Santa Maria offers free bus passes to students

Santa Maria kids can now apply for free monthly bus passes through the city, a program that was initially conceptualized and pushed for by a group of high school students who noticed that their peers’ transportation needs weren’t being met. 

click to enlarge Santa Maria offers free bus passes to students
FREE TO BE: On July 15, Santa Maria began accepting applications for its 1,129 free monthly city bus passes, which are available to qualifying students under 18.

On July 15, the city began accepting applications for its 1,129 free monthly city bus passes—aka Youth Adventure Passes—which are available to qualifying Santa Maria students under the age of 18 who have completed the sixth grade, can identify the need for a free pass, and who have a parent or guardian’s permission. 

Hazel Davalos, community organizing director at CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy), said that the idea for free student bus passes came from a meeting CAUSE had with several of its youth leaders, who discussed difficulties they face with transportation

While Santa Maria’s school districts do operate bus systems, not all students live within the bus route zones. 

“You do often see kids using [Santa Maria Area Transit] buses to get from home to school,” Davalos said, “particularly those who live in the rural offshoots, like Tanglewood.”

At the meeting, Davalos said youth leaders complained of difficulties getting to school using the city bus system, struggles getting from the west side of town to the east, and about costs. 

A typical monthly city bus pass costs $31 for students, according to the city. Davalos said that adds up, especially for the many students coming from low-income families. 

After CAUSE staff learned about the California Low Carbon Transit Operation Program, which provides funds to public transportation agencies throughout the state for efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Davalos said staff met with Santa Maria City Councilmember Gloria Soto and Mayor Alice Patino. Both were interested in the bus pass idea. 

The city then applied for and received a $35,000 grant through the Low Carbon Transit Operation Program, which is being used to fund the passes. 

Davalos said it’s great to see a youth-led initiative actually implemented. The passes, she said, will alleviate a financial burden for struggling families and will hopefully encourage increased city bus ridership. 

“We really appreciate this,” she said. 

The city will be accepting applications—which can be found and submitted at the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center—until no more passes are available. They will expire on June 30, 2020. 

—Kasey Bubnash

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