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caption: All passengers age 18 and younger can now ride Metro buses and Link light rail for free in King County.
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All passengers age 18 and younger can now ride Metro buses and Link light rail for free in King County.
Credit: KUOW/Amy Radil

Free transit rolls out for youth across Washington state

As of Sept. 1, people ages 18 and under can ride transit for free in many parts of Washington state.

In King County, passengers can show a youth ORCA card, a student ID, or simply board Metro buses and Link light rail. The county will move toward a more universal youth transit pass in 2023.

King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove said he sponsored the transit legislation locally in order to reduce conflicts around fare enforcement, to help young people access jobs and other opportunities, and to build a new generation of transit riders.

“I think the vision is that it will be free transit for youth throughout Washington state,” Upthegrove said. “I don’t know of another state that’s done that.”

He said a state legislative initiative provided money for transit systems across the state to offer free public transit for young people at no cost to their budget.

Under the Move Ahead Washington package, King County Metro will receive an estimated $31.7 million in grant funding to implement its free youth fare policy by Oct. 1, according to the county.

The county said the potential money in the package "far exceeds the estimated $10 million in annual fare revenue typically received from youth under age 19.”

Upthegrove said he expects state funding for the program to endure.

“Future legislatures can always change things,” he said. “But we anticipate this is going to be long-term and I predict it’s here to stay.”

At the U District light rail station in Seattle, riders welcomed the news.

Jesse Van Hoy was exiting the station with his toddler son.

“He will turn 4 in October," Van Hoy said. "So, he’s still free for a little while anyway, but we’re definitely excited for him to be able to ride for free.”

Previously children owed a reduced transit fare starting at age 6.

Another passenger, Jane Gwin-Kerr, uses buses and light rail and said it’s great to take cost off the table for youth.

“I’m from the Bay Area and a lot of cities there do that too, and it’s just so convenient,” Gwin-Kerr said.

Seattle Public Schools has distributed free transit passes for middle and high school students in recent years, but only during the school year.

High school student Chloe Dhamdhere said in the past youth would run into trouble if they lost or forgot their ORCA passes, and students were often surprised to realize their passes were suspended during summer months. She said this new policy sounds more comprehensive.

“I’m glad because some of the drivers will get annoyed because they notice ORCA cards aren’t scanning, or kids will be like, ‘I forgot mine,’” Dhamdhere said. “I’ve gotten yelled at once, so I’m really glad this is taking effect.”

The new program allows people 18 and under to access free transit in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, among others.