This July, King County Metro hosted its second annual Youth Transit Equity Internship. The program provides a unique group learning and skill-building opportunity for young people interested in public transit and community leadership. Throughout the program, the Transit Equity Interns become peer ambassadors of transportation resources, explore career pathways within Metro, and build skills and knowledge of transit, urban planning, climate justice, and local government!
This year, Metro designed the three-week program of workshops, hands-on projects, and field trips for youth ages 15-18 with connections in Renton, Skyway, Tukwila, and neighboring communities. For the second year in a row, a large number young people demonstrated interest in learning about local government and transit and participating in paid internship opportunities.
This year’s group was made up of 15 enthusiastic young leaders with a variety interests, backgrounds, and future goals. Many of the students were from immigrant or multilingual households and cited desires to make transit more accessible to non-English speaking communities. Some interns rely on transit to access school and work every day, while other came from households and communities with less access to public transit resources. Several interns brought in sustainability frameworks from environmental science classes at school, and a few already had interest in becoming engineers or planners. All of this year’s interns brought a strong desire to share resources with their peers and help create a more equitable future.
Youth interns learn through workshops, field trips, and conversations with decision-makers
The internship brought in a variety of guest presenters to provide a wide breadth of workshops on topics ranging from designing innovative services like Metro Flex to affordable housing policy to symbols in art to climate impacts on frontline communities. The program introduced our teen leaders to a wide variety of careers within Metro including bus operators, mechanics, engineers, planners, and project managers as well decision makers at the top of our organization. The youth discovered different pathways and asked questions about the different jobs and skills it takes to plan and operate a public transit system.
Through activities and workshops the interns learned about practices like redlining and how present-day advocates push for resources to be more equitably distributed across communities. The youth discussed the complex impacts of transit infrastructure projects and roleplayed as decision makers and advocates. They were given tools to simulate the tradeoffs that transportation planners make when deciding types of service, service frequency, and where service runs, within the constraints of labor and other costs. They also learned more about transit’s impact on the climate and air quality, and King County Metro’s fleet electrification goals.
Through conversations with leaders like Metro General Manager Michelle Allison and King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, the youth learned about how community needs play a role in decision making and got to ask tough questions about the challenges their communities and peers are facing. The teen leaders were provided insights into King County’s history, priorities, and legislative processes, so that they could carry that information forward to their communities.
Highlights of workshops and field trips for this year’s program included:
- A visit to Metro’s South Transit Base to learn about machining and component supply, bus shelter maintenance, and Metro’s plans for fully electrifying our bus fleet by 2035.
- A sail on the King County Water Taxi where they learned about Maritime careers and terminology and tried their hand at tying knots
- A walking tour of the International District where they learned about the culture and history of the neighborhood, community organizing, the impacts of large transportation projects on the neighborhood
- An exciting behind the scenes tour of Central OMF Link Light Rail base
- A ride through the bus wash at our Central/Atlantic Base and learn about how the Vehicle Maintenance Division keeps our fleets running
- Conversations with leaders and experts in urban planning, transit planning, accessibility, climate justice, air quality monitoring, community engagement, and related fields.
Youth demonstrate passion for equity and accessibility through creative outreach projects
This year’s cohort of youth interns collaborated on a bus shelter mural, which will be installed in Renton, and delivered outstanding small group projects incorporating both social media and community-based outreach. The interns built their skills in time management and teamwork, collectively designing innovative activities and educational engagement tools to connect 100+ diverse people to transportation resources.
Intern Team A (Ada, Elyssa, Graham, Ke’abe, and Stephanie) focused on connecting elders to transportation resources and held an outdoor picnic with a group of elders from the Khmer Community of Seattle King County. The interns designed a competitive and informative game of transportation bingo, where they were able to teach about different services, including Regional Reduced Fare Permit (RRFP) cards, and were able to provide prizes and ORCA cards. This unique intergenerational and multi-lingual opportunity provided youth the experience of presenting with a live interpreter and facilitating a teaching activity. They were able to engage with and learn about the culture of the Khmer Community and understand about their unique barriers to using public transit.
Intern Team B (Aniyah, Briseyda, Elizabeth, Joe, and Wen Yin) built a colorful booth for the Renton Farmers Market where they were able to share details about Metro’s newer services like Metro Flex and gave app walkthroughs to those unfamiliar with the service. The youth were able to share from their own experiences as customers how to use Flex. The team also used their multilingual skills to provide in-language outreach to some community members. With the aid of interactive games designed by the group, they handed out swag and brought in many new riders, including seniors and youth, to Metro Flex and built awareness around reduced fares and other public transit resources.
Intern Team C (Alyssa, Ethan, Farhiya, Harleen, and Tram-Anh) hosted a youth and families focused event at the Renton Library with the goal of getting youth to register for a free Youth ORCA card and tap it. They also designed an interactive survey to engage with youth and parents about how comfortable or safe they felt using different parts of public transit. To attract people to their table they used a spin wheel with trivia questions to teach about the different types of public transit services available and successfully distributed over 30 ORCA cards to youth!
This year’s interns successfully:
- Created and uploaded 9 social media posts on their @youth4metro Instagram page, accumulating 1.7k video views
- Planned and painted their own representative symbols on a bus shelter mural with guest teaching artist roldy aguero ablao
Finally, the interns presented to Metro staff, so staff could learn from the interns their findings about barriers and feedback that their communities have when it comes to public transportation and their thoughts on the overall program. The interns brought their incredible skills and leadership to make this program fun and valuable for everyone involved. Their excitement to learn and creativity made a long-lasting impact within Metro when thinking about how to engage youth and our community for future programs to come.
Metro plans to continue youth leadership programming in 2024
The Transit Equity Internship provides a special opportunity for Metro staff to learn directly from young leaders, experiencing the system through their lens, while also empowering young people with a broad range of knowledge and skills to pursue future careers at Metro or to be active, engaged members of the community. After the program, most of the youth expressed interest in working at Metro in the future and pursuing other opportunities to engage with local government. The community and bonds that youth formed among themselves will also give them a professional and personal network as they find roles in community decision-making spaces and look to their future careers.
2023 was the second summer of the Youth Transit Equity Program. The program provides unique benefits to Metro, the youth themselves, and the broader communities the youth represent. Metro plans to continue to host summer internship programming in 2024 and explores ways on expanding our youth and educational programming through schools and organizations. To stay up to date with youth programming and other transportation resources for youth, schools, and organizations, you can subscribe to the Youth Mobility Program newsletter.
Thank you to our collaborators
Thank you to all of the organizations and individuals who make this program possible including Renton High School custodial staff, our incredible administrative staff within Metro, Jamie Stroble from Noio Pathways, artist , King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, partners at Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, climate educator Michelle Abunaja, Robert Brown from Maritime Blue, Metro’s SaFE Ambassadors, members from the Seattle Planning Commission, partners at the Renton Farmers Market, Renton Library, the Khmer Community of Seattle King County, and many other contributors. Thank you!