Real change almost always takes a team effort, but it often begins with one person. At Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood, it was student body president Annie Mafi.
Her campaign to bring cheap transit access to Clover Park students hit the jackpot Monday when the Pierce Transit board doubled down and, after accepting a student government subsidy, unanimously agreed to make bus passes free. The test program will run until June 2018.
Give credit to Mafi, students, school administrators and transit officials for collaborating to solve a transportation puzzle. The next logical step is to extend it to all the other two-year colleges and trade schools in Pierce County.
This would go a long way toward grooming the next generation of transit riders — a critical component for a region that’s investing billions of dollars in Sound Transit infrastructure.
Pierce Transit already has bus-pass arrangements with local four-year universities. Partnering with the two-year schools is overdue, considering the affordability gap. At Clover Park, 53 percent of students receive need-based financial aid.
The wake-up call was sounded when Mafi was elected Clover Park’s student body president last fall. One thing she wanted to tackle was reliable student transportation, or lack thereof. She knew from classmates that one barrier to academic success were absences and tardiness caused by struggles getting to school.
Mafi, a pharmacy technician major, stood in front of Pierce Transit Board members and told them her concerns. She said that for many students, the $2 one-way bus fare was too much; she also identified a few bus routes that left students a half mile from the Lakewood campus.
Mafi and Clover Park’s Office of Student Involvement began working with Pierce Transit to see about offering a discount. In January, the Associated Student Government allocated its own dollars to launch a test program giving students access to a monthly bus pass at more than a 50-percent discount.
Clover Park President Joyce Loveday credits Mafi with doing most of the legwork. Loveday says Pierce Transit listened to Mafi’s concerns and decided to go all in.
With school registration, students will now get a Pierce Transit sticker they can attach to their student ID’s enabling them to ride for free. Mafi says the student response has been great; in four days, the ASG passed out 200 transit stickers.
Call it a fortuitous case of synchronicity. Sue Dreier, CEO of Pierce Transit, says the board had been looking for innovative ways to reach younger riders. Right now only 22 percent of Pierce Transit users are college students.
The board believes it can do better. Though Clover Park is the first test program, Dreier says it won’t be the last.
Plans to partner with other Pierce County community and technical colleges are on the horizon. With the recession in the rear-view mirror and a robust sales tax fueling their coffers (sales tax makes up 77 percent of Pierce Transit’s operating revenue), Pierce Transit has more than doubled service hours and is providing more direct routes.
All signs point to success with this partnership. Light rail is finally coming to Tacoma in 2030, and we need converts to public transportation — the younger, the better.