King County approves free transit for those 18 and younger under a state-wide push to boost ridership

Jul 26, 2022, 4:52 PM

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King County Council unanimously passed the Free Youth Transit Pass initiative 9-0, making all riders under 19 eligible for free, year-round transit passes in King County.

This decision follows Executive Dow Constantine’s State of the County address last month, where he proposed the free youth transit pass plan to build on King County’s many years of success in providing ORCA passes to middle and high school students during the school year, and also stretching into summertime for those who most need travel support.

“For our youngest riders, we’re really beginning a paradigm shift and saying, ‘kids ride free’ to really get our youngest users of the transportation system to get comfortable with these multimodal systems early in their lives, to build lifelong habits of better ways of moving around the state,” WA State Senator Marko Liias said. “I just kind of fundamentally believe that when we teach the new generation better ways of doing things, that creates that long-term change that we’re hoping for.”

Sound Transit’s ridership struggles to reach pre-pandemic levels

By adopting a year-round free youth transit pass policy, King County Metro and other agencies across the state will provide access to a network of public transportation services.

“As we all know, it goes beyond the instant relief of having to not pay the fare and the increased convenience, but it helps build lifetime transit users,” said Councilmember Rod Dembowksi.

Under the state’s recently adopted Move Ahead Washington package, Metro becomes eligible for an estimated $31.7 million in grant funding if a zero-youth fare policy is adopted by Oct. 1. This potential revenue far exceeds the estimated $10 million in annual fare revenue typically received from youth under the age of 19.

“You can have a nice day and come home completely independent of any parental need to be engaged in transportation,” said King County Council Chair Claudia Balducci. “So this is a great move, not just for the young people of the world, but also for the parents of the world.”

Thousands of young people already count upon King County Metro and Sound Transit for safe, reliable transportation to and from classes and school activities.

“By having a transit pass at no cost to them, young people will be able to travel to school, see a friend or relative, get to a part-time job, visit a museum, or explore a hiking trail or park,” said King County Council spokesperson Chase Gallagher. “Additionally, this new access will introduce them to King County’s innovative regional transit system of bus, light rail, streetcar, water taxi, and much more.”

Now that the initiative has passed, Metro is expected to develop a program that will distribute ORCA cards across King County, with further card distribution proposed to roll out in 2023 and expanded over time.

Free youth transit access, expanded traffic cameras within transportation budget passed in Senate

In the coming months, Metro will launch a customer information campaign through schools and community outreach. Seattle Public School students can ride free this summer using their current school-issued ORCA card; high school students in the rest of King County who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch can sign-up online for a free summer ORCA pass. Any youth, including students, who currently have an ORCA card, should plan to hold onto it and begin using it in the fall as their Free Youth Transit Pass — any expiration dates will be extended.

There are an estimated 329,000 students enrolled in K-12 (public and private) schools in King County, but only approximately 22,000 possess subsidized ORCA cards during the school year.

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King County approves free transit for those 18 and younger under a state-wide push to boost ridership