At Wednesday’s meeting, the Student Government Association invited representatives from Transportation Services to give a presentation on a student services fee increase and passed a referendum to have students vote on the transit service fee in the SGA election.
In order to sustain the current level of quality of the transit services, such as the bus system and share rides, Chris Phelps, the senior director of Transportation Services, said Transportation Services needs to increase the service fee from $3.5 to $6 per the number of semester credit hours taken with a maximum of 15 credit hours.
The fee has not been increased since the transit system was first introduced in 2003.
“We need to, at a minimum, maintain the current level of service,” Phelps said. “I don’t think our community wants to see more reductions. The fee is expected to sustain current services, allow for some expansion, and it will allow us some room to take a look at areas that are underserved and begin to operate there.”
After increasing to $6, Phelps said Transportation Services would be able to add more bus routes and extend their hours of operation.
Phelps said he wanted to emphasize that while parking passes and citations can fund transit services, an increase in the transit service fee would not fund parking services.
Transportation Services is an auxiliary service, meaning they cannot take funding from student tuition or the government. The transit system currently collects $3.3 million but needs at least $3.6 million in order to sustain their services. Phelps said increasing the fee would close the $0.3 million gap for five to six years.
“When you look at the historical level of bus service that we had over the years, it’s about $3.6 million worth of transit service,” Phelps said. “But we have a fee that only collects $3.3 million. Every year, we have to decide ‘What are we going to shuffle around this year? Do we take a bus from this peak service route put it over here? What do we do? It’s a very challenging thing and it impacts students directly.”
Phelps also confirmed the university plans to put an art building on Eagle Commuter lot 55 and said without this lot available to students, students will more heavily rely on the bus system.
“Lot 55, which is at the corner of Welsh and Mulberry, is probably our most popular commuter lot,” Phelps said. “Starting in February of next year, they’re building an art studio. Within the next four years after that, that entire block will be gone with new classroom facilities. [Students are] going to have to go to that west side [of campus] and catch a ride over, which makes this fee all the more important.”
If students vote to increase the fee, Phelps said Transportation Services would begin to implement improvements in spring 2021. The increase would also allow Transportation Services more time to figure out long-term improvements.
“The five years allows us to have a conversation of what is the best path forward for sustainability of the service,” Phelps said. “[Students] won’t have to wait five years to get additional service. You’ll see changes immediately.”
The question on the SGA election ballot will appear as follows:
“Would you enable the University of North Texas transportation department to increase the transportation fee from $3.50 per credit hour to an amount of $6 per credit hour with a maximum cap of fifteen (15) credit hours?”
College of Health & Public Service Senator Keaton Hare said she had concerns about low voter turnout and whether a vote on the fee increase would accurately represent what the students want.
“We have such low voter turnout,” Hare said. “Is [the vote] actually going to say that the student support this? If the number [of votes] is a lot lower than the amount of students we have, is that a good example that students support this?”
SGA President Yolian Ogbu said SGA is having conversations about how to better campaign so the vote is more representative of the student body’s opinions.
“I know that the election board wants to make a good amount of effort towards increasing voter turnout this year,” Ogbu said. “That’s one of their biggest goals, and so hopefully that’ll help. But from transportation in collaboration with SGA, we’re going to make sure that we push this out as much as possible.”
Featured Image: President Yolian Ogbu speaks at SGA’s meeting on Mar. 4, 2020. Image by Oscar Lopez