More than 7,700 Sacramento City Unified School District students, about 16 percent, were “chronically absent” from school last year, missing more than 10 percent of school days, according to data from the district. That’s higher than the statewide average of 11 percent.
Not having access to transportation is the top reason kids miss school, Sacramento City Councilman Jay Schenirer says.
That’s why he is proposing to let all children in kindergarten through 12th grade who live or go to school in Sacramento ride public transit — buses and light rail — for free.
Sacramento would be only the second city in the country that offers K-12 students free rides yearlong without restrictions, following Washington, D.C., which launched it last year, Schenirer said.
Sacramento Regional Transit estimates the program would increase ridership to 40,000 students in its first year, a 600 percent increase from today, Schenirer said. The councilman hopes many children who take the free transit would continue on as transit riders as adults, which helps reduce greenhouse gases.
“The hope is you’re changing culture and habit,” Schenirer said. “If we have more young people riding, research shows the chance of them being public transit riders when they are adults is much higher.”
Schenirer said the free passes, which would be issued with a sticker on student ID cards, would also make it easier for kids to get to part-time jobs and internships, which helps with workforce development.
The program would be revenue-neutral to RT and would cost the city $1 million, Schenirer said. He is asking the city manager to add it to his proposed fiscal year 2019-20 budget.
That would fund the program for one year, with the expectation it would continue in the future, Schenirer said.
The RT board plans to vote on the program June 10, while the council plans to vote to adopt the budget June 11, Schenirer said.
If approved, the program could begin in the fall, Schenirer said.
Councilwoman Angelique Ashby said she supports the idea.
“I think it’s really important, especially getting around the central city and getting around Meadowview to downtown,” Ashby said. “I think that’s critical.”
Schenirer plans on including the Jibe express buses in the program, he said. Those buses run from North Natomas in Ashby’s district to downtown for $2 per ride.
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have tentatively agreed to do a study, for about $80,000, on how the free transit will affect kids getting to school and after-school enrichment activities, as well as the impact on their attitudes toward public transit in general.