Sound Transit’s Board of Directors voted unanimously Thursdayto approve free fares for youth aged 18 and younger, effective Sept. 1. The new policy was prompted by the Move Ahead Washington transportation package passed by the Washington State Legislature last March, which incentivizes all Washington state transit agencies to adopt a free fare policy for riders under 19 years old. Under the agency’s previous policy, youth pay a reduced fare of $1.50.
“Today’s decision will not only increase affordability for youth and families, but it will increase their opportunities as well,” said Sound Transit Board Chair Kent Keel. “Free fares mean easy access not just to schools, but to jobs, after-school activities and youth-related programs. It also introduces a new generation to the habit of a becoming lifetime riders of transit.”
The new policy is being implemented in partnership with other regional transit agencies to create a seamless experience for riders. Youth with a Youth ORCA Card will be encouraged to use it when riding. Youth ORCA cards issued by schools during the 2021-2022 academic school year will continue to work through June 30, 2023. There are 77,000 Youth ORCA cards that will automatically provide card holders with access to the free fare.
In 2023 and beyond, youth will be directed to get a Free Youth Transit Pass that allows them to tap a card—or eventually their smartphone—to access transit across the region for free.
An ORCA card or other fare media will be not required for youth to ride free. No youth will be turned away or penalized if they do not have an ORCA card, and no personal information will be collected. Regional ORCA partners are currently analyzing the best methods to distribute ORCA cards to youth.
Sound Transit and ORCA partner transit agencies are encouraging youth to use the Free Youth Transit Pass to take advantage of this free fare. This will enable agencies to track ridership by agency and identify trips taken by youth travelling via more than one agency. This information will facilitate compliance with state reporting requirements and allow agencies to identify important inter-agency connections for youth.
Use of the Free Youth Transit Pass to access this free fare will also help educate the next generation of riders on how to use ORCA and simplify fare compliance for bus drivers, Sound Transit said in a news release. Youth without a Free Youth Transit Pass may be asked to show a student ID or proof of age and will be provided with information about how to get a Free Youth Transit Pass. Engagement with youth riders will follow Sound Transit’s recently adopted fare engagement policies.
The ORCA transit agencies are working closely together to make it easy for youth to obtain ORCA cards. ORCA agencies are also working to provide school districts with additional ORCA cards for students in the fall. And the ORCA virtual card is expected to be available for all riders, including youth, sometime in 2023.
More information about how youth can ride regional transit for free is available at info.myorca.com/youth-ride-free.