The voter-approved Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) is getting its first big policy reform since the passage of Proposition 1 in 2014. The tax measure was devised as a response to imminent countywide cuts to transit, saving the city from apocalyptic service reductions and eventually allowing for overall transit service expansion.
Though the scope of programs and policy objectives have changed over the past few years, the formal policy changes and district authority that could soon be passed (as soon as next week) Seattle City Council would the pave the way for wider availability of free ORCA transit passes for students, tangible speed and reliability improvements on bus corridors, and service boosts on bus routes that wouldn’t qualify for additional city-funded investments under current law.
Overview of STBD Reform Proposal
To recap, the ordinance authorizes the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to do the following:
- Regional partnerships. The legislation would expand the opportunity for regional partnerships to cost-share service improvements on routes that only have 65% of stops within Seattle. This would reduce the minimum requirement from 80% of stops within Seattle, allowing many other routes to become eligible for additional service hour investments, including Routes 106, 120, 124, 345, 372, and 373 and the RapidRide E Line–routes that tend to operate in underserved areas of the city.
- RapidRide service. All existing and future RapidRide services would be eligible for additional service hour investments regardless of geographic operation (i.e., wholly or partially operating in Seattle) or performance metrics.
- Capital investments. Through December 2020, SDOT would be able to spend additional revenues on capital improvements for transit. These investments could include transit-only lanes, queue jumps, transit signal priority, and other strategies to improve speed and reliability. Capital investments could also be made to enhance the passenger experience, such as off-board fare payment and stop improvements.
- ORCA transit passes. All Seattle Public Schools high school students (10,200) would received free ORCA transit passes in addition to another 500 middle school students and 300 Seattle Promise community college students. This would be a massive expansion of free transit passes for students in the city. Right now, the city helps fund 3,000 free transit passes for qualifying high school (2,600) and middle school (400) students. Seattle Public Schools provides an additional 8,000 free transit passes to high school (6,200) and middle school (1,800) students. The school district would continue their contributions to funding student passes.
- Contracted pilot transit services. A new pilot program for contracted transit services would be created. Several transit van routes would be set up to provide first-mile/last-mile connections for underserved areas and between other corridors of interest by third-party transit providers–that is, not by King County Metro Transit. Transit vans would be required to provide seating capacity for at least eight passengers. While contractors may not be unionized like most Metro operators, companies would need to provide labor harmony agreements to be eligible as a city contractor.