ORCA Opportunity Program provides unlimited 12-month ORCA cards at no cost to thousands of students

Waiting for the bus. Photo Credit: SDOT.

Today, Mayor Jenny A. Durkan celebrated the fourth school year of the ORCA Opportunity Program – Seattle’s commitment to free transit for public high school and middle school students. 

Through the program, the City of Seattle provides 12-month, fully-subsidized ORCA cards to all Seattle Public high school students, income-eligible middle school students, and Seattle Promise Scholars.  

The card is valid through August 31, 2022 and provides no cost, unlimited transit on King County Metro, King County Water Taxi, Seattle Streetcar, Sound Transit, Community Transit, Pierce Transit, Kitsap Transit, Everett Transit, and Seattle Center Monorail.  

“ORCA Opportunity is a passport to all of Seattle. From my first day in office, we have been working to increase access to opportunities for our youth. From a free unlimited ORCA pass to two free years of college in the Seattle Promise College Tuition Program, we have been committed to opening doors for the next generation. As students return to in-person school, we look forward to enabling even more students to use transit to access schools, after-school activities, and other important resources through this program.” 

Mayor Durkan

More than 80 percent of Seattle voters passed Proposition 1 last November, which has funded more frequent, reliable, accessible bus service in Seattle and the ORCA Opportunity Program.

Through a 0.15% sales tax (the equivalent of 15 cents on a $100 purchase), Seattle residents have opened the doors to transit for more residents in the community.  

“I cannot say enough good things about the ORCA Opportunity program. Many of our underserved students need flexible, reliable transportation both to school and to other places, like doctor’s offices and grocery stores. Walking or relying on a yellow bus is not always feasible for students whose housing situation can change overnight.

Jeff Jenkins, Attendance Specialist at Meany Middle School

“My daughter used her provided ORCA card through all of 6th grade and now again for 8th grade this year. The ORCA Opportunity Program relieves so much family pressure by taking a huge task off our plate by providing a reliable, free way for my daughter to get to school every day. It’s so nice knowing that the city and the school have already taken care of this for you. We’re very grateful this program. Even this small expense helps a lot for families living paycheck to paycheck.” 

Chelsea Lyons, parent

In the 2020-2021 school year, the City of Seattle provided ORCA cards to over 15,000 middle and high School students.

From September 1, 2020 to July 31, 2021, students collectively took 512,151 total trips, which equates to a savings for families of over $1.4 million. The ORCA cards allowed students to travel throughout the region, including on King County Metro Bus, Sound Transit Light Rail & Commuter Rail, Seattle Streetcar, Via To Transit, Community Transit, Everett Transit, Kitsap Transit Bus & Ferry, and Pierce Transit. The City looks forward to expanding the number of students and trips taken by also providing cards to Seattle Promise Scholars this year. 

“We are pleased to offer the ORCA Opportunity Program for the 2021-2022 school year and thank Seattle voters for making this important program possible. This is one way we encourage and empower students to use public transit to access schools and services, help reduce traffic congestion near schools, and build a better future for our youngest Seattleites. Simultaneously, as many students return to in-person school this fall, we continue to implement Safe Routes to School projects to encourage walking, rolling, and biking to school.” 

Seattle Department of Transportation Director Sam Zimbabwe

This year, applications for income-eligible middle school students are integrated into the City’s new Affordability Portal.

Families now complete an application to receive an ORCA card for their middle school student on the Affordability Portal. The Portal can then refer and connect families with other income-based programs the City offers. 

High school students and Seattle Promise Scholars do not need to apply for a card. High school students can pick up an ORCA card at their school. Schools will provide information about when and where students can collect their card. All high school students are required to complete a Conditions of Use form to receive a card. Seattle Promise Scholars will learn more information about how to get their cards during Summer Bridge on September 14, 15, and 20. 

This effort is part of a comprehensive system to keep people moving safely.