Environmental Quality / 2013
Student Eco Riders
Wouldn’t it be great if your college student ID was also your transit pass? It is if your student ID is from Santa Monica College and you get to ride “Any Line, Any Time” on the Big Blue Bus. It’s a triple win – for students, transit agencies and colleges. Students get to ride “Any Line, Any Time” for a nominal fee each semester, the transit agency has more riders, and the college doesn’t have to build so much parking. Whether or not you’re a student you benefit from less traffic in the neighborhoods surrounding colleges and less air pollution in the LA Basin. With less driving, lower greenhouse gases and less emissions, the environment and our health are the really big winners. That’s why we call it “Student Eco Riders.” Here’s how it works in Santa Monica. Fourteen dollars of the student body fee each Santa Monica College student pays go towards “purchasing” the transit passes each semester. Santa Monica College also kicks in some money, too. The Big Blue Bus gets additional revenues and additional riders allowing them to increase bus service. The student ID is a smart card that is programed to work on the Big Blue Bus. Students at 10 other Southland colleges also ride free on any line at any time -- CSU Long Beach, UC Riverside, Chaffey College, Crafton Hills College, San Bernardino Valley College, Rio Hondo College, Riverside City College, California Baptist University, La Sierra University and Mt. San Jacinto College. It’s time to get more colleges and more students on transit! Under the banner of Student Eco Riders, Move LA wants to bring together other transit agencies, colleges and student governments to get them all jazzed up about the possibilities and particulars of getting college students unlimited access to transit. We’ll convene key players to talk about what has worked and what could be better using the experience in Santa Monica with the Big Blue Bus, in Long Beach with Long Beach Transit, in Riverside with the Riverside Transit Agency and in San Bernardino with Omnitrans. We’ll find the right people at the colleges, transit agencies and student governments who want to make this happen and bring them together to push forward on new agreements covering many more students. Student Eco Riders hits several bottom lines for the LA we’d all like to see in 2050. Fewer people driving means cleaner air, which we need way more of in smoggy Los Angeles -- for the environment and for our health. Getting by with one less car has a huge positive impact on your pocketbook to the tune of $8,000/year per car – a major income boost for most people. And there’s nothing like a transit system that everyone uses to increase the social connectedness in a place. What are we waiting for: Vote for Move LA’s Student Eco Riders!
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
Move LA built the powerful business-labor-environmental coalition that worked with LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and LA Metro to get the Measure R half-cent sales tax for transportation on the ballot in 2008 and ensure its passage. Because of Measure R Los Angeles has embarked on this country’s most ambitious transit expansion — a virtual doubling of the size of LA County’s light rail, subway and bus way transit system from 120 miles and 103 stations to 236 miles and 200 stations.
Former Santa Monica Mayor Denny Zane recognized the opportunity created by the commitment of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, then in his first term, to building a transit system. In January 2008, with the help of the Annenberg Foundation, Zane convened a “transportation conversation” with major stakeholders, including business, labor, and environmental leaders, agency leadership, elected officials, a pollster and a political consultant. It was decided on that fateful day to mount a campaign to get a county sales tax measure to build out a robust transit system on the ballot that November.
Mayor Villaraigosa has proved an energetic and skillful champion, and this coalition succeeded in passing the 30-year Measure R sales tax to provide $25 billion for public transit — even as the Great Recession came howling down upon the nation. The Mayor, LA Metro and the Move LA coalition worked with the Obama Administration, Senator Barbara Boxer and Congress to secure funding and to create an ambitious new low-interest loan program, that is the largest transportation infrastructure financing fund in the history of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Measure R construction is in full swing: Last year LA Metro opened the Expo Line to Culver City and the Orange Line extension to Chatsworth, construction began on Expo to Santa Monica and continued on the Foothill Extension of the Gold Line to Azusa. Utilities are being relocated so construction can begin on the Westside Subway and the Regional Connector, and Metro is showing off station designs for the Green Line extension to LAX and options for the Sepulveda corridor. Buoyed by this momentum this business-labor-environmental coalition went back to voters in November 2012 to extend Measure R and enable Metro to use the longer revenue stream to secure financing and accelerate construction — at a time when interest rates and construction costs are at historic lows. Measure J won an overwhelming 66.1% of the vote, proving voters enthusiastically support this transit revolution, but failed to pass because of a ‘technicality’ — only in California do such measures require 2/3 voter approval to become law.
One clear measure of Move LA’s success is that the Measure R campaign secured $25 billion for transit capital and operations, an investment expected to result in 400,000 good jobs and a major boost to the local and regional economy.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
Move LA’s forte is getting key people into the room together to see and seize the opportunities for addressing big problems. That’s what we did in 2008 when we convened representatives from labor, business, and environmental groups to get Measure R on the ballot which has proven to be a game changer for transit in Los Angeles County. With Student Eco Riders we will reach out to municipal bus agencies and LA Metro, and to student governments and administrations at universities and community colleges. The focus would be on the larger community colleges and universities and the municipal bus lines, including Metro, that serve those campuses.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
Student Eco Riders will be a success when by the end of the year at least four colleges and transit agencies are working together to set up pilot projects, with a plan for establishing a transit pass program for students.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
Transit is expanding in LA County thanks to voter-approved Measure R. We’ll get seven new light rail, subway and bus rapid transit lines over the next 30 years – or possibly sooner if our efforts to accelerate the construction are successful. Building ridership for the bigger and better transit is key to getting the environmental benefits we’re after.
Santa Monica College’s efforts are producing concrete results. A traffic study from 2010 found that whopping 40% of Santa Monica College’s 34,000 students and 1,800 staff used the bus to get to campus in the morning. That’s huge when you consider that in LA County less than 7% of people use transit to get to work now. In 2009, LA Community College District offered a deeply discounted transit pass to students ($15 for 6 months) and students took nearly six million transit trips that year and reduced VMT (vehicle miles traveled) by 42 million miles and CO2 emissions by 36 tons. That’s the kind of impact we need to address climate change. In San Bernardino County, Omnitrans estimates that student ridership has risen from less than 5% to over 20% following a pilot program with free transit passes.
College students are the ideal group to win over to transit for several reasons. First, they are a significant part of the population, in fact, over the next decade about 10% of LA County residents will be enrolled in community colleges alone. And students are more mobile, more open to trying new things, more environmentally conscious, and more creative when it comes to stretching their limited budgets. Learning to take transit, or experimenting with living “car-light” makes a lot more sense to college students than it does to the general public.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
Transportation may not be a key indicator for LA 2050, but how we get around certainly impacts many other key indicators including the environment, health, social connectedness, income and employment and access to opportunity.
Today less than a quarter of the people working in New York City drive to work alone, over half take the subway or bus. Success in 2050 would be for three- quarters of Angelenos to arrive at work by transit, walking, bicycling or some way other than driving alone. Santa Monica College’s experience with “Any Line, Any Time” translating into to 40% of students and staff arriving on campus by transit shows us that this is possible. Since currently 70% drive alone in Los Angeles, dropping that to 25% would represent a dramatic lowering of the number of miles traveled in vehicles chalked up. Less driving means less air pollution and, consequentially, fewer children with asthma – a significant health impact. Driving less also usually means more walking, which is critical in combatting our sedentary lifestyles, expanding waistlines and declining life expectancy – yet another health impact.
There are other very personal benefits of having transit that works, like relieving the burden on family budgets that are already strained by high gasoline prices, car repairs, insurance and all the costs of owning a car. On average it costs about $8,000/year to own a car. Freeing up that kind of money in a working family’s budget could bring other things within reach – buying health insurance, getting dental work done, getting child care, hiring a tutor, giving up a second job, going back to school, taking art classes or enjoying more cultural events.
Less driving also means fewer greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. LA Community College District’s experience of just 6 million transit trips resulting in 42 million fewer miles driven and 36 fewer tons of carbon dioxide emissions shows that creating and promoting high quality transit can have an impact.
Additionally, if fewer people are driving then we don’t need so many parking places. Parking structures are expensive to build and take up valuable space on campus or in the heart of the city – space that could be used for classrooms, ball fields, student housing, or a variety of places that are more fun to hang out in than parking lots.
Finally, getting more people on transit can increase our social connectedness. We’re more likely to see our neighbors as we walk to and from our transit stop. Also being around people from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities while on transit can lessen the fear of others and help us connect to the diversity of Los Angeles County.