Transit Riders, Unite!

The Transit Riders Union is an independent, democratic, member-run union of transit riders organizing for better public transit in Seattle, King County and beyond. Through our organizing efforts we won a low income fare! We invite you to join us and fight for the future of public transit!

TRU’s 2022 General Election Endorsements

September 21, 2022

The Transit Riders Union made the following endorsements at our September Membership Meeting. Ballots are mailed on October 19th. Remember to Vote by November 8th!

City of Tukwila Initiative Measure #1: Yes

King County Charter Amendment #1: Yes

King County Prosecutor: Leesa Manion

11th LD, Pos. 1: David Hackney

30th LD, Senate: Claire Wilson

34th LD, Senate: Joe Nguyen

34th LD, Pos. 1: Leah Griffin

36th LD, Senate: Noel Frame

36th LD, Pos. 1: Julia Reed

37th LD, Senate: Rebecca Saldaña

37th LD, Pos. 2: Emijah Smith

42nd LD, Senate: Sharon Shewmake

43rd LD, Pos. 1: Nicole Macri

43rd LD, Pos. 2: Frank Chopp

46th LD, Pos. 2: Darya Farivar

47th LD, Pos. 2: Shukri Olow

48th LD, Senate: Patty Kuderer

Redmond City Council passes renter protections!

July 21, 2022

Tuesday evening, the Redmond City Council heard testimony from renters in crisis and members of the Stay Housed Stay Healthy coalition. They debated and finally voted 6-1 to pass these important protections:

  • 120 days notice required for rent increases above 3%, 180 days for increases above 10%.
  • Move in fees are capped at the equivalent of one month’s rent, payable in installments.
  • Late fees are capped at 1.5% of monthly rent.
  • Social security number cannot be required to apply for a rental home.
  • Renters on a fixed income like social security can adjust their rent due date.

There’s much more we want them to do, but this is a really great start! Enormous rent increases and displacement are happening now all over King County, and these protections will help to mitigate the harm to Redmond families and communities.

What’s next for the Stay Housed Stay Healthy coalition? We are expecting the Kirkland City Council to vote on a similar set of protections on Wednesday, August 3rd. And we are expecting Kenmore (which already passed the above protections) to vote on a second ordinance next Monday, July 25th, including a local Just Cause Eviction law that applies to all lease types, closing some gaping loopholes in the statewide law.

TRU and the Stay Housed Stay Healthy coalition will continue working to pass strong permanent renter protections in cities all across King County!

Raise the Wage Tukwila qualifies for the ballot!

July 5, 2022

Photo by Tri Pham

Over the past three months, we’ve been hard at work gathering signatures to win a living wage for Tukwila workers. As you may have seen in The Seattle Times, last week we learned that we submitted more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot!

Thank you so much to everyone who helped with this achievement: all the volunteers who knocked doors, entered data and made phone calls; our hard-working TRU organizers; allied groups that endorsed the campaign & gathered signatures; everyone who’s donated so far— and, of course, all the Tukwila residents who signed the petition and all the Tukwila workers who spoke up about why it’s time for higher wages. Together we will win on election day!!!

But… It’s going to be a fight. We expect to be far outspent by corporate interests that care way more about maximizing their profits than the well-being of their workers. They’ll try to scare Tukwila voters into rejecting a minimum wage increase— just like they tried to do when SeaTac and Seattle were fighting for the same thing. We need to run a super strong Get-Out-The-Vote campaign this fall to counter their misinformation, and for that we need to raise a lot more money than we have on hand right now. To help us off to a solid start, please consider making a donation of $10, $100 or $1000 now in honor of TRU’s 10th birthday!

TRU’s 2022 Primary Election Endorsements

July 5, 2022

The Transit Riders Union made the following endorsements at our June Membership Meeting. Remember to Vote by August 2nd, 2022!

11th LD, Pos. 1: David Hackney

30th LD, Senate: Claire Wilson

34th LD, Senate: Joe Nguyen

34th LD, Pos. 1: Leah Griffin

36th LD, Senate: Noel Frame

36th LD, Pos. 1: Julia Reed & Nicole Gomez

37th LD, Senate: Rebecca Saldana

37th LD, Pos. 2: Andrew Ashiofu

43rd LD, Pos. 1: Nicole Macri

43rd LD, Pos. 2: Frank Chopp

46th LD, Pos. 1: Hadeel Jeanne

46th LD, Pos. 2: Darya Farivar & Melissa Taylor

47th LD, Pos. 2: Shukri Olow

48th LD, Senate: Patty Kuderer

Congress WA-09: Stephanie Gallardo

U-PASS Victory! UW workers win employer-paid transit!

June 29, 2022

Back in March, the University of Washington finally agreed to provide fully-subsidized, employer-paid transit passes to ALL its employees. This was the result of a multi-year pressure campaign that TRU was deeply involved in, bringing together UW workers, labor unions, community allies, and transit and environmental advocates. It took years of pressure, from the inside and the outside, to push the UW to fully adopt this common sense pro-climate, pro-worker policy. The new benefit goes into effect on July 1! Read about how we got here in The Stranger, and celebrate with us on June 30!

Raise the Wage Tukwila is Launched!

March 30, 2022

On Saturday, March 26, we launched a new campaign called Raise the Wage Tukwila! Tukwila is one of the largest job centers in the state, with thousands of low-wage retail and food service jobs at and around Southcenter Mall. The neighboring cities of SeaTac and Seattle have higher minimum wages of over $17, but in Tukwila many workers are still making the statewide minimum wage of $14.49. That’s just not enough.

We need to collect signatures of thousands of Tukwila voters before the end of June to qualify for the November ballot. Check out our campaign website and sign up to volunteer at RaiseTheWageTukwila.org, and read more in The Seattle Times and MyNorthwest. Together let’s Raise the Wage!

City of Kenmore moves forward on renter protections

March 9, 2022

Kenmore Councilmember Corina Pfeil. Ellen M. Banner, The Seattle Times: click through to source article.

Rents aren’t just rising in Seattle, they’re going up fast all across King County. That’s a big problem. Where are low-income renters supposed to go?

TRU and our allies in the Stay Housed Stay Healthy coalition are rising to the challenge and organizing to pass stronger permanent renter protections in multiple King County cities. Earlier this month, the city of Kenmore took a huge step forward. Check out this great article in The Seattle Times that highlights our work.

On Valentine’s Day, council members heard testimony from Kenmore renters and members of Stay Housed Stay Healthy, and devoted hours to discussing a long list of possible protections. They agreed to move forward with a number of them, including requiring longer notice of significant rent increases and capping move-in fees and late fees. Others they decided to study further. We expect a first piece of legislation to be passed later this month, and hopefully a second later in the spring. The Seattle Times article features stories from Kenmore renters and also one of the champions of our legislation, Councilmember Corina Pfeil:

“Several years ago, homelessness knocked on Corina Pfeil’s door. When her landlord raised her rent $300, Pfeil couldn’t pay, nor could she quickly find a cheaper place in Kenmore, where she’d lived for three decades.

I thought I was going to end up in a shelter,’ possibly separated from her older son, who was 18 and who has autism, she recalled.

That didn’t happen, thanks to a last-minute negotiation. But the upsetting incident stayed with Pfeil, who now serves on the Kenmore City Council and is pushing to pass a batch of new tenant protections. She still rents, in a sprawling complex tucked behind pine trees.

We have to be willing to take a hard look at the inequities in our community,” she said. “We’re a community with haves and have-nots.‘”

TRU and Stay Housed Stay Healthy will be working over the next few months to pass strong legislation in Kenmore, which will help to propel forward our work in other cities later this year.

2021 Year in Review

December 16, 2021

Organizing to Protect Renters

The COVID-19 pandemic left many thousands of King County households unable to pay rent and at risk of eviction. This year, TRU stepped up to build and lead a countywide coalition called Stay Housed Stay Healthy. We fought for emergency protections to keep renters in their homes, and for stronger permanent protections to shift the balance of power between renters and landlords for good. We organized with renters and successfully passed powerful legislation in jurisdictions around King County:

Emergency Renter Protections

    • Kenmore: Enacted a local eviction moratorium from July 1, 2021 through Jan. 15, 2022. Created a legal defense to prevent future evictions due to rental debt accrued during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Burien: Enacted a local eviction moratorium from July 1, 2021 through Jan. 15, 2022.
    • Kirkland: Enacted a local eviction moratorium from July 1 through Sept. 30, 2021.
    • Seattle: Extended a local eviction moratorium through Jan. 15, 2022. Created a legal defense to prevent future evictions due to rental debt accrued during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Permanent Renter Protections

Seattle: Closed the “lease loophole” in Seattle’s Just Cause Eviction Ordinance, ensuring that ALL renters are protected from arbitrary & unjust evictions. Supported legislation requiring six-months notice of rent increases and landlord-paid relocation assistance if a tenant has to move after a rent increase of 10% or more.

King County Council: Won a pathbreaking package of renter protections for unincorporated areas of the county like Skyway and White Center, including:

  • ALL renters are protected from eviction or lease termination without a “just cause.”
  • Move-in fees are capped at 1-month rent and renters can pay in installments.
  • Late fees are capped at 1.5% of monthly rent.
  • For rent increases greater than 3%, landlords must give 120 days notice.
  • Renters on fixed incomes can change their rent due date.
  • You don’t need a Social Security Number to apply for a rental home.

This legislation creates a high standard we’ll work to match in cities around King County in 2022.

Unmasking False Compassion 

TRU, together with the ACLU of Washington and the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, brought a successful lawsuit to knock the “Compassion Seattle” initiative off the ballot. In addition to being illegal and misleading, this measure was far from a good faith effort to address the homelessness crisis. Instead, it was a cynical unfunded mandate backed by big business interests that don’t want to pay their taxes. TRU also joined the House Our Neighbors coalition to put forward real solutions: housing, shelter & services at scale.

Taking on Big Tech

Amazon has accumulated enormous power over our economy and our lives. But what is a monopoly? What are its dangers and how are we impacted as residents, consumers and workers? And what can we do about it? TRU co-hosted a teach-in with Puget Sound Sage, with special guests from the Washington State Attorney General’s Office Antitrust Division, to dig into these timely questions.

State Legislative Wins

The remote legislative session allowed TRU’s members and supporters to participate as never before. We set up many virtual meetings with individual legislators, testified at hearings, signed in “PRO” or “CON” on bills, sent emails and made phone calls. Working with allies, TRU’s pressure helped to win big victories like renter protections, criminal-legal system reform, the HEAL Act, Working Families Tax Credit and a capital gains tax. 

Organizing for a Solidarity Budget

TRU is a core member of the Solidarity Budget coalition, fighting for a vision of an equitable city where all of us can thrive. Thanks to this powerful coalition work, Seattle is the only city in the U.S. to shrink its policing budget two years running. Our pressure helped to restore the JumpStart Seattle corporate tax revenue to its intended purposes, including major ongoing investments in new affordable housing and equitable development. With the MASS coalition, we expanded investments in safe streets for walking, biking and rolling. And more! 

Sustaining Our Unsheltered Neighbors 

The pandemic has been especially hard on homeless people, and homeless deaths are near a record high. This year, TRU’s camp outreach project turned over $50,000 into food, propane, batteries, water and other basic necessities for our neighbors sleeping outside. This project is powered by TRU members’ volunteer labor, cooking meals and visiting camps every weekend, and funded entirely by individual donations from TRU members and supporters.

ORCA Passes for Afghan Refugees 

When refugee families began arriving in the Seattle area from Afghanistan this fall, TRU stepped up. We raised over $2,500 from individual donations from our members and supporters, and used these funds to purchase loaded adult and youth ORCA passes for the Muslim Community Resource Center to give to refugees in need of transportation in their new home.

Tukwila Surveys

December 4, 2021

TRU is conducting a project in order to better understand the issues affecting Tukwila workers and residents. Do you live or work in Tukwila, or have friends or family who do? Invite them to take our 5-minute survey:

For Tukwila workers: bit.ly/tukwila-jobs

For Tukwila residents: bit.ly/tukwila-resident

TRU 2021 General Election Endorsements

October 14, 2021

Here is who we recommend voting for in the 2021 General Election:

King County

  • Executive – Joe Nguyen
  • District 3 – Sarah Perry
  • District 5 – Shukri Olow

Seattle

  • Mayor – Lorena González
  • Position 8 – Teresa Mosqueda
  • Position 9 – Nikkita Oliver
  • City Attorney – Nicole Thomas-Kennedy

Port of Seattle

  • Position 1 – Ryan Calkins
  • Position 3 – Hamdi Mohamed
  • Position 5 – Toshiko Grace Hasegawa

Bellevue

  • Position 4 – Ruth Lipscomb

Bothell

  • Position 1 – Han Tran

Burien

  • Position 1 – Hugo Garcia
  • Position 5 – Sarah Moore
  • Position 7 – Krystal Marx

Kenmore

  • Position 4 – Nigel Herbig

Kent

  • Mayor – Dawn Bennett
  • Position 2 – Satwinder Kaur
  • Position 4 – Cliff Cawthon
  • Position 6 – Brenda Fincher

Kirkland

  • Kirkland City Council Position 5 – Neal Black

Issaquah

  • Position 3 – Barbara de Michele

Renton

  • Position 1 – Joe Todd
  • Position 2 – Carmen Rivera

Tukwila

  • Position 1 – Tosh Sharp

Federal Way

  • Position 4 – Katherine Festa

Lake Forest Park

  • Position 3 – Stephanie Angelis

SeaTac

  • Position 2 – Jake Simpson
  • Position 4 – Mohamed Egal
  • Position 6 – Iris Guzmán

Port of Edmonds

  • Commissioner-at-Large Position 5 – Scott Marshall

We did it!!! King County Council passes renter protections

July 2, 2021

On Tuesday afternoon, after hours of public comment & debate, the King County Council voted 6-3 to pass a pathbreaking package of renter protections, including:

  • ALL renters are protected from eviction or lease termination without a “just cause.”
  • Move-in fees are capped at 1-month rent & renters can pay in installments.
  • Late fees are capped at 1.5% of monthly rent.
  • For rent increases greater than 3%, landlords must give 120 days notice.
  • Renters on fixed incomes can change their rent due date.
  • You don’t need a Social Security Number to apply for a rental home.

This legislation will protect renters in unincorporated areas of King County like Skyway and White Center, home to historically underserved Black and brown and low-income communities. It also creates a high standard that we can now work to match in cities around the county! Read more in The Stranger and The Seattle Times.

This major victory wouldn’t have been possible without sustained pressure from the Stay Housed Stay Healthy coalition & from all the TRU members and allies who sent emails, made phone calls, testified at council meetings and amplified our message on social media. THANK YOU!!! Together we make progress!!!

Stay Housed Stay Healthy: Renters Making Progress!

June 25, 2021

Our Stay Housed Stay Healthy campaign for stronger renter protections is rocking it! With energetic pressure and support from renters, TRU members and so many allies in this powerful county-wide coalition, elected officials have approved a suite of renter protections this month:

June 7: Seattle City Council passed legislation closing the “lease loophole” in Seattle’s Just Cause Eviction Ordinance; creating a defense to eviction for COVID rental debt; and banning school year evictions of families and educators.

June 14: Kenmore City Council passed a local moratorium on evictions and rent increases through Sept. 30; a defense to eviction for COVID rental debt and for renters with rental assistance applications in progress; and a requirement that landlords certify that they have applied for rental assistance before initiating an eviction.

June 15: Kirkland City Council passed a local moratorium on evictions through Sept. 30.

June 18: Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan extended Seattle’s moratorium on evictions and rent increases through Sept. 30.

June 21: Burien City Council passed a local moratorium on evictions through Sept. 30.

And we’re not done yet! Stay tuned for news of King County Council’s permanent renter protections package, up for a vote on Tuesday, June 29.

TRU’s 2021 Primary Endorsements

June 25, 2021

At TRU’s membership meeting last week, we debated and voted on endorsements for the 2021 Primary Elections, considering races throughout King County. (Not every candidate we endorsed will appear on the primary ballot; in races where there are only two candidates, there is no vote until November.) Here is who we recommend:

King County

  • Executive – Joe Nguyen
  • District 3 – Sarah Perry
  • District 5 – Shukri Olow
  • District 7 – Saudia J. Abdullah
  • District 9 – Ubax Gardheere

Seattle

  • Position 8 – Teresa Mosqueda
  • Position 9 – Nikkita Oliver
  • Mayor – Andrew Grant Houston
  • City Attorney – Nicole Thomas-Kennedy

Port of Seattle

  • Position 1 – Ryan Calkins
  • Position 3 – Hamdi Mohamed
  • Position 5 – Toshiko Grace Hasegawa

Bothell

  • Bothell City Council Position 1 – Han Tran

Burien

  • Position 1 – Hugo Garcia
  • Position 7 – Krystal Marx

Kenmore

  • Position 4 – Nigel Herbig

Kent

  • Mayor – Dawn Bennett
  • Position 2 – Satwinder Kaur
  • Position 4 – Cliff Cawthon
  • Position 6 – Brenda Fincher

Kirkland

  • Kirkland City Council Position 5 – Neal Black

Issaquah

  • Position 3 – Barbara de Michele

Renton

  • Position 1 – Joe Todd
  • Position 2 – Carmen Rivera

Tukwila

  • Position 1 – Tosh Sharp

Federal Way

  • Position 4 – Katherine Festa

Lake Forest Park

  • Position 3 – Stephanie Angelis

SeaTac

  • Position 2 – Jake Simpson
  • Position 4 – Mohamed Egal
  • Position 6 – Iris Guzmán

Port of Edmonds

  • Commissioner-at-Large Position 5 – Scott Marshall

Why we’re challenging “Compassion Seattle” Don't be misled by the friendly rainbow

May 7, 2021

Yesterday, TRU joined with Real Change, Nickelsville and Be:Seattle to file a petition challenging the ballot title for the “Compassion Seattle” campaign’s proposed amendment to the city charter.

For our neighbors experiencing homelessness, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a crisis on top of a crisis. Indoor public spaces and public restrooms closed their doors. Many free meal programs and other services shut down. Shelters struggled to keep people distanced and safe from COVID. Meanwhile, there’s still a severe shortage of deeply affordable housing. And many homeless or housing insecure people lost jobs. So more people are sleeping outside. Not because they want to, but because there aren’t better options.

TRU members and friends have stepped up to do what we can and offer solidarity— our steadfast volunteer outreach team visits camps every week bringing home-cooked food, water, essential supplies and items people ask for. (You can donate here!)

We know the real solutions are systemic: First and foremost, deeply affordable housing. And until there’s enough housing, shelter that meets people’s needs, including keeping families and couples together, accommodating pets, having secure storage for people’s belongings, and offering both privacy and community. And whatever other services and supports people need— which also means paying human service workers a living wage.

There’s no mystery to ending homelessness. It requires acknowledging the scale of the crisis and coming up with the resources to truly address it, as multiple McKinsey reports have shown. We took a big step last year with the passage of Jumpstart Seattle, a pathbreaking tax on large corporations that, starting next year, will fund new affordable housing. The big business lobby groups hate the tax and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce is suing the city to try to overturn it. What jerks.

This year, those same lobby groups teamed up with former Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess to launch “Compassion Seattle.” They’re tired of seeing the tents lining the downtown business district. This initiative began as an attempt to codify sweeps in the city charter, which is a foundational document, like the constitution of the city.

Their initial language was really, really bad. But they realized they weren’t going to get far without the legitimation of service providers and homelessness “experts.” So they allowed some service providers to have input, and after a number of revisions, the final language is much less bad than it was. Reading it, you might even think it sounds good: The initiative directs the city to create 2,000 units of “housing” (permanent or emergency) within a year, with services including mental health & drug treatment; and it says the city should keep public spaces clear but balance this with the harm done to people by clearing encampments. And now, the whole thing “sunsets” (expires) after six years.

But here’s one major catch: No new funding is identified for all this work. In fact, the campaign claims that none is needed. Last week in Crosscut, TRU’s general secretary Katie Wilson thoroughly debunked this ridiculous claim.

And here’s another catch: While the measure promises “housing,” creating permanent housing in one year is a tall order, so whatever the city does cobble together will likely be “emergency housing,” a.k.a shelter— and as the city scrambles to fulfill the mandate, it might even pull funds away from creating permanent housing.

The ballot title— what voters will read on their ballot in November, if the campaign gathers enough signatures— is extremely misleading, claiming that this measure will create housing and services and keep public space clear of encampments. We’re challenging this title because voters deserve to know the truth. Amending the city charter is not the right way to make policy, and it’s not going to solve our homelessness crisis.

What can begin to solve the crisis? Listening to homeless people, who are experts on their own situations. Supporting grassroots homeless organizations like WHEEL, SHARE and Nickelsville. Actually creating more housing! Addressing the deep underlying causes of the homelessness crisis, including a profit-driven housing market, systemic racism, and decades of neoliberal policies. Being honest about the scale of the homelessness crisis and serious about coming up with the resources needed to address it. And electing a new Mayor who will lead on these issues, rather than just sweep, sweep, sweep.

TRU will continue to push for real answers. And we’ll call out the fake ones. Join us!

Stay Housed, Stay Healthy Campaign Launch: March 29

March 23, 2021

Check out this recording of our launch event for the Stay Housed, Stay Healthy campaign which took place on Monday, March 29!

We’re fighting to ensure renters can be stable during and after the pandemic, so that our community doesn’t need to face a landslide of evictions after moratoriums are lifted. We’ll be pushing strong tenant protections including a Just Cause law through the King County Council, and to strengthen Seattle tenant protections as well. At the launch we heard from renters who are struggling with rental debt and the threat of eviction, and also from special guests King County Councilmembers Girmay Zahilay and Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Seattle City Councilmembers Tammy Morales and Kshama Sawant.

Extend the Eviction Moratoriums!

March 4, 2021

Seattle’s eviction moratorium expires March 31. If we let this happen, a mass wave of evictions could increase homelessness and contribute to a new spike in COVID-19. This week in Crosscut, TRU’s Katie Wilson wrote about why the city & state eviction moratoriums must be extended through the end of 2021. Read more here.

Rental assistance programs need time to work, and tenants need stability to get caught up on rent. Seattle’s moratorium also protects small businesses and nonprofits. Today, we sent a letter to Mayor Durkan signed by 47 organizations calling on her to extend the moratorium through the end of this year. Want to add your voice? Send Mayor Durkan an email here!

Taking on Big Tech: Amazon, Monopoly Power, Antitrust & Organizing for a People-Centered Economy

February 5, 2021

Concerns about Big Tech’s monopoly power are multiplying. Seattle-based corporate giant Amazon has accumulated enormous power over our economy and our lives. But what is a monopoly? What are the dangers of monopoly, and how are we impacted as residents, consumers, business owners and workers? And most importantly, what can we do about it?

On Thursday, Jan. 28, TRU was proud to co-host a teach-in with Puget Sound Sage, with special guests from the Washington State Attorney General’s Office Antitrust Division, to dig into these timely questions. We recorded the presentation portions of the event, which you can watch below.

Want to go deeper into the history and meaning of monopoly and antitrust? Check out this series on Amazon and antitrust in Crosscut by TRU’s general secretary Katie Wilson.

Do you know your Black transit history?

February 4, 2021

It’s Black History Month! We’re here to help you study up on your Black transit history. And while you’re here… How ‘bout a quick action to advance racial equity in transportation in our own day? Sign in PRO on House Bill 1301, to help us decriminalize fare non-payment. If this bill passes, Sound Transit can no longer tell us that state law forces them to rely on court-issued civil infractions when riders can’t pay. The deadline to complete this action is 2:30pm on Monday, Feb. 8.

The real Rosa Parks & the long history of Transportation Protest

“Over the years, I have been rebelling against second-class citizenship. It didn’t begin when I was arrested.”

“I don’t believe in gradualism, or that whatever is to be done for the better should take forever to do.”

The story of Rosa Parks and the Mongomery Bus Boycott you learned in school wasn’t just skewed, it was way less interesting than the reality. The New York Times breaks it down.

Rosa Parks’s act of civil disobedience is only the most famous in a long, long history of Black people protesting segregated transportation systems. This history goes back at least to Frederick Douglass, who along with a friend in 1841 refused to leave a train car reserved for white passengers in Massachusetts. Their action led to organizing that resulted in Congress passing the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which granted Black citizens equal rights in public accommodations— until it was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1883. Read more about the history of civil rights transportation protests here.

Safe Bus: Transit Mutual Aid

In 1926, in segregated Winston-Salem, NC, 13 Black jitney operators banded together and founded Safe Bus, a bus company to serve the Black neighborhoods where the privately-operated streetcars didn’t run. It grew to 75 employees and at one point was called the largest Black-owned transportation company in the world. In 1966, 20-year-old Priscilla Estelle Stephens became the first female driver for Safe Bus. Eventually, in 1972, the company was bought by the city and integrated into the public transit system.

The Real McCoy: Black ingenuity advancing transportation

Black inventors have left their mark on transportation history. Back in the 19th century, inventor & engineer Elijah McCoy, a child of escaped slaves, developed new lubricants for railroad steam engines. It may be apocryphal, but they say the superiority of his products led railroad engineers to ask for “The Real McCoy.”

Andrew Jackson Beard, a former slave who became a flour-mill owner and then an inventor, created a device that automatically joined railroad cars together, eliminating the need for a worker to stand between two cars to drop in a metal pin— a dangerous job that sometimes led to the worker being crushed.

Granville T. Woods, the first African American mechanical and electrical engineer after the Civil War and a prolific inventor, authored many transportation-related inventions— notably the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph, a device that allowed for communication between trains.

Garrett Augustus Morgan, a child of freed slaves, was a businessman, inventor and community leader. After witnessing a serious vehicle crash, he invented and patented one of the first three-signal traffic light systems in 1923.

Philadelphia Transportation Company strike: It ain’t all pretty

Labor unions have a complicated track record when it comes to race. Some unions have been staunchly anti-racist, all about forging multiracial solidarity. But at other times, white workers have banded together not just to fight the bosses, but to protect their privilege and their jobs from competition with Black workers. That happened, big-time, in Philadelphia during WWII.

The Philadelphia Transportation Company, which operated the city’s trolleys, buses and subways, employed Black workers as porters and tracklayers but refused to hire or promote them as drivers or conductors. Effective organizing by Black-led civic groups and churches led to the federal Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) ordering the company to promote Black workers. 

But the white members of the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Employees Union were not pleased. They walked out and shut down the entire Philadelphia mass transit system for five days. The conflict spread to the streets where Black protesters retaliated against white-owned businesses, smashing windows and slashing police tires. The strike was ultimately broken by federal troops sent in by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Within a year, large numbers of Black workers had been promoted.

2020 TRU Year in Review

December 16, 2020

2020 was quite a year. Here is some of what we accomplished together:

Rising to the COVID-19 challenge

In early March, just as shut-downs were starting, we recognized the profound economic impact the pandemic would have on our communities, and especially on people who were already struggling. TRU seized the moment and teamed up with allies at Working Washington and Washington Community Action Network to build a broad coalition that sent a strong and effective message to elected officials across Washington state: 

“We urge you to use your emergency powers to preserve medical benefits, halt evictions, prevent utility  shut-offs, and provide emergency income assistance.”

#SeattleNeeds Relief: Taxing Big Business

Photo credit: Alex Garland

In Seattle, we brought the call for economic relief to our Mayor and City Council, holding one of the first socially distant demonstrations in April at City Hall.

Working with both the Tax Amazon Coalition and the JumpStart Seattle Coalition, TRU played a crucial role in winning a progressive payroll-based tax on our city’s largest corporations, expected to raise between $214 and $250 million per year for COVID relief, affordable housing and a Green New Deal! 

#BlackLivesMatter: Police & Public Transit don’t mix

TRU members joined the Seattle uprisings in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, and we learned that King County Metro buses were being used to transport a militarized police force to the protests. With allies we raised the alarm — also issuing a joint statement with transit rider groups across the country — and won a commitment from King County Metro to cease this practice. 

Supporting Transit Workers & Transit Riders

Public transit is essential, and so are transit workers! 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, TRU has been working allies including ATU 587, the union that represents Metro drivers and mechanics, to fight back against layoffs and to navigate a rapidly changing safety landscape, to better protect both riders and drivers during the pandemic.

Fighting to Fund Public Transit & Protect Transit Riders 

Between plummeting sales tax revenue, Tim Eyman’s I-976, and lost fares due to COVID, public transit funding is in big trouble. TRU worked with allies locally and nationally to push for federal relief funding for transit, and we’re gearing up to fight for progressive, sustainable transit funding next year in Olympia, too.

On top of all that, Seattle’s transit measure passed in 2014 expired this year, threatening deeper cuts. When Mayor Durkan proposed a much smaller replacement measure, TRU and allies stepped up and pushed for funding more adequate to the need. Due to our pressure, the city council approved a measure that will raise 50% more than the mayor’s original proposal, a total of almost $40 million annually for bus service and affordable transit programs. 

Then, we got out the vote! We collaborated with a new coalition of transit rider groups around the country on an Oct. 6 day of action, launching the Seattle Safe Transit Project. In the month leading up to the election, TRU volunteers assembled and distributed over 1,000 transit rider care kits with masks, hand sanitizer and information about the ballot measure. Our efforts were featured in The Seattle Times, the Seattle Channel and the South Seattle Emerald. Seattle Prop 1 passed with over 80% of the vote!

ORCA for All & Decriminalizing Fare Nonpayment 

When 2020 began, TRU was in the middle of a major campaign called ORCA for All. Our central aim was to win a Seattle law requiring that large employers subsidize transit for all their workers, including low-paid workers who are currently much less likely to receive an employer-paid transit pass than high-paid workers.

When the pandemic hit we had to press pause on this legislation. But we did make progress on another piece of the ORCA for All campaign: decriminalizing fare nonpayment. After continual pressure from TRU and allies, Sound Transit announced it will run a “fare enforcement ambassador” pilot program in 2021, focusing on education and connecting people with affordable transit programs rather than fines and citations. We will be monitoring this closely and continuing to push for a commitment to divorce any future approach to fare nonpayment entirely from policing and the court system.

This fall also saw the rollout of a free annual transit pass program for the lowest-income riders, up to 80% of the Federal Poverty Level— a program we fought for for years. We are excited to see it begin, and will continue working to expand free transit to more and more riders until transit is fully-funded and free for all! 

Organizing for a Solidarity Budget

Facing a challenging 2021 Seattle city budget process, TRU teamed up with allies to build a huge coalition (200+ groups!) determined to stick together in solidarity and not be divided and conquered as we championed a pro-people budget: 

One that divests from policing and invests in Black lives, instead of doubling down on centuries of racial oppression. One that supports Seattle residents and small businesses struggling through the COVID-19 recession, instead of making things worse by slashing city programs. One that advances toward an equitable, world-class transportation system and a carbon-free city, instead of letting that vision recede dangerously into the future.

With leadership from Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now, we fought hard to divest from the Seattle Police Department and invest in Black communities and community-based health and safety systems. While there is much further yet to go to actually meaningfully shrink the police force, the council reduced SPD’s budget by almost 20%, shifting some functions to other city departments and some funds to policing alternatives. Excitingly, at least $30 million will go to a community-led Participatory Budgeting process! 

Here are just a few highlights of other budget victories won through the efforts of the Solidarity Budget and allied groups:

  • With the MASS Coalition, we fought to reverse damaging cuts to the transportation budget that would leave many communities behind. We won funds to complete the Georgetown to South Park Trail, repair sidewalks on Rainier Avenue, add protected bike lanes in South Seattle, complete the Rt. 44 multimodal corridor project, and build new sidewalks on Beacon Hill.
  • Alongside our friends at SHARE, WHEEL and Nickelsville, we fought for city funding to support SHARE & WHEEL’s 24-hour shelters, Nickelsville’s Tiny House Villages, and SHARE’s Tent City 3.
  • With the Mercer Mega Block Alliance, we fought to restore $30 million to purchase land for community-driven development projects in neighborhoods at high risk of displacement.

Encampment Outreach & Solidarity Fundraising 

Governments should be stepping up to shelter and house our homeless neighbors during this pandemic. Unfortunately, that’s not happening at scale. So this year, TRU members and friends stepped up — reaching out to people living in encampments, asking what they need and getting it for them.

We began fundraising for this project in August and already we’ve raised over $12,000, which goes directly to purchasing food, propane, batteries, water and other basic necessities.

This year TRU also mobilized the generosity of our members and wider network of supporters to raise funds for allies:

  • We collected donations of groceries and raised over $2,500 for WHEEL’s 24-hour women’s shelter. 
  • Practicing international solidarity with our sister organization Riders’ Rights Lebanon, we helped to raise over $2,000 for out of work bus and van drivers with no safety net in Beirut.
  • Working with our allies in the MASS (Move All Seattle Sustainably) coalition, we organized a solidarity fundraiser raising over $7,000 for Seattle organizations WA-BLOC, El Comité and Creative Justice, which are all doing vital work organizing with Black and brown youth and immigrant communities in Seattle.