Many conversations about youth in general, especially disconnected youth, are focused on the need for postsecondary opportunities. Policymakers and service providers are laying the groundwork for postsecondary pathways so that all young people can access education, training, and employment. However, while these opportunities exist, many young people literally cannot get there because of transportation and mobility barriers. Much progress has been made to identify the systemic barriers that have prevented or deterred historically disadvantaged populations from accessing postsecondary opportunities, but individuals and families are isolated from education and employment because of limited or no access to transportation.
Lack of access to transportation can limit a person’s ability to go to school, hold a job, and take part in the community. This problem affects many communities and groups:
- In cities with strong public transit systems, low-income students still have difficulty paying subway and/or bus fares to ride to and from home, school, and work.
- In suburban and rural communities, those without a car have significantly less opportunities for education and employment. For example, young workers and community college students (where on-campus housing is not an option) are faced with difficulty due to limited public transit options.
- Students with disabilities also require special assistance learning how to navigate transportation options.
For many, the challenges of transportation access (and ultimately postsecondary access) begin even earlier. K-12 students in many rural communities are unable to participate in afterschool and extracurricular activities, missing out on enrichment opportunities because of lack of transportation options. Others, like low-income students in urban districts, miss out on visits to college campuses because of lack of funding to pay for transportation.
Several organizations articulate the transportation needs of low-income populations, students, and workers. PolicyLink’s Transportation Equity Caucus is a coalition of organizations dedicated to ensuring equitable access to transportation for individuals and communities. Their principles reflect the need for better transportation options so that disadvantaged populations like low-income families and individuals with disabilities are not at risk of becoming isolated from opportunities like school and work. The National Rural Assembly’s Transportation Working Group is comprised of member organizations who work firsthand with youth and communities struggling to access transportation. They educate policymakers about opportunities for investment in rural transportation, and put forth policy recommendations to solve these issues. Easter Seals Project Action provides Technical Assistance to communities and programs with a special focus on educating individuals with disabilities about accessing and using transportation.
Programs are also responding with solutions to meet the transportation and mobility needs of their diverse populations. The state of Utah’s Transition to Adult Living Program provides funding and services, including transportation assistance, to older youth in transition from foster care. CUNY ASAP for low-income students offers transportation benefits tied to academic performance. Other rural community-based collaborative initiatives such as BerkshireRides have developed vehicle sharing programs that allow young people to get to youth development programs throughout the week.
The conversation about transportation is interesting, important, and deserves more attention because it deals with access in the most literal sense, and represents yet another layer of significant challenge for our disconnected youth.
Erin Russ is a Program Associate at the American Youth Policy Forum