Link fare-free service will continue

WENATCHEE - Link Transit will continue to operate all routes fare-free through at least June 2022, with the Link Board approving a pilot project at its May meeting.
The policy is intended to help attract riders back to the system, which has seen about a 25 - 30 percent drop in boardings since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March of 2020. Fares were suspended for all services at that time. Link has been operating several routes fare-free for a number of years. These routes account for a larger percentage of riders than routes that are not fare-free. “The three high-frequency routes we operate in the Wenatchee and East Wenatchee area typically carry about 35 – 40% of our total passenger counts” said Richard DeRock, Link Transit General Manager.
A number of other transit systems nationwide have recently moved towards a fare-free model, with Intercity Transit in Olympia, Washington and Kansas City, Missouri being two of the larger systems that are partially or completely fare free.
”No-cost public transportation allows everyone to access opportunities for employment, education, and medical care - which lead to better quality of life and, therefore, better health for our community“, said DeRock.
Link Transit began operation in December 1991 as a fare-free system. This changed in February 2000, with the passage of Initiative 695 the prior November, and the loss of nearly 45% of funding. Fares were implemented to help retain a small portion of the service that would have been otherwise cut. Since that time, fares have been increased three times. Since 2001, annual ridership has increased from less than 500,000 to nearly 1 million boardings (pre-pandemic).
Over the past 21 years, fares have accounted for from 3 to 6% of Link’s total operating revenue. Small transit systems similar to Link nationwide rarely collect in excess of 10% of their revenue from fares.
Link receives 70 - 75% of its funding through voter-approved sales tax. This initial tax was approved in September 1990 at a rate of 4/10 of 1%; and was increased in January 2020 by another 1/10 of 1% with the passage of Proposition 1 in August 2019. Beginning in January 2022, an additional 1/10 of 1% will be collected. The remainder of Link’s funding comes through a variety of state and Federal grant programs, with some smaller sources being interest income and leases. Sales tax is the primary funding source for most transit systems in Washington State.

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