Students load onto a Community Transit route 116 bus after school Friday in front of Edmonds-Woodway High School in Edmonds. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Students load onto a Community Transit route 116 bus after school Friday in front of Edmonds-Woodway High School in Edmonds. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Early Community Transit data shows youth ridership bump

After adopting free fare for riders 18 and under in September, youth ridership accounted for 11% to 28% on 13 routes.

Early data shows youth ridership has boomed since September when Community Transit adopted free fares for passengers 18 and younger.

The Snohomish County transit agency youth ridership averaged 8% of its total in October, system planning manager Chris Simmons told the board Thursday. Thirteen routes were higher than that average, between 11% and 28% of their totals, according to the agency’s data.

“I don’t think there are any real surprises out of this,” Simmons said, later adding that staff are confident the fare policy change is making an impact but the degree of which is “nebulous.”

Route 116, between the Silver Firs area southeast of Everett and the Edmonds waterfront, had the highest number of youth passengers in October with 3,000.

Many of the routes popular with youth riders are near entertainment, schools and workplaces, Simmons said.

The Legislature’s Move Ahead Washington transportation package included a grant-based incentive for transit agencies to let riders 18 and under board for free.

Community Transit staff estimate $300,000 in forgone revenue from the fare policy change, Simmons said. But they project getting $4.3 million through June this year and $12 million in transit support grants from the state every year after that through 2039, he said. That money can pay for capital and operations expenses.

This year’s grant money is going toward Community Transit’s Dial-a-Ride Transit service, planning director Roland Behee wrote in an email. In coming years, it could pay for service expansion and converting the fleet to zero-emission vehicles, he said.

Agency leaders haven’t determined exactly where they’ll spend that projected additional revenue.

They worked with school districts to distribute ORCA transit cards to students, starting in high schools in the fall. About half of an initial batch of 10,000 were distributed and another 4,000 were requested, Simmons said.

They plan to give middle schools youth ORCA cards this year, too.

School districts can request cards for students 13 and older from Community Transit, spokesperson Monica Spain wrote in an email.

Anyone with proof of age can get the youth ORCA card at the RideStore at the Lynnwood Transit Center, Everett Station customer service and online at https://info.myorca.com/youth-ride-free/.

Youth ridership also will grow once the ORCA app is available, Simmons said.

Even with more riders, buses aren’t getting overcrowded, he said.

Arlington City Council and Community Transit board member Jan Schuette asked for data about students using the agency’s buses to get between home and school. She said school districts are paid to provide that transportation and didn’t want Community Transit bearing it unduly.

Community Transit can’t structure its routes around school schedules which creates a “wall” between them, but staff would review that data, Simmons said.

The early review didn’t include data from Community Transit’s Zip on-demand microtransit pilot in the Alderwood area of Lynnwood. Once more information is verified, staff will report to the board, Simmons said.

“We just have to have time to put it all together,” he said.

Edmonds City Council member and Community Transit board alternate Susan Paine asked the agency to review fares for caregivers of students between 18 and 21 with developmental or intellectual disabilities.

Agencies in the region are working on the youth fare eligibility for riders under 19 with a personal care attendant, Simmons said. He also plans to study Community Transit’s fare structure with potential change recommendations later this year.

“Learning how to take the bus has helped my daughter be very independent,” Paine said.

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