Investing in Youth

The GoPass pilot program was created as part of Metro’s Farless System Initiative to provide free transit passes for K-14 students across Los Angeles County. (Metro/Submitted)

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors has approved $20 million to extend Metro’s GoPass pilot program through June 30, 2024. Set to expire this June, the program provides free transit passes for K-14 students at participating schools in the form of a GoPass TAP card.

“The program has been really successful, way more successful than I think we even imagined,” said Devon Deming, deputy executive officer of the GoPass pilot program. “Between year one and year two, we more than doubled the rides that students took. We had set a goal to double those rides for this current fiscal year, but we met that goal already in March, … 10 million student rides. Since its launch in October 2021, we hit just over 18 million rides.”

The program was born from the Fareless System Initiative Task Force that started identifying challenges and opportunities related to eliminating fares on Metro buses and trains during the height of the pandemic. The first phase of Metro’s Fareless System Initiative was to target students from elementary school through community college.

Today, the GoPass program includes over 100 school districts and 1,400 schools. More than 241,000 students have registered as participants, representing nearly 20% of LA county’s students.

“The student feedback on the program has been really positive,” Deming said. “Some students have said that this program is the reason why they’re able to attend college at all or why they’re able to attend their K-12 school on a regular basis. Some students have to choose between meals and transportation, and so getting the transportation for free allows them to eat more meals, which sounds like an extreme case, but it’s actually not.”

Deming explained that around 80% of the students in the program are from low-income households and that the transit passes can help break down barriers between young Angelenos and an education.

According to Metro, families of K-12 students who participate in the GoPass program typically see a yearly savings of $288 per student, while community college students save $516 per year. A study that Metro participated in also showed that students who receive a free transit pass have up to 27% higher graduation rates.

“The costs of transportation should never stand between our students and opportunity,” Mayor Karen Bass added. “All students deserve equal opportunity, and Metro is doing its part to make sure nothing keeps our students from obtaining all the benefits that a good education provides.”

While GoPass lowers students’ overall educational costs, it can also provide them a reliable means of transportation to attend jobs, medical appointments and leisure activities. Students will have unlimited usage of their pass, valid anytime participating transportation agencies are in operation and on any regularly scheduled route.

“I actually was a student who took transit when I was going to school, and I personally would not have been able to graduate from college without my daily bus ride to school, so I know firsthand how important it is in terms of student success,” Deming said. “I would hope that it becomes part of the fabric of LA County, that if you’re a student going to school, either as a K-12 student or as a community college student or college student, that it’s just part of your school experience, … something that is commonplace in LA, that it’s not unusual for students to be riding transit.”

Beyond the student experience, Deming said that increasing youth ridership can help shift the trend of transportation in LA from a car culture to a transit culture.

“A lot of adults have made it to adulthood in LA County without ever riding our transit system, and then that becomes much more daunting,” she explained. “Riding the transit system isn’t very difficult, but if you haven’t experienced it, then it seems more difficult. So part of the goal of this program is certainly to give students this tool. 

“We want them to be able to move about LA County and learn about LA County. We also want them to be able to learn about how to navigate the transit system because it will create transit rider for life, not only just in our county, but it’ll be something that they can use no matter what city they go to.”

The board’s $20 million extension, paid for with fiscal year 2024 operating funds, will enable Metro to retain the benefits of this pilot program while the agency continues to identify other funding opportunities.

“By eliminating the cost and worry of transit fare for students across the county, this program is helping students and their families focus on their academic success and other goals,” said Hilda L. Solis, LA County supervisor and Metro board member. “Not only are we eliminating transportation costs from being a barrier to students’ access to opportunities, but we’re also encouraging the next generation of LA County leaders to ride Metro to get where they need and want to go.”