The Regional Transit Committee and the King County Council are expected to take up a proposed policy change that would create free youth transit passes in June and July. The proposed Free Youth Transit Pass builds on King County’s years of providing ORCA passes to middle school and high school students during the school year, although the county hopes to adopt a year-round and free transit pass for youth.
“Ensuring access to reliable, carbon-free transportation—especially for younger generations who will bear the climate burden—is why I am committed to providing every youth up to their 19th birthday with a free transit pass,” said Executive Dow Constantine. “Knowing the ease of riding transit to get around means today’s youth will be tomorrow’s transit commuters, and that’s good for traffic, the economy, and the environment.”
Under Washington’s recently adopted Move Ahead Washington package, King County Metro is eligible for an estimated $31.7 million in grant funding if a zero-youth fare policy is adopted by October 1. Potential revenue fare exceeds the estimated $10 million in annual fare revenue that is typically received from youth under the age of 19.
“Zero Youth Fare will open doors of opportunity for so many. Public transit connects people to jobs, medical care, food, opportunities, and community,” said King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, who is also the legislature’s co-sponsor. “I’m excited for King County to make this leap in ensuring that transit is open and accessible to all of our youth!”
Having a free transit pass to those under 19 years of age will allow them to travel to school, to see friends and family, to get a part-time job, to visit a museum, to explore a hiking trail or park, and to introduce them to King County’s regional transit system. Current fare for youth ages 0 to 5 years is $0, while fare for those ages 6 to 18 is $1.50.
“We know that the ability to move throughout our region easily and efficiently improves opportunity in life,” said King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, who is also the co-sponsor of the legislation.
In the coming weeks, King County Metro will continue to partner with community groups, families, schools, youth advocates, and other organizations to share the benefits of the Free Youth Transit Pass and to ensure the pass meets the needs of youth people. Additional outreach will take place over the next few months, where King County Metro will launch a customer information campaign throughout schools.
High school students in King County who qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch can sign-up online for a free summer ORCA pass. During the 2019 to 2020 school year, 34% of King County students qualified for a free or reduced-price lunch, however less than 20% of those students have a subsidized youth ORCA card.
All youth who currently have an ORCA card should hold onto it to use in the fall as their Free Youth Transit Pass, and any expiration dates will be extended.