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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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WA state ferries free for people 18 and under starting Saturday

Sept. 30, 2022 Updated Fri., Sept. 30, 2022 at 10:19 p.m.

A ferry docks at Shaw Island in August before traveling to Orcas Island.  (Erika Schultz/Seattle Times)
A ferry docks at Shaw Island in August before traveling to Orcas Island. (Erika Schultz/Seattle Times)
By Christine Clarridge The Seattle Times

Starting Saturday, trips on Washington state ferries will be free for children and teens 18 and under.

Earlier this month, bus and other transit fares were lifted for young riders in most of Washington.

It’s part of a move by agencies across the state toward providing free rides for people 18 and under.

According to the ORCA website, riders age 13 and older are encouraged to show one of the following to the driver, if they have it:

  • Youth ORCA Card: Tap your card when you board. On Sound Transit light rail, you should also tap your card when you exit. Youth ORCA cards issued by schools during the 2021-22 academic year will continue to work through June 30, 2023, according to the site.
  • Current High School or Middle School Student ID

However, children and teens 18 and under who do not have one of these can still ride for free. Employees at ticket booths can issue free-fare youth tickets that are valid for two hours, the state Department of Transportation said.

The legislation applies only to people 18 and under riding as passengers in a vehicle and those walking onto a state ferry, according to WSDOT. It does not include teenagers driving a vehicle, so drivers under 19 years old will continue to pay the adult vehicle and driver fare.

Beginning in 2023, youth will be directed to get a Free Youth Transit Pass that allows them to tap a card (or eventually a smartphone) to access free transit across the region.

While there are many examples of individual cities offering free rides to young people – or to everyone – Washington’s actions as a state are unique.

The shift is one piece of a massive 16-year, nearly $17 billion transportation funding measure passed mostly along party lines during the 2022 legislative session in Olympia. While the package included billions in new spending on roads and highways, Democratic lawmakers set aside more than $3 billion for transit in the state, over the opposition of the minority Republicans. About half of that is available to local transit agencies on the condition they make trains, buses and ferries free for youth. Every agency has signaled that it will do so.

Free transit represents an immediate and noticeable change for Washington families, one that proponents say will lower transportation barriers and train the next generation of riders to think outside the car.

Seattle Times reporter David Kroman contributed to this report.

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