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CATA-strophic Inconvenience

CATA’s lack of support for cash-strapped graduate students here at Penn State has started to get on some bus rider’s nerves.

Two of those graduate students, Crista M. Livecchi and Emma Gaalaas Mullaney, have started a Facebook group called “PSU Grads for Transportation Equity,” calling for CATA to give them the same kind of financial break it gives full-time Penn State staff members. According to the group, Penn State staffers are currently eligible for CATA’s Ride for Five program, which offers a bus pass for $5 a month as opposed to the regular rate of $49 a month.

Grad students, on the other hand, who don’t have two pennies to rub together, have to pay the full monthly rate.

To an outsider like me, this seems like a humongous load of crap, but, as I said, I’m on the outside looking in. Fortunately, both creators of the group were kind enough to offer me some insight on the situation, explaining things much better than I ever could.

Speaking about her own reasons for co-founding the group, Livecchi said the following:

“The group had its genesis when Emma approached me and asked whether I’d heard about the Ride for Five program. We talked about it for a while and decided to set up the Facebook group to gauge whether other graduate students were as frustrated as we were about the situation. Within three or four days we had 150 members. It’s still a bit early to tell what kind of impact we’ll have, but we’re hopeful that something good will come out of it.

“I understand that the financial impact is relatively small because participation in the program is not that large relative to CATA’s ridership — but I can’t believe that there’s nothing that can be done to reduce the burden on graduate students.”

When asked about the possible solutions to the problem, Livecchi offered

“I think there are a number of ways that we could work with CATA and Penn State to reduce the fare burden for graduate students in such a way that it doesn’t break the bank for anyone. We’re not looking for free rides, and we realize that $5 fare passes for grads are probably a pipe dream based on what we’ve heard about previous attempts to address this issue. But even a little assistance would go a long way toward making CATA more affordable for grads. I think there are a number of workable solutions — whether it means fare passes in the $10 to $30 range, or fare cards that can be reloaded online at a discounted rate. I think the biggest obstacle we have to overcome is a lack of creativity.”

Group co-founder Emma Mullaney also had very valuable insight on why this unfair inconvenience has occurred and why it should be reformed.

“The Penn State Parking Office website states that the purpose of its Ride for Five program is ‘to encourage the use of mass transit in the area, reduce vehicle congestion on campus, and help the environment’s air quality.’ As University employees, citizens, and residents of State College, the graduate students have an equally vested interest in supporting public transportation for these very reasons, yet they are asked to pay nearly ten times as much for a monthly bus pass as University faculty and full-time staff. Graduate students are less likely to own cars, and make a significantly lower income than the University employees who do qualify for the Ride for Five program. If the borough and University are sincere in their efforts to support public transportation and encourage members of the campus community to use it, then making it affordable for the graduate student population seems an important step to take.”

Mullaney also mentioned that the Centre Area Transportation Authority Board of Directors will hold a Public Hearing in conjunction with the February 22, 2010 Board of Directors meeting. The meeting will be held at 4:00 PM in the State College Borough Council Chambers, State College Municipal Building, 243 S. Allen Street. Anyone with a vested interest in the CATA situation should consider attending.

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