UTAH COUNTY -- Tens of thousands of people could change the way they commute to college in Utah County, after a major announcement that Utah Valley University and Brigham Young University will hand out a million free UTA transit passes over the next decade.
The two universities will fund the passes, while UTA plans to beef up transportation with bigger buses and faster, more frequent routes.
The universities are sponsoring the plan in an effort to reduce traffic congestion, alleviate parking problems, and promote cleaner air.
“I use it every day,” UVU student and employee Brandon Quist said, of the UTA bus system. Others like him rely on public transit to take them to and from school.
“I take the bus every morning and every night,” UVU student Rachel Shaw said.
Right now, they both said they pay $90 a year for transit passes. While they said that’s a great deal because UVU offers a deeply discounted rate, saving that money is an even better option and incentive to take public transportation.
UVU is offering the free pass program to all students, full and part-time staff and faculty, as well as families of employees. BYU is offering the same, plus their program covers families of students.
All told, both universities said that will amount to 100,000 free passes each year.
“That means that many cars that would be off of the roads, improve congestion and air quality here for us,” said BYU Life Vice President Jan Scharman.
UVU President Matthew Holland said the university will spend $1 million a year on the free pass program. He said they’ll cover the cost by using money from their existing discounted pass program, reallocating other funds, and increasing the parking pass fees.
The passes will cover free rides on all UTA transit.
“They can hop on TRAX or FrontRunner, Bus Rapid Transit, the bus system,” Holland said.
UTA will roll out the Bus Rapit Transit system in that area next year, which Holland said will involve larger buses and more frequent routes and stops, giving students and staff faster service and access to campus.
“This is a huge improvement,” said Don Jarvis, the Provo Mayor Sustainability Advisor. He later added, “Not only will there be buses really frequently, but they'll be able to ride them free.”
For students, the perk of free passes allows them to cut costs and they said it makes a difference on their college budgets.
“I can save $90, and buy food instead,” Shaw said.
Quist did the calculations.
“That's about 30 boxes of ramen,” he said, jokingly.
The free pass program will begin in August of 2018.
Students must be enrolled in at least one class on campus to be eligible for the pass, which becomes invalid should the student quit or graduate, or if an employee stops working for the university.