Research Projects

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Research Projects

STATUS: In Progress YEAR: 2023 TOPIC AREA: Public transit, land use, and urban mobility Safety and security CENTER: PSR

How to enhance student outcomes while strengthening transit? An Analysis of Los Angeles (LA) Metro?s GoPass Fareless pilot program

Project Summary

Project numberPSR 22-23  TO 068
Funding Source: Caltrans
Contract number: 65A0674
Funding Amount: $95,268.43
Performance period: 7/1/2023 to 6/30/2024


Project Description

Effective and affordable transportation remains an obstacle for many low income and

students of color because high-performing schools are often located in more affluent

neighborhoods, away from where they reside. As highlighted in a 2017 Center on

Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) report, transporting students is expensive,

representing close to 3.5% of all K-12 expenditures for the 2017-2018 school year. As

school budgets have shrunk, school districts have tightened eligibility requirements for

free transport to school, shifting the transportation burden to parents. As highlighted in

Wexler et al. (2021), although a number of cities around the world have adopted

programs that provide students free or discounted access to public transit, few

academic studies have evaluated these programs (notable exceptions include

McDonald et al., 2004; Gase et al., 2014; Vincent et al., 2014; Wexler et al., 2021). LA

Metro’s GoPass Fareless Pilot program for K-14 students, which launched on October

1, 2021, offers a golden opportunity to better understand some of the impacts of free

transit pass programs on student outcomes. In this context, this research project has four

main goals. First, Contractor will analyze how (when and where) students use their pass.

Second, Contractor will explore the socio-economic characteristics (e.g., age, gender,

household income, race, Hispanic status) of the students who enroll in LA Metro’s K-14

free transit pass program. Third, Contractor will quantify the impacts of free transit

passes on various school outcomes, including attendance, and graduation rates. The

Contractor will work with selected participating schools in LA county, which includes the

Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). And fourth, building on the study

conducted in 2019 by Saphores et al. (2020), Contractor will survey California transit

agencies (with a focus on members of the California Transit Association) to understand

what free or discounted transit pass they offer to K-14 students, the potential role of

contactless payment mechanisms to enhance health, and what their plans are to boost

ridership following COVID-19. Understanding the contribution that transit can make to school outcomes (particularly graduating rates) via free transit pass programs is critically important.

Indeed, a study from the American Council on Education, found that 90% of Americans

without a high school diploma never earn more than $40,000 a year (for reference,

according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 2016-2020 median household income in LA

County was approximately $71,000). Moreover, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

show that unemployment rates drop substantially with education.


Jean-Daniel Saphores
Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
The Henry Samueli School of Engineering
Irvine, CA 92697-3600
United States
[email protected]