Management & Operations

A year in, Seattle's low income fare program a success

Posted on March 9, 2016

After its first year, Seattle officials say its ORCA LIFT program, which provides reduced fares for low-income riders, is connecting more people to job and educational opportunities.

The program, which was launched by King County Executive Dow Constantine, has gained attention in other metropolitan regions, such as Boston and Charlotte, N.C., as an example of how regional governments can increase access to opportunity.

"The success of ORCA LIFT shows the rest of the country how transit can be part of the solution to our nation's growing income inequality," said Constantine. "By helping more people get to that higher-paying job or college class, we are helping passengers climb the ladder of success."

The number of qualified riders who use ORCA LIFT cards has increased each month since the program started a year ago. A recent survey found that 42% of riders have taken the bus and light rail more frequently since they received their ORCA LIFT card.

More than 3.7 million trips were taken with ORCA LIFT cards on King County Metro buses and Sound Transit Link light rail during the program's first year. More than 25,000 King County residents have signed up for the program so far. Both transit agencies are now increasing access.

Constantine, who is also chair of the Sound Transit Board of Directors, recently announced that the cards can now be used on all Sound Transit ST Express buses and Sounder trains, covering King, Snohomish and Pierce counties.

Metro Transit recently started a new program, LIFT Kids, that waives the $5 purchase fee for an ORCA card for the children of LIFT participants.

An innovative approach to delivering service

ORCA LIFT has been profiled by national news organizations in part because of its innovative approach to connecting riders with the new card. Metro is tapping into the network of community partners that Public Health — Seattle & King County created to help nearly 200,000 residents sign up for health care during the initial enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act.

Riders can get ORCA LIFT cards at more than 40 locations across King County, including community colleges, food banks, human service providers, nonprofit organizations and health clinics. King County's one-stop approach to connecting people with services that help them succeed decreases the amount of time they waste traveling to multiple locations.

ORCA LIFT complements other programs offered by Metro and Sound Transit, such as the Regional Reduced Fare Permit for the elderly and disabled, the Seattle-King County human service ticket program for the homeless and reduced fares for youth ages six to 18.

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