When the issue of UCSD’s Transportation Services’ budget flared up at the end of last year, the California Review analyzed the issue and determined that the source of the problem was that the people riding the shuttles weren’t the ones paying for it. Instead, people driving to and from campus, paying for parking permits, and occasionally facing unreasonably strict ticketing practices, were the ones paying for the cost. With this kind of setup, people are incentivized to become consumers of the service, and not payers. Eventually, too many people are using the service, and not enough people are paying.
The recently passed transportation referendum is a step in the right direction. The language of the referendum states that “the [Student Transportation Fee]will provide UCSD students with a Regional Transit Pass for all undergraduate, graduate and professional students who pay this fee.” This way, the use of the service depends directly on the fact that the student using the service payed for it. This ensures that the program will have a stable financial base.
The referendum still falls short of ideal in several areas. First, there is still some unfairness left over from the previous scheme, due to the fact that students cannot opt out of the fee, so students who do not use MTS to get to school – most importantly, students who drive – must pay this fee on top of what they pay for expensive parking permits. While it is true that the cost of these permits has been rising because of the financial instability of the free shuttle program, and therefore the referendum should at least cut the rate of increase, we can not expect permit prices to start decreasing until TS has recouped its previous losses and replenished its reserves. This could take several years.
Furthermore, this is a one-size-fits-all solution, and is perhaps more expensive than most students need it to be. According to the referendum, “the Regional Transit Pass gives unlimited ridership… on all mass transit bus, trolley and light rail routes in the San Diego region provided by the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) and the North County Transit District (NCTD).” Most students only need access to the routes in the immediate vicinity of the UCSD campus – the same routes that free bus sticker would grant students access to. However, this does not seem to be a fault of the referendum. While MTS and NCTD were willing to drop their offer from $51 per quarter per pass to $39 (thus dropping the referendum amount from $65 to $50, due to the requirement that 29% of the fee go towards financial aid), they were unwilling to offer more than one transportation package to students with different needs.
One problem which is not really related to the referendum at all is that typically, shuttle drivers make an attempt to ration the number of seats they allocate to each shuttle stop, whereas MTS drivers do not make these considerations. If this situation does not change, then once UCSD shuttles are no longer running, people waiting in lines at later stops may lose the ability to take any bus or shuttle to school. (Protip: this is actually not true – cross the street and get on the bus going counterclockwise, which usually has no wait at all. The only downside is that this bus waits at the mall for several minutes, but typically students can jump from here to another bus going to campus, such as the 30, the 101, or the 150.)
To summarize, the referendum solves the problem of financial instability – TS will no longer have to pay anything for the transportation program, and the people using the service are the people paying for it. However, the solution is too broad, requiring students who don’t use it to pay for it, and charging students for more than they are likely to use. While this is probably the best solution we can get for the moment, we should remember these shortcomings and attempt to correct them in the future.