City Heights residents are set to rally Saturday to extend a pilot program that gave free transit passes to 1,000 high school students in central San Diego last year.

Speak City Heights

Thomas Poston, 17, is one of them. He uses the pass to take the trolley from San Diego High School near downtown to Encanto, where he lives. He said he could catch the school bus, but then he wouldn’t be able to stay late for math tutoring and make-up exams.

“The school bus doesn’t wait,” Poston said. “But the trolley does because it comes periodically. In a sense, it’s helping me raise my grades.”

That flexibility is a big part of why advocates bill the passes as “Youth Opportunity Passes.” In pitching the program to school and city officials last year, mid-city residents calling themselves the Improving Transportation in City Heights team said the passes would boost school attendance and empower low-income youth to intern and volunteer.

City Heights nonprofit Mid-City CAN hired a consultant to study the impact of the one-year pilot program, which cost San Diego Unified and the city of San Diego $200,000. The results of the study are not yet available. Anecdotally, supporters say the free passes have lifted a financial burden off families in City Heights and southeastern San Diego. The passes were reserved for students at risk of dropping out of school because their families couldn’t afford the $36 monthly youth pass and didn’t have access to a school bus.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

“The parents are letting me know that they’re able to put food on the table and they are positive and sure their kids are getting to and from school safely,” said pass supporter Maria Cortez.

Poston said he’s not sure paying for a transit pass would have broken the bank for his parents, who both work. His dad is also going to school. But Poston said funding the program was an important gesture for elected officials.

“I think it’s actually about time because nobody really pays attention to [teenagers] that much,” Poston said. “They just think we’re, like, little thugs that walk around terrorizing stores.”

Poston said he hopes the program expands.

“I think it’s fair and, at the same time, unfair because why are you only giving them to four schools when there might be like 50 other schools in San Diego that need them?” Poston said.

The passes are currently available to students at San Diego, Hoover, Crawford and Lincoln high schools. Cortez said program organizers are heading to Sacramento this month to lobby for a statewide expansion in the coming years. They’re proposing the state’s cap-and-trade fund pay for it.

More immediately, Cortez said, the group is pushing to make the passes available countywide. The school district has already signed on, Cortez said. A City Council representative could not be reached.

    This article relates to: City Heights, Education, News, Public Transportation, Share

    Written by Megan Burks

    Megan Burks is a reporter for Speak City Heights, a media project of Voice of San Diego, KPBS, Media Arts Center and The AjA Project. You can contact her directly by emailing

    La Playa Heritage
    La Playa Heritage subscribermember

    Please analyze  our evidence that would provide millions that could be used for the school transit programs.  Or public parks, fire stations, sidewalks, and infrastructure.  Including sidewalks for school children in San Ysidro.  

    The easy solution is to ask State officials like Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins for discretionary approval to override the legal Ministerial staff decisions by the Department of Finance (DOF).   State staff can only approve ministerial ROPS Line Items that are in conformance with the law based upon the presented evidence.  Civic San Diego has not presented all the evidence, and have given it their best shot.  

    In San Diego the evidence  and mitigating circumstances have  not been presented or fully explained to State Officials totaling over $500 million.  Hopefully Mayor Faulconer will take over control of Negotiations between the City and the State, instead of Civic San Diego staff.

    Please analyze and examine  of the DOF's  denial of Repayment of Federal HUD Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Repayments totaling $78 million over 10 year, and the $144 Million in debt to the poor that the City Council erased.  The State told us that Civic San Diego never sent the backup documents, or contracts so denial of CDBG repayments are predictable.  This is the money for children and seniors that is being lost forever.  

    shawn fox
    shawn fox subscriber

    If it were cost effective, I'd say go ahead and give all students transit passes and lay off all school bus drivers, and sell the yellow buses.  

    Funny that the kid says nobody cares about teenagers; yet he is getting a free education at taxpayer expense.  The little ingrate.  

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    Young Mr. Posten, God bless his clarity, summarizes the essence of politics.  It boils down to two questions, "Who benefits?" and "Who pays?".  

    I'm not rendering a judgement on this program, but it's a classic example of why government spending tends to rise perpetually.  We have a very specific benefit to a relatively small "target" group, in this case lower income students who are vocal that it must be continued (and expanded), but a very diffused cost, which is essentially irrelevant to any individual.  I'll wager that not one person in a hundred can explain precisely where this money comes from, but Jim Jones knows.  It comes right out of his pocket and he doesn't like it!

    -P subscriber

    @Bill Bradshaw  When the program started, I thought it was limited because it was a test case. It should be expanded. A lot. I can't imagine but it would be cheaper than the yellow school buses (although I do think that for elementary school kids, yellow school buses are safer). 

    Richard Bagnell
    Richard Bagnell subscriber

    Parents put food on the table by work, using a massive food stamp program, school lunch and breakfast programs, and the food bank, not a bus passes entitlement.  Every program justifies itself with a food need.  The  SD School District needs to get out of the bus business and offer quality schools in every neighborhood.

    -P subscriber

    @Richard Bagnell  Certainly agree the SDUSD should have quality schools in every neighborhood. But they also have to abide by the Carlin v. SDUSD court decision.

    Besides, helping students take advantage of school choice is a good thing.