For several years, high school student Spencer Willits has used transit to travel to and from school, work and other activities.
At 16-years-old, he says riding buses and trains has given him greater independence to travel around the Twin Cities and delayed his pursuit of a driver’s licenses.
His ambition now is to help make transit more easily accessible to his peers.
In support of that goal, Willits, Sebastian Alfonzo and Breanna Simon, members of the Saint Paul Youth Commission’s Transit Access Subcommittee, spoke this week to Metropolitan Council members about expanding the Student Pass program to schools across St. Paul.
“Using transit has had a really profound impact on how I get around the Twin Cities, and I think it’s something everyone should have available to them,” said Willits, who will be a junior at Great River School this fall.
For the last three school years, qualified high school students at Minneapolis Public Schools have been provided Student Passes that can be used for unlimited rides while classes are in session. Several other metro-area schools also participate.
Students use regular route buses to get to and from school and enjoy the flexibility of taking an earlier or later trip so they can participate in before and after school programs. Students can also use the passes to get to work or other activities.
Beginning this fall, more than 1,000 students at St. Paul’s Johnson Senior High School will be provided Student Passes in a pilot project that will help determine if additional high schools in the Saint Paul School District can be included in the program.
The Saint Paul Youth Commission – a group of young leaders focused on community issues –asked the Saint Paul School Board to pursue program expansion last year.
To bolster their case as discussions continue, the Youth Commission provided 14 students at Central and Harding high schools with Go-To Cards that could be used to ride Metro Transit for free from January through June. The students were then surveyed about how they used transit during those six months.
Survey results shared with the Council showed that students used the passes several times a week to get to school and a variety of activities, including work, tutoring and sports.
Testimonials from those who received the passes were also shared in a short video. In interviews, students said the passes saved them money and boosted their school performance by allowing them greater access to after-school programs.
Youth Commissioner Alfonzo, a junior at Central High School, said the feedback affirmed his belief that students would greatly benefit from having a Student Pass.
“Students who need this, I feel like they’d jump at the chance,” he said. “It’s something I think would help a lot of people reach opportunities that they otherwise couldn’t.”
Photo: Students from the Saint Paul Youth Commission spoke to the Council's Transportation Committee on Tuesday, June 23. From left are Spencer Willits, advisor Lisle Bertsche, Breanna Simon and Sebastian Alfonzo.