USC should improve its transit pass subsidy program

USC will incentivize employees to use public transit through an active subsidy program, aiming to meet the University’s Sustainability 2028 Plan. (Ling Luo | Daily Trojan)

With the Sept. 20 climate strike drawing more than 200 students to Tommy Trojan to join the global movement for climate change awareness, it is clear that environmental security is at the forefront of USC students’ minds.

It is also on the mind of President Carol Folt, whose zero-waste inauguration took place that same day. Just a few days prior, Folt announced that USC would be reviving its transit subsidy program after its discontinuation back in 2015. The program will give USC staff and faculty a 50% subsidy on transit passes.

These subsidies are a step in the right direction toward the campus-wide sustainability goal presented by the University’s Sustainability 2028 Plan. By incentivizing employees to use public transit, USC encourages them to become more informed about the environmental impacts of commuting by single-passenger vehicles.

Indeed, the last time that the University had an active subsidy program, it seemed to be a popular option for commuting staff and employees. According to the Los Angeles Times, in 2015, more than 3,000 USC employees used the discounted transit passes before they were discontinued that July. At the time, USC was offering Los Angeles Metro E-passes at a $30 discount from their standard price of $100. Now, Metro E-passes run for $40, and the greater financial incentive will likely bring an increase in public transit use.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 4.71 metric tons of carbon dioxide are produced by one vehicle per year. Therefore, if the number of employees returning to the program equals or exceeds the previous count, the reduction in annual carbon dioxide emissions could number over 14,000 metric tons.

The program has the potential to be successful because of the way that it establishes a daily routine of environmental consciousness. If employees commute to USC using the Metro rail or bus every day, not only will carbon emissions be reduced regularly, climate change awareness may become an ingrained part of people’s lifestyles, which is important if widespread awareness is the goal.

At a time when there is an immediate and critical need for a change in sustainability practices, USC has responded with appropriate measures. Alongside E-passes, USC Transportation also has U-passes available for purchase by graduate students. This means that another sizeable population of the campus has access to public transit at discounted prices.

LA Metro offers TAP cards at a reduced price for students (a 30-Day Pass is $43 instead of the standard $100). However, USC does not offer an additional discount or subsidy for undergraduate students like the one for employees and graduate students. Students who commute to USC could benefit from subsidized transit passes as much as employees. Though many undergraduate students who live off-campus live within walking distance, for those who do not and for times when students want to get around the greater L.A. area, taking the Metro at a discounted price is more affordable and sustainable than other forms of transportation. And as students become the face of the climate change awareness movement, it only makes sense to include them in the transit subsidy.

Along with saving money for commuters and reducing the carbon footprint of the school, the transit subsidy program will ultimately make a statement about USC’s values. With the government turning a blind eye to the compromised environment and a deaf ear to the proponents of climate change awareness, it is more important than ever for USC to stand behind its students in combating climate change. 

By promoting student-organized events such as the climate strike and opting to subsidize transit passes, USC is sending the message that it takes both the voices of its students and the state of the environment seriously.