As Oklahoma City has grown, so has the need for affordable, efficient transportation options for all of our community members, including Oklahoma City’s students. We recently sat down with Mary Mélon, president and CEO at the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools, and U.S. Grant High School senior Daniel Cervantes, to discuss the importance of EMBARK’s services in providing affordable transit opportunities for Oklahoma City’s young people.
Mary has served at the Foundation for five years. Early on, she started conversations with former Oklahoma City Councilman Pete White to discuss how the city of Oklahoma City could support Oklahoma City Public Schools students, including the issue of transportation. As they get older, many students start working or participating in extracurricular activities and transportation can become an issue. Discussions were started about how EMBARK could help ease that burden.
“We saw it as short-term, you’re helping out the students of our district, but long-term, you’re building ridership,” Mary said. “I’ve been so delighted to see how EMBARK has transformed the way service is provided in the last number of years to be more inclusive.”
Last year, Mary attended a Foundation meeting at U.S. Grant High School. Prior to the meeting, she noticed a student sitting in the library with headphones on. Principal Greg Frederick introduced her to Daniel, a promising student who had faced transportation obstacles growing up in a single-parent household.
“I just saw the light and ambition in his eyes and thought to myself that he’s going to go places, so we had the idea to bring him in as a paid intern at the Foundation,” Mary said. “He was so excited about the opportunity to work with us in an office environment that would be brand new to him.”
Daniel began serving at the Foundation offices in downtown Oklahoma City two or three days a week, being picked up at school and dropped off at home by Foundation employees. When the team realized this wasn’t a sustainable option, they considered EMBARK’s Haul Pass program, designed to provide high school juniors and seniors with a free bus pass. Daniel had never used public transportation, so the Foundation sent along a team member to show him how easy it is to navigate the system. From that moment, Daniel experienced a new sense of freedom with public transit, allowing him to get to-and-from his work with the Foundation and across town for other activities.
“Public transportation has given me the opportunity to get to the places I want to go, whether it’s for work or to have fun,” Daniel said.
With the recent passing of nearly $90 million in transit upgrades through MAPS 4, EMBARK will be able to further develop access to students all across Oklahoma City.
“The vast majority of our students don’t have access to their own car,” Mary said, “They do have the need and desire to move about the city and they have no way to do that without public transportation. Allowing them to see all different parts of our city – in addition to getting them to their job or extracurricular activities – opens the world to them. They’re able to access everything Oklahoma City has to offer and that’s a tremendous benefit.”
Through the implementation of the Haul Pass program and improvements to the city’s transit services, we can continue to provide affordable, sustainable transit for our students and all residents of Oklahoma City. To learn more about EMBARK’s Haul Pass program, visit https://embarkok.com/use/programs/haul-pass.