Free “Pilot Licenses” for Youth Unlock Opportunity

Michelle Allison poses for a photo at the King Street Center in Seattle, Washington on December 13, 2021.

By Michelle Allison

Although, as adults, we sometimes hate to admit it, this generation of young people is doing many things better than we have ever done – from caring for the environment to cultural awareness to do technology. Freedom of movement is no different. My right of way was to borrow the keys to a gas-powered vehicle. This fall, this generation’s freedom will come in the form of a free youth transit pass that will unlock clean, green public transportation in King County and beyond.

Thanks to the statewide Move Ahead Washington funding program, every youth 18 and under will be able to ride the King County subway for free starting September 1. And, parent to parent, you are welcome. Finally, your kids won’t have to ask for a few bucks or a ride to get to friends, grandparents, jobs, parks, museums, and countless other destinations.

While many students used the metro to get to class in recent school years, we now invite all young people to use public transport all year round. Since school-issued cards expired each year, additional benefits of free youth transit include reducing plastic waste from expired cards and reducing the administrative burden on schools to distribute new cards. We’re also working to develop future ways for young people to forgo cards entirely in favor of putting a “smart sticker” on their student ID, listening to their smart phones, or using a “portable” like a bracelet.

So how will it work this fall? As of September 1, all young people can use public transit for free. Riders aged 13 and over are encouraged to use their Youth ORCA card if they have one. (Youth ORCA cards issued by schools in the 2021-22 school year will continue to work until June 30, 2023.) Tap your card to board and, right on the Sound Transit light rail, tap also when you go out. You can also show the driver your current high school or college student ID.

It is important to note that young people who do not have a youth ORCA card or a student card can still travel for free. Young people and their families rely on Metro to provide safe and reliable service and we will never deny service to young people.

Free public transit for young people is a historic moment that reminds us of the values ​​embodied in public transit and the bright future it makes possible. This generation wants downtowns and neighborhoods built for people, not vehicles. They understand the importance of green spaces to be enjoyed and dedicated paths for cycling, walking, rolling and running. And they understand how important it is for all young people, regardless of background, to be able to access opportunities.

This generation, and future generations, will also be unjustly impacted by the devastation of our environment. While public transit has always been green, the urgency of the climate crisis has led Metro to commit to moving to a 100% zero-emission bus fleet by 2035 or earlier. King County is leading the way, spurring needed innovation in the private sector and sharing our plans with transit agencies around the world so they can follow suit.

Getting people out of cars and electrifying public transport are also key to reducing local pollution and reducing cases of related diseases like asthma, cancer and heart disease. South King County has higher pollution levels and is where more of our BIPOC residents and low income residents live. That’s why Metro’s first order of next-generation zero-emission battery electric buses is already being rolled out to southern King County, bringing cleaner, healthier air and new, well-paying jobs.

In addition to the subway, young people can also travel for free on Community Transit, Everett Transit, Kitsap Transit, Pierce Transit, Seattle Streetcar and Sound Transit. Starting October 1, young people will also be able to ride Washington State ferries for free as a cyclist, pedestrian or vehicle passenger. Together, young people can take full advantage of our integrated regional network of buses, ferries, light rail, on-demand services, paratransit vans, streetcars, water taxis and more.

As we head into a new school year and an exciting new era, allow me to be one of the first to say to the young people of our region, “Welcome aboard! »

Michelle Allison is the Assistant General Manager of King County Metro. Visit to learn more about free youth transit.

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