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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.

How has Metro made fares more affordable?

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.

Timeline

  • 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.

Have a Say

Community involvement

In early 2019, we created a stakeholder advisory group to provide input and expertise on the program design. Stakeholders are from organizations that represent a variety of groups that may fall into the very low income or zero income category including affordable housing providers, human service providers, community-based organizations serving immigrants, refugees and people of color, people with disabilities and more.

We will also work with community-based organizations to reach out to potential customers who have very low or zero income.

Workshop 1 in March 2019

We learned about the different needs and characteristics of the populations that cannot currently afford ORCA LIFT. The group provided valuable input on the design criteria that Metro should use to design and evaluate the potential program options. The group also generated many strategies and ideas for how to better reach potential customers.

Workshop 1 materials


Workshop 2 in April 2019

We presented several program concepts based on feedback received in workshop 1 and the group provided input on how those concepts would work for the focus populations.

Workshop 2 materials

Along with our stakeholder work, Metro is conducting research on peer transit agencies, market segmentation and their reduced fare programs as well as several pilot studies that will help us evaluate how to best serve those in King County who can’t afford to ride transit with the current reduced fares.

See our first workshop survey.

Contact us

If you have any questions, comments or concerns about the program, please contact:

Cindy Chen
Community Relations Planner
Send Cindy an email
or call 206-263-8952


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