2021 Proposal to provide reliable transit

In July 2020, Council Bill 119833 endorsed a Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) proposal to replace the expiring 2014 measure. The new proposal included a 0.15% sales tax (i.e. the equivalent of 15 cents on a $100 purchase) anticipated to generate roughly $39 million annually over six years to fund transit service, capital projects, and transit access programs like ORCA Opportunity. The STBD passed in November 2020 by 80% of people voting and demonstrated expectations of a future where everyone gets back to work, and we make real progress on the climate crisis. Collection of the new sales tax starts April 2020.

The new STBD continues access to frequent and reliable transit. It maintains the critical elements and bus routes of Seattle's transit network for those reliant on it for work access. Equitable access to transit continues to be prioritized for people feeling the most strain on their household budgets, and allows the City to scale up service as transit ridership recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Service is provided through our partnership with King County Transit Metro, builds on lessons learned, and formalizes a program benefitting both agencies.

This comes at a challenging time, but the need for an STBD package has never been greater. Our shared economic recovery will be complex and multifaceted, and our approach will change as people follow COVID-19 public health guidelines and are vaccinated. But there is one recovery principle we cannot dispute: an equitable recovery depends on keeping our city moving.

The STBD has five key goals:

  1. Provide safe and efficient transit for all Seattlelites, particularly our essential workers fighting against this global pandemic

  2. Preserve a robust, connected transit system in Seattle that centers equity by ensuring access no matter the time of day or where you live

  3. Make transit investments in underserved areas and address acute mobility needs in areas like West Seattle

  4. Invest in ORCA Opportunity for students and Low Income Access programs

  5. Ensure continuity of critical transit services and transportation investments despite financial restrictions caused by I-976 and COVID-19

    Graphic illustrating an increase in people arriving downtown by transit versus driving-alone from 2000 to 2020.   

The voter-approved STBD that expired at the end of 2020, contributed to a major expansion of access to frequent transit service for Seattle residents, including:  

  • Adding over 8,000 weekly transit trips on King County Metro routes and investing in 350,000 service hours across weekdays, nights and weekends

  • Expanded access to frequent, reliable transit by growing the portion of households within a 10-minute walk of transit service arriving every 10 minutes or less from 25 percent in 2015 to 70 percent in 2019

  • Launched programs, like ORCA Opportunity for students and low-income seniors, that provide free access to transit to ensure that transit remains the backbone of mobility for all Seattleites, no matter your economic status

  • Supported community-based programs and trainings to increase mobility and access to transit for seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income people

  • Revised the Night Owl service network to improve 24/7 service

  • Improved transit connections and reliability to meet emerging needs, ensuring that there is a bus every 15 minutes or better during peak times

  • Piloted a program and partnership with Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) to distribute approximately 1,600 free 12-month ORCA cards to low-income SHA residents

 The new STBD ensures the critical elements of our transit network are maintained, equity in access is prioritized more than ever before, and we are poised to scale up service as our pace of economic recovery continues to grow. 

Graphic describing STBD expenditures. Each expenditure per dollar is 41 cents adds bus trips, 22 cents for capital projects, 15 cents for ORCA Opportunity, 11 cents for low income access to transit, and 11 cents for emerging service needs

To aid in recovery for residents disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the new STBD focuses resources on investing in routes that serve working people and communities of color.  

Even as transit ridership decreased for the broader population during the pandemic, King County Metro and Sound Transit continue to provide transportation for an average of 130,000 daily trips, and ridership has increased in recent weeks as King County moves into Phase 2. The ten Metro routes with the highest daily ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic all serve higher percentages of communities of color.   

In addition to maintaining a robust, connected transit network and critical programs like ORCA Opportunity, this STBD proposal will focus on investing in neighborhoods with acute mobility challenges, like West Seattle, and neighborhoods that historically face environmental injustices, like South Park and the Duwamish Valley.  

Before its necessary closure, the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge served upwards of 120,000 travelers every weekday. Current detour routes have travelers cutting through communities that already face disproportionate levels of pollution, asthma, and environmental injustice. New funding can help deploy more frequent transit options to help residents access work, goods, services, and activities, and decrease pollution by providing reliable alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles.

Click here to download a fact sheet on the STBD replacement measure.

Click here to download a draft spend plan for the new measure.