The Student Government Association is reeling after an update to their partnership with Saint Joseph Transit nearly doubled in potential cost over the summer. Although the price hike came as a surprise to the executive board, some say that the increase was expected.
In the summer of 2015, President Ida Haefner and Vice President Brad Stanton worked with representatives from Transit to facilitate bus rides for anyone with a Missouri Western I.D., free of charge. Those negotiations also prompted Transit to extend their route hours to the university for students with night classes.
“Two years ago, Senate, specifically the special projects committee, proposed a plan to give students a ‘safe ride’ from the bars and other places in downtown,” said Stanton.
The first year was free for SGA, allowing Transit to gauge the value of the program. For the second year of the program (2016), SGA agreed to pay $1 per student at Western per semester, totaling $11,800.
Transit proposed a goal of 9,600 riders during the introductory year; however, total ridership during 2015 topped 18,294 trips.
Following the unexpected response, Transit conducted a survey of 100 programs across the Midwest similar to the SGA partnership. Transit found that many bus plans follow a “fee per rider” basis, which establishes a set price per number of actual riders, not a set price for the program as a whole.
“The program was incredibly more popular than either institution had predicted,” Stanton said. “I think city council saw the increased riders and thought, ‘We have a cash cow here that we didn’t know we had.’ The [city] council took over the program; it wasn’t a contract between SGA and Transit anymore.”
This change could either result in the budget $11,800 price tag for the program or more, depending on the number of total riders.
Up to 19,350 riders – $11,800
19,351 – 24,500 – $14,950
24,501 – 29,000 – $17,700
29,001 – 34,000 – $20,750
“The first year, we had about 19,000 riders; that was the introductory year,” Stanton said. “These upcoming years, we’re expecting even more riders. An increase in popularity […] could potentially mean SGA spending significantly more money.”
During the first SGA meeting of the fall semester, the executive board frantically passed an updated budget to account for the potential change in price for the partnership.
SGA approved a budget that would prepare for the highest potential of riders, at $20,750.
Stanton says that his main concern isn’t the cost increase but that student officials were not contacted about the change.
“The money is coming from student government, and we didn’t have a say in the change,” Stanton said. “What I would have liked and what we had expected is that whenever the bill came to first reading, we would have the chance to voice our concerns with the bill.”
However, one SGA affiliate was contacted about the change, and she says that SGA should have been aware of the price increase in 2015.
“When we had initial discussions… there were always talks about the rates going up in the future due to usage,” said Shana Meyer, vice president of student affairs. “The first year was free, the second year was a set rate, and then there was discussion about what would happen if (program usage) continued to go up.”
As for the potential for significantly more student riders in the future, Meyer says that SGA will have to weigh the benefits of the program for students.