Every day I take the bus in and out of the city. As we zip past all the slow moving traffic along the HOV (or bus lane), I always look out and wonder what can be done to reduce traffic and increase public transportation usage. According to SDOT, 35.8% of commuters rode the bus compared to 33.7% of those that drove alone. If you take into account the rail and ferry, you’re looking at 42.3% of commuters that take public transportation. I try to imagine how different the city would be if only those 33.7% of commuters took public transportation.
As an eight year Seattle resident, I am impressed with the city’s natural beauty and commitment to sustainability. However, I also noticed that ongoing sustainable incentivizing actions could go even further. I’d like to advocate for that here. During this week’s reading, I became interested in the concept of enabling frameworks. Seattle’s incentivizing should be coming from the government and not from the private sector. Let’s take a look at examples of cities where the Government took initiatives to promote public transport. The examples of public transportation initiatives taken by cities such as Bogota’s investment in bus transport or London’s congestion charge to help limit drivers is inspiring and can be learned from.
Since arriving in Seattle I noticed that many employers subsidize the Orca card (again from the private side). The companies that subsidize the card get tax incentives or tax free options for providing subsidized cards. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2013 was also a positive step, providing the pretax benefits to those who take mass transit as to those who opt to drive. Yet both of these options disproportionately benefit people who can afford to set aside pretax dollars, and those who have employers who offer subsidized transit cards. This leaves a large portion of the transit population (namely, those who are low-income) out of the ability to receive such incentives to commute. To encourage more people to take transit, I propose that the incentive go directly to the rider. This is how to accomplish it:
- Provide a rebate or tax credit for metro users. This could be done in many ways, including tracking directly through an orca card, tracked through an app, or other. If tracked through an Orca card, discounted or free cards could be given to people living near or below the poverty line. The rebate could be given in several ways, including providing a check with a pre-determined amount that corresponds to rides taken on a monthly or yearly basis, a credit on a metro app or other metro card, a discount on other city services such as light energy or water.
- After a predetermined time where transit ridership has increased and more revenue is available, expand the current bike network in the city by building protected bike lane fares from heaving populated neighborhoods to existing green trails (such as from Ballard to the Burke Gilman trail). An aspirational vision of this project could even have greenways that connect the BG trail or SLU trails to work centers mid and east downtown.
As these incentives promote transit/biking, ridership increases, traffic congestion lessens, air quality improves, public health improves, and more hesitant bike commuters feel safer to commute to work.