Puget Sound residents who qualify for state programs like Supplemental Security Income can now receive no-cost passes to ride King County Metro buses and Sound Transit trains.

The new passes are the latest effort by local transit systems to help people afford to ride. Even though some discount programs are already in place, people with very low incomes can struggle to pay even a discounted fare, forcing “hard decisions around food, housing, prescriptions and transportation,” said Dan Wise, deputy director at Catholic Community Services. 

The new program is designed for people who make less than 80% of the federal poverty level, or about $10,000 for an individual and $21,000 for a family of four. King County estimates that more than 100,000 people in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties could qualify for the program.

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“The expansion of free transit is really life changing,” Wise said. “It could go a long way to improve health outcomes in our community, to connect folks to needed health care, access to nutritious foods, services, food banks and other resources.”

While some service providers already hand out paper bus tickets, those are limited in number. A fully covered ORCA card offers consistent access to the bus or train, Wise said.

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To be eligible for the new passes, recipients must be enrolled in one of six state programs: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families/State Family Assistance (TANF/SFA); Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA); Aged, Blind, or Disabled Cash Assistance (ABD); Pregnant Women Assistance (PWA); Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Housing and Essential Needs (HEN).

About 107,000 people are enrolled in those programs in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, according to King County. The county expects to be able to fund about 3,000 enrollments per month, said Metro spokesperson Jeff Switzer. About 460 people have signed up since the passes became available this month.

The passes, which were approved by the Metropolitan King County Council in February, will cost about $9 million to $10 million a year, Metro estimates. Over two years, Sound Transit plans to spend up to $2 million and lose $900,000 in revenue.

Riders can use the cards for King County Metro buses, Sound Transit buses and trains, Seattle streetcars, King County Water Taxi, the Monorail, Metro’s paratransit service Access and the shuttle service Via to Transit. 

The cards will not cover trips on Washington State Ferries, Community Transit in Snohomish County or Pierce Transit. Riders can add money to their cards for rides on other services.

To sign up, reach the Department of Social and Health Services at 877-501-2233 or Public Health – Seattle & King County at 800-756-5437. 

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Catholic Community Services will have drop-in hours to sign up for the program on Wednesdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at 100 23rd Ave. S. in Seattle and 1229 W Smith St. in Kent. Contact Catholic Community Services about the program at 206-960-1582.

People with higher incomes may qualify for the ORCA Lift program, which offers $1.50 fares instead of the usual $2.75. People 65 and older, people with a disability and those on Medicare can sign up for the Regional Reduced Fare Permit for $1 fares. 

For more information, go to metro.kingcounty.gov and click on “Fares & ORCA” or visit Metro’s Programs & Projects page and click on “Subsidized Annual Pass.”