LAUSD Board Member, Dr. George J. McKenna with students.

This week, Los Angeles Unified School Board Member Dr. George McKenna launched the first-ever “any line, any time” Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro) pass program for K-12 students in LAUSD. This pilot program won a competitive grant from the Just Transit Project of The 11th Hour Project of The Schmidt Family Foundation to fund free transit passes for a full year for the entire Junior class at Manual Arts High School in South Los Angeles to ride any Metro line and nine other municipal transit bus operators in LA County.

“A transit pass program will make a major difference in the lives of students and their communities,” said LAUSD Board Member, Dr. George J. McKenna. “This is an important investment that will minimize barriers for students who may struggle getting to school. Eliminating those obstacles will increase student achievement by mitigating potential opportunities for lost instructional time due to absenteeism.”

Low-wealth students and their parents face many challenges when pursuing an education, and the cost of transportation—including gas, insurance, parking, maintenance—is one of the biggest obstacles. As a result, far too many of these students cannot finish their education due to absenteeism and tardiness, and are more likely to end up in the juvenile detention system for something as minor as a transit fare violation. Recent evidence demonstrates that providing low-income residents assistance with transportation costs is an effective tool for reducing poverty.

“I can’t imagine paying $2 a day to go to and from class. It really adds up,” said Manual Arts High School Junior Mathew, as he used his LA Metro U-Pass TAP Card to get on a Metro bus.

“I take two buses, twice a day, six days a week. It is really a great program. For me and my parents, we save a lot of money,” said Jessica, another Manual Arts High School Junior.

“This program helps eliminate a barrier to these students’ academic success and beyond, enabling them to navigate our ever-changing world,” said Metro board director Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker, who was appointed to the Board by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “By offering better access to education and opportunity without having to worry about cost, we are empowering these students to focus on what is most important: learning and growing.”

This unique pilot program seeks a solution to the challenges faced by low-wealth households in the Federally-designated South Los Angeles Transit Empowerment Zone (SLATE-Z). This partnership came together as part of the Memorandum of Understanding signed by 55 organizations working to revitalize South LA by moving residents to economic opportunity.

“The South Los Angeles Transit Empowerment Zone is proud to partner with MOVE LA, LA Promise Fund, the city of Los Angeles and LAUSD on this critical pilot program to eliminate unnecessary barriers to academic success,” said SLATE-Z executive director Effie Turnbull Sanders.

Metro TAP card stickers are attached directly to their LAUSD student ID, giving them a convenient option to ride on Metro and ten other public transit agencies for free anywhere throughout the county of Los Angeles. The passes are being distributed at the Manual Arts HS College Center, an on-campus resource center for students run by the LA Promise Fund.

LAUSD Board Member, Dr. George J. McKenna greeting students.

“High school success is predicated on a number of factors, one of the basic elements is safe transit from home to school and back,” said Veronica Melvin, CEO of LA Promise Fund. “We’re grateful to be working with Slate-Z, LA Metro, Move LA and LAUSD to facilitate safe and secure commutes for our Manual Arts students.”

SLATE-Z partners will be tracking outcomes of the pilot throughout the year including absenteeism, tardinism, fare evasion tickets, access to education and job opportunities, and miles traveled on public transit to understand the real benefits of this transit pass model. A study by the LA County Department of Public Health found that securing free transit passes for all students from preschool to college could result in: 1) LA County households saving a total of $750,000 per year in fines for fare evasion and $2.5 million per year on student transit passes, 2) students receiving more instructional time, 3) schools receiving an additional $125,000 each year for every 1% decrease in unexcused absences, and 4) fewer vehicle emissions resulting in healthier families and communities.

“We are excited about the potential for this transit pass program to create a model for equal access and upward mobility for low-income public school students in Los Angeles, inspire the next generation of transit riders, reduce transportation emissions and traffic, and lead to better job opportunities, access to education, and graduation rates,” said Move LA’s Eli Lipmen.