The county council voted for a one-time allocation of $250,000 to help social service agencies buy more subsidized bus tickets, a move that came after councilmembers agreed to a “declaration of emergency.”
Councilmember Larry Phillips, one of the bill’s six co-sponsors, said the ordinance is effective immediately.
The unanimous Oct. 15 vote means the county won’t face delays adding another quarter million dollars to its subsidized ticket program, which had initially been capped at $1.875 million for 2012. The additional funds must be used for tickets purchased by the end of this year.
The ticket program allows local social service agencies to purchase Metro tickets at 20 percent of cost. The remaining cost is covered by the county. A standard one-zone, non-peak ticket to ride Metro costs $2.25.
Janice Hougen of King County’s homeless housing program said the county is currently accepting applications from local agencies requesting tickets made available by the council’s vote. It takes about two weeks to process the application and release the tickets, she said.
During the council meeting, Phillips said the vote came at a time when the economic crisis has created difficulties for many people, particularly low-income people, and when the county is struggling to reform its transit system.
In late September Metro ended the Ride Free Area (RFA), which had provided free transportation downtown seven days a week, 13 hours a day. The RFA had been in existence for almost 40 years. Now all riders must pay on entry.
To mitigate the loss of free bus service for low-income people, Metro and city officials began a free circulator on Oct. 1 that travels along a one-way, fixed route each weekday for approximately nine hours. In its first two weeks of service, ridership had been low, with a one-day high of 144 passengers. The nonprofit Solid Ground signed a $400,000 contract to operate the circulator, which is a pilot program that will be reevaluated at the end of 2013.
When the county council voted to end the RFA in 2011, it also agreed to a $20 Congestion Reduction Charge that car owners would pay when renewing vehicle tabs. The increased renewal fee came with an upside for low-income people: Car owners could donate the value of eight bus tickets to the county’s pool of subsidized bus tickets.
County officials estimate the value of donated tickets for 2012 could add up to $200,000 to the annual subsidized ticket fund. Last month the ticket program received $150,000 from funds donated through the congestion reduction fee.
Jarvis Capucion, a spokesperson for the homeless collective share, said the vote was good news. “It really addresses the crisis social service agencies are facing,” he said.
share is no exception. In late September, share members announced that they were closing their 17 shelters and tent cities because the group did not have enough tickets to last through 2012. The organization needs tickets, Capucion said, because share residents agree to leave their host communities each morning.
But the county council’s vote means SHARE no longer has to camp out outside the King County Administration Building at Fourth and James. In a press release, SHARE announced it had reopened its shelters on Oct. 21.
Capucion said that even though the group supports the council’s vote to increase funds for tickets, the campers still have to wait to find out how many tickets share will receive.