Santa Rosa made city buses free for students in July. The program appears to be a success

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As Santa Rosa CityBus seeks to maintain public transportation during the ongoing pandemic, student passengers are boosting ridership after the city made travel free for students throughout their final year of school. high school.

The program, a one-year pilot project, so far appears to be a success, according to public transport officials, marking a rare ray of hope in a dark time for public transport.

Overall, the bus system made up 61% of its ridership before the pandemic at the end of November, said Yuri Koslen, Santa Rosa transit planner, in an interview on December 15. The good news is that youth attendance has exceeded pre-pandemic levels by around 20% in October and 27% in November, Koslen said.

Paid by grants from the Air Quality Transportation Fund of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Santa Rosa began a year of free bus trips for students until grade 12 on July 1.

Since then, the huge blue and silver city buses have carried young residents at least 80,000 times until November 30. Youth ridership stabilized at around 20,000 trips per month.

Many of these trips are for students to and from school, although the free rides are not limited to such transit. The most popular buses for students are Route 6, which stops at Comstock Middle School and Piner High School.

Another line popular with young people is Route 1, which connects the Coddingtown Mall to the downtown Santa Rosa transit station with stops along Mendocino Avenue.

Pupils up to eighth grade don’t need to show a student card to get a free ride, Koslen said, but high school students do. The transport agency found that bus drivers were comfortable separating middle school and high school students at a glance, he said.

Before the free rides, the bus ride cost $ 1.50, said Ronnie, 17, who did not want to give his last name. On December 20, with schools closed for the Christmas holidays, Ronnie waited for a bus to return home to the transit center in downtown Santa Rosa, arms full of new books.

Ronnie took the bus to Maria Carrillo High School even when she had to pay, and noted that even though the fare was low, going to school five days a week does add up. With 180 school days in the California public school calendar, it would cost a student $ 540 per year to take the bus between campus and home twice a day.

Ronnie said that since the student fare was suspended she has had a lot more company this year as she uses CityBus to reach her current school, the private Victory Christian Academy in Rincon Valley.

“There are a lot of students taking the bus now,” she said.

And not just on school days.

The free rides have widened the range of young people in Santa Rosa, advocates of the program said, allowing them to roam the city without the need for money or trips from parents.

On the same day, The Press Democrat spoke to Ronnie, a group of four boys took turns jumping skateboards off the sidewalk until a bus driver told them it was time to embark. They said they liked to ride for free but didn’t have time to speak with a reporter otherwise. They must have taken a route 1 bus.

But the impact is greatest on schoolchildren, especially those from low-income and economically disadvantaged households, said Lacinda Moore, a teacher at Comstock Middle School.

“My poorest students are taking the bus and there is one less thing these families have to worry about,” Moore said. She recalled a student in one of her classes who did not have a cell phone and used the school landline to call home, see what the family needed from a food bank, then take the bus to collect supplies before taking another bus home. .

For many students, Moore said, the free bus promotes independence. “My mom was a single mom and she always said ‘if you wanna go somewhere, take a bus and go.’ I find that it really empowers these children to have this autonomy.

Free rides are especially valuable for students with developmental disabilities because it can give them “independent living skills,” she said. “If they can learn to ride the bus, it can be an adaptive learning function. And that can get them used to (public transport) and demystify it for them. “

Moore was hopeful the city would consider the program after the one-year pilot period ends, she said, even if it must find funding internally rather than through regional grant programs. Bus rides promote the city’s goals for connectivity and transit-oriented communities, she said.

You can reach editor Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or [email protected] On Twitter @ AndrewGraham88


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