SF State students gain traction in pursuit of cheap transit 

click to enlarge SFSU students wait to board the MUNI. - GABRIELLE LURIE/SPECIAL TO THE EXAMINER
  • Gabrielle Lurie/Special to The Examiner
  • SFSU students wait to board the MUNI.
San Francisco State University officials want to provide students with discounted transit passes by fall 2018, but they might come even sooner than that.

Student representatives surveyed the campus last week in anticipation of an agreement between the university and regional transportation agencies, asking their peers if they would support a significantly discounted semester-long transit pass even if it added to the cost of attending school.

BART and school officials expect to complete a detailed proposal for reduced student transit rates within the next year, which students would then vote to approve. Jared Giarrusso, the SFSU associate director of community relations who sits on the transit committee, said passes could be in the hands of students by fall 2017, with BART being the last planning hurdle.

BART board of directors member Nick Josefowitz assured that he has made the project a “priority.”

“Muni has done this before with USF so they can kind of copy-and-paste it,” Josefowitz said, referring to a pilot program where University of San Francisco students pay less to ride Muni. “For BART, this is kind of the first time we’ve done this.”

Under the tentative plan, students would pay $27 per month for unlimited Muni rides and an estimated $13 a month for discounted BART fares. In order for the transit agencies to offer the low rates, every student would have to pay regardless of whether they use the passes.

BART has yet to decide what percentage would be discounted from its point-to-point travel rates, and whether that discount would be available to students systemwide or just to and from campus, Giarrusso said. The university is asking for a 25 to 50 percent student discount on BART rates, which Josefowitz said is possible.

One complication that arose in the process, Giarrusso said, is BART’s unwillingness to pay for a $1.5 million reprogramming of Clipper cards to recognize the student discount. The university is exploring other options, such as a grant to fund the conversion, factoring the upgrade costs into the new student fee or distributing special cards.

The Muni side of the plan is less involved and would be copied from USF, where a discount — currently $116 for the fall semester and $145 for the spring semester — is subsidized by all students paying the fee each semester, regardless of whether they use the transit system.

“The nonuser subsidizes the user,” Giarrusso said. “The people who aren’t using are paying for it regardless, but the hope is that everybody does use it.”

But Giarrusso and others said they do not foresee this as a huge obstacle, since student support for the project has poured in over the past three years, when students began rallying for cheaper transit options.

Last week, student representative Naeemah Charles passed out surveys to students asking if they would be willing to pay an additional tuition fee to support discounted transit passes. Most would, she said. Her peers in student government set up an online petition for a Gator Pass, after the school’s sports mascot, that gained massive support.

“We got about 700 students in 48 hours to say, ‘We want transit passes,’” Charles said. “I’ve never seen a lot of students engaged like this.”

SFSU is known as a commuter campus, where about 46 percent of students ride Muni as part of their trip to campus and about 26 percent use BART, according to the most recent university survey. University officials first proposed a more affordable, Bay Area-wide transportation project for students in 2007. Josefowitz said BART plans to use SFSU as a pilot program that could be expanded for students at other Bay Area campuses.

“For other universities in California, I think it’s slightly easier because they work with one transit agency,” Giarrusso said. “But for the campuses in the Bay Area that utilize BART in some way, I think that this has been somewhat of a challenge.”

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