A transit pass pilot program for people living in affordable housing units is in its second year, and Capitol Hill Housing is hopeful the data is strong enough for the city to make it a permanent investment.

“We don’t exactly have another year of funding, but we have this interim funding until some longer term decisions are made,” said CHH senior planner Alex Brennan. “We’ve been trying to share as much information with as many affordable housing providers as we can.”

CHH was provided funding by King County Metro in 2014 to conduct a transportation survey across 231 market-rate and 78 affordable housing renters in the Pike/Pine corridor as it examined a shared-parking system.

Sixty-eight percent of market-rate renters said they benefitted from all or part of their transit costs being subsidized by an employer or their school, while only 21 percent of the affordable housing residents surveyed had such assistance.

The ORCA Multi-Family Development Passport was introduced around this time, allowing property managers to offer transit passes to residents for a reduced monthly fee.

Because affordable housing is at a fixed rate, property owners can’t raise the rent to cover the passes, so CHH proposed addressing this imbalance to SDOT and Metro in December 2015.

The Affordable Housing Transit Pass Pilot rolled out in April 2016, and SDOT covered the cost to property managers in three test sites owned by CHH in the first year. Residents paid 50 percent of the discounted cost.

“Our use was a lot higher than the first-year formula would predict, but that’s why the rates went up the second year,” Brennan said. “I think it was like 80 percent more trips than were predicted.”

Funding was put in place for a year, but SDOT extended coverage while the pilot was being evaluated by CHH, which has since submitted its report.

CHH’s Holiday, Villa and Boylston-Howell apartments are still being used for the pilot, and 54 percent of the 122 eligible households took advantage of the Affordable Housing Transit Pass Pilot the first year.

Participants took an average 43 transit trips per month, and 74 percent used transit as their main mode of transportation to work or school. This represented a 21 percent increase from before the pilot started.

“The big change was in people either taking trips they wouldn’t have taken otherwise or taking transit for long trips rather than walking,” Brennan said.

Some participants even ditched their vehicles, but Brennan said a number of people didn’t want to make such a large decision until it’s clear whether the program will continue.

With only 54 percent of eligible participants using the program in the first year, the cost for the resident and SDOT was higher, at $34 a month. The transportation department’s first year subsidizing the program was still lower than anticipated, totaling $32,356, or about $6,000 less than allocated for the pilot.

Due to the higher than expected usage in the first year, residents are paying $20 per month, rather than the staggered rate based on which census tract they live in.

Brennan said the hope is that transit agencies will create a separate pricing structure for affordable housing providers under the Multi-Family Development Passport.

While the Affordable Housing Transit Pass Pilot Program appears to be successful, SDOT still wants more information in a final evaluation report that shows CHH can make it sustainable.

“We just don’t know if this will be the model because there’s still a lot of information that we need to get from Capitol Hill Housing,” said SDOT communications director Mafara Hobson.

She said the pilot wasn’t budgeted by the department, so SDOT will need to work with the city council to determine next steps.

What SDOT wants is for CHH to be able to cover costs associated with the program by renting out unused parking spaces in its apartment complexes.

Brennan said CHH was renting empty spaces in its complexes to nontenants before the pilot program started, and it still wants to look at shared parking — where spaces can be rented when tenants are not using them.

“We’ve got a couple hurdles to that,” he said.

The evaluation report states multiple people using parking spaces triggers commercial parking and sales tax requirements, “erasing the potential financial benefits.”

CHH made suggestions to legislators in June about how changes in policy could make shared parking easier to implement, Brennan said.

What Capitol Hill Housing wants is better data on when parking spaces are not being used and how to track that. CHH has partnered with the University of Washington to develop lower cost data-collection sensors.

UW CoMotion is working with Amazon, which provided it with a $100,000 grant in June to continue work on the technology. Joshua Smith of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and Electrical Engineering is leading that work.

“The big next step is we’re trying to make the sensors not need batteries, and not need to be plugged in,” Brennan said.

CHH has asked SDOT to consider working with its Capitol Hill Ecodistrict to form a parking benefit district, where revenue generated in parts of Capitol Hill would go toward supporting transportation improvements in the area, rather than going into the general fund.

The Seattle City Council approved a Statement of Legislative Intent in June 2016 that directs SDOT to work with Capitol Hill Housing to document issues surrounding the potential for a parking benefit district, and to work with CHH’s EcoDistrict to develop a pilot. Last fall the council also approved putting $150,000 into SDOT’s 2017 budget to develop that plan.

“We’re really disappointed that that’s not on the table currently,” Brennan said, “and we think there’s a lot of businesses worried about the (parking) meters being extended on Capitol Hill without any other measures to help people getting in and out at night.”

SDOT has plans to extend on-street paid parking hours along Broadway and in the Pike/Pine corridor. CHH believes a parking benefit district would make such an increase more palatable.

“That’s still underway,” Hobson said of a parking benefit district proposal. “The parking program’s working on that. Nothing’s final, but that’s definitely not off the table.”