November 23, 2010

To the Metro Board of Directors:

According to a recent press release from Mayor Villaraigosa's office, the mayor has proposed a new fare policy that will allow free public transit field trips for public and private school students here.

We feel that this proposal represents a tremendous opportunity for Los Angeles students. The mayor is very correct in noting that the state's ongoing financial woes have severely cut the availability of funds for field trips. Los Angeles children are growing up today without the out-of-school curricular trips that we adults took for granted in our formative years. They share no responsibility for the state's financial problems, but are paying the price for them. The mayor is to be strongly commended for his efforts to help.

Still, we feel ethically obligated to share a few cautionary notes on this proposal. As Metro and the mayor know, our nonprofit has over ten years of practical experience in arranging and conducting public transit field trips of just this type. We have chaperoned trips for over 30,000 children, with no accident worse than a skinned knee.

•  Not all teachers are ready to lead these trips. (TransitPeople founder Tim Adams certainly wasn't, in his first few years as a teacher.) We require evaluation field trips for the teachers who qualify with us to lead trips as teacher-trip leaders, and not all teachers pass the evaluation.

It would not be right to send children onto bustling rail platforms and into crowded buses with teachers who could not cope with the challenges that arise in these situations. Parents want their children to experience field trips, but depend on us to keep them safe, first and foremost.

We have found that these trips are a good fit for experienced teachers with good classroom management skills. In most cases, school administrators probably could accurately predict which teachers at their sites would and wouldn't qualify without the formal evaluation, but we still include the evaluation anyway.

(Please note that most of our experience is with elementary school classes. Middle and high school students are much more independent, and far better able to stay out of harm's way on their own.)

•  For the sake of other passengers, we limit group size to twenty-four students maximum on any trip requiring bus travel, including articulated buses. Our limit was raised from twenty to twenty-four a few years ago, to accommodate the larger size of K-3 classes.

This limit of twenty-four is already asking a lot of other bus riders. Further, we coordinate itineraries to insure that no more than one group attempts to board a given bus at a given time. We shudder to think of the mess that might ensue if these transit trips weren't coordinated, if four classes were to march to Wilshire to board the same bus to LACMA, say, or, far worse, the same 96 bus to the zoo.

(A six car Red Line subway is another matter. We frequently board subways with as many as three travel groups at a time, by spreading out on the platform to insure that only one group boards a given car. We also have boarded the Blue Line with two and even three groups, and could do the same on the Gold Line.)

•  We insist that trip leaders travel with at least one other adult, and that they manage student behavior, so they do not impose on other passengers more than is necessary. Not all passengers like children. They have paid their fare; it's not right that they should have to suffer the din of ill-managed school groups at the same time.

Mayor Villaraigosa's proposal could provide tremendous benefit to Los Angeles' kids, if implemented properly. You could be heroes -- heroes! -- to the children of our county, and could set an important precedent for other transit agencies nationwide. But if this proposal isn't properly implemented, our ten years of experience strongly suggest that this nobly-intended program will not turn out well. No one at TransitPeople has ever proposed a 'carte blanche' program of this type.

In years past, Tim Adams of TransitPeople has written several e-mails to LASD security staff seeking ways in which they might be more involved in our program. We recommend that you explore an option of this type. The expertise of LASD fare inspectors and deputies begins where a teacher's expertise leaves off. Fare inspectors have accompanied a few of our trips, and we feel that involvement of LASD in this program could make a tremendous difference in keeping children safe during trips of this type.

In the next month, we plan to post on our web site detailed information on how we lead trips. We hope a member of your staff will be interested enough to visit our online 'News' page then to download this information, when it's available.


Tim Adams
Denisse Castillo
Nelly Caywood
Perias Pillay

TransitPeople Board of Directors

(213) 637-0409