The Youth Mobility Fund, a community partnership which provides fare-free transportation to public high school students, is expanding to include Kalamazoo Youth Development Network (KYD Network) as a partner organization. KydNet will join the City of Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS), and Metro starting with the 2020 school year.
In joining the Youth Mobility Fund partnership, KYD Network will focus on four main goals:
- Ensuring success of youth at the Kalamazoo Transportation Center
- Providing educational opportunities to youth and families regarding appropriate ridership during the summer months through summer programs
- Providing orientation to as many incoming 9th grade students as possible through out of school time (OST) programs and other community-based organizations
- Creating and implementing a youth-driven ridership plan
“In 2019 we learned there was an opportunity to include youth development and center voices of young people in YMF more directly,” said Meg Blinkiewicz, Executive Director of KYD Network. “With KYD Network as a partner, YMF can help shape those next steps through a youth-driven ridership plan.”
The goal of the Youth Mobility Fund partnership is to provide fare-free transportation for all KPS high school students who opt-in, helping young people “get to where they need to go in Kalamazoo so they can get where they need to go in life.” The program provided over 150,000 fare-free public bus rides to high school students in its pilot year from August 2019 to June 2020 according to Metro’s ridership statistics, with a majority of those rides supporting extracurricular activities such as development programs and athletics, evening and weekend jobs, and socializing.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the necessary precautions that have been taken will impact the partnership’s ability to achieve its goal in 2020. Metro buses remain limited at 20% capacity and COVID-19 will continue impact school operations for the foreseeable future.
“All four partner organizations agree that the COVID restrictions to bus capacity require some tough decisions for at least a few more months. We could not offer the same broad promise of mobility as during the pilot year at this point in the pandemic knowing that there might only be seats for 2 of 10 people on a bus right now,” noted Sean McBride, Director of Metro. “That would be unfair and create false expectations.”
In response, KPS will initially issue 400 Youth Mobility Fund cards to students who opt-in and are priority eligibility for the first trimester of the 2020-2021 school year. More details are forthcoming and will be available to parents and family as soon as they are finalized. At the end of each trimester, increased numbers of passes may be offered depending on bus capacity, status of KPS operations, and general program performance at those times.
“Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to alter operations of all partners in ways that make the future hard to predict,” said Steve Brown, Foundation for Excellence Manager with the City of Kalamazoo. “We will continue to have open conversations regarding the Youth Mobility Fund and how we can reach our goal of providing transportation to our students safely.”
Program partners also noted with gratitude the ongoing OneCard partnership with the Kalamazoo Public Library that adds layers of learning utility to high school identification cards, including YMF-capable cards.