In March of 2016, WCOG kicked off a two-year pilot project to provide transit education and a free quarterly bus pass to every 7th grade student in Whatcom County. The Smart Trips staff created the teaching tools and is providing the instruction. WTA is providing the bus passes, as well as a transit vehicle and driver to be available at every school. The goal of the project is to teach students how to plan bus trips and to encourage them to begin traveling independently.
We believe that by the 7th grade, kids are both seeking—and are ready for—opportunities to travel independently. Learning about safe ways to step out on their own is a healthy part of their development. And by teaching kids how to travel independently as 7th graders, we increase their chances of riding the bus as older teens and young adults.
All school districts and private schools that include 7th grade students are invited to join the program. Schools that agree to participate create a schedule for Smart Trips instructors to work in Social Studies classrooms and teach all 7th graders in a single school day. Students are taught the basics of riding the bus through a practical example – taking the bus from their school to the mall or downtown Bellingham. An online 7th Grade Bus Trip Planner, created by Smart Trips staff makes it easy for students to access route and schedule information for these and other popular kid destinations. Transit instruction also includes the opportunity to board a WTA bus and talk with the driver and to practice loading a bicycle on the front rack of a bus. Middle school office staff members distribute the free quarterly bus passes to all students who return their signed parental permission form.
2016 – 2017 Results
In 2016, Smart Trips staff taught 1,291 students at seven middle schools in Whatcom County. 489 (38%) students claimed a pass, and 212 (16%) used it one or more times. These students made 2,723 bus trips in April, May and June.
In 2017, three more public middle schools and one private school joined the program and staff taught 1,556 students. To encourage more bus riding, Smart Trips staff arranged for discounts at local businesses for students who showed their bus pass. There was also a competition for the school with the most bus trips per 7th grader during the month of April. The winning school was featured on a WTA exterior bus board.
While the percentage of students claiming and using a pass in 2017 was nearly the same as in 2016, 599 (38%) students claimed a pass, and 271 (17%) used it one or more times, students made nearly twice as many bus trips (5,288) in April, May and June of 2017 as the previous year.
2018 – 2019
The program will continue in 2018 and 2019 using renewed mobility management grant funding from WSDOT.