(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — Erie County college students can ride the local public buses for free.
It’s not a new system, but the Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority (EMTA) reminded students in a Sept. 6 Facebook post that the opportunity was there. In fact, EMTA has been on site at colleges contacting students directly about the opportunity.
“I’ve been working on campus engagement to make sure they have the resources they need so the students know how to ride the buses for free,” said Sarah Morrison, the director of marketing and public relations at EMTA. “There are a lot of people at tables trying to talk to students on college campuses, but when I say, ‘I have a sticker for the back of your student ID card so you can ride all the buses for free,’ they tend to stop and listen.”
Students enrolled in Erie County Community College can ride EMTA buses for free with just their student ID. Students enrolled in Gannon University, PennWest Edinboro, Penn State Behrend, and Mercyhurst University can get a sticker for the back of their ID cards so they can ride for free.
That is to say, they can take advantage of bus access they’ve already paid for. Morrison explained that EMTA meets with each university to assess their needs, and then they put a route together. The cost of those routes and the “free” bus rides are included in the students’ tuition.
On campus, that’s one of Morrison’s selling points — “It’s already built into your tuition, so you might as well take advantage of it.”
This is advantageous to both students and EMTA, Morrison said.
First, not every student at these higher-learning institutions is from Erie County. Many move to the area for college from far away (some are international students), and many don’t have access to a vehicle. Taking the bus may be their only form of transportation, other than walking. Having a free bus ride to class, or to the mall or a department store could be a big deal — especially in the winter, Morrison said.
For EMTA, having a steady ridership directly correlates to funding which impacts service. By adding the routes to service the colleges, EMTA is boosting its ridership, which could mean more funding and better services for everybody that uses EMTA buses.
Finally, it can be seen as a learning opportunity for the college students. Maybe they don’t come from a big city that relies on public transportation, but this will offer them an opportunity to experience public transportation. They can learn how to navigate a public bus system in a small city like Erie instead of getting a crash course in a major metropolitan area, Morrison said.
“A lot of the time, people think that the bus is for people who don’t have any other options, but the bus is actually a stable and affordable option to everyone,” Morrison said. “Offering the best experience possible is our number-one goal. The more riders we have, the better funding we have, and the better service we can offer.”
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Students can visit their campus safety and security office to receive a sticker for the back of their student IDs that will allow them to ride for free. The stickers will work for any fixed EMTA route.