Students ride for free with new Sioux Area Metro partnership

Brittany and Elliot

SEPTEMBER SYMENS

srsymens11@ole.augie.edu

A new partnership aims to make public transportation cheaper and easier for Augustana students and staff, according to director of international programs Donn Grinager.

Last spring, Grinager, along with dean of students Jim Bies, the Augustana Student Association (ASA) officers, Augie Green and Sioux Falls transportation planner, Sam Trebilcock, met to discuss the lack of student accessibility to a public transportation system.

The resulting collaboration between Augustana and Sioux Area Metro (SAM) allows students and staff members with identification cards to board city buses free of charge during the fall semester.

“The idea of [the partnership] is to promote a greener campus and to promote public transportation,” ASA president Brittany Dardis said.  “A lot of people here do have cars, but you can still save money by taking the bus.”

According to Trebilcock, the partnership is “mutually beneficial” for SAM and for Augustana affiliates.

“Augustana benefits because student[s] and staff are more easily able to travel throughout the city, and the Sioux Area Metro benefits because new riders and additional fares will occur with the partnership,” he said.

SAM granted the college 1000 rides for a fixed price, according to Dardis, but since the partnership is a pilot program, the free rides will end on Dec. 19 unless the contract is renewed for the spring semester.

“I guess it just depends on if we hit those 1000 riders or how many over or under we are,” Dardis said. “I think we can definitely hit those 1000 rides if people are using it continuously.”

Trebilcock agrees that SAM will “need to see how much the buses are used by students and staff” before renewing the same contract.

Augie Green president and senior Olivia Hopewell said she hopes that Augustana students will be vocal when it is time to negotiate the contract renewal.

“If lots of people use [the program], we can extend it, and it will be something that students can vote on in the future,” she said. “I think it would be really cool if students could somehow have a say in bus route changes, because you can change them.”

Currently, only one bus route, inbound Route 2, stops on campus. Outbound Route 2 stops near 26th and Grange, and a stop for Route 3 (which goes north and south on Minnesota and to the Empire Mall) is within walking distance from campus.

“Right now, [students] can get on [a bus] heading downtown, but they have to go for a little bit of a walk to get outbound,” Grinager said. “[It’s] not so bad in enjoyable weather, but when the weather changes, it will be interesting to see how much those routes get used.”

Like Hopewell, Grinager said he hopes changes to the bus routes could be made if the contract is renewed.

“One thought would be, over the long-term, if ridership merited a change, the college [and] the Student Association would go to the city and request that a route be modified,” he said.

The contract renewal with SAM could also potentially be affected by rising bus fares. According to Grinager, SAM is looking at increasing the one-ride adult ticket from the current price of $1 to $1.50.

“It is true that we are looking at raising bus fares in the future,” Trebilcock said. “It is yet to be determined how soon the increase may occur. The fare increase could somewhat affect a future contract with Augustana, but only a slight increase in the cost would be a result.”

Grinager is hopeful the school will “be able to sign a service contract for the long term,” since the collaboration especially helps students without cars to navigate Sioux Falls.

“I think Augustana constantly promotes the concept that Sioux Falls is a great college town,” he said. “The city of Sioux Falls has so much to offer, but great college towns also offer a public transit system that meets the needs of students … our hope is that we can build some ridership in the short term that, in the long term, might help the city decide that even better service to the college campuses in town makes sense.”