Friday, July 25, 2008

New law aimed at helping Peralta students with bus fare

East Bay community college students soon could save more than $1,000 per year on bus fares, thanks to a new law that will permit the Peralta district to discount transit prices.

The four-college district will test the discounts starting next month with a one-year pilot program that will charge students a maximum of $100 per year on AC Transit fares. Bus passes can cost nearly $1,400 per year without the discounts.

Students at the College of Alameda and Laney, Merritt and Berkeley City colleges will vote next year whether to continue the program. Supporters say it will help low-income students stay in school.

"Some students have had to choose between getting lunch and getting home," said Reginald James, a student leader who takes courses at Laney and Alameda.

Recent studies have shown that most community college students fail to complete a degree or transfer. Anecdotal evidence has shown that life's everyday challenges, including high gas prices and car troubles, play a large role in those failures.

The Legislature and governor needed to approve the Peralta program because community colleges are not allowed to impose student fees without legislative approval. If students approve the Peralta fees next year, they would pay either $35 or $50 per semester, depending upon their income.

The law's sponsor, Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Oakland, said he expects the student body to approve the permanent fees.

"The students Advertisementcame to Sacramento and testified alongside me in support of this bill," said Swanson, who was Laney's student-body president in 1970. "They said this was an essential tool."

Only two other districts among the 72 in California are allowed to charge the fees: Los Rios in the Sacramento area and Rio Hondo near Los Angeles. In the Los Rios district, students rode buses and light rail to and from school nearly 3 million times in 2006, the most recent year available, said district spokeswoman Susie Williams.

"They have embraced it wholeheartedly," she said.

An AC Transit spokesman did not return a message Wednesday.

Supporters in the Peralta district said the program would help ease parking problems at some of the colleges and would help the environment by taking cars off the road.

But the most visible help will be to students' bank accounts, said Nicky Gonzalez Yuen, a Peralta trustee.

"It will provide students with a real concrete benefit that will help them get to school," he said.

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