This week, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced that a reduced-fare program for lower income bus-riders is coming to King County in March 2015. The reduced-fare system will make Seattle the second major city to implement reduced-fare metro options.
“This reduced fare program will ensure that those who have lesser means still have access to opportunity,” Constantine said in a King County press release.
In order to qualify for the reduced-fare, which is set at $1.50, the individual must meet the eligibility threshold of 200 percent of the Fedaral Poverty Level, which is currently set at $23,340 for an individual. Riders will be required to register with an ORCA card and cannot receive the benefit with cash, and eligibility for the service must be re-verified every other year.
According to the Census’ 2008-2012 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates for Economic Characteristics, around 10.9 percent of all families and people in Seattle are below the poverty level. According to Areavibes, the poverty level in Capitol Hill is 15.5 percent greater than the Seattle average and 23.7 percent greater than the Washington average.
Along with the reduced-fare option, the standard bus fare will increase by 25 cents for all current Metro fare categories — adults, youth, seniors, and people with disabilities, for all regularly scheduled transit services. For example, the fare will increase to $2.50 for regular adult hours, and $2.75 for peak adult hours. The fare will also increase by $0.50 per trip for Access paratransit service.
“By next March, we will have raised Metro fares five times since 2008. Off-peak fares will have doubled,” Constantine said.
According to King County Metro, fare changes are intended to both generate revenue that will support Metro service and keep bus trips affordable for people with low incomes. King County Metro Spokesperson Rochelle Ogershok says that estimates for how many will take part in the initiative range from 40,000 to 100,000 people.
“This isn’t a program that benefits just one or two communities, it will benefit all riders who are of lower income levels,” Ogershok said. “This was designed to help those who are finding it difficult to take the bus because of the ever increasing fares.”
Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, author of the amendment that created the Low-Income Fare Implementation Task Force, believes that this move is necessary in creating economic equality in the region. The Task Force spent extensive time examining the Metro’s proposal.
“The low-income fare speaks volumes about the values of our region, and its goals towards greater equity and access to public transit throughout King County,” Upthegrove said in a press release.
The King County Metro initiative is currently in its implementation phase. Metro will partner with Public Health – Seattle and King County, which proved to be successful at engaging lower-income residents in enrolling more than 165,000 people for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, to administer the program.
For now, it is too soon to tell whether the Capitol Hill Station, which will be located just east of Broadway and south of East John Street, will be implementing a low-income fare option. Spokesperson Geoff Patrick says that the idea is subject to review.
“Metro is proceeding with low income fare, but for Sound Transit, it’s a policy decision that is still up for review with light rail commuter fare and buses,” Patrick said. “Our board hasn’t taken up that decision yet, and riders will have to stay tuned.”