April 20, 2014

University Assembly Will Vote on Resolution to Stop Offering Free First-Year Bus Passes

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The University Assembly will discuss and vote on a resolution that calls upon the University to stop offering free TCAT bus passes for first-year undergraduates and graduate students Tuesday.

The TCAT sees an annual deficit of over $700,000, partially caused by an increase in first-year students who use the service, which has driven down the subsidy amount the TCAT receives per student.

The proposed resolution states that if Cornell cannot increase the subsidies it gives the TCAT — approximately $830,000 according to the Ithaca Journal — first year students will no longer receive free bus passes and will be offered the discounted OmniBuss pass that students can already purchase.

However, the issue of free bus passes is not new.

The bus passes were first given to freshman, transfer students and professional and graduate students in July 2005, when student protesters and the University reached an agreement following the years-long Redbud Woods controversy.

Students, Ithacans and City officials protested the parking lot construction for several years over environmental and campus sustainability concerns.

In July 2005, the University began the construction of a 176-space parking lot currently standing two blocks behind West Campus. Planned and built as part of the University’s West Campus Residential Initiative, the parking lot required the flattening of Redbud Woods — a woodlands site previously owned by Robert Treman 1878, who wanted the land to be “left to nature as the best gardener.”

Between 2001 and 2005, the University contested the City of Ithaca Planning and Development Board’s attempts to stop the parking lot construction. In March 2005, the Tompkins County Supreme Court overturned the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission’s declaration of Redbud Woods as a “historic district,” allowing the University to continue with its plans.

In protest, hundreds of critics gathered in Ho Plaza as eight students chained themselves to then president Jeffrey S. Lehman’s ’77 office on April 28, 2005. The “Redbud Eight” led an occupation of Day Hall that caused the building’s lockdown.

The protesters called the University’s plans to raze Redbud Woods hypocritical and demanded that the University save the woodlands. When the police removed the protesters and charged them with trespassing later that day, the administration still planned to move forward with the parking lot construction.

“When it comes to the parking lot, we are not changing our position,” said Susan Murphy ’73 Ph.D. ’94, vice president of student and academic services in an April 2005 Sun article. “We believe in the design of the parking lot as part of the West Campus Residential Initiative.”

Following his release, one of the protesters, Danny Pearlstein ’05, told Murphy and Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67, “You have disgraced the University today.”

Two months later, the environmental activists again protested against the University as more than 80 students, professors and Ithacans tied and chained themselves to trees and ground pipes, forcing construction workers who had already felled a few trees to stop, The New York Times reported.

The protesters and University officials began weeks-long negotiations and reached an agreement on July 17, 2005. The Redbud Woods Working Group allowed the University to continue with the parking lot construction, in exchange for free transit passes to first and second-year students.

In the months following the agreement, TCAT ridership increased by 15 to 20 percent, The Sun reported in January 2006.

Two years after the agreement, the University stopped offering second-year students bus passes, citing the end of a survey on transportation.

Meanwhile, TCAT ridership continued to increase, seeing record ridership for six consecutive years and reaching over four million total rides in 2012.

George Ruizcalderon ’15 — sponsor of Resolution 14 — attributed the TCAT’s deficit to the increase in freshman ridership at the U.A. meeting on March 26, The Sun previously reported. Ruizcalderon said he hopes that TCAT will be able to cover their losses and continue operations by charging first year students a fee for the bus service.

Prof. Elizabeth Sanders, government, said she hopes the University will be able to continue offering the free bus passes.

“I think the large number of people who were actively trying to save the woods in the summer of 2005 understood that the concessions the administration made to get people out of the woods … understood that the institution of free bus passes would expand through student classes, and last. … Perhaps that was wishful thinking,” said Sanders, who was involved in the protests.

The Redbud Woods controversy is commemorated by a plaque that stands a few feet from the parking lot. It reads, “Remember the trees… Remember all who tried to save them.”