People 18 and under can board Everett Transit buses without paying fare starting July 1. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

People 18 and under can board Everett Transit buses without paying fare starting July 1. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Everett council approves fare-free bus rides for youths

Starting July 1, riders 18 and under can board Everett Transit buses without paying.

EVERETT — Starting July 1, riders 18 and younger can board Everett Transit without tapping a bus card or searching pockets for the $1.50 fare.

In a 5-0 vote, the Everett City Council approved the fare policy change for the city-run bus and para-transit system Wednesday night.

The Legislature’s Move Ahead Washington transportation package spurred Everett to adjust its policy and let kids board without paying a fare.

“We wanted our youth to ride the bus for free in the summer,” Everett Transit director Tom Hingson told the council. “We have so many great things happening this summer in Everett, we wanted to get ahead of that game and make that available.”

The city is hosting an Independence Day festival and fireworks, a three-on-three basketball tournament and Jetty Island ferry service in July — all of which is accessible by Everett Transit routes.

Councilmember Paula Rhyne’s proposed amendments to expand free admission to riders 21 and under and veterans failed.

“The amendments I’m proposing are to increase access,” Rhyne said.

Council members who voted no said they worried how either would be implemented as transit agencies statewide figure out 18-and-under fare-free admission, and how the city’s buses would be impacted.

But the council could take up those policy changes next year after reviewing the effects of free fare for riders 18 and younger.

Letting just 18 and under riders board without paying is expected to net Everett Transit $758,427 from state grants between this October and June 2023, and $2 million annually each following year.

Last year Everett Transit collected less than $100,000 in youth fare revenue.

The legislation doesn’t restrict how the state grant money can be spent. Everett hasn’t decided yet how it will use the cash infusion, but the transit department is on track to swap out diesel buses so its entire 41-bus fleet is zero-emission battery electric.

Transit staff will work with schools in the city to inform students of the new fare-free policy, Hingson said. Once the ORCA system has free transit youth passes available, they can be picked up at Everett Station. That could be this fall.

Until then, Everett Transit drivers will “show a lot of grace” and youth passengers can just show a student ID if they have one to board without paying fare, Hingson said.

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037; Twitter @benwatanabe.

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