LAKE COUNTY >> After a unanimous vote from the Board of Directors of the Lake Transit Authority, buses may offer free fares to college students of the county as early as the Fall 2018 semester.
The project, funded by the Low Carbon Transit Operations Program (LCTOP), allows students with student photo identification cards from Mendocino College Lake Center and the Lake County Campus of Woodland Community College to ride the buses free by presenting their cards when boarding.
According to Transit Manager Mark Wall, the goal is to have this implemented by the Fall semester of this year, but there are still some areas of the project that require agreements to be reached between Lake Transit Authority and the colleges before offering to students.
Finding a way to make the program work for each school, as each college’s student ID system differs, is among one of those agreements, Wall said. Though both institutions are “very enthusiastic” about adding another service available through the ID, the administration has asked if the program would be optional, if a fee will be implemented in addition to the usual cost of a card. Another question asked was whether a second card assigned to those who do sign up for the program is necessary.
Wall said Wednesday he would sit down with each college board to find answers and develop a simple memorandum. For now, the idea is to have students participate in a “free trial” of the program within the first two years to gather feedback.
“After a year let’s have a marketing consultant do an opinion survey to see how students are doing with it and consider other options like a bicycle program or lockers installed on campus,” Wall said at the meeting. “Let’s see how students feel about this, and if they do like it, then that could tell college administration that yes, this is a valuable program.”
After the two-year mark, Wall said a $10 fee per semester would be added to an existing student ID fee as provided by each campus.
“This is a big benefit for a very low cost,” said Wall.
Board members and other attendees of the meeting said they saw numerous advantages to the free fares.
LTA Executive Director Lisa Davey-Bates shared how one Mendocino College student’s car broke down and had to take the transit to the Ukiah campus.
“She said, ‘Wow, I could do my homework on the bus and wouldn’t have to worry about expenses.’ She’s now an advocate of the program,” Davey-Bates said.
Monthly bus passes don’t cover rides to Ukiah, resulting in an additional purchase of $20 weekly passes, one attendee said. “I think it’s important to stress to Mendocino College that this gives students flexibility that they now have a free ride basically with their card to attend class to any campus,” she added. Mark followed her statement, calculating that some students could save at least $80 a month.
Board member Kenneth Parlet said of the program, “There’s an expense, but the value is what we should market — sell it by virtue of the benefits.”
Besides the benefit of reducing expenses for students offering free rides from campus to campus, the program aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce transportation barriers, and reduce traffic and parking congestion. According to Wall, it is projected that the program will help reduce vehicle miles traveled in the county by 212,255 in the 2018-2019 term. The program also adds ridership and fare revenue without adding any additional routes or schedules, he said.
LCTOP provides funding for both the free fares for college students and bus stop enhancements projects for up to five years to help decrease greenhouse gas emissions. The funds, derived from California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, are provided instead of fares and offer the free rides project a total of $76, 149 and the enhancement project $8,312. The amount of funding available each year depends on proceeds from carbon credit auctions, with the amount anticipated to increase in future years.