Tula H, Junior
One Regional Card for All: ORCA. Though you probably say the acronym often, have you ever stopped to consider its meaning? If you live in Seattle, chances are you know what an ORCA card is—the local payment pass comes in handy when taking buses, trains, ferries, and other forms of public transportation. The efficiency of these cards attracts most commuters, who would rather tap a card than pay their bus driver in cash twice a day. The ORCA card’s prevalence is tied entirely to its accessibility—anyone with internet access can order and load money onto their card. High school students enrolled in Seattle Public Schools (SPS) are also given a free youth ORCA card to be used as long as their enrollment lasts. While these tax-funded passes are a great asset to many families’ lives, a large demographic of teens—those not enrolled in public school—are left out of the benefit.
While the argument for SPS high school students receiving free ORCA cards is entirely justified, the exclusion of all other Seattle students makes no sense. After a unanimous city council vote that secured free cards this past July, Mayor Durkan released a statement in which she assured the public that giving SPS high school students free ORCA cards “will help young people get to school and their jobs safely while reducing families’ expenses,” adding, “We have a responsibility to make transit safer, more reliable, and more accessible for all.” With respect to Mayor Durkan, this seems to be a sweeping generalization about the income of families attending public and private school. Transportation payment is more than financially possible for many SPS families currently using this ORCA card benefit. On the flip side, many private school families could benefit from funded ORCA passes. The current situation restricts privilege of transport to one group of teens that does not necessarily need or deserve it more—this limiting policy is unfair and should be changed.
While assumptions can be made about a public school student’s financial status versus that of a private school student’s, the reality is that there is a large spectrum of income across all educational institutions. Supposed wealth or lack thereof should not be the deciding power for teens getting free ORCA cards—it should be the fact that these teens are students. Regardless of the school itself, every student needs to get to school every day. If one section of students is given this privilege that every Seattleite is taxed for, why not let all students have that privilege? If all Seattle high school students were given free ORCA cards, there would be a definite rise in public transportation usage. We are constantly reminded to be eco-conscious, without being given any resources to do so—the city providing free passes to all students would take more cars off the road, reduce rush hour traffic, and reduce fossil fuel emissions. Most importantly, all students would be given the chance to create healthy commuting habits during the school year and beyond. Access to transit options is incredibly important as Seattle expands and infrastructure improves—a free ORCA card for every high school student not only gives teens independence, it is a real step towards ORCA’s mission statement: One Regional Card for All.