Bus pass pilot program beginning at Foss, Lincoln

If successful, could expand to all high schools

9/9/2016 | TACOMA, Washington

​Breaking down barriers to student achievement includes helping students with transportation issues get to school and return home again, safely and on time. Tacoma Public Schools and Pierce Transit begin a pilot program this fall to offer free bus passes to students at Lincoln and Foss high schools, with the possibility of expanding the program in the future to more schools.

Students aren’t required to take the passes; the program aims to get passes specifically to students who don’t have access to school bus service, participate in afterschool programs or have other difficulties getting to school and home consistently.

The district expects the expansion to improve attendance and drive up students’ opportunities to participate in more after school activities—both of which lead to higher graduation rates, research shows.

Students at the district’s School of the Arts, Science and Math Institute, and Industrial Design Engineering and Art schools live all over the district and receive bus passes under a contract with Pierce Transit that took effect in 2010. The Willie Stewart Academy, Oakland High School and Remann Hall get passes under the same contract, which provides the district 1,525 passes at an annual cost of $138.24 per student, a yearly total of $224,105. The pilot program adds another 1,000 passes, but the cost per pass drops to $112.71, bringing the grand total up to $298,604.

In effect the district will buy nearly twice as many passes but the overall cost of the program will increase by about 30 percent. And the more passes bought, the lower the price per pass will go.

The decision to continue and expand or cancel the program will hinge mostly on interest, according to transportation director Sue Race.

“Does it open opportunities for kids to go to another school of their choice, or attend a football game after school?” Race said. “We’ll have a database that will tell us why the student wanted the card—why do they want Pierce Transit instead of a yellow bus? If nobody uses it or we just have 10 kids that sign up, we know the program’s not going to work. Does it give kids the opportunity to go to a school they always wanted to go to? That’s going to be part of our evaluation.”

District officials chose Lincoln and Foss partially to encourage access to the special programs at each school, said Lincoln Principal Pat Erwin. Lincoln has an extended-day format four days per week, and Foss offers the academically challenging International Baccalaureate program.

“Foss was selected also because of our high free and reduced lunch rate, as well as not having a feeder middle school,” said Foss principal Lysandra Ness. “(We) have students traveling to Foss from all over the district. We’re always being asked about transportation options for students to attend Foss. Some families are more comfortable with public transportation than others.”

Foss students can pick up applications for the passes in their school attendance office, whereas at Lincoln the main office has the applications. Applications require a signature by a parent or guardian. The passes bear the Tacoma Public Schools logo and replacing a lost or stolen card will cost $10.