As some businesses and services in Washington prepare to reopen, Puget Sound transit agencies are easing back into charging their riders fares.
Sound Transit and Community Transit announced Monday they will begin charging fares June 1 on some routes where riders can pay before boarding buses and trains. Pierce Transit will reinstate regular fares on buses and paratransit vehicles starting June 14.
Trips on King County Metro buses will remain fare-free for now.
Earlier in the coronavirus pandemic, many transit agencies stopped collecting fares to reduce interactions between passengers and drivers or fare enforcement officers. They have also added extra cleaning, cut service and asked riders to wear face coverings.
Now, as restrictions lift, transit agencies will face a delicate task to safely reintroduce fares.
Starting June 1, Sound Transit will begin charging customers to ride light rail and commuter trains. ST Express buses will remain fare-free for now.
Community Transit, in Snohomish County, will resume collecting fares on its Swift Blue and Green bus-rapid transit lines June 1. Riders pay fares at Swift stations, not at the front of the bus.
All other Community Transit buses will remain fare-free for the month of June. Community Transit plans to reinstate fare collection on other buses “in the coming months based on updated safety measures,” an agency news release says.
In resuming regular fares, Pierce Transit will ask passengers to board buses using the front doors. The agency had previously encouraged riders to board and exit through the rear doors to reduce unnecessary contact between riders and drivers.
King County Metro has not yet said when it plans to charge fares.
“We’re still evaluating the best time to reintroduce fares and haven’t yet landed on a date,” said spokesman Sean Hawks. “The most important part of our decision-making process is ensuring the continued health and safety of our customers, employees and community members.”
As fares return in June, Sound Transit will offer some discounted ticket prices. “Recovery Fares” will be available for $1 on Link light rail and $2 on Sounder commuter rail if riders buy tickets at vending machines or through the Transit GO Ticket app. ORCA cards will be charged full fare.
Link light rail, which has been running every half hour, will begin running every 20 minutes during the day on weekdays starting June 1. Sounder commuter rail will continue current reduced service levels.
Some seats aboard trains will be cordoned off for social distancing and extra cleaning will continue, “with particular emphasis on ticket vending machines and other high-touch areas including hand rails,” Sound Transit said in a news release.
On Sound Transit trains, fare enforcement officers typically check riders for valid fares. Starting June 1, officers will check for valid tickets but will not issue warnings or tickets in order to allow for social distancing, said spokesman John Gallagher. Officers will instead ask riders who haven’t paid to leave the train at the next station.
Riders whose income is less than 200% of the federal poverty level, or about $52,400 for a family of four, can apply for discounted ORCA LIFT cards online or over the phone.
Community Transit riders can pay fares using an ORCA card or with cash or a credit card at vending machines. Equipment and ORCA readers will be disinfected regularly, Community Transit said.
The Snohomish County-based transit agency announced March 19 it would not collect fares from riders after four transit operators tested presumptively positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
A Community Transit driver, 41-year-old Scott Ryan, died in March after testing positive for COVID-19. As of May 14, Community Transit listed 11 employees as having recovered, one case in which an employee is still recovering and one pending test.
This story has been updated to reflect that one positive case of COVID-19 among Community Transit employees in which the employee is still recovering was previously diagnosed, not new.