A new pilot shuttle bus to help students and employees from East Palo Alto commute to Cañada College in Redwood City launched on Wednesday at full capacity, requiring operators to call for an overflow bus.
The shuttle service, which aims to make a college education more accessible to the underserved communities of East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park, is an attempt to increase enrollment of economically challenged students and staff.
The service has rolled out in conjunction with the college's 50th anniversary, Cañada officials said.
The shuttle offers free, direct service between East Palo Alto and the campus. The service is open to East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Belle Haven students, faculty, staff and community members who utilize on-campus services. It is also available to people attending sports games, performances or other college events.
"The intent is to increase enrollment and support residents who wouldn't normally have access to get to the college. We have received requests from East Palo Alto and Menlo Park communities to launch direct service to the college and the feedback, since announcing the launch, has been extremely positive," Cañada College spokeswoman Megan Rodriguez Antone said in an email.
"We recognize that many San Mateo County residents experience a number of financial hurdles to live here and we believe that an education should not be one of them. The launch of our pilot shuttle program will provide residents with direct access to the college, saving time and money," she said.
At 7 a.m., East Palo Alto City Councilman Larry Moody joined 13 students who boarded the brand-new shuttle, which still had that "new car" smell, filling it to capacity. An additional 11 students boarded the overflow bus at 8 a.m. In addition to enrolled students, youth from East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy attend programs at Cañada. There are a number of evening students who work full time in the day and can now take advantage of the shuttle's evening and night service, Rodriguez Antone said.
Fresh from its early-morning, round-trip route, the bus returned to pick up more students at 9 a.m. Those boarding said they were thrilled to have the service.
"This is helping us. We have to take two (public) buses and it takes three hours to get to class," said freshman Edgar Perez. "Also, it costs more to take the regular bus. I spend $4 a day on bus service. My family is low-income, so it just helps everybody -- me and my family. I'm sure there's a lot of other people like me."
Perez said he is a big sports fan. He can now go to sporting events and take part in activities at the college -- participation in college life that he might not have been able to afford otherwise if he had to pay for a bus. He also takes part in other offerings such as the Dream Center, a resource center and safe space for undocumented students and their allies.
Adilene Perez, who had no relation Edgar Perez, said before entering the shuttle that she regularly took two public buses to get to her college classes Monday through Thursday. She spent about $65 a month by using a bus pass. She traveled more than four hours a day round trip to get to her classes.
"I take four buses a day. It takes me about an hour to get to Redwood City and about 35 to 45 minutes to get from Redwood City to Cañada. The longest I've spent on the bus was three hours (one way). The shuttle is really helpful. Now it will take me there in a half-hour. I can sleep in and I don't have to get up at dawn," the sophomore and criminal justice major said.
Moody said in an email that he liked what he saw and looks forward to other progress helping East Palo Alto kids get a more equitable education.
"In order for our future community members to compete for livable wage jobs, education that leads to a degree and technical training certifications are critical. San Mateo County Community College System is one of the best in the nation. The shuttle service creates the access to the programs our student need to succeed in today’s Silicon Valley.
"Also, Cañada continues to provide various means of support,food and tools to demonstrate to the students they are not only welcomed but are expect to succeed," he added.
The shuttle service is one of three programs designed to help give students access to a college education. Cañada's Promise Scholars Program covers tuition and fees for the first year of college and offers a $700 book voucher; its SparkPoint Center provides financial literacy and a food pantry to all San Mateo County residents, Rodriguez Antone said.
The bus runs hourly Monday through Thursday, from 7 a.m.-1 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Pickup begins in East Palo Alto at 994 Beech St. and drops riders off in front of the college's Main Theatre at Building 3.
The pilot program will run through Dec. 31. Rodriguez Antone said the shuttle will be evaluated and its schedule will be adjusted according to riders' needs. Shuttles could be added at additional locations, including at JobTrain in Menlo Park, where the college offers some programs, she said. The service is a collaboration between Cañada, Oxford Day Academy in East Palo Alto and Mosaic Global Transportation.
Additional information on the shuttle and its schedule can be found at canadacollege.edu/shuttle.