Seattle to provide housing authority residents with unlimited transit passes

Jan. 26, 2023
The program is the first of this scale in the U.S. and will help more than 10,000 housing authority residents.

Seattle residents living in Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) owned and managed properties will be provided with free, unlimited-use ORCA cards through a partnership between the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and SHA.

The SHA Transit Pass program will run through December 2026 and is expected to help more than 10,000 SHA residents through encouraging transit use and saving users money. To qualify, a resident must be 19 years or older and be listed on the lease of an SHA property.

“Our vision for a vibrant Seattle is dependent on a sustainable transportation system where neighbors can get where they need to go swiftly, reliably and affordably,” said Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell. “The SHA Transit Pass equitably expands access to opportunity and helps us meet our sustainability goals through a simple and proven premise: Given increased access to free and affordable transit, neighbors will take advantage. As we work to create connected neighborhoods that are easy to get around, partnering SDOT and SHA represents a One Seattle approach, aligning our shared values and working together to improve outcomes for our residents.”

The SHA Transit Pass program began in 2019 as a pilot program that served nearly 2,000 SHA residents during the past three years. The expanded program is funded by the Seattle Transit Measure, which is a voter-approved 0.15 percent sales tax that generates $39 million annually to fund transit service, capital projects and access programs.

“Most of those we serve have to make difficult choices on how to spend limited budgets. Now they can get to jobs, school, medical appointments, the grocery store and other important activities without worrying about the cost. The free ORCA passes represent a tremendous improvement in safety, access to basic services, ability to get to jobs and overall quality of life for our residents,” said SHA Executive Director Rod Brandon.

The SHA Transit Pass builds on the success of the ORCA Recovery Card, which provides fully subsidized use of an ORCA card to food service and grocery/convenience store employees working in certain areas of the Seattle Metro area. A survey by SDOT found 91 percent of ORCA Recovery Card holders used transit more frequently than they did before receiving the card. Additionally, the survey found ORCA Recovery Card holders used their card to get to work, shopping, medical appointments and visits to friends and family.

Qween’B King-Rios, who resides in SHA’s Yesler community, explained the ability to move when and where she wishes without the burden of worry in how she will arrive is a benefit.

“The free ORCA card will allow me to go doctor appointments, shopping, school and training programs without worrying about how I will get there,” King-Rios said. “Thank you for this ORCA program. You will be helping many people who are thankful and grateful for the program.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.