People board a Community Transit bus bound for Smokey Point Thursday, at Everett Station in Everett. Thursday marked the first day people 18 and under can ride Community Transit routes for free. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

People board a Community Transit bus bound for Smokey Point Thursday, at Everett Station in Everett. Thursday marked the first day people 18 and under can ride Community Transit routes for free. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

‘Just get on the bus’: Kids can ride for free now in Snohomish County

Community Transit leaders expect young ridership to grow as schools distribute ORCA cards in fall.

EVERETT — It was the first day for free youth fares, but almost all of the riders on Community Transit bus lines out of Everett Station were adults during a 45-minute period Thursday afternoon.

Though few teens were seen at the central transfer point for several regional buses, transportation leaders say they expect the number of younger riders to climb as word gets out that kids can now ride any bus in Snohomish County at no charge. Community Transit is partnering with local school districts this fall to hand out regional bus passes to students.

“Just because it has launched now doesn’t mean we are done,” Community Transit spokesperson Monica Spain said. “We have quite a bit of work to continue to communicate this and get ORCA cards to schools and into youth’s hands.”

The Community Transit Board of Directors unanimously approved the free fares earlier this month. The Everett-based agency joins almost every other public transportation organization in the state in allowing kids to ride free.

Everett Transit already offered free rides to youth starting July 1.

The update comes on the back of the $17 billion Move Ahead Washington transportation package approved in March that includes access to “transit support grants” for agencies offering service at no charge to people age 18 and younger. Community Transit made about $529,000 in youth fares in 2019. It will “trade” that revenue to access to an estimated $12.1 million in grants annually.

“For all agencies, the grant outweighed the lost revenue,” said state Sen. Marko Liias, chair of the transportation committee and a supporter of the package. “We wanted to make sure kids ride free was not a net cost to the agencies.”

The end goal is to familiarize kids with public transit, make bus rides more affordable for families and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Spain said the effort will “cultivate the next generation of transit riders.”

Liias, D-Everett, said his driver’s license became his “ticket to freedom” growing up. To this day, he uses a personal vehicle often. He said he wants to help young Washingtonians form greener habits for the future.

“The ways that we learn to move around when we are young really do influence the ways we think about moving around in the future. … I think this kind of tool of allowing that free access will help develop those good habits,” Liias said. “We want more people walking and biking and riding the bus. That’s how we will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Eliminating youth fares also saves money for families, he said. As inflation “really eats at household budgets,” no-cost public transit helps kids “move around” without having to invest in a new car, gas and insurance.

Youth riders won’t need any special documentation to take advantage of the free fares with Community Transit. All they need to do is tell their driver that they are 18 or younger.

A rider alert is posted informing the public that people 18 and younger ride free as of Thursday, at Everett Station in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

A rider alert is posted informing the public that people 18 and younger ride free as of Thursday, at Everett Station in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Teenagers age 13 through 18 are encouraged to use an ORCA card. However, the “One Regional Card for All” — which covers fares on public transit in King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties — is not required to ride.

“We don’t want there to be any barriers to youth getting on the bus,” Spain said. “That’s why we’ve made it really simple.”

Eventually, Community Transit wants its younger riders to have ORCA cards, because the pass helps track how many people are riding the bus. The agency uses that information to plan future service and send accurate reports to the state.

Liias said that information will help state lawmakers measure the success of the program.

“I expect this is going to work really, really well, and we are going to see ridership among young people grow,” Liias said. “But if that doesn’t work, we will also be collecting data to make sure we are wisely investing public dollars.”

Community Transit is working with local high schools to distribute the cards to teens, Spain said. Young riders that get a card through their school should register it online at FreeYouthTransitPass.com or in person at Everett Station or the RideStore in Lynnwood.

And as they wait to get their ORCA card, Spain reminded students that it’s still free to hop on a bus for a trip.

“The main thing for people to know now is, youth can just get on the bus,” Spain said.

Mallory Gruben is a Report for America corps member who writes about education for The Daily Herald.

Mallory Gruben: 425-339-3035; mallory.gruben@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @MalloryGruben.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Ariel Garcia, 4, was last seen Wednesday morning in an apartment in the 4800 block of Vesper Dr. (Photo provided by Everett Police)
How to donate to the family of Ariel Garcia

Everett police believe the boy’s mother, Janet Garcia, stabbed him repeatedly and left his body in Pierce County.

A ribbon is cut during the Orange Line kick off event at the Lynnwood Transit Center on Saturday, March 30, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
‘A huge year for transit’: Swift Orange Line begins in Lynnwood

Elected officials, community members celebrate Snohomish County’s newest bus rapid transit line.

Bethany Teed, a certified peer counselor with Sunrise Services and experienced hairstylist, cuts the hair of Eli LeFevre during a resource fair at the Carnegie Resource Center on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in downtown Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Carnegie center is a one-stop shop for housing, work, health — and hope

The resource center in downtown Everett connects people to more than 50 social service programs.

Everett mall renderings from Brixton Capital. (Photo provided by the City of Everett)
Topgolf at the Everett Mall? Mayor’s hint still unconfirmed

After Cassie Franklin’s annual address, rumors circled about what “top” entertainment tenant could be landing at Everett Mall.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Stanwood in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Stanwood man gets federal prison for selling fentanyl on dark web

In 2013, Christerfer Frick was sentenced to nine years for trafficking drugs. He began selling online upon his release in 2020.

Molbak's Garden + Home in Woodinville, Washington closed on Jan. 28 2024. (Photo courtesy of Molbak's)
Molbak’s, former Woodinville garden store, hopes for a comeback

Molbak’s wants to create a “hub” for retailers and community groups at its former Woodinville store. But first it must raise $2.5 million.

A fire at a home near Alderwood Mall sent one neighbor and one firefighter to the hospital. (Photo provided by South County Fire)
Officials: Residents returned to burning Lynnwood home to rescue dogs

Five people and six dogs were displaced in the Thursday afternoon house fire, according to South County Fire.

Featuring a pink blush over a yellow background, WA 64 combines qualities of Honeycrisp and Cripps Pink (aka Pink Lady) for a firm, crisp, sweet and tart bite. A naming contest for the new apple runs through May 5, 2024. (Photo provided by Washington State University)
Hey Honeycrisp, this new breed of apple needs a name

Enter a naming contest for WA 64, a hybrid apple with the same baby daddy as Cosmic Crisp.

Police respond to a wrong way crash Thursday night on Highway 525 in Lynnwood after a police chase. (Photo provided by Washington State Department of Transportation)
Lynnwood woman, 83, killed in wrong-way crash following police pursuit

Deputies said they were chasing a man, 37, south on Highway 525 when he swerved into northbound lanes, killing an oncoming driver.

A memorial with small gifts surrounded a utility pole with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive ion Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Death of Everett boy, 4, spurs questions over lack of Amber Alert

Local police and court authorities were reluctant to address some key questions, when asked by a Daily Herald reporter this week.

People walk along the waterfront in front of South Fork Bakery at the Port of Everett on Thursday, April 11, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Port of Everett inks deal with longtime Bothell restaurant

The port will break ground on two new buildings this summer. Slated for completion next year, Alexa’s Cafe will open in one of them.

The new Amazon fulfillment center under construction along 172nd Street NE in Arlington, just south of Arlington Municipal Airport. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald) 20210708
Frito-Lay leases massive building at Marysville business park

The company will move next door to Tesla and occupy a 300,0000-square-foot building at the Marysville business park.