Long Beach Transit to consider giving students free rides

Students attending K-12 Long Beach schools and community colleges who use the Long Beach Transit bus system may be able to ride for free as the transit’s board of directors is expected to decide if they will join Los Angeles Metro’s fare-free system.

Metro first announced the Farefree System Initiative, FSI, in August 2020 as a way to provide free transit services to low-income riders, which makes up about 70% of Metro’s ridership.

Long Beach joined other cities interested in implementing Metro’s fare-free system.

The item is now up for a vote on Long Beach Transit’s Thursday meeting agenda. If the board decides to join the fare-free pilot program, students could see the free pass implemented two to three months from Oct. 28.

Approximately 36% of Long Beach Transit users are students, according to a 2020 survey. The K-12 school districts located within Long Beach Transit’s service area include Long Beach Unified School District, Paramount Unified, Bellflower Unified, Los Alamitos Unified and Los Angeles Unified.

“Once the Long Beach Transit Board approves, we’ll continue to partner with LBT on the details of implementation,” LBUSD spokesman Chris Eftychiou wrote in an email statement.

Long Beach City College, Compton College and Cerritos College also fall within Long Beach Transit’s service area. The program doesn’t include Cal State Long Beach.

Since Metro first introduced the idea last year, the fare-free system has been scaled back to only apply for students for the first phase. One major hindrance to the program’s long-term future is the uncertainty of sustained funding.

The program’s first phase could cost $49.9 million, Metro officials stated.

About $41.5 million from a the American Rescue Plan Act, a one-time federal payment to help communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, will be used to pay for the students to receive the free transit service for the program’s first phase.

Another $8.4 million would be covered by cost-sharing with the participating school districts.

The second phase would expand to low-income communities, but the lack in funding has placed that expansion on hold.

Long Beach Transit officials said implementation of the student fare-free system would cost $3.5 million that would also be covered by federal funding. Transit anticipates an additional $150,000 in funding from participating school districts.

Transit officials considered not participating in Metro’s student fare system, according to an agenda memo, but they decided to do so to offer the program to the city’s students and to further understand the city’s transportation needs.

Long Beach Transit will meet to take a vote on Thursday, Oct. 28, via a virtual meeting at noon.

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