Start the Bus! Initiative Lobbies for Free Transportation

Tired of fruitlessly searching for vacant campus parking spots, Santa Fe College students are the driving force behind an initiative to provide better public transportation for community college students statewide.

The Start the Bus! program, sponsored by Santa Fe Student Government, hopes to raise support for a transportation bill that gives state colleges the right to collect a small fee in exchange for free bus access for students and expanded bus routes.

Kick-off event Oct. 26

This Tuesday, Oct. 26, Start the Bus! will host a kickoff event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Oak Grove to launch their lobbying efforts. Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe and Alachua County Commissioner Cynthia Moore-Chestnut will attend, as will other state and local government representatives. Along with free food and T-shirts, the kickoff celebration will feature a DJ from TDC Entertainment and an actual Regional Transit System (RTS) bus parked in the Oak Grove, with a banner for students to sign in support of the initiative.

“I’m excited. This is the first time there’s an event completely dedicated to this initiative,” said Austin Brinza, Student Body President. “Last year, we did a decent job, but this year, for the first time, we are working with the Student Government as an organized initiative.”

With support from UF, the State Transportation Board, the Florida Junior Community College Student Government Association (FJCCSGA), and other influential organizations, the Start the Bus! Initiative is gaining popular momentum among both students and policy-makers.

Student-sponsored initiative

Two days of tabling, on Oct. 19 and 20, on the Santa Fe campus yielded 19 petition pages containing 646 signatures, and Start the Bus! organizers hope to return to Tallahassee this year with more support than ever.

“One guy I met was so into this bill that he took a petition and came back with a full page of signatures,” said Carolina Ponce, the Student Government Transportation Director. “He wasn’t even part of our committee, but I told him, ‘You’re going to Tallahassee with us.’ We want real students like that who want this bill to get passed for their own benefit, because this is ultimately for them.”

That’s a source of pride for the Start the Bus! Campaign: being entirely student-run. Growing from only a handful of students in previous years to an influential campus organization with over 1,500 Facebook friends, Start the Bus! has provided an outlet for students to lobby towards community growth and access to education.

“Students have stepped up and led this initiative. This has to be one of the largest student-run initiatives in the state,” said Brinza. “Administrators aren’t requesting this initiative for students. Students are requesting this for students, for themselves.”

Goals modeled after existing system

This initiative models its goals after a successful system in place in the State University System since 2000, which gave state schools the option to charge a fee from students in order to partner with public transportation for more student-oriented services.   

“We just want to have the same privileges as UF students,” said Ponce. “UF already has everything included in students’ tuition, so they can ride the buses for free.”

Parking not keeping up with demand

Under the proposed bill, colleges would get to choose if they wanted to increase tuition in exchange for free public transportation for students, but at Santa Fe College, a tuition hike appears likely regardless of the success of the initiative, according to Ponce. Santa Fe is considering options like charging for parking decals and building parking garages, both of which will likely increase student expenditures.

“We face a problem with the lack of parking spaces available. This initiative helps solve that by providing an alternative transportation source,” said Brinza. “We took aerial photographs of the overflow parking lot and the overflow’s overflow parking lot. You can see a noticeable difference in the amount of cars from year to year.”

According to Brinza, Santa Fe’s student body, which currently weighs in at 18,000 students, is expected to increase consistently by 3.4% each year, for the next 25 years. The Start the Bus! campaign plans to implement a similar initiative at other growing colleges like Valencia Community College and Miami-Dade College, the latter of which houses around 170,000 students.

Santa Fe’s proposed tuition increase of $3.14 per credit hour would likely cover unlimited student access to RTS buses, improved bus routes between campuses, and extended service hours, thereby reducing parking lot crowding, pollution, and maintenance costs while increasing access to higher education. The planned campus connector system would also allow students attending any of Santa Fe’s widespread centers to commute to the Northwest campus.

“Most students are very supportive, but at first, some were resisting the idea of paying the fee,” said Ponce. “After we explain our reasoning to them, all I’ve gotten is support.”

Better results expected this year

Last year, a student group visited the state legislature twice, once in January and once in February, in support of a bill that would similarly allow state colleges to include a fee allowing free student access to buses. These students met the governor’s staff and presented their initiative to four committees in front of the House and the Senate, with mixed success: while the transportation bill passed the state legislature, it ultimately was vetoed by Governor Charlie Christ.

This year, with a greater student base and increased outreach efforts, the Start the Bus! Initiative expects a different outcome. If the transportation bill passes in April, the measures Start the Bus! has been lobbying for could start as early as next fall.

“I’m very confident that we can get it done, because we’ve got an amazing director and great personnel. We’ve got both the resources and the passion,” said Brinza. “The administration has told us that we’re more organized now than in all the other years we’ve been doing this combined.”

For more infomation about Start the Bus!, call Student Government President Austin Brinza, 352-381-3782 or email to sgpresident@sfcollege.edu.

This press release was written by Allison Griner, Communication Specialist, College Relations

CONTACT:

  • Samuel Morris, secretary of the press for Student Govenment, 352-214-7762 (cell)
  • Austin Brinza, president, Student Government, 352-381-3782
  • Julie Garrett, SF media relations, for assistance facilitating your story, 352-870-2924 (cell) or 352-395-5430 (office) or julie.garrett@sfcollege.edu