In February, 2014, the Office of Student Life started to discuss increasing public transportation use by Pierce College students. It was pushed to the wayside for a while, because there was little they could do with it being so late in the year. The idea, fluid and uncertain at the end of last year, is becoming more concrete as Legislative Senator and Region Six Washington Community and Technical Colleges Student Association representative, Ian Leitch, has decided to adopt the project and add some new ideas.
Leitch plans to subsidize bus passes for Pierce College students, encouraging the use of the Pierce Transit. While Leitch doesn’t have a number, the plan, if successful, would lower the cost of public transportation for Pierce College students.
If implemented, Leitch hopes the plan will work to alleviate congestion in the parking lots, increase the level of public transportation used and the number of routes running, and make public transportation more convenient. He also hopes to decrease the cost of public transportation, making secondary school more accessible.
“Between 2007 and 2011, there was a 43 percent reduction in service,” Leitch said. “And that included the elimination of many lines that serve students who come here to Pierce College, Puyallup.”
Of course, the passes wouldn’t be completely free. Even if students don’t pay directly, the money has to circulate somehow. This means that there is a possible threat to increasing student fees.
“If [the passes] are being bought through campus, those funds have to go back to Pierce Transit,” Leitch said. “Otherwise they’re not going to want to do it because they’re not making any money off of it.”
Leitch explained that he will do his best to ensure it won’t increase student tuition or fees, but there is no guarantee. Still, if there is a fee, Leitch believes it will only be a small increase.
“Personally, if it is more than $5, I don’t want to add it, because we pay enough already,” Leitch said.
Director of Student Life, Sean Cooke, said he doesn’t believe the financing of bus passes will increase student fees, but that it may take money currently going somewhere else in the college.
“It would be deciding how the money students pay now gets used versus deciding whether or not a new fee or anything like that would be levied on students,” Cooke said. “Of course, when you decide to spend money on one thing, generally there are opportunity costs, which means you can’t spend the money on something else.”
While Cooke and Leitch seem to have different current focuses with the project, the goal appears to be the same.
Both understand that the cost of education determines who is able to enjoy it. If public transportation costs can be decreased for Pierce students, the hope is it will increase the number of people who can access education.
Both expressed concern for the congestion in the parking lots, which is a safety hazard, and the environment.
According to both Leitch and Cooke, the project is still in the early stages and will take some time before it’s up and running
Also, Cooke says that there is more to be questioned here before the project can be moved into the next stages.
“How many [bus passes] can we afford to subsidize? If we subsidize bus passes and it’s a material thing, how do we make sure that its students who are using them? Is it students who are in greatest financial need are eligible for the limited amount that we have? How limited will that amount be?” Cooke said. “There’s so many questions up in the airright now that I feel it’s really tough to say, ‘Oh, we want to subsidize bus passes.’”
In winter quarter of 2014, the OSL sent out a survey to Pierce students, asking them how they commute to any of the Pierce College campuses. Because the information was retrieved so late in the year, there was little the OSL could do with it.
The OSL still has the information from the survey taken back in winter quarter and, though Cooke says they were eager to help, Leitch intends on using the information to convince Pierce Transit to support the plan.
While the OSL hasn’t finalized the project, helping Pierce students isn’t where Leitch wants to stop. Being a representative for WACTSA, Leitch intends on expanding the idea so it would benefit community colleges across Washington.
Leitch hopes to pass the idea onto the legislative agenda for WACTSA so lower income people can have greater access to community colleges; however, he does not believe it will happen soon.
“If it gets on the legislative agenda, it’s not going to be while I’m at Pierce,” Leitch said. “It’s a long game thing.”
Leitch also believes that an increase in bus routes wouldn’t just help students; he believes it could also help low-income people who are dependent on the bus.
“I understand being in that place where you have very limited options and every single time a transit cut comes through, you lose mobility and you lose access to everyday needs,” Leitch said. “Seeing more and more mass transit cuts just reminds me that, while I have been fortunate to get to the point where I no longer have to rely on it, a lot of people aren’t.”
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