The pilot project for ORCA Youth card users aims to boost the number of teens and children on buses, light rail, commuter trains and streetcars during the summer.
All children and teens will soon be able to ride King County Metro Transit and Sound Transit services at a discounted rate as part of a push by transportation officials to get more young people on buses, light rail, commuter trains and streetcars during the summer.
Starting June 17, riders ages 6 through 18 with ORCA Youth cards can tap their passes while boarding King County Metro Transit buses and Seattle streetcars for only a 50-cent fare — $1 less than the standard, single-ride tickets for youth. They’ll also be able to ride Sound Transit buses, light rail and Sounder trains for $1. Cash-paying riders won’t get discounts.
“It allows a lot of students to get to internships and jobs and summer classes,” Seattle City Councilmember Rob Johnson said of the lower fares. “(For) folks who have no other choice but transit, a fare reduction … is a huge positive for those families.”
The special prices will last through Labor Day and are part of a pilot project sponsored by Metro and Sound Transit that aims to encourage bus and rail travel for young people who, perhaps, rely on school-issued ORCA Youth cards that allow them to ride free during the school year.
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Five school districts in King County give out such passes to certain students that expire in the summer, Metro says.
“What we’re doing is trying to bridge that gap,” Metro spokesman Scott Gutierrez said.
Chris O’Claire, Metro’s assistant general manager for planning and customer service, said the agency tallies more than 400,000 average monthly ORCA Youth card boardings during the fall, winter and spring. But that average drops in the summer months to less than 130,000, she said.
“We want to see if a change in fare can really incentivize the system,” O’Claire said. “As we look at our pilot, we’re going to try to see if we have increased mobility for youth and also look at some of the challenges we’ll face,” such as potential issues with bus capacity and safety.
Officials estimate the summer program could save an ORCA Youth card user up to $36 per month in fare costs.
O’Claire said Metro consulted with other public transit agencies while deciding how to launch the program. For instance, Clark County’s C-TRAN system, which covers the Vancouver area, is considering a similar initiative to boost summer ridership among children and teens, she said.
In addition to the reduced fares, Metro is giving away ORCA Youth cards for free, saving young riders the standard $5 registration fee. The agency has printed 7,500 passes as part of push, Gutierrez said.
To promote the pilot program, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Johnson led a publicity event Tuesday afternoon at Ingraham High School in North Seattle, where they handed out dozens of the free cards.
Other children and teens can get the passes by going to ORCASummerYouth.com, visiting Metro-sponsored booths and events throughout the county or by stopping at Metro’s sales office at 201 South Jackson Street in Pioneer Square.
After getting the card, they can buy a monthly pass or load it with money to use like a prepaid debit card on public transit. They can make those transactions at places such as major transit centers, ticket-vending machines or a select group of retailers. Visit orcacard.com for more information.
The fare reductions and free ORCA Youth cards will cost Metro about $200,000 in revenue, Gutierrez said. But considering the agency’s overall budget, he said, “that’s a pretty small amount.”
Metro brought in nearly $160 million in fares in 2015, for instance.
Additional discounts for other riders including seniors and disabled people will continue with the summer program, as well as charity bus tickets distributed by social-service agencies and homeless shelters.
The pilot is launching as transportation officials consider changes to adult bus fares that would eliminate the extra charge for longer multizone trips, but would either raise the standard fare by a quarter to $2.75, or raise the peak rush-hour fare by a quarter to $3. The Metropolitan King County Council is expected to make a decision regarding the changes later this year.