Tacoma Public Schools, the City of Tacoma and Pierce Transit have collaborated to provide all 7,900 Tacoma Public Schools high school students the transportation they need to access cultural and other amenities all across Tacoma.

According to the agreement, every high school student in Tacoma will have access to an ORCA card loaded with a Pierce Transit bus pass, good for unlimited local bus rides from now until the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. Following the pilot program’s first year, the partners will review its success and discuss how to make it a sustainable model for connecting more youth to cultural experiences and activities.

The effort to provide bus passes for high school students is in support of a larger initiative called the Tacoma Whole Child Partnership. This community-driven effort will provide TPS students with quality experiences during out-of-school time and reduce transportation barriers for them to access after school programs.

Pierce Transit High School Bus Passes
Pierce Transit recently announced they’re part of a partnership that will put an unlimited rides bus pass in the hand of all 7,900 Tacoma Public Schools high school students. Photo courtesy: Pierce Transit

“We are blessed to have a large number of community partners who own the after school spaces and provide extended learning opportunities to our students beyond the school day,” says School Board President Scott Heinze. “What this agreement does is throw open the doors so that over time all students can benefit from the experiences offered by our Tacoma Whole Child Partnership organizations.”

Heinze went on to say that through this partnership, Tacoma is creating lifelong public transit users. “It empowers youth to be in a public transit state of mind,” Scott says of the importance of young people having this kind of access to public transit. “We’re trying to create students who feel a sense of independence, and understanding and comfort level with it.”

Pierce Transit’s contribution to the partnership involved reaching an agreement with the partners that gives students full access to the Pierce Transit bus system by ensuring the passes cover an unlimited number of trips, anywhere local buses travel. The agency also orders and loads the ORCA cards, gets them to the school district to distribute, and provides the City of Tacoma and TPS with regular ridership updates.

“This partnership is a win all the way around,” says Pierce Transit CEO Sue Dreier. “It gives students independence and an opportunity to learn how to use public transportation, as well as access to the many enrichment opportunities offered now and in the future.”

The City of Tacoma’s funding contribution comes via Tacoma Creates, the voter-approved initiative designed to increase youth access to arts, culture, heritage and/or science experiences throughout Tacoma by reducing barriers to access and expanding offerings, particularly for underserved youth.

“By addressing this essential need for safe, reliable transportation we make it easier for young people to consider the many opportunities available through Tacoma Creates,” says Tacoma Mayor and Pierce Transit Board Chair Victoria Woodards. “As Tacoma evolves and grows, the way we come together as a community to support and empower our youth today will greatly factor in our joint successes tomorrow.”

There’s so much that Tacoma has to offer, especially for young people. From the variety of museums and cultural experiences to the athletic programs available throughout the Tacoma Public School system, this partnership offers an unprecedented opportunity for students.

“This is more than simply handing a student a bus pass. This is giving them a key to the city to open up all these amazing experiences,” Heinze says.

Students understand and appreciate what this partnership means for their everyday lives, and see the benefits and possibilities that the passes will provide. Having the ability to get to school, after school activities, and other things like jobs, or cultural events, opens up opportunities and experiences that they might not have otherwise.

“I just think that students should have an opportunity to have reliable transportation to activities and school,” says Sincere Jones, a student at Lincoln High School. “It lets me do activities outside of school.”

Pierce Transit Sue, Mayor, Scott & students LHS
Tacoma Mayor and Pierce Transit Board Chair Victoria Woodards says as Tacoma evolves and grows, the way we come together as a community to support and empower our youth today will greatly factor in our joint successes tomorrow. Photo courtesy: Pierce Transit

Beyond the ability to get to school and afterschool activities, putting the passes in students’ hands helps foster new experiences and growth opportunities.

“It helped me understand more about the community, too,” says Bryan Jandres, a Lincoln High School student, of his experience using a Pierce Transit bus pass. “It makes me meet new people, so I guess that gives me an opportunity to serve my community and make me a better person.”

Tacoma Creates will provide additional funding for programming to cultural organizations in 2020, adding to the rich assortment of activities throughout the city that kids can enjoy.

“The long-term vision of the Tacoma Whole Child Partnership is that students will have access to our city’s amazing programs at every age level and bus transportation will never be a barrier to any Tacoma Public Schools student,” says City Council Member and Pierce Transit Board Commissioner Ryan Mello, a strong proponent for this initiative, “So every student in Tacoma Public Schools will have access to community-provided extracurricular activities and the transportation to get there.”

Learn more about this partnership on Pierce Transit’s website.

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