Fare or Foul? Students angered by new bus pass fee

GRTC Illustration for sliderCyrus Nuval
Staff Writer

Students will no longer be able to ride Greater Richmond Transit Company buses free of charge — and some aren’t happy about it.

Bus passes will now cost full-time students $100 and part-time students $50. VCU has subsidized the passes since 2008. State funding cuts totaling more than $50 million over the last five years impacted the university’s decision to stop paying for the passes, said dean of student affairs Reuban Rodriguez, Ph.D.

“Basically, in the past, students who were not using the bus passes were paying for those who did,” Rodriguez said. “It was a decision looking at the entire fiscal status of the university … to redirect those funds to contribute to the core academic function of our institution.”

Still, the change isn’t sitting well with some students. Senior Lauren McClellan in July started an online petition opposing the change. She said charging students for bus passes is unfair and discriminatory.

“VCU raised the rates for their parking garages. Now, they’re going to start charging students $50 to $100 for bus passes depending on their enrollment status,” McClellan said. “We already pay VCU enough to attend school here. We shouldn’t have to pay so much just to get to class.”

McClellan’s petition has received 1,057 signatures as of press time. Hannah Piracha, a student who signed the petition, said she is upset at about the change.

“I am highly disappointed by the lack of critical thought that went into this decision. For the past several years, VCU’s leaders have been looking for ways to offset rising costs to the university,” Piracha said. “… the solution seems to always be push the costs into the students. That is not saving money. It is taking it from elsewhere, it requires no creativity. As a student for whom these leaders work, I demand some real thought and real problem solving.”

McClellan said her online petition does not have a quota of required signatures or a specific deadline.

“It’ll stay up until VCU tells me why they can’t reverse the charges or a change is made. VCU hasn’t made an effort to contact me, although I’ve tried emailing parking and transportation,” McClellan said.
The new fees are not the only thing McClellan is upset about. She said no proper announcement was made to the student body about the changes.

“After I get in contact with the parking and transportation office, I’d be willing to meet with them and discuss why exactly this change was made and why they didn’t do a better job of warning us about the changes,” she said.

Administrators maintain that changes were announced well in advance.

“We did communicate the changes to the parking and transportation programs across campus beginning in early 2013, including meetings with the SGA and also with academic and student affairs leadership,” said David Hanson, vice president of finance and administration, in a statement on the VCU Parking and Transportation website.

In a July letter to the student body, Monroe Park SGA president Vikhyath Veeramachaneni said the administration did not notify the SGA of its plans.

“Much to our concern, we have not been able to confirm that such a discussion as that which relates to the troubling rise in bus pass cost was ever facilitated to or engaged in with the SGA Senate,” Veeramachaneni said. “The only information on record that could be viewed as similar in subject matter is a discussion of a semester parking pass cost increase – but this is not the same as rise in transit fee.”

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