Youth advocacy groups were celebrating this week as the state readied for the launch of the MBTA Youth Pass pilot program on Wednesday.
The pass, made available to 1,500 young people in Boston, Chelsea, Malden and Somerville age 12 to 21, will cost users $26 per month for use of public transit in and around the city, or $7 per week. An MBTA LinkPass costs $75.
The one-year Youth Pass pilot comes after years of protests and pleas from young people who said they relied on the T, but couldn’t afford to pay the full fare.
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“I’m really excited and really proud of all the hard work we put in, because it finally paid off,” said La’Asia Fleming, 18, an activist with the Youth Affordabili(T) Coalition who said she first started advocating for the Youth Pass at age 12.
Fleming said she plans to use her pass to hunt for jobs this summer, and said the discounted fare will help as she works her way through her first year at Boston College in the fall.
“It’s very hard especially when you have to pay for other things like a phone bill and college,” she said. “It can keep a person in an unstable financial position.”
The passes are more expensive than some youth activists have called for in the past. Last March, the YAC advocated for a $10 monthly T pass.
More than 2,700 young people have signed up to take part in since MBTA officials announced the announced the pilot program in December, said MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo. Applications to get on a waiting list are still open.
There is a “significant” waitlist for Boston youth, but spaces are available for Somerville residents, Pesaturo said. Organizers hope to enroll everyone who applied in Malden and Chelsea, he said.
MBTA officials expect the program will cost $696,000, he said, which includes lost revenue from uncollected fares. That figure is about $100,000 less than the agency’s earlier estimates.
The MBTA has not said whether it will continue the program past the one-year mark, a decision expected after officials have had the chance to analyze participants’ ridership data.
“The pilot will measure costs to the MBTA and the benefits to the youth, including their ability to access jobs, school and civic opportunities,” MassDOT Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack said in a statement.
Youth in many Boston schools have access to discounted T passes during the school year, but can’t use the passes in the summer, said Jessica Rosario, youth development director for Action for Boston Community Development. Because public transportation costs add up, many young people either take home much less pay from their jobs or decide not to work altogether, she said.
“It’s kind of a catch-22. You can’t work because you don’t have a T pass, and you can’t get a T pass because you can’t work,” she said.
For the young people picked for the program, Rosario said, “Instead of having to spend that money to get on the bus, they can now spend it on food for dinner or rent. They’re excited to have more income. That’s what this will translate to: more income for these youth.”
Nicole Baltazar, 17, said her Youth Pass will take her to her summer job at Malden City Hall, without having to pay bus fare every day, or co-ordinate with her mom’s schedule to borrow hers.
For Shihua Wu, 16, the pass will help him make the trip to a summer internship at Fidelity Investments in the Financial District. In the fall, he’ll save money on his trip, by train and two buses each day, from Charlestown to Boston Latin Academy in Dorchester.
“Purchasing the Youth Pass represents me maturing as a person,” Wu said. “It gives me freedom and access to whatever and wherever I want to go.”
The $26 passes were made available to all teens 12 to 18, and some 19 to21-year-olds who met income eligibility requirements, were in school or job training or were enrolled in state or federal benefit programs.
A launch ceremony for the Youth Pass was scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at Dudley Station in Roxbury.