose which way to pay their fare.

A very direct way to reduce bus dwell time would be for King County Metro to finally incentivize non-cash payment on all trips, with a lower electronic (ORCA and smartphone) fare than the cash fare.

Louisville’s new MyTARC card, saving users 25 cents per ride over paying with cash

Thirteen other urban US bus agencies have figured this out:

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The Tunnel is Now a Fare-Paid Zone

With buses leaving the tunnel Saturday, there is no particular reason to be on the platform without a paid fare. Therefore, Sound Transit will consider the platform a fare-paid zone beginning Saturday.

“ORCA readers will be removed later, during the rollout of Next Gen ORCA,” said ST’S Kimberly Reason.

As trains get ever more crowded, the platform will become the most practical place to enforce fares at certain times of day.

UW U-PASS Cheaper, No Longer Optional

"Waiting by the HUB", by Oran

Faced with escalating fares, the University of Washington has decided to no longer provide an opt-out for the U-PASS program. Escalating charges threatened to decrease the participation rate and trigger further rises:

The universal U-PASS program will replace the current system in which students can opt to return the $99 U-PASS each quarter. Starting in autumn quarter, students will pay a fee of $76 per quarter, and the price will be locked in for two years. Faculty and staff will remain in an optional program.

According to Transportation Services, without instituting the universal U-PASS student fee, the student U-PASS fee would rise to $134.40 in the coming academic year and to $148.16 by the 2012-13 year.

At any of these rates, and especially at $25.33 a month, U-PASS is a tremendous deal for a pass at the maximum fare value compared to the open-market alternatives.

According to UW Transportation Director Josh Kavanagh, capping the fare equivalence of the U-PASS wouldn’t help contain costs. Because not many student trips involve Sounder, the formulas don’t really credit the UW much for such a concession.

The University has accumulated $3m in rebates from transit agencies due to lower student ridership than expected. Kavanagh said this would be held in reserve in case fares kept rising, or future negotiations with agencies turned out unfavorably.

In 2008, UW increased U-PASS prices from $50 to $99 per quarter.

Kitsap Bringing Paper Back

KC Metro Transfer (Image by Oran)

On May 17th Kitsap Transit may bring back paper transfers, permanently (see page 98 of this):

Kitsap Transit staff are hereby authorized and directed to make certain changes to the agency’s fare policy, effective July 1, 2011, to permanently reinstate the use of the paper transfer system for one-way travel, as outlined in the revised fare policy attached and incorporated by reference herein as Exhibit D.

The meeting is from 9:30-11:15am at 345 Sixth St. in Bremerton.

I think the current level of ORCA adoption is a miracle given the lack of incentives (and often, disincentives) provided for its use.

H/T: Mike Fisher

Link Fares on Their Way Up, Too

Photo by Sherwin

Not only will ST Express restructure fares next month, but Link fares are going up on June 1st too:

Starting June 1, 2011, adult Link fares will rise 25 cents.  Link tickets for adults will start with a base fare of $2.00 and add five cents to the base fare for every mile of your trip.  See the chart below.

Starting June 1, 2011, all youth Link fares will become $1.25, for all one-way trips on Link light rail.

All reduced Link fares will remain 75 cents, for all one-way trips on Link light rail.

This means fares will vary between $2.00 and $2.75 depending on distance. The cheapest ride of  Metro, Link, or ST Express varies with who you are and time of day.

ST Express Fares are Changing

ST Express Proposed Changes
Changes to ST Express bus fare.

Beginning on June 1st, there are no longer three separate fare zones in King County for Sound Transit Express buses; all King County trips are now one price, with a higher fare only for trips that cross a county line.

The youth and senior/disabled fares are, broadly speaking, going down. In another change for ST Express buses, if you’re using a medicare card as proof of age, you have until June 11th to get yourself a Regional Reduced Fare Permit, or to simply your life and get the ORCA version.

ORCA’s 2nd Year

Graphic by the author

It’s been two years (and a day) since ORCA was launched to the public. How much progress has been made in its adoption? Two key measures for measuring its success are usage and availability. Sound Transit and Metro in a joint press release announced today that the “cards are used on more than 250,000 trips each weekday and 49 percent of all transit trips in the region.” The press release didn’t break down the usage by agency. They also announced that customers can now reload their ORCA cards at 37 QFC stores. QFC joins 50 Safeway stores, seven Saar Marketplaces, and four other retailers for a total of 98 ORCA retail outlets across the region.

You can view the full list of reload locations on ORCA’s website or on a map when Sound Transit updates it. Retail outlets do not sell new ORCA cards.

In other ORCA news: The ORCA system has reached “Full System Acceptance” which means enhancements to the system can be considered and implemented. Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick tells me “there are no final decisions about any system enhancements” at this time. Speaking of enhancements, all downtown tunnel stations served by Link now have ORCA readers on the platform, three months after Sound Transit said it would be done.

For comparison with March last year, according to an ORCA Progress Report, 34% of all transit trips in the region were paid with ORCA and only 14 retail outlets were in operation. Nearly a hundred retail outlets is great improvement from 14 but it’ll take a lot more to make ORCA easily accessible to all.