No transit for you!

During the last school year, thousands of Portland high school students boarded TriMet buses in order to make their way to school.

During the last school year, thousands of Portland high school students boarded TriMet buses in order to make their way to school. While many might feel that the students are a pain, TriMet provides the only public busing opportunity for these students. Many of these teenagers and children would not have a mode of transportation to and from school without such opportunities.

Yet earlier this month, the Oregon House and Senate voted to eliminate the program entirely. Starting immediately, the program is no longer an option for Portland high school students. Many have already taken their last free ride on TriMet. So, why has Portland decided eliminated such a great opportunity for students? The main issue, as always, seems to be funding.

By law, a school district is required to provide transportation to students who live more than 1.5 miles from their school. Unlike many school districts, Portland does not provide a “yellow bus” service to students. Instead, they have provided youths with a free bus pass known as the Youth Pass that allowed for safe transportation to and from school, as well as transportation to various after-school activities.

Many PSU students who have children in middle or high school are being left in the dark regarding this program. Thus far, there has been no major political coverage or outcry regarding the issue. For many, they may only discover that they are without reliable and safe transportation options at the beginning of the next school year. According to Todd Diskin, Portland’s Youth Strategies Coordinator, “the [transportation] barrier is still really big for a lot of our youth.”

 In many other counties, school buses are funded by taxpayer money. The same goes, or rather, went, for the YouthPass program. The costs were subsidized by taxpayer money and, for $3 million, 13,000 Portland school district students ensured a safe ride to school.

The elimination of the program was first brought up in House Bill 3671, which was initially introduced in order to eliminate several tax credit programs, including the “Business Energy Tax Credit,” under which the YouthPass program falls. Due to the high cost of funding such a program, many legislators found the program an easy target when it came to cutting spending. Yet, cutting the program has also cut a valuable service to Portland schools. Diskin stated, “We feel that whether it is funded through a tax credit or not, we just want it funded, period.”

Ironically, it may end up costing taxpayers more if the program is eliminated. According to the National School Bus Council, the average fuel costs per year for one student are $43. Add to that the amount needed to pay the bus driver, as well as costs for maintenance and upkeep, and the costs of using a yellow bus program clearly outweigh the costs of subsidizing TriMet passes to students.

One group that has been advocating heavily for the YouthPass program is the Multnomah Youth Commission. This group is composed of youths ages 13–21 that advocate for legislature that benefits youth within Portland. Currently, they are the major driving force that is trying to reinstitute the YouthPass program.

Portland Afoot, a local transit magazine and blog, reported that 80 percent of Portland students used the pass a least once a day. Clearly this program is beneficial to students. The YouthPass is even more important to students whose parents are unable to drive them or those who are unable to walk or bike to school easily.

While many may consider the program a “hand out” to urban students without an operational yellow busing system, many students may find themselves unable to be easily transported to school during the next year. The costs of investing in and designing a yellow bus program within the next few months would easily outweigh the costs of the YouthPass program.

By eliminating the YouthPass, it seems that the legislature is only creating more problems for itself. With only a few months remaining until the next school year starts, there isn’t much time for the county to design a yellow bus program. It seems that in the end, many Portland students are simply going to be thrown under the bus. ?