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
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.