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Mid-City CAN Blog

Residents push for improved transportation

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For City Heights residents buying a bus pass sometimes means hard choices.

Maxine Smith, a member of Mid-City CAN’s Improving Transportation in City Heights – or ITCH – momentum team, heard many stories about those choices while talking to City Residents about a Youth Opportunity Pass focused on transportation.

“I have been out in the community speaking with people that I don’t even know,” Smith said. “And what touched me was a grandmother taking care of her three grandchildren. She is on Social Security, so she is on a monthly check.”

The grandmother needed to buy a bus pass for herself and her grandchildren, Smith said

“That means she is taking from food,” she said. “She is taking from clothing.

“She is taking from a little entertainment, also, because there is no money.”

Sharing stories like that are what brought residents of City Heights together at the end of January to talk about why public transportation can make the difference between success and failure in young people’s lives. Despite the rain, about 75 residents and school leaders came to the Mid-City CAN Community Conversation forum on Jan. 26 at Central Elementary School in City Heights.

San Diego Unified Trustee Richard Barrera said he was there because of gaps in student busing.

“If a student wants to ride the bus to go to the other side of town, and not attend their neighborhood school, then we’ll provide free busing to take them there,” Barrera said. “But if a student needs transportation to get to their home school, their neighborhood school, we don’t provide that transportation, and the family has to end up then paying for monthly bus passes or transit passes.

“We don’t think that’s fair.”

Central Elementary Principal Cindy Marten said she sees firsthand how transportation challenges can hurt young students.

“Maybe the rent has changed or a family member lost a job,” she said. “When you move even a mile in City Heights you are so impacted in population [that] you’ve changed attendance boundaries, so you have to enroll in a new school.”

Abdul Rahman Ibn Ashulah, a Crawford high school student, said transportation challenges could tip the balance for high school students trying to help their families financially and keep up at school.

“For kids who need to go to school or are getting jobs, they need transportation,” the freshman said.

And students public transportation challenges increase as they progress academically, said Safiya Abdirahman, a San Diego City College student.

“I came to support City College and to support the youth, because it is difficult to obtain a bus pass,” said Abdirahman, who is also a City Heights resident.

At the end of the meeting, participants broke into three outreach teams of about 20 people. The teams are collecting signatures on a petition supporting a transportation-focused Youth Opportunity Pass that they will send to the San Diego Association of Governments in the Spring. The pass is a no-cost Metropolitan Transit System bus and trolley pass for young people in City Heights to get to and from school and work.

These outreach teams collected 250 signatures from the end of January to mid-February, bringing the total signatures the ITCH team has collected to more than 800.

But ITCH team members like Smith say they won’t stop until they get 1,500 signatures.

“For the people that really can’t afford it, we need free bus passes,” she said. “We need help – help us in City Heights.”

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