The Boston Globe recently wrote an editorial proposing the MBTA create a free college student pass program, in which college students would have free or discounted T ridership. This idea will help many students and is necessary for the sustainability of the MBTA, as well.
Fortunately, the T’s recently-approved fare hike will not affect bus riders, seniors and those with disabilities. Moreover, Boston students between seventh and 12th grade will be provided free T passes. In September, about 30,000 students will have free access to public transportation through cost-sharing measures by the City of Boston and the MBTA.
But there is no plan to expand free or reduced access to college students. Currently, the MBTA has a college pass program with a measly 11 percent discount for college students at over 50 schools. Yet a small portion of students purchase a pass. In 2016, only 12,500 out of more than 100,000 college students in the Boston area bought one.
At Boston University, students have to decide far in advance whether or not to purchase a $300 semester-long pass. That kind of financial commitment turns students off, especially since the discount is not that great. A semester-long pass is only beneficial to students who take the T at least once a day on average.
Offering free access to the T for college students would be unrealistic. The costs of accommodating another 87,500-plus students, the number who currently don’t have a pass, would not be cheap. Therefore, universities must work with the MBTA for a discounted rate for all college students.
To make up for the discounted rate, universities should require all students to purchase a semester-long pass indirectly. A part of a university’s list of fees could include a $100 to $200 fee for the semester-long pass.
This is not just about the Green Line, which runs straight through BU’s main campus. The Route 57 bus can get BU students from East to West campus in about five minutes or less, far faster han the university shuttles.
Reducing the cost of the T would help students, universities and the MBTA itself. Even at a discounted rate that would be partially covered by universities, the T could earn money from this program. This will enable much-needed infrastructure improvements and better service for all Boston residents, students included.