Everyone, especially politicians and policy makers, says “we should invest in our children because they are the future,” especially during budget season. The investments that come to mind usually include improving and expanding educational opportunities, expanding access to the arts and sports and helping teenagers get jobs.
But what people don’t often think about is how these young people are going to get to school, extracurricular activities and jobs or internships.
In Spring 2018, UC Davis’ Center for Regional Change conducted a survey of students at Will C. Wood Middle School, Hiram Johnson High School and Health Professions High School. It found that 25 percent of students reported missing at least one day of school, and more than 60 percent reported being tardy at least once in the previous month, due to transportation-related issues.
Simply put, our youth are losing out on their education because of an underlying issue: transportation, or lack thereof.
The city of Sacramento, in partnership with Sacramento Regional Transit District and our local school districts, has an opportunity to implement a high-impact strategic policy that removes one of the major barriers upon which youth rely: public transportation. The city and SacRT are poised to offer all youth in grades K-12, who live and/or go to school within the city’s limits, the ability to use public transportation for free at any time of day, any day of the week, and year-round. The City Council will vote on this initiative as part of its budget deliberation process over the next 30 days.
It’s a win-win-win-win-win situation. How?
The first win goes to SacRT. It seeks to increase ridership and, by empowering youth to use public transit, the chances of their becoming life-long riders are greater. In fact, the study conducted by UC Davis also found that a majority of high school youth said they would ride public transit more often if fares were free. SacRT estimates that, through this initiative, the number of students who would use the system would increase from 7,500 to 25,000.
Moreover, this initiative directly addresses equity as it levels the playing field around access to transit services for our lowest-income students. Both the city and SacRT are always looking for ways to advance an equity agenda.
The third win goes to our schools. The districts involved – including Sacramento City Unified School District, Twin Rivers, Natomas, Elk Grove and others – will benefit from increased student attendance without any additional district investment. Through higher average daily attendance, there will be more education funding from the state.
The fourth win is for the city’s economic future and its inclusive economic development initiative. Ensuring that young people, our future workforce, have the means they need to participate in job training and development will support the pipeline of workers necessary for the city’s success, as well as individual income growth.
Win number five is for our city’s climate future and for equitable investments in public health. Increased transit ridership and the cultivation of future transit riders means that fewer cars will be on the road, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
This is only the first of many steps that need to be taken to support our youth in reaching their goals and to increase public transit use system wide. We’ve decided that this is a great place to start.