City Council Votes to Fund ORCA Cards

Update (11/17)
Today, I spoke with staff at the office of the sponsor of this measure, Councilman Mike O'Brien.

  • This measure would be paid out of a fund for access to public transportation by low-income citizens.  They will use $1M of this fund to help support ORCA cards for SPS students.
  • The City will be sitting down with Seattle Schools, Metro and SDOT to hammer out the details.
  • Those details include: who will get these cards,the contract with SPS, the drop in the walk zone from one mile to two miles (or maybe none at all), if the City starts covering some kids that SPS is currently covering, where would those SPS transportation dollars would go.
  • The funding is unlikely to start until after the first of the year.  It sounds like O'Brien's office would really like to get this done sooner but there is a lot of different public entities to juggle and frankly, we're going into the holiday season where it is historically harder to get things done.
The City is open to several iterations like:
  • funding all F/RL high school students down to one mile (versus the current two miles)
  • funding some of the F/RL high school students down to 1 mile AND funding some F/RLmiddle school students down to 1 mile 
  • some other kind of mash-up
Clearly, the State should be funding transportation (there are some dollars but naturally, not enough.)

The upside to this action are really much larger than just helping kids who want to get to school more easily and more safely.  Those students will also now have increased access to places to expand their learning as well as be able to perhaps get to an after-school job or get home in time to take care of younger siblings.

O'Brien's aide, Josh Fogt, said that the City had heard from the Rainier Beach High School students and it had made an impact.

Once again, we are seeing the rise of parent power AND student power.  Change can come with large numbers of people working the system.  It may be slow and incremental but we are seeing that activism can reap rewards.

end of update

The Stranger Slog reports this from today's City Council budget meeting:

Public school students on free or reduced lunch will get free bus passes. It'll cost $1 million. Thank Harrell, Sawant, and Mike O'Brien for sponsoring that. (But don't thank Harrell for voting on it since he wasn't there; his colleagues unanimously passed the idea.)

It was previously report in Real Change that Director Patu and Bruce Harrell had been working on this; no reason given for him not being at this meeting.

I'll check but I think that this means free/reduced lunch high school students, not all SPS students on free/reduced lunch.

Thank you to the City for recognizing what the district should have.


Lynn said…
From the council's website:

Council requests that Executive staff work with King County Metro and Seattle Public School to develop an implementation plan for using the additional funds and distributing passes in an equitable fashion. It is Council’s intent that the additional funds first be used to provide passes to low-income high school students within their schools’ walk-zone. If additional funds remain, Council’s intent is to distribute remaining passes to low-income middle-school students within their schools’ walk-zone.
Even better. Thanks, Lynn.
GarfieldMom said…
Hooray! Many thanks to the RBHS community for bringing so much attention to this need.
Anonymous said…
One small step for RBHS students. One giant step for mayoral control.

kellie said…
This is wonderful news. Thank you to the City for doing the right thing.

Anonymous said…
Hopefully all parents will fill out the free and reduced lunch application when it comes in the mail. Some people don't realize that in addition to free lunch, and now bus passes, a significant amount of funding and support goes to schools with 50% or more in FRL. It is how the district measures the amount of support a school gets, and can result in smaller class sizes. The qualifying income amounts for parents changes every year so make sure you get your forms in by Oct 1st every year, even if you are unsure if you qualify. The info you give is private and is mailed to the district, not the schools.

But wait...All high school students Already get an ORCA card to get to school -- although it is deactivated in the sumemr. Why this new program?
SF said…
Mother of MS & HS - they don't get one if they're in the walk zone - 2.5 miles around the school. The RBHS students were saying it's an unsafe walk for them, for several reasons.
2boysclub said…
If your high schooler is in the "walk" zone they don't qualify for an orca card. Except some schools,like RBHS, 'walk' zones are dangerous. Now FRL kids can get an orca card and take the bus too. Is that right?
See my updated thread
Greg said…
This is a great move by the city.

I do wonder, though, if the program wouldn't be more effective if we instead cut youth fares for Metro dramatically, to free or near free.

That would eliminate all the overhead of determining who qualifies and handing out the ORCA passes. It also would encourage kids in Seattle to use Metro and give them an easy way to independently get to school and sports.

I realize that will never happen, but I do think it's worth thinking about. If the goal is to give kids in Seattle an easier way to get to school and sports, cutting youth fares on Metro to zero or near zero would be an even bigger step toward that goal.

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