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Study: Bus, train pass for HS students helps attendance, cuts emissions

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A pass that lets some Minneapolis high school students take free bus and train rides has a number of benefits – including boosting attendance and cutting carbon emissions, according to a new study. But some female students expressed concern about safety.

The analysis – funded by Metro Transit and released by the University of Minnesota – looked at the Go-To Student Pass program.

According to the program's website, it allows some Minneapolis public high school students to take unlimited rides on buses and the Light Rail lines during the school year, rather than using the traditional yellow school bus. The program first launched in August of 2013, and last year nearly 4 million Student Pass trips were taken, the study says.

The university's analysis found numerous benefits, including an increase in student attendance, financial savings, reduced use of individuals driving cars, and in turn lessened emissions.

"We believed from the beginning that the Student Pass program would benefit students, schools, and Metro Transit,” said Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb in the study. “We’re pleased to have the data that explain and confirm the benefits.”

To measure the results of the program, Associate Professor Yingling Fan and research fellow Kirti Das of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs analyzed survey data from more than 2,400 students and 500 parents.

Metro Transit may expand the program to St. Paul Public Schools based on the positive results of the program, but since St. Paul doesn't have as many bus routes or stops, it may cost more money to implement the program, Das told Minnesota Daily.

Key findings

Key findings from their study include the following:

  • 93 percent of students and 85 percent of parents reported the pass was beneficial.
  • Pass users had a 23 percent lower rate of being absent.
  • Increased ridership resulted in Metro Transit adding 103 bus trips, which was almost entirely paid for by the revenue from pass sales.
  • Students said they were more likely to use transit after graduation, suggesting the pass increases transit use.
  • The program reportedly reduced personal vehicle travel by more than 2 million miles and school bus mileage by more than 158,000 miles.
  • A 59 percent drop in carbon dioxide emissions.

The study also reported the pass benefits were most pronounced for students eligible for free or reduced lunches and those who were black, foreign-born, or belonged to single-parent families.

Safety a concern

One drawback cited in the analysis was safety.

A higher percentage of female students reported they felt unsafe while riding public transit, waiting at stops and walking to and from stops compared to male students.

Metro Transit and Minneapolis Public Schools are meeting to discuss this finding and potential solutions, according to the study.

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