Eliminate Transit Fees for School Children

Eliminate Transit Fees for School Children During Commutes

Helps children stay in the same school even if the family moves by reducing transit costs.

Seattle Streetcar, part of a regional transit network (photo by authors)

What's the issue?

Displacement can be especially traumatic for young children. Even if they move within the same school district, they are displaced further from schools. If housing insecurity causes students to change schools frequently, their education can suffer. Allowing students to stay in the same school even when they move and eliminating transit fees for school aged children during commute times are policies that will ensure moves and displacement do not interrupt children's educations or burden families.

In Denver, the Regional Transportation District (RTD) is rapidly expanding its light rail system. Students are currently petitioning the city for more RTD rail and bus passes. Student passes are given only to low-income children enrolled in their home boundary school. This puts students whose families suffer from housing instability at a distinct disadvantage - they must shuffle between schools, or pay for their own transit to continue attending school in a district they have left.

How do student transit subsidies help?

This policy, based on Washington, D.C.’s School Transit Subsidy Program, is designed for school-aged children to access free transit during commute times, from 6am to 9am and from 2pm to 6pm. This will help kids continue to attend the same school and receive the support and stability they need at such a vulnerable time.

This policy should be coupled with increased school choice that would allow students to stay in the same school even when they move. In 2012, Denver implemented a unified enrollment system for all schools in the district. The district also redrew school boundary lines in 2010 so that a child living in a given neighborhood has guaranteed access to one of several schools, and 200 schools give priority to students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. In just four years since the school choice policy launched, the percent of students attending a school with concentrated poverty dropped from 42% to 30%.  A policy like this increases choice for students who frequently move and could be expanded to ensure that a student who moves can continue attending the same school.

Todd Ely and Paul Teske, "success Express: Transportation Innovation in Denver Public Schools," Mile High Connects and School of Public Affairs, University of Colorado Denver, 2014.

When and where does this policy work best?

This policy works best in cities that have robust transit systems which students can use to get to school. For cities without a robust transit system, cities should still increase students' rights to stay in the same school and ensure that school bus routes are designed to interlock and maximize student flexibility to continue attending their same school without relying on private transit.

Works best for neighborhoods in late-stage gentrification or neighborhoods that receive displaced persons

Works best when neighborhoods are/have...

What's the issue?

There may be concerns about those who attempt to fraudulently use this program for free transit rides. This problem will be addressed in the sign-up process fro the program. Only children under age 18 will be eligible for the program and will need to register for the pass with their name and age. They will also need to input their address and school to ensure that they would use transit to get to school. This would prevent parents from using their child's subsidy while the child walks to a school closer to the family home. Additionally, the free transit portion of the pass will only be available during school commute hours.