Texas State Technical College just rolled out free bus passes for students in hopes of helping them get to and from the relatively isolated Waco campus more easily.
The Waco City Council approved a $29,000 contract with TSTC for two years of Waco Transit System bus service at no extra charge to students. McLennan Community College launched a similar program in September. TSTC Provost Adam Hutchison said one of Waco Transit’s bus routes already made two stops on campus.
“We saw the opportunity to expand that, especially for students that have transportation needs on the weekends,” Hutchison said.
The college and transit system worked for several months on the new agreement, which includes bus passes for all TSTC students, advertising for TSTC on city buses and a dedicated TSTC route, with its schedule adjusted to accommodate for early morning classes.
“Our practice in the past was to support those students by purchasing bus passes for them, and in the past we’ve had donors do that, but those are a little bit administratively clumsy,” Hutchison said. “We added a little bit to the project to give all our students access to that free ride.”
The bus passes, available at the school’s ID center, are valid on all Waco Transit routes.
Hutchison said several of TSTC’s 10 campuses around the state have implemented similar programs for their students.
“Over the last few years, the other colleges in the Waco area have done it,” Hutchison said. “We all sort of leaned in and realized transportation is a real issue for a college student.”
Baylor University coordinates with Waco Transit to operate the Baylor University Shuttle route, which is free to ride.
TSTC’s attendance sits at about 4,000 students, and while most have access to cars, not all do. Compared to other two-year institutions, it has a high percentage of students who live in student housing either on or near campus, Hutchison said.
The on-campus housing is particularly useful to students coming from rural areas, Hutchison said.
“Waco isn’t that big of a city, but it feels really big if you don’t have a car,” Hutchison said. “Even from where TSTC is off of the interstate, Walmart is about 4 miles away. For students who just need basic life services, just getting to a pharmacy or an H-E-B, having access to public transportation is the best way to do that.”
Hutchison said he and Waco councilwoman Andrea Barefield, whose district includes TSTC and MCC, worked together to start the program.
McLennan Community College spokesperson Lisa Elliott said MCC and city officials had discussed the possibility of school-funded bus passes for years before they were able to implement it.
MCC’s enrollment sits at about 8,900 students, and its free bus pass program saw 1,985 rides in September and 2,394 rides last month. Elliott said like TSTC, the majority of MCC students have their own cars.
Chris Evilia, director of the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the programs represent one of many strategies for making Waco more interconnected.
“There’s a lot of students who depend on that service,” Evilia said.
Evilia said the area around MCC in particular has a high volume of pedestrians, and the 19th Street corridor has been the site of a number of automobile-pedestrian collisions in recent years.
The bus passes make transportation more accessible, but they do not necessarily address the underlying public safety concerns for the area, he said.
“The pedestrian access still needs work,” Evilia said. “Even if you have the buses, you still need to get to and from where the buses drop you off.”