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Transit cost relief for Boston-area youth

Youth Pass pilot program serves ages 12-21 in 4 cities

Sandra Larson | 7/8/2015, 10:41 a.m.
Boston area youth transit activists joined city and state officials at Dudley Station July 1 to celebrate the much-anticipated launch ...
Mahlet Shiferaw of Roslindale displays her new Youth Pass after a celebratory launch event at Dudley Station on July 1. Photo by Sandra Larson

Boston area youth transit activists joined city and state officials at Dudley Station July 1 to celebrate the much-anticipated launch of the MBTA Youth Pass. The one-year pilot pass program will sharply reduce the cost of bus and subway travel for 1,500 young people ages 12 to 21 in Boston, Chelsea, Malden and Somerville.

The celebration began with a speaking program inside the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building and moved out to Dudley Station, where students boarded a No. 1 bus for a ceremonial “first tap” of their new cards.

On the Web

MBTA Youth Pass information and application: mbta.com/youthpass

Twitter: @YouthWay

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Youth.AffordabiliT.Coalition

“For youth riders, the MBTA is our lifeline,” said youth leader Kasey Shen of the Youth Affordabili(T) Coalition. “It’s our way to opportunity — to get to class, to work, to extracurricular activities, sports, appointments, health care.”

Shen introduced Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack.

“The Youth Pass program taps into the connection between transit and opportunity,” Pollack told the crowd. She commended the youth activists for their effort and persistence.

“I think it’s wonderful that young people can get excited and organized enough to advocate for their own needs and force people to listen to them,” she said.

The new pass expands affordable T access beyond the current student pass available to high school students during the school year. The Youth Pass will be valid year-round. The cost for access to both bus and subway will be $26 per month or $7 for a 7-day stretch. Anyone ages 12 to 18 who lives in the participating cities is eligible, and 19-to-21-year-olds are eligible if they are currently enrolled in a school, GED or job training program and can demonstrate financial need.

Without the Youth Pass, even young teens must pay full fare in the summer months. Unsubsidized monthly T passes cost $50 for bus alone and $75 for bus and subway combined.

Shen, in her opening words, described an eight-year campaign leading up to this “historic moment,” and the extraordinary collaborations that brought it to fruition.

As early as 2007, she said, it was clear that many Boston-area young people were missing out on important opportunities because they couldn’t afford public transportation.

“Thousands of young people across Boston and nearby cities came together and took part in various ways. We’ve testified in hearings, met with many officials, held marches, and published a research report with details about the affordability crisis,” said Shen. “We worked in a coalition with seniors and with transit groups and labor unions. We lobbied the State House for funding. We led direct actions to hold our public officials accountable.”

And over the past year, Shen noted, the Youth Affordabili(T) Coalition worked closely with MassDOT and municipal governments on pilot program details.

Summing up, Shen said, “We changed the story about who rides the T to also include youth riders.”

The Youth Pass pilot program application process began in April. According to MassDOT, 2,700 young people have applied for 1,500 passes, and each municipality is keeping a wait list. At the event, youth organizers strongly encouraged eligible young people to apply to be placed on a wait list in case passes become available.

Jonathan Tsang, 17, watching the program from the Bolling Building’s grand staircase, said he is looking forward to using his Youth Pass to get to his summer job, to visit relatives and go to church on Sundays.

Emmanuell DeBarros, 19, of Dorchester, is on a wait list. If he doesn’t get a pass, he’ll be walking to work and orthodontist appointments this summer, he said. That may not be as easy this fall and winter, though, as he starts classes at Bunker Hill Community College with the goal of transferring to UMass Boston.

Among the first in line for the ceremonial “first tap” was Mahlet Shiferaw, 17, of Roslindale. Displaying her Youth Pass to a circle of photographers and young people, she said the discounted T fare will be especially helpful this summer, as she is working for the first time.

“I’m very grateful,” she said.