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RIPTA service now free for students, faculty and staff

With the start of the school year always comes the need to furnish dorm rooms, buy supplies for the upcoming year and haul everything up College Hill - or, perhaps, pay a cab to lug it for you. But thanks to the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority's U-PASS program, Brown ID holders can now ride RIPTA buses and trolleys for free.

Surrounded by shopping bags, Courtney Smith '10 and Megan Litrownik '10 praised the now-free U-PASS system. The girls hopped on a bus to the nearest Wal-Mart ­- swiping their Brown cards instead of paying $1.50 - and returned back to a stop on Thayer Street.

"I'm really happy with it," Litrownik said. "I've already taken it more times than I did all of my freshman year."

"This means no more cabs," Smith said. "The only problem is the schedule, but once you get it down, the buses are always on time, and the bus drivers are generally really friendly."

Faculty, staff and students now only need to swipe their IDs to ride all RIPTA bus and trolley lines. RIPTA sends the University a monthly bill for the number of people riding the buses, but at a discounted rate. Annual total costs to the University are expected to be approximately $200,000.

Originally implemented in 2004, the U-PASS program offered half-price tickets to the Brown community. University and RIPTA officials predict that the improved U-PASS program will double the number of Brown community riders.

Beth Gentry, director of business and financial services for Brown, said the program has been implemented by the University for a variety of reasons.

"The primary purpose of the program is to help address parking congestion on the East Side, particularly in close proximity to Brown by providing alternative modes of transportation," Gentry said, adding that some parking lots were lost last year to construction. "Another side benefit is, public transportation is a more environmentally friendly approach than driving."

Alexandra Cervenak GS, who just moved to Providence, recounted College Hill parking horror stories and said she's lucky her Thayer Street residence makes using RIPTA easy. "It used to be $1.50, even if you were just going downtown," Cervenak said. "I'm glad to have reliable, free public transportation."

Programs like U-PASS exist across the country, but Gentry said Brown's program is one of the first in Rhode Island to include faculty and staff in addition to students. Gentry hopes that the program, especially a new bus line slated to directly link Barrington and Thayer Street, will encourage staff and faculty living in that area to commute to work using public transportation.

The new program will also be beneficial to students who participate in activities beyond College Hill, such as research and community projects.

Alan Flam P'05, senior fellow at the Swearer Center for Public Service and senior associate University chaplain, has been taking freshmen around Providence to introduce them to possible volunteer opportunities around the community.

"Now I can tell them ... all you need is your ID and you can come back whenever you want," Flam said.

Flam said the University is sending a good message to the community by paying for the U-PASS program.

"This represents a fairly significant source of revenue for public transportation, which can only be good ­- just another way Brown is investing in its community," Flam said.

Elizabeth Ochs '07.5, who volunteers at the Southside Community Land Trust and works with local advocacy group People to End Homelessness, said the program could facilitate learning beyond the confines of Brown's campus.

"Providence's sites and people have a lot to teach us all," Ochs wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. RIPTA and the University agreed to a two-year contract, but Gentry believes the program could continue.

The cost to the University is based on an expectation that Brown will meet increased ridership statistics, which Brown and RIPTA will closely monitor.

Mark Therrien, RIPTA's assistant general manager for planning, said he believes that the partnership will benefit RIPTA as well as the Brown community.

Therrien said he thinks the switch from a discounted price to a fully subsidized pass will increase student ridership. "Students make their decisions quickly, so they usually haven't planned to buy their passes," Therrien said. "We as an organization have to react to their needs."

Read The Herald's guide to RIPTA in today's print edition.


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