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OCTA Permanently Offers Free Youth Bus Passes

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The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) made the decision to permanently offer free bus passes to all youth ages six to 18 with its Youth Ride Free Program as of Feb. 14.

Under the previous OCTA policies, children under five are given the opportunity to ride the bus for free.

The initiative originally started as a six-month promotional program, which offered youth free bus passes to local school districts. OCTA used this campaign to see if there would be  large-scale use among city youth. After more than 765,000 recorded trips, OCTA decided to make the program permanent. 

“We’re happy to see so many young people in Orange County respond to the Youth Ride Free program to get to school, to work, to the library and to so many other destinations that improve their quality of life,” OCTA chairman and Orange mayor Mark A. Murphy said.

According to OCTA staff, usage of the Youth Ride Free Program has been recorded to be the highest in the cities of Anaheim, Garden Grove and Santa Ana since September. 

OCTA projected that an annual estimated number of 1.7 million trips would be taken using the pass. 

Based on rider data gathered during the duration of the six month program, OTCA staff estimated an annual revenue decrease of about $2.2 million based on an estimate of 1.7 million boardings per year.

The program will not only apply to youth but will also apply to the county’s specialized transit system for people with disabilities. This would result in a revenue loss of $23,000 a year, a “small” financial impact, according to staff at the Feb. 14 meeting. 

The program is also expected to help with traffic congestion by taking cars off of the road and improving overall air quality. 

According to Santa Ana activist Hector Bustos, youth struggle with many issues regarding transportation,making it difficult for these individuals to find a way to get to their school, appointments and jobs to help support themselves and their families. 

“We know youth are using this program not only to get to school, but they’re using this to get to work, to get to their paid internships, because many young people and their families have lost their jobs due to the pandemic,” Santa Ana activist Hector Bustos said..

In order to obtain a pass, paperwork must be completed. OCTA officials recommended that youth apply for a pass through the school that they attend. However, parents have the option to also fill out a request form on the agency’s website or take the time to visit the OCTA Store at 600 S Main St. in Orange.

Some individuals stated that the paperwork may complicate the process. 

“It often takes time to fill out forms, take that form to the school, pick up the pass at school, all those things take time,” Santa Ana Active Streets Coalition member Peter Garcia said. “Time costs more for the poor than the affluent, so it could be that this is a valuable resource but poor parents may simply not have the time to deal with the bureaucratic steps of getting free fares for their students.”

Despite this potential hurdle, this resource is still valuable to youth and may not pose any issues. 

The program will provide youth with access to free transportation, helping to alleviate some of life’s stresses. Regardless of their situation, all OC youth will have the opportunity to utilize this program with the use of this pass. 

“What we’re trying to say is that all of the youth in the county — regardless of what their use is — should have the ability to access this transportation,” OCTA CEO Darrell Johnson said.

With this access, the agency hopes to continue helping youth and create lifelong riders in the process. 

Alexia Hawley is a City News Intern for the winter 2022 quarter. She can be reached at adhawley@uci.edu.