U of M study finds student transit pass program provides significant benefits

A newly published University of Minnesota analysis of a program for Minneapolis high school students to use public transportation instead of traditional yellow school buses has found a range of benefits — from better student attendance to financial savings to reduced vehicle mileage and emissions.

In August 2013, all transportation-eligible Minneapolis high school students began using public transportation instead of yellow school buses under the Go-To Student Pass Program. The program, a partnership between Metro Transit and Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS), enables students to take unlimited rides on regular-route buses and light rail from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily during the school year.

“Several other cities across the country have implemented similar cross-sector programs,” says Yingling Fan, associate professor in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the principal investigator. “Their experience points to significant benefits, but solid research about the impacts of the approach has been limited.”

The study found that the Student Pass program has been successful in providing a number educational, economic, and societal benefits. Those benefits include:

  • increased student attendance: pass users had 23 percent lower absenteeism
  • more learning opportunities for students at and away from school
  • financial savings for Minneapolis Public Schools, time savings for families
  • reduced traffic congestion
  • reduced vehicle emissions: annual emissions were 93 percent lower for nitrogen oxide, 89 percent for particulate matter
  • increased positive attitudes towards transit among younger riders
  • equity benefits for students from under-resourced families

The program demonstrates how public agencies can create mutually beneficial partnerships to deal with the complex issue of student transportation.

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

For the analysis, Fan and research fellow Kirti Das used existing data from MPS and Metro Transit and collected additional data through surveys completed by more than 2,400 students and about 500 parents during May–July 2015.

After expanding the program in 2015—including a Summer Student Pass pilot—Student Pass ridership increased 12.5 percent from 2014 to nearly 4 million rides. Metro Transit continues to consider opportunities to expand the program in the future.

Read more about the study.

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