Changes to the Seattle Transportation Benefit District, and what it means for your commute

Home » Changes to the Seattle Transportation Benefit District, and what it means for your commute

On Monday, the Seattle City Council voted on  legislation that expands the uses of the voter-approved Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD), which has generated approximately $50 million each year to meet demand for transit since 2015.

You may remember voting for Proposition 1, creating the STBD, in 2014. We invested big time in public transportation, and got big results. Now, 64% of Seattle residents are within a 10-minute walk of 10-minute or better transit service, compared to 25 percent two years ago. In District 6, the City’s investments in King County Metro improved weekday peak service on the D Line and 5/5x. We added new morning and evening trips on the 15, 17, 18 and 28 routes. We improved reliability and frequency on the D Line, 5/5x, 17, 18, 28, 40 and 45 routes. About 31 percent of all STBD investments thus far have benefited routes serving Ballard and Crown Hill.

The legislation would do a couple of things:

First, it would allow for STBD dollars to provide free ORCA passes to all Seattle high school students and low-income middle schoolers.

I’m proud of the work my committee has done to expand the Youth ORCA Pilot Program. During the 2017-2018 school year, 3,000 ORCA cards were given to middle and high school students. That equated to 408,000 trips, which saved the average student $206 during the school year.

This new legislation would fund the expansion of ORCA passes to 19,000 students. I believe every young person should have access to transit, regardless of where they live, what their income level is or where they go to school. When students have free access to public transit, they can better attend school, social activities, and seek employment opportunities.

Second, the legislation allows us to use more Seattle Transportation Benefit District dollars to increase the frequency and reliability of our most-used bus routes.

As more people have shifted their commutes to public transit, we’ve seen an increase in the demand for transit service. Routes in Seattle continue to be in high-demand, with many bus aisles overcrowded with standing-only riders. Unfortunately, King County Metro, which services many of Seattle’s routes, aren’t able to add many more buses, and they can’t hire and train new drivers fast enough.

This legislation will address those growing pains. It will allow the city to invest in routes with 65 percent of stops in Seattle city limits, instead of 80 percent. This is important because it enables us to fund more routes coming from outside city limits, which also serves the outer limits of our City. The E Line is an example of a route we can now improve using STBD dollars, when we couldn’t before.

The legislation will also allow STBD dollars to be used for capital investments that help buses move faster. These investments could include transit-only lanes, queue jumps, transit signal priority, and other strategies. Capital investments could also be made to enhance the passenger experience, such as off-board fare payment and stop improvements.

For more information about these changes, you can see the Seattle Department of Transportation’s presentation to the Sustainability and Transportation Committee here.