How the Youth Pass Became a Reality

In 2007, the Youth Council of the Boston-area Youth Organizing Project (BYOP) noted that using the regional public transit system—the “T”—was getting more and more difficult. That year, youth leaders launched their campaign for a deeply discounted age-based “Youth Pass” to address the fact that youth riders were increasingly priced out of the service they depend on for just about everything.

Seven years later, the Youth Pass battle had outlasted four Transportation Secretaries and the largest fare hike in recent T history. Generations of youth organizers from BYOP, Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE), and groups across Greater Boston had led dozens of creative and direct actions, published a research report on the affordability crisis for youth riders, formed partnerships with labor and seniors, and launched the Youth Affordabili(T) Coalition (YAC) to unite the fight and win the Youth Pass.

Despite the tremendous effort and many small victories along the way, YAC’s leadership feared their progress was at risk as the Governor and current Secretary wound down their terms in office. Since the Secretary had made a conditional commitment to pilot the Youth Pass several years before and conditions had been met, it seemed that the only way to win would be one final push to pressure the decision-makers to honor that commitment. The youth leadership had also learned that marches and traditional appeals to media might not be enough.

At the end of 2013, YAC’s newest generation of leadership retreated with veterans of the campaign, some of whom would soon age-out of the proposed Youth Pass but were committed none-the-less. They laid out a six-month plan for mobilization that included energizing the campaign’s youth base, launching a twitter storm to engage the public, identifying winnable short term demands to build momentum, and calling-on the Secretary to honor his commitment to the Youth Pass. In addition, inspired by senior and disabled riders who had blocked intersections to roll-back part of the fare hike during the previous year, YAC was prepared to use civil disobedience if it proved necessary to move state officials.
Even with leadership and participation from youth leaders, YAC’s mobilization would require added capacity to coordinate groups, planning meetings, and execution of the actions. To that point, the coalition had operated on in-kind resources from cash strapped organizations, and had no budget of its own. Given the make-or-break of the moment and the timeline, the group went ahead and hired a coordinator on faith that their community would come together with the resources to make it work. Union partners chipped in and supporters raised cash online, but the real break came two-months in when YAC got word that they had been approved for $4,000 of funding from Resist.

The mobilization moved forward, winning its short-term strategic gain in March—free weekends for 21,000 high school students—but no commitment to pilot the Youth Pass. In May, the campaign issued an open letter demanding that the Secretary of Transportation honor his previous commitment. And on June 11, after receiving no response, 30 members of YAC entered the Secretary’s office and refused to leave until the pilot of the Youth Pass was official. It was the dubbed the “Sit-in for Opportuni(T).” At 7:00 PM that day, with news cameras and hundreds of supporters outside, 21 youth leaders and adult supporters were arrested by Massachusetts State Police and removed from the building.

In the weeks that followed, which included the first of what would have been several months of follow-up actions, dialogue was reopened. State officials met with YAC’s leadership and agreed to terms for the pilot program of the new Youth Pass. YAC was invited into a working group to determine the remaining details of the pass and design the tenets of the pilot program, which launched on July 1, 2015.  

This long fought victory involved thousands of youth and dozens of organizations. Without a doubt, credit is also due to Resist, who offered resources at the turning point of the fight, and who trusted the campaign to know how to use those resources and get it done. YAC and its partners, and the many young people who can now—and will in the future—afford to move around Boston, can add Resist to the list of allies who made it happen.

Dave Jenkins was formerly the Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project (REEP) and supported the REEP team to build youth voice, power, and movement for environmental justice.


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