The current financial model for the Eagle Pass program that allows students to travel on buses for free with an Eagle Card, is not a sustainable way of supporting the Spokane Transit Authority and ASEWU partnership, said ASEWU President Alicia Kinne in a council meeting a week ago.
Student government already dipped into reserve funds to keep the program running this year.
“You just can’t keep taking money from savings,” said Kinne. Initial costs for the program, which were trial runs, were $80,000 for EWU and covered by Parking Services, the University and ASEWU. Student government alone put $25,000 into money for the Eagle Pass program.
The Council is now talking about other ways to fund the program, whether it be instituting a transportation fee, charging for a quarterly pass or reallocating money in the ASEWU budget.
However, the cost of running the buses out to Cheney is becoming more expensive, upwards of $100,000, and ASEWU is seeing that a change must be made in order to make it a sustainable program.
“It’s just deciding where we’re at with the program,” said Kinne, who went on to point out that while it’s important to establish funding for the Eagle Pass program, it’s also important to make sure that students are getting what they need from the service.
ASEWU will now discuss a five-year program, starting with research surveys by the university and focus groups.
Thanks to the Eagle Pass, Eastern students have been able to use Spokane’s public transit system free of charge since fall of 2003. “We don’t know exactly how many students use the system… we do however, know how many rides have been taken this school year – 361,029 rides have been taken on our service using the Eagle Pass, that is an increase of 24 percent over last year,” said Molly Myers, communications manager for the Spokane Transit Authority (STA).
According to the STA Web site, “The partnership between Spokane Transit and EWU is designed to reduce additional parking lots, lower student living costs and meet the state-mandated commute trip reduction goals for reducing employee commuter traffic.”
Students and faculty living on campus can take the bus into Spokane from the PUB and numerous other locations in Cheney.
Students and faculty commuting to campus from the Spokane area can catch buses at the Plaza downtown or at 13 commuter lots throughout the region.
Taking the bus saves money on gas, vehicle wear and tear and is better for the environment. “I ride the bus because I don’t have a car and it’s faster than walking,” said Zack Berkoff, a student at Eastern. “I ride the bus because it’s more economical and it gives me time to do homework. [The Eagle Pass] is definitely helpful if you’re a student and you don’t have a car, and you get to talk to crazy people,” said Eastern student Amber Gailey.
“It generally costs $26 for a student bus pass, so if you figure that versus a tank of gas ($35), that probably would last one week going to and from school at four weeks per month ($140). That would be over $100 per month on a really low scale, it’s probably much higher. The bottom line is money is being saved, not only with gas but insurance and tear on the vehicle. It all adds up,” said Myers.
The Jefferson Lot, a Spokane park and ride location used heavily by commuters going to and from Cheney, is usually packed with vehicles, especially early in the morning when lines of commuters wait to catch the bus.
“We would love to have more room, but in that area there is not any available property,” said Myers of the crowded park and ride. “We also have direct service in the a.m. from our 5-mile lot, our Valley Transit Center and Hastings Park and Ride; those are other areas that students can park. They can also catch buses in service, for more information on trip planning they can call 328-7433,” said Myers.
She also said that a trip planner will be available on the STA Web site sometime next year.