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News Clips 02/07/2013
USF Lakeland Agrees to Provide Students Free Rides on Polk Transit
Source: Winter Haven News-Chief, 02/06/13
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By Mary Toothman
The University of South Florida's Lakeland campus has gotten on the bus, pardon the pun, by getting in on a local trend to partner with Polk Transit for free bus transportation.
Tom Phillips, executive director of Lakeland Area Mass Transit District, said USF in Lakeland now has its own agreement to allow students, faculty and staff to ride the Polk Transit fixed route for free — and a specially designed bus was unveiled Wednesday to mark the occasion.
The agreement with Polk Transit and USF Lakeland allows 1,650 students, faculty, and staff the option of riding the entire Polk Transit fixed route system for free, he said. The USF Student Government group is covering the monthly fee of $2,475 for the free rides. The cost is based on ridership fare loss.
USF Lakeland's agreement is just for one year, since the campus is being phase out and it's not possible to predict how many riders there might be next year, Phillips said.
Bus agreements in the county have really taken off, he said. The transit agency already has similar arrangements with Polk State College, Southeastern University, Legoland Learning Resource Center, Pace Center for Girls and Everest University. The costs are variable depending on how many paying riders turn into free riders.
For example, Merlin Entertainments Group, the corporate owner of Legoland, signed a one-year contract paying Polk Transit $1,000 per month. A three-year contract with Southeastern University is a "farebox recovery" agreement in which the university pays Polk Transit $750 per month for the first year and a variable amount in subsequent years based on ridership.
Under the agreements, Phillips said, Legoland and Southeastern pay for the design, materials and installation of the specialty bus wraps.
The three-year agreement Polk State started last year has worked out well, said David Steele, Polk State's associate vice president for communications. "We continue to receive great feedback about this program, from students as well as employees."
It's popular at Southeastern University as well, said Brian Carroll, vice president for university advancement.
"We have a number of students who live on campus and did not bring their vehicles with them," he said. "This program enables them to have access to free transportation to off-campus employment, entertainment venues and merchants ... Considering gas prices, current economic conditions and efforts to go green, it's a winning proposition for everyone," Carroll said.
About 27,000 of the 660,000 residents of Polk County, or 4.1 percent of the total population is covered under a funding arrangement with Polk Transit, Phillips said.