Sound Transit’s Board of Directors voted unanimously today to approve free fares for youth aged 18 and younger, effective September 1.
The new policy was prompted by the Move Ahead Washington transportation packaged passed by the State Legislature last March, which incentivize 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.
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 an ORCA card 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 on more than one agency.
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.
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.
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.