ACTCs Transit Pilot Targets Barriers for Student Riders

Alameda students ride the bus

Alameda County Transportation Commission found that middle and high school students often cite the cost of transportation as a barrier to attendance and participation in after-school activities. The question the Alameda CTC posed is what type of transit pass program would be most effective?

To find out, Alameda CTC dedicated $15 million of local Measure BB funds to the Student Transit Pass Pilot (STPP) to assess student transportation needs.  The overall objective was to find the best way to meet those needs through implementation and testing of different student transit pass program models.  The goal was to:

  • Reduce barriers to transportation access to and from schools
  • Improve transportation options for middle and high school students
  • Build support for transit in Alameda County
  • Create a basis for a countywide student transit pass program (funding permitting).

Alameda CTC launched the pilot in 2016 at five high schools and four middle schools.  The program was designed to test different approaches over a three-year period.  Year One tested four program models: a free and universal program, a free and limited grades program, a discount and limited grades program, and a discount and means-tested program.  The pilot parameter applied in each program model reflected the school’s financial need (and transit service availability). For example, the free and universal program formats provided passes to all students while the means-based program provided free passes to all students who qualified for free lunches at school. The programs even tested the format of the pass, mixing the use of traditional passes and “flash pass” stickers affixed to Student ID cards.

Findings: Program Impact

  • Higher Transit Use: Participating students took transit more often. Year One of the STPP generated nearly 550,000 transit boardings across all participating schools, with an average of 1,632 daily boardings.
  • Increased School Attendance: About 14% of program participants reported missing fewer days of school than they did during the prior year, whereas only 3% of eligible non-participants reported missing fewer days of school, compared to the prior year. Moreover, school staff, families, and students have indicated that transit passes are a critical in helping students who have attendance challenges and at-risk families.
  • Savings Important to Families: Two-thirds of participating students stated that the cost savings provided by this program was important to them and their families.
  • Increased After-School Involvement: Involvement in non-school-based after-school activities and after-school jobs increased dramatically, by 77% and 238%, respectively, for students participating in the STPP.
  • Positive Perceptions of Transit: More than 80% of Year One participants reported positive associations with bus travel, affirming that they felt safe on the bus and that transit met their needs.

Each year of the program has seen increases in usage. Since the creation of this pilot program, 36% of eligible students used it in year one, increasing to 48% of eligible students in year two and about 57% of eligible students in year three. In year three almost 11,000 students received free transit. In addition, Alameda CTC was granted $3.7 million dollars from the Active Transportation Program to integrate this program with their Safe Routes to School and to provide more education about this program to their community.

Due to the success of the program, the Alameda CTC Commission approved a five-year phased expansion of the program. The 5-year expansion program will be funded using the remaining money from the original $15 million of Measure BB funding for the pilot program and State Transit Assistance County Block Grant program to help fund the estimated $41 million. This will allow Alameda CTC to expand the program to even more schools throughout their region and continue to provide students affordable and accessible ways to get to school every day!

What Students, Parents, and School Administrators said:

  • “I love using the bus pass to go to school. Now my parents don’t have to be late to work just so I can go to school. It has been very convenient to use the bus. I would be walking to school if it weren’t for the Clipper card.” John Muir Middle School Student (SLUSD)
  • “The stories that are the most touching are the ones where the student has had some trauma… where they are trying to escape their home life because their parents aren’t able to provide reliable options for them. Those kids take the initiative, and they are making it on their own because of the bus pass. They come and they try hard, and you see their grades improve so much when their attendance improves. They don’t take it for granted.”- Parent and family coordinator from San Leandro USD
  • “We had truant families who, now that they have the pass, it has improved attendance. One student in our school was perpetually truant; his family had a lot of issues where they just couldn’t get the kids to school on time. He took it upon himself to get the pass, got a parent signature somehow, and now he has straight As.” John Muir Middle School Administrator (SLUSD)
  • “I am a foster child. Every morning is a hassle to get money or a ride to school. Every family has different issues. Now I can get here on my own.” Castlemont High School Student (OUSD)

How did Alameda CTC do it?

Alameda CTC cites that this program is a true community and agency partnership effort and that while it took a lot of work to get the program off the ground it has been completely worth it.   We also observe:

  • Alameda County voters adopted a transportation sales tax measure that afforded the opportunity for the county to invest more money in transit.
  • ACTC did their homework. They took the time to look into other programs that had been implemented that were similar and took the lessons from those programs.
  • They marketed the program through teachers distributing flyers to their students as well as posters at the participating schools.
  • Put information about the program on schools’ websites.
  • Had site administrators at each of the schools to help administer the program.

Supporting Documents (from Program Web Page)