While universal fare-free transit has been a hot topic of conversation in the last couple of years, some transit agencies have found a promising middle ground providing free transit programs to youth. Fare-free transit programs for youth, including programs directly targeting high school and college students, have been around for decades, but in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, more agencies see the initiative as a way to introduce young residents to their local system and recoup ridership that has fallen since 2020, while school districts see the programs as a way to address operational challenges that also have been exacerbated since the pandemic.
Safe, reliable, and frequent public transit matters. It matters for public health, it matters for our environment, and it matters for creating more equitable communities. Yet, transit agencies around the country are facing declining revenues and increasing uncertainty in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.