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Transportation and Mobility

Gov. Newsom Vetoes Bill To Fund Free Transit For California Students

Three people wearing face masks walk out of the doors of a subway train, looking in different directions.
People wear face coverings while departing a Los Angeles Metro train on Dec. 15, 2021 in Los Angeles.
(Mario Tama
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Getty Images)
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A bill that would have created a program to let California students ride public transit for free passed the state legislature with bipartisan support, but was ultimately rejected by Gov. Gavin Newsom this week.

Assembly Bill 1919, introduced by Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), would have established a five-year Youth Transit Pass Pilot Program. California’s Department of Transportation, aka Caltrans, would run the program, managing grants to individual transit agencies that applied for funding.

Students in K-12 school districts would be eligible for free transit access, along with students enrolled in state community colleges, California State University, or the University of California systems.

Why Newsom Vetoed

In a letter explaining his decision to veto the bill, Newsom said the bill “creates a significant cost pressure” on the state since funding for the program is not accounted for in the state’s current budget.

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“While I agree with the intent of this bill to supplement and expand those existing programs, the bill requires the creation of a new grant program that was not funded in the budget,” Newsom wrote. “Bills with significant fiscal impact, such as this measure, should be considered and accounted for as part of the annual budget process.”

Reaction From Supporters Of Bill

Transit advocates expressed their disappointment with the decision, but also pinned some blame on state legislators.

Tamarah Minami, founder of Youth for Climate Justice, said in a statement:

“While we are disappointed that Governor Newsom vetoed this bill, it is the Legislature that refused to fund this program, despite our repeated requests, and instead funded billions in tax relief for households earning up to $500,000. That is not in line with their promises to prioritize climate solutions, and low-income families.”

Eli Lipmen, executive director of transportation coalition Move LA, said free transit for students is “one of the most cost effective ways for our government to address not only transit needs, but educational… social equity, social justice, and poverty needs here in the state of California.”

“We believe it's long past due for the governor and the legislature to get on the bus with free public transit for all California students,” he said.

Lipmen noted a 2021 study from Rio Hondo College in Whittier, which found that students enrolled in L.A. Metro’s reduced fare program (that’s a separate program from the GoPass pilot) were more likely to stay enrolled at the college and graduate than similar students not enrolled in the transit program.

Free public transit for students would “create the next generation of transit riders and help achieve our state's social equity and climate goals,” Lipmen said, “because it would mean that any California student — from kindergarten through graduate school — won't have to worry about access to transportation.”

The Case For Free Transit

As LAist previously reported, a study from Harvard in 2015 concluded that access to transportation is the single biggest factor for a person to escape poverty and avoid homelessness.

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The bill would have also supported existing free transit programs, like the one we currently have in L.A. County.

An orange Los Angeles Metro bus drives along a street.
(Courtesy L.A. Metro)

Hundreds of thousands of students in county school districts are currently eligible for free transit through L.A. Metro’s Fareless Transit Initiative. The pilot program, which launched last October, offers free transit passes, dubbed GoPasses, for K-12 students in participating school districts. That includes Los Angeles Unified, Pasadena Unified, Long Beach Unified, Inglewood Unified and dozens more.

Last December, the program was expanded to students enrolled at Los Angeles Community College District campuses. Since then, several other community colleges have joined, including Compton College, Long Beach City College and Glendale Community College.

And the free trips aren’t limited to just Metro buses and trains; dozens of municipal transit agencies are also participating to give students free transit access, including the city of L.A.’s DASH bus service, Foothill Transit, Long Beach Transit and more.

As of mid-August, Metro officials report more than 140,000 students are enrolled in the GoPass program, with 5.6 million free rides taken (and counting).

The GoPass program is set to run through June 30, 2023. L.A. Metro’s leaders will then assess the pilot’s impact and decide whether or not to extend it.

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