Sound Transit institutes flat fare system for one-way rides

Dec 18, 2023, 5:39 AM | Updated: 9:56 am

sound transit flat fare...

Sound Transit employees about to leave the platform. (Photo courtesy of Sound Transit on Flickr)

(Photo courtesy of Sound Transit on Flickr)

The Sound Transit Board of Directors has officially changed its fare system to charge a flat fare of $3.25 for one-way rides.

Previously, Sound Transit uses a distance-based fare structure on Link. Regular adult riders are charged a base fare of $2.25, but because the fare is also distanced-based, an additional $0.05 is charged per mile rounded up or down to the nearest $0.25. For example, a one-mile ride is still $2.25, whereas a six-mile ride is $2.50.

“The last time we looked at rates was in 2015,” Sound Transit spokesperson John Gallagher told KIRO Newsradio. “So, it’s been eight years … It’s been in place for quite some time. And what we’re looking at revisiting now wouldn’t be in place until later next year.”

The change will not take effect until Fall 2024.

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“With easy-to-understand pricing and ORCA programs to match every income, there’s never been a better time to get on board Link,” King County Executive and Sound Transit Board Chair Dow Constantine said in a statement. “Link is expanding to serve more and more communities over the next few years, and this simple pricing will make getting where you need to go even easier.”

Sound Transit previously cited social equity to argue for flat fares, but staff also admitted tradeoffs are mixed with the proposal. According to The Urbanist, typical low-income riders in the Rainier Valley would suffer a net loss, while typical low-income riders in the South Sound would see a net benefit based on the agency’s analysis.

“We have 26 miles of service in our system for length, but in the next couple of years, we’re going to be at 62 miles as we add more extensions,” Gallagher said. “So, it’s going to get more and more complicated. A flat rate is really going to make things a lot simpler.”

According to Gallagher, the flat rate is more equitable and the same for everyone, no matter how long or how far they plan on traveling.

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“It is going to affect some people; there’s no question about it,” Gallagher said. “I would note a couple of things. Almost half of our passengers are not going to be affected because they either have an ORCA Lift card, which is a flat $1 fare because of low income, or they have an employer-sponsored ORCA card. So they’re not going to be noticing anything. The number of people who are actually going to see a difference in their fare is not going to be as large a number, as folks might think.

“The other thing is, to keep in mind, is fares haven’t been increased for the past eight years,” Gallagher continued. “In the long run, it’s going to be much more equitable for all riders — a simple flat fare.”

You can read more of Micki Gamez’s stories here. Follow Micki on X, formerly known as Twitter or email her here.

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