By: Ulysses Villa and Elizabeth Hanna
The Long Beach Transit Board of Directors approved an 18-month pilot program on Tuesday, Nov. 2, to provide free-fare rides for eligible students enrolled in K-12 school districts and community colleges in L.A. County.
CSULB did not qualify for the 18-month program, as four-year colleges were not included. However, CSULB students are granted passes through Go Beach! which are subsidized through LBT, but are not free.
Dave Sotero, the spokesperson for Metro, said the 18-month program is focused on supporting students from the low-income housing that make up approximately 70 percent of Metro’s riders.
“While we know there are low-income students at four-year universities as well, the percentage of low-income community college students is much higher,” Sotero said.
Sotero said the GoPass program was designed to help K-12 students and two-year schools such as Long Beach Community College. Metro also provides discounted prices through the U-Pass program to post-secondary schools, which Long Beach State has participated in since 2008.
CSULB students formerly received free bus passes from the U-Pass program, but the university dropped out after a rise in annual costs, according to Robyn Ames-Woodyard, director of parking operations, in an interview from 2019.
CSULB could no longer afford to participate after the program’s price increased, due to the lack of funds from the Parking and Transportation Services department (PTS), according to Brett Palmquist, PTS senior operations manager.
“We used to subsidize in the past and that money came directly from [us] since we’re a self-funded operation,” he said. “In order to continue to keep up with yearly payments of $300,000, it became an impossible aspect.”
The pandemic in 2020 financially hurt the PTS department when they had to refund students who purchased parking permits on top of the department’s lack of permit sales.
Since the university’s return to campus, CSULB students were able to ride the LBT bus fare-free until September.
Approximately 46 percent of LBT’s riders are students, which includes participating schools in the pilot program located within LBT’s service areas.
Mayor Robert Garcia tweeted that LBT is working on expanding the program to CSULB students, acknowledging the “need to move towards a free system that encourages mobility.”
While LBT maintains subsidizing the Go Beach! program, it is still unclear whether Metro will include CSUs. Mike Gold with LBT media communications said it was “hard to know” if the mayor was expanding the program, since it was designed by Metro.