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An Open Letter to Lori From South Side Youth Requesting Free Transit for CPS Students

Photo: CTA

Last week, I received an email from a student at Chicago's Back of the Yards College Prep about her project with a few other students working on transportation equity issues in their civics class. They were interested in learning more about the Fair Fares campaign, an initiative I am working on within the Active Transportation Alliance exploring the possibility of discounted fares for low-income Chicagoans on CTA, Pace, and Metra.

Julia Gerasimenko of Active Trans and I met with the group of students this week in Back of the Yards and they discussed their work collecting survey responses from students to gauge how transit fares could be tied to truancy rates. Three of the students, Angela Saldana, Elizabeth Vargas, and Janely Sanchez also shared a letter they wrote asking Mayor Lori Lightfoot to work to provide free transit for students year-round.

It was great to see high school students engaged in an effort to improve transit in their own communities. Ultimately, they're the experts on what transportation policies might work best for the way they live and experience the world. Below is the letter they drafted about their proposal, edited for clarity by Streetsblog Chicago. - Lynda Lopez

Dear Mayor Lori Lightfoot,

We, Angela, Elizabeth, and Janely, are students from Back of The Yards Preparatory High School. In our civics class we are required to be involved in different projects based on our chosen action plan. The three of us were intrigued by the possibility of creating social change to benefit young people in a new way. Instead of focusing on issues of pollution, or crime and gang violence, we decided to focus on improving public transportation access for students.

As it stands, students can purchase a special CTA reduced-fare Ventra card at their own schools and they are supposed to be used for reduced fare when traveling. The regular CTA train fare is $2.50, but students pay 75 cents a ride. Although this may seem fair, many students ride the bus twice a day, five days a week, which adds up to $7.50. Most young teenagers don’t have jobs, which means they usually rely on parents and guardians to add money to their Ventra cards now and then.

When that doesn't happen, it can be really frustrating for students. For example, there have been a couple of times when Angela didn't know that her Ventra card had no money on it or a negative balance and a bus driver wouldn't let her on the bus. We strongly believe that is unfair only because we might not be aware of our card having a low balance, and also because Chicago residents have places to be, and letting that slide once in a while wouldn't hurt anyone.

Making a change so that students don’t go through situations like Angela’s isn’t impossible. We propose that students be allowed to ride the CTA for free to get to different destinations, whether it’s to school or downtown. Though it may take some time to make this happen, there’s many benefits to making this change.

If more students were to use public transportation, they would be more likely to get to school on time, and it would also help reduce CO2 emissions. Getting to school in a car pollutes the air at a high rate, but using transit helps reduce the amount of miles driven, therefore reducing the amount of pollution.

Though we know that there have to be certain limits on our proposal, we would like to propose that the free CTA service be available to students on weekends and perhaps over summer, since there are a lot of school activities that go year-round.

We know that if we work towards what we want, we’ll get it. According to Streetsblog Chicago you have already promised to reduce transit fares for low-income Chicagoans, along with others CTA improvements like implementing all-door bus boarding, and therefore we’re hopeful that we can get your support for free fares for students.

We hope to make a positive change in Chicago by allowing students to travel to school for free, which would increase attendance rates and decrease tardiness, as well as reducing pollution rates.


Angela Saldana, Elizabeth Vargas, and Janely Sanchez

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