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Navigating the Transit Rollercoaster

Posted by seattle

Photo from the Camper Blog.

Dozens of bus routes poised for a dramatic drop. A startling 180 degree flip from preserving to expanding service. And then … a final surge of yes votes in November.  No doubt, 2014 was a transit rollercoaster.

The one constant? Dedicated organizations like Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC) and their partners – fighting side by side to ensure reliable transit for all.

SVP is honored to have supported their work through our Environment Collective Action Team (EnviroCAT) and the Sustainable Communities Funders Collaborative, of which SVP is the co-chair.

It all started last spring when the Sustainable Communities Funders Collaborative was exploring the idea of financing the production of an “equity atlas.” This data rich tool informs transit and community development so it’s easier for people to get from affordable housing to jobs, schools, health care, and other essential services.

Through conversations with TCC, however, we quickly learned that there was a more pressing need at hand.  Bus routes that provide critical services to low-income and minority communities were at risk, and while a comprehensive equity atlas could help make the case to save those routes, it would likely arrive too late and in a form that was not easily digestible by policy-makers.

Instead, TCC suggested a targeted mapping project in collaboration with OneAmerica and Puget Sound Sage.  They worked closely with members of the EnviroCAT and the Sustainable Communities Funders Collaborative to come up with a proposal that led to a combined investment of $143,000.

The resulting maps were put to use immediately. Compelling posters were produced, overlaying transit data with real stories about people’s lives and their access to education (below), affordable transit, health care, and senior centers.


The maps and posters were vital tools as TCC, OneAmerica, and Puget Sound Sage worked with policy-makers to prevent bus cuts and preserve service for transit-dependent communities.  The posters also helped these three organizations – with distinct, but complementary missions – align their efforts and speak with one, amplified voice for equity and our environment.

Transit Wins

By the end of 2014, TCC and their partners reported multiple wins. Shefali Ranganathan, TCC’s Director of Programs, shared just a few of them.

Expanded Bus Service

TCC, Puget Sound Sage, and OneAmerica were successful in passing a $300M measure in November 2014 that restored cut bus service and added new bus service in Seattle — giving the city it’s most robust system yet.  This is terrific news for transit-dependent communities and for our environment.  Fewer cars on the road means cleaner air and water, and fewer greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

Low-Income Fare for 25% of King County Residents

TCC helped create a low-income fare of $1.50 (the first of its kind in King County) with their partners at the Transit Riders Union, Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness, Puget Sound Sage, OneAmerica and others. This fare will benefit nearly 25% of King County residents.

Equity Embedded in Transit Planning

Metro has committed to working with TCC, Puget Sound Sage, and OneAmerica to better embed equity into their planning and decision-making. Based on the trio’s work with the Center for Social Inclusion (CSI), Metro is now seeking to collaborate with CSI to develop a regional framework for transit equity, working with the Puget Sound Regional Council, Sound Transit and others to advance health and equity outcomes in transit planning.

Beyond the Maps

What started as a practical partnership around shared maps and storytelling has sparked a longer-term partnership among TCC, Puget Sound Sage, and OneAmerica.  Together, they are working towards these three objectives.

  • Build on their work with Metro to create a model program for equitable transit planning and an accountability framework to ensure implementation.
  • Engage with Sound Transit on their Long Range Plan effort to integrate environment and equity into decision-making to shape the next set of rail and bus investments in the region.
  • Influence the Puget Sound Regional Council’s work around the creation of performance measures and project prioritization to embed health, equity and greenhouse gas reduction outcomes into decision-making around federal transportation dollars.

The Sustainable Communities Funders Collaborative recently provide a second grant of $67,000 in support of this work.

SVP Take-Aways

This project has been a terrific learning experience for SVP, resulting in some key take-aways.

#1 Listening to those closest to the work will almost always yield better results.

After consulting with on-the-ground nonprofit partners, TCC realized that an equity atlas, while valuable, would not meet the immediate needs of our community.  Data alone would not save bus routes – the data had to be expressed in human terms.  Fortunately for all of us, TCC was willing to speak candidly and work with funders to come up with the resulting hybrid project.

SVP Board Chair, Todd Vogel wrote about this in his blog post, Double Speak. “OneAmerica, Puget Sound Sage and TCC could have relied on the separate narratives of environment and equity … instead they framed the question at the very place where the environment and access to opportunity and services intersect. And they put the question in terms of everyday life.”

#2 In collective action, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

By working together, TCC, OneAmerica and Puget Sound Sage were not only able to represent both people and the environment.  They were able to draw and build upon each other’s strengths for a more effective campaign.

TCC has great expertise in working with high-level policy and transit officials in the state, and OneAmerica and Puget Sound Sage have deep relationships with citizens in their communities, bringing forward unlikely advocates and voices.  By working together, they are able to bridge the community and the technical policy world in a way that advances everyone’s mission.

Seeing the power in this, SVP’s EnviroCAT will continue looking for ways to fund and support, not just individual organizations, but groups of nonprofits engaged in collective action.  We believe that this combination of investments are critical if we are to achieve our long-term vision of an excellent education and healthy environment for all.

#3 Funders, not just nonprofits, need to align their efforts.

This collaborative project was not just the result of nonprofits working together.  It was also an example of how funders can (and should) pool their resources and know-how for greater, targeted impact.  Through participation in the Sustainable Communities Funders Collaborative, Loom, The Seattle Foundation, Bullitt Foundation, Boeing and SVP continue to strive for common goals.

One Comment:

  1. Pingback: Navigating Seattle's Transit System - Giving Compass

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