Seattle’s Transit Program Offers Incentives to Increase Ridership
Faced with the difficult decision of cutting major Metro transit service in light of budget deficits, leaders in Seattle’s King County decided that rather than cutting bus service they would approve a temporary $20 Congestion Reduction Charge on all new car registrations. But Seattle did not just raise car registration fees – they turned the fees into an exercise in civic return on investment.
Car Owners Get Free Vouchers to Ride Public Transit
To offset the increased fees for car registration, King County created a Transit Incentive Program. Under the program, when a King County resident renews their car registration they will receive eight free-ride transit tickets. Residents can also choose to donate all or some of their tickets to support low-income residents – or donate the value of those tickets to a pool of nearly 150 human service agencies that provide mobility for those in need.
The incentive program is intended to reach beyond residents who already account for the 108 million annual trips on Metro Seattle transit each year. King County officials say prior incentive programs have shown that people who try riding Metro transit are more inclined to ride the bus again. The transit incentive program actually creates value for drivers who pay the fee. According to a recent study Seattle transit users save an average of $8,400 annually compared to drivers.
Transit Incentives Offer Strong Civic Return on Investment
Finding ways to incentivize people to get out of their cars and start using alternative transportation is something that San Franciscans brought up repeatedly at our Reset Hot Button town hall. Seattle found a way to keep the bus service that is essential to its residents and economy while simultaneously incentivizing residents to try public transportation.
When people ditch their cars, they not only save money (up to $10,000 a year in San Francisco), but they also help clear the roads, which means Muni can run faster and more reliably. If Muni is more reliable, more people will take it, helping to decrease the agency’s $22 million budget deficit. Transit incentive programs, like the one in King County, generate substantial Civic Return on Investment.