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!

Solidarity Budget: What we won and what’s next

November 24, 2020

Wow, has it been an intense two months! In late September, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan released her proposed city budget for 2021. Thanks to the path-breaking big business tax we helped to win earlier this year, it wasn’t the all-cuts austerity bloodbath it might have been. But it still needed work.

Since then we’ve been working alongside comrades in the Solidarity Budget coalition to fight for 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.

On Nov. 23, the Seattle City Council passed their 2021 city budget with the leadership of budget chair Teresa Mosqueda. The mayor has said that she will sign it. (Yay! We don’t have to fight to override yet another Durkan veto.) You can read good local analysis in The Stranger, The Seattle Times, and Publicola.

We won a lot of things! And also, there is much more still to be done! Right after the final council vote, the Solidarity Budget team hosted a teach-in to review the progress we’ve made, and next steps. If you missed the livestream, you can watch it here.

Thank you so much to everyone who has taken action over the past two months to advance the goals of the Solidarity Budget: sending emails and making phone calls, testifying and taking action in the streets. These victories could not have happened without you. And we will need to stick together as we continue the struggle.

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! (Want to get involved? Take this survey from the Black Brilliance Research Project.)

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.

We know that all our struggles and our visions of a just future are interconnected. In this very challenging year, the Solidarity Budget turned this truism into reality by building alliances across issues, bringing together the biggest, baddest, broadest coalition around. We showed that by working together we can make progress, instead of letting ourselves be divided and conquered. We will continue and deepen these collaborations in the months and year ahead, knowing that our work is far from done. Thank you for being part of the movement!

Trust Riders, Fund Transit!

October 21, 2020

On Oct. 6, the Transit Riders Union launched our Seattle Safe Transit Project as part of a TRUST national day of action, calling on our elected leaders from federal to local to step it up and #TrustRidersFundTransit! Read all about it in the South Seattle Emerald.

Here in Seattle, from now through election day our team will be out at the bus stops and on the buses, handing out bags containing goodies including a mask, hand sanitizer, a snack, some TRU schwag, and voter information about Seattle Prop 1. Check out this article in The Seattle Times that features the project, and don’t forget to VOTE Yes for Transit!

On Oct. 15, we got the excellent news that the state Supreme Court ruled Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976 unconstitutional! Here’s our statement:

A Win for Transit Riders, Disability Community, Clean Air and Less Congestion

State Supreme Court Rules for the People in Striking Down I-976; Communities Now Have Green Light to Move Ahead with Transportation Improvements and Investments

Statements from Transit Riders Union, Climate Solutions and Washington ADAPT, three interveners in the case against I-976 that would have defunded transportation projects across Washington State:

“The court’s decision to overturn Eyman’s I-976 is a win for transit riders and for everyone in Washington state who benefits from a functional transportation system— and that’s all of us,” said Katie Wilson, general secretary of the Transit Riders Union. “It’s also a win for democracy, affirming the rights of voters in cities and transportation districts around the state to make their own decisions about how to fund transportation improvements and public transit. Now it’s time to get to work. Fully funding an equitable, sustainable transportation system will be essential to our state’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 recession.”

“Overturning I-976 is a win for anyone who rides transit and wants safer streets, hates potholes and congestion, and wants clean air and a healthy climate,” stated Vlad Gutman-Britten, Washington State Director for Climate Solutions. “The Washington Supreme Court today restored voter-approved transit initiatives. Now that this sorry saga is behind us, it’s time to focus on investing in the sustainable, affordable, equitable transportation system Washington needs.”

“The Washington State disability community will benefit from the I-976 decision if these funds go to more accessible public transit services,” said Janine Bertram of Washington ADAPT. “I-976 would have left disabled transit riders around the state stranded. 30 years after ADA was signed, we still have inadequate service and dysfunctional elevators. It’s long past time to make our transportation system accessible to all.”

TRU 2020 General Election Endorsements

October 7, 2020

At our September Membership Meeting, TRU made endorsements in several state legislative races, as well as affirming our support for the Seattle transit ballot measure. Here are our recommendations as you fill out your ballot this fall:

Vote YES for Seattle Transit this November!

Yes for TransitYes for Transit ‌Proposition 1, on the November ballot in Seattle, renews and modifies an expiring measure to provide $39 million annually over six years for essential bus service, free or reduced fares for low-income riders, addressing the West Seattle transportation crisis, and ensuring our transit system is efficient and reliable. Vote YES for transit this November!

Kirsten Harris-Talley for Rep. Pos. 2, 37th District

Kristen Harris-Talley‌TRU early-endorsed Kirsten Harris-Talley way back in February, because we know we need her representing the 37th district! Kirsten was a champion for progressive taxation as an interim Seattle City Councilmember in fall 2017, and we know she’ll carry that commitment with her to Olympia.

Nicole Macri for Rep. Pos. 1, 43rd District

Nicole MacriNicole Macri has been a tireless and effective champion for renters and people experiencing homelessness during her time in Olympia, and she has also pushed the needle on progressive taxation. She’s one of the people best placed to advance bold policies like rent control.

Sherae Lascelles for Rep. Pos. 2, 43rd District

Sherae LascellesSherae Lascelles is running to empower the marginalized communities that don’t usually get a seat at the table in Olympia. An activist and an organizer, they’ve demonstrated their strong dedication to mutual aid and harm reduction, aiming at culture shift as well as policy change.

Liz Berry for Rep. Pos. 2, 36th District

Liz BerryLiz Berry showed up at a rally to save transit service and bus driver jobs this summer, and we believe her commitment to public transit and to workers is real. We also love Berry’s uncompromising stance against austerity and commitment to reforming our tax system.

T’wina Nobles for State Senate, 28th District

T'wina NoblesT’wina Nobles is the champion for public transit and affordable housing that Pierce County urgently needs! If elected, Nobles would also be the only Black senator in Olympia. She is running to unseat a Republican who has been no friend of public transit or the poor.

David Hackney for Rep. Pos. 1, 11th District

David HackneyDavid Hackney promises to be a champion for renters, workers, and low-income families. We believe Hackney will be an effective voice and vote to tackle racial inequities, support public transit and multi-modal infrastructure, and reform our state’s upside-down tax system.

Ingrid Anderson for State Senate, 5th District

Ingrid AndersonIngrid Anderson is a nurse who we believe will step up for workers, public health and access to healthcare for all, and more urgent action on the climate crisis. We are hopeful that she will be a strong voice for ordinary people and stand up to corporate interests in Olympia.

Sweet Victory: at long last, Seattle taxes big business!

July 7, 2020

Photo credit: Alex Garland

Yesterday, the Seattle City Council passed a major tax on large corporations for COVID-19 economic relief and affordable housing. Conservatively it’s expected to raise $214 million per year; with a higher tax rate for mega-corporations like Amazon, which the city doesn’t have the data to estimate, it’s likely the total is more like $240 or $250 million.

What a victory. For the Transit Riders Union, this fight began years ago— all the way back in 2017 when we first launched a campaign to transform our upside-down tax system with the “Trump-Proof Seattle” coalition. That summer we won a Seattle income tax on wealthy households, which was challenged in court and ultimately overturned, with mixed legal results. In fall 2017, we regrouped with the “Housing for All” coalition and launched the fight to tax big business into prime time. What followed was a brutal battle with Amazon and Seattle’s big business interests, culminating in the May 2018 passage of a $47 million “head tax,” a referendum campaign and the council’s ultimate repeal.

What a difference two years makes. Thanks to pressure of the Tax Amazon campaign and leadership from Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda, Tammy Morales and Kshama Sawant, we just won a measure four to five times larger. It’s a major victory for progressive tax reform, and it will provide badly needed economic relief for renters, small businesses, undocumented immigrants and refugee communities; help to prevent an austerity budget next year; and fund affordable housing, community-driven development projects to fight displacement especially in Black and brown communities, and Green New Deal programs to tackle our climate crisis while creating good jobs. We are grateful to all our comrades in this victory and proud of TRU’s role in making it possible.

We can’t rest entirely easy until this measure passes fully into law and we’re sure that Amazon won’t run a referendum or try some other tricky business. This Wednesday, the Tax Amazon coalition is holding an action conference to discuss and decide how the 30,000 signatures the campaign has gathered should be used to protect this victory.

2020 has been a challenging and revolutionary year, and it’s only half over. Let’s take a moment to celebrate this progress and gather our energies for the road ahead!

TRU statement on Seattle economic relief & big business tax proposals

June 23, 2020

For years, the Transit Riders Union has fought to reform our upside-down tax system. For example, we have long argued that employers should contribute to fund public transit, because right now working and poor people pay twice: at the farebox, and through the regressive sales tax. In 2017, TRU helped to lead the Trump-Proof Seattle coalition, winning a Seattle tax on high-income households that was ultimately blocked in the courts. In 2018, TRU helped to lead the Housing for All coalition, winning a big business tax for housing and homelessness that was vigorously opposed by the business lobby and quickly repealed.

Photo credit: Alex Garland

With so many false starts, we are thrilled that the Seattle City Council is now considering serious proposals to raise funds for economic relief and community resilience by taxing large corporations. We thank Councilmembers Kshama Sawant, Tammy Morales and Teresa Mosqueda for taking the initiative to put forward strong legislation. It’s heartening that a supermajority of the council has publicly stated support for proposals that would raise significant revenue for immediate pandemic-related assistance and, in the longer term, for affordable housing.

There are some things we liked specifically about the “Amazon Tax” legislation introduced by Councilmembers Sawant and Morales in April. The larger revenue amount, $500 million per year, is more commensurate with the immense scale of the housing and homelessness crisis and the challenges posed by the COVID-19 recession. With no “sunset” clause, there is a strong commitment to a progressive tax shift, and flexibility to bond against the revenue if needed. (If comprehensive tax reform does happen at the state and/or county level, city legislation could always be repealed or modified.) The tax would go into effect immediately, so even though collection couldn’t begin until 2022, revenue for this year would ultimately be captured. Finally, there are dedicated funds for “Green New Deal” programs that address our urgent climate crisis while creating good jobs.

There are also things we like about the “Jumpstart Seattle” plan put forward by Councilmember Mosqueda on June 16. By focusing on high-salary industries, the tax is more targeted at the corporations that can most afford to contribute. There are dedicated funds for immigrant and refugee communities, including undocumented workers who have been mostly excluded from COVID-19 relief programs. The proposal also addresses the danger of an “austerity” budget, reserving some funds to prevent cuts to vital city programs and services. It funds the Equitable Development Initiative, supporting community-driven development projects and stewardship of land and housing, especially by communities of color. Finally, with no “emergency clause,” this legislation doesn’t require the support of Mayor Jenny Durkan in order to pass — it only needs a supermajority of the council to override a mayoral veto.

The Jumpstart plan has the backing of a broad progressive coalition, and Councilmembers Lisa Herbold, Lorena González, Dan Strauss and Andrew Lewis have all indicated their support. It’s now clear that this legislation is the most likely vehicle for passing a major economic relief and community investment package this summer. We wholeheartedly support this effort, but we also believe this legislation can and must be made stronger.

The Transit Riders Union urges the city council to amend the Jumpstart Seattle legislation to raise the revenue amount to at least $300 million annually; this way, it will match or exceed the size of the “Tax Amazon” initiative measure that volunteers have been working energetically to place on the ballot, already gathering many thousands of signatures this month. The council should also direct significant funding toward Green New Deal programs. Finally, we urge the council to make the tax effective immediately so that revenue is ultimately collected for this year, and to remove the 10-year “sunset” clause.

Passing this legislation so amended will make an enormous difference to the health and well-being of our communities in the coming difficult years. It will build homes, prevent evictions, reduce displacement of Black and brown communities, preserve and create good jobs, save small businesses, and lift up the most marginalized. It will also mark a crucial turning point in the long struggle for equitable revenue, building momentum to flip our state’s upside-down tax system once and for all. We call on Seattle leaders to take this first important step!

TRU statement on uprising, police escalation and misuse of our public transit

June 3, 2020

UPDATE: On Thursday, June 11, King County Metro pledged to stop the practice of transporting police to protests and demonstrations.

UPDATE: On Wednesday, June 10 we put out this press release in collaboration with allied organizations and several King County Councilmembers.

The Transit Riders Union is an independent, democratic, member-run union of transit riders organizing for mobility and transit justice in Seattle and King County. TRU is in solidarity with protesters in Seattle, Minneapolis, Louisville and many other communities across the country demanding health, safety and freedom for Black people in America and demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and countless others killed by the police. The uprisings sweeping the nation flow from centuries of racial oppression, increasing economic inequality, and years of unheeded calls for reform and restitution. Over this past week, TRU members have marched for justice in the streets of Seattle alongside thousands of our neighbors, many of whom arrived at the protests via transit.

As a union of transit riders, we are dismayed and shocked to learn that King County Metro buses were used to transport a militarized police force to the protests. We have also heard reports, which Metro denies, that buses may have been used to transport arrestees or detainees to police stations. We demand a full accounting by King County Metro, Sound Transit, and the City of Seattle of any public transit resources (buses, drivers, bases, etc.) used to support the Seattle Police Department during the protests, and for what specific purposes.

Further, we call upon King County Metro and Sound Transit to make a clear public affirmation that they will not, in the future, under any circumstances, transport people who have been arrested or detained by the police; and that they will not be co-opted to transport police to or from a protest. Public transit is public transit: It is for the people, and transit riders will not stand by while our transit system is used for repressive ends.

While we understand that the safety of transit operators was a consideration in closing Link light rail stations and redirecting buses serving downtown, we also note that when Mayor Durkan announced a 5:00 p.m. curfew on Saturday, May 30 with just 15 minutes notice she stranded protesters and other people who rely on city transit downtown, without transit options to leave the area or go home, exposing community members, including children, to increasingly aggressive police tactics. TRU condemns the imposition of this curfew and subsequent curfews, a tactic designed to maximize fear and intimidation.

Furthermore, TRU condemns violence committed by the Seattle Police Department at protests since Saturday, June 30 and the use of flash bangs, mace and tear gas by SPD officers, introducing violence into largely peaceful protests. In particular we condemn:

Finally, TRU condemns the failure of leadership by Mayor Jenny Durkan, who has emboldened and endorsed the violence of the Seattle Police Department, misled the public and the press regarding violent tactics by SPD, and is in fact working with the Trump administration to release SPD from a federal consent decree. It is obvious from the past few days that SPD has not made the changes necessary to make that release appropriate.

Our police officers and elected officials are accountable to their constituents, including transit riders. TRU is committed to working in solidarity with our allies across Seattle to hold SPD and Mayor Durkan accountable for abusive use of force by the police. TRU is committed to the redirection of taxpayer dollars from SPD to education, housing, restorative justice and social safety net programs that make our communities safer and more resilient.

All transit riders in Seattle and King County deserve the right to use transit free from excessive fares, free from harassment, and free from violence. In a county bearing the name and face of Martin Luther King, Jr., we must ensure that our city and county governments and our transit agencies embody his commitment to fighting oppression against the Black community and against poor people of all races. Otherwise, as Dr. King said, “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”

#BusLineHeroes: Support Transit Workers in Lebanon on International Workers Day!

May 1, 2020

For International Workers Day, how about some international solidarity? We’re teaming up with our grassroots sister organization in Beirut, Riders’ Rights Lebanon, to launch a fundraiser to support struggling transit workers. Can you pitch in through our GoFundMe campaign?

Lebanon’s transit workers don’t have a labor union, minimum wages or unemployment insurance like our bus drivers do here. On March 15, the government shut down the country’s bus and van networks as part of its COVID-19 emergency response. Transit workers, who were already living on the edge, now have no source of income and nowhere to turn.

Riders’ Rights Lebanon and Train/Train Lebanon are organizing to provide a little assistance for the struggling transit workers in their networks. Lebanon was already in turmoil before COVID-19. Here in Seattle and King County, we’re stepping up to help. Watch the short video and if you can, act in solidarity this May Day by making a donation!

Seattle Residents Demand COVID Relief at City Hall Socially distant demonstration coincides with City Council Meeting

April 29, 2020

Photo credit: Alex Garland

Seattle residents and members of the Transit Riders Union gathered outside City Hall Wednesday morning to call for a greater city response to the impacts of COVID-19 on Seattle workers, residents and small businesses, calling on Mayor Durkan and the Seattle City Council to pass economic relief measures funded with new progressive revenue. On Wednesday, the City Council’s Select Budget Committee discussed the needs created by the coronavirus recession and a proposal to raise new revenue through a payroll tax on large businesses.

Each week the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic gets worse in our city. Federal and state aid is helping but has left enormous gaps, and the City’s response so far to assist small businesses, people struggling to pay rent and bills, and people experiencing homelessness has fallen far short of the need. The City has not yet implemented widespread relief programs or a long-term funding mechanism for what is likely to be a years-long recovery process.

Photo credit: Alex Garland

“There aren’t nearly enough restrooms, hand washing stations and showers, especially ones that are wheelchair accessible,” said Kristina Sawyckyj, a homeless vehicle resident and wheelchair user, and TRU’s Disability & Access Officer. “With the libraries and community centers closed, it’s hard to find a place to charge a cell phone, laptop, wheelchair or other medical equipment. Without internet we can’t reach medical providers or get information about the pandemic. There has been a great reduction in food banks and soup kitchens available for those struggling with food security. Homeless individuals must travel great lengths within the city to get basic meals. Water, toilets, food and housing are human rights. In this day and age, a charged cell phone is a human right.”

Photo credit: Alex Garland

“Covid-19 has drastically affected my business. I may not be able to go back to work or will have to drastically change the way I work,” said massage therapist Heidi DeAndrade.  “In my practice I am hands on with clients. I have been in practice for 15 years and have a physical location. I have grown a successful business and was looking to hire staff. This pandemic has forced me to look into other means to support myself and family. The amount of funding available for small business is far from sufficient. SBA considers companies with 10 billion in assets as small business. There are many wonderful “real” small businesses who are not getting access to funding. If funding for the “real” small business doesn’t become available, I feel that many won’t make it.”

“We devoted our time, our resources, and our bodies to elect what was supposed to be the most progressive city council Seattle has ever seen,” said Tye Reed, a TRU organizer and a housing case manager working with families facing eviction in King County. “And yet nothing is being done to provide support for the thousands of people out of work with no income on the horizon. Nothing is being done for the thousands of Seattleites facing an eviction in June with no plan for rental relief.”

Photo credit: Alex Garland

“I’m a Primary Care Nurse Practitioner working on the front lines in community health,” said Simon M. Taylor, ARNP. “I’m also immunocompromised – that means that in order to stay healthy and keep taking care of my patients I can’t work as many hours in the clinic as I used to. They raised my rent this month. So even as my income went down, my rent went up. When I asked if the large corporate landlord could help – they said no. In the middle of a pandemic I’m a nurse working the front lines and I am struggling to make rent. I need the support of the city to build affordable housing that can help relieve the financial pressure for healthcare and non-profit workers. Amazon is a central part of the economic cycle that pushes up rents in our city. The people of Seattle have made Amazon and Jeff Bezos rich, it’s time they do their part for the people of Seattle. We need a big business tax, and we need it now. Nurses need help.”

Photo credit: Alex Garlard

“Where I imagine an opportunity to use a global crisis to bring people indoors, to elicit the compassion required to turn public opinion toward permanent answers, I’m instead seeing less official services rather than more,” said Dee Powers, a vehicle resident who is high risk for developing complications if she were to catch COVID-19. “We used to get given trash bags if we made an effort to be where the trash bag people would be each week. We don’t see them anymore. It feels like the city has forgotten about the people who cannot self-isolate, who cannot just go home and stay there. The people with disabilities and underlying health conditions being discharged from hospitals without a shelter referral. I saw a request on Facebook the other day from a Harborview RN helping with the respite care program asking for donations of used tents and sleeping bags because they were no longer able to send their medically fragile discharges to respite shelters and wanted to give them some minimum of shelter from the elements.”

“As a creative, the pandemic has affected every aspect of my life,” said Just Marshall, a Black artist in the South End. “The Marshall Law Band was planning on going on a 50-day national tour that we put countless of hours of collective work into. This loss of wages and more importantly time, has left us all scrambling to understand our new role in the community as musicians. So far, my friends and I have struggled to receive any paying gigs. Unfortunately working tirelessly on my craft and providing art for little to no money is something I’ve grown accustom to. However, with no shows or government relief in place, times are tougher than ever.”

Responding to the coronavirus crisis

March 30, 2020

Are you still riding public transit? Take our short survey!

Even as much of Washington state is shut down, many people – including hospital and grocery workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis – still rely on public transit every day. Are you still riding transit? If so, is it meeting your needs? Take this short rider survey we put together in collaboration with Transportation Choices Coalition, to help us understand how we can advocate for you right now.

We’re asking Seattle to step up

Together, we can make a huge difference to how Seattle gets through this incredibly tough time. We can come out on the other side stronger and better able to support one another, with more robust social programs, a more progressive tax system, and a more powerful movement. Here are three actions you can take now, and some lists of resources if you need help.

TRU is working with allies and calling on local, state, and national leaders to act urgently to support everyone impacted by this crisis, whether it’s people losing their livelihoods, workers on the front lines who need better protections, or people experiencing homelessness who are even more vulnerable and forgotten than usual right now. The City of Seattle is in a position to step up and make a big difference. We’re asking Seattle elected officials to step up and pass a local economic relief package, with major new progressive revenue such as a tax on large corporations, to provide flexible funds and prevent a downward spiral. You can help by taking a moment to email the Council and Mayor.

2019 Year in review

December 31, 2019

From the deepening climate emergency to so many horrible decisions coming from the other Washington, if you found it hard to keep your spirits up this year, you’re not alone. The best antidote we’ve found to news-induced blues? Solidarity and action. This year we at the Transit Riders Union joined together with allies to fight the good fight, and we achieved a lot! Here’s a quick look back at some of the progress we made in 2019:

Changing the conversation on homelessness

Group of people in conversationLast year we at TRU experienced first-hand how narratives about the homelessness crisis became toxic and misleading during the “head tax” debate. We knew we needed to be part of the solution, so this year we launched an innovative project called “We Need to Talk.”

“We Need to Talk” brings neighbors together in living rooms and community spaces to share their perceptions and experiences of the homelessness crisis and to discuss its root causes. Our volunteer facilitators meet people where they’re at, creating a space where participants can expand their compassion and understanding of this complex issue. We’re planning to scale up this project in 2020. If you’d like to host a conversation or be trained as a facilitator, get in touch!

Improving mobility for disabled riders

Working with disabled transit riders and allies at Stop Veolia Seattle, Washington ADAPT, and Disability Rights Washington, we won a major victory when King County finally gave irresponsible contractor Veolia/Transdev the boot. This corporation aggressively privatizes transportation and water systems and has been implicated in many abuses of workers and people around the world.

We pushed for and won major improvements to King County Metro’s Access Paratransit contract, promising better service for riders with disabilities. The new contract, which went into effect this fall, more strongly enforces pick-up and drop-off time windows and the time riders spend on board. Customer service is now handled directly by Metro, instead of a private corporation with clear conflicts of interest. We know this new contract will require strong oversight, and ultimately we believe this vital public service should be operated directly by Metro, so we will be continuing to organize on this front.

Beating back privatization of public transit

In March we learned that Sound Transit was quietly taking steps to contract out its Express bus service to a private, for-profit corporation. We teamed up with ATU 587 and MLK Labor to fight back, mobilizing members and supporters to send hundreds of emails to the Sound Transit Board and CEO and testifying at board meetings. Sound Transit rapidly changed course in response to our pressure, saving good union jobs and keeping our transit public.

Moving All Seattle Sustainably

Credit: Brock Howell

Last fall TRU played a major role in bringing together the MASS Coalition to fight for a sustainable, equitable transportation system in Seattle. This powerhouse partnership of transportation, climate, and disability rights groups has made waves in 2019.

In May we hosted five candidate forums around the city, giving many hundreds of Seattleites an opportunity to hear from and ask questions of city council candidates. In June, hundreds joined our Ride for Safe Streets, which sent a powerful message to city officials. This fall we pushed many pieces of our ambitious MASS Transportation Package through the city council. These policy wins will make it easier and safer for all people to ride transit, bike, walk and roll around our city. And we have much more in store in 2020!

Launching ORCA for All

TRU’s organizing team and volunteers have been busy this year, surveying Seattle workers to learn about how they get to work and how their commutes could be improved. Building on that outreach, this September we launched ORCA for All. In 2020 we aim to pass a law requiring that large Seattle employers subsidize transit for all their workers.

We also made good progress on several related efforts: pressuring Sound Transit to decriminalize fare non-payment and reform their fare enforcement policies; advocating for a strong free transit pass program for the lowest-income riders; and challenging the University of Washington to step up and fully subsidize transit for ALL UW employees. We’ll continue working on all these fronts under the ORCA for All umbrella, expecting some decisive victories in 2020!

Electing a progressive Seattle city council

Remember how Amazon and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce tried to buy our city council elections? Remember how they fell flat on their faces? TRU is proud to have endorsed and helped get out the vote for a slate of progressive Seattle City Council candidates, and other candidates running in our region, who are pro-transit, pro-worker, and will fight for a sustainable and equitable future for all. Most of the candidates we endorsed won election in November. We are looking forward to working with our new (and old) elected officials in 2020 to win ORCA for All and many other good things. We hope you will join us!

Transit Riders Union joins suit to overturn I-976

November 25, 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: MONDAY, NOVEMBER 25

Access Paratransit service is threatened by I-976. Photo credit: Mohamud Yussuf

Today the Transit Riders Union (TRU), the disability rights group Washington ADAPT, and the Northwest-based clean energy economy nonprofit Climate Solutions joined the lawsuit against Initiative 976, which threatens to slash funding for voter-approved public transit service and infrastructure projects across the state.

The groups intervened in the suit filed on November 13 by the Garfield County Transportation Authority, King County, the City of Seattle, and other plaintiffs. The groups are also joining in the motion for a preliminary injunction to stop I-976 from taking effect, which will be heard on Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. in King County Superior Court.

“The voices of transit riders need to be heard in this case,” said Katie Wilson, General Secretary of the Transit Riders Union. “Our quality of life is at stake. Many people depend on public transit for their basic mobility, and we can’t let this misleading and unconstitutional measure wreak havoc on our transportation system.”

“The legal right to accessible public transit for disabled Washingtonians is in serious jeopardy,” said Janine Bertram on behalf of Washington ADAPT. “King County has threatened to cut over $12 million from Access Paratransit. Fixed route transit cuts are also planned. Disabled people will be unable to get to work, school, appointments or exercise a normal social life if these drastic cuts occur.”

“I-976 poses a profound threat to Washington’s efforts to combat climate change and give people mobility options outside of driving alone,” said Vlad Gutman-Britten, Washington Director for Climate Solutions. “We’re determined to create a broadly accessible, low carbon transportation system, and so we’re committed to fighting this illegal and harmful initiative.”

Initiative 976 annuls a revenue source that was approved by over 62% of Seattle voters in 2014. According to the City of Seattle, this will lead to cutting over 100,000 hours of bus service next year. “I am devastated by I-976 passing,” says Karen Taylor, a member of the Transit Riders Union. “I don’t have a driver’s license, and rely on public transit exclusively, because Social Security Disability does not give me enough money to take Taxis or Lyft. The bus routes that will be affected are crucial to my survival and well-being.”

Also under threat is a program that provides free ORCA transit passes to many Seattle public school students. TRU advocated alongside low-income students at Rainier Beach High School who led the campaign that won this life-changing program in 2015. “I don’t live near my school and I don’t have anyone to give me a ride,” said Sara Abraha, a 9th grade student at RBHS. “But I do live near Othello Station. If the free ORCA card went away I probably would not come to school as often or I would have to risk a fine from fare enforcement just to get to school.”

TRU, Washington ADAPT, and Climate Solutions plan to coordinate with the City of Seattle and King County in bringing their lawsuit. “Just like the last two times Eyman used deception to push this proposal, I-976 is unconstitutional and will be overturned,” said Knoll Lowney, an attorney at the Seattle law firm of Smith and Lowney who is representing the organizations.

“Rock the Bus” Happy Hour Fundraiser on December 4th

November 20, 2019

Rocket BusIt’s that time of year again! Come celebrate and support TRU’s work at our annual Happy Hour Fundraiser. There will be complimentary beer, wine, and light appetizers. We’ll have a photo booth, a silent auction, and most importantly great company.

Our theme is Rock the Bus, because that’s what we need to do to get sh*t done!

RSVP here and help us to spread the word on Facebook. There’s no cost to attend, but we will be asking guests to make a donation that is meaningful to them at the event. Or, you can make a donation online. We can’t do this work without you!

Rock the Bus Happy Hour Fundraiser
Wednesday, December 4, 5:30-7:30pm
Flatiron School @ Downtown Seattle
1411 4th Ave, 13th Floor

Thank you to our wonderful co-hosts: Speaker Emeritus Frank Chopp, Rep. Nicole Macri, Councilmember Mike O’Brien, Councilmember Kshama Sawant, Tammy Morales, Girmay Zahilay, John Burbank, Brady Walkinshaw, Mike McGinn, Cary Moon, and Kirsten Harris-Talley

Thank you to our allies who are generously sponsoring this event: ATU 587, UFCW 21, SEIU 6, SEIU 925, SEIU 1199, Transportation Choices Coalition, Teamsters 117, Protec17, WFSE 1488, Working Washington

And finally, thank you to the businesses that are donating food, drink and space: Flatiron School, Fremont Brewing Co.

We hope to see you there!

Victory for Access Riders!

November 1, 2019

Access riders and allies celebrate! Photo credit: Mohamud Yussuf

This year, Access Paratransit riders won a major victory when King County Metro signed a new contract promising higher standards of service for disabled riders who can’t easily use the fixed-route bus service.

For years, TRU has been organizing with disabled riders & allies including Washington ADAPT West and Stop Veolia Seattle, and working with elected officials like King County Councilmember Larry Gossett. Together we fought for and won an audit of Access service that highlighted severe problems, and a new contract that includes improvements such as: definitions and enforcement of excessively long trips; improved standards for drop-offs; higher penalties for the contractor; and better oversight of complaints. Drivers also have a strong contract, and irresponsible contractor Veolia/Transdev is out!

Check out the new Know Your Rights pamphlet for Access riders

Access rider Harriet Williams speaks to the crowd

At the same time, we know our work isn’t done. The new contract still falls short of what’s needed to hold MV Transportation accountable and to enforce the standards for acceptable transit service mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Councilmember Larry Gossett speaks

Ultimately, we believe this vital service should be brought in-house and operated as a truly public service, rather than contracted out to a private corporation. TRU and allies will be continuing to organize with Access riders to push for better transit service for disabled riders!

 

TRU General Election Endorsements

October 10, 2019

First of all: Whatever else you do in this election, VOTE NO ON I-976! We can’t let Tim Eyman gut transit funding around the state. On October 7, TRU’s lead organizer Matthew Lang testified in support of a city resolution opposing I-976, with Eyman there speaking against. Learn more and sign up to volunteer: https://www.no976.org

At our September Membership Meeting, TRU made the following endorsements for Seattle City Council, King County Council, and SeaTac City Council. By the way, all of these Seattle and King County candidates (and many of their opponents) have endorsed ORCA for All!

Lisa Herbold for Seattle District 1

Councilmember Lisa Herbold has been a champion for progressive citywide policies as well as for her district. She led on bold efforts to reform our upside-down tax system, leading to an unanimous vote for the first income tax to pass in our state in over 80 years — which is looking promising as it moves toward the State Supreme Court! Lisa is a dedicated public servant, a smart and effective leader, and a strong ally to grassroots movements and groups like TRU. Vote for Herbold for District 1!

Tammy Morales for Seattle District 2

Ever since Tammy Morales came within a few hundred votes of representing District 2 in 2015, she has been doing the work. From organizing with Southeast Seattle community groups to serving on the Seattle Human Rights Commission, Tammy has demonstrated that she will show up and represent marginalized communities in District 2 and throughout the city. We know she’ll be a strong voice for workers’ rights, racial equity, and environmental justice. Tammy has also been a strong ally to TRU and the Trump-Proof Seattle and Housing For All Coalitions, and we are proud to endorse her campaign for District 2!

Kshama Sawant for Seattle District 3

Since she was first elected in 2013, Kshama Sawant has been a steadfast champion for working and poor people, and for fare-free mass transit. An unapologetic voice for socialism, she has used her council seat to open up new political possibilities not just in Seattle but across the country. Amazon and the Chamber of Commerce would love for this to be Kshama’s last term on the council. Let’s make sure they don’t get their wish.

Shaun Scott for Seattle District 4

Shaun Scott is a Democratic Socialist running on a platform including a Seattle Green New Deal, public housing, and a fair tax code. If elected, we believe Shaun will be an effective driver of progressive policies, including expanding mass transit and making fares affordable or free for all. We know he’ll be a strong ally to grassroots organizations like TRU. This could be one of the most consequential races this election. Vote Shaun Scott for District 4!

Debora Juarez for Seattle District 5

Councilmember Debora Juarez has been a strong advocate for expanding public transit and multimodal transportation, and we appreciate that — even if TRU hasn’t always seen eye to eye with her on all issues. Her opponent in this race is a Speak Out Seattle candidate who wants to step up the sweeps, round up homeless people and store them in massive warehouses. It’s a very, vey bad idea. If you live in District 5, please help make sure Debora Juarez wins another term!

Dan Strauss for Seattle District 6

Dan Strauss is a lifelong Ballard resident with deep connections in District 6, as well as knowledge of how City Hall works gained through his position as a legislative aide for Councilmember Bagshaw. We think Dan has progressive values and a strong understanding of the homelessness and housing crisis. As a council member we think he can push back against harmful narratives and policies that are hurting people and only making the problem worse. Vote Dan Strauss for District 6!

Andrew Lewis for Seattle District 7

District 7 spans the income spectrum, from well-off homeowners in Magnolia and Upper Queen Anne to low-income renters (and many people living without homes) in Downtown, Belltown and Uptown. It also includes powerful downtown business and developer interests as well as thousands of low-wage workers. We think Andrew Lewis will be able to manage these competing demands and serve as a strong advocate for low-income residents and workers in his district and citywide. Vote for Andrew Lewis for District 7!

Girmay Zahilay for King County District 2

As a child of refugees who grew up in South Seattle, Zahilay has deep roots in the community and personal experience of the challenges many District 2 residents are facing. As an attorney and the founder of a non-profit that mentors at-risk youth, he’s demonstrated his abilities and dedication. He has also taken a stronger position against youth incarceration than any of the sitting councilmembers. TRU has worked closely with Councilmember Larry Gossett over the years and we have deep respect and appreciation for his long public service. But this year, we think District 2 will be best served by electing Girmay Zahilay!

Abigail Doerr for King County District 4

We don’t need to take Abigail Doerr’s word for it that she will fight hard for public transit and environmental justice; she’s already proved it by running vital ballot measures to fund transit service and infrastructure, as well as the hard-fought carbon fee Initiative 1631 last year. Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles has been strong on transit issues, and she did a courageous thing when she flipped her position on the lodging tax last year. But we believe Abigail has the much-needed energy and initiative to make big waves on the King County Council, and we love her transit platform. Vote Abigail Doerr for King County District 4!

Takele Gobena for SeaTac Position 5

Takele Gobena is a Ethiopian-American immigrant, a former airport worker, a union representative and community organizer in SeaTac. He cofounded the SeaTac Community Coalition to fight against gentrification and displacement of immigrant-owned small businesses. Now he’s running for SeaTac City Council to give immigrants, working families and low-income residents a voice in City Hall. Vote Takele Gobena for SeaTac Position 5!

Liza Rankin for Seattle School Board Director District 1

Liza Rankin is a strong advocate for public education who is running to make Seattle Public Schools more equitable. She recognizes the transportation challenges that students, parents, and educators face every day in getting to school and work, and she is committed to making sure that everyone has transportation options that are as sustainable and reliable as possible. Vote Lisa Rankin for Seattle School Board!

Chanan Suarez for Bellingham City Council Ward 5

Chanan Suarez is a Democratic Socialist running for Bellingham City Council on a platform that includes free, accessible, expanded public transit for all! We love the idea of free transit and are proud to support this candidate who is furthering the cause in Bellingham. Suarez also has a strong housing and homelessness platform, and understands how affordable housing and transit must go hand in hand. Vote Chanan Suarez!

MASS Coalition is racking up the wins

October 1, 2019

In August, the MASS Coalition launched an ambitious set of  proposals to make it easier to take transit, bike, wall and roll around our city. We called it the MASS Transportation Package. Since then, with the support of elected officials including Councilmembers Mike O’Brien and Abel Pacheco (pictured here), we’ve been making progress!

Most of us, including transit riders, are pedestrians at some point during our day. On September 30th the Seattle City Council unanimously passed two resolutions aimed at making it easier and safer to walk and roll in Seattle. One directs the city to develop a new program for maintaining our sidewalks. The current system is broken: It’s the responsibility of property owners to make repairs, but this almost never happens. Sidewalks fall into decay, and too often people fall and get injured. We’re encouraging the city to work on a new program that is both equitable and effective. The other resolution directs the city to develop a consistent and safe policy for traffic signal timing. Right now, too many signals privilege car traffic over people walking and rolling. Everyone should have time to cross the street, including those of us who move more slowly, and people need to know what to expect when they get to a crosswalk.

This comes on top of three big wins for safe streets and people biking earlier in September:

  • A Bicycle Safety Ordinance requiring that when the city does major road work, it also makes any improvements listed in the Bicycle Master Plan at the same time – or explains to city council members and to the public why this isn’t possible.
  • A resolution requesting that unfunded projects in the Bicycle Implementation Plan be funded, including all south end projects and two-way bike lanes on 4th Ave.
  • A resolution requesting that SDOT request funding for additional off-sidewalk bike and scooter parking (bike corrals) to ensure pedestrian access on sidewalks, especially for those of us with disabilities.

Stay tuned as the MASS Coalition leaps into the city budget process and takes more steps towards realizing our MASS Transportation Package!

Global Climate Strike & ORCA for All

September 26, 2019

The Global Climate Strike on Friday, September 20th was amazing. In the morning, thousands gathered at Cal Anderson park to participate in workshops and take action for climate justice. We gathered petition signatures for ORCA for All and invited people to write and draw their vision of transit justice on a large canvass, which quickly filled up with color and energy.

The march proceeded to City Hall, merging with thousands of Amazon employees who walked out and rallied at the Spheres to demand that their employer step up and lead on climate. Their pressure is starting to work!

After the march and rally at City Hall, dozens of people, including middle school students and Seattle folk music legend Jim Page, testified in support of ORCA for All in a special meeting of the Sustainability & Transportation Committee. Members of the campaign discussed our proposals with Councilmembers Mike O’Brien and Lisa Herbold. Check out the video! The first 40 minutes are public comment, and the committee discussion starts around 1:20:00.

ORCA for All is launched!

September 17, 2019

TRU is proud to launch a new campaign called ORCA for All! You can learn more and sign up to get involved on the campaign website, orca4all.org. This fall we have five main goals:

1. Transit benefits legislation: To increase employer provision of transit benefits, especially to lower-wage workers, through Seattle legislation mandating that large employers subsidize transit.

2. Transit benefits for public contract workers: Seattle and King County should commit to figuring out how to provide transit benefits for human services workers, construction workers, and other workers employed through publicly-funded contracts.

3. Step it up, UW: Fully-subsidized transit passes for all University of Washington employees! As Seattle’s second largest employer, the UW needs to set a better example.

4. No-cost fare program: The King County Council will consider a no-cost fare program for the lowest-income riders. We want this program to be as good and successful as possible!

5. Fare enforcement reform: King County Metro has made progress decriminalizing fare enforcement. We want Sound Transit (link light rail) to step up and do the same.

Four Steps to a Transportation Revolution

July 29, 2019

Photo: Crosscut. Click to navigate to source article.

The Seattle Times recently reported that deaths and serious injuries from traffic violence are up in the first half of this year, especially collisions between moving vehicles and people walking or biking. This is unacceptable. With climate change accelerating and Seattle’s emissions rising, we need our elected leaders to take decisive action for a carbon-free transportation system with safe streets for all. The past year and a half has been filled with disappointing set-backs. It’s time to turn that around.

Last week Crosscut published a two-part article by TRU’s General Secretary Katie Wilson, calling for a transportation revolution in Seattle:

Part I: Durkan can’t make Seattle a climate leader without fixing our commute

Part II: Four things Mayor Durkan must do to spark Seattle’s transportation revolution

Here’s how you can help. The MASS coalition has just released a new package of transit, biking, walking & rolling improvements that we are asking the city to act on in the next few months. Please take a moment to send an email to Seattle elected officials:

Email Mayor & Councilmembers

TRU is working hard with our allies in the MASS Coalition and with councilmembers to turn the MASS transportation package into actionable legislation that can be passed this summer and fall. Stay tuned for further actions!

More Primary Endorsements

July 26, 2019

At our July Membership Meeting, TRU members voted to make three additional endorsements for the 2019 Primary Elections. (In June we endorsed Lisa Herbold for Seattle City Council District 1; Tammy Morales for Seattle City Council District 2; Kshama Sawant for Seattle City Council District 3; and Shaun Scott and Emily Myers for Seattle City Council District 4.) Here are our additional endorsements:

Yes on Seattle Prop 1: Levy Renewal for the Seattle Public Library

Seattle has an excellent library system and we need to keep it that way. We don’t usually love property taxes, but we do love libraries, so this one is well worth it. Vote Yes!

Dan Strauss for Seattle City Council District 6

Here at the Transit Riders Union, we will miss Councilmember Mike O’Brien. We’ll miss his leadership on public transit and sustainability. We’ll miss his compassionate and courageous approach to the homelessness crisis in the face of ugly opposition. And we’ll miss his willingness to work closely with grassroots groups and communities to get stuff done. But he’s not running for re-election, so you can’t vote for him.

There are many candidates running to represent District 6, more than in any other district, though only six of them filled out our candidate questionnaire. We decided to endorse a candidate who we think shares many of TRU’s values and also (we hope) is within striking distance of making it through the Primary: Dan Strauss, who now works as an aide to Councilmember Sally Bagshaw. Dan’s answers to our questionnaire stood out, notably his idea of indexing city fees, fines, and permits to income, like Finland does. We also like that he hasn’t been endorsed by Speak Out Seattle or the Chamber of Commerce, something we can’t say of the other front-runners in this race. If you live in District 6, we hope you’ll vote for Dan!

Girmay Zahilay for King County Council District 2

Councilmember Larry Gossett and the Transit Riders Union go way back, back to early 2012 when TRU was still just a small crew of volunteers, and he was the first county councilmember we met with to discuss our idea of a low-income reduced fare. We appreciate the many things Councilmember Gossett and his dedicated staff have done over the years to advance the cause of affordable and accessible public transit, from championing the ORCA LIFT program to pushing to improve Access Paratransit service.

And yet… TRU is endorsing Gossett’s opponent, Girmay Zahilay. The King County Council is often a sleepy body, with rarely-contested elections. That’s not healthy for democracy. In today’s rapidly-changing world, this council needs members who are there on a mission, willing to shake things up, coming with bold ideas, prepared to challenge their colleagues and fight hard for their consituents. When a candidate like Girmay Zahilay comes along, it’s really hard to say no.

As a child of refugees who grew up in South Seattle, Zahilay has deep roots in the community and personal experience of the challenges many District 2 residents are facing. As an attorney and the founder of a non-profit that mentors at-risk youth, he has demonstrated his abilities and dedication. He has also taken a stronger position against youth incarceration than any of the sitting councilmembers, including Gossett. We think King County District 2 will be best served by electing Girmay Zahilay.

Exciting Court Ruling on Seattle’s Tax on the Wealthy

July 17, 2019

Two years ago, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a tax on high-income households championed by the Trump-Proof Seattle Coalition, which TRU co-convened with the Economic Opportunity Institute. We knew this tax would be challenged, and that was the point: We wanted to give the Washington State Supreme Court a chance to overturn flawed 1930s rulings that have stymied efforts to fix our state’s upside-down, regressive tax system for generations. Venture capitalists and other members of Seattle’s wealthy class immediately sued the city, and since then the tax has been winding its way through the court system.

On Monday, the Court of Appeals handed down its ruling. While as expected it didn’t uphold the tax— only the higher court can overturn its own previous decisions— the ruling was extremely favorable for us. It affirmed Seattle’s authority to tax income, and opened the door for the State Supreme Court to address precisely the question we want them to address: Whether income is a form of property (we say not!) and thus, according to our state’s constitution, only taxable “uniformly,” not in a graduated or progressive way.

If the State Supreme Court upholds Seattle’s tax, our City will have a robust, progressive, revenue source, revolutionizing our ability to provide essential public services and guarantee a dignified standard of living for every Seattle resident. Even if the higher court strikes down Seattle’s specific tax, its ruling could still open huge new possibilities for state and local tax reform. This decision from the Court of Appeals is extremely encouraging, and while we are trying not to get our hopes up too much, we are thrilled and our opponents are “dumbstruck”!

Next stop: On to the State Supreme Court!