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City Announces 2,000 free ORCA Cards to support COVID recovery in hardest-hit neighborhoods

The ORCA Recovery Card Program begins with a distribution to restaurant and grocery store employees in the Little Saigon, Chinatown International District, Japantown, and Pioneer Square neighborhoods. 

Seattle (June 9, 2021) – Today Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a six-month program to help get Seattle employees back to work affordably and efficiently. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is providing up to 2,000 free ORCA Recovery Cards for people working in the Little Saigon, Chinatown, Japantown, and Pioneer Square neighborhoods in food service and grocery industries.  

 “Thanks to the heroic efforts of people across our community, Seattle is leading the way as the most vaccinated place in the country, and now, we want to build an equitable and robust recovery post-COVID,” said Mayor Jenny A. Durkan. “As part of our recovery efforts, it is critical that we empower employees in communities most impacted by COVID-19 to get to back to work affordably and efficiently. Now, thanks to voters in Seattle, the ORCA Recovery Card program is one of many steps we are taking as a city to work towards a just and equitable transportation network and recover from the pandemic.” 

The fully-subsidized ORCA cards are funded by the 2020 voter-approved Proposition 1, as part of the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD). The program offers a tangible benefit to essential workers through COVID-19 reopening and recovery. The unlimited-ride ORCA cards are each valued at $100 per month and the benefit expires on December 31, 2021.  

“We are continuing our response to COVID-19 through the ORCA Recovery Card effort. As we understand how peoples’ mobility needs are impacted by the pandemic, we are developing innovative programs so Seattle can move and thrive,” said Sam Zimbabwe, Director, Seattle Department of Transportation. “Simultaneously, we must combat the disproportionate impacts of the virus on communities of color while supporting our businesses and their employees. This program is one important step and we look forward to learning how we can further support our neighbors as we transition into life post-COVID.”  

SDOT is distributing the ORCA cards from June 21 to June 30 to employees and business owners with onsite interpretation in Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, and Spanish. 

“This is a great example of city leaders, agencies, and most importantly, voters helping to support service industry workers, and keep some of our hardest-hit neighborhoods moving during the ongoing economic recovery,” said Ali Ghambari, owner of Cherry Street Coffee House. “Thank you, Seattle. We really appreciate it!” 

In addition, King County Metro has made big changes to the bus system to ensure public health safety protocols are in place and they are ready to serve the community.  

“These communities are seeing an increase in business as workers and tourists return,” said Terry White, King County Metro General Manager. “This program provides employees in the shops and restaurants with easy access to transportation and saves them money as they travel to and from work.” 

“Mobility is key to opportunity, and as more and more people get vaccinated, transit access will open the door to a robust and equitable economic recovery,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “I’m excited to see the City of Seattle providing workers one of the greatest keys to opportunity in the form of ORCA cards, and King County Metro is proud to help connect people in some of Seattle’s most vibrant communities with access to all our region has to offer.” 

This initiative helps support small business recovery by assisting employees in traveling or returning to work. Little Saigon, Chinatown-International District (CID) and Pioneer Square neighborhoods are being prioritized as we align our investments in underserved communities of color and neighborhoods most significantly impacted by COVID-19.  

“Transit is essential for our recovery, especially in communities hit especially hard by the pandemic,” Seattle City Council President Lorena Gonzalez. “I’m thrilled for this pilot of the ORCA program to support Little Saigon, Chinatown/International District (CID), Japantown service workers who were also impacted by racist attitudes over the COVID19 virus. Transit for workers of these neighborhoods will help bring back vibrancy and get us closer to a multimodal city essential for recovery and our climate goals now and in the future.” 

Thanks to the voter-approved 2020 Proposition 1, the City has funds in the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) to support the 6-month ORCA recovery card effort. Proposition 1 is a 0.15% sales tax – the equivalent of 15 cents on a $100 purchase. The sales tax was approved by voters in November 2020 and generates roughly $39 million annually over six years to fund transit service, capital projects, and transit access programs. To aid in recovery for residents disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, this new Proposition 1 focuses resources on investing in routes that serve working people and communities of color.   

SDOT continues to work toward a just and equitable transportation network as the community moves through the reopening and recovery phases of the public health crisis.