Ending the three-hour commute: Youth Leadership Institute influences transportation solutions

YLI Group

For the past 26 years, SVCF grantee Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) has worked to build communities where young people and their adult allies can create positive local change. With offices in San Francisco, San Rafael, San Mateo, Fresno and Merced, YLI develops young leaders to address social justice issues, carries out research to quantify the inequities they face, and promotes solutions backed by this data.

With an upcoming ballot measure, it’s also working to influence how more than $80 million in transportation funding could be spent.

“Young voices can speak on behalf of the communities highly affected by inequities,” said Fahad Qurashi, YLI’s Bay Area director of programs. “Young people need to be present at decision-making tables. They offer bold solutions, and their politics are very different.”

To help influence local public transportation issues, YLI formed the Transportation Equity Allied Movement Coalition (TEAMC), a project driven by three Silicon Valley Community Foundation grants totaling $225,000. The coalition’s 27 community organizations and government departments promote transportation solutions that allow for increased social equity, public health and safety, and environmental protection in San Mateo County.

TEAMC surveyed more than 1,000 San Mateo County citizens and has held a series of public forums to solicit community feedback about public transit needs. Despite the region’s geographic makeup – which includes both urban and semi-rural communities – YLI research finds that needs are strikingly similar for people who depend on public transportation. They seek more frequent service and transportation options that are affordable and accessible.

“Transportation may not be everyone’s priority, but everyone needs it whether you drive, use public transportation or ride your scooter,” said Montzerrat Garcia, YLI program manager. “It’s something we all use every day. If we improve mobility options, more people have the ability to move around and move ahead.”

Several young people affiliated with YLI have told of their challenges getting to school efficiently after escalating rent costs forced their families to move mid-school year. One student reported having to leave at 5 a.m. to commute to school on Bay Area Rapid Transit, followed by a 15-minute walk from the BART station. Others faced two- and three-hour car commutes because riding the bus would have taken even longer.

The challenges and exhaustion these students faced affected their ability to learn, participate in activities outside of regular school hours and perform at their peak.

“Through this program, we’ve been able to bring in people from towns like Half Moon Bay, Pescadero and Pacifica to talk about mobility solutions for people who don’t have the same transportation options as more urban areas but who still need to get to school, work and doctor’s appointments,” Garcia said. “Giving a voice to these citizens who aren’t traditionally part of the conversation lets decision makers know what’s really affecting the community.”

The coalition’s work is intended to influence the content of a November ballot measure that will determine how $80 million in transportation funding is spent. But TEAMC’s work will not end there. Even if the ballot measure includes TEAMC-supported solutions and is approved by voters, it will not solve all of the county’s transportation issues. YLI plans to seek additional opportunities in which the coalition can have a positive effect and continue to amplify voices that may not otherwise be heard at the decision-making table.

To learn more about Youth Leadership Institute, visit www.yli.org.

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