OPAL is proud to announce a major victory in the state legislature: we finally secured a mechanism for the state to pay for students to utilize public transportation to get to and from school. The Youth Transit Initiative is about to become law!
Many years ago, the state provided resources to support high schools in providing student transit access. However in 2012 this funding was not renewed, leaving many schools in the state unable to support student use of public transit. Since that time, we’ve been in the legislature every year fighting to bring back this vital funding. We called this campaign the Youth Transit Initiative.
Thankfully, the City of Portland stepped in to fund the program, though only for Portland Public Schools. In 2015 the Youth Environmental Justice Alliance (YEJA) took up the mantle of many groups, starting with Sisters In Action for Power and then the Multnomah Youth Commission, who had advocated to expand the access to East Portland schools. Last year, YEJA declared victory in expanding the program to David Douglas and Parkrose High Schools.
To win the state’s support for students on public transit, we built a statewide coalition with on-the-ground groups in Salem, Eugene, and all around Portland. Through ongoing advocacy in the legislature, we pushed our elected officials to act. Locally, County Chair Deborah Kafoury signed a pledge to support our statewide campaign. Finally, in 2017, we saw progress. Thanks to the support of Representative Diego Hernandez and the leadership of Representative Katy McKweon, we had a bill which would die in committee. Unfortunately, YTI wasn’t passed in 2017, but to our surprise, in 2018 the bill made it to the floor, passed both chambers, and is now on its way to Governor Kate Brown, who is expected to sign it.
We couldn’t have won the Youth Transit Initiative without the testimony of countless members, the support of dozens of organizations, and the eventual approval of a majority of elected representatives. To everyone who testified, wrote letters, spread the word, and advocated for our youth to have transportation options: thank you!
While we’re excited that YTI would become law, we see major areas of opportunity to improve it. For one, we want the state to dedicate far more money to the program. As currently designed, the entire state of Oregon will be competing for just $250,000, which is only one-sixth of what the Portland Public Schools budget for YouthPass once was. We will continue to fight to expand and improve this program, and make sure that the link between education and transportation is addressed in an intersectional and not siloed way.