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Mayor Durkan Applauds Committee Passage of Her Legislation to Provide Free ORCA Cards to Seattle Public High School Students

Legislation to Provide Free ORCA Passes, Help Meet Growing Demand for Transit Now Heads to Full Council for Full Vote

SEATTLE (June 5) – Mayor Jenny A. Durkan today applauded the members of the City Council’s Sustainability & Transportation Committee for passing her proposed legislation to use existing funds to provide free ORCA cards to Seattle students through her ORCA Opportunity program and help meet growing demand for transit with new, creative solutions. The legislation, which was announced by Mayor Durkan on May 16, will be considered by the full Council the week of June 11. Mayor Durkan announced her intention to create the ORCA Opportunity in her February 20 State of the City address, which was held at Rainier Beach High School, whose students spearheaded providing ORCA passes for students in 2015.

Mayor Durkan’s legislation would expand the uses of the voter-approved Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD), which generates approximately $50 million each year to meet demand for transit.

“As our City becomes increasingly unaffordable, we need to make transit safer, more reliable, and more affordable. We want to encourage our kids to use transit. That’s why investing in ORCA Opportunity program is the right thing to do. As demand for transit in Seattle grows, we need to develop more innovative, flexible strategies to give more options for all Seattle residents,” said Mayor Durkan. “I am grateful to the Councilmembers on the Sustainability and Transportation Committee for their support of this legislation, and particularly Councilmember Johnson for his leadership on this issue. I look forward to the City Council’s vote next week. I also want to applaud the youth of Seattle – including the students of Rainier Beach High School – for pushing for access. They gave power to this idea.”

“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, Chair of the Sustainability & Transportation Committee. “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 a signature piece of Mayor Durkan’s plan to expand transportation options for all Seattle residents, the proposed legislation would invest existing STBD funds in:

  • The ORCA Opportunity Program: Announced in her February 20 State of the City address, Mayor Durkan’s ORCA Opportunity program would 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. ORCA Opportunity will continue to allow free ORCA cards for eligible middle school students enrolled in Seattle Public Schools that are not eligible for an ORCA card from the Seattle Public School.
  • More Service Hours on Busy Lines: The legislation would allow the City to invest in routes with 65% of stops within Seattle, compared to 80% today. This change would include an increase in hours on current and future RapidRide lines serving Seattle, as identified in the Seattle Transit Master Plan, and allow the City to serve more historically disadvantaged communities.
  • Contracted Pilot Services: In coordination with King County Metro, the legislation would help identify new strategies to provide additional transit capacity and meet growing demand.
  • Increased Efficiency on Heavily Used Routes: The legislation would allow the City to leverage its service investments by optimizing transit on busy city streets with 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 STBD, approved by voters in 2014, is funded through a 0.1% Sales Tax increase and annual $60 Vehicle License Fee.The City Council will meet to vote on this legislation on Monday, June 11 in Council Chambers. The Council encourages the public to attend and provide comment.