Did you know you could get free youth ORCA cards for your kids at KC Public Health offices, if you qualify for the LIFT card?
Did you know you could get free youth ORCA cards for your kids at KC Public Health offices, if you qualify for the LIFT card?

Did you know King County has a program to give out free youth ORCA cards to family members of LIFT card recipients at Public Health offices that issue LIFT (low-income ORCA) cards? I sure did not, and I make it an obsession to stay up on these details. The program is not advertised on Metro’s LIFT pages, nor at the ORCA card vendor site. Rochelle Ogershok at King County confirmed the existence of the pilot project program and the upcoming decision of whether to make the program permanent or discontinue it.

CLARIFICATION AND UPDATE: The passes on the cards are not free. Only the card fee is waived. Also, per Ogershok, the county is not discontinuing anything. It has been “testing” the card waiver element for youth and will be deciding in the next handful of weeks whether it needs to make any adjustments.

The program is an ingenious extension to the ingenious program of giving out ORCA LIFT cards as part of a menu of services offered at Public Health.

The program supplements the free youth ORCA cards and passes that are given out to middle and high school students enrolled in Seattle Public Schools who live more than 2 miles from school, or live more than 1 mile from school and qualify for the reduced or free lunch program ($).

Of course, making the youth ORCA card free for everyone 6-18 would be even better, but Ogershok confirms there are no such plans.

Any program that gets more riders paying with ORCA rather than cash pays for itself after a few rides through the time saved by paying with ORCA instead of with cash, as Metro has documented well — a savings of 4.6 to 6.9 seconds per boarding.

In the case of regular ORCA cards, Metro has a partial excuse for the $5 fee (the highest price in the nation, by far, for a bus smart card). It does not want cardholders to treat the cards — which cost Metro $2-3 — as disposable. But that reasoning really does not apply to youth, as getting that card requires waiting a few days to get one in the mail, or making a special trip to a Metro customer service location (of which there are only two, and one is closed several weekdays per month), during weekday business hours. Moreover, kids do not need an ORCA card to get the youth fare on most transit services, including Metro, so there is little incentive to make the effort to get the card.

Given the number of families living in poverty, and the dearth of locations where one can walk in and get a youth ORCA card, making youth cards available at Public Health and other facilities that distribute LIFT cards makes mountains of sense. But if the program is not advertised, don’t expect adults applying for a LIFT card to ask about the program, nor to bring copies of their kids’ IDs to get youth cards. Please keep this program, and don’t keep it a secret.

18 Replies to “County Set to Continue Free Family ORCA Cards”

  1. It’s a shame there’s nothing sinister about secret fares and their cancellations.

    Because the sense I get about fare information, the same as for routes and schedules, is that the system is so irrationally complex that no one on staff understands it any better than the general public.

    So any inquiry triggers an ironclad information-withholding reflex that in itself would be sufficient punishment for anybody trying to extract transit information by torture.

    What’s likely happened here is that since the staff member in question either had no idea the program existed, or thought it was cars with purple mustaches, they assumed that it had either been canceled or somebody was discussing doing it.

    Also, it’s quaint to imagine somebody named Ebenezer, spending Christmas Eve running coins through his fingers and chortling with greed. Only human with gold.

    But not with pennies from fare-boxes on buses stopped in front of trains at rush hour. Or everything else that loses transit thousands and doesn’t collect a metal washer, like people used to use to cheat laundromats. Candy bar wrappers faking ORCA cards?


    1. Governor Inslee’s only choice for Transportation Secretary with chance of getting confirmed?


    2. It’s “Speedy Delivery.” I’m 80% sure he’s from Mister Rogers, even though it’s been a while.

  2. What’s the disposal rate in cities with free cards or $1 cards? This sounds like a similar situation as “The cost of turnstyles is not worth the fare evasion it would prevent”, except that in this case it led to the opposite conclusion.

    1. Wrong address for the whole US mortgage banking system, Sam. However, will grant you that it was a “Liberal” (you gotta do a real sneer from talk-show guy Michael Savage- really appropriately named Wiener) Administration that definitely worsened this group’s blood-sucking addiction before the ink on his signature had dried.


    1. I think it was free ORCAs, not free fares. Freeloaders can just do transfer fraud. Metro would be better off by getting rid of paper transfers and not charging for ORCAs.

      1. It is just the card that is free. Holders of the card must still buy a pass or pay fare, unless they qualify for free passes from their school district. I added a clarification.

  3. The youth fare should be one dollar at the most. I also wish Metro would reinstate the weekend/holiday family fare, where children could ride for free when accompanied by a fare-paying adult.

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