County Council approves transit fare increase, creation of low-income fare program

In the face of losing up to 17 percent of Metro Transit service, the Metropolitan King County Council on Monday took a step toward bolstering Transit Division finances by approving an across-the-board increase in transit fares. In conjunction with the fare increase, the council is also acting to try to ensure that communities who depend on public transit as their primary source of transportation are not left behind with the creation of a low-income fare program.

“Today’s vote makes King County one of the few large transit agencies in the country with a low-income fare,” said council member Larry Gossett, prime sponsor of the legislation creating the low-income fare. “The low income fare has been about two years in the making and the work isn’t done yet. I look forward to continuing the good working relationship with (Executive Dow Constantine) and transit advocates as we develop an implementation strategy that works for Metro and those who will use this new fare. I also want to thank the members of the Low Income Fare Advisory Committee for the hard work they put into recommending the creation of a low income fare.”

“Creating a low-income fare is not only a historic move, but more importantly it helps ensure that populations who rely on transit most to get to jobs, classes and medical appointments aren’t priced out of the system,” said Council Chair Larry Phillips.  With our action today, King County is just the second major jurisdiction in the nation to address equity in access to transit through a low income fare program.”

The fare increase, which would be implemented in March 2015, would raise fares by 25 cents for all fare categories for Metro Transit bus service. Fares for Access paratransit service would be increased by 50 cents in order to move toward the county’s policy goal of achieving parity between the Access fare and off-peak adult fare over time.

The legislation would also require the Transit Division to send the council a low-income fare program implementation plan. If a program implementation plan is adopted by the Council, a low-income fare program for transit riders would be established using the existing ORCA (One Regional Card for All) system.

If an interlocal agreement is reached with the King County Transportation District for the distribution of voter-approved revenues, the fare would start in 2015 at $1.25 for eligible adults and the youth fare would remain at $1.25, with these fares rising to $1.50 in 2017. Absent the interlocal agreement, the low-income fare and youth fare would be set at $1.50 starting in 2015.

The eligibility threshold for the low-income fare would be 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, currently $22,980 for an individual. Adults in a family of four earning up to $47,100 would also be eligible.

The low-income fare was recommended by the Low-Income Fare Options Advisory Committee that issued its report in mid-2013. The focus of the committee was to ensure that even during the current funding crisis for transit, low-income adults would have more affordable transit options for their transportation needs.

To develop the low-income fare program, the Transit Division will work with human service agencies to address eligibility and program delivery. In addition, program assumptions include:

• Each eligible adult would be allowed to have one low-income fare ORCA card, and each card must be registered in the ORCA system to an eligible adult;

• The low-income fare would only be available through the use of ORCA cards, not cash payments; and

• Eligibility would be re-verified every other year.

The ordinance calls for Constantine to transmit the Low-Income Fare Program Implementation Plan to the council by June 1 with the goal of council adoption later in the year.


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