Come September, it’s possible we’ll all be carrying yet another card in our wallets.
However, this time Kevin McClain, Associated Student Vice President of Campus and Community Affairs, is proposing a $28 mandatory quarterly fee to be added to full time Western student tuition to provide all Western students unlimited access bus passes. The proposal will go before the Associated Student Board of Directors on March 14, and if passed will be placed on the April 4 ballot, the same ballot including the AS Board elections, for all Western students to vote on. If the proposal receives the majority vote it will then move to the Board of Trustees for final approval.
The fee would provide every student a bus pass, McClain explained. It would also provide night service when we are in session, not including summer, which would run from when Whatcom Transit Authority shuts off until at least 3 in the morning on a variation of the Route 16 (Whatcom Transit Authority’s route that runs from the York neighborhood down Bill McDonald Parkway and through campus).
McClain said, $20 of the $28 fee would directly fund Whatcom Transit Authority’s services. The remaining $8 of the fee would be distributed between a late night transportation service and a student run committee concerned with campus and pedestrian transportation issues. Whatcom Transit Authority would not provide the late night/early morning bus service; instead a contract will be drawn and private transportation services will be able to bid on the contract to provide the late-night and early morning service. The fee is also proposed to be set at a fixed rate, not subject to more than a 5% annual increase.
Independent of the proposal, however, Whatcom Transit Authority has made changes of their own to improve student oriented public transit. Though working closely with McClain and other members of Western’s administrative staff, Whatcom Transit Authority has decided to provide additional services, aimed at better serving the York Neighborhood and 32nd Street residential areas.
Specifically, the Whatcom Transit Authority Route 16 will expand; however the route will only run while Western is in session. Starting next academic year, Route 16 will add stops in the York Neighborhood, run from Lincoln Street (including the Lincoln Creek Park and Ride) to Bill McDonald Parkway, and run both clockwise and counter-clockwise. This route will operate twice per hour. In addition, Whatcom Transit Authority has proposed a new route running three times an hour between 32nd Street and South Campus. These route improvements and additions are independent of McClain’s proposal, however, and will take effect next year regardless of the implementation of the proposed fee.
Under the current bus pass system, students, faculty and staff members pay a Western subsidized fee of $30 a quarter, $2 more per quarter than the proposed fee of $28.
“Yeah, you’re saving two bucks, but that’s not the whole picture. When we all work together, look at what we can do,” McClain said, suggesting the added value of the late night services and committee work that the fee would allow.
However, there are still kinks in the proposal. It has not yet been made clear whether or not part-time students would be required to pay the fee. A late-night service provider has not been established yet, though the Bellair Airporter Shuttle service has expressed interest, said McClain. Also, faculty and staff members would not be eligible for the $28/quarter fee and would have to pay the Western subsidized price of $30/quarter.
Still, when weaknesses in the proposal abound, McClain does what any politician would do: suggests an imminent problem and provides how his proposal will resolve it. For instance, how will a mandatory bus pass fee aid students who drive to school?
Resolution: “If we don’t do something like this, as Western grows . . . we’re going to have a higher number of students who park. Second, as we build more buildings, where are we going to put those parking lots? So our only option if we don’t have the fee is to build parking garages. And a parking garage would cost, the estimates are $20-30,000 a space, which means parking rates would be such that they could pay that off over 30 or 40 years. You’re looking at $400 a year to park on campus. So for students that park it’s kind of a long-term investment in keeping their parking rates low,” McClain said.
Simple supply and demand ethics: as Western continues to grow, a more expansive and inclusive bus system will prevent more students from driving, thus lower the demand of parking spots, and finally lower, or at least stabilize, the price of parking.
The proposed campus-wide bus pass is not a new idea, according to Rick Nicholson, Director of Service Development for Whatcom Transit Authority. Over the last decade or so, Western’s administration and Whatcom Transit Authority have discussed such a fee supported pass. However, an organized student push for a fee increase was needed for any sort of implementation to occur.
Last year, for the first time, a student led proposal for a student wide bus pass provided by a mandatory fee was brought to the Associated Student Board unsuccessfully. According to McClain, the proposal wasn’t as “solid” as this year’s and lacked clarity.
Another point that seemed to pique uncertainty about Whatcom Transit Authority’s involvement in the proposal was the $170,000 Western was paying Whatcom Transit Authority annually to provide the Route 90 services that provided transportation from the Lincoln Creek Park and Ride to Western’s campus. It was feared that Whatcom Transit Authority’s interest might be dubious or revenue oriented. However, at the end of last year Western’s administration notified WTA that they would not continue paying the $170,000 to support Route 90. The $10 raise in the quarterly bus pass price, from $20 quarterly to $30, that was implemented last September, was a direct result of the $170,000 Western declined to pay. The raise in price was to make up for the lost revenue from Western, and to ensure continuance the popular Route 90.
However, with a more concrete proposal, and debunking statements from the Whatcom Transit Authority administration, the proposal should have somewhat better luck with the Board on March 14.
“We’re not making any money or losing any money on this deal,” said Rick Nicholson, Director of Service Development for Whatcom Transit Authority. “The thing that’s in it for us is that the more people that have a bus pass in their hands, or in their pocket, or in their purse, the more likely they are to ride. And so an increase in ridership is what we hope to get out of it, and anything that increases ridership is positive for WTA.”
But Whatcom Transit Authority will be providing expanded services for students regardless if the proposal makes it to the ballot, and is approved. Nicholson, along with other Whatcom Transit Authority administration, has worked closely with McClain and other students over the past months, taking into account student transportation needs.
Nicholson provides what he thinks the benefit of the proposal would be: “What’s in it for students, on the WTA side of things, I guess the only advantage to the student is that it’s $2 cheaper . . . but it’s still unlimited access anywhere you go.”