April 25, 2007

University Changes Free Bus Pass Policy

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Students who received free OmniRide bus passes for the past two years will no longer enjoy riding TCAT for free. Beginning this August, the University will only provide free OmniRide bus passes to new students.
However, students will not have to pay to take the bus after 6 p.m. or on the weekends. Continuing students will be able to purchase passes for a discounted rate of $200 and holders of parking permits (B, MW, FH, SE and ND) that currently come with free passes will receive a deeper discount price of $100.
Also new in the fall will be the replacement of OmniRide stickers with electronic fare boxes, which will read both the proximity chip and the magnetic stripe on the CUID card. This technology will automatically detect if the CUID card holder has a pass or not.
[img_assist|nid=23150|title=Getting on board|desc=Students who once enjoyed free TCAT bus passes will no longer have that luxury next fall.|link=node|align=left|width=100|height=64]Currently, first and second-year undergraduates, transfer students and graduate students, as well as holders of the aforementioned parking permits receive free OmniRide passes from the University. While the parking permits have come with free passes for a few years, the free passes for the freshmen and sophomore class were introduced two years ago.
“The no-fee bus passes for first, then second-year students were first issued pursuant to the University Avenue parking lot agreement beginning two years ago. The agreement stated that we would provide the passes to first-year students for a year until we could do research and develop a longer-term program,” said David Lieb, assistant director for public information at Cornell’s Office of Transportation and Mail Services.
The parking lot agreement was created in response to the Redbud Woods protests in the spring and summer of 2005. The protesters urged the University to adapt more sustainable transportation policies, in addition to trying to prevent the clearing of an area of trees between Stewart Avenue and University Avenue on West Campus.
“When the survey work was not complete in time for this academic year, we extended the agreement to include two class years. This year with the data in hand, we were able to develop a program that is both environmentally and financially sustainable,”
Lieb said.
The survey was part of the ongoing University Transportation Generic Environmental Impact Study and focused on whether the University should provide free bus passes to first-year students.
“In analyzing the data received, there was clear support for continuing to provide a no-fee pass to first-year students. And as for paying for the program — a majority of the responders felt the cost should be covered by the central administration and not charged to students,” said Stephen Golding, executive vice president for finance and administration.
Although continuing students will have to pay $100 or $200 more than first-year students, passes are a steep discount from the $495 that TCAT charges for a similar annual pass.
“The program is already highly subsidized, as students can buy a pass for $200, which will permit them to use the transit system any time of the day seven days a week. Additionally, the new [free services after 6 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends] are key benefits now available to all students. We feel it is a nice addition to the program for upper class students who have not had this benefit previously when safe transportation may be an issue for some students,” Golding said.
Financial reasons also played an important role in the University’s decision to scale back free OmniRide passes.
“There is no such thing as free transit, so if the University is paying for all these transit rides, the money has to come from somewhere. There is only so much the University can spend without collecting other funds. Right now there is no student transportation fee, and it is not coming out of tuition per se. If more students want a transit pass with no fee, then there would have to be a funding model proposed, and it would really have to come from the students themselves,” Lieb said.
Many individuals and groups have already voiced concern over the potential congestion and environmental impacts that can result from this change. Data gathered by the University shows that their fears appear unlikely to be realized. According to figures provided by Golding, the number of student parking permits has been declining for several years, well predating the University Avenue Parking Lot agreement.
Student permits reached a high of 2,781 in 2001-02 and then dropped by about 200 per year — by 2006-07, there were only 1,419.