A bus pass gave me hope and helped me graduate

The day a teacher gave Lucas a bus pass, his life started moving in a hopeful direction.

Lucas had endured a tough Grade 11 year, devastated after learning that a beloved relative had cancer. He turned to drugs as a way to cope. His self-esteem plummeted. “I didn’t really care about my life,” he says. “It didn’t really matter in my head if I lived or I died.”

Lucas ended up at Discovering Choices, a Calgary Board of Education outreach program for youth who haven’t been successful in regular schools. He faced a major obstacle, however: transportation to and from school. He couldn’t afford it. At times he panhandled for bus fare. The cost of transit stood in the way of his academic success.

At Discovering Choices, staff offered him a bus pass supplied by United Way. He initially refused. “In my heart I didn’t think I deserved it,” he says. But he eventually relented, and suddenly Lucas’s world opened to new opportunities. No longer stressed about transportation, he focused on his schoolwork. He learned to manage his anger and developed his leadership abilities. He started to value his life, and it showed.

“The day we were able to get him to accept a bus pass, we got to see him start to shift,” recalls Pat, one of Lucas’s teachers.

Pat sees it happen again and again: if students have affordable transit access to school, they come and make progress. If they don’t, they disappear from the school system. United Way’s research has shown a direct link between affordable transit and school attendance.

Once, Pat had a student who would walk from Bowness to downtown. “He eventually became a dropout because we just could not get him here often enough that he felt successful enough to keep doing it,” she says. “A bus pass has a direct impact on helping kids complete high school. If we can’t get them here, we have no way to start that journey.”

Each year, United Way supplies transit tickets and passes for students like Lucas. Today, he’s a high school graduate who dreams of one day starting a new school for vulnerable youth.

For him, a transit pass was a lifeline connecting him to teachers and friends who helped him out of darkness.

“It’s always the little things that matter the most,” he says. “A bus pass is a little thing, but it’s going to be one of the biggest factors of a child’s life.”

United Way applauds city council for its recent decision to expand eligibility for Calgary Transit’s low-income transit pass. This will enable more adult Calgarians to access transit. By 2014, all adult Calgarians living below the low-income cutoff will be eligible for the low-income pass.

However, these changes only benefit Calgarians who are 18 and older. The next step is expanding eligibility for the low-income pass to youth.

Here, members of the Woodridge Youth Action Group share their own stories about transit in Calgary: