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'Groundbreaking day' as King County Council approves future transit plans

King County Metro's Strategic Plan for Public Transportation prioritizes equity, sustainability and safety.

KING COUNTY, Wash. — King County Council members approved three major policy documents Tuesday that will impact the next 10 years of transit across the region. 

The King County Metro Strategic Plan, King County Metro Service Guidelines, and Metro Connects Long-Range Plan focus on equity, sustainability, safety and innovation.

"Today is a groundbreaking day for our region and our customers where we're going to center our policies around our values," said King County Metro Mobility Division Director Chris O'Claire. "We're going to bring forth the importance of equity, sustainability and safety. And we're going to ensure those who need us most are going to be centered in our investments."

King County Metro worked with an Equity Cabinet to help ensure community input and the use of an equity framework in the plan. Measures center around priority populations, including BIPOC riders, immigrants, people who don't speak English as a first language, people with disabilities and people who take in little or no income.

"It's really important to think about those people who don't have access period or don't have access knowing that there's quite a bit of displacement happening," said Equity Cabinet member Sarneshea Evans. "Both in Seattle and people moving to South King County or further North just dependent on the opportunities available ... it's about making sure no matter where you're living or going you have access."

O'Claire said these values have driven King County Metro's work for years, but the council's approval of the strategic plan formalizes them as policy.

"When we talk about equity, we talk about serving our populations that are underserved," O'Claire said. "Where the inequities have been seen especially during this pandemic. Where we know that there are people that really rely on public transportation, where they rely on a frequent network to get them where they need to go ... to their doctor's offices, to their jobs, and to connect with their families."

Along with equity, the plan also outlines goals and measures for safety - both COVID related and overall security - and sustainability.

"We've known that these values- equity, sustainability and safety- are in the forefront of where we need to move forward," O'Claire said. "I'm really grateful today that our policymakers and our decision-makers have really listened to the community members that led this effort and really centered around where we need to go."

The plan lays a groundwork through 2031 with a vision through 2050. One question is how changes and additions to service and connection will be funded. Metro leaders hope elected officials will find alternative sources; right now, sales tax makes up a large part of the budget, but it's an unpredictable source.

Meanwhile, Evans said she's glad to see equity prioritized in the plan- and hopes this stays the framework moving forward.

"Equity has to be the priority- not only the way King County Metro is thinking about it, but also the way it is in policy," Evans said. "Because it's one thing to say it and vocalize its a priority, it's another to have it written down and be a driver in how things happen."

As for which geographic areas will be impacted, O'Claire says Metro is looking at the entire county.

"Priority populations are dispersed all across King County, and what we need is a regional transportation network that connects everyone to the system," O'Claire said. "If we look at the disproportionate impact has been, where underserved communities are, there's a larger percentage of populations in South King County. But that doesn't mean there isn't a need for connections all throughout the system. I think that's really critical."