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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Free transit for low-income youth: Experience in the San Francisco Bay Area


In August 2002, AC Transit – the principal bus operator serving the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay – began distributing free bus passes to low-income middle school and high school students in the transit service district. The program developed in response to grassroots community activism and growing political pressure to remove the burden of school transportation costs from low-income households. Advocates argued that school transportation costs were a barrier that prevented poor children from participating in after-school activities and, in severe cases, led to missed days of school. Funding for a pilot bus pass program was provided by the transit agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, local agencies, and several nonprofit organizations. The University of California, Berkeley, was funded to carry out an evaluation of the program during the first year of the program. Before-and-after travel and activity surveys, interviews, focus group meetings, and analysis of attendance data were used in the evaluation. Findings after 1 year of implementation indicate that the free bus pass program increased student bus ridership and after-school participation but did not increase overall school attendance. Increases in bus use were greater among pass holders, in areas with high levels of bus service, and among high school students.

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