King County plan will lower bus fares for low-income riders

SEATTLE -- King County officials announced a plan Thursday to offer lower bus fares for lower-income riders.

Under the county's plan, fares for lower-income riders will go down, but fares for everyone else will go up. The idea comes at the same time King County Metro is cutting service because of budget problems.

"It's the right thing to do and it's the smart thing to do and it's consistent with Metro's mission," King County Executive Dow Constantine said Thursday while announcing the plan.

Constantine said lowering fares for lower income riders will help people get to work or school. For rider Mike Dakota, it means a cheaper ride to the doctor's office. Dakota said between rent, food and bus fare, money is tight.

"I'm on a fixed income right now - so yeah," he said.

Beginning next March, lower income fares will drop to $1.50, while regular fares will go up 25 cents per ride. It's a huge subsidy at a time when Metro is preparing to cut some 70 bus routes after voters rejected a recent funding initiative, but county leaders don't think of it that way.

"Subsidy is how we tend to think of it, but I think equity is a better way to think about it," said Alison Eisinger with the Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness.

Eisinger said the new fare structure will actually support the whole economy because people who can't afford it will pay less and people who can afford it will make up the difference.

Even with the fare reduction, the county says they'll net $6 million every years.

About 100,000 people could qualify for the lower fares. They'll have to apply and then use an Orca card, which will have to be renewed ever other year.