The Whatcom Transportation Authority and Western are planning to renew their deal for student bus passes.
Negotiations will begin in February, said Kay McMurren, the program support supervisor, student transportation at Western, who is part of the team that will be negotiating Western’s side of the deal. The current deal will expire on Aug. 31, 2020 and will be replaced by the new deal on Sept. 1.
Under the current deal, students pay Western $27.50 for a bus pass and late night shuttle service. The late night shuttle serves students by providing rides between campus, residence halls, downtown Bellingham and nearby shopping centers when the other bus routes have stopped running for the night. The money also funds two positions: One student position, the AS alternative transportation coordinator, and one staff member’s salary. This staff member provides administrative support and student assistance for trip planning and other transportation questions, according to McMurren.
The bus pass paid for through Western’s deal covers usage of all fixed Whatcom Transportation Authority routes, not just transportation to and from campus. However, it only works during a quarter when you have a transportation fee on student’s accounts, meaning that the bus pass doesn’t work during the summer if you aren’t taking classes, according to Western’s transportation office website.
Western pays the WTA $21.38 per full-time equivalency student. The number of full-time equivalency students is determined by adding all the credits taken by all students and dividing that by the number of credits that are considered full-time. A normal student bus pass, for those who do not purchase it through Western currently, costs $40. Over the last three years, the rate has increased from $20.35 to $21.38, McMurren said.
Based on usage, the cost per ride for Western students under the current deal averages out to about 50 cents per ride, Wilder said.
The fee that Western students pay is mandatory for those who are taking six or more credits in a quarter, and is applied quarterly with other university fees and tuition. This was approved in 2017 by a vote from the students, according to Western’s transportation office website. Fees like these are placed automatically with registration and cannot be refunded.
According to Western’s transportation office website, 85% of students use the WTA bus system for transportation.
Grant Barton, a Western student, said he relies on the buses to get to class, riding them almost every day. If the price did increase in the renegotiation of the deal, Barton assumed he would still get a better deal by buying the bus pass through the school rather than buying it for himself.
“WTA’s operating costs continue to increase, thus WTA is pursuing ways to increase its revenue base,” Tim Wilder, WTA planning director wrote in an email.
While the rate Western students pay has increased in the past according to McMurren, neither McMurren nor Wilder cared to speculate about possible increases to the rate paid by Western as a result of the deal being renewed later this year.
General, student and select pass fares that are not part of the deal with Western are set to increase in June 2020. Student bus passes that are purchased outside the deal with Western will increase from $40 to $45, said Wilder.