Most Populous Washington County Allows Free Youth Transit | National government and new policies
SEATTLE, AP — People 18 and under will ride free buses, water taxis and streetcars in Washington state’s most populous county starting Sept. 1.
King County Council unanimously approved the plan on Thursday, The Seattle Times reported.
Introduced by Dow Executive Constantine, the vote kicks off an effort to get as many public transit cards – known as ORCA cards – into the hands of young people as possible. The new policy comes after state lawmakers passed a nearly $17 billion transportation funding package in the 2022 legislative session in Washington, with almost exclusively Democratic votes.
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The state’s transportation package includes $3 billion for public transit, about half of which only goes to local transit agencies if they adopt policies to make use free for young people. This includes local buses, as well as Amtrak trains and Washington State ferries.
So far, all local transit agencies in the state have indicated they will adopt free youth fares in order to become eligible for state funding. Public transit is already free for young people in Everett. Community Transit, Kitsap Transit, Pierce Transit and Sound Transit will also be free for young people by the start of this school year.
King County is eligible for an estimated $31.7 million in new transit funding under the state’s transportation program, which could be used to expand bus service or improve facilities. The cost estimate to make public transit free for everyone under 19 is around $10 million.
“We had some great discussions on fare evasion for young people,” said board member Dave Upthegrove. “All that debate and hassle is gone because young people can now use public transit whenever they need to starting this fall at no cost.”
King County Metro chief executive Terry White said the agency would launch a “surge of publicity” to get ORCA cards into the hands of the roughly 300,000 newly eligible young people. In the meantime, young people can use their school identity card when boarding. If a young person does not have ID, they can still travel for free.
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