Fresno City College’s popular free student bus program must be saved.
And I expect that it will be saved — if everyone puts a little skin and leadership into the game.
The program, which began as a pilot for the fall 2017 semester, benefits students, our community, and the Valley’s notoriously polluted air.
Moreover, the bus service is popular with students. According to the college’s “data dashboard,” nearly 8,000 different students rode a FAX bus for free from the program’s inception through December 2019. And those students totaled more than 1 million rides.
By All Accounts, Program Is a Success
“You can see the value,” says Fresno City College President Carole Goldsmith. “We have students who use the bus to get to school, to get to work, and to take their kids to the doctor.”
According to city records, FAX billed the State Center Community College District $276,805 for student, faculty, and staff rides during the 2018-19 school year.
Unquestionably, the loss of this service would result in more students missing classes or even dropping out.
In a city with Fresno’s entrenched poverty, it’s a program we — the community writ large — can’t afford to lose. Every student who exits Fresno City College with a certified skill uplifts our economy. So does every student who transfers with an associate’s degree to a four-year university.
Time to Seek New Funding Sources
So, why is the bus service on the chopping block?
“You can see the value. We have students who use the bus to get to school, to get to work, and to take their kids to the doctor.” — Fresno City College President Carole Goldsmith
It has been funded from campus parking revenue designated for other uses, including maintaining parking lots. With that budget squeezed beyond its limit, something has to give.
Less understandable was State Center’s ham-handed messaging to students last month that the program would end in June. Rather than upsetting students reliant on FAX, district leaders should have identified funding months ago to continue the service.
Air District Funding Is Available
For starters, Valley Air District officials say the program is eligible for — and likely would receive — $30,000 in yearly grant funding. (And that begs the question of why Fresno CC didn’t tap this source from the beginning.)
In addition, the air district has a large pot of Assembly Bill 617 funds for efforts that reduce air pollution in disadvantaged communities. As many Fresno CC students live in neighborhoods with heavy pollution burdens, it appears that the air district can provide a lot more than the base $30,000 grant.
For argument’s sake, let’s pencil in $60,000 from the air district for the 2020-2021 school year. That’s one-fifth, more or less, of what is needed to keep the service.
Just as this program has been great for students, it also has boosted FAX ridership. The way things have worked, FAX bills Fresno City College $1.10 for every ride up to a maximum of $48 a month per “unique” student. And, FAX knows who is riding because students must swipe their Fresno CC identification cards to jump on board.
How about FAX shave that $1.10 a ride, which is their bulk rate, to a buck or 90 cents? FAX also could help State Center find grants beyond the air district. I bet a local healthcare provider — can you say Kaiser Permanente? — would be interested in helping.
Students Pay $5 for Pass. At $10, It’s Still a Great Deal.
As I said, everyone should have some skin in the game. For the last three years, students have paid $5 for an Associated Students ID card that provides access to the Ram Pantry food cupboard and free bus ridership. It was a bargain at $5 and it would still be a bargain for $10. Add the extra $5 to the kitty to help pay for the free bus rides.
Finally, State Center and Fresno CC leaders should announce ASAP that the bus passes will continue and then nail down the funding.
Leaders are expected to solve problems. Not push trouble downhill onto the backs of students.
Anyone can cut a program. One reason our leaders are paid the big bucks is to ensure that successful programs such as this one are spared the guillotine.