by Jonathan Hopkins

As readers of the blog are likely aware, transit usage in the Seattle area is booming. The greater Seattle metropolitan area had the highest transit ridership growth in the country last year, and is one of just six major U.S. urban areas where transit ridership increased in 2016. Some of this growth can be attributed to voter-approved service and infrastructure expansions. Others, to be sure, will point to our breakneck population and jobs growth. But these two facts alone probably don’t fully explain how, since 2010, downtown Seattle has added 45,000 new jobs but only 2,255 new solo car commuters. Overall, seventy percent of our job growth (over 31,000 trips) was absorbed by transit.

When Zach Shaner wrote that transit is saving downtown, he was right, and our business community knows it. Therefore, to thank riders and celebrate June as Ride Transit month, nine Challenge Seattle member companies donated over $22,000 in prizes to our first-ever Puget Sound Prize Patrol. Challenge Seattle’s CEO, former governor Christine Gregoire, noted that “Challenge Seattle companies are proud to support this effort to highlight how critical high transit ridership is to easing congestion and improving our region’s quality of life.”

These gratis prizes compliments of Alaska Airlines, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (in partnership with Bike Works), Boeing, Chateau Ste Michelle, Costco, Nordstrom, Puget Sound Energy, Starbucks, and Zillow Group allowed us to do something groundbreaking aboard transit. Instead of riders having their heads down, focused on their phones, they instead had their “best transit ride ever.” They weren’t riding in isolation, using transit as a utility. They were part of community, and shared together a sense of ownership over their daily choices to protect our environment and its economy. We hope it’s a meaningful message that lasts.

Most Employers Get It

The community story we shared with riders is thankfully something that most companies already get, making our region fairly unique. Promoting transit is not just a one-off event for our major employers; it’s a core benefit to their employees. In fact, 65% of transit boardings in King County are made by someone with an employer-subsidized fare card, signaling just how pervasive this benefit has become. Employers are also investing in on-site amenities for commuters and are even pitching in to help pass local transit initiatives. All told, downtown Seattle employers spent over $100 million in 2016 in support of transit benefits and infrastructure.

Why the emphasis on transit ridership? For some employers, encouraging more environmentally friendly commutes fits well with corporate responsibility initiatives. But businesses also understand that in a competitive environment, transportation choices and benefits can help attract and keep top talent. Furthermore, they understand that a region choked by traffic comes at a high cost to their employees and their own bottom lines.

“Reducing our carbon footprint and the stress that often accompanies commuting is important to Zillow Group, which is why we cover the cost of public transit for our employees. Last year, Zillow Group employees in Seattle took nearly 300,000 free bus rides thanks to this benefit,” said Dan Spaulding, Zillow Group VP, People and Culture. “We’re thrilled to be participating and doing our part to contribute to the fastest transit growth in the country.”

Preparing for Future Growth

As is obvious from the video, giving out prizes on transit is fun and rewarding. More importantly, however, is the symbolic message: we as a community─as a region─are successful because we are working together to make our transportation system work. And it has to, because our growth is not stopping anytime soon. Transit agencies are busy building infrastructure and increasing service because citizens are voting with their feet and at the ballot box. Businesses are supporting that infrastructure growth and providing the incentives to employees to use it─in partnership with organizations such as Commute Seattle, Downtown on the Go (Tacoma), TransManage (Bellevue) and the transit agencies.

For our continued economic vitality, we need to learn from this success and continue to travel smarter. While an overwhelming number of our largest companies provide meaningful transit benefits, we as a community must work to reach many of the smaller companies that until this point have not invested in their employees’ transportation options. For our continued economic vitality, we need to learn from this success and continue to travel smarter. While an overwhelming number of our largest companies provide meaningful transit benefits, we as a community must work to reach many of the smaller companies that until this point have not invested in their employees’ transportation options. If you are an employee without such benefits, it’s a perfect time to help your employer get in touch with any of the supporting agencies above. It’s one of the strongest tools we have to keep the greater Seattle area moving.

Jonathan Hopkins is the Executive Director of Commute Seattle, a not-for-profit Transportation Management Association incorporated within the Downtown Seattle Association.

13 Replies to “Something’s Different Here: Seattle Companies Note Job Growth Requires Great Transit”

  1. Thank you Jonathan for your continued public service and service to our transit community. It’s greatly appreciated.

    I’m deeply saddened and frustrated – especially today before I saw this op-ed – to be stuck in an area outside of the Sound Transit District where we get the equivalent of bread crumbs and the value of transit is rarely seen. Cabs become an essential supplement to morning connector runs… So I’m doing what I can up here in the North by Northwest, but I have to say it would be a lot easier if we all pulled together and kindly refrained from sniping at one another’s transit requests.

    I also agree, “We as a community must work to reach many of the smaller companies that until this point have not invested in their employees’ transportation options.” We certainly do, especially in the North by Northwest that is finally under ST3 and Community Transit Prop One promised key transit investments.

  2. Unlike the right-wing ideologues who claim to represent them in Congresses and Legislatures, the growing Seattle business community can read a balance sheet. Especially the massive drain of money and productive energy lost every hour that traffic is blocked.

    Just about all of it owning to fact that the last 70 years’ pattern of land-use now requires so many automobiles that none of them can move. Incurable by further road-building with all the wealth in the world. Two historic constants at work.

    One, major transit improvement generally owes not to foresight, but to a tax base large enough to build the transit a voting majority is screaming to have when it realizes it’s trapped. Have read that New York’s first modern subway was built in a few years when nobody could even walk up Broadway at rush hour.

    And two, everything both liberal and conservative, in the non-ideological sense of the terms, originates with the Chamber of Commerce. Who hired, doubtlessly after lobbying Congress for, the marshals who rid the local business district of the gunfights that kept sending lily-livered customers, and investors back to Philadelphia.

    Some fully-reserved and signal-preempted bus lanes in the Streets of Laredo should be persuasive examples for Seattle too. And take heart, Joseph, as Wyatt Earp would’ve phrased it. Every major city in the world resulted when separate little towns like Ballard connect to the public utilities of the nearest growing city.

    In your lifetime, Mt. Vernon will be one station on the Sound-to-Mountain line to Wenatchee. By which time you’ll be chairman of the Elected Board of the United Pacific Coast region.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I appreciate businesses that provide farecards. In the bigger picture, what are businesses doing to speed up the building of ST3 (Amazon, Expedia)? (and no, putting money into the pro-ST3 campaign while appreciated, does not count).

      1. They pay taxes. They pay people who then pay other taxes.

        Aside from paying taxes & lobbying for pro-transit politicians, I’m not sure what else you can expect them to do?

      2. Can you identify what lobbying they have done for pro-transit politicians? What bills, etc.? Seattle’s ST3 was essentially a love offering to them– yet they are essentially free-riding off the proposal.

        Whether Amazon pays its full share of taxes is a question that has been debated elsewhere (and would probably would trigger about 400 comments here.

  3. downtown Seattle employers spent over $100 million in 2016 in support of transit benefits and infrastructure.

    If only we could’ve spent that money on actual infrastructure instead of spending it on money to tell people to tax themselves to buy infrastructure.

    1. To clarify, most of that money was spent for employer-subsidized transit passes to encourage employees to use transit (this is a best practice), and then on company infrastructure (like secure bike storage and shower facilities). Less than 2% was spent on campaigns to pass transit measures.

  4. I think that the corporate tipping point towards better transit is often a function of how management and skilled labor get to and from work, and how much the alternative expense of parking garages (and related subsidized parking for management) or private transit affect their bottom line. While their support for transit is somewhat noble, they do reap rewards through easier recruitment and lower transportation overhead.

    While I’m appreciative of the win-win corporate support, I have to ask what else would we ask them to do to make our transit better!

    1. Idea, Al S.: Now that passenger loads already render joint operations unworkable, time for the date-nebulosity to come to an end. Buses can’t come out of the DSTT fast enough.

      So the answer to your question is to persuade them to use their considerable influence with Seattle city government, starting with the Mayor (whoever wins will cooperate), the City Council, and SDOT to get us a comprehensive integrated network of transit-only lanes and preempted signals.

      Since Amazon is only getting started with its delivery drones, this should be a pretty routine matter of logistics. For them and many other corporations. Especially if result also works for their own deliveries, as well as benefits for customers and employees.


    2. Remove their private shuttles from service and help fund neighborhood bus routes to high capacity transit corridors?

      1. Their shuttles aren’t neigborhood routes, they’re point-to-point regional transit like Wallingford to Redmond and Redmond to SLU. Metro is not going to offer point-to-point service between every north Seattle neighborhood and SLU and Redmond and Kirkland because it would draw resources away from its higher-volume corridors. So contributing to existing bus service would not yield new one-seat rides, and beefing up the existing network would still yield hour-long travel times between Wallingford and Redmond, which many workers will not tolerate, and the companies keep saying it’s hard to find enough workers so they don’t want to do anything to drive them away. They can’t help fund feeders to high-capacity transit because the high-capacity transit doesn’t exist yet. Seattle to the Eastside is coming in 2023, the closest Wallingford station (U-District station) is coming in 2021, and the SLU station is coming in the late 2030s.

  5. BTW, only suggesting that since they’re still trying to work out rest-rooms for the transcontinental jumbo-drones, Amazon still has considerable experience and skill with ground transportation.

    Only thing worse will be the problem of enlarging the booths and camera stores where these awful things get sold at every Mall in the world.

    Also- first thing I want to hear about automatic cars is proof they can stay out of transit’s way any better than ones with drivers. Transit stations and centers, problem will be giving Auto-Ubers mechanism to kiss people.

    Though huge purple mustaches will give advantage to Uber over the other one. Which already has problem of remembering how may “f”‘s and “t”s go behind the “y” that too many of the public still think is an “i”.

    Which pales compared to threat that either the Alt-Right or the Anti-Fa(cists) will shave off both sides leaving a vertical patch of purple fur straight down the front of the hood. To quote John Cleese being Basil Fawlty: “This is EXACTLY” how Hitler got started!


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