Wave Wire Services
LOS ANGELES — Students enrolled in the Los Angeles Unified School District and other participating districts in L.A. County will be able to take the bus for free under a pilot program that will last through June 30, 2023.
Getting free MTA TAP cards into the hands of every Los Angeles Unified student will be a game changer,” Los Angeles Unified interim Superintendent Megan K. Reilly said. “Our commitment in providing free transportation will expand our students’ worldviews. They’ll be able to access additional educational opportunities such as internships, employment and other meaningful experiences and recreational activities outside of their immediate neighborhoods.”
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors approved the 23-month pilot on Sept. 23. It applies to all K-12 and community college school districts that agree to cost share with the MTA. As of Sept. 23, 41 of Los Angeles County’s 87 school districts have expressed interest in the program, and the MTA said Sept. 29 that agreements are being finalized with 30 other schools and districts.
A majority of the $49.9 million pilot program — $41.5 million — will be paid by the federal American Rescue Plan.
Students will get a free TAP card that can be used on all MTA-operated transit options, and they’ll be able to use other municipally operated transit systems in the area for free, including those of Culver City, Norwalk, DASH, Montebello and Santa Monica.
“The costs of transportation should never stand between our students and opportunity,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti, who serves on the MTA Board of Directors. “Access to our systems should be a right, not a privilege, and the decision to move forward with free ridership for young Angelenos is a critical step toward a system that is accessible to every rider — regardless of zip code or income level.”
MTA fare revenue currently pays for transit operations and maintenance, but the MTA receives additional funding through sales tax and state and federal grants. Additional funding options for the pilot program identified by MTA officials include advertising revenue, cost-sharing and grant funds through the Traffic Reduction Program.
“Now more than ever, as we recover from the pandemic, it is critical that our youth have access to public transportation,” MTA Board Chair and Chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Hilda L. Solis said. “In January 2020, I was proud to author a motion at MTA to explore providing free transit for students in L.A. County. Today, that vision is now being fulfilled — through the Fareless System Initiative. Students across the county will now be able to use our transit system to get to and from school, extracurricular activities and jobs without worrying about how to pay for it.”
The pilot was tested in August, with 5,600 test TAP cards distributed to L.A. County students. The MTA initially explored expanding the program to low-income riders, which represent 70% of MTA riders, in January 2022, but that expansion is contingent on $416 million in new funding.