The King County Council on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020 unanimously approved a new income-based fare program for Metro that will provide free bus passes for qualifying King County residents with incomes at or below 80% of the federal poverty level, or about $21,000 for a family of four.

“This legislation will be life changing to our neighbors living in poverty by enabling them to have mobility, to pursue opportunity, and to live their lives,” said King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski, sponsor of the legislation. “Our County’s namesake, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, said ‘There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.’ This legislation is a very strong down payment on the will to combat poverty. We are leveraging one of the strongest tools we have, our transit system, to help those who need it the most. This is a big deal and it represents the very best of King County Government.”

Set to go into effect by mid-year, the program has potential to serve up to 54,000 residents. Those who already qualify for other low-income state programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Security Income will be eligible for the passes.

“Unfortunately, for many in our community the cost of transit is a barrier to being able to get or keep a job, get an education and access health care,” said Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, co-sponsor of the legislation. “Too many of our most vulnerable neighbors living on the margins are being impaired by a lack of affordable access to mobility. This program removes the burden of a fare that they cannot afford to help them take a step toward living life to its fullest potential. I look forward to getting this program up and running and expanding it soon so even more people in need are able to take advantage of free or subsidized public transit.”

Participants will receive ORCA LIFT cards loaded with a pass that covers rides on Metro buses, Access vans, Seattle streetcars, King County Water Taxi, Via shuttles and Trailhead Direct. The pass would not fully cover fares on other regional transit, but in some cases will offer a discounted fare.

Scott Schaefer

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