Kitsap Transit to offer free fares for low-income riders

The Kitsap Transit Board of Commissioners Tuesday approved a pilot program for a free-fare ticket system to benefit the county's vulnerable population.

The test program begins in May and runs through the end of the year.

John Clauson, Kitsap Transit's executive director, said that the program is designed to help people that are not already in "the system" of available social services. The free tickets, he said, will allow those folks to get a ride to a food bank, the Salvation Army, a Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) office and elsewhere.

"We work closely with a lot of agencies and are certainly aware of this growing need, especially as the homeless population grows larger and larger," Clauson said.

Kitsap Transit will initially print up about 1,000 free-fare tickets that will be distributed to people in need by Kitsap Community Resources.

About 10 percent of the residents in Kitsap County live below the poverty line, according to the 2010 census. That level  is roughly set at $22,350 annually for a family of four, or $11,000 for a single person.

"Essentially there is a cost to us to print up the tickets, but other than that the cost is pretty minimal," Clauson said. "The idea is that we will only be filling seats that are already out there. So, it's not like we're putting extra service on the road to support the program. We already have an operation in place so the cost is very minimal."

Kitsap Transit already offers reduced fares to students, seniors and low-income riders. This new program takes that approach one step further.

"I'm not aware of any similar program out there at any other transit systems," Clauson said. "We're already fairly unique in Western Washington with our reduced fare structure."

Kitsap Transit held a series of public hearings on the free-fare program and got glowing feedback.

"I can't think of anyone that voiced opposition to it," Clauson said. "They all felt it was a program worth going forward with. Our citizen advisory committee was also supportive. It's pretty much received support across the board."

Clauson said that transit officials will track the use of free-fare tickets and monitor the program as it moves forward.

"We will be evaluating its effectiveness and any other issues related to it at the end of the program and bring it back to the board for their consideration," Clauson said.


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