Since the Youth Opportunity Pass program was expanded to provide free bus passes to all students last year, the number of students taking advantage of the program has increased from 740 to more than 2,800, or 278 percent.
Ridership on C-Tran has also increased each month. In April, for example, students took 20,424 trips on C-Tran using the pass. There were more than 138,000 trips between September and April.
“I am thrilled to see these numbers,” said Vancouver Councilor Bart Hansen, who sits on the C-Tran board. “The ability to have access to transportation is going to really provide them limitless access to jobs after school and to access your community center.”
As part of the last expansion, students with the pass can now access the Marshall and Firstenburg community centers for free. In the last year, those facilities have seen a dramatic increase in use, as well. Firstenburg saw an increase from 289 student users to 1,109. Marshall’s use also went up, from 37 students to 326.
“It really shows the city the benefit to having public community centers, even when these are considered non-paid passes. It helps with some sort of intergenerational conversation,” said Sam Pike, Family-Community Resource Centers partnership coordinator for Vancouver Public Schools.
“The people who are historically using the Marshall Center are mostly senior citizens. Now it’s seniors and teens, and they’re navigating that together,” she said.
So far, the experience has been overwhelmingly positive, Pike added.
Students are also using the pass to get to and from school, to work, extracurricular activities and even family events.
“It really runs the gamut,” said Christine Selk, C-Tran Communication & Public Affairs Manager. “It gives them more options for getting around.”
Pike said they hope to increase ridership even more next year as the word continues to spread that the Youth Opportunity Pass is available to everyone. Opening up the program to everyone helps with that, Selk said.
“When you can market it to all, it becomes easier for schools and C-Tran to trumpet this a little bit,” Selk said.
Hansen wants to keep growing the program to ensure that every student who wants a pass gets one. But he’s also already planning future phases.
Next in Hansen’s mind is working with private schools to offer the Youth Opportunity Pass to their students. He said the program has been approached by two schools so far and is looking for more to approach C-Tran.
“People have the misconception that just because you go to private school, you’re rich,” Hansen said. “These schools give out scholarships to go to their schools on an unprecedented level. And their parents are paying the same taxes as everyone else in this community.”
Once the passes are in the hands of every student who wants one, Hansen said, the next phase is looking at a better way to communicate to students about what’s going on in the community. That could mean improved communication about available jobs, mentorships, after-school events “and creating means for them to have all of that information together in one place,” Hansen added.
This concept is less solidified — Selk said she hadn’t even heard of the proposal, though she agreed it could be useful — but it’s something Hansen considers an elevation of the Youth Opportunity pass and potentially a new path toward ensuring Clark County has a robust workforce.
“Let’s say a large manufacturer wants to provide internships,” he said. “How do we provide that to a larger audience, and how do we give students the means to capitalize on that?”
The Youth Opportunity Pass — and the transportation opportunities that come with it — could hold the key, Hansen added.