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Youth bus fare will be as low as 50 cents this summer—but why not free?

The city and county just slashed youth bus fare, but City Councilor Rob Johnson is dreaming bigger


It’s about to get much cheaper to ride transit if you’re 18 or younger. Today, King County Metro and Sound Transit announced that youth bus fare is going way down. But City Councilor Rob Johnson doesn’t think it goes far enough.

Starting June 17 and going all summer, youth fare will be 50 cents on Metro and $1 on Sound Transit, instead of the normal $1.50 youth fare on both services.

Those under the age of 19 will also be able to get an ORCA card free, instead of paying the normal $5 upfront.

“It’s a really good first step,” Johnson told us before the conference, “but it’s not quite as far as I want us to go.”

His ultimate goal, he told Curbed Seattle, is to have permanently free bus fare for anyone under the age of 19 on both Sound Transit and King County Metro. It’s project he’s been working on for a long time—during his time as Director at Transportation Choices Coalition through his 18 months on the City Council.

Johnson told us that if the city extends a pilot program that allows private shuttles to use public stops, they could generate private revenue that could “offset the cost” and “just make [bus fare] free for anyone under the age of 19.”

Johnson tells us he’d like to see the dollar Sound Transit fare continue in the meantime. (He also serves on the board of Sound Transit.)

While the 50-cent fare will end September 4 with the beginning of the school year and distribution of school year ORCA cards for eligible students. It’s possible lower Metro fare will return, but it’s part of a two-year evaluation of Metro fares, so it’s unlikely it will continue uninterrupted after the pilot is over.

Yet another pilot program gives students in households eligible for the ORCA LIFT reduced program free cards. Those passes are good through August 2018.

County Executive Dow Constantine, Johnson, school board member Sue Peters, and a pack of students announced the new prices at a press conference at Ingraham High School as they distributed brand-new summer bus passes to students.

“Transit equals freedom,” said Constantine at the event. “This is part of our mission to make lives a little easier for [students].”

A previous version of this story stated that money for the lower bus fare came from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District, when in fact only funding for the free program for students in households eligible for ORCA LIFT comes from the STBD.