Genghin Carroll, 8, walks up and high fives his mom, Andria Carroll, after riding the ferry over to meet her for a dental appointment on Thursday, Mukilteo. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Genghin Carroll, 8, walks up and high fives his mom, Andria Carroll, after riding the ferry over to meet her for a dental appointment on Thursday, Mukilteo. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Welcome aboard, kids! Ferry rides are free for those 18 and under

The move to let children ride ferries for free is the latest result of Move Ahead Washington legislation.

MUKILTEO — Starting Saturday, grandparents won’t have to tell the 6-year-old in the car to lie about their age at the ferry toll booth. And most teens will have a few extra bucks to spend in the galley.

Those 18 and under can ride a state ferry for free.

The new perk for youth is part of the Legislature’s Move Ahead Washington transportation package approved in March that launched free bus rides a month ago for those age 18 and younger.

Nearly 1.5 million youth passenger tickets were sold in 2021.

Rides, free until age 6, were half the price of the adult fare, but still enough to cause some fudging by the responsible adult who had already spent enough on those 6th birthday gifts and thought the kid could pass for 5, especially in the back seat of a car.

It’s not a bankrupting amount, though it adds up.

Rates vary by route, and will go up for adults on Saturday due to a previously planned fare increase.

Riders 19 to 64 on the Mukilteo-Clinton route will pay $5.80, and seniors charged $2.90. On Edmonds-Kingston and Seattle-Bainbridge Island routes, the fare is $9.45 for adults and $4.70 for seniors.

Dana Warr, a state transportation department spokesperson, said the ferry system will be reimbursed the $2 million annual revenue it generates from youth ticket sales.

“At the end of the day this puts more money in the pockets of families,” Warr said. “Future transit users might look at using public transportation differently.”

The new free rides apply only to youth riding as a passenger or walking on a ferry. Teens behind the wheel of a car will continue to pay the vehicle and driver fare.

Unlike buses, ferry passengers can walk on unchecked through the automated turnstile.

“Part of what we had to figure out was, how do you keep people from cheating the system?” said Ian Sterling, spokesperson for Washington State Ferries. “We used to offer the youth fares through the kiosk, but we had some bad actors. After a Seahawks game heading back to Bainbridge Island and Bremerton, all of a sudden all these 50-year-old-men were buying youth tickets.”

Youth and senior tickets were recently removed from self-serve kiosks.

Youth walking on will still need a ticket or an ORCA card to get through turnstiles on rides going to the islands. The free tickets are available at the terminal ticket counters.

The ferry system relies on honesty and scrutiny by toll takers.

“If you look like a 50-year-old man and you’re claiming to be 18, it’s probably not going to fly,” Sterling said.

Same with those 50-somethings trying to get a senior rate, which starts at age 65.

The new freebie package doesn’t affect seniors, who still have to pay. Sorry, gramps.

Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @reporterbrown.

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