King County Council discusses changes to Metro rates

An ordinance that would simplify Metro bus fares in the county was referred to committee at the Aug. 28 King County Council meeting.

The fares would be standardized to $2.75 for a bus ticket, regardless of the line or time of day.

According to county documents, staff recommended this to reduce confusion due to the current structure.

If ultimately adopted by the council, it would be implemented in July 2018 and only apply to full fare adult riders, which make up roughly 70 percent of all riders.

ORCA Lift, youth, senior and disabled fares would remain unchanged.

Currently full fare adults are charged $2.50 for off-peak tickets, $2.75 for Seattle peak tickets and $3.25 for commuters crossing Seattle city limits during peak hours.

Children under 5 ride free and youths, seniors, low-income adults and adults with disabilities pay only $1.50 for tickets.

Simplifying tickets would help make the fare structure, which the county documents described as “among the most complex in the nation,” easier to understand.

Current fees are assessed based on whether the riders cross zone boundaries that are approximately the Seattle city limits during certain peak hours, causing confusion for many people, the documents said.

However, since raising prices negatively affects some riders, the documents state the county will increase its outreach to increase access for low-income and other communities that may be hurt by the increase.

Discussion about changing the fare structure began in 2016 when the ORCA Joint Board began an initiative to improve service and prepare the system for transit growth as the number of people living in the county increases.

As wealth continues to accumulate in Seattle and other cities, many communities, and particularly communities of color, low-income households and other minority groups are being squeezed out of cities like Seattle, meaning the fares end up disproportionately affecting them, according to the Seattle Times, NPR and other sources.

According to the county documents, the average adult fare on low-income routes is $.02 higher than non-low-income routes and the average adult fare for minority routes is $.05 higher than others.

In addition to the fare standardization, county staff also recommended reducing adult ORCA card fees from $5 to $3, eliminating the $3 fee for the Regional Reduced Fare Permit and increasing the Human Service Ticket Program subsidy by 11 percent, or $400,000.

While off-peak riders would see a $.25 increase in Metro tickets, the county said roughly 23 percent of all riders make less than $35,000 per year and less than 10 percent of off-peak only riders pay cash or non-subsidized ORCA fares.

These recommendations were passed on to the Regional Transit Committee. Other proposed changes to actual route service were passed on to the Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee.

Once the committees review the proposed changes, they could be presented again to the county council for approval.

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