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Ensuring transportation access for all: Panel recommends development of low-income transit fare

Summary

Proposing options for low-income communities to ride the bus

Story

The panel established by the Metropolitan King County Council to explore developing fare programs for low income communities who use public transit as their primary source of transportation sees the need for a set fare for low income transit riders.

The low-income fare program is one of the recommendations received by the County Council in a report presented by the Low Income Fare Options Advisory Committee. The Council today accepted the report of the Advisory Committee.

“I thank the committee for their hard work. The Great Recession has hit those in our community that can least afford it the hardest,” said Council Chair Larry Gossett, the prime sponsor of the motion establishing the advisory committee. “I look forward to working with my colleagues and the Executive on the creation a low income fare.”

“The fact is that many individuals have difficulty affording bus fares in King County,” said Council Vice-Chair Julia Patterson. “I believe that creating a low-income fare would further our county’s commitment to equity and social justice, and I would like to thank the volunteer members of the advisory committee for dedicating their time to this important issue.”

Metro currently provides a number of options for those needing assistance in paying for bus rides, including the Access Transportation Programs, 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.

Last October, the Council unanimously approved creation of an advisory committee to explore developing fare programs for low income communities who use public transit as their primary source of transportation.

“Public transportation should be accessible to all members of the public, yet working adults who earn low wages are struggling to afford transit fares to get to work, daycare, and appointments,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips, Chair of the Transportation, Economy, and Environment Committee. “We thank the Low Income Fare Options Advisory Committee for their thoughtful deliberations and recommendations as we tackle this important issue.”

“This is a start to finding an effective way to have those challenged by the economy participate in a low income fare program,” said Council Vice Chair Jane Hague. “This would help them get access to employment, medical care, child care and the other needs of their daily lives.”

“I’m grateful for the hard work by the members of this committee,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert. “Now we need to look carefully at the recommendations and make certain we are balancing the needs of all riders.”

“The advisory committee did important work on this topic,” said Councilmember Reagan Dunn. “I look forward to reviewing the specifics of this proposal.”

“I want to thank the Low Income Fare Options Advisory Committee, for their thorough and thoughtful report on options for a low income fare for King County residents,” said Councilmember Rod Dembowski, who is Chair of the Regional Transit Committee. “It is essential that all residents, regardless of their income level, have access to public transportation. I look forward to exploring options for the implementation of a Low-Income Fare.”

The group, which included representatives from a wide range of human service agencies as well as those who might benefit from the recommendation of the panel, assisted 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 focus of the group was to

• Establish 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;
• Review the different types of transit fare options available to meet the mobility needs of low-income persons;
• Review costs of potential King County low income fare programs;
• Recommend definitions of low income to be used for the implementation of transit fare programs;
• Make prioritized recommendations related to the establishment of King County low-income fare programs;
• Identify different options for funding low income fare programs and potential partners that may be willing to support such programs;
• Identify opportunities and recommendations for regional low income fare programs for potential consideration by agency partners of the ORCA joint board.

The recommendations made by the Committee include:

• A low‐income fare program should be created.
• A low‐income fare program should be considered as a beneficiary if the County has new or increased revenue.
• All fare categories, and the policy bases for them, should be evaluated in an effort to rationalize the fare structure and ensure greater equity.
• A low‐income fare program should minimize the burden on Metro, other agencies, and the people served.
• Rather than create a new entity, existing eligibility verification systems run by third‐party agency partners that determine eligibility for existing benefit programs should be leveraged.
• An option to verify eligibility based on income should be made available for those not enrolled in other benefit programs and explored with agencies that already verify income or that would be willing to provide this service.
• Multiple funding sources should be evaluated to offset the financial impacts of a low‐income fare program, including revising the existing fare box structure and other revenue sources.
• King County and Sound Transit should coordinate on the implementation of a low‐income fare when it is approved.


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