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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

What’s happening with RTS? From the UF student body president-elect

Opinions generic
Opinions generic

In the past week, there’s been a lot of conversation around RTS buses and what funding they will have in the future. As someone who was first made aware there was an issue between the City of Gainesville and UF when this was made public April 9, I’ve been learning as much as I can before I officially take office April 24 to have better and more nuanced conversations. Let’s talk about what’s been happening, and what the future will look like relating to RTS:

If you take a class at UF, you pay $9.44 per credit hour in Transportation Access Fees. The student body advocated for and created this fee, back in 1998 so students could reliably access transportation, including the bus system run by the City of Gainesville and other transportation-related projects. If you take 12 credit hours a semester, this is $226.56 a year. If you take 18 credit hours a semester, this is $339.84 a year. In total, all of the money from Transportation Fees added up to around $11.4 million in 2023.

Since the Transportation Fee was created in 1998, and for the past decade, there have been many trends that make Gainesville look a lot different, and require conversations about how to shift bus routes to where students choose to live. Apartment buildings have been (and are currently being) built within a distance that may no longer require a bus ride, and fewer students are choosing to live where students lived a decade ago. 

Students are also opting for other methods of transportation, such as scooters, e-scooters, bicycles and walking. Additionally, there have been minimal shifts in the bus routes that RTS provides over the past several years. As it stands right now, UF pays the entirety of these Transportation Fees to the City of Gainesville so students have access to its RTS bus system. 

Currently, RTS charges $1.50 to non-UF riders and on average $2.86 to UF riders. In recent years most, if not all, of the money that UF has for student transportation has gone to the bus contract. Additionally, comparing 2013 to 2023, UF’s financial contribution to RTS rose by 13.6%, while student ridership declined by 54%. It’s my hope that any updated contract can transparently share student ridership data for specific routes. 

If the student ridership data can be made public from RTS about what routes students use, and what routes students don’t use, we can make more informed decisions about where our money can go to support students even better than what services are available to students now.

So where does this leave everything now, and how will this all end up looking for the students?

Here is what I know for sure. The bus system students take daily to classes is incredibly important, and the RTS and UF relationship is valuable to everyone.

Students need to have safe and effective means of transportation to and from campus. At the same time, the university has a responsibility to ensure the millions of dollars students pay each year are effectively and transparently serving the students. The important questions are as follows: Is the money being used effectively to benefit the student body? Is the university asking fair questions and being a strong partner with the city? 

Are there routes that need to be reevaluated based on student usage to either expand or reduce support? Is there a possibility that some of the Transportation Fee could be used to expand access to the Lyft discount or e-scooter discounts, to create additional covered bicycle racks and safer biking lanes, or to support alternative transportation methods? I’m sure we will find the answers soon. 

What I do know is that asking questions is an important part of building a transparent relationship, and if both the city and the university can work together, the students will ultimately benefit. I was elected to fight for the student body’s interests above all else, and I’ll continue that fight in all areas that I can, including this one.

John Brinkman is the UF student body president-elect.

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