To:         King County Council, King County Metro leadership, Executive Constantine

From:         Transportation Choices Coalition, OneAmerica, Capitol Hill Housing, Seattle/King County
        Coalition on Homelessness, Puget Sound Sage, Low Income Housing Institute, The
        
        Church Council of Greater Seattle, Unite HERE LOCAL 8, SEIU Local 6, Transit Riders Union
Date:         October 19, 2018

Re:         Response to Metro Fares Report

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on fare affordability, particularly pertaining to the Metro fares report and related budget items.

We are organizations that care deeply about creating and maintaining equitable access to transit. Fare affordability as well as outreach and marketing are two critical components of equitable access. Our region is booming, with labor and capital costs soaring, and in order to keep up, Metro has had to raise its fares accordingly, making base fares one of the more expensive transit fares in the nation.[1] While Metro provides many hours of service with growing ridership to our region, and a groundbreaking low-income fare program, we know through recent outreach related to Metro’s fare enforcement program, as well as through the daily experiences of our county service providers that despite the availability of ORCA LIFT, fares continue to be unaffordable for many riders. We also know that affordability is just one barrier to access - it is difficult to access transit if it does not serve your neighborhood - and we look forward to working with Metro on service guidelines that ensure that we better serve low-income areas and communities of color.

We appreciate the work done to prepare the report, and would like to offer our support of the broad income-based discount strategy laid out by Metro while continuing to explore specific market outreach and barriers. We also offer the following comments:

  • Collectively, our groups support using income as a proxy for need, and structuring new fare discounts based on income. One of the benefits of an income-based approach is that it provides subsidies to those who need it most, regardless of where they live, work, or go to school in the county. This type of program will reach those with the greatest need across *all* of the markets identified in the original motion.
  • While we support a focus on reducing burden on lowest income riders, we hope to work towards a true income-based sliding scale for fares, including removing barriers for those above the LIFT threshold, for whom full fares are too expensive (e.g. raising the ORCA LIFT threshold to be more commensurate with other eligibility programs).
  • In any pilot program design, continue to look for holistic strategies and elements that improve access for the markets laid out in the original motion. For example, better incorporating income-based fares into institutional products will ensure everyone that has need gets benefits, regardless of where they get their pass.
  • Continue to reduce eligibility verification barriers. Looking for efficiencies in income eligibility verification across markets will also help adoption of any new income-based fares. This may make it easier to register and pay for individuals in places where there are institutional mechanisms in place to do so.
  • Search for a balance between long-term strategy and urgent need. We know that Metro may not have the capacity or funds to provide all the appropriate discounts to all income levels right away. We also know that Metro needs to engage the proper groups and communities in order to develop the most impactful program. However, we also know there is urgent need for access to transit today. Once the program is defined by the stakeholder group, the group along with Metro staff and Council should clearly identify what we might hope to learn through a pilot (rather than through other kinds of market analysis) and how long we think we need to learn it. If the program is straightforward, would full scale implementation make sense? Otherwise, a full 12 months may not be necessary to corroborate the need for this particular approach, and instead, we may want to take that time to focus on scaling up access to a very low income fare, ensuring broad adoption and the most benefits to the maximum eligible recipients. We may not need to wait until the next strategic planning cycle.
  • Leverage stakeholders from identified markets. These stakeholders will make valuable contributions to the very low income pilot program, and can continue to work with Metro on strategies beyond marketing for reaching and serving their constituents, especially those that will qualify for the new program.

Thank you,

Transportation Choices Coalition

OneAmerica

Capitol Hill Housing

Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness

Puget Sound Sage

Low Income Housing Institute

The Church Council of Greater Seattle

Unite HERE LOCAL 8

SEIU Local 6

Transit Riders Union


[1] https://www.businessinsider.com/metro-fare-comparison-us-cities-2018-1#chicago-11