When many students came back from summer break they went down to buy a bus pass. The pass that had usually been $45 for the academic year and $20 for the quarter suddenly became $90 an academic year and $30 a quarter, leaving many wondering— why such a price jump?
“We had three years in a row where gas went up drastically and our fares didn’t change,” said Carol Berry, the Alternative Transportation Coordinator. “That usually means that then you’re going to have a steep increase when everything catches up. That’s when it’s shocking.”
Despite the price increase Berry thinks that bus pass sales have done well so far. As of September 29 at 8 a.m., 2,019 fall quarter passes and 1,130 academic year passes have been sold. The over 3,100 passes sold so far is far from last year’s fall numbers of over 5,600 passes but these numbers are very early in the quarter.
Berry predicts that this fall’s bus pass sales will be about the same as last fall by a few weeks into October, as many busy students haven’t made it in to buy a pass yet and the weather has yet to give many a good reason to not walk or bike.
Last year, a proposed quarterly $19 transportation fee assessed to all students would have given every student a bus pass good from fall through spring. The proposal never made it past the Associated Students Board of Directors, failing 5-2.
This year, Kevin McClain, vice president of Campus and Community Affairs, will be serving up a similar proposal sometime this school year.
“How I have been planning for it to work is that we do the fee,” said McClain. “Since we’re now paying $30 per quarter (for bus passes) it looks like it would be around $25 per student a quarter and every student on campus would get a bus pass. In addition we would have some money to run some type of late night service and we’re not really sure what it would look like at this point. Because it’s like, do we want to have a bus that just runs from downtown to Western to Fairhaven? We could do a thing where you call in and we’ll pick you up. There’s pros and cons no matter how you do it.”
Buses wouldn’t be the only thing funded under the roughly estimated $25 fee.
“In addition there would be some money left over that would go to alternative transportation improvements on campus,” said McClain. “Like better walking routes, you know; maybe there’s an abrupt end to a sidewalk— lets fix that. Or more bike shelters.”
“The overall goal of this would be to do as much as possible to make it so that students do not have to have a car when they’re at Western,” said McClain.
McClain does not know precisely when the proposal would be voted on by the AS Board of Directors. It could be as late as Spring quarter before it reaches the AS board meeting.
If it is passed by the AS Board of Directors then it would go to the students to vote on the proposal.
If passed by the students, the fee would go into effect in the fall quarter of 2007, said McClain. The Fee would also be voted on again every four to five years by students.
One problem students may be worried about with the mandatory fee is that Whatcom Transit Authority will be making a lot more money from a proposal like this.
“We basically go to WTA and say we want a bus pass for every student on campus,” said McClain, “and they say here’s a lump sum of how much it’s going to cost to get this many people a bus pass and we negotiate that out. It’s just for the bus pass; it isn’t for more service or anything like that. I think that that’s a common misconception. That we would be giving WTA all this extra money; no, we’re really not. How they figured it out last time, they took their total revenue from their bus passes and added how much they get from the coin from Western students that don’t own bus passes and pay the cash fare. They put those together and say this how much we want you to pay. Part of the deal was that if there was extra ridership because of this (WTA) was going to eat the cost.”
Another issue with the fee proposal is that even students that bring cars to school would have to pay the fee.
Berry believes that even these students can see a benefit from the alternative transportation fee.
“Ensuring that all students have access to the public transportation is going to mean more parking spaces available for those that have to drive and easier to get in to,” said Berry. “The less demand for parking that there needs to be then it will keep the price lower.”
Berry also believes there is good support for a more environmentally sustainable transportation plan.
“I think we’ve shown through bus pass sales over the years that students really believe in sustainable transportation, they’re seeing the difference,” said Berry. “I see it when I give new student orientation. When I first started there wasn’t as much interest as there is now.”
McClain encourages students to give feedback on what they want this alternative transportation fee to look like. Kevin McClain’s email address is ASVP.Life@wwu.edu.
“What do students want this to look like and what is financially and logistically feasible,” said Berry.