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Under Mayor Durkan’s Expanded ORCA Opportunity Program, 1,500 Seattle Housing Authority Building Residents Begin Receiving Free ORCA Cards

Seattle (June 21, 2019) – Following Mayor Durkan’s expansion of the ORCA Opportunity program, the Seattle Department of Transportation will begin distributing free ORCA cards to 1,500 low-income Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) residents. The 12-month pilot program will provide unlimited ORCA cards for eligible SHA tenants at no cost. This expansion of ORCA Opportunity follows Mayor Durkan’s action to give all Seattle Public Schools High School students and Seattle Promise scholars free, unlimited ORCA cards. 

“Seattle has led the way to provide our young people with access to opportunity through free ORCA cards. In addition to 14,000 high school students who now have year round access to transit, 1,500 more of our neighbors will be able to have access to our trains and buses,” said Mayor Durkan. “We will continue to invest in reliable, convenient transit for our residents, but we also must remove barriers for our residents to access transit. Free ORCA for students and now for these SHA residents will open doors to jobs or school and create connections to opportunity.”

The Mayor announced the expansion of ORCA Opportunity to low income residents in February during her State of the City address. Eligible tenants must be 19-64 years old, live in a SHA property in a certain transit district, and earn less than 30% of the Area Median Income (AMI).

In 2015, Rainier Beach High School students advocated for transit equity for low-income students throughout Seattle.  After listening to student voices, Councilmember O’Brien championed and the City launched the Youth ORCA program to serve income eligible students. Shortly after taking office, Mayor Durkan announced ORCA Opportunity, a proposal to make Seattle one of the largest cities in the country to offer free year-round transit to young people including all 14,000 Seattle Public School high school students, as well as, Seattle Promise scholars. In June of 2018, City Council passed her legislation that provided free ORCA cards to Seattle students beginning in the 2018-2019 school year. Three years after their advocacy, more than 700 students at Rainier Beach High School were eligible to receive a free, unlimited ORCA card.

“Seattle has one of the best transportation systems in the country, yet not everyone in our community can access it. We may take for granted our ability to hop on a bus or get on light rail, but for some families, the cost of transportation is simply too much of a burden,” said Mike O’Brien (District 6 – Northwest Seattle) and Chair of the Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee.  “Nearly four years ago I championed expansion of the ORCA program for students who lived within the two-mile walk zone for their area high school (Rainier Beach), but couldn’t cover the $1.50 bus fare.  As a result hundreds of kids were able to access the program and make nearly half a million trips during the school year.  Today, with the Mayor’s further expansion of the program more people from many walks of life – from students to the elderly, affluent to underserved – will also be able to access to transit, regardless of where they live, and no matter their income level.”

The ORCA Opportunity pilot is supported through investments from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) to ensure there are affordable, accessible methods of public transit across the City. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), SHA, and King County Metro will evaluate and assess the program throughout the one-year pilot. With investments from STBD, Seattle has added nearly 6,800 weekly bus trips and 305,000 annual service hours on routes serving Seattle since 2015.

“I want to thank the people of Seattle who made this possible by voting to fund investments in transit” said SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe. “This is just one of the ways that we are working to create a more equitable transportation system and to remove barriers to accessing transit so that everyone has a pathway to opportunities like school, training, jobs, and health care.”

Eleven SHA properties are participating in the pilot program, including: Denny Terrace, Green Lake Plaza, High Point, Hoa Mai Gardens, Jackson Park House, Jackson Park Village, Kebero Court, Lake City Court, Lake City House, New Holly, and Rainier Vista.

For more information and for questions about eligibility, please see the ORCA Opportunity FAQ.