King County Metro is scheduled to start a low-income fare of $1.50 by March 1, 2015, but it could be delayed while workers figure out how to implement it.
The challenge comes in verifying whether people qualify for the low-income fare. The low-income fare will apply to people age 18 and over who earn less than 200 percent of the annual median income, roughly $23,000 for a single adult. The cost of the fare will remain the same until 2017.
Kelli Carroll, a staff member for the King County Council, presented an update on the program to the council July 15, noting that Metro does not yet have contracts established with third-party agencies to verify some riders’ incomes.
The low-income fare is supposed to take effect at the same time as a 25 cent increase to all other fares. If the county is not ready to start the low-income fare, the normal fare hike may also have to be delayed, Carroll said.
The plan, which must be completed by Dec. 31 at the latest, is a work in progress, Carroll said.
“Metro will be one of the very first large transit agencies in the country to offer a reduced fare for low-income riders,” she said. “Being one of the first means we didn’t have any industry standard templates to design our program from.”
It will cost the county more than $1 million in 2014 and $2 million in 2015 to start the program. Metro expects to lose almost $4 million in fares due to customers using the low-income fare program.
Metro already has an established bus pass program with its ORCA cards, which people can purchase and add money to at dozens of locations around the city.
Metro is working with service providers around the county — including Solid Ground, HopeLink, Harborview Medical Center and Public Health — to handle income verification for Metro.
The agencies could easily provide income verification for existing clients. Verifying incomes for others will take more work, Carroll said, and more expense for the agencies.
A proposal is due to the county council Aug. 15. The King County Council established a task force with representatives from social service agencies to review the plan and make recommendations.
The council in 2012 began discussing a reduced fare after ending the Ride Free Area (RFA), which provided free bus transportation through most of downtown. To mitigate the loss, the council convened a low-income fare advisory committee, which recommended Metro institute a fare for low-income riders.
The fare could have been as low as $1.25, but the lower rate was dependent on King County voters passing a 0.1 percent sales tax and $60 annual vehicle license fee. Voters rejected the proposal in April.
Some riders asked for a low-income fare for Access shuttles, which pick people with disabilities. The council stuck with its original plan, increasing Access fare by 50 cents. Access fare will be $1.75 in March 2015.