Low Income Fare Campaign

Sign our Petition for a Low Income Fare here

Print our Low Income Fare Campaign Flyer here

The Transit Riders Union is campaigning for a Low Income Reduced Fare program. So far we have:

1. Done some preliminary research, including documenting the rising cost of bus fares. We made some nice graphs:

2. Approved a position paper on what a good low income fare program should look like:

3. Written a letter to the King County Council and built an alliance of 28 Seattle and King County-based organizations signing on to the letter: labor unions, community and neighborhood groups, homeless advocacy groups, political groups, faith groups, and others. A PDF of the letter is here, and the text of the letter and list of signatory organizations is below.

The King County Council has formed an advisory committee to explore options for a low income fare program, and submit recommendations to the council by July 1, 2013. The meetings of this committee, which will begin on January 30 and take place every few weeks, are open to the public and include a public comment period. Please attend and testify about the importance of a low income fare!!

Dear County Councilmembers and County Executive:

We understand that you are convening an advisory committee to assist in the development of a regional low income fare program. We thank you for taking this important step toward making public transit affordable for all residents of King County. Considering the rapid fare increases and economic hardship of the past few years, and the recent closure of the Ride Free Area, there is a pressing need for a low income reduced fare. We encourage you to work to make sure that this program is adequate to the need, and that the application process is simple and dignified. We believe that, if done well, this program will be an achievement that King County can be proud of, and one that can serve as an example to the many other U.S. cities whose public transit systems and low income citizens are facing similar challenges.

To this end, we submit the following recommendations for a regional low income fare program:

  • A low income reduced fare program should not replace the existing Reduced Fare Bus Ticket program, which allows health and human service agencies to purchase subsidized tickets for the people they serve. There will continue to be a need for these tickets, especially for transitory populations and since even a reduced fare will be unaffordable for individuals with no income.
  • A low income fare program should be regional, ideally covering all the transit agencies that recognize the Regional Reduced Fare Permit for seniors and people with disabilities; at the least it should cover King County Metro Transit and Sound Transit.
  • We recommend that a low income reduced fare match the current senior and disabled fare of $0.75. We also recommend that there be a monthly pass option.
  • We recommend that an individual who is receiving some other form of income-based assistance (such as food stamps) also be eligible for the reduced fare; but we believe it is important that an income standard also be accepted, because many people who would qualify for assistance do not in fact apply for and receive it.
  • We ask that whatever income standard is adopted be no lower than the standard ‘low income’ threshold of 200% of the Federal Poverty Level. We recommend that the Self-Sufficiency Standard (www.selfsufficiencystandard.org) be considered as an option, since it is sensitive to family composition and local costs of living.
  • Several transit agencies have successfully used a self-certification form (honor system) rather than requiring proof of eligibility for a low income fare. We recommend that this option be considered, both because it is simple, accessible, and dignified and because the administrative savings of not having to verify and maintain records of everyone’s income or assistance would likely outweigh the cost of the very small percentage of riders who might abuse the system.
  • We believe it is extremely important that it be possible to apply for a low income reduced fare card or pass throughout the year, rather than by some particular date. We also ask that people be required to renew their application no more frequently than once per year.

We recognize that a good low income reduced fare program will result in substantial costs to the transit agencies that participate in it, and that sources of funding must be found. We recommend that the King County Council petition the State Legislature for funding or a funding option specifically dedicated to such a program (for instance, a portion of a Motor Vehicle Excise Tax option). In the event that this is not possible, we recommend that a county-wide Employer Tax (RCW 81.100.030) be considered, since this is one of the few unused funding mechanisms King County already has at its disposal.

Thank you again for your work on this issue.


The Transit Riders Union and:

  • Casa Latina
  • El Centro de la Raza
  • Got Green
  • International Socialist Organization–Seattle Branch
  • Lutheran Volunteer Corps
  • Metropolitan Democratic Club of Seattle
  • Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS)
  • Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action (PSARA)
  • Puget Sound Sage
  • Real Change
  • Seattle King County NAACP
  • SEIU Healthcare 775NW
  • SEIU 925
  • Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE)
  • Socialist Alternative–Seattle Branch
  • Statewide Poverty Action Network
  • Sustainable Ballard
  • Sustainable West Seattle
  • Teamsters Local 117
  • Tenants Union
  • UFCW 21
  • Unemployment Law Project
  • UNITE HERE Local 8
  • Urban Sparks
  • Washington Community Action Network (CAN)
  • Women’s Housing Equality and Enhancement League (WHEEL)
  • Youth in Focus

9 thoughts on “Low Income Fare Campaign

  1. Eric

    This is a good idea but having people self certify and then leaving it at that seems to open the system up to widespread abuse and that will happen it might start out small but there are people out there who have no qualms cheating the system. Look at the people who follow the Facebook page that shares the transfer colors and codes each day. It’s not just about the money but also about fairness and while some of us don’t cheat the system others do and that is not fair to those who don’t. So I would strongly suggest to officials that it be similar to the senior permit where they have to update it annually or something like that and furnish proof of their current income at that time. That is not too much to ask in order for them to then get a reduced fare. It’s not undignified to do so either I work at DSHS and anyone coming in here for benefits much provide documents to be approved so most low income people already have all that stuff on hand anyway.

    1. Kyle

      Agreed. I pay my fair fare (if you’ll forgive the pun) every time. If I can’t pay, I don’t ride. Plain and simple. I do get the RRFP because I’m disabled, so it’s not as big a burden for me as it is for full-fare riders. I think it’s a good idea to have people provide proof of income. Cheaters and fare-dodgers make it an unfair system and ultimately hurt the community. I do everything I can to contribute where I can, be helpful to other riders (even toss in an extra quarter if someone needs it) and watch out for the safety of other passengers. It’s not right if I give more than my share while others just take, take, take and abuse the system.

  2. Joshua Farris

    We should really be demand free mass transit at this point. It saves money and builds a stronger economy in the long run when we don’t charge people to move about. Why punish people that want to get to work or buy something like groceries when they are riding a bus and not damaging roads, using extra fossil fuels, and disproportionately contributing to air pollution by driving themselves to and fro in cars? That just doesn’t make sense. Free mass transit for everyone!

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  4. Margaret Bartley

    I agree with Joshua Farris, that mass transit should be free. If we are to be honest and true to our mission, “every human being has a right to safe, reliable, affordable, and accessible public transit.”, the only way to accomplish that is by offering free transit for everyone. Otherwise, you get into the unfortunate situation of passing judgement on people, deciding that one person can afford 25 cents, another can afford $2, another can afford $15. Who is to make those decisions, and what are they going to base it on, and what appeals process is there?
    If two people, both of whom are making $12,000 a year with one child, could have very different lives, since one may be only working 10 hours a week, and live in a collective household with five other people, sharing childcare and household chores, and access to music and shared activities, and volunteering with arts groups, vs. someone working 30 hours a week, spending another 12 hours a week in transit, living by herself and her kid, eating fast-food and nothing to do but watch TV, has a very, very different level of need. Why should we be sitting in judgement here, and either deciding they are both the same, or one gets more of a discount than the other? That is not respectful nor supportive.

    If we are talking about “need”, really, no one can truely assess someone else’s “need”.

    If people want to voluntarily give more because they feel flush, or benevolent, there can be an “angel” donation box at the entry door for those people who want to be generous.

    All the money can come from property taxes. After all, they are getting free bus service, and the average price of a house in Seattle is more than $400,000. It seems unreasonable for someone living in a $400K or $700K house to quibble over a few hundred bucks to support transit.

    1. Chris C

      This is the most outrageous response ever. The idea that because someone works hard, has studied, and have obtained a good job with a good source of income they somehow “owe” it to others to pay for them is ludicrous. Almost as ludicrous as the idea that free public transportation is a “right.”

      If you want free public transportation, WALK.

      It is disgusting to see the bloated sense of entitlement people have today! Unless you’ve built it with your own labor, you have NO right to it. 100 years ago there were no cars, buses, or public transportation. So how is this now within the last 100 years of the entirety of human history become some sort of inalienable human right? Get over yourself.

      For youth, elderly, and disabled individuals, reduced fares make complete sense. For hard-working low-income families, reduced fares make complete sense. For lazy, don’t want to work or do anything or pay for anything and leech off of others, reduced fares make absolutely no sense. If you want to sit on your rump and collect unemployment for doing nothing for no one, then you can do so at home. Welfare comes from our taxes already (which is another point of contention), so no reason I should have to pay for others’ lifestyle choices twice.

      You have a right to what you earn. You don’t have any “right” to anything else. Want something? Earn it.

  5. Dinah

    I currently have the low income ORCA card. It’s great. I do wonder why the transfer time for ORCA cards is 2 hours and the transfer time for paying cash is 2.5 hours. The low income fare program does not allow me to pay by cash, forcing me to use the ORCA card, with a shorter transfer time built in. This is bullshit. What gives?

    1. TRU

      I think the transfer time for cash transfers is also supposed to be 2 hours, but most bus drivers round up and make it 2.5 or 3 (maybe so they don’t have to shift the tear position every half hour?). Transit riders in Portland organized and succeeded in getting their transfer time increased from 2 to 2.5 hours – they were asking for 3. Maybe that’s something we could campaign for here in King County?


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