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Mayor Durkan Announces Legislation to Provide Free ORCA Passes to Seattle Students and Help Meet Growing Demand for Transit with New, Creative Solutions

Seattle (May 16) – Mayor Jenny A. Durkan announced new legislation to use existing funding sources to provide free ORCA passes to Seattle students through Mayor Durkan’s ORCA Opportunity program and to meet growing demand for transit options in the Seattle area by providing new flexibility on City investments in bus service and additional capacity.

Mayor Durkan’s legislation, which was taken up by the City’s Sustainability & Transportation Committee, would expand the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) that was approved by voters in 2014 and generates approximately $50 million each year to develop new tools to meet demand for transit.

“As our City becomes increasingly unaffordable for families, we need to make transit safer, more accessible and more affordable, especially for our young people. That’s why it’s so important that we make the investments we need in the ORCA Opportunity program. It’s also essential that as Seattle continues to grow and demand increases, we need to develop innovative strategies and have more flexibility to help provide essential transit options for all Seattle residents,” said Mayor Durkan. “I’m grateful to the members of the City Council, and particularly Councilmember Johnson for his leadership on this issue.”

“Every young person should have access to transit, regardless of where they live, what their income level is or where they go to school,” said Councilmember Mike O’Brien, District 6, Northwest Seattle. “I’m proud of the work we’ve done in committee to expand the Youth ORCA Pilot Program, which served about 3,000 students. When we invest in transportation for young people not just during the school year but through the summer, we continue to encourage more folks to shift their modes to public transit.”

“As we saw last year through the summer ORCA youth fares, when we provide reduced costs, our increase in ridership reflects success. I’m thrilled to work with Mayor Durkan on this issue that has been an important one to me for a long time,” said Councilmember Rob Johnson, District 4, Northeast Seattle. “As a region we are committed to combating climate change, increasing economic opportunity, and decreasing housing costs. The single best way to achieve all three of those goals is to create frequent and reliable access to public transportation, and when we can promote and increase transit ridership for our youth, we all benefit.”
As part of her commitment to providing expanded transportation options for Seattle, Mayor Durkan’s proposal would allow existing STBD funds to be invested in:

• The ORCA Opportunity Program: Announced in her February 20 State of the City address, Mayor Durkan’s ORCA Opportunity program will provide free ORCA passes beginning this year to all Seattle Public School high school students as well as Seattle Promise scholars by partnering with Seattle Public Schools, King County Metro, Seattle Colleges and the Seattle Department of Transportation. The pass would give students access to unlimited public transportation throughout the year.

• More Service Hours on Current and Future RapidRide Lines: The legislation would allow the City to invest in routes with 65% of stops within Seattle, compared to 80% today, increasing hours on current and future RapidRide lines serving Seattle as identified in the Seattle Transit Master Plan, allowing the City to serve more historically disadvantaged communities.

• Contracted Pilot Services: Coordinating with King County Metro, the legislation would help identify new strategies to meet increasing transit demand and provide additional capacity on transit.

• Maximizing Existing Capacity on the Most Heavily Used Bus Routes: Leverage the City’s service investments by optimizing transit on busy city streets through more bus lanes, signal priority, and improved passenger amenities.

To date, investments funded by the STBD have helped:

• Provide 67% of Seattle households with access to 10-minute or better service, up from 25% in 2015;
• Add 270,000 annual service hours, including service increases of more than 30% on RapidRide lines C and D, equivalent to 61 buses, running 12 hours a day, every day of the year; and
• Distribute 3,000 Youth ORCA cards during the 2017-2018 school year, saving $617,000 on 408,000 trips.

The voter-approved STBD is funded through a 0.1% Sales Tax increase and annual $60 Vehicle License Fee, generating approximately $50 million annually to improve transit availability and access for six years (2014-2020).

The City’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee will hold a special public hearing on the ORCA Opportunity Program on Wednesday, May 30, 12:30-1:30 p.m. in Council Chambers. The committee encourages the public to attend and provide comment. Written comment can be emailed to Councilmember Mike O’Brien’s office at