For years, Case Western Reserve University students have never had to ask how much a Regional Transit Authority (RTA) pass costs. We’ve known that, as part of our Cleveland cultural enrichment, we are given one each semester for the flat price of $25. Needless to say, this is an absolute bargain, given that many other urban campuses don’t extend the same courtesy to their students or charge a much more exorbitant price.
But as our university’s contract with the RTA runs out, administrators and student leaders have begun asking a new question: how much should an RTA pass cost?
After sending out a wave of campus surveys over the past few weeks, the Undergraduate Student Government informed the student body we could be facing a price increase. As other costs of attendance have risen, our student passes have remained consistently priced, which suggests we’ve been getting the better end of our deal with the RTA. While students were 96 percent in favor of retaining the passes, a referendum is still needed to determine whether we would support a price increase.
To the Editorial Board, the answer is unequivocally clear: having access to mass transit is crucial to our undergraduate experience, and its benefits are well worth an increase in price.
While not everyone regularly uses their passes, the underlying convenience of having RTA passes cannot be understated. Since most students have to purchase a parking pass to have their cars, the ability to get around the city with just a sticker on your Case ID is a substantial amenity. If you’re trying to figure out how to get downtown for a show on Friday night, the HealthLine is always available. Do your friends want to do some Saturday shopping down in Ohio City? You can just hop on the Red Line.
For a sizable portion of the campus community, these passes are the primary mode of transportation. Some off-campus students don’t have cars and take the RTA to get to campus from their housing. Nursing, pre-medical and medical students often use routes like the HealthLine to get to and from their rotations or assignments. Others may have internships that take them to the Fortune 500 companies downtown or in other parts of the city. Even having your own car for these types of opportunities can be irrelevant, given the absurd parking costs in these areas.
There are obvious advantages in terms of logistics for students. But the importance of mass transit also lies in its potential for urban sustainability and minimizing the effects of climate change in industrial areas. Cities like Cleveland are incredibly detrimental to the environment, with its large number of suburban commuters and portside power plants, factories and shipping facilities.
Needless to say, we cause a considerable amount of ecological damage. Our history with setting the Cuyahoga River on fire is well-known even outside the region, but our ongoing mistreatment of Lake Erie will have dire consequences in the coming years. Air quality alerts remain frequent, and as recently as 2017, issues with soot in the air have plagued the metropolitan area.
Mass transit in the form of buses, trains and better pedestrian infrastructure will most likely become imperative in the next few decades as cities are forced into sustainable practices by the effects of climate change. These modes of transportation catalyze basic, but still critical, improvements to our rate of energy consumption, air pollution and emissions. The RTA has already worked on better preparing its routes for the future, adding buses that run on natural gas and recently acquiring a $2.6 million grant to make Cleveland’s West Side greener. Doing our part to support them now, rather than when car taxes or other commuter restrictions are put in place, better prepares students to participate in a more sustainable society. Good habits can only be developed, after all, if there are measures in place to support them.
If CWRU is going to be a truly forward-thinking university, these sorts of considerations must drive its policies related to student life. The image of CWRU as a bubble in part has to do with the manner in which it is almost tucked away from the rest of the city, and a failure to renew the RTA deal would only exacerbate this issue. Whether we all realize it or not, we are a core institution of Cleveland, and that means we must do our part to be citizens of the city.
With the golden ticket, or more accurately silver sticker, of a cheap RTA pass, we expand our community beyond the boundaries of University Circle.