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Seattle City Council Approves Free Bus Passes for High School Students

If approved by the Seattle School Board, 16,000 students will get free ORCA cards

Published on: June 27, 2018

The Seattle City Council approved the ORCA Opportunity program on June 26. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

School might be out for the summer but the Seattle City Council is already making big plans that could change how high schoolers get to and from school.

Yesterday, the City Council unanimously approved funding to provide free transit passes to all Seattle public high school students and students attending Seattle colleges on city-funded scholarships. That's more than 15,000 students. The change could take effect as soon as this fall.

The ORCA Opportunity program will cost an estimated $5 million a year and uses money that voters approved in 2014 to expand bus service. The City Council approved spending of up to $7 million; that extra wiggle room in the budget provides the option of the program someday including elementary and middle school students.

The Seattle School Board still needs to approve the plan before it takes affect. If it does, the program will make Seattle the largest city in the U.S. to give free, year-round transit to high school students, according to the office of Mayor Jenny Durkan.

The mayor credited the efforts of students at Rainier Beach High School for the change.

Rainier Beach students have long advocated for free transit passes and helped previously expand the allocation of free ORCA cards to include low-income students who live less than two miles from their neighborhood-assigned school (previously, only students who lived further away than two miles qualified for a free ORCA card).

"Our students' advocacy gave power to this idea that we are now able to make a reality," Mayor Durkan told The Seattle Times.

And as for parents, who doesn't love less school traffic and maybe even fewer drop-off trips? Sign us up.

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