The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 8, 2012

MSU students to vote on bus fee

By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — Minnesota State University students vote Tuesday on whether to raise their fees by $9 per semester to help resurface parking lots and give students free rides on city buses.

The “Green Transportation Fee” would collect a projected $262,500 annually. Part of that would go toward expanding bus routes— specifically night service for James Avenue and three more nights for the “Stomper Express,” an MSU-to-shopping district route.

It would also free up $195,000 the university now pays for its share of bus routes that could be spent on parking lot resurfacing. Finally, the fee would upgrade bike racks and add bike parking beyond the existing 1,092 spaces.

The city won’t lose any money on this deal, Transit Supt. Mark Anderson said. And ridership-boosting ventures like these make grant applications to the state look better, he said.

Moriah Miles, vice president of the Minnesota State Student Association, said her fellow students like the idea of free bus rides. But she acknowledges some don’t want a new fee.

Students will get the chance to learn about the proposal today, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in front of the fireplace in the Centennial Student Union.

It’s easy to see why the measure could be a hard sell — it asks current students to pay for future improvements that they may or may not benefit from.

But Miles said the student-led proposal proves they do care about the future. Parking lots are 97 percent full, she said, and enrollment is increasing. Building more lots isn’t an ideal solution.

“Parking lots are eyesores in the middle of a campus,” she said. Likewise, building a ramp would be too expensive — $20,000 per stall to build and maintain, she said. (The city of Mankato’s recent parking ramp cost about $17,000 per stall, not including maintenance).

So, while the fee would in the short term be spent on parking lot resurfacing, its goals of increasing bus ridership through free rides would serve a long-term aim: Getting vehicles out of campus.

“Major universities don’t have buses in front of academic buildings,” Miles said.

She said the long-term plan (10 to 20 years) is to close the roads going through campus.

State universities in Duluth and St. Cloud already have a free-to-ride program, and Miles said Mankato should, too, even if it takes time.

She is a senior, but said the measure won’t go away next year if it fails to pass.

“Something very similar will come up in the future,” she said. Even if a majority of students vote for the fee Tuesday, it will still have to be approved by the administration. Miles said University President Richard Davenport likes the proposal.