This week, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a plan to provide all public high-school students with free transit passes by next fall.
“At a time that our city is becoming increasingly unaffordable for families, we need to make transit more safe, accessible and affordable, especially for our young people,” Durkan said in a statement, as reported by the Seattle Times.
Five school districts in King County already give their students free passes during the school year, as Next City has covered. The students can use their ORCA cards to access King County Metro buses, Seattle streetcars and Sound Transit light rail and buses.
But when the school year ends, the cards are deactivated and youth ridership drops, as Josh Cohen wrote for Next City last year. On Metro buses, data found, youth ridership goes from about 400,000 rides per month during the school year to fewer than 100,000 per month in the summer.
Durkan’s plan, which would expand those passes year-round and offer them to all students, regardless of income, is somewhat unique, according to another article in the Times. Washington, D.C., and Portland offer free transit service to students, but only during the academic year. New York City gives out free transit passes to students based on certain factors, like age and the distance they live from their school.
The project would reportedly cost the city about $3.8 million for one year, with King County Metro footing another $1 million. It wouldn’t require approval from the Seattle City Council or Metropolitan King County Council for that first year.
That may sound like a fare-box loss for the system, but Durkan’s office appears to playing the long game, hoping that encouraging young people to use transit will make them less likely to rely on a car later in life.
“Traffic’s going to get worse before it gets better; megaprojects will lead to mega-gridlock,” Durkan told the paper. “The good news is more people are using transit and fewer people are driving alone in their cars and we need to keep that trend growing.”
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.