We are working to make transit more affordable for those with the lowest incomes.
We’ve already implemented a reduced transit fare program called ORCA LIFT for people with household income of less than double the federal poverty level. However, we know that is still not affordable for some people in King County due to the high cost of living in this region.
There’s more to come—see below for what’s next.
King County Metro has long offered discounted fares to make transit service more affordable and accessible. In addition to existing programs for youth, seniors, and disabled riders, Metro recently expanded the Human Services Ticket Program and introduced the ORCA LIFT low-income fare in 2015.
The ORCA LIFT program offers a reduced transit fare for people with incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. Enrollment is available at locations across King County and partner agencies like King County Public Health verify income of participants through existing benefits programs like Apple Health, Social Security and Employment Security.
Metro reached out to the public in spring 2017 to develop recommendations for simplifying fares. We created a stakeholder advisory group, briefed and interviewed interested groups, and gathered two rounds of public feedback. This led the Executive to propose a simplified fare structure of a flat fare of $2.75 at all times, regardless of time or distance, which was adopted by King County Council and took effect in summer 2017.
In the past few years, we also:
- Increased the funds available to provide human service agencies with fare tickets for their clients with no or low incomes in 2018.
- Worked with regional partners to eliminate ORCA card fees for seniors and people with disabilities who qualify for the Regional Reduced Fare Permit.
Still, these efforts did not address the full range of fare issues that we have heard about from customers. We know there is still a need for more affordable fares for those with the lowest incomes.
Why an income-based approach?
In a report to King County Council in September 2018 (responding to motion 15171), Metro analyzed potential programs to increase transit affordability and access for a variety of markets including youth, subsidized housing residents, students in postsecondary and training programs and people with zero or very low income. After analyzing potential options for each market, we concluded that special pricing for each group would not be the best way to increase transit access.
Instead, we proposed a comprehensive, income-based approach to fares, which would be the most equitable, viable and able to build on the existing low-income programs that Metro offers like ORCA LIFT.
Open the Making Metro More Affordable and Accessible report.
Next steps for designing an income-based approach to fares:
In the 2019-2020 biennial budget, King County Council asked that Metro establish an income-based fare program for those who cannot afford the current reduced fare options by March 2020. The legislation requires an implementation plan that includes the following elements:
- Who would be served (eligibility, demographics)
- How the program would be designed (fare media, income verification)
- Program costs and potential funding sources
- Policy tradeoffs between investment in fare programs and other investments
- Marketing, enrollment, and performance reporting for the program
- Partner roles and responsibilities, including the role of human service agencies
- How a new program would interface with existing fare programs and products
To create an implementation plan that addresses these considerations, Metro must understand the mobility needs of priority populations, including people of color, low-income residents, limited or non-English speaking communities, and immigrants and refugees.
Metro will report back to King County Council in June and submit an implementation report by September 2019.
The 20 members of our advisory group represented various organizations with a stake in public transit. They also reflect the diversity of Metro riders, including young people, older adults, people with disabilities, people with no or low incomes, commuters, and college and university students.
The group met four times in 2017 to help us think through the effects of various fare options and advise us on ways to make transit and ORCA more accessible. The group served in an advisory capacity only; it did not make any formal recommendations or decisions.
|Alliance of People with disAbilities||Kimberly Meck|
|Arc of King County||Dorian Taylor|
|Byrd Barr Place||Martha Meyer|
|Capitol Hill Housing||Joel Sisolak|
|Casa Latina||Araceli Hernandez|
|Catholic Community Services||Janet Hammer|
|CIRCC (Coalition of Immigrants, Refugees and Community of Color)||Sameth Mell|
|Highline College||Chalisa Thompson|
|King County Housing Authority||Jenn Ramirez Robson|
|Low Income Housing Institute||Sasha Koeberling|
|Puget Sound Sage||Jessica Ramirez|
|Refugee Women's Alliance||Ayan Mohamed|
Renton Housing Authority
|Mady Linh Lai
|Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness||Alison Eisinger|
|SEIU 1199NW||Sybill Hyppolite|
|Sound Generations||Mark Smutny|
|Transit Riders Union||Katie Wilson|
|Transportation Choices Coalition||Regina Dove|
|UNITE HERE Local 8||Eunice How|
|UFCW Local 21||Karsten Wise|
|University of Washington - UW Doorway Project (homeless youth)||Anna Humphreys|
Metro submits report to County Council on transit affordability for people with the lowest incomes, proposing an income-based approach.
County Council proviso asks Metro to implement an income-based fares program by March 2020.
Metro’s stakeholder advisory group meets to provide input on the program design.
Hearing from potential customers through community-based organizations.
Program update to King County Council.
Implementation report due to King County Council.
Income-based fares program begins.