Members of Mid-City CAN's Improving Transportation in City Heights (ITCH) team and our Policy Advisor are in Sacramento today (January 10) for a rally to encourage legislators to fund student transit passes.
Members of the California State Legislature
Sacramento California 95814
Dear Senators and Assemblymembers:
As a coalition, we request that your 2023 Budget allocate funding to support a groundbreaking statewide student transit pass program so that every single California student–from kindergarten to graduate school–can easily and freely access our public transit systems. This should be considered as part of a larger transit and education rebuilding and recovery effort as the COVID pandemic subsides.
Student transit pass programs have multiple co-benefits, making this an effective investment during a time of fiscal austerity. This is based on at least three peer-reviewed papers   conducted by several University of California researchers that provide academically rigorous research indicating fare-free student transit is an effective program to improve educational outcomes, increase the recruitment and retention of students, increase ridership, decrease VMT, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Transit agencies across California have partnered for over a decade to provide “insurance-like” transit discount programs because they work for students at K-12 institutions, community colleges, and our state’s universities. However, these programs are limited in scope and scale. During the pandemic, transit agencies, including Los Angeles Metro and SANDAG, used American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funding for their robust and successful pilot programs. However, these successful programs will run out of funding in 2023 and need a sustainable source of funding.
You have the opportunity to build on these successful programs by creating a comprehensive, statewide program that provides an immediate and tangible benefit to struggling students–from low-income elementary school children to UC Academic Workers striking for, amongst many demands, free transit passes. This is because more than half of adults in the U.S. who are experiencing poverty are also experiencing transportation insecurity and studies show that discounted fare programs for low-income individuals can alleviate poverty, increase social mobility, and improve health by increasing trips, particularly to health care and social services.
Finally, these programs result in real educational gains that could help struggling students post-pandemic. In the first year of an Alameda County student pass pilot program 14% of students missed fewer days of school than they did during the prior year, and involvement in non-school-based afterschool activities and after-school jobs increased dramatically (by 77% and 238% respectively) for student participants. And at Rio Hondo College in Whittier, a pilot program resulted in community college graduation rates increasing by 27% higher for students who receive free transit passes.
 Saphores, J., Shah, D., & Khatun, F. (2020). A Review of Reduced and Free Transit Fare Programs in California. UC Office of the President: University of California Institute of Transportation Studies. http://dx.doi.org/10.7922/G2XP735Q Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/74m7f3rx
 Nuworsoo, C. (2004). Deep Discount Group Pass Programs as Instruments for Increasing Transit Revenue and Ridership. University of California Berkeley. Dissertation Series UCB-ITS-DS-200402, May 1, 2004, pages 1-292. https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/crp_fac/18
 Brown, J., Hess, D. B., & Shoup, D. (2003). Fare-Free Public Transit at Universities: An Evaluation. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 23(1), 69–82. https://doi.org/10.1177/0739456X03255430
Earlier this year, Governor Newsom vetoed Assembly Bill 1919 which would have enabled hundreds of thousands of K-12, community college, CSU, and UC students and academic student employees to ride transit without fare throughout the state. The reasons were sound; funding had not been included in the budget. Therefore, we respectfully request that you include funding in this budget for the full cost of a pilot program.
The reasons couldn’t be more urgent; as we experience unprecedented inflation and more extreme weather, we must support every conceivable way to get people out of polluting cars, immediately, and with a societal benefit that reduces poverty, quickly. We encourage your budget team to identify funds that are:
- Non-Proposition 98 funding which would ensure support from school districts, many of whom contribute to student transit already.
- Subject to SB 535 Disadvantaged Communities and AB 1550 Low Income Community requirements.
- Dedicated to reducing the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, created by passenger vehicles.
We ask that you finally be the Legislature who makes public transit a truly public good for millions of California.
Executive Director, Move LA
Executive Director, Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative
Executive Director, Coastal Rail Santa Cruz
Senior Public Affairs Director
Executive Director, Mid-City Community Advocacy Network
Policy Counsel, Circulate San Diego
Co-Director, State Policy, Streets for All
Executive Director, Climate Resolve
Youth for Climate Justice
Santa Cruz Climate Action Network
Iwalani (Lani) Faulkner
Director, Equity Transit
Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Santa Cruz Chapter
David Diaz, MPH
Executive Director, Active San Gabriel Valley
President, UAW 2865
Executive Director, San Francisco Transit Riders
Campaign for Sustainable Transportation
Coalition Manager, California Green New Deal Coalition
Governor Gavin Newsom
Secretary Toks Omishakin