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How to Get More Students Riding Public Transit

A mosaic of images featuring Move Minnesota staff smiling in front of a Great River School sign and students taking public transit

No matter where we live, middle school and high school is a period of tremendous change for the kids in our communities. As students transition from childhood to their teenage years, they develop world views and habits that can last a lifetime. That’s why Move Minnesota started our Changing the School Commute initiative: to help more students feel comfortable and inspired to use public transit. Our engagement shows it’s working!

We knew we needed to meet our young audiences at the intersection of their knowledge, interests, and learning styles. We started by convening high-school discussion groups and listening to what teens shared during after-school sessions and informal conversations. What we heard was sometimes surprising. For instance, many students knew what transit is and they understood the threat of climate change. But they didn’t realize that transportation is the biggest source of climate pollution and they weren’t thinking of public transit as a solution. In fact, some incorrectly pointed to recycling as the best way to protect the climate! Listening to students helped us better understand the challenges and opportunities from a student perspective and create a compelling curriculum.

Based on our listening sessions in 2022, we developed four different training modules specifically for use with students: How to Ride Public Transit, Safe and Enjoyable Rides, Benefits of Public Transit, and a Take Transit Together field trip. Our trainings included interactive content, on-the-go learning, and some friendly trivia competition. In 2023, we used them all in the classroom and out in the community, and the feedback from students was overwhelmingly positive. 

Just a few weeks ago, we finished a four-week engagement with a group of ninth-graders at Great River School in Saint Paul. Right from the start, the students were so engaged we completed two modules in our first session, freeing up time to do three field trips on public transit. In fact, a couple of students were so excited to ride that they convinced their teacher to let them out of their preceding class early so they’d have more time! 

On the first trip, students took the Metro Transit 3B to the Saint Anthony Park Library to ride the bus and learn how libraries can be a great resource for transit riders. We made sure students got a chance to explore the many (free!) offerings of the library and connect with staff who shared how libraries are a safe space to get help if they need support from a trusted adult. Even as adults, we learned new things about the library system, too, like secure boxes to charge your cell phone while you browse for books! 

Photo of a Move Minnesota staff posing back to back with a smiling librarian

On the second trip, we added a transfer from the bus to the train to get a walking tour of the University of Minnesota campus with a transit lens. Taking lessons from our transit peers at King County Metro in Seattle, we talked with students in advance about incidents that might arise—from someone eating a hamburger on the bus to a rider experiencing distress—and students got a chance to role play how they might respond to common circumstances so they’d feel prepared rather than intimidated. 

Our ride on the METRO Green Line was a great example of community in action. At one stop, a rider boarded the train with a cigarette in his mouth, ready to light up in the train car. But when he saw the group of young people, he stopped. As we pointed out aspects of the train car, he chimed in with helpful instructions as well! At the end of the course, students said the Green Line was one of their favorite riding experiences. 

On our final field trip, we took the METRO A Line to the Rosedale Center. After riding bus rapid transit (BRT), students got some independent time in the shopping complex before we came back together for their final thoughts. We were so encouraged by the feedback that we received from students. Eighty percent of the students said they felt confident navigating transit on their own going forward and 100 percent said they’d recommend the course to their peers

At the end of the course, 80% of the students said they felt confident navigating transit on their own going forward!

Great River School 9th Graders

We know not every school or class has the capacity to complete all four transit trainings across multiple days—so our curriculum is flexible to blend with any existing lesson plans. For example, this year we also offered a one-day engagement at Minnehaha Academy that included local artist seangarrison. After our in-classroom session, the students planned their own transit field trip to see an exhibition from that same artist!  

We couldn’t be more excited to continue this work in other middle and high schools across Minneapolis and Saint Paul. If you’re interested, please reach out to