County council approves flat Metro bus rate

Peak and two-zone fares will soon be a thing of the past for Metro riders, after the King County Council voted unanimously Monday to move the transit agency to a flat $2.75 rate for adults starting next July.

The hope of county officials is that a streamlined fare will make for quicker, more reliable trips, by reducing confusion over what to pay depending on the time of day, or where someone is heading.

It’s a sight Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles says she sees often during her morning commute from Belltown to the King County Courthouse.

“This should make things a lot easier,” she said.

While the county says nearly two-thirds of riders will either see no change or a 50-cent decrease in the cost of their trip, the plan is projected to produce a net revenue increase of $3.5 million in 2020. The change doesn’t affect those enrolled in the low-income ORCA Lift fare program, or youth, senior, or disabled fares.

Along with the fare change, the council approved $400,000 in additional funding for the Human Services Ticket program, eliminated the current $3 fee for regional reduced fare permits and passed a motion — sponsored by Kohl-Welles and Councilmember Dave Upthegrove — directing Metro to increase its efforts to enroll eligible adults into the ORCA Lift program before the changes go into effect.

Kohl-Welles said while the additional funding for the ticket program will go a long way, affordability remains a high priority. She said the ultimate solution would be providing a larger amount of ORCA Lift passes for low-income riders.

“What I keep hearing from a lot of our human services providers is people will come in to get that free bus ticket, and they’ll take that to another human services provider to get another bus ticket from there to try and end up where they really want to go,” she said.

In the meantime, Metro will prepare for next summer’s fare restructure. The vote on Monday caps off months of public engagement, with 80 percent of survey respondents earlier this year favoring the $2.75 flat rate plan, versus a $2.50 off-peak/$3 peak option.