Struggling to Get to School: The Effect of State Transportation Cuts on Public School Students, Families

4.3.12 | In a post about the suburbanization of poverty last week, I noted that poor populations in the Bay Area have less access to public transit today than they did in 2000. As low-income folks move out to the suburbs they are living farther from rail stations making it harder for them to get to work and to access needed social services. But turns out low-income populations in the city of San Francisco are also having trouble getting where they need to go – local public school children specifically.

As noted in this powerful piece at TransportationNation, state budget cuts have forced the city’s school district to cut bus services to 98% of high school students. Middle and elementary school students are also affected and more cuts are likely on the way, with the district expecting to lose more than 30% of its transportation dollars next year, according to the report.

This means students often have to rely on the city’s Muni bus system whose routes are often not direct or reliable.

For parents this often means that instead of dropping their kids off at the bus stop, they have to escort them on lengthy public bus trips of 40 minutes or longer, making them late to work, and stuck with the not insignificant additional commuting cost (upwards of $7 a trip can be a big expense for low-income working parents).

High school students are often spending several hours a day on public buses, which can affect their school performance and safety. High School principal Mark Alvarado tells TransportationNation he often lends out money to students for bus fair and said he is concerned about students getting back an forth to school safely.

“The bus is often a violent place,” he said. “And the students who are concerned with taking the bus – it’s [been] hard on them for a number of years.” Last month a teen was shot while riding a Muni bus in the middle of the afternoon.

Next month, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote on a proposal to provide free Muni passes for all kids ages 5 to 17.

Meanwhile, in March the American Public Transportation Association reported an increase in ridership by 2.31% in 2011, a big jump over the previous year. Industry analysts attributed this to rising gas prices and an improving economy. But with comprehensive federal transportation legislation delayed, and controversial, service cuts continue to affect the lives of working people and their children.

In the Bay Area, the system is broke, with operators facing a combined $17 billion capital deficit and an $8 billion operating deficit, according to The San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association or SPUR.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a regional funding agency has launched the Transit Sustainability Project to identify policies that can help stabilize finances, propose solutions, improve services, and increase ridership.

SPUR has recently published a discussion paper “A Better Future for Bay Area Transit” analyzing the project’s key findings and recommending strategies for accomplishing its goals.

“In short, the Bay Area cannot remain economically competitive, nor meet its goals of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, without a transit system that does a better job of getting people where they need to go in a cost-effective and efficient manner,” authors say in the report’s introduction.

One of their recommendations is more regional coordination, including restructuring funding, fare policies, and a new regional capital investment program.

You can download the full report at SPUR.

I also enjoyed mapmaker Brian Stokle’s two visions of the Bay Area’s transit systems. His “fantasy transit maps” help show the potential of connecting the current systems for improving mobility.

Photo by Adam Fagen.

Comments are closed.