Disadvantaged students struggling to pay for bus fares to campuses

The Associated Press
Monday October 22, 2001

Some skip school because they can’t afford to get there; schools say they’re losing attendance revenue 


OAKLAND – High school students are having to pinch pennies to afford bus fares since a couple of cash-strapped school districts have cut back on free transportation services. 

School district officials at Contra Costa and Alameda counties estimate they’re losing millions in attendance revenues since some families can’t always afford the daily transportation costs. 

Alisa Gilmore, 17, said sometimes skips lunch to ensure that she has enough bus money to get home from school. There are days when she skips school altogether because she doesn’t have enough for the $4 daily bus fare to and from campus. 

“I call my friends and get my homework assignment if I didn’t have a test or anything that day,” said Gilmore, a senior at Oakland Technical High School. 

The West Contra Costa Unified School District hasn’t had the money to provide its 35,000 students with free bus service since it declared bankruptcy in the early 1990s. Only federally funded bus travel for special-education students is provided by the district. 

Students in Richmond, the district’s largest city, must go to schools in unincorporated parts of the county or surrounding cities since their is no middle school. 

A few local politicians are pushing for a pilot program to address the lack of bus service for area students. Assemblywoman Dion Aroner, D-Berkeley, is trying to get free bus passes for disadvantaged students. 

“Most districts don’t have little yellow school buses anymore. It is such an expensive service,” Aroner said. 

Her proposal, dubbed the “Lifeline Transit Network,” calls for up to $12 million to fund a three-year program to provide children with a free one-year AC Transit bus pass, and discounted $95 yearly passes for other students. 

Under the proposal, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission would pay AC Transit for the student passes. The commission coordinates Bay Area transit planning and spending. 

MTC officials want a plan developed by the end of 2001, but the commission does not have the authority to set fares. Those decisions would be left to individual transit agencies. 

Jaimie Levin, communications director for AC Transit, said his agency supports the idea of a pilot program. But AC Transit would need contributing funds from MTC or other sources to make the program run smoothly, Levin said. 

Other cities in the area haven’t reached such dire financial straights in transporting students. San Jose provides free bus service to 11,000 of its district’s 30,000 students. Santa Clara transports 2,500 of its 13,500 students each day.