Testimony of Ilana Boivie at the FY 2018 Budget Oversight Hearing for the DC Department of Transportation

Chairperson Cheh and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Ilana Boivie and I am the senior policy analyst of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. DCFPI promotes budget and policy choices to expand economic opportunity and reduce income inequality in the District of Columbia, through independent research and policy recommendations.

I would like to focus my testimony today on the need to provide transportation subsidies for adult learners in the District. DC residents who try to improve their job prospects by participating in adult education programs find that transportation costs—usually bus fare—often keeps them from completing their programs and fulfilling their goals. Transportation assistance can achieve three very important outcomes: it can improve the outcomes of the city’s substantial investments in adult education, strengthen the DC economy by helping more residents live up to their potential, and help shore up WMATA’s finances by offering stability of ridership.

Helping more adults succeed in education and training also is important to DC’s future. By 2018, some 70 percent of jobs will require some post-secondary education or training. Meanwhile, 60,000 DC residents lack a high school diploma or equivalent.[1] Over half of the students in adult education programs test at a sixth-grade level or below in reading and/or math, and it takes time for learners to build their skills and advance to the next level of their career or education.

Yet transportation cost is a major barriers to attending and remaining in educational programs, according to listening sessions conducted in 2015 by the DC Adult and Family Literacy Coalition (AFLC) and Fair Budget Coalition. In addition, over a third of 1,000 adult learners surveyed in 2016 by the DC AFLC reported their biggest transportation concern is its cost.

This is not surprising given that adults in education classes often are unemployed or under-employed. Taking the bus to class can cost $70 per month, and the $0.25 bus fare hike coming in July will add another $10 per month. With many DC households living on less than $10,000 a year, transportation costs for just one person could consume 10 percent of a family’s limited income.

Last fall, the Deputy Mayor for Education’s office released a report highlighting the significant need for transportation assistance among adult learners.[2] The DME report recommends “expand[ing] the unlimited bus and rail component of the School Transit Subsidy program to all District residents enrolled in a publicly funded adult education program.”[3] It found that it would cost $1.5 million to $2 million to serve the 7,494 students enrolled in community-based organizations (CBOs), UDC’s Workforce Development and Lifelong Learning programs (WDLL), and adult charter and alternative education schools who are not currently receiving assistance through Kids Ride Free.

This expansion of the Kids Ride Free program would leverage the program’s existing technology infrastructure and low negotiated cost, currently just $0.65 daily for each pupil. This means that the cost of providing transportation assistance though Kids Ride Free is much more cost-effective than other ways of funding such a program.

At the same time, the additional ridership could also help shore up WMATA’s finances. Even at $0.65 per ride, WMATA will benefit financially, since many learners ride at non-peak hours, when Metro has excess capacity. (In other words, the marginal cost each additional rider at these times is essentially $0.) At the WMTA budget oversight hearing, General Manager Paul Wiedefeld noted that WMATA would be able to implement the program, if it is funded, and that the added revenues and stability of ridership would help WMATA.

The District currently invests over $80 million in local and federal dollars to support educational instruction for adult learners. The relatively modest cost of expanding Kids Ride Free to adult learners—which our surveys suggest could lead to thirty percent more successful outcomes for participants in these programs—seems to be a smart investment. The DME report notes that “the current investment in adult education could yield greater results with a reduction in transportation costs for adult learners.”

Removing the barrier of the cost of transportation will make it easier for adults to remain in school until they achieve their educational and employment goals and give them greater access to jobs from which they’ve been previously shut out.

This spring, legislation was introduced in the DC Council to provide free public transportation for adults in education programs, based on the recommendations of the DME report. DCFPI hopes that this bill, Adult Learners Transit Subsidy Amendment Act of 2017, is fully funded and incorporated into the FY 2018 budget, so that this important program can be implemented as quickly as possible.

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today. I am happy to answer any questions.

[1] DC’s WIOA State Plan. Available at http://dcworks.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/dcworks/publication/attachments/WIOA_DC_Unified_State_Plan_Final.pdf

[2] Available at http://lims.dccouncil.us/Download/36809/RC21-0140-Introduction.pdf

[3] The DME report notes that certain adult learners may have access to transportation subsidies through other programs, and provides descriptions of these various programs. However, the report goes on to conclude that due to “very narrow, specific eligibility requirements” there remains a very high unmet need in the city.