Community college students without cars face transportation challenges, especially as the Orange Line closes

The MBTA Orange Line stops at both Boston Community College campuses in Roxbury and Charlestown, so the September train line shutdown was a blow to student commuters like Kiara Rosario.

“I don’t have a car. I need this transportation,” she said, standing in the heat at a temporary shuttle bus stop on Columbus Avenue at Roxbury Community College on a recent September morning.

The 34-year-old single mother is studying to become a social worker, while working part-time in a grocery store and raising a five-year-old disabled child. Waiting for a shuttle that has an empty seat added about half an hour to her journey and strained her ability to get where she needs to go in time, but without a car she has no other choice .

Transportation is an issue for many community college students. According to research, 20% of New England community and technical college campuses are not easily accessible by public transportation at all.

The Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation in Washington, D.C. mapped the presence and proximity of transit stops to community colleges across the United States by state and region, and the results showed that some community colleges in Massachusetts don’t even have a local bus service.

“It depends on where you go to college,” chief executive Abigail Seldin said. “Until the Orange Line shutdown, many students who lived and worked along the Orange Line did not need a car to get to college. When you get away from this transit system, however, it is more variable.

Mount Wachusett Community College’s Fitchburg campus and Shawsheen Valley School of Nursing in Billerica are two of the most inaccessible campuses in Massachusetts, she said. The foundation assessed the 116 campuses belonging to the New England community and technical colleges, including 15 community colleges in Massachusettsto determine proximity to public transportation.

Eight campuses in Massachusetts are within five miles of a public transit line, but are not connected by public transit.

“In some cases, improvements would require the extension of an existing bus line; other schools would only need a slight route adjustment of a bus route to provide close access,” the report said. “In some situations, where the only means of transportation nearby is a train station, a shuttle service could eliminate owning a car as a barrier to completing a program. The distance between the public transport stop and the school poses a particular challenge for students and staff with disabilities, as well as those who manage strollers. »

The community college system is often a lifeline, helping hard-working and immigrant students earn an associate’s degree and higher-paying jobs or jump into a four-year college program. Nearly a third of all college students in the United States attend community college, and nearly all of them have to commute, according to the Department of Education. But the report notes that community college students who drive to school are often “just a flat tire away from dropping out.”

Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation Community and Technical College Transit Map:

The MBTA said it does not track the number of Massachusetts community college students out of the 130,000 who use the T statewide or the Orange Line in Boston.

But the MBTA’s deep-seated issues — from major line reconstruction to the two fires that delayed the Green Line over the weekend — highlight the students’ dilemma and add a financial burden.

According to the College Councilcommunity college students spend an average of $2,000 on public transportation per year.

“For context, a full Pell Grant is $6,000 a year, and most of that is taken up by tuition at many schools, even many community and technical colleges,” Seldin said.

The foundation is using its findings to encourage federal grants that will help students cover their transportation costs and encourage schools without public transit to connect to public bus routes.

Local transit officials in Massachusetts don’t have to look far to find a good example of how to do this.

In Rhode Island100 percent of the state’s six community colleges have a transit stop within walking distance.

After Rhode Island expanded its free community college program in 2017, Scott Avedisian, chief executive of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, said the state has made access to public transit a priority.

“We got everyone together and said, ‘Look at the number of students we serve. How can we better serve them? “, he recalls.

The Rhode Island Transit Authority has estimated that it serves nearly 400,000 students per year. With a federal grant, the state is also creating another bus hub on the Warwick Community College campus, providing students with express service to the University of Rhode Island in Kingston.

“If we can show them that there’s an easy way to go from community college to a full four-year college in the same system, then we’re opening up a whole new world for a whole bunch of students who don’t wouldn’t have gone to any higher education institution,” Avedisian said.

Back at the Roxbury Community College shuttle stop in Boston, Rosario said she typically spends about $90 a month on public transportation.

“It’s over $1,000 [each year]”, said Rosario, “but less than car insurance. “

So far this semester, she said, the temporary Orange Line shuttles are running a little late and are often full.

“We only use one door in the shuttle and everyone has to be seated,” Rosario said.

And if all the places are occupied, it moves on to the next shuttle.

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