The youth fare is abolished effective Sept. 1st. This year’s transportation package in Olympia sends transit agencies a bunch of money in return for getting rid of the fare, neatly solving the dilemma of encouraging ridership by either cutting fares or using the money to improve service. Agencies across the state quickly fell into line.
Personally, I say good riddance. Youth ORCA is a pain to get, and if you have a few kids (as I do) round trips get expensive fast. There are also benefits to creating a broadly shared generational experience with transit, and in avoiding interactions with fare enforcement. With a state subsidy, there is no downside, unless it causes transit facilities to become (more of?) a place to hang out and behave anti-socially.
The main news is overwhelmingly positive. However, explanations of the formal policy are a confusing muddle.
If a kid is 12 or under, they just get on without any sort of fare. Riders 13 to 17 are “encouraged” to produce a Youth ORCA, which can be tapped without deducting a fare, or school ID. At some point, agencies will introduce a “Free Youth Transit Pass” to replace these, but in any case, these forms of proof aren’t required.
The ostensible reason for the cards is to help in state-mandated recordkeeping, but I can’t imagine this is going to turn out well. Kids don’t have incentives to get, or keep, these cards. One can see outlines of a policy to require proof of age, but as enforcement and verification are not in fashion, agencies are shying away from actually using them as such. What’s left is a system that neither verifies age nor reliably counts youths using transit.