King County Metro will soon offer yearlong bus passes at no cost to people with very low incomes, after the Metropolitan King County Council unanimously approved the new program Tuesday.

The passes mark an expansion of Metro’s existing discounted fares, which the agency says are still out of reach for people with the lowest incomes.

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The program is narrow in scope, open to people who make less than 80% of the federal poverty level — about $21,000 for a family of four — and qualify for other aid programs, like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Supplemental Security Income. But as many as 54,000 people would be eligible this year, according to King County Metro.

The agency expects the program to cost about $10 million a year. Metro’s 2019-2020 operating budget is about $1.9 billion.

Citing rising housing costs and displacement, Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles said, “We really need to do what we can and I believe this measure is an excellent start.”

Councilmember Reagan Dunn agreed there is a need for the passes but quizzed Metro about how people would be vetted, saying he was concerned “people can find a way to get around the system who aren’t truly in that income bracket.”

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Councilmember Rod Dembowski said people “struggling to get through life” already face red tape. “We impose a lot of barriers and a lot of process and a lot of paperwork,” Dembowski said. “We impose a lot more burdens on them than we did on a baseball team seeking $135 million.”

After debate in 2018, the County Council voted to provide $135 million for repairs to the Seattle Mariners ballpark.

Metro expects the new transit pass program to start in July.