ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg College and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority formally launched their new collaborative Universal Pass initiative Thursday, which allows SPC students and employees to ride the bus for free by showing their school ID when they climb aboard.
The college will pay PSTA $75,000 from student activity fees to provide free bus rides to their 45,000 students and 3,900 employees for the next year.
"I got to speak your language," PSTA board member Wengay Newton said to a group of students at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday. "You'll be able to save $9,000 in Ramen noodles (by riding the bus)."
Newton and PSTA board member Janet Long took the opportunity to tout the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum that will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot. If it garners enough votes, county sales taxes would increase from 7 to 8 cents on the dollar to pay for expanded bus service and a 24-mile light rail system between St. Petersburg and Clearwater.
The remarks were unscripted and made the college wary because it has taken no official stance on the issue, SPC spokesperson Diana Sabino told a reporter at the event.
This isn't the first bus pass program that SPC has provided for its students, but Seminole campus student government President Jonathan Jacques said the UPASS system is much simpler. The new program grew out his efforts and those of the Student Government Association to advocate for better transportation for SPC students.
Last year, the college spent $75,000 on bus passes, which were handed out through the Student Government Association. Students submitted applications, which took student government time and resources that delayed the approval process, Jacques said. The UPASS system requires no preapproval, but students must retrieve their new student ID for the 2014-15 school year before they can ride for free.
Gibbs campus provost Karen Kaufman White said providing transportation for students could "make the difference for their education." The UPASS initiative includes expanding bus routes and times for students who commute to class during the afternoon and evening hours.
"At the end of the day, what we are really doing here is changing the culture of our county," Long said.
Contact Katie Mettler can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8913. Follow her @kemettler.