Public transit agencies around the world commonly offer fare discounts based on age, such as for children and seniors. Just south of the border, Seattle has recently gone one step further by implementing a transit fare system based on the level of household income.
Earlier this month, King Country Metro Transit and Sound Transit rolled out the new ORCA Lift fare card to offer $1.50 flat rate fares for residents whose household income total is less than 200 per cent of the poverty rate – a maximum of $23,340 for one person and $47,700 for a family of four people.
This means adults can save anywhere between $0.75 to $2.00 on fares – discounts of 50 per cent or more – on Sound Transit Link Light Rail, Seattle Streetcar, King County Water Taxi, King Country Metro Transit buses and Kitsap Transit buses.
The discounts are available to eligible riders who enroll in the program and can only be accessed through the ORCA transit smart card, an electronic fare payment system that launched in 2009 and is similar to Metro Vancouver’s Compass Card.
King County Metro Transit estimates between 45,000 to 100,000 eligible residents will take advantage of the ORCA Lift card, although at the same time it will reduce the fare revenues by about $4.5 million per year.
However, proponents of the program contend that ORCA Lift will help address the city’s growing income inequality issues and generate one million new transit trips per year.
A similar program does not exist with TransLink, but low-income seniors and persons with disabilities are eligible to receive a provincial government-subsidized universal bus pass.
In addition, nearly 150,000 individuals enrolled in Metro Vancouver’s participating post-secondary institutions are qualified to receive a U-Pass to access unlimited travel across all zones and services (except West Coast Express) for only $36.75 per month while classes are in session.
San Francisco is the only other major American city to offer discounted fares for low-income individuals. MUNI’s Lifeline program provides eligible low-income residents with a $34 transit pass, a half-price adult transit pass, for unlimited travel on buses and cable cars but not the BART train network.