After a meeting with student leaders, USC Transportation is considering working with Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority to offer students subsidized monthly passes.
Fed up with complications with the Metro student pass program, the presidents of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate and the Undergraduate Student Government met with transportation officials from Metro, USC and UCLA to discuss potential changes to the system.
Currently, full-time USC students can buy monthly passes directly from Metro under their college/vocational pass program. The program allows students to use Metro transportation with a monthly pass.
But the process of obtaining a pass involves an abundance of paperwork, which often takes three weeks to complete, and sometimes students get no response.
USG President Holden Slusher said his main concern is streamlining the application process.
GPSS President Johannes Schmitt said the program can be problematic for graduate students who sometimes don’t qualify for a pass.
Metro defines full-time enrollment as a course load of 12 units or more, but this differs from USC’s criteria for graduate students.
“Full-time status for most grad students is 6 units — so many students aren’t even eligible for passes,” Schmitt said.
Schmitt said he thinks USC should collaborate with Metro on a semester pass program, citing UCLA’s program as an example.
“UCLA has a subsidized program — students can pay $50 for a term pass at the UCLA Transportation Office,” he said. “Nothing like that exists at USC — you have to work directly with Metro.”
The two presidents voiced these concerns Friday at a meeting with David Sutton, director of Metro Commute Services; Tony Mazza, director of USC Transportation; and David J. Karwaski of UCLA Transportation.
Karwaski presented a slideshow detailing UCLA’s Metro pass system. Sutton suggested adopting the Institutional Transit Access Pass (I-TAP) program, which provides students with a specially priced Metro pass at a subsidized rate determined after discussion between Metro and the institution.
Those at the meeting agreed that GPSS and USC Transportation would work to determine possible demand for the I-TAP program. If a survey of graduate students shows significant interest (anything over 10 percent of grad students, Schmitt suggests), they will initiate a pilot program for students, possibly before the end of the school year.
“Metro’s going to send us a questionnaire within a week that they would like answers to,” Mazza said. “GPSS will try to get it out to the grad students before spring break.”
Adopting the I-TAP system would effectively solve the pass application problems, Mazza noted, letting USC determine students’ eligibility.
“We would be the gatekeeper when it came to students,” he said.
Reaction from graduate students was mixed.
“Maybe they should try it with undergraduates first — because they are more likely to be hanging out and to be looking for a cheaper form of transportation. A lot of grad students might not use buses that often,” said Hendrik Makaliwe, a Ph.D. student studying computer science.
However, Pushkar Dixit and Archana Gopikumar, both first-year graduate students in electrical engineering, stated they often travel downtown and around the L.A. Metro area. Both regularly spend $30-40 each semester on Metro, and would use Metro more often if there was a semester pass option, such as I-TAP.
Schmitt and Slusher are optimistic about the process, and believe that USC student ridership on Metro may go up as a result.
“Once we have the Expo Line with a stop at Trousdale and a streamlined system where they buy a ticket for a semester and USC pays the difference for the cost of that, I think many students would do that,” Schmitt said.
But before anything happens, officials must decide where the money to subsidize will come from.
“We don’t know how many students want the card — we don’t know how much we can support a subsidy if thousands of students want the card,” Mazza said.
One option for funding is a new student fee, which would have to be approved both by the student body and the administration. Students, however, were wary of that solution.
“It would be unfair for those that didn’t use Metro,” said Michael Ghassemlou, a senior majoring in health promotion and disease prevention.
Mazza is taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the process.
“Our hope is that before the end of this academic year we might have some hard numbers to present to Student Affairs and senior administrators. Hypothetically speaking, we might have something in place [for undergraduates] by next fall,” he said.