A coalition of labor, community, and environmental organizations held an Earth Day press conference outside the UW Light Rail station to blast a proposal by the University to increase the out-of-pocket costs for some employees to purchase a transit pass. The group called on the UW regents to vote down the proposal, and instead provide a fully-subsidized transit pass to all employees like other large Seattle employers.
Over the past year, this coalition has successfully pressured the UW to provide fully-subsidized transit passes for around half the UW’s workforce starting July 1, 2019. UW is proposing to raise out-of-pocket transit costs for thousands of employees (professional staff and faculty) who are not covered by this agreement.
“It’s time for UW to get in line with Seattle’s other big employers and provide all employees with a fully-subsidized transit pass,” said Elizabeth Bauerle, a research scientist at UW Medical Center and a member of the University Transportation Committee. “Incentivizing public transit will reduce carbon emissions, make streets safer, ease gridlock, and free up parking for U-District neighbors — all matters of increasing urgency as the UW begins a massive expansion that will add thousands of commute trips every day. It’s unfortunate that UW is choosing to divide employees over the issue of transit passes.”
The Seattle UW campus expected to grow by 13,000 people in ten years. With an estimated 36% of employees driving to campus alone, this could mean thousands of additional cars on the Seattle roads. Providing transit passes has been proven to change commute behavior.
“As a physician, I’m worried about the effects of vehicle emissions on the health of those in the U-District,” said Dr. Adam Greenbaum, MD/PhD and Board Member of the UW Housestaff Association. “Studies estimate that 60,000 people die every year in the US due to the toxic effects of vehicle emissions. To put this in perspective, this is nearly twice the number of people killed in motor vehicle accidents each year.”
“Faculty wages at the University of Washington lag behind peer institutions,” added Rush Daniel, UW Lecturer. “In one of the most expensive cities in the county, a free U-Pass for faculty is necessary to maintain a decent standard of living.”
After the press conference, the coalition delivered a letter signed by 35 organizations to the UW Board of Regents, President Ana Mari Cauce, and UW Medicine CEO Paul Ramsey.
“We need our community institutions to be community leaders. Unless UW steps up and provides effective transit incentives, future growth will mean more congestion, more air pollution, and more climate emissions,” said Jesse Piedfort, Director of the Washington State Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Providing transit benefits to all employees is a proven strategy that will be a win-win for UW, its employees, and our community.”
Several city council candidates from District 4 joined in calling on UW to make transit passes free to employees, including UW researcher Emily Myers, Shaun Scott, and Cathy Tuttle.
“Affordable and reliable transit is essential for a green, clean, and economically vibrant Seattle,” said Cathy Tuttle, founding director of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, and a District 4 candidate. “The University of Washington leads the nation in so many fields. Let’s make sure the UW continues to be a leader in providing free transit to its employees.”
District 4 Candidate Emily Myers added: “Our public institutions must be leaders in addressing climate change, especially institutions like the UW who receives millions of dollars in public funding for climate research. With both carbon emissions and cost of living on the rise in Seattle, we are organizing and taking action for climate and worker justice. It’s time for the UW to act according to their stated values to “stand with the world to fight climate change and protect our future,” and the fight starts at home with access to public transportation and fully subsidized transit passes for all workers.”
District 4 Candidate Shaun Scott added: “The University of Washington should live up to its status as a major research institution by taking climate change seriously. A school as resourced as my alma mater should not be balancing society’s climate budget on the backs of working people by making campus employees pay for transit passes. By building a coalition between working people, organized labor and environments activists, we can have a Seattle Green New Deal that turns its back in the climate injustices of the past, builds a city of the future—for future generations, and our own.”
UW regents meet next on May 8 where they’ll have the opportunity to decide on the proposal to increase transit passes for some employees.