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Ensuring transportation access for all: Council creates advisory panel on transit mobility

Summary

Increasing options for low-income communities to ride the bus

Story

The Metropolitan King County Council today took a proactive step to address the mobility needs of low-income residents throughout King County. The Council gave its unanimous approval to the formation of an advisory committee to explore developing fare programs for low income communities who use public transit as their primary source of transportation.

“No one should have to decide between having enough money to ride the bus or putting food on the table, but this is starting to become a regular choice for a growing number of people in King County,” said Council Chair Larry Gossett, the prime sponsor of the motion establishing the advisory committee. “This committee is the start of exploring how we continue to provide vital transit service that is both accessible and affordable to all transit users.”

“Forming this committee is a major step forward in ensuring that all King County residents have access to transit,” said Councilmember Julia Patterson. “Many riders in South King County depend upon buses to get to work, school and elsewhere. I’m confident that this committee will create effective options to increase transit access and use for low-income persons throughout the county.”

“Transit is a lifeline for low wage workers to get to jobs, but the tough economy and fare increases are challenging their ability to afford public transportation,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips, Chair of the Transportation, Economy, and Environment Committee and co-sponsor of the motion. “Forming an advisory committee will enable councilmembers to gain more information about the transportation barriers low income people face and explore potential solutions for increasing their access to transit.”

“No- and low-income individuals have been disproportionately affected by the Great Recession’s effect on non-profit and government services. This advisory panel will work to address this vulnerable population’s needs in a systematic and thoughtful way,” said Councilmember Joe McDermott, Chair of the Budget and Fiscal Management Committee. “Many other jurisdictions have discounted passes for no- and low-income individuals. I look forward to updating our policies.”

“As a regular commuter on the #41 and the former director of an emergency services organization, I know how important bus service is to get people where they need to go.” said Councilmember Bob Ferguson. “This group of stakeholders will help us identify ways we can make sure taking the bus is a viable option for low-income individuals who may not have other means of transportation.”

Metro currently provides a number of options for those needing assistance in paying for bus rides, including the Access Transportation Programs, participation in the Regional Reduced Fare Permit Program, fare discounts to seniors, disabled persons and youth riders, and the Reduce Fare Bus Ticket Program. The ongoing economic recession has created a situation where there are a number of County residents who don’t qualify for these programs, but still need assistance in paying transit fares.

“We will work closely with the executive and the committee to evaluate and formulate proposals for the underserved and homeless impacted by the current economic conditions as well as the transit changes that have occurred over the last year,” said Council Vice Chair Jane Hague.

“King County’s Metro Transit serves as a vital lifeline to not only the County’s low income residents, but to a growing number of commuters who can no longer afford the cost of driving a vehicle,” said Councilmember Reagan Dunn, chair of the Council’s Regional Transit Committee. “I welcome the creation of this advisory committee and look forward to reviewing their proposals.”

The adopted motion creates an advisory committee to assist in the development of public transportation fare programs for low income communities in support of the “fair and just” principles that are part of the King County Strategic Plan. The advisory committee would consist of members appointed by the County Executive and include representatives from a wide range of human service agencies as well as those who might benefit from the recommendation of the panel.

The scope of work for the committee, which would start in early 2013, includes a number of issues:

• Establishing a common understanding of mobility barriers for low income populations, and how transit fare price points affect access and use of transit by low-income persons;
• Reviewing the different types of transit fare options available to meet the mobility needs of low-income persons;
• Reviewing costs of potential King County low income fare programs;
• Recommend definitions of low income to be used for the implementation of transit fare programs;
• Making prioritized recommendations related to the establishment of King County low-income fare programs;
• Identifying different options for funding low income fare programs and potential partners that may be willing to support such programs;
• Identifying opportunities and recommendations for regional low income fare programs for potential consideration by agency partners of the ORCA joint board.

The committee would present its recommendations to the Council in the summer of 2013.



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