ASUC Senate postpones vote on bus pass bill

AC Transit was forced to cut costs in order to balance its budget.
Anna Vignet/Senior Staff

Lack of data on student bus usage stalled the ASUC Senate from voting on a bill that would put a referendum on the 2012 general election ballot to give students the option to extend unlimited ridership on local bus services.

The bill — authored by ASUC President Vishalli Loomba and campus Graduate Assembly President Bahar Navab — supports the renewal of the Class Pass program, which gives students unlimited rides on AC Transit and Bear Transit buses, but is set to expire in spring 2013.

If the student body voted to pass the referendum, the student fee would eventually increase and would be in effect from 2013 through 2020.

If the new pass program goes into effect, the price of the pass will decrease from $79 to $77 per semester, beginning fall 2013. That decrease would last for the first three years but would eventually be raised to $86 by the end of the seven-year agreement to increase services and continue unlimited rides.

At a senate committee meeting Monday night, it was determined that senators generally favored the bill but wanted a more thorough investigation of student bus usage before the bill was passed, according to SQUELCH! Senator Noah Ickowitz.

“I’m not sure we’re getting a good deal,” Ickowitz said.

He said he wanted to see an independent poll that would look at the number of rides students take before the senate passed the bill.

With an adult fare costing $2.10 for a single local transit ride, a student would need to ride the bus about 37 times per semester for the equivalent cost of next year’s pass. By the end of the seven year agreement, about 41 rides per semester would be necessary.

Campus parking and transportation manager Alesia Woods — who came to speak to the senate meeting Wednesday — said the new increased fee would help install NextBus or a similar technology at bus shelters and upgrades to student ID cards. AC Transit already uses NextBus — a program that tells users when a bus is expected to arrive at a stop — but the referendum would allow NextBus or a similar technology to be utilized by Bear Transit, Navab said.

The bill states that over 3.5 million rides are taken by UC Berkeley students on AC transit buses each year. The previous class pass referendum from 2006 also cited this data.

But AC Transit spokesperson Clarence Johnson said there is no known current information on the use of the class pass.

“We don’t have ridership data,” Johnson said, who added that nearly 32,000 students pick up the class pass sticker.

However, for some senators, looking at average student usage was not a good indicator when determining the value of this referendum.

Student Action Senator Safeena Mecklai said that some students depend on the bus pass for their jobs, and CalSERVE Senator Ju Hong said many of his community members commute to campus and need the bus.

Approval from the senate does not mean a fee change would happen — rather, it would put the issue before voters in the upcoming ASUC election.

Student Action Senator Aviv Gilboa said the senate should pass the bill now and make sure that data of student ridership is published before the ballot vote takes place.

Navab said at the senate meting that she wanted the bill passed to allow students to decide on the referendum.

“No one is asking you to approve this fee,” she said.

Chloe Hunt is the lead student government reporter.