The Free Youth Transit Pass begins today – Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022 – when 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, along with transit systems in other communities.

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 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,” said King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove.

Here’s more info from King County:

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.

“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.”

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 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).

More info here: Free Youth Transit Pass