The Sound Transit board yesterday tentatively endorsed an express-bus-fare increase of 20 percent, rounded to the nearest quarter. Final action isn't expected until early next...

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The Sound Transit board yesterday tentatively endorsed an express-bus-fare increase of 20 percent, rounded to the nearest quarter.

Final action isn’t expected until early next year, after public hearings and more board deliberation. An increase wouldn’t take effect until June, at the earliest. But, if the proposal the board identified yesterday is approved, most adult one-way fares would rise by 50 cents.

Sounder commuter-rail fares would stay the same.

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Sound Transit operates 18 express bus routes in urban King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. Fares haven’t risen since service began in 1999.

Officially, all the board did yesterday was identify its preferred alternative so the public could comment. But remarks by board members earlier this month suggested that a fare increase of some sort is a foregone conclusion.

Agency officials say an increase is needed to keep pace with inflation, counteract surging fuel costs and recover a larger share of bus-operating costs.

At committee meetings last week, board members were split over whether to raise fares 20 percent or 25 cents across the board, and also over whether to apply the increase to Sounder fares. Yesterday, the 20 percent option for buses only was endorsed with little discussion.

Mill Creek City Councilman Jack Start, a member of the Sound Transit board, said that raising Sounder fares might hurt efforts to build ridership on the year old Everett-Seattle train, which on average is filling just one in four seats.

If the 20 percent proposal is adopted, a one-zone adult bus fare — a trip from Lake City to downtown Seattle, for example — would increase from $1.25 to $1.50. The cost of a two-zone ride, such as Lynnwood to Bellevue, would rise from $2 to $2.50. And a three-zone ride from Tacoma to Seattle would jump from $2.50 to $3.

According to a Sound Transit staff report, the change would depress projected ridership 2.5 percent but raise an additional $2.3 million. Fares would cover nearly 28 percent of operating costs, compared with 23 percent if there is no increase.

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or epryne@seattletimes.com