King County Metro Transit is offering blue ORCA LIFT cards that will allow low-income riders to pay a flat $1.50 fare.

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Low-income residents can ride King County Metro Transit for only $1.50 starting March 1, but they’ll need to get a discount fare card.

Dozens of sites have begun distributing ORCA LIFT, a blue card that riders tap onboard a bus or at a bus station, like the full-price ORCA card.

Between 45,000 and 100,000 people are expected to sign up, saving many of them hundreds of dollars per year.

Getting an ORCA LIFT fare card

King County residents in households that earn less than twice the federal poverty level are eligible for ORCA LIFT fare cards, good for a reduced fare of $1.50 per transit ride.

There are many places to enroll, including most public-health clinics; some libraries; North, Central and South Seattle colleges; Compass Housing in Pioneer Square; Global-to-Local in SeaTac; Multi-Service Centers in Federal Way and Kent; Catholic Community Services; ReWA locations; and WithinReach food banks in Ballard and Maple Valley. A directory can be found at:

http://metro.kingcounty.gov/programs-projects/orca-lift/enrollment-locations.html

The income limit is $23,340 for a single adult or $47,700 for a family of four.

People should bring documents to verify income, such as food-assistance (EBT) cards; Medicaid or other health-benefit cards; a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families award letter; recent paycheck stubs; or federal tax returns.

More details are available at http://metro.kingcounty.gov/programs-projects/orca-lift/

Source: King County Metro Transit

The program would start just as regular Metro fares rise by 25 cents, for the fifth time since 2008. The top fare will be $3.25 for a two-zone, peak-time trip that crosses Seattle city limits.

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“This program, ORCA LIFT, is aimed at the working poor — folks who are perhaps at a minimum-wage job, or between jobs, but are not destitute,” said County Executive Dow Constantine.

Metro says it’s the second U.S. transit agency to carve out a special fare for low-income riders. San Francisco Muni offers a pass for $34 a month.

To qualify in Seattle, someone needs to live in a household where the income is less than twice the federal poverty level, or $47,700 for a family of four.

Sign-ups are being conducted at most public-health clinics, Seattle community colleges, some food banks and other locations. People who bring the appropriate paperwork verifying their income will be handed a card in about five minutes; online and by-mail sign-ups also are available.

The $1.50 fare will be accepted on Metro buses, Sound Transit light-rail trains, Seattle streetcars, the King County Water Taxi and Kitsap Transit. It’s good for one or more rides within a two-hour period.

Other transit vehicles, including Sound Transit buses, will accept the blue card, but passengers must still pay the difference between $1.50 and the full fare.

Additional discounts will continue for seniors, disabled people and youth, as well as charity bus tickets distributed by social-service agencies and homeless shelters.

King County planned to call the program simply “LIFT” but changed to “ORCA LIFT” to reduce confusion with Lyft, the ride-service company that sports a pink mustache on its cars.

Constantine led a publicity event Wednesday in SeaTac, where he handed out a blue card at Global-to-Local, a health partnership that aids immigrant and underserved communities.

The county enlisted other agencies, led by Public Health — Seattle & King County, rather than create a new bureaucracy. Many of the same staff who enrolled 200,000 King County residents in insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act have been trained to process transit fare cards.

Also, the county is seeking news coverage to reach working people who ride the bus but don’t take other government aid.

Metro expects to lose about $4.75 million a year in fares by offering the reduced rate, a couple million dollars to manage the passes, plus about $3 million in one-time expenses including software and fare cards.

On the other hand, ridership should grow, and buses would save maybe five seconds for each person who taps ORCA LIFT instead of fumbling for cash at a stop, a fare study says.

Overall, the agency recovers 29 percent of bus-operating costs through fares, slightly above the big-city average, and up from 20 percent in 2007.

The rest is subsidized, mostly through local sales-tax revenues. Metro collects only $1.24 per boarding, after various fare discounts, bulk passes offered through employers, multi-bus trips and evasion are taken into account.

The new low-income fare doesn’t quite satisfy the Seattle Transit Riders Union, which has endorsed a rally at noon Saturday in Westlake Park, against Metro fare increases.

After the 25-cent increase March 1, seniors and disabled riders will pay $1 to ride the bus, and youth $1.50 a trip.