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The Cost Of Riding Transit Is A Public Health Issue, King County Says

KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols
Bryan Parnin showed up at King County Public Health Wednesday to sign up for the new ORCA LIFT card.

Just because you have health insurance, doesn’t always mean you have a way to get to the doctor.

That explains why public health officials are starting to think of access to mass transit as a public health issue.

Starting in March, they’ll offer low-income people a special bus card that lets them go anywhere in King County for $1.50. That’s a deep discount. It even works on Sound Transit light rail.


Bryan Parnin is 25 years old. He used to be homeless.

For a while, he had a good job with a company called Staff Pro.

They’d assign him to jobs all over King County. They expected Parnin to find his own transportation.

"First couple weeks were hard. I kept having to ask my case managers for bus tickets. But then when I finally got paid, I was able to put money on an ORCA card and get to work on time."

[asset-images[{"caption": "King County Executive Dow Constantine and King County Public Health Outreach Manager Daphne Pie", "fid": "114699", "style": "offset_left", "uri": "public://201501/KingCounty.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols"}]]Now, Bryan is unemployed.

And bus fare has become an issue.

So he came down to King County Public Health to sign up for the new, reduced fare bus card.

So why is Public Health giving out bus cards? Because they’re good at signing people up for stuff. They’ve been getting a lot of practice by signing people up for health care through the affordable care act.

"We should turn to our experts inside this government who’ve already done this work."

That’s King County Executive Dow Constantine. He has this idea, called One King County, where Public Health becomes one-stop shopping for a bunch of services from health care and bus cards, to discounted utility bills and food stamps.

"The good thing about King County, we’ve always had various programs here, but they’ve been spread all over the map," says Daphne Pie. She's with King County Public Health. She says the One King County idea has her asking, "how is it that when we serve a client, we can say, in addition to this program, how can I help you with this program."

But not all programs can be accessed by everyone. Pie says she’s not allowed to offer health insurance to undocumented immigrants (Washington State offers exceptions for children and pregnant women).

The ORCA LIFT program will be paid for by regular bus fares. 

The cost of a one-zone trip will rise to $2.75 during peak hours this March.