Metro May Study Feasibility Of Universal Student Transit Pass Program

Move LA is searching for funding for a universal student transit pass pilot program in LA County. Now is the perfect time: The pot of Cap & Trade dollars (the GHG Reduction Fund or GGRF) is filling up with money as new businesses come under the cap and need to buy emission allowances, and the state Legislature and recipients of GGRF money haven't figured out how to spend all that money yet. LA Metro, for example, must soon propose to Caltrans how it will use its share of Low Carbon Transit Operations Program funding. We suggest it could be a universal student transit pass program. Or at least a pilot project to start.

Here is what we are proposing and why:

Metro should begin a pilot universal college student transit pass program at 3-5 campuses in order to assess the viability of a more broad-based, high-participation program. The pilot could be modeled on successful programs at other colleges and universities around the U.S., in California, and in LA County, which have demonstrated dramatic increases in student transit ridership and dramatic reductions in student driving, as well as reductions in overall VMT and traffic congestion. Move LA Executive Director Denny Zane worked with Santa Monica College to develop its highly successful “Any Line, Any Time” transit pass program with the Big Blue Bus, described briefly at the end of this document.

The premises of this universal student transit pass program should be:

1)    Full cost recovery by Metro

  • Approximately half of program funding should come from a small increase in student registration fees, likely between $8-$20 per semester. This would require approval by student government. Students could “opt out” if they did not want to be part of the program.
  • Funding could also come from LA Metro’s share of the Low Carbon Transit Operations Program. We assume designing and implementing this pilot would cost about $6 million/year for three years. 

2)    Universal access to Metro transit services “any line, any time” by all full- and part-time students:

  • Students should be able to access transit their student ID or — and better — an encoded TAP card enabling the collection of data on how passes are being used (how often, when, and on which lines). There should also be consideration of whether to include faculty and staff in one or more of the pilots.

3) Other considerations:

  • In the longer run it could be possible to offset some of above costs by including a 1% contribution to student transit pass programs in a new ballot measure — which is likely to amount to about $8 million/year in the beginning.  A key advantage here is that it would encourage student participation in the election.
  • It’s possible that MSRC funds could also be used as an offset, especially for the pilot.  We have discussed this with MSRC staff and they were receptive.

Some very successful student transit pass programs around the country use TAP cards. Schools could issue the TAP cards, setting the microchip “on” during the school year and “off” during vacations — helping to ensure that only students will use the card. This also enables Metro and any municipal operator to track who is riding, when they are riding, and which lines they are riding.

Metro must act by October 22 in order to include this student transit pass pilot program in its proposed use of Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund/Low Carbon Transit Operations Program funding to CALTRANS by November 1.

We are not asking LA Metro to sell discounted student transit passes the way that the agency does through the existing Metro program. Rather, we are urging Metro implement a student transit pass program similar to those implemented by many transit operators and colleges around the country (see 2 attached summaries), and similar to the local programs that Foothill Transit has with Mount San Antonio College; Long Beach Transit has with Cal State Long Beach; and Big Blue Bus has with Santa Monica College. (These are all described briefly below.)

We believe a pilot program at 3 to 5 campuses — perhaps one in each supervisorial district, or perhaps 1-2 at an urban campus, suburban campus, and exurban campus — is what makes sense initially. If some of the pilots were with colleges that are currently working in partnership with one or more municipal bus operators this would allow for a study of best practices when more than one operator is involved.

A pilot program would also help Metro:

  • identify the best partners for a larger student transit pass program going forward;
  • negotiate the right share of funding that should come from student registration fees, LCTOP or a ballot measure;
  • assess the real program costs and average cost per rider;
  • determine whether a student program would require more buses to be deployed during peak periods and whether this would increase the cost;
  • figure out how and whether to coordinate a program with multiple transit operators
  • model reductions in VMT and GHGs.


  • California State Long Beach UPass Program: CSU Long Beach provides free unlimited rides for all full- and part-time students, faculty, staff and campus affiliates, and provides subsidized passes on other regional transit providers for some employees. Ridership at the college has increased significantly since the program’s inception in 2008. Participants get their TAP card at the CSULB Cashier’s parking window.
  • Mt. San Antonio College (Mt. SAC) Class Pass Program: All full- and part-time Mt. SAC students have access to unlimited free rides on Foothill Transit buses through the Class Pass program and a reusable electronic farecard. A share of the cost  of the program is included in student registration fees — $8 for part-time students and $9 for full-time. If a student already has the Class Pass, it is automatically reloaded at the beginning of the semester.
  • Santa Monica College’s “Any Line, Any Time” program: All full- and part-time students, faculty and staff can use their college ID cards to ride the Big Blue Bus, “any line, any time”. This program has become so successful that now more than 40% of all students, faculty and staff arrive on campus by bus, and also use their passes for non-school trips, greatly reducing the traffic problems around the school.

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