This post was written by Laura Robinson, my new Part-Time Temporary Legislative Assistant, who will be helping my office this summer! Laura is currently pursuing a Masters of Divinity at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia.
Laura grew up in the Columbia City neighborhood and attended Garfield High School. She spent four years living and working in Walla Walla as a Sales Director for a small winery, and loves the small towns of Eastern WA. She loves of all things Seattle: seafood, parks, mountains, water and especially the SEAHAWKS.
I recently had the privilege of attending a presentation by the Transit Riders Union (TRU) to Councilmembers, which got me excited about potential areas for growth and change in Seattle for public transit. TRU is hard at work fighting for more affordable access to public transit citywide – they look at options for our children/youth, college students, seniors, and income qualified residents. Already, the new Orca LIFT program has been a great success for the TRU, but they haven’t stopped there.
The only way to ease traffic in our busy city is to make increased commitments to public transit. The dedicated members of the TRU help us to step off on the right foot.
As someone who grew up in Seattle, but spent the last ten years elsewhere, I’ve been quick to bemoan our rapidly growing city and all the change this has brought to the Seattle I knew in childhood. But what if all this change doesn’t have to be painful? Of course, growing pains may be inevitable, but what if I could learn to embrace the city Seattle is becoming? As our city changes, residents who are thoughtful about preserving our unique heritage while also open to change are crucial voices in the conversation.
So, I want to talk about traffic. When it comes to moving back to Seattle, our traffic situation can be off-putting to say the least. Seattle’s congestion can’t be the elephant in the room, because no one can stop talking about it. I’ve finally accepted that the days of free parking and uncrowded arterials are gone. But is this all bad? Because the traffic has forced me, and others, to reevaluate how I move around the city and I have to become more thoughtful about the way I get from place to place. We must embrace different transportation strategies if we can ever hope to achieve congestion relief. And extra bonus – by finally using public transit for my commute – I get to feel proud of my green footprint, I save money on gas, and I read while I commute instead of wanting to tear my hair out.
If I’m going to put my money where my mouth is as far as embracing public transportation in Seattle, it is equally important if not more so, that we work to make our public transit available, accessible and affordable for all in our city. And this is where the Transit Rider Union comes in. TRU brings home the affordability issue. Seattle transit fares are now second only to New York City – and experiencing the $2.75 one-way fares personally was shocking when I moved back to town.
We must balance affordability with increased access if we are to move forward with public transit as one of our primary transportation goals. Most importantly – we must make sure that our residents with limited access to other transportation options are still able to afford access to our public network.
Chelsea Gallegos, a social worker and graduation success coordinator at Rainier Beach High School, spoke on behalf of her students at the meeting. Currently, Seattle high school students who live less than two miles (as the crow flies) from their schools do not qualify for subsidized bus passes. Many students must walk to and from school in the dark, in the rain and cold, often through unsafe neighborhoods. Transportation should not be an obstacle for students trying to get to school on time or participate in extracurricular activities. One of the simplest ingredients for the continued success of youth is access to safe and reliable transportation.
Some great things are in place already. The Orca LIFT program, rolled out by King County Metro on March 1, has been a fantastic step in the right direction. The program is designed to reduce fares by 50% for income-qualified riders. To learn more about the new Orca Lift program, or about qualifying, visit Metro’s website. Additionally, city voters approved the Seattle Benefit Transportation package in November 2014, which means that King County metro services within the city will be increased by almost 15% and the roll out began last Saturday, June 6th. As a commuter on one of these increased bus routes, I thank you! You can learn more about the improvements and expansions for the Seattle Transit Benefit District here.
As we move forward with improving public transportation as a city-wide goal, collaborating with groups like the Transit Riders Union brings a critical perspective and voice to the conversation around Seattle transportation and congestion relief. The best part is that by making public transit more affordable and accessible, we make our city more habitable, more environmentally sustainable and more successful in the long term. Change doesn’t have to always be painful – when done thoughtfully it can be exciting, innovative and great for the common good.