Outgoing Transportation Secretary James A. Aloisi Jr. has agreed to research the feasibility of creating a youth pass, which would allow riders between the ages of 12 and 21 to ride the MBTA for a reduced fare.
Aloisi also agreed to extend the hours during which youths can use student passes from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.
The agreement caps a three-year effort undertaken by youth organizers working with the Boston Youth Organizing Project and Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE).
“The youth are the people who most depend on the T to go to school and to go to work,” said youth organizer Dashawn Dowell, who participates in ACE’s Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Program (REEP). “Kids who don’t have a subway pass can’t get to community centers or summer jobs.”
While senior citizens are able to ride the subway for a 60-cent fare, youths not using the MBTA during school hours are required to pay the full $1.70 fare.
During the school year, students who live more than two miles from their school are entitled to free MBTA passes. Students who live within two miles of their school can purchase the MBTA’s $59 monthly pass at half price.
What the youth activists are calling for is a year-round pass that would provide discounted access to buses and trains to youths between the ages of 12 and 21. All too often, they say, a $1.70 fare stands between teenagers and summer jobs, day camps and other youth services.
For many youth, having access to the MBTA is a matter of public safety, says REEP organizer Anike Staples-Martin, who was hit in the arm by a stray bullet when she was 15.
“I’m cautious about walking through bad neighborhoods,” she said.
“You have kids who are risking their lives over a $1.50 bus ride,” added Dowell.
While bus drivers sometimes let on riders who don’t have the money to pay the full fare, that rarely happens with teens, according to Staples-Martin.
“If we try to get on the bus without enough money, they’ll immediately call the cops,” she said.
The youth organizers count the extension until 11 p.m. of the student pass hours as a major victory. Before the hours were extended, teens who participated in sports or other extracurricular activities often rushed to catch buses before 8 p.m.
“They may get to the bus stop at 7:30 [p.m.], but a lot of times the bus is late,” said Staples-Martin. “The bus drivers will see youth who participate in sports with their equipment and still not let them on.”
As part of the three-year effort to secure a youth pass, the ACE organizers conducted workshops with other youth groups to rally support. They also collected more than 2,000 postcards from youths calling on the MBTA to create a youth pass.
Staples-Martin says the lobbying effort has given her an understanding of how government works.
“It’s changed my perspective,” she said. “We found out how to network with other groups, how to find out who our representatives are and how to contact them. I didn’t even know regular people could meet with representatives. I thought only lawyers did.”
While Dowell aired concerns that the negotiations for the youth pass may be derailed by the change in transportation secretaries, she said that REEP will continue working for the pass.
“The big goal is to have all young people have access,” he said, “even those who aren’t in school.”
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