Our campus is working on a similar commuter rail program for students. Still working out all the details but we will be making the program one of our TDM initiatives by tying the commuter rail pass to the purchase of a parking pass. If you forgo purchasing a parking pass you are eligible to participate in the commuter rail program. We are hopeful this will reduce the number of single occupancy vehicles on campus.
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At Penn State University, we offer a reduced-fare bus pass (RIDEpass) to full-time faculty and staff and off-campus graduate students, with a requirement that participants may not have a daytime parking permit (they can purchase an evening/weekend parking permit for just $6 per month). The cost of RIDEpass is currently $15 per month, but due to continually rising operating costs, the fee will rise to $21 per month for the 19-20 academic year. Even with the increase, the fee is still significantly less than the $79 per month fee for bus passes purchased directly from CATA, the community transit operator. But, because this fee will be more than double the fee for our cheapest daytime-access parking permit, the financial incentive to participate in the program for those who own a car has been diminished. Over time, our goal is to realign these prices to once again create a financial incentive to choose a bus pass over a parking permit.
Originally called "Ride for Five", for many years the program was only open to full-time faculty and staff and the cost was just $5 per month. Transportation Services covered the remaining cost of the monthly pass for each participant (roughly $40-50 per month per person). The goals of the program were to reduce the number of vehicles on campus during daytime hours, encourage the use of mass transit and support the University's sustainability goals. The program had fairly stable participation of between 900 and 1,000 employees. However, because the pass was so inexpensive, many participants who walked, biked or carpooled without their own parking permit would purchase the pass just to have it when needed, though we were still covering the same amount for each participant no matter how often they rode the bus. After many years of lobbying by graduate students for access to the program, it was expanded to include them in 2015, but the demand was so high that to cover the cost of the program that year we had to cap the number of grad student participants through a lottery system, which was extremely unpopular. To maintain the financial solvency of the program going forward and to avoid the need to cap participation, the following year we made sweeping changes to the program, which included:
These changes were designed to filter participation to those who most need the pass, but in doing so, we've seen a change in usage of the program. Faculty/staff membership has dropped to between 500 and 600 participants, while roughly 1,500 to 1,600 graduate students participate. What started as a program aimed at reducing the number of employee vehicles on campus has evolved into a program that now primarily serves as transit subsidization for graduate students, many of whom would purchase the full-price bus pass from CATA if our program didn't exist. While it's certainly a very positive outcome to be providing low-cost transportation for those with financial hardships, the impact the program is currently having on reducing the number of vehicles parking on campus is debatable, as permit sales and parking demand continue to rise.
Special Projects Coordinator
The Pennsylvania State University
19 Fleet Operations
University Park, PA 16802