2012-09-07 / Front Page

Ticket to ride granted for year

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – College students are notoriously frugal in their spending habits. But one expense Portland-area commuter students won’t have to worry about as they return to class is bus fare. At Southern Maine Community College, students can ride the bus free of charge the entire calendar year.

Tom Meyers, South Portland’s director of transportation, said the city’s bus service has partnered with Portland’s METRO buses this fall, as it has for the past several years, to offer college students in Portland and South Portland free rides for the first two weeks of the semester.

Meyers said the program is an effective way to introduce students to the convenience and cost effectiveness of the bus.

“Many times (students) don’t know what their opportunities are, so this is a way to show them what they can do,” Meyers said.

The free pass will run out later in September for students at the University of New England, University of Southern Maine, Maine College of Art, SALT Institute for Documentary Studies, Kaplan University and Husson University. But SMCC students can continue to ride bus free all year.

Meyers said the city has an agreement with the college in which SMCC students can show their ID to ride free on any South Portland or METRO bus. SMCC then reimburses the city for the cost of its students’ rides.

“The guy that pays the bill over there says the good news is, a lot of kids are taking advantage, but the bad news is, a lot of kids are taking advantage,” Meyers joked.

He said about 200 students use the service daily. The college covers the cost of the program through parking fees, said SMCC’s Director of College Relations Matt Wickenheiser. And while 200 students a day is a significant increase in ridership on the buses, it represents a small portion of the college’s total enrollment. Wickenheiser said roughly 5,600 students take at least one class on the South Portland campus.

But increasing riders on the bus is not the only benefit to the city, Meyers said. The program also cuts down on traffic, which can be problematic in South Portland, especially on Broadway from the Casco Bay Bridge up to SMCC’s campus. He also said there is an environmental benefit to increased ridership on the bus.

In addition, more students riding the bus means SMCC can cut down on parking issues that sometimes plague the school, which has a high proportion of commuter students who would otherwise drive to class if they didn’t take the bus.

SMCC houses 430 students in dorms on campus, but most students commute. Wickenheiser also noted those students are eligible to take advantage of the bus program.

“To be able to get students to the college and home from Westbrook, Falmouth, Portland and South Portland is a strength of this program,” Meyers said.

SMCC also encourages students to find alternative means of transportation to get to campus, including bicycles, skateboards or carpooling.

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