December 5, 2020

Webster provides free Metro passes to its faculty, staff, students

Steward Stiles III lives in north St. Louis County and travels to south St. Louis County to attend Webster University. He doesn’t own a car, so he takes public transportation each day. Stiles takes two busses and two trains to and from school. He said the time of day he boards determines how long his travel takes

“During morning rush hour or later rush hour it (the busses and trains) connects better,” said Stiles, junior music education major. “In the morning, I would say it takes about 40 minutes to an hour. During midday or late at night, which I take a lot of times because I’m doing things here at school, I’m getting home late at night. I take the bus that comes here around 10:30 p.m. and I wouldn’t get home until about 1 a.m.”

In a new contract Webster set up with Metro Transit, the frequency of buses to the university will be increased. The contract will now include more stops in the mornings and evenings at the bus stop in front of Webster Hall. The changes are said to start in mid-November.

“Two additional MetroBus trips in the morning will leave the MetroLink station at 7:26 a.m. and 8:14 a.m., ensuring that faculty, staff and students will be on campus by 8:30 a.m.,” said a press release from Webster University. “In the evening two additional MetroBus trips leave Webster Hall at 9:44 p.m. and 10:16 p.m.”

The Shrewsbury MetroLink Station is the nearest train station to Webster University. In a new contract with Metro Transit, Webster now offers free Metro passes for students, faculty and staff. Another contract offers more bus hours. PHOTO BY ALEX NASH

In addition, all currently-enrolled students, faculty and staff will be provided free Metro passes. Greg Gunderson, Webster University vice president and chief financial officer, said the passes are available to be picked up at the Bursar’s Office in Webster Hall with a student or employee ID.

Previously, students could purchase Metro passes at a discount price through the university. A pass for the semester cost about $150, and cost about $300 for a whole academic year. Stiles purchased a Metro pass at the beginning of the semester. Now that free passes are offered, he wasn’t sure if he would be reimbursed. Gunderson said all returned passes will have full pay back.

“Students who bought a full-semester pass will receive a 100-percent refund (for the semester) if it’s an active pass,” Gunderson said. “A student who bought a booklet of say 50-plus passes and only uses 25 will only be reimbursed for the ones they returned.”

Jennifer Stewart, assistant director of the University Center (UC) and student activities, is also the advisor to the Commuter Council. She said the desire for Metro passes or more public transit options has been brought up on several occasions. Gunderson said after the issue was presented last year at Delegates’ Agenda, the university decided to set a plan in motion.

“We began two separate initiatives then,” Gunderson said. “One resulted in the agreement with Nerinx (Hall High School) to partner on the parking structure, and the second was — about a year ago — we began conversations with Metro St. Louis’ public transit for us to provide our students with passes.”

Commuter Council approached the administration in the past about making passes more available, but the model at the time wasn’t affordable. Stewart said under the model the Commuter Council envisioned, the university would have to pay for an entire pass per student upfront at a set price. A pass used occasionally would have cost the university the same as a pass used daily. Gunderson said the university and Metro negotiated a deal that was more financially reasonable for the university.

“This contract is structured in a way that we (Webster) pay based on actual uses for every time a student, faculty or staff uses the pass. We incur about a $1.20 charge (per use),” Gunderson said.

Gunderson said he was unsure of the cost for the additional bus times, but expected it will be under $30,000.

As a public-transit commuter student, Stiles said he is happy the university is offering free passes, but said Webster has been slow to implement a program other colleges in the area already have.

“Washington University and UMSL (University of Missouri—St. Louis) have been doing it already for years, and I’m glad we’re doing it now. The only bad part is we’re so late in the game doing it,” Stiles said.

Stewart said she believed Webster’s size and culture contributed to the length of the deal-making process.

“I think for us, we’re smaller,” Stewart said. “The schools that have this program are both significantly larger schools than us and both have MetroLink stops on their campuses. So it’s something that’s more a normal part of their everyday culture for students to be using public transportation, because it’s literally at their doorstep.”

Gunderson said the Shrewsbury station has parking available with up to 400 stalls. Students can drive to the station, park their car and take the bus to campus.

“So for students who don’t want to buy a parking pass on campus, this is an excellent opportunity for them for free,” Gunderson said. “We think this has broader ramifications for sustainability because it allows us to avoid more parking (additions) after the parking structure (is built).”

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