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Mayor Durkan Signs Her Legislation to Provide Free ORCA Cards to Seattle Students 

Durkan’s Signs Her Fifth Major Piece of Legislation In Recent Weeks

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

Seattle (July 10) – Standing today with local students and community members, Mayor Jenny A. Durkan did a ceremonial signing of her legislation that will provide free ORCA cards and unlimited year-round public transportation access to Seattle students beginning this school year through her ORCA Opportunity program, while also helping meet growing demand for transit with new, creative solutions. The legislation was approved in a unanimous 8-0 vote.

“We are making the promise of free ORCA a reality for young people in Seattle. For years, Seattle’s young people – and especially the students of Rainier Beach High School – have called for access to affordable transit. It was their advocacy that gave power to this idea that we are now translating into law. Expanding free ORCA to high school students and Seattle Promise scholars will help young people get to school and their jobs safely while reducing families’ expenses,” said Mayor Durkan. “We have a responsibility 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.”

“Without access to transit service, some students have no choice but to walk as many as two miles to and from school every day, which can make it difficult to excel in school and many life activities,” said Councilmember Mike O’Brien (District 6 – Northwest Seattle), Chair of the Sustainability & Transportation Committee. “Today’s announcement comes after three years of continued advocacy from students, and I was proud to champion them then and now. All students should have access to affordable, reliable and safe transportation options for getting to school and all their activities. They should be able to learn without the burden of travel, and today’s ORCA card announcement does exactly that.”

“We’ve seen the success of past pilots of ORCA youth fares: with reduced costs, youth Metro ridership increased by 35 percent and youth Link light rail ridership increased 42 percent. I’m thrilled to work with Mayor Durkan on this issue that has long been an important one to me and community members,” 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.”

“The success of our ORCA Youth summer program confirmed that the next generation has fully embraced reliable transit,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “Our partnership with the City of Seattle will make it possible for more young people to experience the best opportunities our vibrant region has to offer all year long.”

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 Schools 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 Schools.
  • 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 Bus 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.