A year after Portland promised to expand the program that offers free TriMet passes to Portland high schoolers to include East Portland school districts, it slashed the entire program the city budget. Now, nearly a month after the council approved this cuts, the city says it’ll let all three districts use leftover money from last year’s budget to fund the program.
But the future of the YouthPass program remains uncertain.
In previous years, the $2.9 million program was jointly funded by TriMet, Portland Public Schools, and the City of Portland, with each covering about a third of the cost. In 2017, the city decided to expand YouthPass to David Douglas and Parkrose districts in East Portland, to better serve students of color and low-income students. The expanded program had been rolling along smoothly since late 2017—until the city pulled funding for next year’s program in the 2018-19 budget approved last month. A city spokesperson says that was always the plan.
On Monday, the city announced it will allow the districts to keep unused funds from last year’s YouthPass budget to fund the program for the 2018-19 school year. Dan McCue, a spokesperson from David Douglas school district, says that amounts to $200,000, and that the district will provide as many passes for low-income students as it can with that funding and whatever TriMet kicks in. Portland Public Schools will now pay double what it used to to maintain the program.
In David Douglas and Parkrose school districts, only students that fall into a low-income bracket will be given the TriMet passes—a policy that remains unchanged from 2017. How it will be funded after next year, however, remains unknown.
The city and TriMet have agreed to start a “working group” to look into the issue.
TriMet will continue to provide one third of the funding for PPS, though the future for the East Portland districts is unclear after next year. “For those areas that have a higher proportion of low income students, it’s about getting to the jobs and the training and the library, those other options for continuing education,” says TriMet spokesperson Roberta Altstadt.
Transportation advocates demand a longer-term fix. “We want the program to be for all students, for the full year, which was not the case last year,” says OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon Director Huy Ong. “We will continue to hold decision-makers accountable to center the priorities of low-income youth of color in East Portland and beyond.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included misinformation from a press release from the mayor's office stating that David Douglas and Parkrose school districts only provide passes to low income students and students of color. Those districts actually provide passes to all students. According to McCue, about one third of the high school students in David Douglas School District have a signed up.