...But there is also some good news. A small but growing number of transit agencies and universities have joined forces to offer a new program that provides fare-free transit for more than a million people. This program is generically known as Unlimited Access, and it has spread rapidly during the past decade.3 Unlimited Access programs do not provide free transit; instead, they are a new way to pay for transit. The university pays the transit agency, and all eligible members of the university community ride free. The rapid spread of Unlimited Access suggests that it meets a market test: universities are willing to pay for it...
The substantial mode shifts caused by BruinGO refute the common assumption that fare-free transit cannot entice commuters from their cars. Transit ridership for commuting to campus increased by 56 percent during BruinGO’s first year, and solo driving fell by 20 percent. Because these startling results were achieved in a city famous for its addiction to cars, they suggest that Unlimited Access can work almost anywhere. If Unlimited Access can produce so many benefits for students, universities, and transit agencies at sucha low cost, why don’t more universities offer it? More universities are offering it every year, and it is also spreading to other settings. Six transit agencies in the United States offer Eco Pass programs that allow all employers to purchase transit passes for all their employees at a heavily discounted fare. A few transit agencies have even taken the idea beyond the workplace. In Seattle, the transit system has arranged for game tickets to serve as transit passes on game days at the University of Washington football stadium. In Silicon Valley, the transit system allows residential developments to buy Eco Passes for all residents. Unlimited Access programs contribute to so many important planning goals: transportation demand management, smart growth, transit-oriented development, energy conservation, clean air, and sustainable cities. Few transportation planning reforms produce suchlarge benefits at suchlow cost and have so much potential for growth.
Fare-Free Public Transit at Universities: An Evaluation
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Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning