Insights from our Trip to King County, Washington

Author: Leigh Lynes

Becca With Metro Team

Becca and LEO faculty affiliate Matt Freedman visit with King County Metro team members Mark Konecny, Jabari Hampton, and Maria Jimenez-Zepeda.

Last week, LEO Research Associate Becca Brough made her way to Seattle, Washington to visit with LEO’s community partners at King County Metro, Seattle’s primary public transportation agency. As the lead Research Associate on the ORCA LIFT Project--an evaluation designed to test the impact of subsidized transportation passes on the increased mobility, transit usage, savings, and employment status of low-income riders--Becca connected with providers to facilitate the expansion of the program from the original three locations to seven new sites. During her visit, she led training sessions for Department of Health and Human Services (DSHS) employees, organized practice enrollment sessions, and continued to build both new and existing relationships with agency providers. Her care, transparency, and accessibility will ensure the ORCA LIFT study is implemented correctly and its integrity maintained to better serve those in need of Metro’s services.

Through Becca’s experience working with King County Metro, LEO gained important insights related to our partner relationships:

By working closely with our innovative partner organizations, our work serves not only to help move people out of poverty, but also to inspire those who invest themselves tirelessly in the field. 

Sylvia Khammixay, the Financial Supervisor at the White Center DSHS Office, voiced her enthusiasm for the ORCA LIFT evaluation and described LEO’s research as vital for the field of social work. After spending so much of her time referring individuals in need to different services, Sylvia expressed her excitement about learning what programs actively make a difference in the lives of those they touch. While LEO’s research is undoubtedly important for economists, philanthropists, organization administers, and those who receive services, it also has the power to inspire the courageous individuals who stand firmly against poverty with their boots on the ground.

 Becca And Staff

Becca with Celia Mendez, who issues ORCA LIFT cards at the White Center DSHS Office. Celia says it's exciting to see how happy people are when they receive free transportation through the program.

We are always learning from our partners.

When combating poverty, not everything can be explained through logic or economic theory. In the case of the original ORCA LIFT study, LEO researchers were surprised to find that many of the individuals who received discounted transportation cards did not choose to reload them, though doing so would be financially advantageous. While puzzling to economists, this was not surprising to King County providers--reloading cards requires advanced planning, a luxury many discounted card holders are unable to afford. As we continue to find through our research, so much of what we know about poverty is attributed to the unique experiences and expertise of our social service partners. Their vision, creativity, and relentless pursuit of improvement help to design programs and evaluations that more effectively move people out of poverty.

Our research agendas are stronger when informed by partner insights. 

Listening to providers as they describe their research interests and program aspirations helps to inform LEO’s research agenda in a way that deepens and enriches the potential impact of our work. In the case of King County Metro, providers are always thinking of ways to improve their services and launch new interventions. What would happen if Metro focused an intervention on low-income individuals with medical needs? What other populations can be dignified through access to transportation? The ingenuity and passion of our partners brings a beautiful and human dimension to LEO’s research and mission, one that furthers our capacity and ability to strengthen our collective impact in all of its forms.

Besides her work with the ORCA LIFT Project, Becca also visited with various county court systems around Seattle. LEO is preparing for the expansion of a second intervention with King County Metro, one that examines the effects of transit card subsidies on the outcomes of the recently incarcerated, specifically on failure to appear rates and future interactions with the criminal justice system. Along with the ORCA LIFT Project, this intervention will help us to better understand how we can effectively address the structural barriers to transportation that work to keep many low-income Americans in poverty. 

With the sustained commitment of Becca, the LEO research team, and our partners at King County Metro, we will continue to seek answers to the question "How do we move people so they can move forward?"