The following is a guest post from our new summer intern, Dayanne:

Metro Fare Simplification

With the fast-paced growth of the Puget Sound region, one of the main concerns surrounding the King County Metro has become the efficiency of the fare system. Although this may not be obvious, a combination of high ridership and an inefficient fare system can cause real impacts to riders. With the current fare system, what you pay as you board a bus is determined by when you are traveling, whether that be peak or off-peak hours, and where you are traveling, one zone or two zones. King County Metro is concerned about the complexity of this system and how it translates for an everyday Metro passenger. As a Metro rider, you have to memorize when a bus is considered to be during peak or off-peak hours and know if you are traveling one zone or two, or wait to see the price displayed on yellow sign on the fare box of the bus, which can cause confusion and slow down boarding time, reducing the efficiency and reliability of the bus and Metro system overall. Another concern sprouts from the driver and rider disputes that arise due to the complicated fare system. When these disputes grow in intensity, the safety of the passengers and drivers is put at risk. Getting rid of these fare complexities will help improve the safety for all and minimize boarding time.

In an attempt to increase transit efficiency in the long term, transit leaders are working to develop a next-generation ORCA (or “ngORCA”) card designed to keep up with transit user needs.This next-generation ORCA card aims to find easier ways to reload money and promote more seamless transitions through various transit modes. Currently, the ORCA card has a 48-hour lag between the time money is loaded to a card and when it shows up on the card. The Seattle Transit Blog reported that the ngORCA card would switch to an account based system, working similar to bank accounts, which would make topping-off quicker and provide the ability to use different fare media beyond just a card. Some options suggested include being able to use your phone to manage your account. Via a public survey, the public feedback generated reflected a need for a simpler fare system and a better ORCA system that adequately let customers monitor and budget their money.

Beginning in March of 2017, TCC has participated in a 19-member advisory group for the King County Metro fare simplification team in order to strategize new ways to better serve the community and Metro riders and facilitate the way in which Metro riders pay their fare. Based on advisory group and public feedback, Metro staff came up with two possible options that could increase transit access and affordability.

  • Option 1:  $2.75 flat rate all the time, anywhere.
  • Option 2:  $2.50 flat rate during off-peak hours and $3.00 flat rate during peak hours, anywhere.

The staff and advisory group took various concerns into account as they developed and evaluated the new fares, such as user ability to pay, Metro cost of services, distance traveled, time on the bus, maximizing revenue and minimizing loss.

Option 1 proved to be better in terms of what the advisory team felt was most crucial for Metro riders: by getting rid of both zone fares and peak fare, it was the most simple to understand. This attempts to reduce rider fare confusion, disputes and boarding time as well as increase reliability and efficiency by implementing one fare good for all. Removing zones also has some benefits to some low-income populations. While the price of housing keeps rising, low-income families are being forced to move to more affordable housing in suburban areas. This suburbanization of poverty results in longer and more difficult commutes for these families. Often times, this means traveling through more than one zone to reach their workplace and thus paying a higher transit rate. By eliminating peak and different zone fares, the new flat rate will help create equal opportunities for these communities by not penalizing these communities for having to move further away from their workplace due to rising housing costs. Although there are real impacts inconveniences in increasing the fare for various groups of people, Metro is also taking steps to help ensure that this new fare system will not unreasonably affect low-income communities, communities of color and transit dependent populations. The priority remained on benefitting King County Metro customers the most while simplifying the fare system.

For us at TCC, it is important to advocate to instill programs and policies in addition to the new fare system in order to counteract the increase on the flat rate fare and the people it affects. We took ideas from both the advisory group and our organizational partners OneAmerica, Puget Sound Sage and Rainier Beach Coalition to identify ways to help the affected communities adjust to this fare system. Below are summaries on the suggestions that were made to the King County Metro fare simplification team for consideration:

  • Because the $2.75 increase in flat rate fare increases revenue, it is important to us that a substantial amount of that new revenue go toward affordability programs.
  • Use new revenue in order to expand the already existing ORCA LIFT in order to get more people eligible for the program to enroll and benefit from the program.
  • Consider expanding ORCA LIFT eligibility to better serve those who are cost-burdened because of the rising high housing costs.
  • Making ORCA re-enrollment easier, such as no longer requiring a new card to re-enroll.
  • Work with affordable housing providers and colleges to ensure the appropriate affordable transit programs reach the adequate people.
  • Help lower transit costs for youth to ride transit over the summer.
  • Help make the transfer window longer in order to accommodate for those living in more affordable housing outside the city which leads to longer commutes that might extend past the transfer time window.
  • Continue to observe communities impacted by the fare change, such as communities of color and low income communities in order to adjust and evaluate new programs and policies to ameliorate the situation.

To view King County Metro’s complete proposal click here. To see a detailed list of our suggestions sent to King County Metro, click here.

The King County Metro team anticipates meeting with the King County Council in order to present a final proposal of the Metro Fare Simplification in August in order to get the proposal approved.

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