ORCA cards Image: Oran Viriyincy

Earlier this month the Transit Riders Union (TRU) launched a new campaign called ORCA for All.

You could categorize a lot of the campaigns TRU has run over the years under the theme “ORCA for All.” From the push for a low-income reduced fare that became the ORCA LIFT program, to expanding and improving the Human Services Bus Ticket program, to supporting Rainier Beach High School students fighting for free transit passes, to pressuring the University of Washington — our city’s second-largest employer — to step up and fully subsidize transit for all UW employees, expanding access to public transit has been one of our core issues for years.

This fall we’re continuing ongoing advocacy for a transit pass program to serve the lowest-income riders — people who can’t afford ORCA LIFT — and also to reform the way our transit agencies respond to fare evasion. But the centerpiece of ORCA for All is something new: We want more employers, especially larger employers that can more easily absorb the costs, to subsidize transit passes for their workers.

A lot of employers already do this, and Seattle and King County have several programs that assist and encourage employers to provide transit benefits. King County Metro’s Business Passport program allows employers to purchase unlimited passes directly from Metro at a per-pass cost far below retail price. Seattle’s state-mandated Commute Trip Reduction law nudges some employers to take steps to reduce drive-alone commuting to large worksites, including conducting a regular survey of their employees. Seattle’s new Commuter Benefits Ordinance, which passed last fall and goes into effect in January 2020, will require most employers to offer workers the opportunity to make a monthly pre-tax payroll deduction for transit or vanpool expenses.

These programs are great and have demonstrated success, thanks in large part to a partnership with the DSA-affiliated non-profit Commute Seattle. But they’re not enough. With Seattle’s greenhouse gas emissions still rising, the Seattle Squeeze still squeezing, and over half of Seattle commuters still driving alone to work, policy makers should be asking themselves what they can do to accelerate the shift towards public transit.

The research says that employers’ choices matter. The two big ones are subsidizing transit and charging for parking. For example, a report based on the Atlanta Regional Household Travel Survey concluded: “We find that employees who were provided free or subsidized transit pass had 156% higher odds to commute on transit, but employees who were provided free or subsidized parking had 71% lower odds to commute on transit, all else equal, compared to their counterparts.”

Although many employers do subsidize transit passes for their workers, many others don’t. There are striking inequities in the way transit benefits are distributed. The Puget Sound Regional Council’s Household Travel Survey found that higher-paid workers are more likely to receive transit benefits than lower-paid workers. TRU conducted a commute survey earlier this year; our 700 respondents were self-selecting and probably not demographically representative, but still we think the results are interesting. Of respondents with six-figure incomes, over 85 percent reported receiving some transportation benefits from their employer; of respondents with income under $50,000, only around 50 percent reported transportation benefits. We also found that lower-wage workers were far more likely to report having been disciplined for being late to work due to traffic or a late bus or train. 

The upshot? Lower-wage workers — who are also more likely to have long commutes, struggle with housing costs, lack access to wealth, and be women and people of color — are the least likely to get an employer-subsidized transit pass. Also keep in mind that people in this demographic are often just over 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, which is the eligibility threshold for the ORCA LIFT low income fare program. Some of these workers ride transit because they can’t afford a car or parking costs, but many also drive, or cobble together a variety of transportation options that change day to day: drive, transit, bike and car share, Uber or Lyft.

There are several reasons for the inequity in who gets transit benefits and who doesn’t, but city policy is at least part of the picture, because Seattle’s existing programs leave some major gaps. Most strikingly, the Commute Trip Reduction program targets large worksites that generate peak hour commutes, which are most likely to be corporate headquarters and white-collar office buildings. This leaves shift workers — hotel workers, grocery workers, security workers, retail clerks, Starbucks baristas — high and dry. Even though these workers’ commutes also contribute to climate change and congestion, their employers are not being effectively touched by existing policies. Starbucks is actually a telling example, since the company provides fully-subsidized transit passes to employees at their corporate headquarters in SODO, but not to their hundreds of coffeeshop workers around the city.

We want the city to remedy this problem by requiring that all large employers subsidize transit for all their employees. The details of the policy are still being figured out, but we think a tiered approach could work well. Maybe the very largest employers should be required to fully subsidize transit passes, while a second tier of large employers are required to subsidize by 50 percent. Over the next few months we’ll be engaging with stakeholders to craft some policy options, which we expect the city council to start discussing in December after the city budget process is concluded.

We also want the city, county, and state to figure out ways to better assist and encourage medium and smaller employers to provide transit subsidies for their employees, without creating undue financial burdens. Already Metro has seen promising results from the Small Business Incentive Program, a new state-funded pilot that offers small business or non-profit employers with fewer than 100 employees a 50 percent match to purchase transit passes. We’d like to see this turned into a permanent program with reliable state funding.

At the same time, we want Seattle and King County to make sure they’re doing their part for their own workforce, too. Of course, the city and county already provide fully-subsidized transit passes for all direct employees. However, thousands more workers are employed through city and county contracts, including construction workers on public works projects and employees of human service providers. Many of these workers do not receive any transit subsidy. For example, even the Fare Enforcement and Transit Security Officers, who are employed by Metro and Sound Transit through contracts with the private firm Securitas, don’t receive transit benefits! We think the city, county, and public agencies like Sound Transit have an obligation to figure out how to make sure that workers employed through contracts are getting transit benefits, too. This fall, we’re asking that they commit to this goal and establish a process and timeline for achieving it.

We know that employer-provided transit passes aren’t a silver bullet that will solve all our region’s transportation challenges: also essential are much greater investments in transit infrastructure and service, and in particular, more frequent night-time and off-peak service so that public transit becomes a viable transportation option for more shift workers; a more extensive regional transit network so that Seattle workers who live in other parts of King County or beyond are not consigned to car commutes; and much more affordable housing, and housing density in general, near transit, so that people can live close to their jobs. But we believe that mandating employer-subsidized transit passes will be a huge step forward. It will get ORCA passes into the hands of thousands of Seattle commuters, and accelerate the urgently-needed shift to a sustainable and equitable transportation system.

Here are a few things you can do to help the campaign:

  • Sign our petition at orca4all.org.
  • Check out our comparison of employer transit benefits, and if your employer isn’t listed, fill out the form to tell us what transit benefits your employer offers.
  • Submit a comment in support of this effort to orcaforall@seattle.gov, a special city email address set up for feedback on this issue. (Even better, also include Mayor Durkan and the nine city councilmembers on your email! It’s important that they hear from people directly, too.)

Katie Wilson is General Secretary of the Transit Riders Union

48 Replies to “ORCA for All”

  1. Katie, I’m glad to be able to write to you this morning. Ever since its inception, I’ve been a strong supporter of the ORCA card program. My thirteen years as a transit coach operator, and more years than that as a regular passenger, show me its value in saved operating time. And therefore revenue. But above all, personal peace of mind for my train ride.

    Thing I appreciate most is the ability to pay a month’s fare at one time and then, and this is important, forget about the matter. At 74, I doubt I’m the only rider whose memory fades out at embarrassing times. Over the years of ORCA’s existence, I’ve twice been warned by inspectors that the next time I “tap on” upon boarding after failing to “tap off” upon leaving, I’ll be fined $150 as a fare evader. One warning a year? Or is it two? I honestly forget because it really does not matter.

    I’ve been made aware of the reason- the need to apportion revenue among Sound Transit’s component agencies. And my sympathy is negative off the charts and into International District Station’s basement. One of the regional transit system’s campaign purposes was to free the passenger public from exactly this kind of complication. Will also note that if I don’t take a single ride in the month I’ve paid for, I don’t get a cent back.

    To take off enough of the stress to once again enjoy my train ride, on first LINK boarding I generally buy a paper All Day pass to show the inspector. Whose proceeds the system somehow has no difficulty whatever apportioning.

    I doubt I’m wrong that your general constituency has a lot less ability than I do to afford that fine for an innocent mistake. Hell of a free ticket, isn’t it?

    What I’m proposing is the simplicity itself that should be the beauty of the system: Make simple possession of an ORCA card, and also necessary personal ID, be considered full payment. With “tap”compliance (as an American, hate that word!) requested and thanked as a courtesy. The fare inspectors themselves, incidentally- in my experience, their own quality deserves a lot better system than the one they’ve been handed to enforce.

    I can see a wonderfully positive ongoing PR campaign, which your organization can certainly assist, to enlist your members in comprehending the system and making it work. Will even sign over to Transit Riders’ Union the rights to the little stuffed creature I’m calling “The Tapmunk”- cousin to the “Seathog”- who’ll feature endearingly on messages about the importance of cooperation with the card-readers. For sale at every outlet where three year old passengers can see it.

    The 2016 Presidential Election probably assures that the perpetrators of the present injustice have nothing to fear over the Americans with Disabilities Act. Too bad. Because given my years of support for our transit system and especially for the ORCA program, something of mine is really being dirtied by current policy. And worse, by the transit system’s immovable defense of it.

    Any assistance, appreciated.

    Mark Dublin
    Formerly Metro Transit Operator 2495

    1. As Seattle taxpayers, we fund passes for all the public school children from ages 6 and up. When FEOs warn and fine schoolchildren for failing to tap on, I feel cheated. We aren’t getting what we paid ST for.

      When employers pay for free passes for all their employees, and then the employees get warned or fined, both the employee and the employer have every right to feel ripped off.

      We don’t need to go to video review to see that the passenger had clear-and-obvious proof-of-payment.

      I asked ST several months ago whether they planned to warn and fine children who had free passes but failed to tap on. The answer at the time was Yes. I asked again a couple weeks ago. ST responded, but has not answered the question.

      The data set is still small, but it looks like the new double-beep for tap-off has helped. But that still does not excuse theft of services by ST (or Metro if they are starting a similar practice of ignoring clear-and-obvious proof-of-payment).

      One thing that has changed is that Metro is now much deeper into the fare enforcement business. Metro had no sense of urgency to sit down with ST and work out an accounting fix based on data collected showing how often riders with clear-and-obvious proof-of-payment fail to tap on. Now, they should. Sit your accountants down and work out that formula. And then, stop engaging in theft of service by refusing to honor clear-and-obvious proof of payment.

  2. I stopped reading the site after “We believe that mobility is a human right.”

    When we come to understand that things cannot be handed to us as though we have a right to them, that’s when respect and appreciation for what we have makes it possible to maintain and improve services like transportation and medicine.

      1. It means that any gov’t subsidized programs “I” use – like mortgages and roads for far-flung residences – are the Hallmarks of Modern Civilization. Any subsidized programs “they” use – like rent, transit, food, and healthcare – are Entitlements that Undermine the Social Order.
        Basically, don’t feed the troll.

    1. Well, Crunchy, whether smallpox vaccine for somebody else is a human right or not, I feel like my the rest of my own rights are worth a lot more if somebody really lazy and undeserving gets vaccinated at my expense once in awhile.

      And however I’m traveling, though most especially someplace I’ve got no choice but take my car, it “works for me” to pretend that as many other would-be motorists as possible act like they’ve got the right to a transit ride.

      But- and this is especially important as we consider our Ballard Link station- it’s life and death in this world and the next to show some respect for trolls.

      Norwegian highway system won’t admit it, but many really massive rock-falls are the result of trolls who exercise their right to go toddling along the crest of a mountain range exercising their Odin-given rights to sift chortling through their treasure sack full of kroner and gold watches.

      Causing them to lose track of the time, whereupon first sunray over the fjord turns them into a giant plummeting rock. Right at morning rush. Like that poor one at Fremont that didn’t even get a chance to exercise his right to eat Volkswagens or whatever make and model it is.

      So flawed as it is, life’s own experience seems to be that the way something becomes a right is by, given the test of time, just on general principles being the right thing all around to do.

      Remember, our whole Bill of them was drafted during The Age of Reason. Which is why the drafters of the Second Amendment always gave the village idiot a corn stalk – and a sergeant to yell at him if he didn’t clean it- so he wouldn’t feel left out while his neighbors were at militia duty no matter how hard it was raining.

      Mark

    2. There are several different philosophies on what are minimum rights, as variously articulated by the Declaration of Independence, the European Convention of Human Rights, the Washington State Constitution’s provision that public education is the state’s primary duty, and what we might call the Nordic baseline. All of these articulate a different floor of rights that governments are obligated to guarantee their people.

      Some of these rights are “freedom to” (e.g., to work or take drugs). Some are “freedom from” (e.g., non-interference in religion, no arbitrary imprisonment, no high taxes). Some are abstract (freedom of religion); others are concrete (the right to housing and clean water).

      Does Washington’s guarantee of education disrespect teachers, treat them as commodities, or foce them to work without compensation? No, so if we can have a right to education that respects teachers, we can have a right to mobility that respects bus drivers and engineers.

      d.p. said that Massachusetts’ constitution has a right of housing, so the cities provide enough shelter to house all the homeless, and other East Coast cities do likewise. These problems are not insolvable or unaffordable; they just require the right policies and incentives to address them. The Scandinavian countries focus on these right policies rather than on some libertarian abstraction that says they’re wrong.

      The right to mobility is intrinsically related to the right to have a livelihood, work, and fully participate in society. We’re long past the point that peasants can find everything they need within walking distance of their village. If a freeway is built to connect people to jobs and services, then there needs to be a bus on the freeway and the fare needs to be affordable.

      The whole concept of “job” and “career” is only a hundred and fifty years old. Previously people were self-supporting on farms, and the ambitious gained more wealth by marrying into elite families than by being a career lawyer. So the whole idea that “your career wage pays all your expenses” is artificial. There are other models such as a right to housing, right to mobility, and universal basic income that are worth considering. The disadvantages of a mobility floor are less than the disadvantages of people not being able to get around because we’ve structured the city to depend on cars, or people working full-time and still in poverty because the minimum wage is so low.

      1. 10 million divided by 50 thousand is about $200 per worker per year. I suspect that those workers cost the company about $50 an hour. Hence about the equivalent of 4 hours of work. And for that the workers receive a valuable service, and as others have noted the company needs less parking space, and possibly even has happier workers.

    3. When we come to understand that things cannot be handed to us as though we have a right to them, that’s when respect and appreciation for what we have makes it possible to maintain and improve services like transportation and medicine.

      What a ridiculous theory. I can’t think of one place, or one instance where it is true. Places that expect good roads have good roads. Places that don’t expect good roads lack them. The same is true for medicine.

  3. Let’s say Boeing has 50,000 workers in Seattle. And they have to buy unlimited ORCA passes for all its employees. Wouldn’t that work out to about $10 million dollars a month? And a lot of employees would still drive into work, even with a free pass. Ouch.

    Sam.
    Former Britannia Jeans Salesman of the Month. The Squire Shop.

    1. The price is based on the number of employees who use the pass. If all employees use it the cost may be $10 million, but that has to be compared to the cost of maintaining parking lots for them, the cost of recruiting and retaining workers who may turn down a job if it’s hard to get to, and the negative impacts of congestion around the company’s offices. The first year the agency doesn’t know how many employees will use the pass so it charges an average based on similar companies, but by the third year it’s more clear.

  4. Thank you, TRU, for all the work you have done to make transit service as great and accessible as it is!

    It is good that Metro drivers get free transit passes. They also get free parking at the base, and questioned about how they will commute to work when they are interviewed for the job. Saying they will ride the bus might keep them from getting the job.

    Having a 24-7 frequent bus network between midnight and 6 am will be rather expensive, given that bus service during those hours barely exists, and on many routes is just a couple runs during those hours. Building a connected bike-lane/path network of the non-swervy variety would be a significant up-front cost (mostly for the legal costs to get past lawsuits), but installation would be largely a one-time expense, and then a perpetual carbon footprint reduction (not to be confused with a carbon sink, some of which will also be necessary to mitigate the climate crisis). We saw the pent-up demand in February. Provide the path and speed, and bike ridership will triple overnight.

    And then there are the shift-workers who live by a station, whose transit frequency goes from 6-minute headway at peak to 10- off peak, to 15- at closing time, to nothing for 5 hours along MLK, not even bus service.

    It is hard to ask people to live car-free, even those fortunate enough to live next to a station, if they know they may sometimes have to work shifts that overlap with the graveyard bus service void. Sound Transit and Metro can stare at each other and say “You provide the at-least-half-hourly Link shadow service.” But it is really the same taxpayers waiting for somebody to step up.

    One positive in building the overnight usably-frequent bus network is that it isn’t limited by base space. So, now would be a good time to develop the network.

    To put it another way: We are asking employers to pay for transit service for their employees. But then, we aren’t providing the transit service many of their employees need. Some employers might feel ripped off.

  5. I am much less interested in employer provided transit than I am in your Income Based Fare proposals. The latter can have a far deeper impact on individual people’s lives.

    It is sad to see you supporting some of the worst behaving groups in the city, however. Securitas has issues with aggression, down to FEOs still carrying firearms at times in open violation of so called “practices”. The DSA is the very model of a toxic corporatist cancer on the community. Partnering with them or any group affiliated with them is not a good look and damages your credibility.

    The TRU says some very nice things (only some), but the company it keeps makes the community cautious.

    1. I will say this for the DSA: It is one of the few neighborhood associations that hasn’t staffed the ramparts to prevent any and all human service facilities from moving into the neighborhood. If the DSA is toxic, the neighborhood associations are Superfund sites. DSA shows up to the tables where things like ORCA LIFT and fighting homelessness are worked out. TRU could walk away from such tables, but what would that accomplish? (By the way, I am not a member of TRU, but I respect their hard and well-informed work highly.)

      If we are to fund more transit and fare subsidies, the funding has to come from somewhere. A tax on large employers, via requiring them to fund transit benefits for their employees and contractors, is the sort of thing I would expect SA to jump for joy at. If SA is too centrist for one’s taste, I don’t know what to tell you.

      I have not seen one word from TRU supporting Securitas. I know they screened a film quite critical of violence committed by transit security. But they are supporting the employees of Securitas, who deserve a better deal.

      1. I am present at many of the tables talking about fighting homelessness. I personally organize some of those tables. The DSA has been conspicuously absent from them. IIRC the DSA supports the homeless sweeps, the single most damaging government program to the homeless today. I’ve had two friends die as a direct result of the homeless sweeps.

        “For example, even the Fare Enforcement and Transit Security Officers, who are employed by Metro and Sound Transit through contracts with the private firm Securitas, don’t receive transit benefits! We think the city, county, and public agencies like Sound Transit have an obligation to figure out how to make sure that workers employed through contracts are getting transit benefits, too.”

        That sounds like an awful lot of Securitas support to me. Supporting employees of an organization is supporting that organization. An organization is a collection of individuals. Every member of that collective is responsible for the actions of other members of that collective. The alternative is to leave said collective, not just shirk one’s responsibilities and deflect the blame.

        A person will be known by the company they keep and their actions, or lack thereof. Securitas and the DSA both fail on this point.

      2. I am sorry for your losses. The sweeps are unconscionable, IMHO.

        There are many tables where all these issues are discussed. I have seen the DSA at the ones I’ve been to. I often disagree with them, but I never walk away just because I don’t like someone at the table. The work is too important. Getting “consent” from groups like DSA can be the difference between getting something really good for the people, or getting it voted down, vetoed, or referendumed.

        As a union member, I can tell you we often have to sit down with management to get some very important things accomplished. I had to sit down with management to get transit subsidies for roughly half the employees who work for my employer. The other half are in a different union, so not much I can do there.

        Let me make it perfectly clear that my support for family wages for people who work at gas stations is in no way an indication that I in any way support the fossil fuel industry. Nor does my riding diesel buses indicate such support.

      3. The DSA’s mission: “we are working to keep downtown economically competitive, address transportation challenges and ensure a safe, clean and inviting urban experience for workers, residents and visitors.”

        Yep. Sounds evil to me.

      4. I agree that the DSA’s consent/blessing is often needed to get programs funded. To me this is a very bad thing though. Not something that should be accepted and embraced. An unelected, openly corporatist organization should not have a tenth of the power the DSA does. That’s all the more reason to do something about them for the good of us all. Groups like the DSA are the problem, not the solution.

        “Let me make it perfectly clear that my support for family wages for people who work at gas stations is in no way an indication that I in any way support the fossil fuel industry. Nor does my riding diesel buses indicate such support.”

        The Post-Millennial Generation (or whatever they end up being called) just sent a representative across the Atlantic Ocean to tell us the above is not good enough. Actions speak louder than words. Future generations have just told current ones that the future and the history books will label us according to our actions. Not our words.

      5. Really Sam? The phrases “economically competitive” and “ensure a safe, clean and inviting urban experience for workers, residents and visitors.” don’t come across as dog whistle terms for “Build, baby. Build.”, “Greed is good.”, or “Homelessness is icky. People don’t want to see that.”?

        Do you expect the worst elements of society to declare themselves the worst elements of society? I can tell you they don’t. Instead they hide behind buzzwords and coded language, relying on similar minded people to fill in the blanks.

        Kind of like some well known people in the news right now. People cut from the exact same cloth as the DSA.

      6. What would you propose doing to the DSA, ST’s fare enforcement program, the fact that some of the buses are still running on diesel, and the continued existence of gas stations?

        I sit down at lots of tables with carnivores. Should I eschew their company?

      7. I don’t have all the answers.

        I’d politically starve the DSA into nonexistence.

        I’d contract fare enforcement out to a better agency and perform secret audits to ensure their fair and legal behavior on transit property, and hold the security agency financially liable for the actions of their employees.

        Diesel running busses are a failure of ST’s and Metro’s. Both need more oversight and employee accountability. Their problems and the needed overhauls would fill volumes.

        Gas stations? They should be starved of money and taxed into nonexistence. Basically they should go the way of buggy whip manufacturers.

        This isn’t hard. We’ve had the solutions in some cases for decades. But groups like the DSA grease palms to ensure it never happens.

      8. I believe TRU’s record is pretty stark in endorsing candidates opposed by CASE (which is not DSA but largely the same people). Is it okay to work with TRU?

      9. I think there needs to be organizations like the DSA to counterbalance homeless advocate groups, because if left unchecked, they’d turn dt Seattle into a homeless hellscape.

      10. The DSA only matters because we didn’t publiclly fund what we need so it’s filling the void. We thought that having privately-provided services would be cheaper, but it turns out that their interests and the public’s interests aren’t always the same. The DSA cares about its members and their customers, and they’re forced to do something constructive about the homeless people because they can’t legally or practically expel them out of downtown, but they aren’t responsible for everyone like the government is, their mission is limited to subsets of people. In the same way the US had private companies build the railroads so taxpayers wouldn’t have to, but that has the consequence that those companies aren’t interested in unprofitible passenger rail so that need just goes unfulfilled, while other countries with public railroads have comprehensive passenger rail services.

      1. Not to pick nits, but Pinkerton is a subsidiary of Securitas.

        Are you arguing against ST’s decision to contract out fare enforcement, against the whole notion of fare enforcement, or just that ST picked the wrong contractor?

        And we do agree, regardless, that the employees doing the work deserve family wages and free transit passes, right?

      2. I am definitely saying that ST chose incredibly poorly when it contracted with Securitas..

        While Securitas bought out the Pinkertons and not vice versa, their corporate mindsets were already the same before the buyout.

  6. The UW isn’t fully “subsidizing” the UPASS for its employees. (And it’s not all employees, to be clear.) It’s merely another part of total compensation. Employees get a UPASS but that just means the raises/overall comp will factor in the cost. UW isn’t just writing a check for extra money to cover the UPASS.

    It’s amazing how people don’t truly understand the fine points.

  7. From the post: “Maybe the very largest employers should be required to fully subsidize transit passes, while a second tier of large employers are required to subsidize by 50 percent.”

    So well-paid workers of the very large employers like Microsoft or Amazon would have their transit passes fully subsidized, but less well-paid workers of slightly smaller large employers, like grocery stores, or big box stores, would only have their transit passes partially subsidized? That seems backwards.

  8. When are you all just going to get the busses to SHOW UP? Community Transit is the worst transit service on the planet !!! They don’t even show up for 3 of the scheduled times for one route EVERY SINGLE DAY!!!! WHY would you people want to keep STUFFING these busses with people who shit themselves and do t clean up for a MONTH then DONT PAY and sit while you, the paying customer, I are forced to stand and hug on a junkie!!!! The busses in WA run the fpulest in the nation by far. Any study that says otherwise is a lie!

    1. D.R. , for the comparative condition of our country’s public health, could be wrong but I don’t think Seattle Transit Blog has got a single US Senate or House committee chairman on its work rolls. Frank! Martin! Did you just slash the health care budget again for the Wall and the War? Shame on you.

      For general moral character permission, these things take a little more time, but since Harvey Weinstein’s in jail and Jeffrey Epstein’s moved out of the CT service area, matters should start to improve.

      Meantime, if you’re looking for the “You People”
      Department for Community Transit, here’s the address you want:

      https://www.communitytransit.org/about/meetings

      Mark

  9. If employers who subsidize transit passes for some workers are required to subsidize them for all workers, companies will simply stop offering subsidies to anyone.

    1. Huh? If they are required to offer them for all employees, then they offer them for all employees.

      Perhaps you are thinking of the Business Passport Program, which is not mandatory for employers, but does require that all employees get a pass in order to participate. Roughly half of all ORCA revenue comes from this program.

  10. I support the ORCA for All campaign, but think we should go even further. Cities across the country and the world have shown that free public transit is an effective way to move people and fight climate change in an economically efficient manner.

    Seattle should turn its city limits into a ride-free area, reimbursing King County Metro and Sound Transit by taxing the big businesses that have strained our streets and vehicles. Free transit would also incentivize Seattle to improve transit movements on city streets, as there would be a clear financial benefit to doing so.

    1. I work for a big business and I’m all for taxing big business, but this idea that they’re “straining” public services by *checks notes* hiring people… What the heck, man? I pay the same taxes in the transit funding revenue stream as Real Seattleites do (sans car tabs, as I don’t own a car), so kindly explain how I am a bigger marginal burden on Metro than someone you might consider to be a Real Seattleite worthy of access to public services? Would it somehow be less of a burden if it were the federal government hiring 50,000 white-collar workers in Seattle instead of the tech industry?

      Absolutely, tax my employer (famous for extorting tax breaks from the state), put in an income tax and tax me, but what’s with this idea that I’m less deserving of public services because of who I work for?

    2. The cities that have switched to free transit have found that it increases ridership by only 10%, so it doesn’t make much difference in terms of mode share or the climate. Most of the people who would ride it are already paying the fare, and most people who aren’t riding it wouldn’t start if it were free.

  11. To me there is something dangerously unhealthy to the Republic about giving the right to use physical force of any kind to any private employee. Only worse example is prison guard. Body cavity search? Obscenity.

    Our whole private prison system harks back to the very times and conditions that induced our Founders to create the Bill of Rights in the first place. No reason the Bill of Rights can’t hold eleven of them without falling off the wall.

    My own wish for our fare inspectors and the rest of our transit security is that they be re-hired as sworn public police officers, city, county, State, region, or Federal matters not. I think a lot of ill-deserved ill-will would go away.

    For what it’s worth, my favorite law enforcement agency right now is the Washington State Highway Patrol. “Service With Humility” is a motto worth adopting as widely as possible.

    Mark Dublin

  12. Katie and everybody else, quick phone call to Fare Enforcement brightened my outlook this afternoon. Was glad to learn that it’s no longer necessary to go out to Shoreline in person to contest a citation. The citation itself carries information as to how to deal with District Court online or over the phone.

    I’m curious, though. Over all the years I’ve been raising my objection over a fare-reading system that can convict me of evading a fare I’ve already paid at the beginning of the month, it’s strange how little public outrage the policy has raised.

    One guess is that over time, with ridership and distance present at their present size, fare inspectors have means to “cut slack” for innocent mistakes, and concentrate on thieves they’ve long since learned to recognize.

    Or could also just be that one, the system’s “moves” are really natural enough that the average honest person negotiates the fare readers well enough to avoid being cited. And/or that over the phone or online, the District Court can still deliver a just verdict in most contested cases.

    But since I think that The Transit Riders’ Union could be a “go to” for problems of this general type, Katie, can you tell me whether this cause of mine is worth pursuing any farther? Anything you can tell me, much appreciated.

    Mark Dublin

  13. Um, I hate to be a downer here, but ORCA stands for One Regional Card for All,
    Making this proposal “One Regional Card for All for all”
    Kinda redundant name, huh?

    1. Yeah, we’ve been calling it the One Regional Card for All Card for years. Nobody has been arrested by the grammar police (or is it the usage police)?

  14. Currently, companies which subsidize Orca passes are required to say, at least officially, that the pass is for home->work commutes only. In practice, this is completely unenforceable, but employers are required to, at least officially, require this. Otherwise, the value of the transit pass becomes a taxable benefit to the employee, meaning that a portion of the value of the transit pass would have to be withheld from the employee’s paychecks and sent to the IRS.

    Ideally, the law on this would be changed to just make free transit a non-taxable benefit, whether work-related or not. Since it’s effectively that way anyway, the loss of federal revenue would be negligible. Will never happen with today’s politics, though.

    1. Actually, we should probably count ourselves lucky that when Republicans had control of congress two years ago and were busy overhauling the tax code, that the tax exemption for home->work transit commutes somehow remained intact.

      Imagine if accepting a free Orca card would require $50/month withholding from your paycheck (25% of the full $200/month face value). If you only rode transit once a week, would you still take it?

    2. I’m having a hard time seeing why that would happen. It would affect the Congresscritters themselves and their family and staff who commute by the DC Metro. Republicans would most likely zero out the benefit but not impose an additional tax. In Pugetopolis where the benefit would be a $189 or $253 pass (I’m not sure which [1]), many people on their own would only buy a $99 or less pass, so $50 would imply a >50% tax rate, and current income tax is much less than that. But I’m not sure you can tax the nominal pass value when the companies actually pay much less than that.

    3. This is not true. Both my wife and I have subsidized Orca cards through our employers (not the same company) and both have said the cards can be for personal use.

      From the National Center for Transit Research

      “The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law by the President on December 22, 2017 did make changes to Qualified Transportation Fringe Benefits. Employers may still provide tax-free qualified transportation fringe benefits to employees for parking, transit and commuter highway vehicles.”

      The benefits can be considered tax free to the employees as long as they are less than $260 a month and are not treated as a tax deductible expense.

Comments are closed.