The end of free UTA service?

Photo by Whitney OrmsbyStudents who commute to school via bus and the FrontRunner might want to start taking full advantage of the service now, before it’s gone.

The contract between Weber State University and Utah Transit Authority, which gave students access to free rides on all of UTA’s services, expires July 31. It is possible the new contract will result in students paying for UTA service at a discounted price, instead of for free.

Gerry Carpenter, spokesman for UTA, said demand for UTA services has gone up while revenues have not. The number of students who commute is on the rise, meaning UTA needs more buses running routes more frequently. Students account for more than 20 percent of riders, Carpenter said, which equates to a major loss in profits for UTA.

In the past, WSU has purchased the passes for its students at a discount, enabling students to ride for free. It was able to do so because it got the passes at a 61-percent discount, which is a much bigger discount than other institutions received. Due to UTA losing money in a poor economic climate, students should probably start planning to pay for their bus and FrontRunner rides.

Carpenter suggested some possible paths WSU could take. For example, Utah Valley University has, in the past, sold its passes for $20 a year. It recently subsidized its program, and is able to give its students a pass for only $120 a year. A regular pass would typically cost a commuter $180 a month. Salt Lake Community College is employing a first-come-first-serve basis, where qualifying students will receive around a 50-percent discount.

“We understand students’ funds are limited,” Carpenter said. “They’re paying for school and books and other fees. We’re looking for ways to save them money.”

Regardless of the explanations, many students said they aren’t happy. Achrista Monson, a sophomore majoring in design graphics at WSU, said this new development could defer commuting students to other schools.

“It’s just not fair,” she said. “We already have to pay for so much.”

WSU is predominantly a commuter university, meaning students come from all over the state to attend classes. It is possible a change like this to public transit options could severely affect enrollment rates at WSU in the following year.

Vivian Arthus, a WSU employee who works at the information desk in the Shepherd Union Building, said she thinks attendance will drop. The number of cards given out each semester is about the same as the number of students who attend orientation.

“If there’s any possible way we can stop this, we should,” Arthus said.

With the economy in a slump and UTA losing revenue, it looks like change is unavoidable. However, students should know UTA will always provide at least a 25-percent discount to all students, no matter which school they are attending.