Photo courtesy of King County
Nearly 1.5 million Washingtonians 18 and under are getting free transit thanks to Move Ahead Washington and its $1.45 billion Transit Support Grant program for agencies that adopt a zero-fare policy for youth.
The policy, commonly referred to as “Youth Ride Free,” must be adopted by October 1, 2022, for agencies to qualify for the support grants. So far, almost every agency has either adopted or begun implementing the zero-youth-fare policy.
Here’s what you need to know about “Youth Ride Free:”
What is Youth Ride Free?
The “Youth Ride Free” program came out of the historic Move Ahead Washington transportation package passed by the Washington State Legislature in early 2022. Once fully implemented, this program will support Washington’s 32 transit agencies, Washington State Ferries, and Amtrak in providing zero-cost transit service to the 1.4 million Washingtonians 18 and under.
It’s as simple as the name — all young people 18 and under in Washington can ride transit for free!
Adopting a zero-fare policy for riders 18 and under makes most transit agencies eligible for the newly created Transit Support Grant, which both reimburses agencies for the cost of foregone fare revenue and provides additional funds to invest in operations, capital, and maintenance.
How do I or a young person I know participate in “Youth Ride Free?”
Almost all transit agencies in Washington have already adopted a “Youth Ride Free” policy. Exactly how the program will be implemented varies depending on the agency, but in general, young people will show ID or receive a fare card they can use to board transit at no cost.
Young people who live in the Puget Sound area can learn more about how the ORCA agencies are working together to serve youth here.
Contact your local transit agency to learn more about how you or someone you know who’s 18 and under can benefit from this program!
How do agencies qualify?
In order to be eligible for the transit grants, transit agencies must have adopted a zero-fare policy for youth by October 1st, 2022, and verify that they have maintained local sales tax authority for transit at or above Jan. 1, 2022 levels.
This year, WSDOT will verify that each agency meets the requirements, which will make them eligible for funding through the end of the 2021-2023 biennium. Going forward, funding will be distributed every two years once eligibility has been established. Funding is available to sustain this program for the next 16 years (2022 – 2038).
Why “Youth Ride Free?”
Helping low-income and working class families
Households costs are escalating and many economists predict a coming recession, which will further burden our lowest-income families who already spend a high percentage of their incomes on transportation and housing. Transportation costs disproportionately affect families of color, immigrants, disabled people, and those on fixed incomes. Recent research suggests that 1 in 4 people experience transportation insecurity, meaning they are unable to move from place to place in a safe or timely manner.
The Transit Support Grants reduce these inequities in two ways: 1), by decreasing transportation costs for families through zero-fare youth policies and 2), by providing direct state funding to transit agencies that can be used to make service more reliable and frequent.
Connecting youth to opportunities
“Youth Ride Free” will help provide reliable and safe transportation to and from school and after-school activities for youth that don’t have yellow-bus service or other means of transportation. Year-round free transit will also help connect youth with jobs and activities throughout the school year and summer.
Addressing climate change
We know that we have limited time to decarbonize our transportation sector and hit our climate goals to avert the worst impacts of climate change. We also know that doing so requires a significant increase in carbon-reducing solutions like transit and an overall shift away from car culture. “Youth Ride Free” attempts to do both by providing families with a no-cost alternative to a personal vehicle and by cultivating future riders by connecting youth to reliable and accessible public transportation.
Who made “Youth Ride Free” happen?
Move Ahead Washington and the “Youth Ride Free” program were championed by Senator Marko Liias and Representative Jake Fey and supported by Transportation Choices Coalition and our partners from the It Takes Transportation campaign after years of organizing and advocacy.
Ways to get involved:
- Take a young person on the bus: Help show the ropes to new riders!
- Provide agency feedback: Tell your transit agency how you’d like service or programming improved to meet your or your kid’s needs.
- Share your experience with us: Transportation Choices would love to hear from you! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and lets us know:
- How does “Youth Ride Free” benefit you/your children?
- How will “Youth Ride Free” change how you get around?
- How could taking public transportation be a better experience? What changes could be made?
Thank you again to our legislators, Senator Liias and Representative Fey, for bringing this program to fruition. We are excited to honor their leadership at our Transportation Choices annual Tuxes & Trains gala fundraiser Saturday, October 1 at MoPOP.