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Metro Board Votes to Study Free Transit for LAUSD Students

The Metro board is pushing to provide free transit for LAUSD and other students. Photo via Metro student pass webpage

Today, the Metro board approved a motion that lays the groundwork for providing free transit to L.A. Unified School District students. The motion directs the agency to study free student transit, submitting a report to the board in April for further action, including determining how to fund the program.

The motion was brought to the board by directors Hilda Solis, Eric Garcetti, Mike Bonin, Jacqueline Dupont-Walker, James Butts, and Janice Hahn. In a press statement, Solis emphasized that "transportation costs should not be a barrier for students traveling to school" and further that Metro's program "could help students who attend LAUSD, a community college, or any other school district in L.A. County. This is an important investment in our communities, our students, and our economy."

LAUSD leadership - including several school board members - spoke in favor of the proposal. Public comment was also strongly in support.

The biggest point of contention was Metro boardmember interest in expanding who might receive free student transit. In addition to LAUSD, L.A. County has more than 80 smaller school districts. Many of these smaller districts are served by Metro, and some are served by Munis - municipal bus operators, including Foothill Transit, Santa Monica Big Blue Bus, etc.

Boardmember and Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian expressed concerns that Metro should develop standards and criteria for districts, including the Glendale Unified School District. Najarian stated, "We want some of this too." Boardmember and L.A. City Councilmember Paul Krekorian defended the proposal, stating that starting with LAUSD would serve equity, as the district sees higher levels of poverty than more well-off districts serving smaller geographic areas.

LAUSD has an enrollment of 674,000 students. The district is "among the highest concentrations of low-income students in the state, with more than 80 percent living at or below the poverty line." The next largest districts in L.A. County are all an order of magnitude smaller than LAUSD: Long Beach Unified (~73,000), Montebello Unified (~26,500), Glendale Unified (~26,000), Pomona Unified (~22,000), Downey Unified (~21,000), and Compton Unified (~21,000.)

Another amendment looked to expand free transit for L.A. Community College students, though this would be a separate report back scheduled for June 2020.

Ultimately, the board approved an amended motion to study providing free LAUSD transit. The initial LAUSD program would be accompanied with further "phasing based on Metro's Equity Platform." The report will evaluate more universal county-wide student coverage. Metro will recommend "actions to minimize or eliminate barriers for Los Angeles County households to take advantage of potential free transit for students, including, but not limited to, partnering with LAUSD and other school districts for administrative support." (SBLA editor Joe Linton's pet peeve: perhaps this could include Metro eliminating the bizarre loophole that requires 5-year-olds to pay full adult fares for up to a year before they start attending Kindergarten.) 

The report will come back to the board in April, which is when questions of cost will need to addressed.

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