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Mayor Durkan Celebrates City Council’s Passage of Her Legislation to Provide Free ORCA Cards to Seattle Public High School Students

Durkan’s Fourth Major Piece of Legislation Passes Council in the Last Week

In Addition to Providing Free ORCA Passes, Mayor Durkan’s Plan Will Also Help Meet Growing Demand for Transit

Seattle (June 25) – Mayor Jenny A. Durkan celebrated City Council’s passage of her legislation that would 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 was approved unanimously in an 8-0 vote.

“Seattle’s young people – including the students of Rainier Beach High School – have advocated for access to affordable transit. Our students’ advocacy gave power to this idea that we are now able to make a reality. Expanding free ORCA to high school students and Seattle Promise scholars will help students get to school and their jobs safely while saving families money,” said Mayor Durkan. “We need to make transit safer, more reliable, and more accessible for all. As demand for transit in Seattle grows, we need to develop more innovative, flexible strategies to give more options for all Seattle residents. I am grateful to the City Council for supporting my plan, and particularly Councilmember Johnson and King County Executive Dow Constantine for their leadership on this issue.”

Mayor Durkan’s legislation would expand the uses of the voter-approved Seattle Transportation Benefit District, which generates approximately $50 million each year to meet demand for transit. As a signature piece of Mayor Durkan’s plan to expand transportation options for all Seattle residents, the legislation would invest existing Seattle Transportation Benefit District funds in:

  • The ORCA Opportunity Program: Announced in her 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: Technical limitations prevented the City from offering more service on some of the business routes. The legislation changes that by allowing the City to invest in routes with 65 percent of stops within Seattle, compared to 80 percent 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 underserved communities.
  • 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 Seattle Transit Benefit District have helped:

  • Provide 67 percent of Seattle households with access to 10-minute or better service, up from 25 percent in 2015;
  • Add 270,000 annual service hours, including service increases of more than 30 percent 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 Seattle Transit Benefit District was approved by voters in 2014, and is funded through a 0.1 percent sales tax increase and annual $60 Vehicle License Fee.