CG Column: Proposed student bus fee could save the environment and pocketbooks

Athen’s transit bus making its noontime round on Court Street. Photo by CG Photo Editor Elizabeth Linares.

By CG Commentary Editor Lane Robbins

Last fall, Essam Mikhail was in a car accident that resulted in a total loss of his vehicle. He soon came to realize how reliant he was on his car. Mikhail had an evening class at Ohio University that ended after the buses stopped running for the day. Fortunately, he also had a friend who could drive him home after class – if Mikhail didn’t have a fellow classmate with a car he could have failed his class.

Mikhail now sits on Mayor Paul Wiehl’s transportation committee. He claims responsibility for proposing the idea of a $10 quarterly voluntary student bus fee to expand Athens Transit, the city bus system. That could make mass transportation affordable and convenient for all OU students.

I would much rather walk, ride my bike and take the bus than use a car, which is more expensive, more dangerous and more pollutive. Car crashes kill approximately 40,000 people each year, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Accidents are the fifth leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease, cancer, stroke and respiratory disease and the majority are caused by automobiles.

Regarding the environmental impact of increasing bus ridership and decreasing the use of cars, Mikhail said, “It’s very critical – it’s one of the most critical things we can do to reduce our carbon footprint.”

He said all the environmental groups at OU have endorsed the proposed fee.

Right now the bus system runs once an hour. There are three routes that run to and from The Plains, Richland Avenue and East State Street. The first bus runs from 7:05 a.m. to 6:50 p.m. weekdays and 9:05 a.m. to 4:50 p.m. on Saturdays. There is no Plains route on Saturday and no buses run on Sunday.

According to the Mayor, this optional fee could double the city bus budget to $120,000 if implemented, and would expand bus routes, pick-up times and locations. Faculty and staff would pay a bus fee, too, of $20 per quarter, according to Mikhail, which would further expand the public transportation budget.

This is exactly what Mikhail wants to see and what I would like to see as well. Can you imagine living in Athens conveniently without a car? It could be a reality.

Mayor Wiehl is also a fan. “I think it’s a good idea,” Wiehl said. “Other universities do it. When I first got into office I was hoping to unify the bus system.”

The mayor said a lot of questions will have to be answered, including how to include the buses from student housing facilities such as The Summit, University Courtyard and University Commons. He is currently looking to make the current bus system more efficient with the Ohio Department of Transportation.

Athens and OU can do it. The Universities of Cincinnati and Akron and Bowling Green, Kent State and Ohio State Universities all offer student-funded off-campus transportation, according to The Post. It will take some work, but that’s no reason we shouldn’t have a better mass transit system and be less reliant on cars, for the sake of the environment, the student pocketbook and rational urban planning.

Currently, students and residents can purchase a one-way bus ticket for $1.50 or a one-year pass for $160 to ride Athens Transit. There are also discounts for a 30-ride and 90-day pass.

“It could literally save thousands of dollars for students,” Mikhail said about implementing the new fee.

As of now, however; the proposed student bus fee is on hold until OU Student Senate and the mayor’s transportation committee can gather information from students about their transportation preferences and habits. The transportation committee and student senate intend to conduct a survey to gather more information.

Student Senate is concerned with saddling students with another fee, even though it would be voluntary.

“I hope it goes through,” Mikhail said about the proposal. “The face of Athens will change.”