Last year, bus ridership among students went up, going from 9.1 million in 2012 to 9.3 million in 2013. Many are quick to assume that UC Riverside can ill-afford free transportation for its students, but there are actually a lot of good reasons why we should keep it.
For one, the school is paying the Riverside Transit Agency (RTA) an estimated $280,000 every year for students to ride free. That may seem like a lot, if the homework isn’t done. According to UC Riverside’s budget for the 2014 school year, $85,441,289 will be spent on “auxiliary enterprises,” the category where the spending for free busing falls under. Two hundred and eighty thousand dollars out of approximately 85 million — that’s about 0.3 percent of the auxiliary enterprises’ overall budget. It should also be noted that the RTA recently received a federal grant of $2.4 million to upgrade its fleet to run on eco-friendly fuel, which it’s currently in the middle of doing. Besides the fact that it’s great seeing more of Riverside being eco-friendly, there wouldn’t be any reason for us to not continue our partnership with the RTA. They’re doing all the hard work in expanding and improving their fleet, and it’s costing us less than 1 percent of our budget to ride that fleet for free.
In addition to that, the free busing is a great advantage for students who don’t drive. Only 38 percent of students own a car on campus, which means that over half of the entire student body has no immediate access to personal transportation. Now, clearly UC Riverside would not want to disallow half of its own student body from being able to make it to school — after all, students are the greatest investments for the school itself, and the consequences of the school discontinuing to pay less than 1 percent of its budget for free bus rides would be immense, economically speaking.
Alongside that, this would also set a bad precedent for the school. UCR is famous for being a very liberal school — it was the first California school to offer both an LGBT studies minor and gender-neutral housing options. The free busing for students is another achievement in cementing the school’s status as an open and liberally minded campus. To discontinue this would be devastating for its reputation, and the message it would be sending to potential students wouldn’t be “we put students first,” but rather “we put students last.”
Riverside currently ranks second out of all urbanized areas of California for the poorest traffic, with 32,876 miles travelled per capita daily. To help ease the traffic around the school, ASUCR revealed in January the possibility of a new parking structure, which would cost the school $30 million over 30 years to complete. To help pay for it, the school could choose to increase the prices of parking permits by approximately 50 percent, meaning that by 2017 gold permits could cost approximately $118, blue permits would be $144, and red permits $208. Unfortunately, this plan misses the mark by proving to be far more expensive than the annual $280,000 for free busing, but it would still only be directly serving the 38 percent of the student body who drive to campus. The RTA could respond by opening up new routes for students who live farther from the school, as well as raise public awareness about the benefits of riding the buses.
UCR needs the busing that the RTA provides. Over half of the student population relies on getting to and from campus without a personal vehicle, and at only $280,000 a year UCR gains a lot by helping out the students.
One of the roles of any type of government — or upstanding public institution for that matter — is to provide a basic socioeconomic security blanket for its citizens, so the important question to ask here isn’t, “Is the government overreaching its authority by providing free busing?” Instead it’s: “We need something important for our society and local citizenry (the free busing in this case), so how are we going to pay for it?”