Beginning now, young bus riders 18 and under can ride public transportation for FREE. That means trains, buses, and ferries are free to ride until they turn 19.

Every agency in the state is on board with the idea, though you may run into a few cases where the benefit to youth hasn't gone into effect just yet. Ferries, and Amtrak, won't start their free rides until October 1st. Not a long wait at all.

The free ride program does have it's critics, who say young people are learning that "everything in life is free" or something like that. Maybe. But I think it will teach them how to be independent. And certainly parents can leverage that independence by making sure they earn their own money to pay for their excursions. "You want to meet your friends at the coffee shop... How are you going to pay for that coffee?" You get the idea.

There are certainly times when I was young when I would have benefited from a free bus ride. Times when I found myself without a ride home - and short on funds. In situations like that, a free transit ride would have offered comfort, safety - a lifeline, much like a cellphone does.

So welcome to a new era in Washington State public transportation. Instead of focusing on what it won't teach kids, let's ask ourselves what it can teach them. What doors will open for them? Where will they go, what will they learn? And how will their budding independence benefit a busy family that appreciates saving time, and a buck, where they can?

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