Bus Riders Union
Student Bus Pass
Student Pass Campaign History
Background to the BRU's Transportation to Education: Passes for the Masses Campaign
The Bus Riders Union knows that the problems of high fares, overcrowding and late buses have negative impacts on all 400,000 daily bus riders. In our student campaign, we were fighting for a set of demands that, if won, would benefit students, women, and families in particular and all bus riders in general. For workers, crowded and late buses mean lost work, docked pay, and tremendous psychological stress. For many women, crowded and late buses lead to sexual harassment on the bus and long waits in the dark after work or school. For elderly or disabled riders, crowded buses can cause dangerous falls and other health hazards. For students of many ages, crowded and late buses or the lack of funds to pay the bus fare to school contribute to lowered grades, missed tests, detentions, truancy tickets, and dropping out.
Who is affected?
Ninety percent of students on the bus are people of color. When Black, Chicano, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Native American peoples try to get to school, to college, or to vocational training, there are systemic barriers in place that stop high school students in South Central, community college students in East L.A., single parents and immigrant students all over the city, from pursuing a quality education. The system says you have a "right" to an education, but if you have no books, you have broken down classrooms, and you can't even get a ride to school on the bus, what kind of right is that? They may as well say that for people of color, you have a right to a broken down, substandard, segregated and apartheid-style education!
What are the numbers?
Of 202 students that we interviewed informally, 72 (36%) had received detention for being late to school because of an MTA bus. The average amount of detention time these students served in a school term due to late MTA buses was 4.7 hours.
Twenty-three (11%) had received a truancy ticket issued by the Los Angeles Police Department for arriving late to school because of a late MTA bus. Most truancy tickets issued were for $250.
Just as students are supposed to have a right to an education, MTA claims that students have access to a discount student bus pass.
While regular bus passes cost $52, the MTA offers a $20 student bus pass for K-12 students and a $30 student bus pass for college, vocational, and adult school students. During our ten years of organizing, the BRU had come to understand that while students theoretically have that option, the pass was so hard to obtain that most students did not get it. Most students end up walking to school, paying for the full-fare $52 pass, scraping together money for a car, or missing classes altogether. Upon further research into the MTA's own statistics, we found that out of more than one million K-12 students in L.A. County, only 25,000 had the student bus pass-less than 3%. In the community colleges and adult schools, there are more than 300,000 students in LA County, and only 5,000 of them have the student pass-less than 1.5%!
What was the application process?
1. Pick up an application at school or MTA service center.
2. Fill out the application, including (until the BRU started the student pass campaign) a social security number.
3. Get a signature from the school administration or registrar's office or obtain a transcript from the school office. (For parents of elementary and middle school students, this means taking time off work to go to the school during the work day to get the proper signature.)
4. Go to a photo outlet and pay to get a picture taken.
5. Send in the application, along with a fee of $1 and the photo.
6. Wait a minimum of three weeks and possibly up to several months to receive the pass.
K-12 students must complete this process each year, and college/adult students must complete it every semester or quarter.
Why all the barriers? Why didn't MTA want you to get the pass?
1. Discount student bus passes represent public subsidies to working class students and families. Every student who buys a discount pass instead of using tokens or full-priced $42 passes adds to MTA costs for the bus system. Instead of providing what could and should be a significant public subsidy for the working class, MTA spends its money on expensive rail projects that go only a few miles and which use the very money needed to buy more buses, provide student passes, and lower the fares. The BRU is proud to say that making the pass accessible to students will mean MTA will have to spend much more money on the bus system. In fact, that is exactly what we want-more funding for Chicano/Latino, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and low-income white students and families and less funding for big rail contractors and middle class suburban commuters.
2. MTA refuses to buy any more buses. Logically, the more students who have the bus pass, the more students who will take the bus. Of course, to most supporters of public transportation, civil rights, and environmental justice, that seems like a good thing. Everyone knows that L.A.'s air is the worst in the country, with thousands of people in L.A. sick with cancer and asthma. Further, poor nations throughout the world face potential drought and famine because of the global warming brought on in large part by cities like LA that produce so much toxic pollution in which auto emissions play a significant part. Consequently, there is a tremendous need to get people out of their cars and into the bus. But for MTA, more students on the bus means spending more money on new buses and less money left over for big-ticket luxury trains. That's one big reason it's so hard for you to get to school.