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VCU students will now pay to ride GRTC bus

GRTC bus

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – For years Virginia Commonwealth University and GRTC have partnered to offer full-time students convenient, free transportation around the Richmond metro area.

In the 90s all it took to board a city bus was a student identification card.  VCU says they have fully subsidized the transit pass program since 2008. The process of hopping on the bus has become more difficult throughout the years.

More recently students were required to, on a first-come-first-served basis, apply online and pick up the pass at school or have it sent to them. In May the university announced that it would increase parking fees and offer subsidized bus fares on GRTC buses as part of its budget process.

“Over the past 12 years, VCU has built nine new decks to meet the needs of increased enrollment. The decks represent more than $5 million in annual debt service, and the university has been subsidizing this cost, creating an unsustainable financial situation,” the university wrote in a press released date May 10, 2013.

The new bus fare will cost full-time students $200 a year.

“With this pass, you have easy and affordable access to convenient transportation around the Richmond Metro area,” wrote the university wrote on its parking and transportation webpage. On Tuesday, VCU posted on the VCU Parking & Transportation Facebook page that “Student Transit Passes are now available for full and part-time students for the discounted rate of $100 and $50 per semester, respectively.”

There has since been a backlash online.

“Don’t act like you’re doing us a favor by calling the new charges a “discounted rate”; compared to $0, 50-$100 per semester is highway robbery,” student Brennan Chambre responded.

VCU buses

Students expressed concern not just for unexpected rising costs, but also for the new lack of incentive to take public transportation, noting that “a parking pass costs about the same amount.”

It will still cost less to purchase a bus pass. Commuters pay $190 a semester for parking, and a residential, six-month pass can be purchased for $330. All parking pass increases went up four days before the GRTC announcement was made on their Facebook page.

Student Rates Per Semester Former  Current  Increase
Commuters $ 175.00 $ 190.00 $  15.00
Residential – 5 Months $ 276.00 $ 296.00 $  20.00
Residential – 6 Months $ 310.00 $ 330.00 $  20.00
Student Commuters – Off Campus Lots $ 130.00 $ 150.00 $  20.00

Several students expressed that the transit pass helped them “stay green and use public transportation more often.”

“Relatively inexpensive things like this can greatly increase the attractiveness of a program — for a lot less than the multi-million-dollar cost of a new medical building!” wrote Mike Rains.

Student Lauren McClellan started an online petition against the new fees that so far has 302 supporters. (UPDATE: 602 less than 24 hours later).

The petition addressed Richmond’s recent parking increases, and noted that VCU also increased rates for parking garages. Additionally, several areas on campus were previously only restricted only by time but recently became pay-to-park hourly spots.

On Thursday, VCU responded to concerns expressed by students about the new transit costs.

“Please keep in mind that this does not include the RamRide campus connector or other parking shuttles, which remains free of charge,” wrote David Hanson, Senior Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer of VCU.

Hanson wrote that it costs roughly $550,000 to subsidize the program annually, depending on usage. He compared the cost of a transit pass ($100), by semester, to the cost of a parking pass ($190), and concluded that the new transit fee is still a value to students (although cost of gasoline for driving is not factored into this).

Although many students expressed that they were just made aware of this new cost, Hanson posted that the change was communicated “across campus in early 2013,” and at SGA meetings.

The subsidy of GRTC transit passes was eliminated as VCU continues “to reduce costs and make our operations more efficient so that those savings may be reallocated to support the core academic quality and student needs as well as the priorities of Quest for Distinction.”

You can read the VCU response in its entirety, here: http://wp.vcu.edu/parkingtransportation/2013/07/11/fall-2013-grtc-transit-pass-program/

This is a developing story, and CBS 6 will continue to follow it on-air and online.

***updated on Thursday to reflect quotes from VCU***

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