St. Petersburg College and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority cut the ribbon Thursday on their new agreement to let SPC’s 45,000 students and 3,900 employees ride PSTA buses for free for the next year. The agreement, which was effective as classes began this week, will cost the college $75,000 this year, through student activity fees.
“Transportation is very important to our students,” said Karen Kaufman White, provost of St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus, where the celebratory event was held. “For some of our students, this pass will make the difference in coming to college and not coming to college. We have been working for and hoping for easy access to bus service for our students for a very, very long time.”
Previously, SPC students could get monthly bus passes paid for by their campus Student Life and Leadership offices. Now, any student, anytime, anywhere can ride free of charge on any PSTA bus, including regular and express routes, shuttles and trolleys. PSTA operates 203 vehicles on 40 routes with 5,115 bus stops.
“This lifts the burden of not having a vehicle or access off the backs of SPC students,” said Eritha Cainion, senior at St. Petersburg Collegiate High School. “This policy means no more awkward fumbles at the front of the bus trying to scrounge for my money and my wallet. I can just flash that shiny blue (student) ID card and take my seat.”
PSTA officials said the Universal Pass, or UPass, could save SPC students an average of $9,000 a year in car maintenance and ownership costs, a figure reported by Consumer Reports.
“This plan makes so much sense because the PSTA gets riders and we get the transport,” said Jonathan Jacques, president of the Seminole Student Government Association. “Student government presidents were very supportive of this because it addressed concerns students have had for years.”
SPC and PSTA will coordinate promoting the program, which began this first week of classes at SPC. PSTA will capture information on ridership, which set a record in June, as riders boarded PSTA vehicles nearly 1.2 million times. This continues a strong upward ridership trend for PSTA, which had a record year in 2013 with 14,459,180 riders.
“This is a great benefit for both PSTA and St. Pete College,” said PSTA CEO Brad Miller. “One of the major ways we can improve our economy in Pinellas County is by getting more people to get advanced degrees … if you get an advanced degree, you can get a better job which helps all of us.”
“We are an ‘open access’ institution – a four-year college in programs and stature but still a ‘community’ college in our hearts: serving our communities by making sure that students, who would not otherwise have access to a high-quality education, can do so close to home,” said Seminole Provost James Olliver. “This is what good public policy looks like – providing for an easily understood, easily administered program where PSTA gets riders and students know they have a way to get to school every day without having to worry about affording the service.”