A program that allows full-time students to use five local transit systems for just $3 per semester has earned national recognition for Rio Hondo College in Whittier, Calif.
The program, called Go Rio, allows students carrying 12 or more semester units to buy a $3 pass that gives them free access to buses operated by Los Angeles Metro, Foothill Transit, Norwalk Transit, Montebello Bus Lines and Sunshine Shuttle.
Go Rio, which was launched as a two-year pilot program in 2006, garnered first place in the Planning, Governance and Finance category of the 2009 National Bellwether Award, sponsored by the Community College Futures Assembly, a national independent policy think tank.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” said Russell Castaneda-Calleros, Rio Hondo’s director of governmental and community relations. “We were up against some innovative programs from around the country.”
Castaneda-Calleros said the Go Rio program has become increasingly popular among students. During the 2006-07 school year, an average of 900 students bought the semester pass. This year, that number has increased to 1,450, a 61 percent hike.
Go Rio’s success has spawned similar programs at two other California colleges — Riverside City College in Riverside and the Peralta Colleges in Oakland and Berkeley. “It was impressive to the judges that our success has been replicated by other schools,” Castaneda-Calleros said, adding that he provided guidance to representatives at each of the colleges in how to get the program off the ground.
The cost of operating the program is approximately $70,000 per semester, based on fees assessed by the participating transit systems. Castaneda-Calleros said the transit agencies calculate their fees using ridership and full-time student enrollment, but have been flexible on the bottom line. “They’ve worked hard to give us a discount,” he said.
Castaneda-Calleros said the revenue generated by sales of the $3 pass covers about half of the program’s total cost. The remaining cost is covered by the college and by grants from local, state and federal sources.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District contributes funding based on the number of pounds of auto emissions that the Go Rio program eliminates. “Each year we find out how many students leave their cars at home by using the Go Rio pass,” Castaneda-Calleros said. Using a complex formula, he’s then able to quantify the amount of reduced emissions. “This year, we’re hoping that it will be more than 2 tons.”