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Boston school students advocate for free bus passes

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Boston school students advocate for free bus passes
Deshawn Jones, Jr. and Jaylean Sawyer speak about the difficulties of traveling to school without a bus pass. Activists are pressing for BPS to issue free M7 bus passes to all students, regardless of their walk-zone eligibility.

Were it not for her boyfriend’s bus pass, Jaylean Sawyer would have to walk 1.8 miles from her South End apartment in the Villa Victoria housing development to Fenway High School in the Roxbury Crossing area.

Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative organizer Jeff Rogers illustrates the two-mile walk zone on a map of Boston.

Instead, the pair follows a routine familiar to many students who struggle with the cost of an MBTA “S pass” – the $30-per-month option for students who live less than two miles from their school. Her boyfriend, who lives farther from his school, taps his free “M7 pass.” Sawyer walks close behind, hoping an MBTA inspector doesn’t catch her for fare evasion.

“One time, my boyfriend got busted,” she said. “I had to walk to school in the rain.”

Sawyer told her story recently as part of a campaign, backed by the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, to secure M7 bus passes for all students, regardless of how far they live from their school. She and other students spoke about their walks to and from school while organizer Jeff Rogers of DSNI illustrated the two-mile radius around different BPS high schools.

While Sawyer has to curtail her after school activities to make sure she leaves with a friend who will help her through the turnstile, her friend Deshawn Jones Jr., who lives near Uphams Corner in Dorchester, has an M7 pass.

“Jaylean is one of my friends at school,” Jones said. “To hear how she has to walk or have her boyfriend tap for her is disturbing.”

Jones noted that his M7 pass enables him to participate in after-school activities, volunteer at the Museum of Science and hold down a part-time job.

Jones, Sawyer, Rogers and other members of their coalition are advocating for all BPS students who are not eligible for yellow bus service to be given M7 passes. Currently, there are more than 8,000 BPS students who do not qualify for M7 passes, Rogers says. Providing them passes would cost an estimated $3.2 million, an expense BPS officials so far have been unwilling to commit to.

BPS Operations Chief John Hanlon noted that the department’s policy of providing transportation to elementary and middle school students who live more than a mile from their school is more generous than what state law mandates. But as yet there are no plans to extend the M7 pass to all students.

“We’re continuing to explore the possibility of doing that sometime down the road,” he said.

In the meantime, students who walk face challenges ranging from 40-minute-long walks to sexual harassment.

Rogers cited the case of one student who walks just under two miles from Bowdoin Street in Dorchester to Boston Day and Evening Academy in Dudley Square. With six siblings, her mother cannot afford the $30 a month it would cost for her to buy a monthly student pass. It’s not an easy walk, says Rogers.

“She had to get a restraining order because a Level 3 sex offender was following her,” he said. “If she lived one block [further] away, she’d qualify for an M7 pass.”