Changes are afoot at King County Metro. Bus fares went up over the weekend by 25 cents. Bus drivers started accepting the county's new reduced fare cards, called ORCA Lift. And Metro's gone on a hiring spree as it gears up to fulfill Seattle's custom order, approved by voters last fall, for 10 percent more bus service.
Lou Ann Apostolopoulos takes the bus a lot. She doesn’t mind the fare increase that went into effect this weekend. "It’s cheaper than driving downtown and finding parking," Apostolopoulos said.
Some people don’t even seem to notice the cost of bus fare. Cameron Jamieson works for a tech firm downtown. "My ORCA pass is company provided. So it’s no big deal to me," Jamieson said.
But other people find the 25-cent increase more troubling. Brian Bozeman had to come downtown for a physical therapy appointment. "I mean it’s hard to make ends meet when everything is increasing," he said. "I’ve just got to cut out a whole lot of things. I’ve already cut out entertainment, like movies. Dating. My friend let me piggyback on his Wi-Fi."
Many people on low incomes will qualify for a reduced fare bus card called the ORCA Lift card. Bus drivers started accepting the card this weekend, as the higher rates went into effect.
Down at the Compass Center in Pioneer Square, social worker Pete Kurtz-Glovas has been pushing the ORCA Lift pass to homeless folks. He offers it to them when they come in to pick up their mail. He offers it to them when they come in to open up a bank account.
"We’ve been talking to our clients about it and letting them know about ways that they can kind of mitigate their costs," Kurtz-Glovas said, "and the ORCA lift card has been one of the main things since so many of our clients qualify."
But so far, not many visitors to the Compass Center have signed up for the card, even though the organization estimates the program would help over 1,200 of its clients. But that number of takers should increase this week as more people find themselves paying the higher fares.
At the same time as the new fares are going into effect, King County Metro is hiring 240 new bus drivers. They’ll increase bus service by about 10 percent in Seattle. The new drivers start hitting the road this summer.
Kevin Desmond runs King County Metro. "We had to really ramp up our hiring practices," he said. "So every single day, five days a week, there are people coming down here, filling out applications. So it’s quite a challenge for us to hire all those folks, get them trained."
Some of those drivers will relieve overcrowded bus routes starting in June. The remaining drivers will start in September. That’s thanks to Seattle voters, who decided last fall to tax themselves to pay for more bus service.