Starting Jan. 1, Metro's bus fare for adults and seniors will increase by 25 cents, while youth fares will remain unchanged. The increase applies to ticketbooks and passes as well.
For local organizations serving the homeless population, the rate hike will likely mean fewer tickets to distribute to clients. Agencies like the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC), distribute bus tickets to clients every day for a variety of transportation needs, including getting to satellite shelters, said Nicole Macri, administrative services director at DESC. "The costs are really burdensome for someone who's homeless," she says.
Each year King County Metro allocates money to the Human Service Ticketbook Program, which makes reduced fare bus tickets available to local human service agencies. The agencies pay 20 percent of the ticket price, explains Al Poole, director of homelessness intervention at Seattle Human Services.
Similar to previous years, Metro is allocating around $1.5 million to the program for 2010, said Rochelle Ogershok, public affairs manager at King County Department of Transportation. Agencies ask for a certain dollar amount of tickets, explains Poole, but they seldom receive their full request.
In deciding who in Seattle will receive the tickets, he says, the first criterion is whether the agency supports the homeless population. Poole says the number of tickets requested has not changed much from last year, even with the fare increase. That's the case for the DESC, which, similar to last year, requested a little over $68,000 worth of tickets, Macri says.
But while they have set aside the same amount of money as before to pay their share of these tickets, they are not expecting the money to stretch as far in 2010. "We are pretty careful about giving out bus tickets now and I'm not sure where we might cut back or if we can at all," says Lisa Hilton, shelter manager for DESC.
Programs relying on bus tickets to get people to shelters will experience the greatest negative impact, says Kim Sather, division manager of Compass Shelter Center and Day Services. Sather, as well as Macri, says their agencies are looking at increased costs while funding levels stay the same.
Macri is not only concerned for their clients, but for their employees as well. Unlike many large downtown employers, DESC cannot afford to subsidize its employees' transportation costs. Of the monthly bus passes, says Macri, "It's a lot of money to get back and forth to work, especially when you're a shelter counselor making $11.50 an hour."
Meanwhile, Metro is having budget problems of its own, which is the reason for the fare increase, said Ogershok, in the county's transportation department. The transit agency faces a projected deficit of $550 million by 2013, she says, and "several
measures will be taken to address the shortfall." Besides the fare increase, Metro is foregoing previously planned service improvements.
As a possible solution to helping their clients get where they need to go, the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness has advocated for an expansion of the Ride Free Area, extending it north to Seattle Center, south to Safeco field, and west to Harborview Medical Center.