ASWSU Senators table increased student transportation fee proposal

Students would pay an additional $1.80 per semester, bringing semester total to $37.88

%E2%80%9CFaculty+and+staff+do+not+currently+have+to+pay+for+%5Btransportation+fees%5D%2C+and+that+burden+is+just+kind+of+placed+on+the+students%2C%E2%80%9D+said+ASWSU+Senator+Lauren+Slater.

SCREENSHOT FROM MEETING

“Faculty and staff do not currently have to pay for [transportation fees], and that burden is just kind of placed on the students,” said ASWSU Senator Lauren Slater.

ABBY DAVIS, Evergreen deputy news editor

ASWSU Senators decided to table a proposal from WSU Transportation Services regarding a five percent increase in student transportation fees for fiscal year 2022 during a meeting Wednesday. 

Currently, the WSU student transit fee costs students $36.08 per semester or $72.17 per year. Comparatively, community members pay $30 a month or $300 per year for Pullman Transit, said Alexis Daniels, ASWSU Greek representative for the Transit Advisory Group.

“The comparison is showing that obviously, WSU students are getting a much better deal,” she said.  

The Services and Activities Fee and the student transit fee fund the student transit program. A five percent fee increase means students would pay an additional $1.80 per semester or $3.60 per year. If approved, the total fee would cost students $37.88 per semester or $75.77 per year, Daniels said. 

The student transit program is still serving students despite COVID-19, she said. However, the program scaled back its services to match the decrease in demand and maintain a fiscally responsible program. 

A majority of funds come from students buying on-campus parking passes, Daniels said. 

“The fact that those students didn’t buy those passes this past year means that we lost a lot of revenue from that,” she said. 

The pandemic led to an uncertainty in student enrollment, said John Shaheen, director of WSU Transportation Services. Since S&A funding available for the student transit program is based on total enrollment, they are unsure how much money they will receive for the upcoming fiscal year. 

Any enrollment drop is most likely due to COVID-19 fatigue. Students are unsure if they want to remain in college because of uncertainty around in-person classes, he said. 

“We are facing uncertainties, as everyone is, and it’s going to affect funding for the student transit program,” Shaheen said.  

The $1.80 per semester increase would generate about $40-60,000 next year depending on enrollment, he said.   

In addition to enrollment questions, Shaheen said WSU Transportation Services is unsure how students will react to public transit once things open back up.  

Gabby Rodriguez, WSU Transportation Services options supervisor, said 130,000 people rode student transit buses in January 2020. In January 2021, there were 14,630 riders. 

Shaheen said they are waiting to see what kind of COVID-19 relief money will come from the state or federal government. There is no timeline for when relief money is expected. 

Even if the proposal passes and the fee is increased, there is no guarantee student transportation services will not be reduced next year, especially if there is no relief funding, he said.

However, the fee would help mitigate potential reductions in services. WSU Transportation Services is operating at about 35-40 percent of its usable revenue because of the pandemic, he said. 

“We expect to exhaust our operating reserves by the end of the year, so there won’t be any money next year to contribute to the student transit program from transportation funds,” he said.  

In a normal year, the student transit program serves about 67 percent of the WSU student body, which totals about 1.1 million rides, Shaheen said.

ASWSU Senator Kathryn Carstens said she is hesitant to increase the student transportation fee. 

“I do understand the need for this, seeing as there were no parking passes,” she said, “but I also don’t believe that an uncertainty in funding should lead to asking students who also have that uncertainty of funding for more money.”

Several other senators expressed concern about the proposal. ASWSU Senator Tania Hernandez said she has used the transit system and sees the need for additional funding. However, now may not be the time to add another student fee.  

“We have created or proposed adding fees already, and I know that students might be worried about … having enough financial aid or the means to pay for tuition next semester, let alone the increase in fees that are seeming to add up as we speak,” she said. 

WSU Transportation Services already presented their proposal to GPSA, although it remains to be seen if the proposal will pass, Shaheen said. 

ASWSU Senators will consider the proposal again at a later date. ASWSU Senator Lauren Slater said she is interested in writing a resolution asking WSU administration to pay for the increase. 

“Faculty and staff do not currently have to pay for [transportation fees], and that burden is just kind of placed on the students,” she said.  

ASWSU Senators unanimously approved technology fee allocations for fiscal year 2022. Out of the total $599,931 available, all but $87,739 was allocated to various WSU sponsors. The proposal will go to WSU President Kirk Schulz and then to the WSU Board of Regents for final approval, Carstens said. 

If a sponsor’s proposed technology project is not completed, funds are applied to next year’s technology fee committee, she said.