High school and college students in Fresno could soon get free bus rides. What to know

CRAIG KOHLRUSS/ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Students at Fresno colleges and high schools could soon have access to free rides on city buses, pending approval from the Fresno City Council.

City leaders gathered Wednesday morning to announce new agreements between the city of Fresno and education partners, including the State Center Community College District and Fresno Unified School District, that — with the help of a $100,000 grant from the PG&E Foundation — to fund free rides for at least a year starting in January.

“The last thing we want our students to be worried about,” said Mayor Jerry Dyer, “is having their transportation needs met.”

Students, faculty, and staff from Fresno community colleges and Fresno State need only show their student or employee IDs to hop aboard a city bus.

Fresno Unified high school students can also enjoy free rides under the new agreement.

“These types of partnerships ... is what’s really going to change the trajectory for our kids,” said FUSD spokesperson Nikki Henry, “and make it a given that they’re able to go to college and make those choices for career.”

Wednesday’s announcement marks a much-needed return of free transportation for Fresno City College students after their own program expired shortly before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

“This is a game-changer for students who need to be able to reduce the cost of going into college,” said Carole Goldsmith, chancellor of State Center Community College District, which oversees Fresno City College, among others.

The SCCCD had previously diverted money from its parking maintenance budget to fund the free bus passes. When the district could no longer defer fixes to parking lots, they scrambled to find alternative funding streams.

Students who relied on the free bus rides to attend classes — most of whom were students of color — fought to save the program.

Fresno State already has its own pilot free bus pass program in place that President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval said Wednesday would continue.

The university has already seen huge dividends for its students and employees with data collected this year.

In July, students and employees took 2,904 free rides to Fresno State, Jiménez-Sandoval said. That number ballooned to 9,036 with the start of classes in August and again to 14,568 rides.

The new agreements were on Thursday’s city council agenda, Councilmember Tyler Maxwell said, where it’s likely to pass.

“I would love to meet the councilmember who would deny our children free bus rides to school,” he said.

Maxwell highlighted other recent expansions to the free bus ride program as well with the help of a separate grant from Kaiser Permanente.

“We are able to offer free rides to every senior in the city of Fresno, 65 and up,” he said, “every person with a disability in the city of Fresno, and every person that’s on Medicare.”

Other potential partners, including Central Unified School District, are on the city’s “radar” moving forward, Dyer said.

In the meantime, Dyer said the city would work to ensure the free rides continue “beyond ‘23.”

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