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Seattle City Council Approves Free Transit Passes for Students and Expands Route Improvements
Yesterday, Seattle City Council voted unanimously to expand the scope of the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) funding to approve free student transit passes, add service hours to RapidRide routes, increase service improvements to routes that serve the edges of the city, and use additional revenue on capital improvements. We want to highlight the pieces that championed equity:
Free ORCA transit passes for all public high school students. The STBD fund will provide all Seattle public high school students, as well as a handful of public middle school students and Seattle Promise scholarship students with free, unlimited, and year-round ORCA transit passes. Funding the ORCA Opportunity program is a win for transit equity and will allow over 10,000 students to get to school on time, hold jobs, and participate in after-school programs without the burden of transportation costs. STBD funds will cover up to $7M annually for the ORCA Opportunity program.
Additional RapidRide service hours. All RapidRide services will be eligible for additional service hours, expanding transit accessibility and allowing more riders to get to their destinations quickly and efficiently.
Expanding route improvements to underserved areas. Perhaps most exciting was the critical use of the Racial Equity toolkit to evaluate who benefits—and who does not—from current Prop 1 investments. The evaluation found that funded routes currently exclude the north and south edges of the city. Updating the definition of Seattle Routes from 80% of stops in the city to 65% allows the City of Seattle to improve transit reliability and reduce crowding for Seattle residents who are pushed out to the edges of the city and beyond its borders due to displacement and high housing costs. Routes that only have 65% of stops within Seattle primarily serve transit-dependent riders and are now eligible for additional service hours. This improvement also welcomes the opportunity for regional partnerships and allows direct investments in routes such as 106, 120, 124, 345, 372, 373, and the RapidRide E line.
Invest in capital improvements. Prior to this vote, STBD dollars could only be invested in service hours and operational improvements. Now, this funding can also be invested in capital improvements, a critical part of increasing speed and reliability. Capital improvements include queue jumps, transit signal priority, support future RapidRide lines, and related passenger amenities, such as zone improvements and all-door boarding. STBD funds will cover capital investments up to $10M annually.
Initially the expanded scope sought to include contract pilot services to increase mobility where it is currently challenging to provide traditional service. Although we appreciated the City looking for innovative solutions, we want to ensure that the City continues to collaborate with its workforce partners. Our partners at the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and Transit Riders Union (TRU) opposed the privatization of a bus pilot program and supported an amendment to allocate these funds to make much-needed capital investments. We support this amendment and are excited about the implementation of the above changes and the additional flexibility for STBD expenditures. We also hope the City will continue to apply the Racial Equity Toolkit to ensure that STBD funds are allocated to the communities and people that need them most.