It was a celebration of what young people can accomplish Wednesday as activists and officials welcomed the first swipes of the MBTA Youth Pass pilot program.
In a speech, 20-year-old youth leader Kasey Shen called the launch an “historic moment,” which came after nearly a decade of advocacy from band of community organizations under the banner Youth Affordabili(T) Coalition.
“Youth power!” chanted a crowd inside Dudley Station in Roxbury.
More change is coming if government keeps young people involved, Shen said.
“Instead of just thinking, ‘Oh let’s invest in the future of the youth,’ lets also let the youth be able to take part in this investment,” she said. “It’s their lives, their younger children and their schools. They do care.”
YAC, as they call it, succeeded in a goal that got its start in 2007 and since then has seen protests, a sit-in and lobbying of powerful city and state leaders. Starting this week, 1,500 young people selected via lottery will take bus and subway rides with a $26 monthly pass – half the $50 pass for Boston busses and a third of the MBTA’s $75 all-encompassing LinkPass.
The pilot is set to last one year, and MBTA officials have said they will analyze participants’ ridership data before continuing or expanding the program.
Discounted rides give young people more access to their city, said Felix Arroyo, Boston’s chief of health and human services.
“While there are many obstacles why someone might not want to go from one neighborhood to another in this city, we’re hoping with this Youth Pass, affordability is no longer one of them,” Arroyo said in a speech.
The discounted fares, and associated administrative expenses, will cost the state about $700,000, according to most recent MBTA estimates.
Possible benefits from the program could outweigh those costs, Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told Metro.
“Instead of treating it as just a pilot that we’re subsidizing, we’re trating it as a research program,” she said. “We can justify the lost revenue to get that information, so we can do a better job both of designing our pass in the future and also just understanding how people use the system.”
Gov. Charlie Baker heralded the pilot's launch, which comes amid his administration's efforts to reform transportation in the state, in a statement Wednesday.
"While we continue to work with MassDOT and the MBTA to provide transportation choices that are world-class and reliable year-round, we also want to ensure those options are accessible for our youth," said Governor Charlie Baker. "The Youth Pass Pilot is a step in the right direction to find new and innovative ways to provide access at a price that is affordable for young people to get to work, school and extracurricular activities."
The MBTA has had difficulty rolling out another transit pass program called UPass, which was proposed as a way to allow colleges to buy discounted passes for students in bulk. Officials last year proposed the program as a way to boost revenue, and presented it as a way to defray the Youth Pass price tag.
At the time, the MBTA flagged Tufts, Harvard and Northeastern universities as candidates for UPass.
Harvard is still considering taking part, spokesperson Dane Neff told Metro, as is Tufts, said spokesperson Alexander Reid. Northeastern has "no formal partnership" with the T, said spokesperson John O'Neill.
Pollack said school officials expressed interest in buying passes for individual students, but have so far balked at purchasing big packages of passes, knowing some students may not use them much or at all.
“We’re going to be talking to universities, understanding what it would take to get them involved, re-marketing it and trying again,” Pollack said.