July 2, 2015
They said it couldn't be done. That it was too expensive. That they weren't ready and we needed to wait.
They've even ignored us, talked down to us, waited to see if we'd get tired and give up.
But youth are powerful. We persisted. We did everything they asked for and then some. We never stopped fighting.
We celebrated the program launch in Dudley Square with our Youth Affordabili(T) Coalition (YAC), city officials and the Secretary of Transportation. This comes after eight years of youth-led organizing for a more affordable and accessible public transit system.
"The Youth Pass is important because I've always used the MBTA to get to school, since middle school. Every time I went out, I had to make a conscious decision of whether I could pay or not," said Armando Barragan, YAC Youth Leader and Youth Pass working group member. "Now, youth aren't going to be as troubled or stressed about needing to go somewhere. They won't have to miss out on anything."
The pilot program runs from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016, with weekly ($7) and monthly ($26) passes available to 1,500 youth ages 12 to 21 in Boston, Chelsea, Malden and Somerville. Following the launch, program participants led the crowd to the bus station for the ceremonial first taps of the new Youth Pass.
"Students consider transportation and fares as problems in joining activities. With the Youth Pass, we will save money and can join other activities that will enhance our academics," said Youth Pass holder Nicole Baltazar of Malden. "It's also important for seniors like me. I'm going on campus tours at colleges in Boston and I also need to save money for college and books."
The campaign for a Youth Pass began in 2007, when young people began organizing to stop the youth rider crisis. A survey of 4,000 youth found that nearly one-third were regularly priced out of the T, preventing access to vital opportunities like school, jobs, healthcare and extracurricular activities.
Over the course of the campaign, thousands of youth marched, rallied, took part in actions, testified at hearings and petitioned for a more affordable and accessible public transit system, winning improvements to the Student Pass along the way.
"A lot of my friends can't get Student Passes because they live too close to their schools. When I moved to Dudley, I was too close to my school so I couldn't get one either. That's when I was paying $2 every day for the bus each way to the point where I was like, I'm going to walk to school," said Asia Fleming, Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project (REEP) Youth Organizer and Youth Pass holder.
Last year, after writing an open letter to then-Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey and receiving no response, we mobilized hundreds of people to rally at the Transportation Building downtown, and held a Sit-In for Opportuni(T) in his office.
After 21 youth and supporters were arrested, the MBTA agreed to set up a working group with YAC members to develop a Youth Pass pilot program. The pilot was presented to the MassDOT board for review in December 2014 and was approved in spring 2015 as part of the 2015-2016 MBTA budget.
"Mayor Walsh and I are proud to join the youth of Boston who led the efforts on this campaign to bring about an affordable youth pass. Because of this, young people will be able to access safe, healthy and productive opportunities throughout the City," said Felix Arroyo, Chief of Health and Human Services.
"I was convinced by our youth advocates of how important affordable public transit is to them. The Orange Line is one of our City's greatest assets and we want everyone to be able to afford this convenience," said City of Malden Mayor Gary Christenson. "We are very proud to be one of the first four cities in Massachusetts to launch this pilot program and provide a reduced fare pass to our youth."
Registration for the Youth Pass is rolling. Please continue signing up if you (or people you know) are eligible, as spots will open over time. The pilot will collect data on youth ridership, which will be used to shape the full program.
"The Youth Pass Pilot Program being launched today was developed by a working group of MassDOT, MBTA, youth advocates, and municipal partners who met for eight months to address the transportation access needs identified by the youth," said MassDOT Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack. "The pilot will measure costs to the MBTA and the benefits to the youth, including their ability to access jobs, school, and civic opportunities."
At the launch, Gladys Vega, Executive Director of the Chelsea Collaborative, called on Secretary Pollack to implement a system-wide Youth Pass on the MBTA.
"It's a pilot project. So I would ask Secretary Stephanie to take the message back that we want this to be permanent. The youth don't deserve any less. We believe in them, and this is access for them to work, study and access other opportunities. So my challenge is to you," said Gladys, to cheers from the crowd.
Secretary Pollack responded that it was up to organizers to keep pressure on her to make this a reality.
"I would like the pilot to be really successful with the 1,500 young people. I want everyone to experience it, to be able to have extracurricular activities and do the things that they want," said Nicole. "I hope the Youth Pass will be permanent so that youth can access it. I want people to support the pass."
This victory is made possible by generations of young people and allies who have steadfastly worked toward a singular vision: a public transportation system that is affordable and accessible to all. Thank you members for supporting this work for youth transit justice!
"I think it's good to see that young people won something and recognize that it took hard work - and many years - to get something that we really needed," said Armando. "If we really want it, it's going to happen."