There are students in London choosing between eating and going to school.
The lack of a discounted London Transit Commission (LTC) pass for secondary students creates a “huge barrier” for those living in low-income households, according to data presented to the Middlesex-London Health Unit board of directors.
Past chair of the MLHU board of health Viola Poletes Montgomery said that’s just plain “mean.”
On Tuesday (Feb. 19) the Youth Creates Healthy Communities (YCHC) advisory council, a group of high school students from across London and Middlesex County facilitated by MLHU staff, presented the board of health with a survey on transit use by the approximately 25,000 teens aged 15-19 in London. Just over 1,000 students, or about four percent responded.
The YCHC group was successful in their request for support from the MLHU for the creation of a $65.67 monthly student bus pass, an important step in an effort that began in October 2011.
An adult LTC pass costs $81, a price that is prohibitive for the 3,609 youth that live in low-income households in London, according to the YCHC members who presented to the MLHU board.
According to the survey, over 90 percent of students said they can’t afford $81 for a monthly pass, 77 percent said they never buy a monthly pass and 65 percent said they would buy a student pass if that was an option.
About 47 percent of students said the LTC is their main mode of transportation. Fifty-seven percent said they use the bus to get to school.
The estimated $2,400 it would cost a high school student to pay full-price for transit across their four-year career creates a “huge barrier” to the possibility of their graduating, according to YCHC member Kristen Turner.
“A major gap in the community is a lack of accessible transit for youth,” Turner said. “Families don’t have resources to buy bus passes or tickets.”
Attached to their presentation was a copy of a letter from a 17-year-old student who lives on Bridle Path (off Kipps Lane), about 2.6 kilometres from her high school.
She wrote that’s too close to qualify for a school bus (the threshold is 3.2 km), but too far on many days to walk, specifically if the weather is poor.
“Buying bus tickets has left me without food at times,” the student, whose mother lives on ODSP, wrote. “I struggle with attendance at school, as do many of my peers, and this has a lot to do with not having reliable transportation to school.”
According to public health nurse and YCHC facilitator Michelle Cowin, she hears stories like that on a near-daily basis.
“We have students coming to us all the time needing assistance with transportation,” she told London Community News. “In her case, it’s either buy bus tickets to get to school or eating dinner that night and that’s what she’s faced with everyday.”
The board of health was shown a map highlighting cities in southern Ontario that do offer a discounted bus pass for high school aged students. London was conspicuous by its absence: Kitchener, Woodstock, Windsor, Hamilton, Sarnia, Whitby-Oshawa, St. Catherines, Niagara Falls, Burlington, Barrie, Oakville, Brantford and even St. Thomas all offer student bus passes.
According to Graham Cartwright, another YCHC student, affordable transit would also allow more students to take part in extra-curricular activities such as sports.
(In years where they haven’t been cancelled in the midst of a labour battle between teachers and the province that is.)
“Youth need 60 minutes of physical activity per day,” he said. “A study in the United States showed using public transit added eight to 33 minutes per day of activity.”
Alison Balfe, another of the students on the YCHC council, was “very satisfied” with the outcome Tuesday.
“We got what we were asking for and it worked out very well,” she said. “Our next step is to talk to the LTC and eventually go ahead to the city of London.”