Pilot program offers students free rides to College of Continuing Education campuses
February 8, 2024 |
It isn’t easy being a college student trying to navigate around San Diego when you don’t have a car, the buses stop running past a certain time, and you’re not within walking distance of a Trolley stop. Just ask San Diego College of Continuing Education student Adriana Dos Santos, who has found herself stuck on campus without a ride on more than one occasion.
“Too many students, like me, are new to this area and come here by themselves, who are living alone and don’t have transportation,” Dos Santos said. “If something happens, if there is an emergency, they don’t have someone to pick them up.”
That will soon be changing. San Diego College of Continuing Education has launched a pilot program in partnership with United Taxi Workers of San Diego to provide free cab rides via $100 transportation vouchers for students struggling with basic needs. This is the first partnership of its kind.
The initiative is set to begin in early February with a cohort of up to five students before expanding to 100 students in the following weeks. Only students who have signed up for SDCCE CARES, which offers students basic needs support, are eligible.
The need is profound. Some 46% of SDCCE students have incomes of less than $10,000 per year and one in three is unemployed, according to the college’s Office of Institutional, Effectiveness and Research. A 2023 Real College Survey based on responses from more than 66,000 California community college students at 88 different campuses revealed that two out of every three students are grappling with at least one basic needs insecurity. Nearly half of students reported being unsure of where their next meal will come from or whether they have enough money to buy groceries, three out of five are housing insecure, and approximately one in four are homeless, according to the report titled “Real College California: Basic Needs Among California Community College Students.”
“It’s critical that we meet the needs of our students and meet the needs of our community,” said SDCCE President Dr. Tina M. King. “It’s also imperative that we work with an organization such as United Taxi Workers of San Diego, whose members live here and also will benefit from this program.”
United Taxi Workers of San Diego President Mikaiil Hussein agrees. “This is about elevating everybody, our students, our workers, our community,” he said, noting that 94% of cab fares go directly to drivers and their family.
Colleges in the region, including SDCCE, have long provided students with discounted and cost-free bus and trolley passes. This is the first-time free cab rides are being offered.
The pilot evolved through discussions that began last summer between Dr. King and former San Diego Community College Governing Board member Peter Zschiesche, who works with United Taxi Workers of San Diego as a financial advisor and is a member of its board of directors. The pilot program’s $10,000 cost is being funded by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office via its basic needs initiatives.
“This is not intended to be anyone’s primary mode of transportation,” cautioned SDCCE Dean of Student Services Michele Madrid Novak. “It’s meant for certain circumstances where a student can’t get to or from a campus.”
Udayan Tandon, who works with United Taxi Workers of San Diego and is a computer science doctoral student at UC San Diego, is putting the finishing touches on a new app, Ride United, for students taking part in the pilot to hail a participating driver. Students will be provided with voucher cards, and cab drivers will mark the cost of each ride on the voucher. Students must be judicious, however, as each student taking part in the pilot only gets one, $100 voucher. Tandon estimates the cost of a 5- to 7-mile cab ride at $15 to $20. SDCCE has been getting the word out to students at spring semester Welcome Week activities and emails.
“Of course, we can’t serve all of our students at the moment with this modest funding resource, but this is a good start and it will help,” said Madrid Novak.
“It’s a great program, a community driven development that helps our students and keeps the investment from the pilot in the community and with the drivers who live in the community,” Tandon said.
Dos Santos, who is taking part in the pilot, said she is more than grateful for the service and is pulling for it to succeed and expand.
“Sometimes, the buses run late, sometimes they don’t come at all,” she said. “You just have to wait there. There is no other option.”