City officials are giving away 1,500 cash-loaded transit cards to Denver young people ages 14 to 19, hopeful that data gathered as a result will help build a case to expand public transportation access for the city’s public school students.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced the initiative Monday during his annual State of the City address, which focused on tackling the fast-growing city’s many challenges.
The $90,000 pilot project will not just give high school students a way to get to summer jobs or get around town, but provide valuable information about how youth use public transit, said Dionne Williams, deputy director of the city’s Office of Children’s Affairs.
Participating youth will receive MyRide cards, a new Regional Transportation District pre-loaded fare card. The cards will be loaded with either $50 or $100, depending on how costly fares are in their part of the city, Williams said. As students use the cards, city officials will be able to track how often they are used and where.
Solid data on student transit use is not available now because there is no specific bus pass for public school students, and no way to track student use. Denver Public Schools estimates it purchases about 2,500 RTD bus passes for high school students monthly. Some schools tap their own budgets to buy passes for students who don’t qualify for a district-provided one.
“We are really trying to better understand what the need is,” Williams said. “We believe a lot of youth rely on public transportation year-round, especially when it comes to school choice, but we don’t have good data to back that up. We want to be able to show how important public transit is for kids for school, for work, and to get around the city.”
Williams acknowledged the information gleaned will not be perfect, since the cards are being given away in the heart of the summer. However, she said the cards never expire, and presumably some young people will hold onto the cards and use them to get to school.
Transportation challenges continue to serve as a barrier to the kind of school choice promoted by Denver Public Schools. The district runs a nationally-recognized bus shuttle system, the Success Express, but it only serves certain parts of the city and has other limitations.
City officials and community groups have been trying to convince RTD — so far unsuccessfully — to change how it handles transit passes DPS and its schools purchase. The proposal would allow the district to purchase much cheaper yearly passes instead of monthly passes, offering a benefit not unlike the Ecopass program available to businesses.
Matt Samelson of the Denver-based Donnell-Kay Foundation, which is involved in the effort, said the summer pilot project could be a step toward broader transportation solutions. (Donnell-Kay is a financial supporter of Chalkbeat).
Although the data will be relatively limited, “One of biggest pushback points we get from RTD is they don’t know how, when or where students are using their services,” Samelson said. “One of the huge benefits is that we will now have some data.”
Williams said officials will not have access to any personally identifiable data, but will get aggregated data broken down by age, ZIP code and bus route. Parents or guardians will be required to sign waivers agreeing to collection of that data, she said.
To be eligible, youth must have a valid MY Denver membership, a program that provides access to city recreation centers and other benefits. There is a limit of two cards per family, and a parent or guardian must be present to register. Youth who get the cards also will be asked to complete a survey about their experience, Williams said.
City officials began giving away the transit cards Monday after Hancock’s speech at the Hiawatha Davis Jr. Recreation Center in northeast Park Hill. Sign-up for cards will be available this week:
- Noon-5 p.m. Tuesday, Ashland Recreation Center, 2475 W Dunkeld Place.
- Noon-5 p.m. Thursday, Athmar Recreation Center, 2680 W Mexico Ave.
- Noon-5 p.m. Friday, Montclair Recreation Center, 729 Ulster Way.