Sacramento to offer students free transit starting this fall: expected to raise student ridership 600% and help those without transport get to school. Joins Seattle, DC, Boston, Germany and Paris.

The action in Sacramento reflects a sentiment growing across the nation and the world to make public transportation free, especially for underserved, vulnerable and mobility-challenged populations. Washington, DC offers free public transit trips to students traveling to and from school and school-related activities. Last year Seattle’s city council approved free transit passes for all high school students, and earlier this year Boston’s mayor proposed providing free bus passes to students in grades 7-12. In addition to helping families financially, free transit aids cities in meeting sustainability goals. Last year five cities in Germany tested free transit to help meet air pollution reduction targets. And getting more cars off the road is considered one of the reasons Paris made public transportation free for everyone under 11, in addition to the free trips it already offered low- to middle-income individuals over age 65 or with disabilities.

By Katie Pyzyk@_PyintheSky June 17 2019

UPDATE, June 17, 2019: Students in Sacramento will be able to use transit for free in the city starting this fall, following city council’s approval of the scheme as part of its $1.2 billion budget, according to KCRA and others.

Students who live in the city limits or attend school in the city will be eligible for the free passes, as will homeless students and those in foster care. Sacramento Regional Transit will distribute stickers to school districts, which will then pass them on to students. They then attach the sticker to their student ID.

  • Sacramento City Councilmember Jay Schenirer has proposed providing all students in the city with free transit passes through a partnership with Sacramento Regional Transit (SacRT). 
  • All children from kindergarten through 12th grade who live or go to school in Sacramento would be able to ride buses and light rail for free every day. Youth participating in the program would have a sticker attached to their student ID.
  • The city of Sacramento would commit $1 million from the general fund to support the program. Schenirer said SacRT could absorb the additional ridership without adding costs. Schenirer’s office tells Smart Cities Dive the city’s FY 2019-2020 budget is expected to be adopted next month and if it is approved with the free transit included, the program could begin this fall.

The free transit proposal is intended to be mutually beneficial for SacRT as well as students and their families. The program is expected to drastically increase SacRT’s student ridership — 600% in the first year, according to Schenirer’s office. Instilling the idea of taking transit while a person is young often turns it into a habit that continues throughout life.

The initiative is also intended to help kids who are chronically absent from school because they don’t have access to or can’t afford transportation. Free transit would make it easier for kids to ensure they have a reliable ride to and from after-school activities, jobs and internships.

The action in Sacramento reflects a sentiment growing across the nation and the world to make public transportation free, especially for underserved, vulnerable and mobility-challenged populations. Washington, DC offers free public transit trips to students traveling to and from school and school-related activities. Last year Seattle’s city council approved free transit passes for all high school students, and earlier this year Boston’s mayor proposed providing free bus passes to students in grades 7-12. In addition to helping families financially, free transit aids cities in meeting sustainability goals. Last year five cities in Germany tested free transit to help meet air pollution reduction targets. And getting more cars off the road is considered one of the reasons Paris made public transportation free for everyone under 11, in addition to the free trips it already offered low- to middle-income individuals over age 65 or with disabilities.

 THE SACRAMENTO BEE Sacramento kids may soon be able to ride public transit for free

Discounted fares for lower income riders helps and is unlikely to lead to crowding in peak periods

BRIEF: MIT: Discounted fares prompt more transit use among low-income Bostonites, by Katie Pyzyk@_PyintheSky, June 17, 2019

  • Preliminary results of a study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers indicate low-income citizens in Boston take transit more frequently if their fare is discounted.
  • Participants in the study who received a 50% reduced fare took about 30% more trips on Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) — about 2.5 more trips per week — than the control group that received no discount. Low-income riders were also more likely to travel during off-peak times, relied more on the bus and made more transfers among routes and transit modes.
  • The study’s purpose was to investigate how public transit cost influences low-income citizens’ ridership, and how a reduced fare policy could improve their quality of life. The report contains only preliminary findings from the study; the complete analysis has not yet been released.

The study had 240 participants and ran from February through May this year. Each individual was enrolled for a two-month period. To participate, individuals had to be receiving SNAP benefits and not be eligible for one of the existing MBTA discounts — seniors, youth and people with disabilities. Each participant submitted daily travel diaries via a chatbot — which provided reminders — to describe what they used their transit card for (work, school, errands, etc).

The results have already prompted activists to encourage MBTA to adopt a low-income transit rider subsidy. At least one city councilmember is on board, saying it’s important to lower the barriers that transit fares create for people in need.

This report explains that little is known about how low-income residents respond to fare increases and manage transportation costs within the context of their overall budgets.

It also says that few transit agencies provide discounts to poor citizens. Discounts typically are reserved for other vulnerable populations such as seniors, students and people with disabilities.

The researchers noted that some transit agencies argue that providing low-income discounts could significantly add to system crowding during peak travel times. But this study’s findings suggest that might not be the case because poor riders took more off-peak trips than average riders, especially during the middle of the day.

Various elements play into that, but it could be largely due to the types of jobs the different populations tend to hold. Poor citizens are more likely to hold hourly jobs and do shift work; prosperous individuals often work in an office and commute during relatively similar peak times. 

During the study, low-income riders used the bus for about 60% of their trips compared with 40% for the average MBTA user. This supports data from a number of sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau, showing buses are the most-used transit mode nationwide.

Buses have the most widespread networks, thus proving more convenient than other modes. Bus trips also are consistently the lowest-priced transit options, making them more popular for budget conscious individuals.  

Another notable finding is that study participants who received a discount took more transit trips to health care and social service providers. This suggests transit discounts could indirectly improve poor individuals’ quality of life in a variety of ways. 

Affordable transit can be a barrier to reaching jobs and schools. For that reason, several U.S. cities are implementing free transit programs for students — to provide easy, affordable transportation access and try to boost attendance rates. Sacramento just approved such a program, joining Seattleand Washington, DCBoston provides free bus passes for all students in 7th to 12th grade.

Recommended Reading:  MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY DEPARTMENT OF URBAN STUDIES AND PLANNINGHow Low-income Transit Riders in Boston Respond to Discounted Fares: A Randomized Controlled Evaluation