Tag Archives: fares

On families and fares, part II

Chicklet's new ORCA cardIt was definitely a proud moment, in a milestone sort of way, when each of my kids turned six and was old enough to pay bus fare. I gave them youth ORCA cards – along with lanyards to store them in – as birthday gifts and had to restrain myself from photographing their first taps on the reader. I still get a kick out of watching them march up the bus steps and expertly tap their cards (after politely greeting the driver, of course); it is a reminder that my dreams of raising bus proficient kids are coming true.

On the other hand, the fact that my children are now full-fledged, fare paying riders means, well, that they have to pay. And, as my heroes and sheroes from Rainier Beach High School reminded us last year, riding the bus is expensive.

Youth fare in King County is now $1.50, which means that taking two kids anywhere costs six dollars round trip. For those families with access to a car (or even to cabs or “ridesharing” alternatives), this substantially diminishes the financial incentive for taking transit. For families without access, it adds up to a significant cost burden. Some examples:

A two-way, off-peak bus ride for two adults and two children costs $16.

A one–way trip for one adult and three children costs $7.00.

A month of bus rides to and from school for one student costs $60 ($54 if the family can pay the lump sum for a pass).

Because our family doesn’t own a car at all, and because we don’t ride with kids daily (they walk to school), adding the youth fares has not made a very big dent in the amount of money we save by busing. But we are not representative of the majority of families who rely on transit — nor of the families who would choose it more often if the financial incentives were greater.

Our current fare structure (and, for that matter, our payment system) creates unnecessary barriers to taking kids on transit. If we are serious about reducing our dependence on cars (and the cost of living in our region), we need to do a lot better.


On families and fares

Last November, our Chicklet turned six—and entered the world of fare-paying riders. As with many aspects of taking transit with children, this transition has presented some logistical challenges.

In an ideal world, Bus Nerd and I would be able to pay for Chicklet with our own ORCA cards.* Unfortunately, that is not an option. Not surprisingly, it isn’t possible to load two passes onto one card. And, though each of us has both a pass and a supplementary “e-purse”** loaded on our cards, it’s not possible to use the pass for the adult fare and the e-purse for the child fare. At least, we haven’t found a driver who thinks it’s possible; the request seems to baffle them.

The last thing we want is drama and confusion (and holding folks up!) every time we board a bus with our kid, so, we decided to “simplify” by buying Chicklet an ORCA card of her own. The thing is, simplifying’s not so simple.

First of all, buying the pass was a hassle. FYI folks: You can’t buy a youth ORCA card just anywhere; you will have to schelp downtown during business hours. And make sure to bring your kid’s birth certificate. No proof of age, no pass. At the time I purchased Chicklet’s card, I worked downtown, so I went to Metro’s pass sales office–with the necessary documents, thanks to knowledge gained helping a young friend some years ago–during lunch.

Because Chicklet’s daily commute is a walk, she doesn’t ride the bus enough to justify a pass. So, I loaded the card with twenty dollars. (The total cost was twenty-five, since the card itself costs five dollars. Don’t get me started.) Later that day, I logged on to ORCA site, registered the card, and set up autoload to add $10 whenever she ran out of money.

Chicklet was really, really excited to get her own card. (Though I’m not sure she liked it as much as this one.) We wrote her name on the back in black sharpie, and she used it for the first time on a trip to the Seattle Center to meet up with some lifelong friends. It took her a couple of tries to get the hang of tapping (and to figure out what the different beeps mean), but within days, she was wielding that card like a pro.

Yay! Except…

Chicklet has no place to keep a transit card. At six, she does not carry a wallet or purse and only carries her backpack to school. I anticipated this issue and so bought her a lanyard with a card holder when I bought her the card.

Chicklet with her lanyard

Chicket, wearing her lanyard on a recent bus excursion

The lanyard is a great place to store the card (and has the added bonus of providing a place for us to keep the school ID she never needs), but it doesn’t address the more critical six-year-old challenge: She isn’t the best at keeping up with stuff.***

In the interest of not losing (or having to remember) it, I carry the lanyard in my bus bag, which I always have with me. When we go somewhere on the bus, I get it out of my bag; she wears it while she needs it, then gives it back to me.

We still don’t have a solution, other than buying another card, for when she travels with her dad. Sometimes, we remember to do the card hand-off in advance. Most of the time, we don’t. And, despite my precautionary measures, we have already managed to lose one card.

The details of the loss are not important–especially since we still have no idea how it occurred. What is important is that, after a week of paying cash, hoping it would resurface, I made another trek to the Metro offices.

The first place I visited was the lost and found. Despite the fact that her name was written on the back, the man at the desk said he could not look for the card without the eight-digit card number. Of course, I had no clue what the card number was. And, of course, he could not look it up from his desk. For that, I had to visit the pass sales office.

The woman at the pass sales office was able to look up Chicklet’s card, and when she did, she discovered that it was not a youth card but an adult card. (Apparently, it is common for youth cards to mysteriously get converted to adult cards when an adult loads money on the card online. And also, no one really knows how to prevent this from happening.) So, even if I found the card, Chicklet would not be able to use it. (Apparently, despite all this unintentional online card-flipping, there is no way to intentionally, with the help of Metro staff, convert an adult card to a youth card.) She recommended that I purchase another card.

I did buy another card, but unfortunately, the woman I was working with was not able to transfer the balance from Chicklet’s lost card to her new card. (The person authorized to do that was away at lunch.) She registered the new card for me, in hopes it would prevent the inexplicable youth/adult mix-up (she was doing her best to help, bless her heart), and promised that my balance would be transferred by the end of the day.

A month later, the balance has not been transferred. But, so far, weeks after I set up autoload online, the new card is still registered as a youth card. And so far, we’ve managed to keep track of it.

But I’ve taken a few additional precautionary measures, just in case.

Chicklet's new ORCA card








*Actually, in an ideal world transit would be free. This would just be a decent scenario in the very broken world we live in.
**An e-purse is an electronic account from which a fare is deducted every time you use it.
***For context: She has managed–more than once–to lose a pair of glasses that were attached to her face.

Heads up: Big bus changes in 2010

The highlights:

Another fare increase: Starting January 1st, a one-zone peak-hour trip will cost $2.25. (Note: Youth fares will not change.)
No more Puget Passes: Need a bus pass? Get an Orca card. They’re free until January 31st, and then they’ll cost $5. (Note: All passes purchased in 2009–before the December 15th deadline–will be valid until they expire, and all employer-provided passes will be accepted until the employer makes the transition.)
No more paper transfers between systems: You’ll still be able to use paper transfers within Metro’s system, but only Orca-based electronic transfers will be valid on Link and buses operated by other transit agencies.

You can find all the details in this Metro press release.

Also note: Contrary to the Council’s somewhat misleading press release, February shakeup will include some service loss. Though (thanks to added service in certain corridors) there will be no net loss of service hours, some trips (certainly far, far fewer than we feared) will be eliminated. As far as I know, there’s no way to find out which trips will be cut until the new schedules are published. I’ll post more useful information as soon as I have it.

Update, 1/2: STB posted a good summary earlier in the month.

Caught slippin’

This morning, I had a meeting at 2nd & Jackson at 8 AM and so had to catch the 14 at 23rd & Jackson at 7:44 AM. When I got to the bus stop (a few minutes early, as usual), I immediately took out my pass. Then I sat down to wait, clutching it with the confidence and satisfaction of a transit geek who’s got an annual, peak-fare pass and is ready to use it.

Except, my friends, it was no longer a peak-fare pass. (Ahem.)

This morning’s ride was my first peak trip since the fare increase, you see, and it (the fare increase, that is) had temporarily slipped my mind. I’d been meaning to upgrade my pass, but, after several off-peak rides–on which my $1.75 pass still worked–I had grown complacent.

Of course I had no change–not even a dollar. The driver, who had no doubt been dealing with similar issues all morning, was cool about it (no problem–just pay me next time), but I was utterly mortified–in part because I have a phobia of being without transit fare (remind me to tell you about the time I lost my transfer in 4th grade and the 2 driver made me ride to the end of the line), but mostly because my bus chick pride was hurt. (Other people make those kinds of basic bus mistakes, but not bus experts like me.)

On the way home, I paid 50 cents extra.

Off peak is the new peak (or, At least Chicklet’s still free)

As expected, the King County Council has approved a phased fare increase, which will begin in February of 2009. The details:

Metro fare increases

(Sorry for the bitmap; I couldn’t get the table format to work when cutting and pasting.)

$2.25? Yeesh. When I started my bus-riding career, peak fare was 55 cents–for a minute, before it got raised to 65. My parents, concerned by my tendency to leave jackets, umbrellas, and et cetera on bus seats, passed up a pass in favor of a book of bus tickets, which they doled out as needed. Come to think of it, Metro didn’t even have student fares way back then. Or maybe it’s just that it was so long ago, my memory has faded. I digress.

There’s not too much to do about this. KC Metro is underwater and has very limited options for getting out of its current jam. I don’t mind using some of my tremendous transportation savings to pay my fair (pun intended) share, but I hope Metro makes good on its promise to distribute more free-ride coupons to the county’s low-income residents. And I really hope there will be an easier way (or better yet–no requirement) to upgrade annual passes this time.

Saving service

For the past several weeks, since hearing news of Metro’s dismal budget outlook (higher than projected fuel costs, lower than projected sales tax revenues), we transit types have been wondering whether we’d be faced with service cuts, fare hikes higher than the original 25-cent proposal, or both. Folks, hold on to your bus passes: We might not have to deal with either.

Today, Ron Sims is proposing a “plan C” that this bus chick can get behind. From the KCCK himself:

I fundamentally believe that a robust transportation network that moves people between their homes and their jobs is critical to our long term economic prosperity. An accessible, reliable and affordable public transportation system is vital to our community. Moreover, reducing the number of cars on the road is essential to reducing carbon emissions and protecting our environment. Thus, we must do all we can to keep our buses running and maintain our existing transit service. We must also remain steadfast with the implementation of the service expansion we promised voters when we asked them to approve the Transit Now initiative.

Therefore, I am proposing a measure that will not reduce bus service and will limit our [fall] fare increase to 25 cents … with another 25 cent increase in 2010.


These fare increases, however, by themselves will not be enough to make up the financial shortfall over the next two years. Rather than reducing services, I further propose that the shortfall be covered by the sale of some Metro capital assets such as the Bellevue Metro site worth approximately $18 million and by cutting capital projects totaling approximately $65 million. In addition, I propose to spend operating and capital reserves of approximately $45 – $60 million. This is an appropriate time to use these rainy day funds given the unprecedented financial storm pounding Metro today.

I admit I don’t fully understand the implications of the asset sales (the Bellevue property, at least, is not currently being used), and Lord knows I’m not a fan of fare increases, but given Metro’s funding constraints and service obligations, this seems like a reasonable (and reasonably creative) response to the crisis. Now is the time for more transit and more incentives to ride, not cuts. Sims’ proposal keeps us from losing ground–at least until we can identify more progressive (and predictable!) sources of transit funding.

Trickle down

High fuel prices + lots more riders = a major budget shortfall, and hence, Ron Sims is proposing another 25-cent fare increase.

With Metro Transit ridership and diesel fuel prices at record levels, King County Executive Ron Sims on July 3, 2008 announced he will preserve current service and continue delivering new service by proposing a 25-cent fare increase. Sims opted for the proposed increase rather than cut service to pay for fuel costs that have skyrocketed over 60 percent this year alone.

“This worldwide fuel crisis comes at a time of historic ridership growth for Metro Transit–and is the reason why residents are turning to transit in record numbers as their own budgets are squeezed,” Sims said. “But the same rising fuel costs contributing to Metro’s popularity are making it more expensive to deliver service and maintain aggressive transit-growth plans.

If the Council approves the proposal, it will take effect on October 1st.

I don’t have much to say about this, except–yet again–that it’s time to get serious about finding creative, progressive ways (other than fares and sales taxes, please) to increase funding for transit. We said we wanted folks to ride, right?

Retroactive fare increases: not OK

From Charlie in Ravenna:

I am a regular rider, and don’t have many complaints (everyone has some, right) but the fare increase really surprised me. I understand the need for an increase (like you, I disagree with the way that transit is funded, but a fare increase is better than decreased service), but I had no idea that they would apply the fare retroactively.

I purchased a twelve month pass in November 2007, so it expires in October 2008. This was before the fare increase was announced. Today, I received a letter saying that I need to pay to upgrade my pass for the remaining months on the term of the pass. So I have to pay $63 for my pass to work for $1.75 fares (the new rush hour fare). And, I can only do this at two locations downtown, during weekday work hours.

I feel pretty used here. The annual pass requires a huge upfront cash payment. Shouldn’t they be rewarding us for making a big investment in public transit, rather than giving us a major headache by making us take off work and go downtown to pay above the funds we budgeted for when we bought the pass?

Has anyone else found this to be unreasonable?

I didn’t know about this insanity until Charlie contacted me (I receive a free Flexpass through work), but I definitely find it to be unreasonable. Frankly, I’m wondering how it’s even legal. Let’s assume that Charlie purchased the pass only because it was within his budget back in November, and let’s assume that he can’t afford to upgrade or pay an extra 25 cents every time he rides. Can he get a refund? And isn’t protection against changes in price one of the advantages of paying in advance? From what I understand, my employer doesn’t have to pay to upgrade my pass and won’t see any change in costs until Flexpasses are renewed in July.

Perhaps Seattle does need a bus riders’ union

Speaking of bus fares…

Though I realize that current costs and constraints left Metro little choice but to raise prices, I’m not a fan of using fares (or sales tax, for that matter) as transit funding sources. I’d like to see us use other means, like tolling, congestion charging, and gas and car registration taxes.

As it happens, there’s a bill (HB 1773) in the legislature right now that would allow tolling revenue to be used to fund transit.

And while I’m on the subject: The legislature is also considering (HB 2880) exempting car-sharing members from the rental-car tax. (Guess that petition worked.)

If you’re so moved, contact your state rep and let him or her know that you care about these issues.