King County Metro believes mobility is a human right, especially for communities that depend on Metro as their primary means of transportation. Over the last two years, we have been reaching out to young people in Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities to see what steps we need to take to ensure they feel safe and empowered when they ride with us.

In 2020, Metro began a collaboration with Youth for Equitable Streets (Y.E.S.) on a unique and empowering youth-led research project about how Black, Indigenous, and other youth of color in South King County use and perceive transit. Youth for Equitable Streets is a coalition of young people organizing youth to advocate for mobility justice issues impacting Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities.

Youth for Equitable Streets recruited a diverse pool of high school students from across King County to share their personal experiences with transit access, fare enforcement, and safety, and how their unique identities impact their experiences navigating public transportation.

The events of the last year have been a reminder of how much work needs to be done in our country to ensure that Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities receive equitable treatment in all areas, including public transportation. The young people who participated in the project were open and honest in the steps that need to occur to make equity a reality.

Young people expressed concerns about fare affordability, particularly for low-income students. They have generally negative feelings about fare enforcement, and gender and race are major factors informing their feelings of safety on public transit. They also called upon Metro to do more youth engagement, including allowing young voices to inform policies and decision-making.

The six people you will see in the video: Youth Perspectives on Transit (Breanna, Heena, Leah, Nadine, Narciso, and Tre’Nesia), discuss safety—not just the steps they needed to take to protect themselves from COVID-19—but also to feel safe from harassment from their fellow passengers, and at times, from Metro staff.

Metro is committed to responding to their concerns by taking both immediate and long-term actions to promote youth access and youth safety on public transit service. Our immediate steps include:

  • Expanding the Summer Youth ORCA Pass program to fully cover income-eligible high school students in 5 school districts with Summer ORCA Passes (15,000 students). Metro is working with regional partners to continue to identify ways to increase fare affordability and mobility for low-income students.
  • Eliminating the ORCA Youth card fee, in partnership with the other ORCA agencies. Students and parents can now order a free ORCA Youth card online to load with their own money.
  • Working with the Skyway community on a pilot project funded by the King County Council to subsidize fares for about 1,700 youth in the Skyway/Renton area with an annual ORCA Pass. The results of this project will inform future efforts to increase year-round youth fare affordability in King County and beyond.
  • Pursuing and utilizing grant funding to support increased youth programming and school partnerships for the 2021-2022 school year.

Metro is also looking ahead, reimagining safety, security, and fare enforcement for all riders. We are reaching out to members of the community and working with them to envision what a safe and welcoming Metro looks like for Black, Indigenous and People of Color community members and co-creating a system that serves and treats everyone fairly and with dignity.

We want to thank all of the young people who participated in this research project, and to Breanna, Heena, Leah, Nadine, Narciso, and Tre’Nesia for their willingness to speak truth to power.

Special thank you both to MXT Visuals, who produced the photographs and video, and to the Black, Indigenous and other young leaders of color with Y.E.S., who crafted and executed the vision for this project.

This is a start. We look forward to continuing to work with young people throughout King County on a more just, equitable, and inclusive future.