King County Executive Dow Constantine unveiled a proposal to adopt a flat $2.75 fare across its King County Metro Transit network. For folks previously taking two-zone peak trips, the universal $2.75 fare would mean a $0.50 lower fare, whereas people taking one-zone trips off-peak will pay 25 cents more. The change could be enacted as soon as July 2018 if a majority of the King County Council votes in favor.

Shefali Ranganathan, Executive Director of the Transportation Choices Coalition, welcomed the change.

“Everyone deserves access to opportunity: the chance to get to work or school affordably, quickly, and reliably,” Ranganathan said. “With this proposal, Metro is removing barriers that make it challenging for folks to get on a bus by both simplifying fares and making transit more affordable for those who need it most.”

Senior citizens (65 and up) will continue to pay $1.00 fares at all times. Youth ages 6 to 18 will still pay $1.50, as will those qualifying for ORCA LIFT, a reduced fare program capped at double the federal poverty level–meaning a monthly income of $2,010 or less for a household of one. (Here’s how to enroll in ORCA LIFT.) The 25-cent fare hike off-peak could increase the importance of driving up participation rates in the ORCA LIFT program.

Attracting Suburban Ridership

The new fare structure should be a boon for folks commuting into Seattle from the suburbs. Tukwila City Councilmember Kathy Hougardy voiced support for the proposal.

“This fare change will become more important as cities in South King County continue to grow–and as people move to south-end cities in search of more affordable housing,” Hougardy said. “Tukwila is a major employment center for the region. We have workers crossing over the current fares zones every day.”

Claudia Balducci represents King County District 6.

“The result will be no change or a fare decrease for most riders and will make transit more attractive for thousands of daily riders on the Eastside and all over King County,” said King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci, who resides in Bellevue.

The flip side of a fare structure designed to entice suburb-to-city (or vice versa) trips is transit riders who were taking one-zone trips off-peak would suffer increased transportation costs. $2.50 was already a relatively high fare, particularly off-peak, at least compared to some peer cites. Los Angeles Metro’s fare is $1.75 all day, for example, as is Minneapolis’ bus fare off-peak or $2.25 at peak hours.

Selling A Flat Fare

Backers pitched the proposal as a win for most riders. “About 65 percent of Metro customers will see no change or a fare reduction, according to boarding data,” Executive Constantine’s press release stated.

“Whether you’re traveling between Ballard and Bellevue, White Center and Westlake, or anywhere that crosses the Seattle city limits, this new fare means money in your pocket,” Executive Constantine said. “For riders who may end up paying a little more, we’re making sure people with low incomes, seniors, and the disabled and have more access to transit than ever.”

The city of Seattle is one zone. The rest of King County is another. (King County)

About one-third of Metro customers would see a fare increase. The Transit Riders Union (TRU) has advocated for lower fares in the past, and General Secretary Katie Wilson did express some concerns with the idea.

“TRU appreciates the effort to simplify the fare structure, and in light of the suburbanization of poverty it makes a lot of sense to do away with the higher 2-zone fare,” Wilson said. “We are, however, concerned with the impacts of the off-peak fare increase on riders who are above the ORCA LIFT eligibility threshold but still struggling with transportation and housing costs.

“The US Department of Housing and Urban Development considers a family of four making $72,000 in King County to be low-income. The low-income eligibility threshold for ORCA LIFT for a family of four is less than $50,000,” Wilson said. “Many households that do not qualify for reduced transit fares are cost-burdened, and the increase from $2.50 to $2.75 will impact them. At the very least, all additional revenue from the fare restructure should be directed to programs that make transit more affordable for lower-income riders.”

Executive Constantine added some caveats somewhat lessening the weight of the fare increase for some:

  • 21% of off-peak riders pay “full adult fares without any subsidy or employer-sponsored pass;”
  • 14% of off-peak riders use employer or organization-sponsored transit passes; and
  • About 31% of Metro riders qualify for ORCA LIFT, youth, senior and disabled fares. “They would see no change,” the release stated.

The press release did not state what percentage of qualifying Metro riders have signed up for the program. Many programs of the type struggle to get qualified recipients to fill out the paperwork to get on the program.

The new fare structure is also intended to speed up boarding and payment. Rob Gannon, General Manager of King County Metro Transit, argued flat fares would increase operational efficiency.

“A simple $2.75 flat fare makes Metro service easier and more accessible for the hundreds of thousands of riders who depend on us,” Gannon said. “It makes boarding faster, which helps reduce delays. And it improves safety for drivers and customers because it lowers the potential for disputes over payment.”

King County Executive Dow Constantine

Finally the office of the Executive stressed “the ordinance would include additional funding to help passengers who earn very low incomes not covered by ORCA LIFT and passengers least able to pay during off-peak hours:”

  • $400,000 increased funding for the Human Services Ticket Program “to offset higher cost for social service agencies that distribute discount tickets.” 44% of tickets sold through the program are for off-peak trips.
  • “Working with ORCA partners to reduce fees for adult and youth ORCA cards and eliminate the $3 card fee for seniors and people with disabilities.”
  • “Continuing to work with schools, colleges and universities to enhance fare programs for students.”

Metro Transit said its research indicated respondents supported the change. “Metro spent six months hearing from customers, and received more than 11,000 responses to two public surveys, including one in which 80 percent expressed support for a flat fare.”

Contact information for King County Councilmembers can be found here for those looking to comment ahead of the vote.

Update: King County Metro Transit projects the flat fare proposal would have a net impact of a $2.3 million revenue increase in the year 2020, Public Affairs Director Scott Gutierrez said.

King County Metro Launches Broad Planning Effort

We hope you loved this article. If so, please consider subscribing or donating. The Urbanist is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that depends on donations from readers like you.

Doug Trumm is The Urbanist's Executive Director. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

It will cost my family of four 18.00 to go downtown and back again. Taking the bus should not cost more than Lyft, Reach, or Car2go.

I’d love to see an an increased tax in exchange for no fee rides. It would be good for tourism, casual family ridership, and the environment.

It would be a tax increase with a real visible benefit. We are already subsidising riders let’s go all the way and share the ride citywide.


I’m not necessarily opposed to this, but…

An unintended consequence of this will be to further increase the proportion of closer in riders choosing Uber/Lyft over public transit… which could lead to more congestion.

As someone moving to the east side of Capitol Hill, it will be hard to justify walking 10 minutes to the nearest bus stop when a shared rideshare ride is nore than twice as fast and getting more price competitive in off-peak daytime hours.

To offset this, I’d like to see better BRT options and an occasional bus alternative for those of us who were shunted to transfers once the Link was added. I’m a 30 minute walk from the Capitol Hill Link, and my closest bus line does not even go there. I don’t think Metro realizes how much of a deterrent transfers are for people who live relatively close in. But I’ll rethink my options once the Madison BRT comes on line, since rapid, reliable service would balance out a longer walk to the stop.

But I can’t imagine I’ll ever make a transfer (and a 35 min trip) when Uber/Lyft will get me there in 11 minutes. Even less so no that off peak is going up in price. I’d pay double for an option of public transport with the old routes that did not force a transfer. People living about 10 minutes from the Market are going to choose a route making bus-bus transfers. The whole point of choosing to live close in is to hopefully get better access to downtown and be able to ditch your car.
It makes sense to divert suburban buses to the closest Link station, but the logic starts to break down when you start take away quick bus routes of those of us who live close in (Eastern parts of Cap Hill, Eastlake, areas just north of the cut) and divert them on busses directed away from downtown and add a transfer. You are basically punishing those of us who invested in living close to transport

Mike Carr

You have basically explained the argument of why light rail and metro does not work for a large population of Seattle. ST stations are not in their neighborhoods or in areas they want to go to. Metro is the same thing or takes too long to get anywhere via bus. Much easier via car. And you live in probably the most transit rich area of the city, Capitol Hill. This neighborhood gets a disproportionate amount of funding, resources, and attention from SDOT, the Mayor, and City Council than any other neighborhood in Seattle. What about people in Blue Ridge, Magnolia, Wedgewood, Alki, Matthews Beach, Sunset Hill,….. traffic and commuting issues with no hope of Light Rail soon or real Metro improvements coming there way. Where is the equity?


“[Capitol Hill] gets a disproportionate amount of
funding, resources, and attention from SDOT, the Mayor, and City Council
than any other neighborhood in Seattle.”

The reason Capitol Hill has better transit is because it has more people. The population density in Capitol Hill is much higher than places like Sunset Hill, Matthews Beach, Blue Ridge and West Magnolia. Here is a population density map:

Keep in mind, the relationship between population density and transit is not linear, it is exponential. If an area has twice the density, you should see more than twice the transit ridership. Transit investment is also a virtuous cycle. The more you add service (i. e. the more often the bus comes) the more ridership increases. Thus the more densely populated an area is, the better your return in transit investments. The reason that places like Blue Ridge don’t have major transit investments is because they have very low population density. If anything, you could make a strong argument that our system over invests in low density areas (which are bad values) in an attempt to provide more wide spread coverage.

As for Capitol Hill (and the rest of the Central Area) the problem is due in part to the lack of light rail stations. With more stations (at, say, 23rd and Madison) you would have a system similar to what Vancouver has. The buses complement the trains. Taking a bus to a train station makes as much sense in the inner city as it does the suburbs. But the Capitol Hill station — as good as it is — is a very bad station as far as bus to rail integration. A rider in the area can’t quickly get there by bus, which means they are forced to take a different bus, which can get stuck in traffic (which really doesn’t happen much in, say, West Magnolia).

More to the point, tk is not complaining about that. The system is not perfect, but it is OK. As we move more towards a grid, it actually becomes more efficient, even if it means more transfers. But why should a rider who takes the bus a mile or so, on a very efficient bus line, pay so much, when other cities (like L. A.) charge a buck less? Why should riding a bus from Federal Way into Seattle during rush hour cost the same as taking a bus like the 7 in the middle of the day? The former is very expensive to operate and very inefficient. The driver is likely a part time driver (since the bus doesn’t run all day) and huge amounts of time are spent with no one getting on or off the bus. In contrast, the 7 is operated by regular drivers, and has people getting on an off all the time. Fare box recovery is much higher. Yet now Metro will charge the same, in the name of simplicity. Yes, a lot of people on Capitol Hill can afford the added cost, but many in Rainier Valley can’t.


I don’t mind my Capitol Hill ride subsidizing a farther out route, as it is in everyone’s best interest for areas of affordable housing to have better access to the CBD (at least areas of relative affordability.) I just want my service options to increase instead of decrease.

My issue is that you should have the most robust network in the area where people are most likely to use it. I mentioned the Madison BRT (2019) as a possible solution for my commute, and a rail station at 23rd and Madison would be even better 🙂 But taking a bus away from the center out to Husky Stadium (and getting stuck in bridge traffic) makes me not take public transit. I chose Capitol Hill so that I don’t have to commute across a bridge.

My complaint is that the rerouting that came with the initial Link stations downgraded but service for a lot of residents in the close in neighborhoods. As rossb said, these inner neighborhoods have the most density and consistent ridership. So why decrease the direct routes for areas like eastern Cap Hill and Eastlake… which just pushes these transit-willing residents into non public transit options like ride-sharing?

Mike Carr

“Capitol Hill has better transit is because it has more people”???? No Capitol Hill is close to the existing Light Rail Station so it was a quick fix and the city has a focus on Capitol Hill all things transit, bike lanes and road diets. Metro, ST, and the City has focused spending $’s on this neighborhood at the expense of other neighborhoods, yet Capitol Hillers want even more!?! No need to focus limited resources in an already transit rich area. All this talk about light rail transforming neighborhoods is starting to show some promise (Capitol Hill and U District now. Roosevelt and Northgate soon.) Issaquah has been dissed as a good light rail destination, but it would transform Issaquah and changes would be positive for all. No need to isolate limited resources to the few. Light Rail from Ballard to Downtown or Ballard to UW would be much wiser use of funds than additional funds spent on Capitol Hill. Getting to TK76 point, complaining about a minor fare increase for all, when Metro and ST is subsidized by so many who do not get any direct benefit. Whining about a small fare increase to use all the transit on Capitol Hill while 3/4 of the City has no nearby access to Light Rail seems like many are oblivious to how good they have it relative to others.


As I said, I’m fine with a fare increase. I’d pay double if it meant better access.

My point was an economic one in terms of how decreased access to direct bus lines and increased cost will push a lot of near in neighborhood riders away from public transport and towards ride-sharing (at least in terms of off-peak ridership.) And this is bad for road congestion.

If you live within 4 miles of the center of downtown (like Eastern Cap Hill, Eastlake and Wallingford) but are not walking distance from light rail/tram, there is a good chance you recently lost your “1 bus away” access to downtown and now have to either walk much farther or make a transfer- often at a site in the wrong direction from downtown.

These neighborhoods are densely populated and eager to utilize public transit. The fare increase is negligible, but when you combine it with a major loss of direct access then you start pushing a lot of off-peak riders into cars.


In an ideal world, people would fully support robust BRT, since you can deploy a truly comprehensive network at a fraction of the cost of light rail or trams. But people would prefer to pay billions on rail tunnels to avoid effecting existing roadways as opposed to smartly investing in dedicated bus and bikeways.