Transit Equity Day is Saturday, Feb. 4, in honor of Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on the bus and started a movement toward equity that we honor to this day. At the time she was working for the NAACP in Montgomery, Alabama, and she quickly became a symbol for so many others who are treated unfairly and she is still remembered for her bravery.
Rosa Parks died on Oct. 24, 2005. In a 2021 opinion piece The New York Times quoted her as saying, "Over the years, I have been rebelling against second-class citizenship. It didn’t begin when I was arrested."
In fact she was inspired by 15-year-old Claudette Colvin, who was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus in March 1955. Move LA continues the legacy of Colvin and Parks by standing up for equitable access for all transit riders, especially those who are low-income and transit dependent.
It was about six months ago that Gov. Newsom vetoed AB 1919 to make fares free for all California students, a bill we had worked on with students and schools, colleges, climate and clean air activists, and transit agencies—and won support from all but one member of the legislature.
We have been trying to win free student passes for more than a decade, and were stunned when the governor vetoed this bill. Transit will also be bearing the brunt of Newsom's proposed budget cuts, with no new money proposed to aid the agencies that are facing a fiscal cliff because so many riders have not returned since COVID.
This is of major concern to those who believe free transit is key to making college more affordable—most transit passes now cost more than parking—and transit is key to helping reduce driving as climate change looms. Moreover we need to create a new generation of riders who could also help us all achieve our state’s social equity and climate goals.
LA Metro is one of the few agencies in the country whose ridership has returned to near pre-pandemic levels, thanks in part to the highly successful Fareless System Initiative (FSI) program that makes transit free for K-12 and community college students—a 2-year pilot project that is likely to end this June. This is another reason we are again asking the legislature for funding—not just for LA Metro but for all the other transit agencies who can’t wait for another year.
We know transit agencies across California are having a great deal of trouble rebuilding ridership post-COVID. And we know we could help low-income families struggling with rising inflation—and students who have to choose between spending their money on a transit pass or breakfast—because they would no longer need to give students money to get to and from school.
Moreover, studies have shown that free transit increases the likelihood that students will graduate from high school and from community colleges. For example:
- A Temple University study found community college graduation rates at Rio Hondo College in Whittier went up 27% for students who received free transit passes.
- A Harvard study found that location and access to transit were the single biggest factors in the odds of escaping poverty and avoiding homelessness;
- An MIT study found discounted fare programs for low-income individuals resulted in more trips on transit, particularly to health care and social services.
“We will not stop asking legislators to recognize that access to public transit is a cost-effective way to alleviate poverty, improve educational outcomes, and address low transit ridership and high-car usage in California,” said our partner Thea Selby, Trustee for the City College of San Francisco. And we agree!