If you work for King County or the City of Seattle, an unlimited ORCA transit pass comes with your job. Same thing if you work for Swedish Hospital, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Seattle Pacific University, Microsoft, or most other major institutional employers in the Seattle area.
It makes sense. Large workplaces like hospitals, universities, and tech campuses are the magnetic nodes of our transportation system. Every morning workers in the tens of thousands are drawn into them from all directions, and every evening those same workers are repelled out again through clogged, exhaust-choked streets to their homes. Incentivizing the commute modes that contribute least to congestion, pollution, and climate catastrophe is the responsible thing for employers to do.
You know what major institutional employer doesn’t provide full transit benefits? The University of Washington and its hospitals, Harborview and UW Medical Center. If an employee of the UW wants a transit pass, they have to shell out $50 per month.
This hefty price tag forces UW employees, many of whom are struggling with high housing and transportation costs, to make tough choices. Rosemary Bryson, a Patient Services Specialist at UW Medical Center, explains: “I drive every day. I have 12-hour days. I would like to have the option to take a bus or train some days. But I can’t afford a U-Pass and drive. But I need to drive some days.”
With over 10,000 employees at the UW Seattle campus alone, day-to-day commute decisions like Rosemary’s have a huge aggregate impact. Not surprisingly, 40% of UW staff and faculty choose not to spend $50 of their paycheck each month on a transit pass. Over a third of commute trips by UW employees are single-occupancy vehicle (SOV) trips.