Uplift Seattle's Equitable Access to Transit (U-SEAT) Research Project

What is U-SEAT?

The U-SEAT research project is a collaboration between the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), Uplift Northwest, and the University of Notre Dame’s Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO) studying the impact of fully subsidized transit on the employment outcomes of low-income workers.  

Our Partners

Uplift Northwest, formerly the Millionair Club, is a Seattle-based nonprofit that provides jobs training, work opportunities, and other support services to people experiencing poverty and homelessness. Each year, their temporary staff agency connects hundreds of their clients with various jobs in and around Seattle.

The Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO) is a research branch of the University of Notre Dame. LEO focuses on working with local governments and nonprofit organizations around the country to implement robust evaluations of poverty interventions.


The Transportation Access Programs (TAP) team has long recognized a need for better transit access among low-income workers. Being able to get to-and-from job opportunities, in addition to other areas of daily life, remains a struggle for many Seattleites. We’ve heard from participants in other TAP programs that the ability to travel can determine whether someone is able to make a job shift or pursue a new opportunity, and the financial benefits of fully subsidized transit alleviates mental burden and frees up funds to be spent on other essentials. 

With this feedback from other program participants in mind, TAP conceptualized U-SEAT after LEO invited SDOT to join other local government agencies and non-profit organizations and participate in their Seattle impact evaluations cohort. Tapping into existing connections with Uplift Northwest, TAP worked with both organizations through 2022 to further develop U-SEAT. 

While SDOT already reaches out to low-income workers in other TAP programs, U-SEAT offers a unique opportunity to conduct a randomized controlled trial to truly assess the impact of free transit on this population. Results from this study will help SDOT understand where and how to invest TAP funding in the future.  

How Will the Study be Run?

SDOT, Uplift Northwest, and LEO will answer the following research question:

Is there an impact of receiving a fully subsidized transit card on:

Employment decisions (shifts worked, hours worked, income levels) 
Well-being (benefits utilization, housing, transit usage vs. single occupancy vehicle use, quality of life)

This question will be answered by conducting a randomized controlled trial with clients of Uplift Northwest seeking temporary job placement. Consenting clients will be sorted into either a control group and receive an ORCA card preloaded with $10, or to a treatment group and receive a fully subsidized ORCA card lasting one year. LEO will track all research participants’ ridership behavior and employment history through agreements with King County Metro and Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) for up to one year. TAP may run optional focus groups and surveys with the research participants as well. 

This study is anticipated to run for 3 years, with research participant enrollment taking place the first 2 years of the study. 

Research Participants

All research participants will be Uplift Northwest clients who do not already possess a fully subsidized transit card and who consent to the study. Data analysis will be handled primarily by LEO and full transparency of data tracking and privacy will be discussed with and provided to all participants. Participants may pull out of the study at any time.  

Declining to enroll in the study will not exclude Uplift Northwest clients from receiving any services normally provided by Uplift Northwest.

Can I Get Involved as a Volunteer Research Assistant?

TAP is currently recruiting volunteer research assistants to help implement this study. Research assistants will enroll prospective research participants on-site at Uplift Northwest. We offer flexible shifts on Thursdays and Fridays from 9am – 2pm, and ask that research assistants be able to commit a minimum of 2 hours weekly for at least a period of 2 months. If you would like to volunteer, please fill out our interest form.

What Happens After the Research Concludes?

The outcomes of this research will be released when the project concludes in 3 years and a summary of any findings will be posted onto this webpage. TAP hopes that study results, if conclusive, will help guide where SDOT dollars should be invested in the future. 


Greg Spotts, Director
Address: 700 5th Ave, Suite 3800, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 34996, Seattle, WA, 98124-4996
Phone: (206) 684-7623

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The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is on a mission to deliver a transportation system that provides safe and affordable access to places and opportunities for everyone as we work to achieve our vision of Seattle as a thriving, equitable community powered by dependable transportation.