County Council approves transit fare increase and creation of low-income fare program

Monday, February 24, 2014

In the face of losing up to 17 percent of Metro Transit service, the Metropolitan King County Council Monday took a step toward bolstering Transit Division finances by approving an across-the-board increase in transit fares. In conjunction with the fare increase, the Council is also acting to try to ensure that communities who depend on public transit as their primary source of transportation are not left behind with the creation of a low-income fare program.   

“It is essential that all people, regardless of their income level, have access to public transportation, said Councilmember Rod Dembowski, Chair of the Transportation, Economy, and Environment Committee, and ordinance cosponsor. 
“I am proud of the financially responsible ordinance that we passed today. In raising fares to support Metro, and instituting a low-income fare to ensure all riders continue to have access to reliable transportation, we have reached the correct balance that I believe will benefit all of King County."

The fare increase, which would be implemented in March 2015, would raise fares by 25 cents for all fare categories for Metro Transit bus service. Fares for Access paratransit service would be increased by 50 cents in order to move toward the County’s policy goal of achieving parity between the Access fare and off-peak adult fare over time.   

The legislation would also require the Transit Division to send the Council a low-income fare program implementation plan. If a program implementation plan is adopted by the Council, a low-income fare program for transit riders would be established using the existing ORCA (One Regional Card for All) system.

If an interlocal agreement is reached with the King County Transportation District for the distribution of voter-approved revenues, the fare would start in 2015 at $1.25 for eligible adults and the youth fare would remain at $1.25, with these fares rising to $1.50 in 2017. Absent the interlocal agreement, the low-income fare and youth fare would be set at $1.50 starting in 2015. 

The eligibility threshold for the low-income fare would be 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, currently $22,980 for an individual. Adults in a family of four earning up to $47,100 would also be eligible.

The low-income fare was recommended by the Low-Income Fare Options Advisory Committee that issued its report in mid-2013. The focus of the committee was to ensure that even during the current funding crisis for transit, low-income adults would have more affordable transit options for their transportation needs.

Executive Dow Constantine commented:
“Building equity means having a functioning transportation system, and the ability to use it. I am pleased that the Council has taken this important action to ensure a bus ride remains affordable for those of limited means who need to get to school or their jobs. Our region is strong only if everyone has access to the mobility they need. 
“I have been concerned for some time with the effect of repeated Metro fare increases on those struggling to get by. The Low Income Fare Advisory Committee we convened last year had broad representation from human service providers and others. As a result of that work, I asked the Council to implement a new reduced fare for low-income riders, along with its consideration of the current fare ordinance.” 

The ordinance calls for the Executive to transmit the Low-Income Fare Program Implementation Plan to the Council by June 1, 2014, with the goal of Council adoption later in the year. 


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