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Students to vote on referendum to fund transit passes with students fees

City buses are pictured arriving in Westwood. Students will have the opportunity to vote on an upcoming referendum to implement a quarterly student fee to gain a Universal Access Transit Pass – an LA Metro card that would offer unlimited rides for undergraduate students – through the university. (Justin Jung/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Emily Rusting

April 2, 2023 11:30 p.m.

Students will vote on a referendum in the upcoming Undergraduate Students Association election that would fund a new program providing free access to public transportation.

If the referendum is passed, each student would pay a quarterly fee of $2.65 for the Universal Access Transit Pass, a special card from LA Metro loaded with unlimited rides for undergraduate students, according to UCLA Transportation.

According to the referendum, UCLA would adjust the fee each year to account for changes in the cost of living. A quarter of fee revenue would go toward covering the cost of the transit pass program for students eligible for financial aid, UCLA Transportation said in a written statement. The initiative would expire after three academic years unless students vote to continue the program in a second referendum vote.

Students would be able to pick up their cards from the Central Ticket Office starting in the fall if the referendum is approved.

The program would help alleviate the financial burdens associated with using personal vehicles, such as gas and parking fees, especially for commuter students who travel long distances to campus, said Sara Broukhim, the USAC financial supports commissioner and commuter liaison.

Phoebe Chiu, the USAC facilities commissioner, added that the referendum would enable students to explore LA and new opportunities without the costs associated with travel.

“This universal transit pass creates opportunities for students to reduce their financial burden when it comes to transportation – getting themselves where they need to go, whether that be class, internships, club opportunities or social opportunities,” Chiu said.

If passed, the program would also have environmental benefits because it could incentivize more students to opt for public transportation over personal vehicles, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, said Jeff Van, a co-director of transportation equity and access within the USAC Facilities Commission who oversaw the referendum’s research team.

“I think it’s time that an institution like UCLA that supports missions like sustainability and equity really stand by those issues,” Chiu added.

Chiu acknowledged that students might not be enthusiastic about increasing their fees but added that transit pass programs at other UC campuses have been successful, even with higher yearly costs for students.

Fees for free transit access programs at other UCs can be upward of $100 per year, but such referendums have still enjoyed broad student approval, Van added.

Van also said USAC will seek to address worries some students might have regarding safety of riding public transportation regularly. He said USAC and the student-led Transportation Services Advisory Board are working on strengthening collaboration with UCLA Transportation, which can use its partnership with LA Metro to address student concerns.

UCLA Transportation added that LA Metro is making efforts to improve rider safety, such as its new ambassador program, which deploys unarmed personnel trained to resolve conflicts and address customer concerns along certain routes.

Both Chiu and Broukhim said the most significant obstacle to the referendum is a lack of voter turnout, which has been an issue in previous USAC elections. In order for the referendum to pass, at least 20% of UCLA undergraduates must vote and at least 50% of voters must vote in favor of the referendum.

Broukhim said students should vote on the transit pass referendum, regardless of whether they are in favor or against it, because it is an important opportunity for students to offer input on how their fees are being spent.

Van said he hoped the referendum, if passed, could ensure more equitable, environmentally friendly transportation options for students far into the future.

“I think it will go a long way towards … making people realize the benefits of sustainable transportation and help spur improvements in transit systems,” Van said. “Implementing this pass will make the future better for Bruins that come after.”

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