KT to kids: Come on and take a free ride

Kitsap County youth will receive their “ticket to freedom” next school year after Kitsap Transit approved a change to the fare structure Tuesday that includes a free youth rides program.

The changes, which go into effect Sept. 1, will allow youth up to age 18 free rides on all KT routes. Previous policies allowed free rides for children up to age 5 accompanied by an adult, and reduced fares for those ages 6-18.

The changes were pushed by the Move Ahead Washington bill, which passed in the legislature March 10. KT will receive an estimated $1.4 million through the rest of 2022 and an estimated $3.8 million annually from the state through 2036 as a result of the program.

Mayor of Poulsbo and vice-chair of the board Becky Erickson said she would like to see an analysis of ridership and routes in the near future.

“I totally support this, but now that we’re doing this, I really would like to know how we’re doing,” she said. “I feel like I need to have a better idea of who’s riding the bus where and who’s riding the ferries where and to see if we have routes that are too congested and routes that aren’t used at all.”

The board will be working with schools to distribute ORCA cards to students and to educate them on how to use them for the free rides. Bainbridge Island councilwoman and at-large member of the board Leslie Schneider said that the move will help relieve car congestion at schools.

“It’s so annoying that cars are just sitting there, idling,” she said. “It’s a huge problem. So if we could just make a big splash with this in partnership with the schools, that would be amazing and a good bang for our buck.”

Other changes include removal of the fuel surcharge, which charged riders more to combat rising costs in gas. The board deemed the surcharge no longer necessary after it created a fuel stabilization fund. The vanpool surcharge will also be removed as vanpools crossing the Tacoma Narrows Bridge from the Kitsap Peninsula are not charged tolls.