During the Undergraduate Student Government Elections this semester, there was a ballot question that asked students if they supported the formation of a fund that would serve to increase the subsidy that students receive on MBTA passes. Currently, the MBTA offers a meager 11 percent discount to all students on their MBTA commuter rail and link passes. The question, approved by 52.4 percent of the students that participated in the election, institutes a new, non-waivable $20 per student, per semester fee. The money gathered by this fee will be placed into the UMass Boston MBTA Subsidy Fund. It will be used to further discount student passes to at least 50 percent—a nearly 350 percent increase in the subsidy already offered. In future semesters, the subsidy could increase even more, depending on how many students take advantage of the increased subsidy.
Increasing the subsidy that students receive on their MBTA passes serves several purposes. First, it lowers the cost barrier for students who utilize the MBTA as their means of transportation to and from the campus. Second, an increased subsidy will encourage more students to want to take advantage of the MBTA, as the passes will be less expensive, even in the face of MBTA rate hikes and rising fees for on-campus parking. Third, as a side-effect of the increased ridership this subsidy could bring, the MBTA would be encouraged to invest in their system, updating stations and improving winter preparedness. Fourth, increased ridership on the MBTA means less cars on the road. This serves to both reduce congestion in the area around the school and ultimately reduce emissions from single-occupant vehicles. The environmental impact of this new subsidy echoes recent steps that the Undergraduate Student Government has taken to increase sustainability and renewable energy efforts on campus.
In late March, the Undergraduate Student Government passed a resolution that will ask the administration of UMass Boston to immediately hire a sustainability director and work towards transitioning the campus to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. Encouraging students to use the MBTA to get to and from the campus even if they can afford a vehicle is a great next step in standing behind this movement towards a sustainable and renewable future.
The UMass Boston MBTA Subsidy Fund was crafted by the campus’ Green Party chapter, which believes that public transportation should be free for all to use. They also hold that the environmental crisis is undeniable and that one of the many ways we can combat it is to reduce emissions from fossil fuel sources. Public transportation is one of the most efficient ways our campus community can accomplish this.
The final step for the UMass Boston MBTA Subsidy Fund to become “law” is to be put before the Board of Trustees. In order to be placed on the ballot, the question had to gather the signatures of 50 undergraduate students, be approved by the judicial branch, and then win the majority of student votes—all of which were accomplished. To this author’s knowledge, there is no precedent for the Board of Trustees denying the will of the students with respect to ballot questions, so the fund should be slated to begin in Fall 2019.