By Matt Fossen
Cornell’s free first year student buss pass program via the Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit, Inc. (TCAT) could face the chopping block in the next few weeks amid TCAT’s $700,000 budget shortage.
The university’s “New to Cornell Bus Pass” program goes back to its 2006 inception when it was first launched as a way to integrate and ease North Campus freshmen into the central campus locale. George A. Ruizcalderon, Chairman of the Campus Infrastructure Committee (CIC), said that TCAT’s budget shortage “systemically goes back to 2008, when the free rider pass was initially meant to be cancelled.” In spite of the original intention, the program was kept alive and the university continued to pay the same subsidy rate. Over the years, student ridership rates continued to increase, placing an augmenting financial burden on TCAT. Campus Infrastructure Committee Representative Nick Vasko added that ridership rates grew so high that in 2010 -amid the economic downtown- Cornell could not continue to reimburse TCAT at the $1 per rid agreement.
The result has been that in the last four years, TCAT has only received 86 cents per ride from the university. Vasko points out that this has now created the grim possibility of TCAT “going under if Cornell cannot reimburse them at the negotiated $1 per ride rate.”
The University Assembly was first given the task of bridging gap on January 28th, and within the CIC arose many different potential solutions. According to Ruizcalderon, these included “cutting certain stops, raising the price of the omni-pass, as well as giving a semester off.” However, after some cost calculation it was determined that these changes wouldn’t make “a large enough impact” on the deficit to even be considered. The committee then turned to the idea of fully removing the current free nights and weekend program, or at least potentially reducing its hours or increasing the student rate. But these ideas too were ruled out for the sake of student safety concerns according to Vasko.
All of this has meant that the elimination of the New To Cornell pass seems to be the only economically feasible way of saving TCAT’s operations with Cornell. A resolution will be presented by the CIC in the next twenty four hours and will be open for public comment and critique. The resolution will not be voted on until April, and Cornell students are highly encouraged to offer their own suggestions, ideas, and alternatives. All feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.