Some low-income Twin Cities residents could get a break at the fare box.
Metro Transit is contemplating a pilot program that would provide Go-To Cards to households that meet low-income guidelines, allowing them to pay just $1 per ride. Currently, base fare is $1.75 on local routes, with higher amounts charged during rush hours and on express and other specialized services.
“We want to make that fare affordable for people to get around,” said Mary Capistrant of Metro Transit’s fare operations division. “Not just specifically for doctor’s appointments, but the grocery store and places they need to go.”
The goal is to break down barriers that keep low-income residents who don’t qualify for other reduced fares from taking transit more often.
Many questions need to be answered before the pilot’s planned Dec. 1 launch. One is how Metro Transit might partner with social service agencies or housing authorities to certify households and distribute bus passes. Another is how big an impact reducing fares might have on revenue.
According to census data, about 236,000 low-income residents could take advantage of the pilot if it were offered metrowide. Low income is defined as a household of four with 50 percent of the median income in the area, or $43,000 a year.
Metro Transit already offers discount bus passes and tokens to social service agencies that pass them on to their clients. Seniors, veterans and youth also ride at discounted rates. The pilot would cover households that don’t qualify for reduced fares.
Initially, Metro Transit might partner with the Metro Housing Authority, which has about 8,700 households in Carver, Hennepin, Anoka and Ramsey counties that would qualify for the $1 fare.
If the pilot were to expand to the rest of the metro area, the number would rise to 19,000 eligible households, according to data presented at a recent Metropolitan Council meeting.
A similar program in Seattle led to significant financial losses. Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb estimated that dropping fares here to $1 could result in a $500,000 loss during the six-month trial period ending in May. Lamb, however, said he didn’t expect losses would be that high.
But he said there is wiggle room in the budget. “We do definitely have the capacity in the Metro Transit budget to handle the loss of $500,000,” he told the Met Council. Officials also say they want to put in safeguards to prevent the resale of discounted transit cards.
“There are thousands of people who could use our help, and thousands of ways to do that,” Capistrant said.
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768