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New approach to fare checking/enforcement moves forward, Fare Ambassador program doubles

Low-income and subsidized passes expanded

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It’s been a long journey since Sound Transit began the process of updating its approach to fare compliance more than four years ago.

And while it’s not over yet, the Sound Transit Board has adopted new policies and programs that bring us much closer to our vision of a system in which everyone taps their ORCA card, and everyone who needs fare media can get it.

Last year we passed a major milepost on the journey when we implemented the Fare Ambassador pilot program

The program will continue through the end of 2022, after the Board approved doubling the number of fare ambassadors who provide customer service and check proof of payment on Link and Sounder.

Later this year staff will bring recommendations to the Board to make the program permanent.

The Board also has reinforced its support for income-qualified passengers, including lowering ORCA LIFT fares and promoting them through expanded marketing, extending Sound Transit’s participation in the subsidized annual pass program, and increasing options for resolving incidents of non-payment.

The ORCA LIFT program provides discounted fares to enrolled passengers with household incomes equal to or less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

The Board set a goal of increasing enrollment in the program to 80 percent of likely ORCA LIFT riders in the region and approved lowering ORCA LIFT fares on Sound Transit services from $1.50 to $1.00 for a six-month trial period.

During this time, staff will conduct public outreach and prepare an equity analysis to support a possible action by the Board to make the reduction permanent.

In September 2020 Sound Transit began participating in a program sponsored by King County to provide fully subsidized transit passes to passengers with income less than 80 percent of the Federal Poverty Level who qualify for and are participating in specific benefit programs. The Board extended Sound Transit’s participation until the end of 2024, or until a permanent program is approved.

New policies for fare compliance will go into effect on September 17. These are the changes the Board adopted:

  • Increase the number of warnings to two in a 12-month period
  • Update the agency’s policy on passenger interactions without proof of payment to include $50 and $75 fines as resolution options on the third and fourth interactions without proof of payment as well as non-monetary options for a passenger to dispute or resolve the fine
  • Authorize the CEO to establish alternative resolution and dispute processes, which may include signing up for a reduced fare program or completing an engagement activity
  • Remove collections from the process
  • Remove suspensions – passengers without proof of payment may continue to ride the system
  • Maintain the ability to refer cases of repeat non-payment to district court – but only for those without proof of payment five or more times within a 12-month period

But there’s still more work to do.

Later this year the Board will determine its approach to free youth fares and consider other fare-related actions to address a shortfall in fare revenue caused by a reduction in ridership and a decrease in fare payment compliance.

We will continuously monitor the program, and report back to the Board on several key metrics each quarter to ensure the program is equitable, reaches the people who need assistance, is effective, creates a safe, positive and passenger-focused experience, and helps us meet our revenue targets.

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