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L.A. community college and K-12 students can ride Metro trains and buses free. Here’s how.

A Metro Expo Line train departs La Cienega Boulevard station for downtown Los Angeles.
A Metro Expo Line train departs the La Cienega Boulevard station for downtown Los Angeles
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Starting this month, K-12 and community college students in Los Angeles can take unlimited Metro bus and train rides for free under a new pilot program.

Students from participating school districts, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, and colleges will receive TAP cards from their institutions this month. The program, which will cost about $49.9 million, covered largely by federal funds, will run through June 2023.

“Getting a free Metro TAP card into the hands of every Los Angeles student will be a game changer,” interim L.A. schools Supt. Megan K. Reilly said at a news conference Friday at Dorsey High School in Crenshaw. “A game changer for our students to have access to this beautiful city, the culture, the museums, internship jobs, additional educational opportunities and meaningful experiences.”

Osiris Powell, a senior at Dorsey, said taking the train will help him arrive at school on time.

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“This saves me lots of money and time, so I can use my time on my studies and money on food,” Osiris said.

After Osiris spoke, Reilly handed him the first TAP card from the school district.

Other districts and campuses participating in the pilot program include: Centinela Valley Union High School District, Culver City Unified, California School of the Arts San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles Academy of the Arts and Enterprise, North Valley Military Institute and Youth Build Charter Schools.

The county is finalizing agreements with at least 34 other school districts. If all 41 districts that have expressed interest sign on, the program would be available to a total of 726,735 students from 1,201 schools across the county. An updated list of participating school districts can be found online.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board in late September approved the pilot program, which will be largely funded with $41.5 million from the American Rescue Plan funds. School districts will also pay per student. The transit access passes, or TAP cards, can be used on most public transit services, including Metro buses and trains.

School board member George McKenna acknowledged that the city can be hard to navigate, especially for young people.

“You can’t walk where you want to go in Los Angeles, it’s too darn big,” McKenna said. With the program, he hopes that many take the opportunity to go to the beach and explore parts of the city they otherwise may not see. “We can open up the world to them. It’s more than television. It’s more than social media. It’s more than TikTok.”

Among the districts that will not be participating, some cited the program’s cost, a lack of need or a lack of students who ride public transportation. Those districts include ABC Unified, Compton Unified and El Segundo Unified.

Still, school officials hope that the program will become a permanent fixture.

“I hope that when we see it successful, Metro will make this change permanent and ensure long-term, free public transit for the students of Los Angeles Unified,” school board President Kelly Gonez said.


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