King County could waive Metro fares during snowstorms

The fee waiver would only be allowed when the county’s Emergency Snow Network was activated.

February’s snowstorm cost King County Metro around $934,600 in lost fare revenue during its four day duration as fewer people rode buses in its network.

The figure was given as part of county committee discussions on enacting an ordinance that would waive Metro fares during severe snowstorms the county declares as snow emergencies. The ordinance is designed to help those with limited mobility and the homeless, who are at risk of being stranded in significant snowstorms if they can’t afford the fare, which ranges between $1 and $2.75.

“This legislation would require that Metro activate its Emergency Snow Network when the conditions are such that it’s warranted, but also waive fees for our buses, our transit vehicles, so that one, people can get wherever they’re going safely,” said county council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles.

Fare waivers would only apply to Metro buses and would not transfer to other transit providers like Sound Transit’s Light Rail. The proposed ordinance would only come into effect when the Emergency Snow Network is activated. The network was created after a snowstorm in 2008, which caused buses to become stranded on unplowed roads and left riders without reliable service. Since then, the only time it has been activated was during this February’s storm for four days.

While the network was activated, services were reduced to only running on core bus routes along arterial roads and to transit centers that were regularly plowed. During the February snowstorm, Metro estimated it lost around $934,600 over the four-day period, and if fares had been waived, it estimated the department would have lost an additional $65,000 in revenue daily.

The program could be similar to Metro’s New Years Eve program, said Kohl-Welles, when the department offers free bus rides to keep people from driving drunk. It enhances public safety and reduces the chances of injury and damage to property.

Other committee members questioned whether the legislation was necessary, including Claudia Balducci who asked whether Metro had received complaints from passengers following February’s snowstorm.

John Resha, Metro’s assistant general manager, said he didn’t recall complaints about fares stemming from the snowstorm. Resha said Metro wasn’t opposed to waiving fares, but said during snowstorms Metro is spending more money than normal to fund overtime and provide maintenance for its vehicles. Metro is additionally mandated to meet a 25 percent cost recovery rate through.

Under a proposed amendment, the fee waivers would only apply to core transit and paratransit routes.

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