YouthPass is a program that currently gives Portland Public School (PPS) students free access to Trimet transit service in lieu of a traditional school bus system. The program was originally offered only to low-income students, but was expanded in 2011 thanks to organizing from young people of color at Sisters in Action for Power to include all PPS students, and has recently expanded to other school districts in the Portland Metro area due to the advocacy of the Multnomah Youth Commission, Youth Environmental Justice Alliance, and OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon. During this time, a joint analysis from ECONorthwest and TriMet found that “The provision of free passes to PPS students likely did not affect TriMet’s operating costs in a significant way. Discontinuing the provision of free passes is unlikely to result in operating cost savings.” This is a critical program that is building up the next generation of transit riders, while reducing congestion and carbon pollution across the greater Portland region: approximately 200,000 youth under 18 are eligible for YouthPass in the greater Portland region.
Regionwide YouthPass for all youth under 18 would supplement the current Portland-only program to school districts in the urbanized portions of the tri-county region. Metro’s T2020 Transportation Measure currently being considered for referral to the November 2020 ballot, is a unique opportunity to expand and streamline YouthPass to benefit youth regionwide. Extending the power of YouthPass regionwide would alleviate barriers and increase equitable access to transit for all youth, across the region. No single proposed program or project in T2020 offers a clear and tangible benefit to every individual and voter, but regionwide YouthPass provides enormous benefit to the region’s youth.
Regional Impact – Regional Benefit
- Expanded YouthPass for youth under 18 is easier to administer and would provide the largest benefit to low-income youth, which aligns with a targeted universalism equity approach. YouthPass for youth under 18 reduces barriers and economic stigma often associated with paying for public transportation – it should be made available to youth under 18, not just those who are means-tested, and not only those in the City of Portland.
- While certain parts of the region are undeniably more lacking in transit infrastructure than others, of 41 high schools in the region in need of YouthPass, 85 percent (35 schools) have one or more transit line running directly outside school campus to within ½ mile of the campus (10-minute walk), including the 8 PPS High Schools currently using YouthPass.
- The benefits of YouthPass to youth extend beyond educational to include access to job, health, cultural, and other opportunities — which would be felt on a regional level beyond simply providing a much-needed additional transportation option to youth.
Supports & Empowers Student Independence as Transit Riders
- 200,000 youth under 18 are eligible for YouthPass in the greater Portland region. YouthPass opens opportunities for independence and flexibility in transportation, which supports and enables youth to access extracurriculars (which are often a requirement of their schooling), obtain jobs, engage in volunteer opportunities, support their families, seek medical care, and increase community connection.
- YouthPass builds transit users of tomorrow, today. YouthPass empowers youth transit users to experience what public transit can and should be, overcoming America’s stigma of riding the bus. These same youth are and will be the next generation of taxpayers and paying transit riders.
Reduces Demands on Our Schools & Improves Educational Outcomes
- Transit access for youth 18 and under provides an opportunity to streamline school administration or pilot distribution strategies. A centralized, regional YouthPass program removes the unfair expectation that separate school districts with limited capacity be required to administer youth transit passes, ensuring equality and ease of access to transit for all youth in the region.
- Transit access increases school attendance by giving families and students more reliable options for getting to school. Research shows that access to alternatives to the classic yellow school bus increases attendance, a priority given Oregon’s low graduation rates.
- Transit access provides an opportunity for school transportation departments to reconsider yellow school bus needs, potentially remove unnecessary yellow bus lines, and save scarce school district resource expenditures on the 30% of non-state-reimbursed district budget to pay for yellow buses.
The T2020 Task Force and Metro Council already approved fare affordability for youth — GTT is working closely with our coalition partners and we are ready to dig into the details to make YouthPass work for all youth under 18 in the region through the T2020 measure.
For students outside the current PPS YouthPass area, it is time for a regional YouthPass program.