King County Council approves free bus pass program for low-income residents

SEATTLE -- Up to 54,000 King County residents could be eligible for free Metro transit rides under a new program approved this week by the King County Council.

The council has unanimously approved a new income-based fare program for Metro that will provide free bus passes for qualifying King County residents with incomes at or below 80% of the federal poverty level, or about $21,000 for a family of four, according to a news release from the council.

The program will take effect by mid-year. Residents who already qualify for other low-income state programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Security Income will be eligible for the passes.

"This legislation will be life changing to our neighbors living in poverty by enabling them to have mobility, to pursue opportunity, and to live their lives,” said King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski, sponsor of the legislation. “This legislation is a very strong down payment on the will to combat poverty. We are leveraging one of the strongest tools we have, our transit system, to help those who need it the most. This is a big deal and it represents the very best of King County Government.”

Qualifying residents will receive ORCA LIFT cards loaded with a pass that covers rides on Metro buses, Access vans, Seattle streetcars, King County Water Taxi, Via shuttles and Trailhead Direct. The pass would not fully cover fares on other regional transit -- like Sound Transit light rail or Sounder trains -- but in some cases will offer a discounted fare.