If passed, AB 17 (Holden) would provide transit passes to low-income students.  Helping students use public transit would fight climate change, impact poverty, increase access to education, improve public health, and strengthen communities.

Transit passes can clean the air and help the climate

According to the California Air Resources Board, the transportation sector is California’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 36% of total emissions in 2014.  These emissions can be reduced by improving public transit and increasing ridership.

In 2013, all transportation-eligible Minneapolis high school students began using public transportation instead of school buses under the Go-To Student Pass Program, which gave free or reduced-cost transit passes to high school students.  After the transit pass was implemented, researchers found that vehicle miles traveled dropped, and estimated annual emissions of nitrogen oxide decreased by 93%, carbon dioxide decreased by 59%, and particulate matter decreased by 89% when compared to the yellow bus programs that were previously used.

Air pollutants threaten the lung and cardiovascular health of many Californians. Researchers at Cal State Fullerton concluded that air pollution causes over 3,800 premature deaths per year in regions of southern California and places a $28 billion burden on California’s economy each year.

Not too cool to take the bus (or train) to school

Why should the state invest in a transit pass program for low income youth?  Many students face tremendous financial obstacles to obtaining an education.  A 2015 study at California State University found that approximately 10% of CSU students were homeless and 20% did not have reliable access to adequate amounts of food.  It was estimated in 2014 that nearly 270,000 k-12 students in California were at some point homeless and the percentage of homeless students had doubled since 2010.

Providing free or reduced cost transit passes could greatly help low-income students with these difficult financial circumstances. Researchers at UCLA looked at multiple transit pass programs throughout the United States and concluded that the passes could reduce the cost of an education by $2,000 per year, which translates to approximately $2,667 per year in 2016.                                                                                    

After implementing the transit pass program in Minneapolis, researchers found that students who used the free passes had 23% fewer absences, were able to boost their GPAs by having greater access to libraries and after school programs, and felt a stronger sense of social well being as they were able to connect more easily with others in their community.

These findings echo what has been said by students and teachers about a similar transit pass program that was passed in 2014 in Alameda County.  Genesis, a Bay Area social justice group that advocated for the passes, met with several Castlemont High school students in September of 2016 to talk about the pass program.  The Genesis Bus Pass Team reported that the Castlemont students were thrilled to discover that transportation to school would be guaranteed.  One student said, “I will go to school every day now even at the end of the month. When money runs out at end of month, there is no bus fare and there is no food. I can go to school now and always get something to eat so I’m not hungry. There is no reason to stay at home and not go to school.”  Other students were relieved to know that they would be able to get to jobs, college fairs, mentoring programs, internships, visit grandparents, explore different neighborhoods, and arrive home safely.  The staff member in charge of attendance said that lack of access to transportation was the number one reason why students missed school, and reported that attendance rates had risen significantly because of the passes.

A better transit system and a more convenient city for everyone

As was demonstrated in Minneapolis, transit pass programs can help increase ridership, which can motivate transit providers to expand and improve transit options.  A study of Unlimited Access programs — where universities and public transit agencies provide free transit service for students — noted that the increase in student ridership occurred very rapidly, with a 70%-200% increase in the first year, and additional 2%-10% increases in the following years. Furthermore, students who participated in the Minneapolis program reported that they were more likely to use public transit after graduation.

A strong economy and greater equity

Functioning and accessible public transit is strongly linked to social mobility.  A Harvard study found that commute time was the single strongest factor in low-income individuals being able to pull their families out of poverty:  the shorter a commute, the more likely a low-income family is to be upwardly mobile.  There is even a correlation between unemployment and a lack of public transit access (NYU 2015).                                                                                                                                                                                    

What can you do?

Convinced that providing transit passes to low-income students is a good idea?                                                  

  •      Become an advocate for public transit by joining 350 Bay Area’s transportation committee; next meeting on May 7th (http://www.350bayarea.org/transpo).
  •      Stay tuned for further actions to support AB 17, investments in public transit, and reducing GHG emissions; sign up for our bi-monthly newsletter (http://www.350bayarea.org/join4).


Bouchard, Mikayla.  “Transportation Emerges as Crucial to Escaping Poverty.”  May 7, 2015.  https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/07/upshot/transportation-emerges-as-crucial-to-escaping-poverty.html?_r=0.  Accessed 4/28/17.

Brown, Jeffrey and Donald Shoup.  “Unlimited Access.”  UCLA.  2001.  ://shoup.bol.ucla.edu/UnlimitedAccessUCLA.pdf.  Accessed 4/28/17.

Chetty, Raj and Nathaniel Hedren.  “The Impacts of Neighborhoods on Intergenerational Mobility.”  Harvard.  May 2015.  http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/hendren/files/nbhds_paper.pdf.  Accessed 4/28/17.

Crutchfield, Rashida.  “Serving Displaced and Food Insecure Students in the CSU.”  January 2016.  https://presspage-production-content.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/1487/cohomelessstudy.pdf?10000.  Accessed 4/28/17.

Fan, Ynigling.  “Assessing the Impacts of Student Transportation on Public Transit.”  Attendance Works.  December 2015.  http://www.attendanceworks.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Minneapolis-Student-Pass-Study.pdf.  Accessed 4/28/17.

Kauffmann, Sarah and Mitchell Moss.  “Mobility, Economic Opportunity and New York City Neighborhoods.”  New York University.  November 2015.  http://wagner.nyu.edu/rudincenter/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/JobAccessNov2015.pdf.  Accessed 4/28/17.  

White, Gillian B.  “Stranded:  How America’s Failing Public Transportation Increases Inequality.”  May 16, 2015.  https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/05/stranded-how-americas-failing-public-transportation-increases-inequality/393419/.  Accessed 4/28/17.

Xia, Rosanna. “1 in 10 Cal State Students is Homeless, Study Finds.” Los Angeles Times. June 20th, 2016.  http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-cal-state-homelessness-20160620-snap-story.html.  Accessed 4/28/17.

“CTS Research Brief:  Student Pass Program Provides Educational, Economic, Societal Benefits.”  Center for Transportation Studies at UMN.  February 2016.  http://www.cts.umn.edu/sites/default/files/files/publications/researchsummaries/Student_pass_brief.pdf.  Accessed 4/28/17.

“Dirty Air Costs California Economy $28 Billion Annually.”  CSUF.  November 12th, 2008.  http://calstate.fullerton.edu/news/2008/091-air-pollution-study.html.  Accessed 4/28/17.

“Student Pass Program Provides Educational, Economic, Societal Benefits.”  Center for Transportation Studies at UMN. February 2016.  http://www.cts.umn.edu/publications/catalyst/2016/february/studentpass.  Accessed 4/28/17.


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