City steps in to give Seattle students free bus passes

Dec 7, 2015, 7:58 PM | Updated: Dec 8, 2015, 5:58 am
The Seattle City Council has approved its budget, and in it is $1 million for low-income student bu...
The Seattle City Council has approved its budget, and in it is $1 million for low-income student bus passes during the school year. (Stephanie Klein/MyNorthwest)
(Stephanie Klein/MyNorthwest)

The City of Seattle has found a funding solution for school district students to ride on county buses.

Confused? This is how it works.

“This fall, in the course of their budget process, the [Seattle] city council voted to dedicate $1 million a year to funding transit passes for low-income high school and middle school students,” said Katie Wilson, general secretary of Transit Riders Union.

Related: Rainier Beach demands free bus passes for students

The $1 million will go toward low-income students throughout Seattle who need bus passes to get to and from school. The passes will only be good during the school year.

The Transit Riders Union &#8212 an organization dedicated to the expansion of public transit &#8212 worked with students at Rainier Beach High School to find a way for them to get bus passes.

“The way it works now is that the school district does not provide transit passes for kids within a certain radius from school,” Wilson said. “Last year that was two miles as the crow flies, in the dark, in neighborhoods that you wouldn’t necessarily want to walk through.”

Related: ‘Warning: Entering Rainier Valley’ signs posted in South Seattle neighborhoods

The school district already subsidizes transit passes for middle and high school students that live more than two miles away from school. A need became apparent with many students that better transit options were needed.

The union held meetings with city and county officials. Students at Rainier Beach had a march to city hall to bring attention to the issue. Students also held a town hall to get the word out. A petition was sent around and gathered more than 1,000 signatures.

Finally, the city found a funding solution for Seattle Public Schools’ students. The money will come from a previously approved proposition from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District. The proposition is good until the end of 2020. The Seattle City Council approved the budget in November.

Though students at Rainier Beach spearheaded the effort, the new subsidized bus passes will be available to low-income students across the city. It’s a first step for the transit union, which would like to see an expansion of the program in the future.

“We would like to see transit passes for all youth throughout the county,” Wilson said. “Low-income use should be a priority, but there are really good reasons to have transit passes for all youth regardless of income &#8212 if you think about long-term goals of stopping climate change and reducing congestion. Getting familiar with and using public transit will make a difference when people choose later in life to use mass transit.”

Wilson said other future goals will be to make the student passes good year round.

“During the summer months students need transportation to get to jobs and summer school and things like that,” she said.

But for now, she is happy with the progress made for Seattle’s low-income students, and is grateful that the city pitched in.

“Ideally, it would be the school district, and funding for the school district comes from the state,” Wilson said. “It’s not an ideal situation but it’s the best thing we can come up with right now. It’s great that the city is stepping up.”

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City steps in to give Seattle students free bus passes