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AC Transit nixes discount bus passes for high school students over age 18

on March 24, 2011

The Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District’s finances are in dire straights. Facing a $21 million deficit, along with employee layoffs, service cuts and the probable closing of facilities, AC Transit doesn’t have a lot of breathing room. On Wednesday, the public transit agency’s board of directors decided the agency can’t finance the estimated $625,000 it would cost to offer discount youth bus passes for Oakland Unified School District high school students over the age of 18.

“We have a very deep budget deficit forecast and we’re just not in a position, at this point, to agree to additional expenses,” said AC Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson after the board meeting on Wednesday. “The $625,000 is a big chunk of money for us.”

On March 9, the OUSD school board passed a resolution requesting that AC Transit offer low-fare bus passes to all students enrolled in district schools regardless of age. Currently, AC Transit offers $15 per month youth passes to anyone under the age of 19. An adult fare is $2 per ride, which would cost $80 per month for a student who attends school five days a week.

This age limit leaves out approximately 800 OUSD students, according to school district estimates. Those students who cannot afford the higher fare are denied equal access to a public education, say advocates of the resolution.

“We understand as well as anyone the financial crisis, given the state’s misfortunes. However, an investment in education is an investment in our future,” says OUSD spokesman Troy Flint. “This will have an impact on one of the most vulnerable populations. It is disheartening.”

The students most at-risk of not being able to pay the higher fare, according to OUSD school board members, are students who are in special education, foster care, alternative education settings, or who live in unstable housing situations. Disabled students and refugees to the United States are also considered particularly at-risk.

For example, 75 of the 300 students at Oakland International High School will have turned 19 before their graduation date, say refugee support providers who work with the school. They say that many of these students are recently arrived immigrants who tend to be a bit older because the education they received in their home countries was interrupted before arriving in the U.S.

“We would just like to see a recognition of the reality in which not everyone finishes high school at age 18,” says Flint. “We shouldn’t be erecting extra barriers to their education.”

“It is a shame that as a community we are allowing the cost of transit to stand between kids and education,” said Oakland International High School principal Carmelita Reyes in a press statement issued before Wednesday’s meeting. “These kids are our future workers, voters, neighbors, and caregivers. To deny them a quality education, and transit to get to school, is a disservice to everyone.”

AC Transit board members say they understand this potential obstacle to public education, which is why they increased the cut-off age limit for youth passes from age 18 to 19 last year. Additionally, they say, the $15 per month price is one of the lowest youth bus fare prices in the country. “The youth fare is drastically discounted,” said Johnson. “I don’t know any industry in America where there’s been that type of cost reduction.”

But so far, AC Transit’s board has maintained that the agency can’t afford further reductions right now. In a response letter to OUSD that was reviewed during Wednesday’s board meeting, AC Transit Board President Elsa Ortiz wrote, “Without an alternate funding source and given our austerity mandate, AC Transit’s deficit will increase and bus service will be cut even more if we extended our youth fare.”

Once the letter was reviewed, the seven-member AC Transit board voted unanimously to send the letter to OUSD. The letter ended by saying that although the transit agency cannot afford to offer a discount for the additional youth passes right now, it will continue to work with the school district to try to find some sort of solution.

“In effect, the board is saying, ‘We will work with OUSD to see what is possible,’” said Johnson. “They are willing to try to see if there is a solution.”

Photo by Michael Patric via Flickr Creative Commons


  1. Jonathan Bair on March 24, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    I agree that bus access is critical to educational access in the urban East Bay. But instead of asking AC Transit for yet another unfunded service, the OUSD should be looking at ways to reimburse AC Transit for the enormous costs they incur by being the district’s sole transportation provider. Educational access is the responsibility of educational institutions, not the local transit agency.

    Also why isn’t anyone asking BART to help with getting kids to school?

  2. […] this year, AC Transit’s board of directors nixed a proposal to offer discount bus passes to Oakland high school students over the age of 18, who otherwise pay the adult fare of $2 per ride, citing the agency’s […]

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