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Why This Entire 11th Grade Class Is Getting Free LA Metro Passes

Scenes from the Goldline Metro stations, in Chinatown and East LA, photographed on June 29, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (James Bernal for LAist)
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If you give an entire grade of high school students free public transportation for a year, will they get to class on time? Will they travel around town for jobs and hang out with friends at museums and at the beach? Will it help the environment? Could it reduce poverty?

LAUSD, Metro, and a group of partners in a new experiment are hoping so.

The two entities have partnered with a community group and an education non-profit in the South Los Angeles Transit Empowerment Zone to give Metro passes to juniors at Manual Arts Senior High School.

The typical reduced-fare TAP cards -- which K-12 students can apply for through Metro -- normally cost $24 a month.

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"By supporting students and providing them with this access to transportation as a free resource, as a public good, it has an incredible benefit - not only for the individual students themselves, but for all of us," said Eli Lipmen of Move LA, one of the program partners. "The more people that are using public transportation regularly, now and in the future, means healthier communities, safer communities, and less traffic."

That's the hope, anyway. This year, they're testing it out with this one-year program. Here's how it'll work.


To get a free TAP card, students have to go to the high school's college center.

That, Lipmen explained, is by design.

"As juniors, it introduces them early to the idea that there are resources for them in terms of their college career," Lipmen explained.


Students are getting the cards through school, but they aren't limited to using them for school-related trips or during school hours.

"They can take the bus or the train anywhere in the county: down to the beach, to museums, to go visit a friend," Lipmen said. "Or they can go to get a job or go to community college and start getting their classes done."

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Instead of your average-looking TAP card, or that new itty bitty TAP card, it's a fancy sticker with a chip inside. It'll go on the students' ID cards.

No physical card means one less thing to keep track of. "It reduces another barrier, which is you know, you have to remember to bring your TAP card to actually take transit," Lipmen said. "So we're trying to reduce as many barriers as possible to make this program work."


Obviously, one goal is building the habit of taking public transportation in the "next generation of transit riders." But also, Lipmen said, making transit more accessible could be a way to address poverty -- an idea we've covered here at KPCC/LAist before.

"It's very hard and very expensive to subsidize housing for families, so we think this is a very effective way for schools, in particular, to help low income students," Lipmen said.


Partners in the South Los Angeles Transit Empowerment Zone -- including Move LA, Metro, LAUSD, and the education nonprofit LA Promise Fund -- worked together to create the pilot program. It's supported financially by a grant from a foundation.


September 10, 2019, 2:21 p.m.: This article was updated with tweets from the press conference.

This article was originally published on September 9, 2019 at 11:57 AM.