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East Portland students push for TriMet access

COURTESY: OPAL ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE OREGON - Ramon De Luna, left, Marbrisa De Luna and Tommy Jay Larraca show a mock-up of a YouthPass as part of their campaign to expand the program to East Portland school districts. Tommy Jay Larracas missed the yellow school bus to David Douglas High School one morning his freshman year, and his parents had already left for work. It takes an hour for him to walk to school, and it was pouring rain and freezing cold, so he ended up just staying home.

“I wasn’t used to taking the TriMet bus because I have never ridden it by myself, and I was feeling nervous going alone,” Larracas says.

Larracas’ story is a common one among high school students in East Portland, as they do not have access to the YouthPass system which allows for free transit on TriMet. This is something that the Youth Environmental Justice Alliance and OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon want to change. On Thursday, they will release a report on the pressing need for an expansion of YouthPass, at a community forum and press conference at the Jade/APANO Multicultural Space.

“Our goal is to get the attention of the community and have them fund YouthPass for the East Portland schools,” says Ramon De Luna, who will be a freshman at David Douglas next year.

In addition to seeking free transit passes to David Douglas and Parkrose high schools, the project wants to have YouthPass permanently funded and increase the frequency of bus service.

YouthPass to the Future is the first campaign for the Youth Environmental Justice Alliance. Much of the work on the project, including the creation of promotional material, has been completed by students wanting to be involved with bettering their community.

The eastside schools haven’t had YouthPass because those schools are served by yellow school buses. But problems exist with that system. The buses run only at specific times during the day, so if it doesn’t line up with student schedules, alternative means of transportation have to be found.

This especially comes into play in the evenings with after-school activities, as the yellow buses stop running long before those are over. Weekend and night classes for students trying to get ahead in their studies also aren’t supported by the yellow buses.

“The bus I use takes two and a half hours for me to get home,” Larracas says. “If I had a YouthPass then I would get home in exactly 15 minutes.”

The desire for YouthPass extends throughout the East Portland schools. Surveys conducted by the Youth Environmental Justice Alliance show that 41 percent of students at David Douglas have missed class because they missed the school bus and had no other means of transportation, while 70 percent of students at Parkrose said having a free transit pass would make it easier to attend school.

“There is an urgent need for YouthPass in East Portland,” says Mayleena Robinson, a sophomore at Franklin High School. While Franklin is being rebuilt, students are attending class in East Portland, at the former Marshall High School building.

Franklin students have access to YouthPass, and for Robinson the ability to use free public transportation is crucial.

“It allows me to get involved with volunteer opportunities and the community,” Robinson says.

East Portland has a higher poverty rate than the rest of the city, with almost one-fourth of the population designated below the poverty line. This limits the ability of some students to pay for bus fare, as the expenses can add up.

“My older brother is a graduate from Douglas, and for about a year and a half we lived in an area where the yellow buses didn’t reach,” De Luna says. “So every day he had to pay $2.50 to get to and from school. It was a lot of money to be wasting.”

Financing for the expansion of YouthPass is planned to be spread across various sources to lessen the impact on each. The strategy is to create a new funding model with support from the city of Portland and Multnomah County.

The community forum and press conference will be held Thursday, April 7, at 4 p.m. at 8114 S.E. Division St. Speakers will include Parkrose Superintendent Karen Fischer Gray, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury and several impacted students from East Portland.