Imagine you’re a woman, living with a husband and two kids, your elderly mother and disabled sister. Your husband works full-time and often overtime, perhaps as a security guard; he makes more than minimum wage but not a lot more. You would get a paying job too, but your time is taken up with caregiving. You have a car, which your husband needs to get to work. During his long shifts, the rest of you rely on public transit.
To give everyone in the family independence to travel freely by bus and train, you’d like to buy unlimited passes. But that would add up to $234 per month – assuming your family qualifies as low-income, making you eligible for the ORCA LIFT rate of $54. You can’t afford that expense on top of car payments, insurance and gas. So instead, you pay as you ride, and bus fare becomes one of those things you never seem to have enough money for. You plan your day to minimize the cost of travel, and your kids and mother and sister have to limit their trips, too.
ORCA LIFT has proved a resounding success. As of June 2016 over 31,000 people had enrolled; more than 3.7 million trips were taken in the first year of the program. But ORCA LIFT doesn’t help everyone who is feeling the squeeze of low incomes and rising living costs. Most very low-income and homeless people cannot consistently afford a $1.50 fare, and low-income youth, seniors and people with disabilities have seen their bus fares double or quadruple in the past six years.
The family described above may be imaginary, but their situation unfortunately is not. The freedom and mobility that our public transit system should afford remains unaffordable for tens of thousands of people in our communities, and the result is lost opportunities and diminished quality of life – not to mention tensions between riders and bus drivers and conflicts with fare enforcement and law enforcement when people ride without paying.
Fortunately, transit riders are rising to the challenge. Public school students, college students, workers, low-income and homeless people are organizing – and winning! But there is much work yet to do to realize the vision of universally affordable and accessible public transit.
On Tuesday, July 26, the Transit Riders Union is proud to host the 2016 Solidarity Summit on Affordable Transit. We invite everyone to come hear from people and organizations that are leading the way on affordable transit, participate in workshops, celebrate progress made and build momentum for new victories. The event will be held 12pm – 3pm in downtown Seattle, 215 Columbia St. RSVP not required but appreciated. You can register on TRU’s website, https://transitriders.org.