Partnerships with Lyft, a frequent-service network of transit options, and equitable access to transportation in a rapidly growing King County were key topics at the Transit Talk lunchtime series at Seattle City Hall on January 15.
“What does our region look like 25 years from now?” asked Kevin Desmond, general manager of King County Metro. Desmond mentioned quality of life, including air pollution and climate, as key considerations in the long-term plans for transportation in Puget Sound. The roundtable was hosted by Transportation Choice Coalition, a group made up of social justice advocates, elected officials, and transit agencies aiming to discuss the transportation vision for King County through 2040.
“There will be 1.3 million more jobs in our region and 1.5 million more people in our region,” said Desmond, citing numbers from the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC). “That is a lot of growth knowing how stressed out our transportation system is today.” The PSRC provides Metro with regional data on transportation, population, and the economy.
Josh Brown, executive director of the PSRC and Transit Talk panelist, works with leaders throughout Puget Sound to learn about how cities can plan for anticipated job and population growth. “We’re a long range planning agency,” he said.
Brown said that based on PRSC data much of the region’s growth will go to the Seattle area over the next 20 years. The city of Seattle is partnering with King County Metro to invest in building more priority bus corridors in areas with job and housing market growth over the next 20 years, such as south King County. Priority bus corridors means riders will see more frequent bus services and infrastructure to improve bus travel times to create faster commutes, Brown said.
“In the last five years we have grown about 110,000 jobs and 50,000 of those jobs are right here in the city of Seattle,” Brown said.
The addition of the planned Sound Transit 3 (ST3) light rail that voters can support on the November 2016 ballot measure will give riders more travel options.
“It’s not just about the bus system. We need a high functioning multimodal system,” Desmond said. Through “coordination and integration,” transportation providers can work together to meet the needs for future mobility in the region. “We can’t solve this alone,” Desmond said.
Metro is working closely with Sound Transit and developing partnerships with transportation services, such as Lyft, to determine what the public-transit approach should include over the next 25 years, according to Kevin Desmond.
Tommy Hayes, transportation-policy manager at Lyft, said Lyft’s role in “complementing transit” is a last-mile solution that can promote ridesharing as a sustainable mode of transportation, especially outside of urban core areas. Hayes hinted that pilot transportation-partnership programs involving Lyft will crop up in cities across the country later this year.
Metro’s objectives include tripling daily transit ridership to get people out of their single occupant vehicles, Desmond said, adding that they cannot be forced out. They have to be given choices, and ridesharing is only one option, he said.
Metro’s transportation vision through 2040 is laid out in King County’s long-range plan. “Building out that frequent service transportation network is the hallmark of the long-range plan,” said Desmond. There will be an official draft of the long-range plan published in March and then it will be sent to the county council in summer 2016 for its adoption so that it can become official policy of King County.
Desmond gave an analogy to help forum attendees make sense of one aspect of the long-range plan: “The frequent-service network is like the rapid ride concept—it’s its rapid ride going forward for the next 25 years,” he said. By 2040 the goal is to establish 300 miles of rapid ride-like lines providing frequent service all over the county.
By implementing the plan, 85 percent of low-income people and 75 percent King County residents in areas mostly populated by people of color will be within a half a mile of any frequent transportation network, Desmond said. “That means access to jobs, education, and other opportunities.”
Desmond explained the vision for transportation in the region must include how to support equitable access and opportunity. “One quarter of the population is at poverty or below the poverty in our region,” he said.
Rebecca Saldaña, executive director at Puget Sound Sage, a non-profit organization that works to address equity and sustainability issues in the region, talked about issues regarding long commute times, as well as areas in the county where people are not being served.
“Low-wage workers, immigrants, elders, and young adults in particular need bus service to get them where they need to go,” Saldaña said. Puget Sound Sage partnered with Transportation Choices and One America to launch the Transit For All campaign to tell riders’ stories. Puget Sound Sage worked with King County Metro to improve service guidelines and launched ORCA Lift, a reduced fare program, explained Saldaña.
“Now we are seeing new services, which a coalition of communities groups, including Got Green, ACRS, Rainier Beach Action Coalition, and the Filipino Community of Seattle have been working on for multiple years,” Saldaña said.
One particular victory is the revision of the 106 and 107, which resulted in reconnecting immigrant and refugee communities to their original neighborhoods, cultural hubs, higher employment opportunities, and critical services like the Asian Counseling and Referral Service food bank, DSHS and senior programing at the Filipino Community of Seattle, she said.
Saldaña said communities and families have a chance to thrive by participating in the development of the long-range plan. “The long-range plan is part of shaping for years to come.”