Tears streaming down her face, she looked out at the crowd. “We have a single income household. I have to choose between paying bills, buying groceries, and buying bus passes for my kids,” said Iliana Pacheco, mother of two high school students in City Heights. Her oldest son used the free Youth Opportunity Pass through Mid-City Community Advocacy Network in order to stay on the football, baseball, and track teams.
“If he didn’t have the bus pass, he wouldn’t be able to go to all of the practices and participate in school functions. My son even used the bus pass to go to his homecoming dance and ASB ball. It kept him off the streets, out of trouble, and home safe when I couldn’t get him after school,” said Pacheco. Unfortunately, Pacheco’s son lost his bus pass when his wallet was stolen, and he hasn’t been able to replace it. Now, he cannot go to practice.
This story was echoed by many people at the “Get on the Bus” meeting at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church on November 12. The idea was to raise awareness of the lack of transportation for students and ask leaders to pledge their help. Partners in this effort include: Mid-City CAN, Justice Overcoming Boundaries, The Cleveland National Forest Foundation, Youth Activists for Change, the MAAC Project, SEIU-USWW, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, the North Bay Organizing project, Genesis, Gameliel of California, the National Gameliel Network, Urban Habitat, Partnership for the Advancement of new Americans, Clairemont Lutheran Church, and Capital Region Organizing Project. These organizations gathered from around the county to hear these stories and give their support.
“It actually took me one hour and 30 minutes to walk to school,” said Edward Romo, student at MAAC Project. “Once I got the bus pass, it was so much easier to get to school and have a safe way of getting home.”
The fight for free bus passes started in 2011 with just three people who decided they needed to step forward to make sure students could get to school safely. “Bus passes increase access to jobs, healthcare, participation in their faith communities, and teaches youth how to be independent,” said Maria Cortex, Co-Leader of the Improving Transportation in City Heights Momentum Team. “These students could be any one of you. Who knows, they could become our next council members, super intendants, and mayors.”
The push to keep free bus passes and expand the program is also an environmental one. “Public Transportation is the easiest and cheapest way to reduce green house gas emissions,” said Jack Shu, President of Cleveland National Forest Foundation. “It will help our local economy, it will save us money, it will increase walking, biking, health, and quality of life.”
Several local political leaders were invited on stage and asked to commit to do everything they can to fight for free bus passes for youth. “Absolutely” said Richard Barrera, San Diego Unified School Board Member. Ralph Dimarucut, Representative of San Diego City Council Member Marti Emerald also pledged for Emerald and her staff. In celebration of their commitment, the crowd stood up from their seats, cheering and chanting, “Get on the bus, get on the bus, get on the bus with us!”