Unlimited Access To Transit And What It Can Do

Donald Shoup and other researchers at UCLA have investigated the performance of universal student transit pass programs (all rides are free!) at 35 universities and the research is a powerful testament to the benefits of free transit: increases in student transit ridership of 71% to 200%; a reduction in parking demand of 400 to 1,000 spaces (leaving more land and construction money for buildings with educational purposes); a $2,000/year reduction in the cost of a college education; and approval rates of 54% to 94% in student referenda about using student fees to pay for these programs at an average cost of about $30 per student per year! Metro will decide whether to study the feasibility of such a program at the board meeting Thursday!

Here's the 2-page story in the University of California journal Access. Or here's my sum-up of the Access sum-up of the big UCLA study in 2001: Unlimited Access turns student ID cards into public transit passes. It's not free transit, but it's a new way to pay for transit. Typically student registration fees are increased; in this study the average cost is found to be about $30 per student per year. (Metro's current discounted student passes are $43/month.) The result of this study of 35 universities is as stated above.

And here are the benefits of universal student transit pass programs for transit agencies:

  • increases total ridership
  • fills empty seats
  • improves transit service
  • reduces the operating cost per ride
  • reduces the operating subsidy per ride
  • reduces total operating subsidies.

The conclusion: "Unlimited Access is a creative, inexpensive way to take advantage of the excess capacity on public transit. Nearly three-fourths of all seats on American public transit are now empty, and transit agencies have found a group eager to buy this excess capacity — university students!"


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