SF State students get no help with Muni

SF STATE — Tucked into The City’s southwest corner, San Francisco State University is described as a “commuter school,” as just 11 percent of the school’s nearly 30,000 students live on campus, according to state university data.

The rest drive or take public transportation — a tab which can run as high as $2,400 per semester and is borne directly by students.

But while other urban colleges have eased the expense of public transit by negotiating free or reduced student passes with transit agencies, SF State has yet to enact such a plan, even though there is no shortage of models in the state:

  • Those attending an accredited school in Los Angeles County are eligible for a College/Vocational Metro discount, which reduces the cost of a monthly pass from $75 to $36.
  • Santa Monica College Associated Students negotiated a deal that gives students free rides under a program called “Any Line, Any Time,” through swiping their activated IDs on the city’s Big Blue Bus.
  • In the Bay Area, UC Berkeley offers a “Class Pass” for students registered and enrolled in at least one class. A sticker on the student ID grants the bearer free rides on city buses. Valued at $1,200, the card costs $68 in semester registration fees.
  • San Jose State University runs a similar program, with its card dubbed an “Eco Pass.”
  • Closer to home, the University of San Francisco maintains a program with the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Authority that costs students an extra $115 per semester in tuition.

SFMTA created the Class Pass program in 2000, offering discounted fast passes to college students funded by tuition fees while leaving the distributing of the passes to each school.

SF State, though, with a student body nearly triple that of USF, has yet to take advantage of the offer. The student government has voted down the service twice.

Bus passes linked to student IDs would also help fix another problem: Fare evasion. SFMTA has ramped up efforts to halt fare evaders by stationing inspectors and sometimes armed police officers at bus stops.

Tickets came with hefty fines. However, after spending $9.5 million on fare enforcement, The City recovered only $1 million from 2006 to 2011.

Taylor Thompson, an SF State junior had tried riding Muni without paying her fare. As a college student on a budget, her grocery allowance has since taken a hit:

“I got two tickets in two weeks. I pay now. I never used to pay.”

Tacking a transportation charge onto school fees to fund bus passes would help ensure students are not evading fares. A 2011 survey of SF State students shows that about four of 10 take Muni to school, with more than half of those purchasing a Fast Pass.

But what about the majority of the SF State student body — who don’t take Muni to school — which would face increased tuition costs with no payoff? Mary Mondrus, 20, told SFBay:

“I live in Daly City so Muni isn’t accessible to me. I wouldn’t end up using the bus, but I would have to pay the fee for it.”

Wendy Bloom, SF State transportation committee co-chair and campus planner, explained that campuses that deal with only one transit agency have an easier time securing a deal for students.

With a significant number of SF State students taking BART, Muni and possibly Golden Gate or AC Transit, a pass covering only Muni would make it difficult to justify raising student fees — especially in a tense climate regarding tuition costs:

“We face the perennial problems of a truly universal pass. … This is something we’re pursuing and it’s on our radar.”

In a 2011 transportation survey, 43.2 percent students indicated the highest price they were willing to pay in student fees for a bus pass was about half than the price of Muni Fast Pass.

However, in a May 2013 survey of 72 SF State students, 58 said they “would be willing to include a transportation fee” in tuition if it meant having a free or discounted bus pass.

Until the school can secure a deal with other relevant transit agencies, SF State students pay the normal monthly Fast Pass rate of $66 monthly pass or $2 fare per trip.

Students who drive to school pay $6 for all-day parking in campus lots, or risk $64 tickets in one- and two-hour residential parking zones which encircles the campus.

A transit pass would provide an incentive to take the bus, and, not coincidentally, reduce carbon emissions, another priority on the SF State to-do list. Both the Campus Master Plan and Climate Action Plan are committed to reducing cars on campus.

So while a transit-oriented future appears to be in the works for this commuter school, the financial burden continues to fall on students — at least for now.

Bloom told SFBay:

“Look, this needs to happen at some point. … If there’s a push from the students and we felt the time was right, it would bring impetus. You need to ask for it.”