King County Executive Dow Constantine announced today the one-week countdown to the Free Youth Transit Pass at a celebration and rally with advocates, young leaders, families, and officials who were champions for the change. King County will also join regional transit agencies in lowering ORCA LIFT fares to $1.
King County Executive Dow Constantine was joined today by advocates, young leaders, families, regional transit agencies, and elected officials to announce the one-week countdown to the Free Youth Transit Pass. Beginning Sept. 1, riders 18 and younger can ride for free on transit systems across Washington, including King County Metro buses, water taxis, Access paratransit and on-demand services, Sound Transit buses and Link light rail, Seattle Streetcar, Pierce Transit, Community Transit, Everett Transit, Kitsap Transit, and Snoqualmie Valley Transit.
“Free Youth Transit Pass is a generational pivot that builds a more equitable and sustainable future for our youth while connecting them to opportunity and providing needed financial help for families,” said Executive Constantine. “Together, we’re reducing our carbon emissions and pollution in communities, delivering people where they need to go on a system that is increasingly zero-emission, and putting a massive down payment on a car-free future by making every kid in King County a transit rider.”
With the launch of the program, young riders can use current classic blue youth and student ORCA cards, show their student identification, or simply board and ride free. New black ORCA cards will also be available soon and distributed through schools and customer services. Any of these options will work, with more innovations on the horizon in 2023 including the ability to “tap” a smartphone or a “smart” sticker on a student ID.
The Free Youth Transit Pass builds on King County’s many years of success in providing ORCA passes to middle and high school students during the school year, and Summer Youth ORCA passes for those who most need travel support.
By adopting a year-round free youth fare policy, King County Metro and other agencies across the state are providing young people access to the region’s innovative, integrated network of public transportation, expanding opportunity, and providing more equitable access.
Under the state’s recently adopted Move Ahead Washington package, Metro will receive an estimated $31.7 million in grant funding to implement its free youth fare policy by Oct. 1. This potential revenue far exceeds the estimated $10 million in annual fare revenue typically received from youth under age 19.
Thousands of young people already count upon transit services 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 or a part-time job, see a friend or relative, visit a museum, or explore a hiking trail or park.
Cards and other passes in the works
Metro is working to distribute ORCA cards across King County in partnership with community organizations and schools. Further card distribution will roll out in 2023 and will be expanded over time. Any youth, including students, who currently have an ORCA card, should plan to hold onto it and begin using it on Sept. 1 as their Free Youth Transit Pass – any expiration dates will be extended until June 30, 2023. Details to keep your card activated are on the FreeYouthTransitPass.com web page.
ORCA LIFT fares reduced to $1
On Sept. 1, King County Metro will join Sound Transit, Kitsap Transit, and Everett Transit in offering $1 ORCA LIFT fares for riders who qualify based on their income. Since Executive Constantine launched ORCA LIFT in 2015, nearly 135,000 people have enrolled in a program that has been lauded as a national model. Over the years, 171,000 cards have been issued or renewed, and there are 42,000 current active cardholders. A recent snapshot showed more than 3,000,00 annual rides taken using ORCA LIFT.
Free Youth Transit Pass by the numbers
- There are an estimated 329,000 students enrolled in public and private K-12 schools in King County, however—prior to free youth fares—only about 25,000 had access to subsidized ORCA cards during the school year.
- King, Snohomish, Pierce, and Kitsap counties together have an estimated 645,000 youth aged 6-18.
- Before the Free Youth Transit Pass, King County Metro fare for youth was $0 for ages 0-5 and $1.50 for ages 6-18, or $54 for a monthly youth pass.
- During the 2019-20 school year, 34% of King County’s students qualified for free and reduced-price lunch.
- Less than 20% of King County high school students who receive free and reduced school lunch have a subsidized youth ORCA card (2020 data).
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Free Youth Transit Pass is a generational pivot that builds a more equitable and sustainable future for our youth while connecting them to opportunity and providing needed financial help for families,” said Executive Constantine. “Together, we’re reducing our carbon emissions and pollution in communities, delivering people where they need to go on a system that is increasingly zero-emission, and putting a massive down payment on a car-free future by making every kid in King County a transit rider.
Starting in just a few days, everyone under 19 years of age can enjoy newfound transit freedom. Every young person in King County will now have unfettered ability to ride transit to school and other activities, visit with friends, and explore new destinations throughout our region. This is life-changing for young people and the adults in their lives. Get ready now by signing up at www.myorca.com.
The free youth pass will save a ton of money for some families, help connect young people with jobs and a world of opportunity, will eliminate the challenges of youth fare enforcement, and hopefully motivate the next generation to get out of cars and into clean green transit.
The Free Youth Transit Pass will open doors of opportunity for so many. Public transit connects people to jobs, medical care, food, opportunities and community. I’m excited for King County to make this leap in ensuring that transit is open and accessible to all of our youth!
I’m very excited today for the youth of King County who will now be able to ride transit for free. Not only will this alleviate the financial burden for some youth riders, it will also help encourage the development of lifelong transit riders and create opportunities for youth to travel around the county in safe and accessible ways. All aboard!
As a middle schooler at Dimmitt Middle School in Skyway, I often took Metro home after end-of-day school activities Finding money to pay the fare could be a hassle and too often a hardship for many of my classmates. I am so excited that today’s King County kids will now be able to hop on board Metro transit to get to and from school and around the county to activities, without having to worry about whether there’s enough money on their ORCA card. This will ensure that all kids in King County have the same, free, access to our transit system and help them become life-long transit riders on what will soon be a zero-emissions transit system.
We know that our kids need to be able to get to where they need to go without financial obstacles that could keep them from school, work, sports or other positive activities. King County Metro is making this a reality! I’m so excited to have supported our Zero Youth Fare legislation, which passed unanimously in King County Council and allows our youth to travel across our region without barriers.
The Free Youth Transit Pass will foster a new generation of transit riders. This will also help lower transportation costs for families and help curb carbon emissions in the region.
Funding free transit for youth gives young people their own passport to education, jobs, museums, parks, school and more. They will be fully vested in co-creating community on transit and across our region. Introducing all youth to the freedom of transit—the ability to get to a part-time job, see friends or explore without needing to ask for a few dollars or a ride—can play a big role in how together we will plan our future.
At Sound Transit, we talk a lot about the future we’re building—a five-line, 116-mile regional light rail network. Supporting the region’s youth goes hand in hand with building that future. Giving today’s younger generation free and seamless access to transit offers youth direct access to the education, after-school activities, jobs, and the programs they need to build their very own futures.
Pierce Transit is pleased to join with regional partners to offer this important benefit to youth across our service area. Many young people need transportation to participate in after-school activities, to get to jobs and volunteer opportunities. They can use this pass to learn how to ride transit, and connect to their community, at no cost to them or their families. We hope this will prompt young people to think ‘bus-first’ and provide them with car-free commute options as adults.
This new benefit will give youth the opportunity to learn how to ride all modes of public transportation as well as experience the wonder of traveling by ferry across the Puget Sound. We are grateful to the state for its bold, historic investment and welcome the next generation of public-transit riders on buses, ferries and trains.
Everett is proud to have been a leader in offering the Free Youth Transit Pass to our customers in July. Along with the reduction of our ORCA Lift fare to $1.00, we are working to reduce the burden of transportation to individuals and families in our highly impacted communities.
On behalf of the nearly 50,000 young people in Seattle Public Schools, thank you. This regional program underscores a central truth: Our school community is embedded in a larger community, and we take care of each other. The City of Seattle, King County, and our regional public transportation network are critical partners with the school district. This free access to local buses and trains for young people can be key to students arriving to school on time and ready to learn.
We are thrilled that every young person in our region will soon be able to ride most transit including Seattle Streetcar for free, and that the ORCA LIFT program will become an even more affordable option for those who need it. We hope that this will encourage and empower young people to use public transit, lower transportation costs for families, help reduce traffic congestion near schools, and build a better future for the next generation.
For us and many of our friends, transit is our transportation lifeline. Many Black, Indigenous and youth of color don’t have access to cars, so without transit, at time it feels like we’re stranded. This program will literally change lives. The ability to be able to ride and not worry about needing fares removes a financial burden for us and our families. We will now have the ability to travel throughout region, to go to school, work, help with our siblings and visit friends.
The Free Youth Transit Pass policy is a significant win for King County residents of all ages. This policy eliminates mobility barriers for young people, connects them to opportunity and each other, creates lifelong transit riders and puts money back in the hands of families. This policy advances equity and builds a more sustainable future for young people and their families who will reap the benefits for years to come.
For more information, contact:
Kristin Elia, Executive Office, 206-369-7169