Tuesday, July 3, 2012

CSUSB Loses Transit Passes

As of last Saturday, June 30th, the one-year pilot program to provide Cal State San Bernardino students with universal transit passes has expired. Apparently, no permanent program was organized to replace it. This sucks, because universal transit passes are an extremely effective tool to promote transit ridership.

First off, they eliminate one of the several impediments to new riders trying transit: understanding fare policy. Fare policy can be complicated, as this old post I wrote about transfers demonstrates. Beyond that, there are local/express distinctions within the RTA system. Some other transit agencies further confuse the issue with zone fare systems, peak/off-peak distinctions, distance fares, bike rack permits, the list goes on. And don't get me started on the miserable failure that was the fare policy on the old 149 (now 216). "Just swipe/flash your card and go" gets rid of all that, and the corresponding anxiety for first-time riders.

Second, they offer all the benefits that a transit pass usually offers, combined with the fact that it's on a card that most college students carry anyway. It's easy for me to go out to lunch with colleagues on the bus, even if they're not usually bus riders, because they've all got UCR ID cards in their wallets.

Last, and this is especially true for college passes, is that universal transit passes develop habits in young adults that may stick with them for life. My generation is one that was raised overwhelmingly in the suburbs. Many friends, colleagues, and students have never ridden a public bus in their lives until their arrival at college. (This is especially true at UCR.) Introducing students to public transit just might get them hooked, and they're more likely to try it if you make it free.

So, Cal State folks, I wish you the best in getting a universal transit pass restored to your campus.


Anonymous said...

You know, to be honest with you, I resented this program at the start, not necessarily because students recieved these benefits, but because Omnitrans didn't plan for the service demand increase. Omnitrans (as well as I) assumed that the students that rode the bus to campus were already a subsantial figure and that this would only affect the current student population riding the bus. However what nobody saw coming was the sudden increase in ridership.

What I believe Omnitrans did wrong was continue providing the same amount of service to the increased demand. Routes that truly suffered were the hourly 8 & 9 serving Crafton Hills in Yucaipa, the hourly 11 serving CSUSB, the already crowded 1 as the only direct link to Valley College, the hourly 83 to Chaffey Chino and the long, redundant, and poorly serviced routes 68, 80, & 81 serving Chaffey Rancho.

Basically, what I am trying to say is that service needs to be improved. West Valley students (and riders in general) shouldn't have to deal with hourly headways, 1+ mile walks, & lackluster weekend service and random crowding; while the East Valley shouldn't have to deal with severe bus cuts, over crowding, and bus bunching.

What is even worse is that Omnitrans encouraged full time student use so much, to the point where I would say that 100% of marketing effort went to appealing to these students, which would be fine if there was actually service at levels to meet that demand and they didn't alienate their already steady ridership.

PS1. If Omnitrans wants an urban type operation, than the service they provide should at urban levels.

PS2. Sorry for hijacking your post, this was just a personal rant that I feel needed to be said.

JN said...

Anon, you're absolutely right. In a perfect world, Omni would have beefed up service on those routes. And I know from long experience that the Chaffey routes are really terrible-- and that was before the service cuts. However, most of the time these agreements are negotiated to be revenue-neutral-- that is, the revenue that the agency gets out of the deal is simply the same amount they figure they're getting from students already. (With Omni's pre-existing student passes, they can figure this out without too much trouble.) So, and I don't want to sound like I'm defending Omni here, there really isn't a pot of money that could be used for expanded service. Omni, like most transit agencies, doesn't control its own budget-- we need to put pressure on SANBAG and other regional funding sources to give transit its fair share.