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Connecting Communities through Transportation Equity

Honoring the legacy and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. is something we focus on every day through our Transportation Equity Program.

Over the arc of his career, MLK, Jr. saw the deep connection between transportation and equity, leading a movement that literally started on a public bus in 1955, and for King’s part, came to a crescendo with 1968’s historic “Poor People’s Campaign,” a civil rights organizing drive that connected racial justice and economic justice.

Busy streets in the International District.

We see the connection too. Transportation is the second highest household cost for households and individuals in Seattle. And that cost hits poor people the hardest. Not only in the up-front cost, but structurally, over the long term by making access to opportunity an economic burden. A recent Harvard study identified lacking access to transportation as the biggest economic roadblock for low income families.

SDOT Youth ORCA sign up event.

That’s why we created the Transportation Equity Program. Established in 2017 in the Transit & Mobility Division of SDOT the program is dedicated to improving and supporting access to affordable transportation choices, including better access to transit service for low-income riders. Thanks to voters, the 2014 Prop 1 Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) dedicates $1 Million annually to increase income-eligible transit access through ORCA LIFT and another $1 Million annually to increase transit access to school through Youth ORCA.

Community members at the GO SEA Mobility Fair learned how to get around the city affordably.

Prioritizing marginalized communities such as communities of color, low-income people, immigrants and refugees, people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, LGTBQ people, women and girls, youth, and seniors, the program currently provides a growing list of income-eligible services:


As of 2017, the City of Seattle has purchased 12,225 ORCA LIFT cards for a total value of $379,000 through the STBD-funded program.  The preloaded ORCA LIFT cards are used as incentives for income-eligible participants into enroll in other cost-saving transportation programs.

As of December 31, 2017 King County Public Health and other income-verifying agencies have distributed a total of 8,214 of the preloaded cards, with 4,670 (57 percent) of those cards being reloaded. Using these distributed cards there have been more than 886,600 transit trips with 692,754 trips on King County Metro alone.


The City’s commitment to the program recently received coverage from Next City, which highlighted our community-focused approach and the fact that we created a brand new full-time position to oversee our growing transportation equity effort, with additional staff on the way.

To learn more about the Program, visit our webpage or email Naomi Doerner, the Transportation Equity Program Manager at:

And look for an income-eligible car-share program launch early this spring in partnership with Car2Go and ReachNow. Just one more way we are striving to make transportation more affordable and live up to Dr. King’s legacy of better access for all.