Ticket to read KCLS proposes free bus fare to libraries for kids

A statue of a boy with a book and rabbit sits at the Island library. - Reporter file photo
A statue of a boy with a book and rabbit sits at the Island library.
— image credit: Reporter file photo

The King County Library System (KCLS) Board of Trustees is discussing the introduction of a program entitled “Ride to Read,” which will give youth free Metro bus transit to and from their local libraries. The idea was discussed during a planning committee meeting held at the Mercer Island Library last Friday — the first open meeting that the board has held.

“The number one concern I hear is, ‘How can we help our kids get to the library?’” said KCLS director Bill Ptacek, who openly supported the program. “It would really be focused on the kids.”

Although just a draft, the board hopes to present its idea to the King County Council in the near future. Board member Lauren Mikob presented the report, reminding that there were still a number of questions to be considered — both logistical and financial.

According to the “Ride to Read” proposal, KCLS would like to partner with the King County Metro system to develop a program in which children and teenagers up to age 17 could ride the bus for free to and from their neighborhood libraries.

All but two of KCLS’ 43 libraries are accessible via King County Metro, including the Mercer Island branch. Thirteen of these libraries have a bus stop within one block and the rest are within one mile, the report states. The only two districts without library bus routes are Skykomish and Snoqualmie.

Judge LeRoy McCullough, an overseeing trustee on the board, said the program would especially help youth in King County’s more rural communities.

“This [idea] would be interesting to pursue. It’s rough for some kids [in the rural areas] to get around, more so than in the city,” McCullough said.

The cities of Muckleshoot and Woodinville, where the libraries are located away from downtown areas, have already requested that KCLS pursue alternative transportation options, Mikob said.

“We have the advantage of really well-placed bus stops,” she said. “[Ride to Read] would especially benefit those kids who don’t have access to libraries or can’t afford bus tickets.”

The proposal cited a number of similar programs throughout the country, including Jacksonville, Fla., Eau Claire, Wis., and Grand Rapids, Mich. In most of these examples, the children show their library card or a special “Ride to Read” ticket when riding a bus with a library route. Individual library foundations cover the majority of program costs, Mikob said, adding that KCLS would most likely follow this example. King County Metro may also be a financial option.

Metro currently offers rider discounts to and from Mariners games, University of Washington athletic events, and during the annual Seafair celebration in August. There is also a downtown Seattle “free zone,” vouchers for new Seattle City employees and commuter discounts through Metro’s “One Less Car Challenge.”

The director’s assistant clarified, however, that the project would require much research and planning with Metro Transit before being presented to the King County Council. Most of the board was eager to support the proposal. Ptacek, in particular, expressed his optimism for the project.

“How bad could it be, going to the King County Council and asking for free transit for our kids?” he asked. “It’s a way we can convey all the good things going on in our libraries.”

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