King County Metro welcomes transit leaders from across North America to the annual convention of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).  The following op-ed appears in the October 7, 2022 edition of APTA’s Passenger Transport magazine.

King County Metro and our partners across the Puget Sound region are excited to welcome everyone to APTA’s 2022 TRANSform Conference, Oct. 9-12, in Seattle. As general manager, I’m excited to preview a few highlights of our system and share my own experience with the transformative power of transit.

While you’re here, you’ll tour our integrated transit network that spans buses, light rail, a monorail, on-demand services, paratransit vehicles, streetcars, vanpools and water taxis. Each is a great way to explore our diverse neighborhoods, scenic mountain and water views, and hubs of culture, education and technology.

Metro General Manager Terry White

Because we know mobility is a human right, Metro does not allow the ability to pay to be a barrier to movement. In 2015, we enlisted community partners—such as food banks, health clinics and social service providers—to enroll residents with lower-incomes into our new income-based, reduced fare program called ORCA LIFT. In 2020, we went even further by launching a fully-subsidized fare for residents with the lowest incomes. To allow better integration with other services, we didn’t create a new eligibility hurdle but instead allowed people already enrolled in other government programs to qualify automatically. And as of Sept. 1, the Free Youth Transit Pass is now available to all young people, regardless of income. This step not only connects youth to family, friends, jobs, museums and parks, it introduces them to the convenient, reliable and stress-free nature of transit.

Our young people’s future also relies on the environment, and public transportation will continue to play a significant role. In 2019, our region’s transit network took the equivalent of 190,000 cars off the road each weekday. Now, due to the urgency of the climate crisis and our desire for cleaner, healthier air locally, we decided to do even more. We committed that 100% of Metro’s bus fleet—which currently numbers roughly 1,400—will be zero-emission by 2035 or sooner.

The steps ahead are daunting, such as partnering with industry to develop new technologies, adding charging infrastructure to bus bases without disrupting service, and training engineers, maintenance staff and operators. However, we know the stakes for our health are even greater—and we hope Metro’s leadership helps make the way smoother for our fellow transit agencies and other industries.

This year, we welcomed the first of our next-generation battery-electric buses into service. I’m happy to report that the new buses are as modern, powerful and sleek for riders and operators as they are good for the environment. We intentionally deployed them to south King County, where lower incomes, a higher percentage of residents who are BIPOC and higher air pollution predictably overlap.

At its core, Metro is driven by our community. We know how much they’re counting on us. Many of us have lived it, too. My brother, sister and I grew up poor and were raised by my mother, whose disability prevented her from driving. Transit wasn’t just my mom’s lifeline; transit was our entire family’s connection to opportunities that ultimately made my education and career possible.

Of all that Metro has achieved for our riders, I am most proud of a landmark moment last fall when centering equity and sustainability was officially written into our agency’s strategic plan, service guidelines and other planning documents. That momentous step is thanks to the work of countless advocates, community members and employees. It ensures that Metro will continuously co-create our transit future alongside community members and prioritize service where needs are greatest.

Metro not only serves the nation’s only county named after the most famous civil rights leader, but we are also just a few months from celebrating our agency’s 50th birthday. In October, I can’t wait to connect with each of you as we work together to tap the power of transit to help build Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “beloved community.”