February 26, 2014
Vol: 51 No: 9

News

Riders tell King County Council: Make low-income fare $1, keep Access service affordable

By Rosette Royale / Interim Editor

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The fare is too high.

That’s the message King County Metro bus riders and bus drivers had for the King County Council at a recent public hearing on the proposed low-income fare and a proposed fare hike on Access, a paratransit service for riders with disabilities.

Close to 30 people representing homeless advocacy groups, immigrants rights organizations and transportation advocates prodded the county council to reconsider proposed fare changes to Metro service during a Feb. 18 public hearing. 

The council was considering a proposal that would create a low-income bus fare of $1.50, but most people in attendance felt the fare should be $1.

A second proposal, to raise fares 25 cents for bus service, would specifically increase the cost of using Access shuttle service by 50 cents.

Meeting attendees said the proposed fare increase is too much for riders who use paratransit service, which provides passenger vehicle transportation to people with disabilities who can’t ride the bus.

If approved, the start date for each would be March 2015.

Advocates for a low-income fare say it’s simply not low enough.

“My biggest concern is that the low-income fare be a dollar and not a $1.50,” said Tannika Crease, who said she lives in housing provided by SHARE.

Crease said she earns $9.17 an hour working at a retail store and that, depending on how many hours she works, she often struggls to cover rent, food, utilities and bus fare.

“I can’t make it on a $200 check,” Crease said. “I can’t.”

To be eligible for a low-income fare, riders would have to earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, roughly equivalent to an annual salary of $23,000 for a single person.

Reyna Aguila, representing the immigrants rights group OneAmerica and speaking with the aid of a translator, said in Spanish that affordable public transit was a necessity for immigrants, many of whom don’t know when or how much they will be working.

“We need a committee or task force to represent our issues at this table,” Aguila said.

The biggest issue, she indicated, was creating a low-income fare cheaper than $1.50.

The current nonpeak, one-zone fare is $2.25.

Representatives from transportation groups also supported reducing the low-income fare.

Shefali Ranganathan, director of programs for the Transportation Choices Coalition, said that on the day of the hearing, she’d seen a young man counting change at the bus stop. He was a dollar short of his fare, she said.

“A $1.50 is a good start,” she told councilmembers of the proposed low-income fare, “but [there are] opportunities to make it even more accessible to existing and new riders that will come into the fold.”

Katie Wilson, general secretary of the Transit Riders Union, agreed $1.50 was too high.

“We would like to see that go down to a dollar — at most,” she said.

To show community support, Wilson provided councilmembers with more than 175 cards signed by Real Change vendors, their customers and allies in favor of a $1 reduced fare.

“An affordable Reduced Fare will help tens of thousands of our neighbors get to work, school, and shelter,” the card read.

Wilson told councilmembers they would soon receive additional cards.

Speakers were equally supportive of keeping fares low for Access.

Jessica Renner, who maneuvered her wheelchair to a microphone, said she receives Supplemental Security Income, which pays for her bills and Access pass. Speaking through a computerized voice generator, she asked if Access riders would also have a reduced option.

“Please improve low-income fare options for Access riders,” Renner said.

The current Access fare is $1.25. The proposed fare increase on Access, which provides transportation via a fleet of wheelchair-accessible passenger vehicles, would raise the price to $1.75.

So far, there is no proposal for a reduced fare on Access.

Metro bus driver Douglas Frechin said the proposed low-income fare was too much and that the proposed fare hikes were too expensive.

“We need to have one rate for the seniors, disabled, elderly and students and low-income at 75 cents a ride,” Frechin said.

This year, the county council has considered multiple legislative actions that could affect transportation countywide.

Along with weighing proposals for a low-income fare and an increase in general and paratransit fares, the council recently created a Transportation Benefit District (TBD), a separate taxing district that can generate revenue to cover costs of transit, roads and other transportation projects.

Creating a TBD paves the way for the council to propose a ballot initiative that would ask voters to increase sales tax by 0.1 percent and institute a $60 annual car tab fee.  Voters would decide the fate of the TBD during an April 22 ballot initiative.

If passed by voters, revenue generated by the TBD would help fill Metro’s coffers. Currently, the transit agency is facing a $75 million deficit. 

Metro officials have said that without additional funding, it will have to cut 74 routes and alter 107 routes in the fall of this year. Access service would also be reduced.

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